Philosophers Sometimes Say Dumb Things about Taste

philosophersThe recently deceased Roger Scruton was a highly regarded philosopher and wine connoisseur who wrote one of the seminal books on the philosophy of wine. But despite his obvious love for wine, he sometimes took a bizarrely dismissive approach to wine’s aesthetic potential.

Here is one such argument. He writes,

“…smells cannot be organized as sounds are: Put them together and they mingle, losing their character. […] They remain free-floating and unrelated, unable to generate expectation,tension, harmony, suspension, or release.” (I Drink: Therefore, I Am, 122)

I have never understood this argument. In paintings brush strokes mingle and lose their individual character. So do notes in a musical chord. Are we to then conclude that paintings and symphonies cannot be aesthetic objects either?

Furthermore, tastes and smells are hardly free floating and “unrelated”. Some wines are harmonious because their components fit together well. Wine and food pairing could not work if tastes and smells were “free floating” and “unrelated.” Flavor pairing theory shows there are in fact systematic relations between flavors based on shared chemical compounds. And how a wine evolves on the palate generates expectations and tension.

Why would a philosopher makes such easily refutable remarks? In Scruton’s case it’s ideological commitments, a desire to characterize aesthetics in terms of reason rather than sensuous enjoyment.

Philosophers are as easily fooled by ideology as anyone else.

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