Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder, or is beauty something that exists independently of how we “behold” it? I took a poll of six people in my office today asking this very question. Being that we are a marketing company, many of us are designers whose job it is to make things look beautiful in some sense, so this question is relevant. The result was a 3-3 tie. So, is the nature of beauty subjective (depends on the view of the subject viewing at the time), or objective (object maintains an inherent nature independent of the viewer)?
This distinction between objective and subjective is most easily illustrated in describing the physical world. Gravity(in a layman’s understanding) is an objectively true description about how physical objects interact with each other in relation to mass. This “law” of gravity is true whether I believe in it or not. My rejection of the law of gravity will not save me if I fall off a cliff. This is sometimes described as the correspondence view of truth. Truth is that which corresponds with reality. Most believe in the reality of the physical world. But how far does this reality extend?
Does reality extend beyond the physical, into non-physical realms? For example, many philosophers believe there is a real moral realm. Although this is a more controversial question, I think most would agree that the moral depravity of Nazi Germany was a real lack independent of what the SS believed. In other words, there was a moral reality the Nazi regime did not correspond with.
If morality is a successful example of a non-physical realm that exists independent of us, can the same be said about the nature of beauty? It seems to me that saying something exists only “in the eye of the beholder” is the same as saying the thing in question does not exist at all. Existence is a description of reality. Reality is independent of us. If a painting or a song cannot have beauty independent of what I say, then beauty itself does not exist at all. Something cannot be beautiful unless beauty exists in reality.
I started these thoughts not strongly convinced one way or the other, but I am now much more convinced that beauty is an objective reality that we merely recognize because I think beauty actually exists. I would try to put a deductive argument together as follows:
Anything that exists subjectively does not exist independently of us
Reality exists independently of us
Beauty exists in reality,
Therefore, beauty exists independently of us (objectively).
It seems to me that premise number 3 is the most controversial in this argument. What do you think? Is this argument valid? Does beauty exist?