Of the Standard of Taste by David Hume

David Humes Of the Standard of Taste is a classic philosophical piece for understanding the art and the peoples perception about it. Hume was a Scottish philosopher who presented the idea about the taste and liking about art with much more depth and understanding. Before Hume, many thinkers had focused their attention about the way to judge the art not by its quality but how the viewers see, feel and read it making the way for the aesthetic experience and later on its aesthetic properties.

In his Of the Standard of Taste, Hume tries to merge the two opposite ideas with on one hand adopting the view that beauty lies in the eyes of beholder, in other words tastes of the people are different as their ways of perception about the art is also different. It means what appeals to someone may not be as appealing for the other. It also depends on the sentiment of the viewer and the way he or she associates and feels about the art. If for someone the piece of art is beautiful then it is beautiful and there is no second thought about it. But on the contrary, this is not the end of the discussion, because taste should not be considered as a matter to be completely relative as no one can deny the fact that Shakespeares works are better as compared to John Grisham and regarding this if someone would have ever tried to frame the opposite opinion, he wont be able to make anything of it.

Thousand people may have varying opinions but among all, only one of them may be true, and the only difficulty is finding out whose As there are so many different opinions, thoughts and ideas and in this case as nobody as yet has perceived what is object all about so all the sentiments emanating out of the ideas or thoughts are in themselves right. This occurs because there is a sense of conformity or relation between the object and the mind and this relation creates sentimentality. If there is no conformity then there is no sensitivity either. Beauty is not qualified in things but exists in mind which envisages it. If for someone a particular object is beautiful then for the other it may be ugly. Each person gives his opinion from the roots of his sentiments without trying to expose ones views on the others. Like a single object may taste sweet to someone and bitter to the other depending on their taste buds and it is pointless to dispute on it. In the same way is the sensing of the taste of art.

Hume mixed these two ideas by posing the fact that there are certain standards of taste and regarding this there is a consensus among all human minds which come with these sentiments. This is universal among all human beings. He said that the basic reason why everyone does not follow the common standard of appreciating the art is because of the emotional feelings man so tenderly follows. These emotions are very delicate in nature making it all the more necessary to learn the skills of appreciating the art on the grounds of established principles and any disturbance or outside interference may distort the emotional instincts of viewers. In Humes own words, Those finer emotions of the mind are of a very tender and delicate nature, and require the concurrence of many favorable circumstances to make them play with facility and exactness, according to their general and established principles. The least exterior hindrance to such small springs, or the least internal disorder, disturbs their motion, and confounds the operation of the whole machine.  However still there is a universal beauty because there is a sense of relationship between the sentiments and the natural form. We feel sentimentally close to the fragrance of rose as it brings us close to the culture and tradition. But what makes this form of relationship- it is the capacity to feel connected to the rose with its fragrance and in appreciating its color, setting and overall appearances.

There is also observation among the men about the delicacy of taste which mostly resembles the delicacy of passion. Hume defines delicacy of taste by assuming the fact that where the organs are so fine, as to allow nothing to escape them and at the same time so exact as to perceive every ingredient in the composition this we call delicacy of taste, where we employ these terms in the literal or metaphorical sense. There is a certain sense of sensitivity and observation on the part of men which are so delicate and passionate that every object seems fine and inescapable. It enables them to judge the piece of art minutely from various aspects enabling not to raise any contradictions. These men of delicate taste are very few, easily recognized and picked because their deep and sound understanding makes them abler than the rest of the society. Their approval on any work of art becomes a standard for everybody. Amidst all this, there ought to arise many prejudices and contradictory opinions yet these contradictions may themselves soon give space to the sentimental view and nature. Though any nation may be mistaken on the choice of a philosopher, yet they never mistake in their love for their favorite writer of tragedies or epics.  

Inspite of all the efforts being made to establish a fixed standard of taste and to bring together the clashing views and perceptions of the people, still there are many aspects to beauty and ugliness and many boundaries which have not yet been able to get smudged. These differences are in the form of judging on the basis of temperaments or on the culture of the country or specific nature and aptitude pertaining to particular age. The difference in the taste may also occur when certain people look at the particular piece of art with prejudice. It implies there is some defect or problem in their way of thinking and perceiving the thing but the general principles on the basis of which art is judged or in other words general perception of taste is same among all.

Hume further elaborating on his idea says that if object of certain kind is first produced before the observer, the sentiment that occurs is very confusing and unclear and the mind is not able to see the excellence or any qualities intrinsic in the work of the art or any defects occurring to it. Our taste has incapability to assert any of the opinion whether good or bad about the certain piece of art. We are not capable to perceive excellence in work, or the extent of the degree of its quality and how good or beautiful this piece of art is but as soon as person gains the experience, he is able to give accurate judgment not only he is able to appreciate the beauty of the art finely and accurately but also can point out any draw backs if any. He is also able to compare it with the others and can make mark distinction. Here he is not making use of his sensibility but his intrinsic knowledge about the art and his experience with the same in words of Hume, practice in a particular art , in other words he has gained considerable experience in analyzing the particular piece of art.

If suppose a judge is qualified then he would also exert same sentiments as the other qualified judges but sentiments neither follow normative nor any standard weight but there is often similarity between the sentiments and opinion among the ones whose opinions are most valuable. Hereby Hume does not mean to say that they are only correct sentiments rather they may be incorrect ones too. In all through his perception of art, Hume is suggesting a middle path when he is facing a dilemma of choosing between relativism and objectivism.

Whether any person has been gifted with a good sense or not and is away from any prejudice is liable for discussion and their thoughts becomes disputable. Everyone should agree about this aspect because any disputable subject is a matter of discussion and inquiry and is valuable. When doubts occur then the men suggesting their own opinions must present their arguments, and on the other hand must also acknowledge the fact that there is certain standard according to which analysis should be based and an object or art should be appreciated, judged or criticized.

Hume accepts that there are many major differences in quality and rank but still stick to the belief that aesthetic judgment is only expression of what our sentiments say without generalizing on the rules. In short, the solution lies in forming of general rules which are experimental, generally constituting all the cultures and ages and relies on sentiments to the pleasure of all.


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