Chapter 8. "Ęsthetic Principles Are Universal" by David Hume

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Ideas of Interest from Of the Standard of Taste
[The Reading Selection from Of the Standard of Taste]
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

David Hume Thoemmes

About the author …

David Hume's (1711-1776) early interest in philosophical questions, at the age of 16, led to his work on an observationally based science of human nature described his celebrated A Treatise Concerning Human Nature. By his early twenties, he had read most, if not all, of the influential books in Latin, French, and English in the fields of classical literature, science, mathematics, metaphysics, ethics, and history. Although Hume's philosophy is empirically based, his remark concerning the essential place of the passions in human nature is often overlooked: "Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions."[1] The passions are, Hume thinks, integral qualities of persons—feelings attributable to the ideas of, or the experience of, pleasure or pain. Reason alone is insufficient to explain emotional responses of composed of feelings.

About the work …

In "Of the Standard of Taste" in Four Dissertations,[2] Hume argues that reference to standards of taste can prove some ęsthetic preferences to be mistaken. He believes ęsthetic judgments are inductively established through experience and education: highly trained, unprejudiced, and practiced critics establish reliable standards of taste and beauty. Nevertheless, ęsthetic preferences vary to some degree with an individual's age, temperament, and culture. Hume's standard of taste is an empirical and not an į priori criterion, a point Immanuel Kant sought to remedy.

Ideas of Interest from Of the Standard of Taste

  1. Explain the commonly held "principle of the natural equality of taste." Why does Hume believe the principle is mistaken?

  2. According to Hume, what is the role of reason in the evaluation of purpose in the arts?

  3. Is the quality of beauty in ęsthetic objects or is it in the feelings evoked by those objects?

  4. Why does Hume believe the principles of taste can be thought of as universal standards? How can these principles be proved?

  5. How does Hume think disagreements in taste should be settled?

  6. According to Hume, what are the main reasons for variations in taste among persons of refined taste?



David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature. 1739-40. Edited by L.A. Selby-Bigge, 2nd Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975. II, iii, 3/416.


David Hume. Four Dissertations. London: A. Millar. 1757.