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Matters of Taste Are Not "Mere Matters of Taste"

  • Author(s): Chen, Stanley Hong-Sen
  • Advisor(s): MacFarlane, John
  • Stroud, Barry
  • et al.

It is common to accept subjectivism about matters of gustatory taste, the view that gustatory reasons and the truth of gustatory judgments are essentially dependent on our tastes or interests. In this dissertation, I argue against this commonplace by suggesting that examination of our gustatory practices does not drive us to gustatory subjectivism. I take up four aspects of our practices.

First, we acquire new tastes. The acquisition of taste is, I suggest, done on the basis of gustatory reasons that are not essentially sourced in our tastes or interests. Subjectivism cannot allow such reasons, and understanding taste acquisitions in this manner allows us to make sense of certain "second-order" evaluative attitudes we take towards those acquisitions.

Second, we resist accepting gustatory testimony, which may suggest that gustatory reasons are dependent on one's tastes. I argue against this suggestion by appealing to a gustatory value: that of abiding by one's own tastes. This gustatory value comes into conflict with epistemic values that demand that we believe reliable testimony, and this conflict makes sense of our resistance without presupposing subjectivism.

Third, we nonchalantly engage in intractable taste disputes, which may again suggest that gustatory reasons are dependent on one's tastes. However, without presupposing subjectivism, we can make sense of our nonchalance in terms of the dialectical nonchalance we feel when we are faced with disagreements that inevitably violate their constitutive goal: that of resolution via non-question-begging arguments.

Fourth, we compare and adjudicate between very different gustatory values. If those values are not measurable on a single scale, such "superhard" comparisons may motivate a subjectivist understanding of gustatory reasons. Here I suggest that the sense that such comparisons might motivate subjectivism derives from the inaccurate assumption that rational comparisons must be made on the basis of an independent guide. Giving up the assumption, we can construe such comparisons case-by-case as ones in which either one side trumps the other overall, or reason is simply indifferent between them.

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