domingo, 22 de janeiro de 2012

David Hume: 'On the Standard of Taste'

According to James Shelley (Shelley, J., in Gaut and Lopes, 2005: 44), Hume quotes a Lockean thesis when he states that “beauty is no quality in things themselves,” but a “sentiment” in “the mind that contemplates them”. In sum: “each mind perceives a different beauty” (Hume, D., in Cahn and Meskin, 2008: 104).

This is very similar to what Borges wrote on the prologue of his “Obra poética”, in 1964, when he affirms that “the taste of the apple (states Berkeley) lies in the contact of the fruit with the palate, not in the fruit itself; analogously (I would say) poetry lies in the commerce of the poem with the reader, not in the series of symbols registered on the pages of a book.”

Both means taste and beauty would not exist apart from an observer, which will have his/her sentiment affect by the taste and the beauty. There would be, thus, “thousand different opinions” in the world, which could be impossible to unify. These sentiments vary from man to man, even when they have similar opinions about the issue (Hume, D., in Cahn and Meskin, 2008: 103).

However, the sentiment does not represent “what is really in the object”, say Hume, as there must have a connection among the object and the “organs of the faculty”.

Hume searched for a standard of taste to “reconcile” the “sentiments of men”. He wanted to find what the real beauty was, despite the men’s differences. He wishes to establish one pattern, which will not be affected by neither internal nor external influences. What can be confirmed, and what can be condemned. In James Shelley’s opinion, “Hume believes that we have a standard for preferring some tastes above others because we have a standard for preferring some perceptions above others” (Shelley, J., in Gaut and Lopes 2005: 44).

For Hume, there were “general principles of approbation or blame” (Hume, D., in Cahn and Meskin, 2008: 106), which are: the forms of qualities and the capacity to please. The thinker advices that this rule will not be achieve in every occasion. On the contrary, it is required “many favourable circumstances”, when no disorder or disturbs can affect the process. He enumerates some features that observers must have to reach this standard: “a perfect serenity of mind, a recollection of thought, a due attention to the object” (ibid: 105). However, only few men are qualified to reach this norm, he assumes.

He remembers that the true object of beauty must surpass time and space, and cite Homer as an example. “Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character”, Hume writes: “and the joint verdict of such, wherever they are to be found” (ibid: 109).

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