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People say that the more wine you drink, the more you "learn to appreciate" fine wines (we're talking about over the course of a lifetime, of course, not over the course of an evening!). Assuming this is true, is one's taste in wines actually improving over time? Or is it just changing? If the connoisseur likes dry red wine from France, and the "pleb" likes sweet white wine from Romania, what makes the connoisseur's taste superior to or more refined than the pleb's taste? Is it just the institution of wine-loving that contructs one taste as superior to the other, or do the connoisseur's taste buds literally detect marks of quality that the pleb's doesn't?

The philosophical investigation of wineexperience has become a popular topic recently, with several bookshaving come out. You questions go right to some of the most commonlyaddressed problems. First of all, notice that the questionsuse terms such as connoisseur or pleb, and contrast France withRomania. This is politically and socially charged language, andsometimes it is difficult to avoid the conclusion (hinted at in yourlast question) that what is really going on here is that a region (onthe side of producers) or a group of people (on the side of thetasters) are conspiring to maintain class distinctions or prop up thesales price. I don't think this is true. The first thing to say is that thescientific study of wine and wine tasting is quite advanced – notsurprising since it is a huge world-wide industry. There isconsiderable empirical evidence from the scientific community thatstudies wine to suggest that quality differences are real. 'Fine'wines tend to be more complex and concentrated (in ways...

I'd like to ask a question about aesthetics and philosophy in general. As an undergraduate student of philosophy, looking around at different traditions and particular, dominant thinkers, it seems that aesthetics is generally discounted as a strong motivation or deciding force in many facets of our lives. For instance, I think that most people will find it an odd when one suggests that aesthetics is an important part of ethics, economics, politics, science, mathematics, logic, ontology, epistemology, and so on. Yet in each of the disciplines I've just mentioned, it seems that an 'elegant' definition, solution or description is strongly praised by most people over 'messy' ones. For instance, we wonder at the simplicity and power of both Newton's laws and Einstein's e=mc2. An elegantly 'neat' solution to an ethical dilemma between two parties is generally preferred to an obscure, complex one. Plato is praised by many for his elegant use of illustrative metaphors. Elegance is surely an attribute firmly...

An interesting question, and well-observed. Of course, it might be the case that the term 'elegant', despite appearances, is being used in a non-aesthetic sense. For example, it might mean something like clear, simple or self-contained. In which case the preference for elegance of which you speak would be something more like a preference for things that are easy to understand, in one way or another. Also, one should point out that there is not actually a category on this site for 'ontology' or 'epistemology' either, presumably because of the designers' desire to avoid jargon. So much for the easy way out! Historically, 'aesthetics' refers to the branch of philosophy that deals with experiences like beauty and phenomena like art. To take your question seriously would mean to ask whether there must be an ineradicably aesthetic element within reasoning or knowledge -- i.e. well outside the presumptive domain of beauty and art. One implication of such a claim would be that the nature of...

Is a poem about nature beautiful because of its form, or is it beautiful because it reminds us of the beauty inherent in nature? Philosophers tend to equate aesthetic beauty with the form of a work of art and our 'interests' get in the way of appreciating the form. However if this is the case why is there not more beautiful poems about rubbish dumps and oil spills.

A great question! There may be a middle ground to the answer. Beautiful natural objects, and beautiful poetic objects, might both be considered beautiful because of complex or harmonious formal properties that evoke certain responses (this is, roughly, Kant). If this is the case, the a beautiful poem about something ugly would function differently from a beautiful poem about something beautiful. In the former case, the beauty would be purely formal; in the latter, it would be in part representational. Again, a great question, although I suspect it might also be misleading. Many well-known poems about nature are not actually about nature in a straightforward sense. Poems are rarely like landscape paintings. (Come to think of it, neither are landscape paintings.)