At one level, it seems obviously the case that this is true. Yet clearly, there are people who exist that most would call attractive and others who most would call not. So, how is the question of physical attractiveness dealt with in the context of the subjective/objective dichotomy? Is it subjective, objective, or both?

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    Yes it is...... Jun 14, 2023 at 6:13
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    All massive things are objectively physically attractive ;) Yet gravity isn't the strongest of the physical forces.
    – haxor789
    Jun 14, 2023 at 8:39
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    Ask a hungry lion if Kate Beckinsale is attractive or edible. =) Attraction is a product of learned neuromodulatory reward associated with patterns that an individual has been exposed to. Some patterns are more generally effective over the entire human population. Some patterns are effective only within a race, or among the locals, or within a culture. Some things we love due to pure imprinting. Transient psychophysiologic agitation or drugs can stimulate attraction that isn't characteristic of the ground state. Some people are able to find beauty in other beings and things intentionally.
    – blakkwater
    Jun 14, 2023 at 12:04
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    Esthetics is an evolved facility that is then overlaid by culture.
    – Boba Fit
    Jun 14, 2023 at 13:35
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    @haxor789: Gravity isn't real, the Earth just sucks ;)
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2023 at 16:59

3 Answers 3


Beauty is objective. Us humans, as biological creatures, have survived for gazillions of years on this planet and of course it was not easy for 99% of us.

We do not divide into 2 halves like bacteria do, we replicate using sexual intercourse in which DNA gets mixed. The 2 sexes differ in their behaviour and play different roles. Men are the ones who ensure survival, they build and protect the community from danger. Women, on the other hand, are the ones who give birth to the next generation and nurture it.

What women want in a man is primarily related to his survival / protection traits, and men are more attracted to traits related to replicating fitness, meaning a hot body and a pretty face. Of course, it is not just black and white like that, women do love good looking handsome men, and men like women to be able to help with work etc etc, but that is the general trend.

Sure we perceive beauty subjectively, and it may have slightly different impact on different individuals, but as you said attractive traits are almost universally agreed upon.

Beauty is an objective indicator of a woman's ability to give birth to healthy offspring. It is objective and that is why if a woman is very pretty, then 99% of men will agree that she is.

  • "Beauty is objective" So, we should all agree what the best paintings are..? "Beauty is an objective indicator of a woman's ability to give birth to healthy offspring" If that were true, cues of inability to reproduce should majorly attractiveness. I don't think there's evidence they do though. We discussed how virginity can be a weak guide to certain paternity, vs previously having children being an excellent guide to future healthy births here philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/99322/…
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2023 at 17:07
  • Downvoting because you have just given opinions, with no references, & no mention of any philosophy. Who claims any of your points? Can you provide evidence they aren't just expressions of personal or community biases?
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2023 at 17:10
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    i was talking about human beauty, paintings are a different story, art is aesthetics. providing references is not a requirement. the answer to the question is to be found in evolutionary psychology, which i provided. those things i mentioned have also been discussed at length by freud, schopenhauer, darwin, pua/pikcup characters, and the overrated jordan peterson, and their conclusions were identical to mine. Jun 14, 2023 at 17:20
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    Why is variation appreciating a human aesthetically, totally unlike appreciating a painting - or perhaps being inspired to make a new painting by it, for equivalence? "their conclusions were identical to mine" Were they though? Those characters all agree with each other, Freud & Evolutionary Psychology, misogynist Schopenhaur & Darwin, all say the same things..? What era of evolutionary psychology? Because early simplistic enthusiasm using it to prop up biases led to major criticism, & scepticism en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2023 at 18:15
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    The need to use the word “misogynistic” before “Schopenhauer”, despite it contributing nothing of import, is characteristic of a recent zealous bias to the opposite extreme. Honest and nuanced evaluation is helpful, even when personally threatening. Jun 15, 2023 at 21:00

So, problems with subjective/objective interpretation are always explained quite readily by the notion of intersubjectivity:

Intersubjectivity argues that each thought community shares social experiences that are different from the social experiences of other thought communities, creating differing beliefs among people who subscribe to different thought communities. These experiences transcend our subjectivity, which explains why they can be shared by the entire thought community. Proponents of intersubjectivity support the view that individual beliefs are often the result of thought community beliefs, not just personal experiences or universal and objective human beliefs. Beliefs are recast in terms of standards, which are set by thought communities.

So, attraction wired in most likely a function of the need to give cause to reproduce sexually is subjective in that an individual is attracted to an individual. That someone like Monica Bellucci to me makes her attractiveness subjective, since I, as an individual have a private experience regarding her appearance that is not consciously accessible.

But, the fact that Bellucci is seen as beautiful by large segments of society (YT) makes it somewhat objective that she is attractive (with exceptions) in that her career in modeling and acting is successful precisely because large numbers of men and women find her attractive. This is, of course, because while humans are a diverse lot, the diversity extends only to a certain degree constrained by genetically-encoded epigenetic expression and psychology that is at the basis of social behavior. The methods of science are occasionally applied to determine what sort of features seem to have relatively universal appeal within a society, though it seems there are some differences in notion of beauty from society to society through the ages.

