If beauty is not a property, because it is subjective, then why is the color red a property? Seeing a color is subjective, not only it is subjective, but we cannot confirm we see the same color, and some don't. What's the property that differentiates beauty to the color red as property? And if beauty is not a property is beauty based on a lesser property like coherence or harmony?

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    There are no properties without an agent to ascribe them. The question is whether many agents agree that a property exists. Oranges are orange we can all mainly agree, but I know many people who don't find the Ducati 916 as beautiful.as I do.
    – Richard
    Mar 1, 2019 at 1:07
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    The color red is a property, but our response to it is a value judgment which equates to attraction for some people and repulsion for others. Coherence and harmony are likewise properties, but we don't all respond the same way to such properties. It can be a matter of perceptual ability, but individual emotional attitudes (e.g. positive/receptive vs. negative/rejecting) are also a factor.
    – Bread
    Mar 1, 2019 at 1:46
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    The red color is a property in that it is objectively known that it has a certain wavelength, we know that wavelengths are properties of objects that are not part of phenomenology. But the qualia itself (the quality or redness of red) is not a property of red itself... So, color has a property in that it has some objective aspect to it.
    – SmootQ
    Mar 1, 2019 at 11:31
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    The word 'red' is a social linguistic contract, and it does not describe the quality of red (qualia), but a certain range of wavelengths, which are objective.
    – SmootQ
    Mar 1, 2019 at 11:33
  • Beauty is a property, though the thresholds that subjectively define beauty are looser. A property like red has more strict (and a lower quantity of) thresholds.
    – RodolfoAP
    Mar 6, 2019 at 20:46

2 Answers 2


Frequency is a >>physical<< property; but, like you say, color isn't. It's more a qualia. Along those lines, and just like you say, "we cannot confirm we see the same color"

Quantitatively, consider the usual r,g,b colorspace, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RGB_color_space But suppose you and I are born differently with respect to our r,g,b qualia -- my "red experience" is your "blue experience" (and, say, my green your red, and my blue your green). So, e.g., when we both look at the same apple, I'm having my red experience, whereas you're having my blue experience.

But we've both been taught to say the word "red" to describe our respective-but-different experiences. Moreover, for any combination, e.g., red+blue=purple, we'll have correspondingly different experiences, but have learned the same word. So it's logically impossible (i.e., by manipulations of symbolic information acquired by talking to us) to determine whether or not you and I are having the same color experiences (it might be physiologically possible, maybe by some kind of fmri-like brain scans).

So it's only (the frequency, etc of) the apple's reflected light that's a property, per se, of the (beautiful or not) apple, not its "color". Likewise, "beauty" is a personal experience, but in this case it is logically possible to distinguish whether or not we're having the same "beauty experience" just by talking to us.

  • Answer is largely unclear - you are suggesting that color is not a property, and frequency is, although we must use our senses to measure frequency, same as we must use our senses to perceive color ?
    – rs.29
    Mar 4, 2019 at 22:56
  • @rs.29 I'd disagree that "we must use our senses to measure frequency" . Instruments can measure frequency, and, say, print out a number representing it on a piece of paper. And everybody agrees what that printed number says, and, crucially, its meaning/semantics is unambiguous. Now, everybody can also print "red" on some paper to describe an apple's color. But the meaning/semantics of the corresponding qualia can't be unambiguously determined, which was the point I elaborated.
    – user19423
    Mar 5, 2019 at 5:55
  • You still need to read the paper :D And how would you know that everybody sees same figure on the paper ? Essentially, problem of color and problem of number are the same - we don't know qualia of other person. Therefore, there is no real reason to say numbers are objective and colors are subjective - it could be only agreed by convention .
    – rs.29
    Mar 5, 2019 at 7:46
  • @rs.29 Sorry, I'm not seeing a cite for your "paper :D". The abstract logical stuff like number is different from subjective qualia because there is no "underlying reality", only "underlying axioms". Geometrically, for example, a "point" can be the period at the end of a sentence, or the entire planet Earth, depending on context, as long as your "point" satisfies the defining axioms. Ditto for numbers, e.g., Peano or other axioms, the lambda calculus expressions, etc.
    – user19423
    Mar 6, 2019 at 6:32
  • You are forgetting that we are talking about figure on the paper. You see 3 and that four you represents abstract thing like number three. But what do I see ? Maybe I see 2 and that for me represents number two, but I call it a three while communicating with you . My point is physics as such relies on empirical data, and such date is inevitably sensory by nature.
    – rs.29
    Mar 6, 2019 at 20:39

Problem of objective definition of beauty

For something to be a property, it must be objective, i.e. it must be independent from observer. From purely skeptical position, we could declare anything perceived empirically to be subjective. Yet, although strictly speaking true, this is not very practical - it reduces philosophy to infertile solipsism.

Therefore, let's use somewhat relaxed definition of property as something that could be objectively defined :) For the colors, usual definition would be frequency of light (electromagnetic radiation) visible to human eye. Although imperfect, this definition is at least mostly independent from observer. As such, it could qualify as property. But is there similar definition of beauty ?

In fact, although no definition of beauty is universally accepted , it is entirely possible to create such definition . One example would be functional definition of beauty - something is beautiful if it serves its purpose well. For example, primary function of sport car is speed. Therefore, sleek sport car is beautiful because aerodynamic improves speed. Tanks on the other hand must have good armor and firepower, therefore beautiful tank would be rugged looking and robust. With functional definition of beauty it is relatively easy to grade human made objects. Problem arises with things that do not have well-defined function. For example, what would be primary function of the women ? If we define it purely biologically as child bearing, we could reduce her beauty to attributes needed to have and raise healthy offspring. But of course such definition would be unacceptable to large parts of society.

From this, we could finally conclude : beauty could be considered as property if we could find generally acceptable definition of beauty. Since currently we could not do that, beauty is in the eye of beholder.

  • Definition of beauty, from Italian artist Elio Carletti: "Beauty is a summation of parts working together in such a way that nothing needs to be added, or taken away, or altered." (of practical value: it's also used as a pickup-line by Nicolas Cage to Jessica Biel in the movie Next, adding at the end of the sentence, "...and that's you, you're beautiful." You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many pick-up lines.)
    – user19423
    Mar 6, 2019 at 6:24
  • @JohnForkosh I would disagree : you could be so thin that you are starving to death, you could be so rich that you don't have any real friends, and you could have so many women around you that you don't have any peace :D
    – rs.29
    Mar 6, 2019 at 20:42
  • "You can never be..." is a quote/saying brainyquote.com/quotes/wallis_simpson_207514 And here's another quote/saying brainyquote.com/quotes/ralph_waldo_emerson_136909 Arguing over my humorous-cum-silly extension to the first quote is maybe circling the drain with respect to the second.
    – user19423
    Mar 7, 2019 at 4:48

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