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(What does it really mean for an opinion to be “a matter of taste”?)An art museum visitor observing a Jackson Pollock painting; from the blog Art Now and Then, by Jim Lane.
When we say “it’s just a matter of taste”, a bold and negative message lies behind the word “just”. Whether intended or not, the word creates a whiff of denigration. We discredit the thing we’re describing, reducing it such that it does not require much attention or respect. It’s a surefire conversation-ender. We are in effect saying that the question of whether the food is good, the music inspiring, or the sight beautiful, is not really worthy of discussion. We are also espousing a momentous philosophical position: that the matter at hand is subjective, in the sense that two individuals considering it may come to contradictory conclusions about it and neither could possibly be justified in criticizing the other. Probably not very many of us, when we make such a statement, are actually prepared to defend our implicit position, or the accompanying subliminal evaluation. More likely, we are simply incorporating into our daily language certain assumptions about the world, about truth, about goodness and beauty and love and appreciation and worthiness. Sometimes we can use quippy phrases because they come easily, whether or not we realize that we are taking a side on something. In time a fallacious circle is likely to complete itself: someday when we actually consider the matter, we will find ourselves thinking our assumption very likely to be true, simply because our manner of thinking has been shaped by our (and our community’s) manner of speaking. If we are trained long enough to talk as if something is so, we will tend to think it is so unless we examine our ideas deliberately.
(After treating a needy friend superficially for years, Georg finally pays the price.)
Crop of Charles Bridge (2009), by Paul Cook. Charles Bridge (Karlův most) lies over the Vitava River in Kafka’s hometown of Prague.
This is an existentialist horror tale about a man Georg who treats a distant friend superficially, then pays for this crime with his life. The distant friend is sick, poor and unmarried. Georg cannot think of what to say to him, so he writes only trivial things. He offers no advice or heartfelt consolation. He conceals his own prosperity and even (for a while) his own engagement. His father, meanwhile, behind his back, has been revealing the truth about Georg to the friend, and has been lying in wait for Georg to raise the situation in conversation. When Georg finally does broach the subject, his father condemns him as a betrayer of his friend and a selfish cold-hearted bum, and orders him to drown himself. As elderly as the father is, he is stronger of will than his son, who feels himself urged out of the room and to a nearby bridge. Georg flings himself to his death.