I’m sure you’ve heard a phrase like, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” or “Beauty is what you make it.” Usually what people mean when they say this is, “So long as you enjoy/appreciate something, you can call it beautiful.” While this may sound nice, it actually destroys any meaning beauty might have.

Despite this objection, you might be thinking, “That doesn’t make any sense. I find certain things beautiful/enjoyable that others don’t. This sounds like you’re just trying to convince me to think your favorite things are what’s beautiful.” I can sympathize with this. I certainly wouldn’t want anybody trying to tell me that my favorite band is garbage.

This objection, however, misses the point. It doesn’t even matter what I think is beautiful. The idea is that something would be beautiful even if nobody thought so. Thus, I think we should consider three reasons why “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” ought to be rejected.

First, this definition reduces beauty to a mere preference claim. In other words, the word “beauty” loses its distinction and becomes synonymous with the word “enjoyable.” However, we can see that this is false when we consider that it is possible for us to enjoy things that we know aren’t beautiful and vice versa.

Second, we can recognize signs of beauty intuitively. For example, think of a sunset on the beach or a mountainscape. Think of the colors the sun creates in the sky or the way the mountains might reflect on the water. We know this is beautiful, so much so that it hardly takes convincing. If we can recognize beauty intuitively, it tells us that beauty exists despite what we think about it.

Third, if an “Ultimate Beauty” exists, it means that we must judge beauty against that ultimate standard rather than our internal preferences. Think of this like an answer key to a test. The more something is like its Ultimate Standard, the closer it is to being perfect. From the Christian worldview, God is definitionally that ultimate standard of beauty. In other words, God has “the most” beauty. Anything else can be measured by how close it is to God’s standard.

Obviously this short post does not cover everything possible in this discussion. Instead, this post is merely meant to get people, particularly Christians, thinking about how we approach something like the concept of beauty.


Additional Reading

Beauty: What It Is and Why It Matters by John-Mark L. Miravalle