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Why Is Beauty Not Subjective?

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If it was subjective that would mean that there are no (objective) standards to judge beauty by. While it is a complicated subject, I do think it is possible to formulate such standards. One aspect I think virtually everyone finds beautiful is symmetry, and something else is that certain ratios between facial features are considered as pleasing to the eye.

I will leave it to someone else to answer in greater detail, though :D

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If it was subjective that would mean that there are no (objective) standards to judge beauty by. While it is a complicated subject, I do think it is possible to formulate such standards. One aspect I think virtually everyone finds beautiful is symmetry, and something else is that certain ratios between facial features are considered as pleasing to the eye.

I will leave it to someone else to answer in greater detail, though :)

It is a complicated issue. I do believe that there are objective standards for beauty as well. However, I question why I value attractive women over unattractive women or rather, how much I should value them. My question is this (I don't mean to steal your wind konerko but it's not that much of a tangent): Is there a subjective value to physical beauty in the opposite sex?

I find myself strongly opposed to the way in which physical beauty is perceived in our current society (the vast majority of young girls claiming that they'd rather be attractive than intelligent). However, I have a hard time not encouraging that kind of behavior (implicitly - with my choice of sexual companionship).

Edited by NewYorkRoark
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I think you'd have a hard time coming up with objective physical traits that everyone feels are attractive. If I prefer asymmetrical faces, lumpy bodies, and poor skin, you might be surprised, but there's really no way to determine whether such an attraction is valid or not. Throughout history, many different things have been attractive for many reasons, and I think the objectivity comes from an honest assessment of what you feel is attractive and why you feel that way. Someone is not attractive to me without cause- there are objective motivations behind that attraction, which should correspond to my sense of life in general.

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If it was subjective that would mean that there are no (objective) standards to judge beauty by. While it is a complicated subject, I do think it is possible to formulate such standards. One aspect I think virtually everyone finds beautiful is symmetry, and something else is that certain ratios between facial features are considered as pleasing to the eye.

I will leave it to someone else to answer in greater detail, though :)

Even if it were true that most/all humans found symmetry attractive, this wouldnt imply that it was right to find symmetry attractive, or that we should find symmetry attractive. For instance, most people prefer the taste of ice-cream to the taste of chicken, but it would be pointless to say that the taste of ice-cream was objectively better. You couldnt reasonably claim that someone who preferred chicken to ice-cream was wrong, even though his tastes differed from those of most people. Similarly you cant say that someone who is attracted to redheads over blondes, or who likes chubby girls rather than thin ones, is making some kind of mistake. Also, evenlthough there are probably some physical characteristics which most people in a society would agree are attractive, the sort of things which an individual goes for are likely to be heavily affected by (eg) childhood experiences and the like. By the time you get into things like 'symmetry', you are talking on a very very high level and I think its debateable how great a role this sort of thing really does play anyway.

edit: I'm talking about purely physical characteristics here, not more abstract things like 'the way a girl carries herself', or that intangible aura of sexuality which some people have, which imo are more important for attraction anyway.

Edited by Hal
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Does that mean you think beauty in the opposite sex is subjective?

It depends what you mean by subjective. In the sense that different people find different things attractive, and that within some fairly wide boundaries you cant say anyone is more 'right' than anyone else, then yes, I think its subjective.

However, I'd emphasise the point that beauty and attraction arent just about physical characteristics. There are more intangible things which often make me sexually attracted to people, which cant just be summed up as 'nice hair, great ass'. Once you start talking about whether (eg) intelligence and confidence increase a person's attractiveness, I think things will start to become less subjective, because we're moving into a realm where judgements start to make sense. For instance I think its possible to criticise someone who is attracted to women who he finds stupid, in a way which you cant do for someone who is attracted to people with short hair.

Edited by Hal
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I think beauty and sexual attractiveness are two separate (but often related) things. It may help to differentiate between the two in this thread. Also, you may want to more clearly understand the difference between the subjective and the personal. What is objective is agent-relative (if I'm using that term correctly), so be careful not to confuse it with the intrinsic.

Beauty is a sense of harmony that one recognizes in a trait. Thus, it is objective, meaning what one finds beautiful forms from an evaluation of the characteristics of the entity which are being perceived.

Here is an article entitled "What is Beauty" by Burgess Laughlin. This will probably help with your questions.

Edited by ex_banana-eater
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I think beauty and sexual attractiveness are two separate (but often related) things. It may help to differentiate between the two in this thread. Also, you may want to more clearly understand the difference between the subjective and the personal. What is objective is agent-relative (if I'm using that term correctly), so be careful not to confuse it with the intrinsic.

Beauty is a sense of harmony that one recognizes in a trait. Thus, it is objective, meaning what one finds beautiful forms from an evaluation of the characteristics of the entity which are being perceived.

Here is an article entitled "What is Beauty" by Burgess Laughlin. This will probably help with your questions.

Yes, now I understand why beauty is objective. Thanks.

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You're saying its true because an individual "feels" its true and each person can "feel" something different. That sounds a lot like subjectivism.

"Feel" is probably a poor word choice in this context. Maybe "think" would be more appropriate.

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Can someone explain to me why beauty is not subjective? I am an objectivist and not very knowledgeable on subjectivism, so I would appreciate it if I could get an accurate response to my question?

Im curious where you'd heard that beauty is not subjective. Was it something Rand said? If so where?

I ask because I wonder if you are confusing aesthetics being objective with particular tastes being objective. Rand, for example, liked the color aqua green. She also liked "tiddlywink music", cats, and skyscrapers. I don't recall her ever saying that everyone ought to like these things.

With regard to aesthetics, I understood her to mean that things were not subjective in the sense that the subjects chosen by artists, novelists, etc. reflected real values and not whatever they felt like. One example she provided in the romantic manifesto(?) was about an artist doing a portrait of a beautiful woman. If the woman(model) had a blemish on her face, it should not detract in any meaningful way from her attractiveness. On the other hand, if an artist chose to paint her and included the blemish in the painting that would demonstrate something objective about the artists sense of life(or lack there of). It would also say something about you if you preferred the painting with the blemish.

In most cases(perhaps all) the things you prefer stem from some earlier positive or negative association you developed. Possibly at a young age. In these cases, the things are usually fairly innocuous. Preferring blue to red probably doesnt imply any moral shortcoming. Writing a story about an immoral louse as opposed to a giant of industry, on the other hand, implies a concious choice that speaks volumes about your code of values and view of the world.

There may very well be a reason as to why someone prefers one color over another, but that is up to each person to figure out individually, first, if it is a meaningful difference and second what to do about it if it is.

I consider most differences in assessment of personal attraction to be fairly harmless. An exception might be something like what francisco d'anconia said in his speech about the meaning of sex. A man attracted to a prostitute type of woman might have issues and ought to reconsider the more moral types available. This of course is heavily context dependent. At any rate,

Hope that helps a bit.

Best Regards,

Gordon

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There may very well be a reason as to why someone prefers one color over another, but that is up to each person to figure out individually, first, if it is a meaningful difference and second what to do about it if it is.

That explains why esthetics are objective: there is an objective reason why someone likes something (ie a person's choice of values will determine what he likes).

Ayn Rand said taste is personal, but that there are reasons for it. And those who say "I like X, but I don't know why," simply fail, or refuse, to introspect and find out why they like X. Ask yourself why you like the things you like, and you'll see what I mean. Note, also, what the people who insist they cannot, and should not, account for their tastes profess to like.

A really good example is Peter Keating reading a book by one of Toohey's disciples in The Fountainhead (in part two, right after Roark starts work on the Enright House). Rand spells out the reasons why Keating likes the book (briefly: it makes him feel superior to those who do not like it).

Objective does not mean Universal. There are right answers and wrong answers to complex issues, but not just one right answer to every complex issue. So, the use of the word "beauty" is a judgement on the esthetic value of something (a man, a woman, a sunset, a color, a spacecraft, etc). That judgement is based, objectively, on other values. That's why beauty can be judged objectively. But you should not expect all men to find the same things, or people, beautiful in the same way and for the same reasons.

