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Yes, for example, I think all those wine experts out there who write in the introductions to their books that "The best wine is the one you like!" are both saying something they don't believe and, as Tommy would say, deserve to be shot.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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OK this is getting a bit ridiculous (my opinion, you can call it valid or not, whatever)...Steve, your son - in expressing a preference and giving a reason to back it up - proved to be a chip that is better than the block! He said he likes Hersheys better than Bernachon because it's sweeter. What's wrong with that? I'm not sure why you like Bernachon better because they are  ethereal - like magical, a bit hard to pin down but I guess you mean otherworldly. Not much of a concrete explanation - but based on what you've said elsewhere it would seem that you prefer Bernachon over Hershey's  because a) it's more expensive than Hershey's b) it's from France c) it just is. This brings to mind a phrase from childhood which I said I'd never repeat to my own children, uttered in response to q question about the unquestionable..."Because I'm your mother and I said so" "Why do we have to go to bed so early?" "Because I'm your mother and I said so." "Why do I have to clean up my room/do my homework/play with my sister?""Because I'm your mother and I said so." "Why is Bernachon better than Hershey's?" "Because I'm Steve Plotnicki and I said so."

Thank you for enlightening me, I now have some perspective. You are just carrying on the time honoured tradition of parents...'because that's just the way it is.' May your son continue to eat Hershey's and leave all the wrappers all over the house just to irk you!!

And as for you, other Steve...everyone knows that red is better than blue.  

3-4 of them and ran into his room. A few minutes later I went in to see how he was liking them and he said while moving his hand from side to side to display mediocrity, "They're okay. They're not sweet. I like Hershey's chocolate better." Now is that a valid opinion too?

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Boy, now the tag team comes out. I am a scientist and an academic both and I mostly fine that my precision with words is not precise enough to be precise  :)

. I buy the Montrachet V St. Veran example, but if you do think that the greatness Sauternes (as an example only) exists in seperation to preferences and trends, then you really are talking about Platonic ideals. Interesting, I will have to give this some thought.

I have been doing some reading on the consuming passions of the classical Greeks (see the connection?), those chaps drank wine and appreciated it, I would argue just as much as us, but the had a very different take on what was a great wine and how it should be drunk. The would have hated Montrachet and St. Veran both. So if Montrachet's greatness exists outside of external influences, its pretty lucky that it is made in the here/now rather then 2500 years ago.

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Magnolia - No my son is merely ignorant when it comes to chocolate. If you want to base your chocolate buying patterns on his opinion, go ahead. But you will be sentenced to a lifetime of eating Hershey's and Cadbury's. See if that suits you. And I know it doesn't because I believe it was you who posted about Angelina. I mean why did you bother to go there? Why didn't you go to some other cafe? They all serve hot chocolate. Or why didn't you go into your local Casino and buy packaged hot chocolate powder and just boil up some water in your room and dump the contents in? Wouldn't that have been just as good as Angelina?

You see things aren't better because I say they are. They were better before I was born to say that about them. Things are better because they just are.

Sometimes these things are easy to explain as to why. I mean French butter is better than the American kind because it has a higher fat content. And unpasteurized, artisinal cheeses have more flavor than packaged ones for obvious reasons. And if you prefer American butter to the French, and packaged cheeses to the real stuff, be my guest. But what it comments on is your lack of taste, not someone's inability to prove in words that French butter is better. And if you really believe that isn't true, I'm sure next time you will skip Angelina's for the hot chocolate mix. It's much cheaper too.

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Clare - I don't mean to say that people who can't discern that '61 Palmer in the first sitting have no sense of taste. Fatus said it best when he said that certain things take some educating, or are not obvious. But if after it is explained to you, one doesn't understand why people think '61 Palmer is a great wine, okay I will say those people have no sense of taste.

I was once at a rather large wine tasting/dinner at Kensington Place with something like 20 people. There were 30 odd wines sitting on the table. I brought a 1970 Latour and the wine was simply glorious. At the end of the meal, one of the dinner participants sat down next to me to discuss the Latour and he said, 'I don't get what all the fuss was about. I mean I don't like those secondary and tertiary flavors. That wine is too old." Now the other 19 people were waxing rhapsodic and if anything, we complained the wine was too young! So which one is it? Was that person of sound opinion, or does he just have a bad palate? Mind you, this was someone who drank lots of wine, although he didn't have that much experience with mature claret. And what happened to you and the '61 Palmer. Did you ever see the light?

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The Greeks had lousy, overly sweet wine because of their lack of technology and scientific understanding. Sugar was the only thing they knew of that could keep the wine from turning. Had they been able to make better wine, they surely would have enjoyed it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Quote: from Fat Guy on 6:17 pm on Jan. 30, 2002

The Greeks had lousy, overly sweet wine because of their lack of technology and scientific understanding. Sugar was the only thing they knew of that could keep the wine from turning. Had they been able to make better wine, they surely would have enjoyed it.

