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De Gustibus: Arguing about Taste and Why We Do It

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In De Gustibus Peter Kivy deals with a question that has never been fully addressed by philosophers of art: why do we argue about art? We argue about the 'facts' of the world either to influence people's behaviour or simply to get them to see what we take to be the truth about the world. We argue over ethical matters, if we are ethical 'realists, ' because we think we are In De Gustibus Peter Kivy deals with a question that has never been fully addressed by philosophers of art: why do we argue about art? We argue about the 'facts' of the world either to influence people's behaviour or simply to get them to see what we take to be the truth about the world. We argue over ethical matters, if we are ethical 'realists, ' because we think we are arguing about 'facts' in the world. And we argue about ethics, if we are 'emotivists, ' or are now what are called 'expressionists, ' which is to say, people who think matters of ethics are simply matters of 'attitude, ' to influence the behaviour of others. But why should we argue about works of art? There are no 'actions' we wish to motivate. Whether I think Bach is greater than Beethoven and you think the opposite, why should it matter to either of us to convince the other? This is a question that philosophers have never faced. Kivy claims here that we argue over taste because we think, mistakenly or not, that we are arguing over matters of fact.


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In De Gustibus Peter Kivy deals with a question that has never been fully addressed by philosophers of art: why do we argue about art? We argue about the 'facts' of the world either to influence people's behaviour or simply to get them to see what we take to be the truth about the world. We argue over ethical matters, if we are ethical 'realists, ' because we think we are In De Gustibus Peter Kivy deals with a question that has never been fully addressed by philosophers of art: why do we argue about art? We argue about the 'facts' of the world either to influence people's behaviour or simply to get them to see what we take to be the truth about the world. We argue over ethical matters, if we are ethical 'realists, ' because we think we are arguing about 'facts' in the world. And we argue about ethics, if we are 'emotivists, ' or are now what are called 'expressionists, ' which is to say, people who think matters of ethics are simply matters of 'attitude, ' to influence the behaviour of others. But why should we argue about works of art? There are no 'actions' we wish to motivate. Whether I think Bach is greater than Beethoven and you think the opposite, why should it matter to either of us to convince the other? This is a question that philosophers have never faced. Kivy claims here that we argue over taste because we think, mistakenly or not, that we are arguing over matters of fact.

19 review for De Gustibus: Arguing about Taste and Why We Do It

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lukas op de Beke

    In De Gustibus Peter Kivy gives a true masterclass in aesthetics. The build-up of the book, starting with an original, thought-provoking anecdote of a passage in Cervantes' Don Quichot, sets the scene for Kivy to home in on the million dollar question "why do we argue about matters of taste?". The author is one of those rare philosophers who know not only how to unfold and sustain an argument but also how to do this is in a way that is enjoyable for the reader to follow- i.e. speckled with reson In De Gustibus Peter Kivy gives a true masterclass in aesthetics. The build-up of the book, starting with an original, thought-provoking anecdote of a passage in Cervantes' Don Quichot, sets the scene for Kivy to home in on the million dollar question "why do we argue about matters of taste?". The author is one of those rare philosophers who know not only how to unfold and sustain an argument but also how to do this is in a way that is enjoyable for the reader to follow- i.e. speckled with resonating examples and every now and then recapitulating on the ground covered. Kivy's frequent references to philosophers, both from the philosophical pantheon (Reid, Hume and Kant) as well as more recent fellows, are always relevant and his decision to work his way through the subject matter in chronological fashion seems appropriate. After all, clever minds in distant times have stumbled upon the same philosophical problems we are grappling with today, and more often than not they have managed to circumscribe and delineate these problems or questions far better than anyone after has ever done. Make no mistake, the author does not end these references in awkward deference but instead chooses between one or the other interpretation when this is pertinent. In the latter chapters we are introduced to philosophical rival views, stemming from the neighbouring more popular domain of meta-ethics, such as the error theory and the emotive theory of value. To finish on a critical note, although Kivy's fundamental argument is that we argue about taste because we assume or believe in a form of aesthetic realism (in other words, the perplexing idea that aesthetic properties are somehow "out there" in the world and its objects) and consequently he is not required to actually make a case for the truth of aesthetic realism, I think he overlooked one aspect in describing this position (to be sure, Kivy does go into considerable detail about how aesthetic realism could be defended). He seems to equate subjectivist theories of value with a kind of "anything goes" mentality, forgetting that there are subjectivist, or better, intersubjectivist anti-realist theories which allow for the possibility of a "one, true" interpretation, analysis or evaluation. More precisely, it seems as though in defending and specifying aesthetic realism he unwittingly drifts towards anti-realism, for he explicitly refers to the make-up of the human mind which gives rise to the experience and perception of aesthetic properties. As far as my knowledge goes, when one argues properties do not reside or emerge from the objects found in nature but are a consequence of the human mind and senses, then this is a species of anti-realism. Of course, this is more a spectrum than a black and white distinction, as I think most people will argue that colors qua secondary qualities are indeed real, but on the other hand beauty is probably not, being instead a figment of our perception.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Logan Borges

    Despite some flaws in the last few chapters in which Kivy attempts to develop his own theory around the phenomenon of taste disputes, the remainder of the book provides an excellent way to introduce oneself to the philosophy of aesthetics, especially if you have an interest in it but do not know where to start.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  4. 4 out of 5

    Richard

  5. 4 out of 5

    Corbin

  6. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

  7. 5 out of 5

    Zsófi

  8. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steven

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

  11. 4 out of 5

    RENAT IBRAGIMOV

  12. 4 out of 5

    Everton Carter

  13. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jake Harris

  15. 5 out of 5

    Agustin

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alex Riedel

  17. 4 out of 5

    Wisdomseeker

  18. 5 out of 5

    Heather

  19. 5 out of 5

    Maria Znl

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