In defence of good taste, BBC Culture


“It is natural for us to seek a Standard of Taste,” wrote the Scottish philosopher David Hume in 1757, “a rule by which the various sentiments of men may be reconciled; at least, a decision, afforded, confirming one sentiment, and condemning another.”

Hume was trying to resolve two apparently contradictory observations. One: that people disagree about what is good and bad art, and two: that we can agree that some art works are understood to be the greatest achievements of humankind. There is a basis for good taste, Hume concluded, which is our feelings, our response to the art work. And he suggested that certain people were in a position to judge what was in good taste: those who had “delicate sentiment, improved by practice” could decide, “the true standard of taste and beauty”.

Today, however, we rarely speak of someone having good taste. Taste is a word that is off limits when it comes to art. Carl Wilson, author of Let’s Talk about Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste, notes that Hume’s theory “could be described as a prejudice – a bias in favour of tradition, which may publish deviation from the ‘highest’ standards and obstruct the creation of new ones.’

Article on BBC Culture. Click here to read on. (Non UK)

(Pix: The artist Grayson Perry)