Beauty, according to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (c. 427–347 B.C.E.), is the most accessible of the Forms. Forms are transcendent sources of the essential qualities of things, the qualities that make things what they are. The proper relation among these qualities, their harmony, is what makes a thing beautiful. We are naturally drawn to beautiful things, wanting to possess them and to perpetuate their beauty in creations of our own.
Our love of beauty leads us to seek it in increasingly more enduring forms of enjoyment and creation: from particular physical objects to friends and children, to public institutions and societal laws, to scientific theories and philosophical systems, and finally to Beauty itself. Thus Beauty is the harmonizing structure that give things their integrity, we desire it above all else, and in its presence we are able to create things of enduring worth. It is both the measure of our good and the enkindling agent for its accomplishment. Western notions of beauty since Plato are but a series of footnotes to these linked notions.
Objective interpretations Aristotle emphasizes the notion of structure: The beauty of a thing lies in its formal and final causes, in the imposition of appropriate ordering principles of symmetry and unity upon indeterminate matter. He argues that for a work of art, such as a tragedy, to be excellent it must adhere to proper unities of time, place, and narrative sequence. Plotinus (205–270 C.E.) emphasizes the notion of beauty’s lure, the ascent by its means to the timeless.
Beauty is not merely symmetry and unity; it is a power irradiating them, for which we yearn and through which we can transcend that about us which is perishing. The early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354–430 C.E.) identifies this power as God, through the beauty of whose Word our restless selves find salvation’s rest.