Monday, October 30, 2017

Cultivating Taste

The mind-Body arts and disciplines I practice and write about are useful for maintaining fitness and good health, helping with self-defense at a number of levels, encouraging oneself and others to be peaceful and calm, reducing anxieties and tension, balancing internal forces, opening one up to interesting cultural and philosophical Eastern traditions, and having a dignity and beauty associated with their practice.  I judge them to be "good," and exemplars of "good taste."  They seem right and noble to me, based on broader judgments as to value, and not just my personal preferences or habits.       

"Well, a vast number of our moral perceptions also are certainly of this secondary and brain‑born kind. They deal with directly felt fitnesses between things, and often fly in the teeth of all the prepossessions of habit and presumptions of utility. The moment you get beyond the coarser and more commonplace moral maxims, the Decalogues and Poor Richard's Almanacs, you fall into schemes and positions which to the eye of common‑sense are fantastic and overstrained. The sense for abstract justice which some persons have is as eccentric a variation, from the natural-history point of view, as is the passion for music or for the higher philosophical consistencies which consumes the soul of others. The feeling of the inward dignity of certain spiritual attitudes, as peace, serenity, simplicity, veracity; and of the essential vulgarity of others, as querulousness, anxiety, egoistic fussiness, etc‑-are quite inexplicable except by an innate preference of the more ideal attitude for its own pure sake. The nobler thing tastes better, and that is all that we can say. “Experience” of consequences  may truly teach us what things are wicked, but what have consequences to do with what is mean and vulgar?"  ....

"The word "taste" has perhaps got too completely associated with arbitrary liking to express the nature of judgments of value. But if the word be used in the sense of an appreciation at once cultivated and active, one may say that the  formation of taste is the chief matter wherever values enter in, whether intellectual, aesthetic or moral.  Relatively immediate judgments, which we call tact or to which we give the name of intuition, do not precede reflective inquiry, but are the funded products of much thoughtful experience. Expertness of taste is at once the result and the reward of constant exercise of thinking.  Instead of there being no disputing about tastes, they are the one thing worth disputing about, if by "dispute" is signified discussion involving reflective inquiry.  Taste, if we use the word in its best sense, is the outcome of experience brought cumulatively to bear on the intelligent appreciation of the real worth of likings and enjoyments.  There is nothing in which a person so completely reveals himself as in the things which he judges enjoyable and desirable, Such judgments are the sole alternative to the domination of belief by impulse, chance, blind habit and self-interest. The formation of a cultivated and effectively operative good judgment or taste with respect to what is aesthetically admirable, intellectually acceptable and morally approvable is the supreme task set to human beings by the incidents of experience."
-  John Dewey, The Construction of Good in the Quest for Certainty, 1929

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