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Aristotle’s Breakfast: What does beauty mean to you?

"The beautiful is that which is pleasing to behold." ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

I am certain that the mention of the word ‘beauty’ has elicited varied thoughts and interesting memories. Did you picture a cosmetic shop? Did you remember the lady you once saw with heavy and seemingly uncoordinated make-up? Did you remember the gentleman you once met with clothes of all colours of the rainbow? Did you remember the building on the hill whose architecture disgusts you every time you visit it? Whichever aspect you thought of, Esther Kariuki, a lecturer at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and lover of philosophy, had an interesting view regarding beauty in this month’s Aristotle’s Breakfast. Esther, through her presentation, reiterated Plato’s position that the youth must be educated on beauty and beauty must only be viewed as a reflection of good values and a unique gift, only appreciated by the intellect.

You may be privy to the recent public uproar resulting from release of music, which, in the view of many, “does not qualify to be good music” Characterized by their uncoordinated and annoying beats, the music releases fall short of any definition of beauty. The regulatory authorities have had the most difficult time attempting to regulate the skewed conception of what beauty is. This is the frustration which comes when the meaning is not clearly defined. Esther insists that the fight starts from the understanding of the meaning of beauty.

Beauty equal to truth and goodness

Esther quotes Plato, who sees beauty as equal to truth and goodness. He believes that beauty has a most real and absolute existence albeit in the world of ideas. Aristotle, however, views beauty slightly differently; he views it as something exhibiting an orderly arrangement, proportion and definiteness. Other writers have also commented on the issue, bringing the uniqueness and the special place which beauty holds in our lives and the effect it has in molding us to be virtuous people.

Whichever way you like to view it, perhaps a unitive definition would be that of St. Thomas Aquinas who summarizes it by stating that, ‘the beautiful is that which is pleasing to behold.” There are some works of art that you can come across and immediately appreciate their beauty even without necessarily having to be conscious of what beauty means. You may have seen some architectural designs and beheld the sight! This immediate recognition of absolute beauty points to the innate desire of our soul for beautiful things. Based on this, Esther points out that beauty has a role in helping us to be ‘truly humane’.

Education on beauty

Plato insists that the youth should be educated on the concept of beauty so that they are able to reject any manifestations of ugliness sold as beauty. The modern world is awash with fabrications presented as beauty and we should have a sieve to know what really constitutes beauty. Esther reiterates Plato’s position on this that priority should be put on the education of music and poetry since the two speak to the soul when appreciated.

When asked about the obsession with functionality at the expense of beauty in the modern world, Esther was quick to note that this is a ticking time bomb since ‘the ugly doesn’t last’. She says that a human person’s soul is repelled by an ugly presentation. You don’t feel nice being in a building which does not exhibit beauty in its fullness.

Through the paper and the presentation, Esther hopes that she can plant a seed of appreciation of true beauty in your soul so that you may be on the lookout for beauty in its true sense and insist on it in every aspect of your life.


This article was written by Gabriel Dinda. Gabriel is a Graduate Assistant at School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Aristotle’s Breakfast, a platform to discuss topical issue from a philosophical angle, takes place every month at Strathmore University. To participate email: jbranya@strathmore.edu

If you have a story, kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu