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Novice Karate Group (ages 7 & up)

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Personal Taste BETTER

Furniture designer Park Kae-in (Son Ye-jin) is kind, impulsive, clumsy, and is a complete slob in her personal habits. She lives in Sanggojae (meaning "a place for mutual love"), a modernized hanok (traditional Korean house) designed by her father, a famous and reclusive architecture professor (Kang Shin-il). As an independent furniture designer, she struggles to produce successful products and is constantly trying to impress her father with her works. Her long-time boyfriend, Han Chang-ryul (Kim Ji-seok), breaks up with her, the reason being Kae-in is an easy woman and a pushover. Despite being upset, Kae-in attends the wedding of her friend and roommate, Kim In-hee (Wang Ji-hye), only to discover that she is marrying Chang-ryul; and that the two had been seeing each other behind her back for a while. After she finally comes face-to-face with them, the wedding ceremony turns chaotic and is cancelled. Kae-in is heartbroken and determined to never take a chance on love again.

personal taste

After starting to live together, Jin-ho tells Kae-in that she's miserable only because of herself and the lack of concreteness in her personality. He then encourages and helps her transform from an inveterate slob into a better version of herself, who is confident and strong-willed. Amidst the transformation and hidden truths, Kae-in and Jin-ho start developing feelings for each other which they constantly deny.

According to contextualism, the extension of claims of personal taste is dependent on the context of utterance. According to truth relativism, their extension depends on the context of assessment. On this view, when the taste preferences of a speaker change, so does the truth value of a previously uttered taste claim, and the speaker might be required to retract it. Both views make strong empirical assumptions, which are here put to the test in three experiments with over 740 participants. It turns out that the linguistic behaviour of ordinary English speakers is consistent with contextualist predictions and inconsistent with the predictions of the most widely discussed form of truth relativism advocated by John MacFarlane.

What the example brings out is that the truth of claims of personal taste is assessment-sensitive (i.e. it depends on features of the context of assessment), and that this is demonstrated by the retraction of such claims at contexts of assessment at which they are no longer true. This can be fleshed out a bit. MacFarlane proposes a norm-governed picture of assertion, that is, a view according to which the practice of assertion is characterized by certain constitutive rules. According to one such rule, a speaker should only assert what is true:

Experiment 2 addressed a potential source of distortion of the first two experiments, namely the fact that the contexts of utterance and assessment were separated by a long time span. This, we said, might have lead to results inconsistent with relativism since one might think that the pragmatic commitment had worn off over time. As it turns out, the worry was unfounded: The results for the Salmon scenario are equivalent to those of the other two experiments in all respects (typeof scenario did not have a significant effect on truth assessment or retraction ratings, see ANOVA in footnote 10). The contextualist predictions proved again correct with regards to both dependent variables, and the relativist predictions were shown as empirically mistaken. The truth value of claims of personal taste is sensitive to the context of utterance only, and assertions are not subject to a rule of retraction.

We made an interesting, somewhat unexpected, discovery: Even for taste claims which are false at the context of assessment, which have been false at the context of utterance (the No/No cases), and which are clearly assessed as such, there is no decisive support for a retraction requirement. This is illustrated by Fig. 4, where the No/No cases for all three scenarios are plotted in a single graph:

Participants tend to neither agree nor disagree with the statement that the false taste claim must be retracted (no significant difference from midpoint, see note 22). This suggests that assertion simply is not governed by a norm of this sort, even in cases most favourable to its potential application.

The semantics of predicates of personal taste has received a lot of attention over the last two decades, see inter alia Kölbel (2002, 2004a, b, 2009), Lasersohn (2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2017), Stojanovic (2007, 2017), Stephenson (2007), Recanati (2007), Glanzberg (2007), MacFarlane (2007, 2014), Cappelen and Hawthorne (2009) as well as the Analysis book symposium (2011) about the latter, Sæbø (2009), Moltmann (2010), Egan (2010), Sundell (2011), Schaffer (2011), Huvenes (2012), Collins (2013), Marques (2014, 2018), Marques and García-Carpintero (2014), Zeman (2016), Zakkou (2019a, 2019b) and Kneer (2015, 2020).