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Even if it were true that most/all humans found symmetry attractive, this wouldnt imply that it was right to find symmetry attractive, or that we should find symmetry attractive. For instance, most people prefer the taste of ice-cream to the taste of chicken, but it would be pointless to say that the taste of ice-cream was objectively better. You couldnt reasonably claim that someone who preferred chicken to ice-cream was wrong, even though his tastes differed from those of most people. Similarly you cant say that someone who is attracted to redheads over blondes, or who likes chubby girls rather than thin ones, is making some kind of mistake. Also, evenlthough there are probably some physical characteristics which most people in a society would agree are attractive, the sort of things which an individual goes for are likely to be heavily affected by (eg) childhood experiences and the like. By the time you get into things like 'symmetry', you are talking on a very very high level and I think its debateable how great a role this sort of thing really does play anyway.

edit: I'm talking about purely physical characteristics here, not more abstract things like 'the way a girl carries herself', or that intangible aura of sexuality which some people have, which imo are more important for attraction anyway.

I think there is one way you can connect things like symmetry to objective standards. A lack of symmetry in a human face and/or body, or a serious skin problem, is usually a result of a disease or genetic disorder and thus shows that the person's body is not in ideal health. Similarly, a person who is extremely thin or fat is also not in ideal health. There is an objective reason to find unhealthy bodies unattractive. (In some cultures, however fatter people are considered more attractive, but that is because in that culture fatness is an indication that the person is economically successful and can afford excess food.) So it makes sense objectively to consider someone with a healthy body more attractive than someone with a less healthy body. Things like eye or hair color, however, are just personal taste.

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That explains why esthetics are objective: there is an objective reason why someone likes something (ie a person's choice of values will determine what he likes).

Ayn Rand said taste is personal, but that there are reasons for it. And those who say "I like X, but I don't know why," simply fail, or refuse, to introspect and find out why they like X. Ask yourself why you like the things you like, and you'll see what I mean. Note, also, what the people who insist they cannot, and should not, account for their tastes profess to like.

A really good example is Peter Keating reading a book by one of Toohey's disciples in The Fountainhead (in part two, right after Roark starts work on the Enright House). Rand spells out the reasons why Keating likes the book (briefly: it makes him feel superior to those who do not like it).

Objective does not mean Universal. There are right answers and wrong answers to complex issues, but not just one right answer to every complex issue. So, the use of the word "beauty" is a judgement on the esthetic value of something (a man, a woman, a sunset, a color, a spacecraft, etc). That judgement is based, objectively, on other values. That's why beauty can be judged objectively. But you should not expect all men to find the same things, or people, beautiful in the same way and for the same reasons.

Hello D'Kian

I don't disagree with you in general, on any of what you wrote. For most things, I agree that causes can be found but I still feel as though there is something I don't fully grasp. To stick with the color example....blue is my favorite color but when I try to introspect why, I come up blank. I think it is because I probably formed the inclination at a somewhat preconceptual age and probably not because of some moral deficiency or lack of willingness to acknowledge the reasons. I see no negative consequences associated with prefering blue and no causal relationship between it and anything else I remember in my life. So personally with these minor issues I don't spend a lot of time trying to understand, becuase their effect on my life seems fairly negligible. I don't doubt that there is a cause or number of causes, just that they are neccessarily knowable or important. I would think this could also apply in circumstances like prefering blue eyes or whatever.

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Gordon-- I was about to write something similar till I noticed your post.

To sum up though... Beauty as an abstract concept is objective. What individual men find possessing the attribute of beauty is completely subjective. Although rational men will tend to find similar things beautiful based on similar Phycho-epistemologies.

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To stick with the color example....blue is my favorite color but when I try to introspect why, I come up blank. I think it is because I probably formed the inclination at a somewhat preconceptual age and probably not because of some moral deficiency or lack of willingness to acknowledge the reasons.

Colors are morally neutral, even when they are assigned a specific meaning. For example, red is the chosen color of Communism. This does not mean every person who likes red is a Communist. Generally speaking, I'd say in most cases it doesn't matter why you like or dislike a color. The same would be true of tastes regarding food and drink.

Other things, however, are more imoprtant. What kind of man, or woman, you find beautiful says more relevant things about your values. Things, too, matter. I do find things like a sunset over the sea to be beautiful, but not as beautiful as an A-6 Intruder or the Empire State Building.

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