David Hume‘s essay “Of the Standard of Taste” remains a source of interpretational controversy to this day. On the one hand, Hume’s conception is meant to have reduced the evaluation of beauty to a merely passive reaction to a certain impulse; on the other hand, he is treated as anticipating Kant’s aesthetic theory. The main aim of this study is to present the principal points of these controversies and to present a case for the view that Hume was capable of (1) not only perceiving an original philosophical problem, but also (2) of presenting an effective treatment, anticipating important motifs of contemporary aesthetics. In the first and second parts, the introductory passages of the essay are examined, in which Hume surveys the initial contradiction between the proverbial absence of agreement in matters of taste and, at the same time, its manifest presence. The contradiction is revealed to be the point of departure for reflections, and not as itself a problem into which Hume has been led into by his own assumptions. In the third part, the study returns to the beginnings of the interpretational controversy, so as to sketch the basic characteristics of a critical approach, and in the fourth part the ground-plan of an interpretation is presented which defends the possibility of a positive reading and finds in Hume’s essay an effective conception of critical practice.
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