So, taste does not feature today in academic discussions of art. Critics and art historians alike skirt it or eschew it altogether; not all but good many of them do. This is curious since at one time, notably in the eighteenth century, artistic judgment was inseparable from cultivation of taste.

In a more elevated sense, taste refers to personal predilection in aesthetic matters. You like this? I don't. You don't like that. I do. A matter of taste. That's that. There is not much point talking about our personal differences. Taste is beyond debate. De gustibus non est disputandem.

But we also speak of good taste and bad taste, and refer to someone as a person of taste and someone else as a person without taste. Taste, in this usage, is related to the perception of quality and the judgment built on it. But we speak, furthermore, of acquired taste, the assumption being that we can learn to like something we don't like at this time by sharpening the ability to distinguish excellence. Taste can be developed and expanded. Taste, in this sense, is more like knowledge in the realm of perception than a mere personal preference.

It is certainly true that taste is personal. It is an expression of one's like and dislike. Democratically, it warrants your right to like what you like, to choose what to like. But it is not entirely independent of the value of things. When you like something, that something gives you pleasure, and pleasure is a value. In fact, the word "to like" originally meant "to please," and in some languages the Shakespearean expression, it likes me, is still in currency:

We understand the matter of taste a little better, if we turn the question around. If someone doesn't like something, where does the fault lie -- in the thing or in the person? Is the thing faulty for not pleasing you, or are you in fault for not liking it? If it doesn't please you but pleases others, it is more likely that the fault lies in the person failing to see the thing's capacity to please. So, like and dislike may be personal but it is linked to the value regardless whether the judgment of value is ascribed to one person, a few, or perhaps many.

Thanking in such a conversation makes it evident that liking is understood as a statement that the picture is good, for there is no reason to thank if liking is understood to be merely a matter of personal taste and not shared more widely, unless, naturally, the reason for thanking is attributed to the comment understood as mere flattery.

This is a judgment of value disguised as a compliment. In other words, everyone knows the difference between the statement of taste understood as personal predilection and the statement of taste understood as value judgment. In saying that I like the work or that it's interesting, I may be merely saying that I can, even gladly, bring myself to like it though I may harbor doubts whether it is really any good. But, alternatively, I may be asserting, when I say I like it, that I mean it is good because, "as you know, I know a thing or two about art."

It is evident, then, that there is, on the one hand, a personal taste, but, on the other, quite independent of it, a discriminating taste, which knows what is good and what is not so good. Thus, the statement, I like it or I don't like it, is not merely a statement of personal taste or of an individual right to choose what to like, nor a judgement of value, to you personally or more universally to most or all, but also, very importantly, a statement of aesthetic knowledge.

To dismiss something you don't like as a matter of taste is therefore to confess ignorance. Similarly, to dismiss someone else for not liking something as a matter of taste beyond debate is to dissimulate the person's lack of taste -- his or her lack of required knowledge and the consequent failure of judgment:

Encounter with another culture expands our taste, provided we make effort to acclimatize to the more distinct features of that culture. Most Americans in 1950s thought eating raw fish was sickening; today, we find sushi bars even in a small provincial town.

Through practice, one develops discriminating taste. It is not different from the way we learn to speak a foreign language. The more adept you become, the more sensitive you get to distinguishing subtle phonetic variations.

A person of cultivated taste is a connoisseur. Consider connoisseurs in areas other than art. Horses are horses to most of us; but horse fanciers are fastidious about discriminating one horse from another. Baseball fanatics can see subtle differences in pitching of a ball. Plumbers know at a glance if a pipe is 1/2 inch or 5/8 inch without measuring, just by looking or touching. Diagnostics relies on discriminating observations. An opera buff can tell one singer from another by hearing a briefest snatch of singing.

Cultivated taste equips us with an ability to distinguish individual traits first, and, then building on it, a keener perception of qualitative differences. Cultivated taste is, nevertheless, still taste, and it is still inevitably personal. This is because, aside from acquired taste, we all have different biographical background and therefore built-in biases. Every connoisseur has her or his blindspots, where judgment falters. But within the areas in which one's taste was trained, the expression of taste is not a personal whim but the fund of knowledge developed in years of exposure to like objects.


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