Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

Exploring Valence in Judgments of Taste

    Isidora Stojanovic (Jean Nicod)

Date: 05 May 2021

Time: 15:00

Place: Online

Abstract

In the literature on personal taste, it is often assumed that judgments of taste are evaluative. The assumption is very prominent in the expressivist tradition, according to which to say/judge, for example, that rhubarb is delicious is tantamount to recommending (approving, speaking in favor of) rhubarb, while to say that it tastes awful is tantamount to rejecting (disapproving of, speaking against) it. Nevertheless, the evaluative character of predicates of personal taste (henceforth PPTs) has received relatively little attention from a semantic point of view; which is surprising, given that the notions of evaluativity and (positive and negative) valence have been central as much in psychology and in certain fields philosophy (value-theory, metaethics, aesthetics). Our aim in this paper is to fill out this lacuna. More precisely, we have set three objectives.

 

First, we aim to show that PPTs don't neatly divide into positive (such as 'delicious', 'fun') and negative (such as 'disgusting', 'boring'): there are PPTs, we claim, that are neither positive nor negative, such as 'surprising' and 'easy'. PPTs have a lot in common with multi-dimensional adjectives (henceforth MDAs); in particular, they pattern alike in disagreement. The latter, however, show a more clear tripartition into positive ('elegant', 'smart'), negative ('lazy', 'cumbersome') and neutral ('simple', 'intense').

 

Second, we will study more closely how such neutral PPTs behave. While a predicate such as 'surprising' is not lexically marked as either positive or negative, it can be used to express a positive evaluation as well as a negative one, depending on the context. A further question is whether on each use, such neutral PPTs end up giving rise to an evaluative claim, or whether there are genuinely neutral (i.e., neither positive nor negative) judgments of taste.

 

Third, there exists a large literature in psychology on the topic of valence that reveals far-reaching cognitive asymmetries between positive and negative information, be they expressions, such as 'good' vs. 'bad', or attitudes, such as liking vs. disliking (e.g. Pratto et al. 1991, Gershoff et al. 2007, Alves et al. 2016). We suggest that similar asymmetries also arise with respect to PPTs, and will propose an account of those.