David Hume's Of the Standard of Taste

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David Hume’s essay “Of the Standard of Taste” addresses the problem of how objects are judged. Hume addresses three assumptions about how aesthetic value is determined. These assumptions are: all tastes are equal, some art is better than others, and aesthetic value of art is defined by a person’s taste(from lecture). However, Hume finds the three beliefs to be an “inconsistent triad”(from lecture) of assumptions. If all taste is equal but taste defines the aesthetic value, how can it be that some art is good and others bad? Wouldn’t all art be equal if all taste is equal? Hume does not believe all objects are equal in their beauty or greatness. He states that some art is meant to endure, “the beauties, which are naturally fitted to excite agreeable sentiment, immediately display their energy”.(text pg 259) So how will society discern what is agreeable and what is not? Hume proposes a set of true judges whose palates are so refined they can precisely define the aesthetic value of something. “The great variety of Taste, as well as of opinion, which prevails in the world, is too obvious not to have fallen under every one’s observation”(text pg 255), Hume states in his opening. He then points out, “Every voice is united in applauding,”(text pg 255) all kinds of values like “elegance” and “simplicity” that are supposedly seen in an object. Hume is conveying the idea that every person has their own unique tastes in art and they all seem to agree on the aesthetic value of an object. He then brings in the critic who analyzes the pieces of the object and proposes that all previous judgments were not accurate. Hume says, “But when the critic comes to particulars, this seeming unanimity vanishes”(text pg 255). The job of t... ... middle of paper ... ... and perverts all operations of the intellectual faculty.”(text pg 263) Hume states the only way for a judge to keep his prejudice in check is to also have good sense, “It belongs to good sense to check its(prejudice) influence”(text pg 263) In this essay Hume creates the true judges who are required to have: delicacy of taste, practice in a specific art of taste, be free from prejudice in their determinations, and good sense to guide their judgments. In Hume’s view the judges allow for reasonable critiques of objects. Hume also pointed out that taste is not merely an opinion but has some physical quality which can be proved. So taste is not a sentiment but a determination. What was inconsistent in the triad of commonly held belief was that all taste is equal and so Hume replaced the faulty assumption with the true judges who can guide society’s sentiments.
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