chapter  21
12 Pages



The idea of taste is embedded in discourse about aesthetic appreciation and art, both in philosophy and in ordinary conversation. People are praised if they display good taste in their choice of art, entertainment, clothes or behavior to others; they are criticized for dubious preferences and inappropriate demeanor. Popular and public art is sometimes actually suppressed if it appears to violate norms of taste. These activities suggest that ‘taste’ labels a set of preferences and dispositions that admit shared social standards and public criticism. At the same time, as the saying goes, ‘there is no accounting for taste.’ Aesthetic responses are also understood as immediate and powerful reactions that are not wholly the result of deliberation or choice. Just as a love of chocolate seems immune to persuasion, taste for decoration, music, movies or other art seems in part to be dependent upon an individual’s psychological make-up and personality. How can both these ways of thinking be sound? This question generates what philosophers of earlier times called the ‘problem of taste,’ for aesthetics has always harbored an uneasy tension between the necessity of critical standards for judging art works and the fact that those standards rely upon the subjective responses of the individuals appreciating art, which are notoriously variable.