Chapter 10. "Taste Is Universal" by Edmund Burke

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from "On Taste"
The Reading Selection from "On Taste"
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Edmund Burke (adapted) Thoemmes

About the author …

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was born in Dublin, studied at Trinity College, and moved to London to study law. Instead of pursuing law, however, he became involved with Samuel Johnson's Literary Club. Burke is best known now as a conservative English statesman who, opposing British policies in India and the American colonies, nevertheless published two influential works in philosophy. The first, A Vindication of Natural Society was meant to satirize Bolingbroke's political philosophy, although most readers mistakenly thought either Bolingbroke, himself, wrote the work or thought the views expressed were Burke's genuine beliefs. The second, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and the Beautiful, introduces the element of terror as essential to the sublime and, in an introductory essay, as a secondary issue, concludes that ęsthetic abilities are improved through experience and knowledge. Burke served in the English Parliment, and, upon the debate of the question of the American colonies, Burke is said to have stated, " If we have equity, wisdom, and justice, it will belong to this country; if we have it not, it will not belong to this country."

About the work …

In his essay "On Taste," an introduction to the second edition of his A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and the Beautiful,[1] Burke argues for the uniformity of taste among persons on the basis of sensibility—not on the basis of judgment as Hume had done in his essay on taste.[2] His Enquiry was widely read during the late 1700's. In the essay, Burke utilizes the empiricism of Locke to conclude that the imagination (or the "fancy") cannot produce new ideas; instead, the imagination represents perceptual images either accurately or in new combinations. The pleasures arising from novel similarities in art, Burke thinks, are a matter of a taste common to all men, even though ęsthetic appreciation can be enhanced through knowledge and experience. In sum, for Burke, the logic of taste is often less controvertible than the logic of reason. Burke's influence is not so much in his originality as it is in the sensationalist ęsthetics characteristic of eighteenth century English and French writers. Where Burke does prove original, however, is in his romantic refashioning of Longinus's classical analysis of the sublime.

Ideas of Interest from "On Taste"

  1. Why does Burke think a logic of taste has not been systematized whereas the logic of reason has been systematized?

  2. How does Burke define "taste"?

  3. What is Burke's argument that the pleasures of the senses are similar for all persons?

  4. How does Burke distinguish between imagination and judgment?

  5. According to Burke, how do differences in critical taste arise?

  6. How does Burke define taste?

  7. According to Burke what causes a person to have poor taste? What are the causes of good taste?

  8. How does Burke account for the different ęsthetic effects of a work of art on different persons?

  9. Why does Burke believe taste is not a unique faculty?

  10. What is Burke's main distinction between beauty and the sublime?



Edmund Burke. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and the Beautiful. 2nd Edition. 1759.


David Hume. "Of the Standard of Taste." In Four Dissertations. London: A. Millar. 1757.