Chapter 3: Hume’s Views and How Standards of Taste and Beauty Vary
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Before I examine Kant’s indeterminate concept of the supersensible, I want to explain the nature of the philosophical dispute about aesthetics to help the reader understand what Kant was reacting to. Kant said it was David Hume who awakened him from his “dogmatic slumber,” so I will explain Hume’s view and their relevance to Kant’s views. I will specifically explain why Hume believed beauty is relative to the perceiver and how this relativism means there can be no necessary, universal agreement to our aesthetic judgments about beauty. After that discussion, I will show how Hume was correct to say that standards of taste and beauty vary over time by giving some examples from the history of art.
In the 18th century, British empiricists argued that all of our knowledge was grounded in sense experience. They were interested in the psychology of art in terms of how art is perceived by our senses. In fact, the word aesthetics comes from the Greek word aisthētikos, which means perceived by the senses. John Locke (1632–1704) said when we are born, the mind is a blank slate (tabula rasa) onto which new sense impressions are inscribed. Gradually, as we get older, our sense impressions pile up and are organized by our mind to give us knowledge about our world. Locke also made a distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities (such as solidity and extension) are in objects themselves, and they exist whether we perceive them...
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