Taste is subjective

People who know me, or who have read my blog, would hardly expect me to say anything other than that taste is subjective.  But here I mean it in a very basic sense – I am not here talking about what is considered to be good or bad taste, but taste as a perception.  Or perhaps I should say perceptions in the plural, for a lot of what we call taste is in fact due to our sense of smell.

For me it has always been self evident that taste is subjective.  That is to say it exists only in the mind of the taster, and it has no independent existence as a property of the thing being tasted.  But many seem to believe the opposite, and I have seen more essays written by philsophers arguing that position than I care to count.  They often say that objects have taste in the same way that objects have colour.

Well, exactly!  Colours are subjective too.  The colour blind amongst us perceive colours very differently, and there are also huge interpersonal differences in taste and smell.  The objective physical reality consists of chemicals, and of electromagnetic waves of various frequencies.  We perceive these chemicals and waves through our mouth, nose and eyes, and describe them as colours and tastes.  If we did not exist, neither would colours and tastes.  End of story as far as I am concerned.

For me, the interesting question is the extent to which we can effectively communicate our perceptions so others undertand our subjective experience, and the degree to which we have a common experience.  It is a lot easier to communicate colour, and I think that is at least partly because we have had a lot more practice.  It is trivially easy for more than one person to observe the same thing and to agree to describe its colour in a certain way.  It is relatively difficult to arrange for more than one person to be tasting exactly the same thing at the same time, and outside specialist circles people rarely attempt to describe their experiences.

Author: Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast

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