Friday, February 17, 2006

Taste and Morality

“…Where the ideas of morality and decency alter from one age to another, and where vicious manners are described, without being marked with the proper characters of blame and disapprobation; this must be allowed to disfigure the poem, and to be a real deformity.” (246, Of the Standard of Taste)

If, as Hume states, we “cannot prevail on ourselves to enter into [the artist’s] sentiments” when the object does not fit into the morals of our age, must we also reject all art forms which were at any time in disagreement with our virtues? It is understandable that Hume places such importance on the current moral similarities. After all, it is difficult to appreciate cultural relativism when we are faced with an image or idea which affronts our very concept of humanity and virtue. Even anthropologists, who are trained to objectively view cultural differences, may be challenged by artwork which highlights the importance of genocide or cannibalism in a society. Despite such cultural and moral differences, must an artwork become entirely “deformed” in the eyes of the viewer? Since Hume ultimate concedes that beauty lies within both the subject and the object, then even an artwork which is morally repulsive to viewers from our society must be possessed with some amount of beauty. If an object possesses beauty in one culture, mustn’t it still have that beauty in another culture, or does Hume’s notion of the objectivity of beauty apply only to groups with similar taste?


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