One Minute Lecture

Ask a Researcher: Is there really no Accounting for Taste?

We have all heard the phrase “There is no accounting for taste”. Why should we agree with it? Why should there be no accounting? Margus Vihalem, lecturer of philosophy at the School of Humanities has the answer.

chalks of different colours

From an aesthetics viewpoint, taste has a prominent position in our lives: we analyse and assess our senses constantly, even though not very thoroughly. A large portion of our everyday communication and lifestyle have to do with what we think and discuss, what we find nice or ugly, what we like or do not like. In addition, our actions are led by these thoughts.

There have been great debates, duels, as well as wars over taste. One could argue tastes and arguing over tastes is the basis of culture. Culture itself is an ever-changing mixture of norms in tastes, which determines our actions and values. It determines what we eat, how we dress or what is our preferred entertainment, but also what we think and say about these things.

It is good to debate over tastes: it’s a part of being human. Moreover, it is a lot of fun! It connects us, helps us to better understand ourselves and others, as well as other cultures, perhaps even other species.

Aesthetics is a discipline in philosophy that studies aesthetic experiences. An aesthetic experience is one that gains meaning when compared to individual preferences or cultural norms and values. Thus, one the one hand, aesthetics looks at our senses and perceptions, but on the other hand it studies the values and norms that are constantly changing and adapting. It is not possible to separate a sensory experience from values and norms; what we sense and notice has to do with what we deem valuable and noteworthy.

Traditionally, aesthetics has been linked to fine arts. However, fine arts, even though very important from a cultural perspective, is just one of many examples of connecting perceptions and aesthetic values.

Lately, aesthetics has started to value the aesthetical aspects of our everyday lives. We can say our everyday lives contain many moments where we turn our attention to the aesthetic properties of things, creatures and actions, or where we need to make aesthetics-based decisions. For example, tasty food is not just sustenance, but also an aesthetic pleasure; a perfect play in football, often resulting in a beautiful goal, brings us joy. Even a clean house or working environment is a source of aesthetic pleasure. Our consumer choices that help us make our environment cleaner and more nature-friendly, are also aesthetic decisions.

It has been established a long time ago that we can develop our aesthetic sensitivity and tastes, thus adding colour and meaning to our lives.