You have lost your objectivity or am I wrong  ;)

. The fact that we think their wine was lousy isn't the point is it (they used resin and turpentine as a preservative as well)? The level of their wine appreciation is the interesting thing, they liked there wine. The wouldn't have like Montrachet because they would have diluted it with water and that would taste pretty bad.

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Fat Guy - You make an excellent point about the fact that not having the knowledge of how to preserve their wines, limited the types of palates the Greeks had. The preservation of food and wine opened all types of avenues of taste up. I mean think of the first person who realized that you can salt fish, or cure pork, etc. It must have been a revelation. And I'm sure there were people who hated the way those things tasted because they were unusual. And I'm sure there were people who took to them right away. Where is the controversy in ham these days?

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Leisure time and technology have given us the opportunity to perfect such processes. The early salted and smoked meats no doubt tasted like shoe leather in comparison to the semi-fresh cured products of today. Nonetheless, they were big improvements over rancid meat, or nothing. I am absolutely confident that the average semi-educated ancient Athenian, brought to the present in a time machine, would within a few days recognize the inherent and fundamental superiority of our best gastronomic and oenological accomplishments. Perhaps he would feel nostalgia for some of his old Athenian favorites, just as people on the Upper West Side of Manhattan sometimes wish for the days when drugs, crime, and poverty dominated the neighborhood, but it would be a nostalgia of the Stockholm Syndrome variety, and not one based on objective reality.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Quote: from A Balic on 11:15 am on Jan. 30, 2002

#### it, where's Wilfrid when you need him?

Just rub the magic lamp!

First of all, who let the bears out?  Let's make this clear:  I am not claiming that works of art (or other objects of critical judgment) do not exist unless perceived by humans.  I am claiming that they have no  critical value in and of themselves except as judged by humans (or Vulcans, or whatever).

Now, if anyone wants to disagree with that, I think they have to come up with an account of two things:

1.  How these objects (make it works of art, cuisines, whatever) come to be good, bad or indifferent, without reference to human opinions.

2.  What criteria we have for telling that a judgment is right or wrong (since it originates somewhere - the answer to 1. will tell us where - outside of the sphere of human judgment).

Let me give you a new example to chew over.  Some works of art are perceived at different times as being of different quality.  Melville's Moby-Dick was rejected by public and critics as windy nonsense when it came out (and one can see why - that wasn't an insane judgment at the time).  In this century it has come to be regarded as perhaps The Great American Novel.  It is perfectly possible that, one hundred years from now, Americans involved with literature (if any) will have such different interests and perceptions that Moby-Dick will be regarded as an irrelevant historical curio.   Now according to the Plotnicki analysis, one of these judgments (or perhaps some other judgment) is correct, has always been correct, and always will be correct.  Steve - how can we ever, even in principle, know which one?

Finally, at the risk of repetition, I have tried to explain that total relativism, where every opinion is equally valid, does not follow from my position: I have saved objectivity in the only way I know how, by proposing that communities evolve and (more or less) agree sets of rational criteria for critical judgments.

P.S. I utterly failed to make the analogy with religion clear, so I'll drop that for now.

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Quote: from Wilfrid on 7:39 pm on Jan. 30, 2002
Quote: from A Balic on 11:15 am on Jan. 30, 2002

#### it, where's Wilfrid when you need him?

Just rub the magic lamp!

First of all, who let the bears out?  Let's make this clear:  I am not claiming that works of art (or other objects of critical judgment) do not exist unless perceived by humans.  I am claiming that they have no  critical value in and of themselves except as judged by humans (or Vulcans, or whatever).

Now, if anyone wants to disagree with that, I think they have to come up with an account of two things:

1.  How these objects (make it works of art, cuisines, whatever) come to be good, bad or indifferent, without reference to human opinions.

2.  What criteria we have for telling that a judgment is right or wrong (since it originates somewhere - the answer to 1. will tell us where - outside of the sphere of human judgment).

I have taken in all view points expressed on this thread and I think I can answer these questions with some precision.

1) Because they are magical.

2) See above.

This topic must really have been ridden into the ground if the two Steves bring out the old "distract them with salted meat" gambit. This has been such a fun thread, I can't thank you all enough for it.

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This is the most sophomoric argument I've heard since...

The piano thing seemed a bit off-key. They are deliberately mis-tuned otherwise the interference would make them sound terrible to most people. Thus we have Bach's 48 preludes & fugues, none of which is, I believe, in the key of life.

So much for the ideal, for the spleen see elsewhere this thread.