So, there seems to be both scientifically objective aspects of beauty where some women are widely found to be psychologically appealing to large numbers of people (think Miss Universe candidates), but at the same time there are other aspects to attractiveness that seem to be a function of society (think personality, personal choices, and how a woman might present herself). Thus, subjective and intersubjective attractiveness are both dimensions since attractiveness can be in the both the eye of a beholder, and large groups of beholders at the same time.


I would identify three aspects

  1. Beneficial traits for all offspring
  2. Beneficial traits in terms of campatibility
  3. Cultural variation

For the first, an example is high ratio of hip width to waist width in women eg Cross-cultural consensus for waist–hip ratio and women's attractiveness. That makes sense given human brains are at the limit of a head that can be safely born. In a world of superabundant calories, a modern version of this is the obsession with a 'thigh gap', which indicates wide hop-bones.

Another example of the first is facial symmetry, which is thought to correlate with lack of stressors like disease during development.

An example of the second kind is finding someone's smell attractive. See Body odour and sexual attraction. Scent gives cues about having a different but compatible immune system. It's generally a bigger impactor for women, who usually develop an extremely acute sense of smell during pregnancy, indicating a bigger selection role for sense of smell amonv women.

Other examples of the second kind are in-group preferences. Research suggests that young people are more willing to begin relationships with people very different to them, and as we age we choose more similar, discussed here: how age affects what men and women find attractive. We can understand how the general phenomena of in-group preferences can lead to literal tribal-group identities: The Effects of Partisan Bias on Physical Attractiveness.

Society modulates who we find attractive in many ways. There is a kind of feedback-loop between being perceived as attractive and having attention paid, enabling social status, and social status correlating with attractiveness: Individual attractiveness preferences differentially modulate immediate and voluntary attention. Intelligence, skills, wealth, and other factors can get in that loop. But it's been shown women find wealth attractive as an indicator of good genes, not toward benefitting their own security: Economic Development Involved in How Women Select a Mate; whereas men get more demanding about attractiveness of partners with wealth: Priming the Possession of Money Influences Mating Strategies. Intra-sexual selection, so within-gender status hierarchies, can be socially beneficial by directing mate-competition towards socially beneficial ends, like picking up skills, or demonstrating public service or altruism - it's likely societies which find ways to celebrate and direct more attention to such people, will be more stable.

It's interesting to look at some extreme cultural variations about attractiveness: Japanese ohaguro teeth blackening; Chinese foot-binding and uncut fingernails; the East African lip-plate. I pick these, because they really stress how what was found attractive in one place and time can be pretty much unintelligible to us aesthetically. The black teeth were meant to evoke expensive lacquered furniture, and no doubt helped disguise poor dental health. Bound-feet and long nails indicated being aristocratic and a family rich enough to support a non-worker - it's interesting to look at modern long fake nails as a declaration a woman probably won't be doing the washing up and expects a certain dynamic of being cared for without drudgery, in this light. The lip-plate has archeogical evidence going back to antiquity, but it reached a heyday during the Slave Trade era, where it meant a woman became very unlikely to be taken - so became a kind of marker of being especially attractive, and in need of that protection.

Philosophically, I would look at attractiveness as a domain of partial intersubjectivity.

We can look at mathematics as part of defining the domain of total intersubjectivity, because numberlines are based on how we experience dimensiins, and if we didn't share the sane dimensions we wouldn't have the same chemistry, and couldn't have the same biology. Discussed here: The Unreasonable Ineffectiveness of Mathematics in most sciences In this picture math arises with physics, and vice versa.

Partial intersubjectivity, relates to how we can partially share how we see things. There can be different gender perspectives, arising primarily from differential mating strategies linked to resource investment, but which I argue here is likely to continue decreasing: Studies exploring the rationale of gender equality There can cultural differences, I always like to draw attention to how the social-reality of fiat currency illustates how something shared by a group isn't necessarily subjective, or necessarily open to amendment (or only of very limited kinds). Then there are the times we live in, speciation tends to occur during 'punctuated equilibria', like mass extinctions - and, we are living through one; we can look at culture as at root the 'hijacking' if shame disgust and status, our evolved levers of our behaviour, to allow rapid 'reprogramming' of group behaviour in the face of changes, as discussed here: How is Society shaped? Fashions change, because what it is beneficial to communicate to potential mates changes, as the ecological niche changes; and social hierarchies adapt.

I see this as an example more generally, of how we don't truly live in one reality, but in interacting sets of 'modes of life', which can help us understand limits on communication with other species until we establish shared reference experiences, discussed here: Methods for telling how another creature is feeling

  • The downvote was uncharitable. Intersubjectivity seems to face a certain hostility. Hmmm.
    – J D
    Jun 22, 2023 at 18:48