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What problem does Hume set out to solve in "Of the Standard of Taste"? Does he succeed?
Hume's Of the Standard of Taste (OST) sets out to resolve a particular paradox that Hume identifies in our habitual approach to matters of taste and aesthetic pleasure. We should begin, then, by elucidating this apparent paradox and the options it presents to us with regard to how we should bring together two opposing elements of our commonplace assumptions about art and aesthetic judgement. Once it has been made clear what problem OST is intended to resolve, we can move on to discuss how successful such an attempt has been, considering charges of circularity and infinite regress. FINISH CONCLUSION!
Hume's argument in OST focuses around the resolution of this apparent paradox: our common sense tells us that aesthetic taste is subjective, just as we consider gustatory taste to be, since it is anecdotally clear that aesthetic taste can vary wildly from person to person, and since the uniqueness of individual human experience makes it entirely unexpected that this should be the case. However, our common sense also tells us at times that some artworks are, simply, objectively better than others - we all agree that Milton was a better author than Dan Brown. Hume first suggests that even within our immediate acquaintances, it is clear that there are variations in taste and aesthetic response, and secondly, in a wider sense, that the relativity of certain aesthetic norms between cultures appears to be a matter of fact. It would seem that we are capable of agreeing on the broad issues of aesthetic taste, but that this agreement breaks down when we discuss particulars: we all agree that elegance is good, but we fail to agree when it comes to selecting which objects are 'elegant'. Hume suggests thus that agreement of this broad kind in aesthetic discourse is based upon linguistics as much as anything else, such that it appears that we are often in agreement only because we use broad terms that intrinsically denote commendation or condemnation - it would be out of place, for example, if I were to suggest that a sculpture was elegant, but that I derived no aesthetic pleasure from that feature. Rather, there is truth in the maxim that beauty is 'in the eye of the beholder', and is not a quality of an object itself, but a 'sentiment' or emotion evoked by perceiving that artwork. Thus our reactions are unique and individual, and they are 'true' only in the sense that it is correct that we respond to artworks in the way that we do respond. Beauty is thus equivalent to gustatory taste, and my dislike of Monet is only the same as my dislike of Burger King - neither can be legitimately deemed 'wrong'. The opposite side of the paradox, then, is this. Although it appears that there exists an 'equality of taste', by which we are all entitled to our own views upon an artist without fear of their being 'wrong' views to hold, in reality, none of us act like this equality exists. In fact, quite the opposite is true, and we often discount people's opinions on artworks as ridiculous, or unmerited, or simply incorrect - if somebody, for example, were to suggest that Dan Brown were a better author than Shakespeare, we would roundly condemn this opinion. The problem that Hume identifies, then, is essentially this: how can we continue to act in this way in the face of the subjectivity of human experience? Hume hopes to rationalise this behaviour by positing a 'standard of taste'. Hume's argument is grounded in a number of establishing premisses, the first being the existence of 'principles of taste'. Hume suggests that because authors such as Homer and Virgil have pleased and brought
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