Sunday, October 02, 2011

(AP) Hume and Vicious Circularity

So, in the end, what should we make of Hume's proposed solution to the antinomous depiction of art as open to "critical" (that is, objective) judgments that are irreducibly subjective in origin (and as such appear to be uncriticizable)?  Hoping ultimately to reconcile a multiplicity of human "sentiments," he invokes (what he supposes are) instances of universal agreement from which to generate principles of artistic excellence. But on what basis does Hume assume that mere inter-subjective agreement is sufficient to generate an objective (that is, trans-subjective) standard of excellence? Is he simply claiming that "the best art" always conforms to standards implicit in our best artistic products and processes? If so, Hume is open to the charge of vicious -- or at least ineffectual -- circularity.

T. Gracyk agrees:

Whatever the standard, Hume's essay poses the problem of an apparent circularity in argumentation. A limited number of works are used to identify the best critics (leading, in turn, to the list of the qualities of such critics), but those works attain the status of masterpieces only through the judgment of such critics. So Hume either defines good critics in terms of good art, or good art in terms of good critics. (Is Homer's greatness demonstrated by the fact that true critics say so, or is their status as good critics to be demonstrated by the fact that they agree on Homer's merits?)

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