And what's the problem with disparate opinions. Even in mathematics one just hopes one can't prove disparate things, one can't prove one can't.

And I'd take the Climens over the Montrachet.

Wilma squawks no more

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Wilfrid - Okay I'll bite on Moby Dick ( a bit of imagery there eh?) Whether Moby Dick is considered the great American novel or is considered run of the mill is off point. This discussion started by my proclaiming that Haute Cuisine is better than Syrian Cuisine. The analogy there is, is a novel better literature than a magazine article? Now of course there are lousy novels and there are great articles but that isn't the issue. In general, novels are better literature than articles. Why? The form of a novel is a greater expression of writing than an article. That is an entirely different discussion than is a particular novel the best one? And in the same light, I can say that Hute Cuisine is a greater expression of cuisine than Syrian. And when I say that, I am not expressing preference. I am being objective about the criteria commenly held to evaluate what is better cuisine.

That it might happen to coincide with my own opinion is to my benefit. And that there might be some other criteria out there for Pygmies really is of no relevance to the discussion. And again as Fatus pointed out, even Pygmies could tell the difference, unless they were ignoramuses.

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Quote: from Gavin Jones on 2:37 pm on Jan. 30, 2002

This is the most sophomoric argument I've heard since...

If I am right in thinking that "sophomoric" is equivalent to a second year undergraduate in the UK, I think you are about right, although a lot of second years I taught would have lost the plot way back.  if we get into Husserl, then I think we are post-grad.

Steve Plotnicki:  No, no, no, no, no.  Swapping the example doesn't help you a bit.  We can compare two novels, a novel and an article, or two articles.  I picked Moby Dick because it was a nice example of something the critical view of which has changed over time.

My challenge to you is:  whence do you derive objectivity.  In your last post, you imply you derive it from "commonly held criteria" - but that looks like my position, and I have no dispute with it.  That brings us back to a point where I thought we had some common ground, namely:  there's a bunch of criteria for haute cuisine, a bunch of criteria for good ol' Syrian cooking, and drawing up common criteria which would embrace all cuisines might be impracticable, and is a bit much to expect of Michelin.

If you are deriving objectivity from anywhere other than the ongoing critical debate among a community of interested parties, I think you need to tell me where.

As I said, Plato and a whole bunch of other people have offered answers to that: all fallacious, I think.

(Of course, if you;re bored and want to stop, say so too, but I had the impression you wanted to pursue it further...:smile:)

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Wilfrid - No, no, no to you too. I haven't swapped examples to evade your question. I have swapped them because the comparison of the two cuisines is not analogous to comparing two novels. Haute Cuisine and Syrian cuisine, like Opera and Rock & Roll, operate on different spheres.

If we have that out of the way, your challenge to me boils down to is a rose beautiful in and of itself or do I need to come to that conclusion using commonly held criteria? And where does one begin to answer that question since it is just a fancy version of which came first, chicken or egg? But I have to assume there was a first time where someone came to the conclusion that a rose is beautiful. So I will come down on the side of it being a natural occurence, rather than something contrived through human behavior. I know that is just circumstantial evidence, and not empirical, but sometimes that has to do.

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Rather than being "chicken or egg", or a pointless dispute bewteen two equally plausible explanations of a phenomenon, I would contend that my model can explain not only how such judgments come about, but also the possibility of disagreements arising and being resolved.  It also accords pretty well with what we observe critical communities actually doing, not least here on egullet.

If your model - a natural occurrence model - was sound, one would expect everyone to share the same opinions - which they evidently don't.  I suppose the most obvious move would be to say that people who disagree with a statement like "roses are beautiful" are suffering from some disability in their natural faculties.  But then either you can identify the pathology involved, or you are going to be hard put to demonstrate on which side the disability lies.

I think I have pointed out some quite tricky dilemmas which arise from your approach, but I am not sure I have noticed any telling criticisms of mine.  I therefore commend my position to anyone still reading this as the most reasonable to adopt.  :cool:

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Wilfrid - Quickly because I have to run, while your model might explain how judgements come about, it does nothing to explain why people think flowers smell good. And why we think garbage smells bad.Or why we have a physical attraction to certain people, and why not to others. I'm afraid that those things are instinctive, and preceed the thought process. And where I think your theory breaks down is when you say that people do not share the same opinions. And I think that is wrong because if you analyzed to what extent opinions differ, it's a miniscule percentage. But we harp on those differences in opinion because so much of our society is based on defining and then exploiting those differences. In fact our entire economic system is based on the differences. But in reality you and I agree on 99% of things, or even more. And that is because flowers naturally smell good. And one needs not be a philosopher to figure that bit out.

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Wilfrid, I don't see how you've distinguished your position from that of the relativists. Can you elaborate?

I also think it's high time we converted this into an attack on philosophy in general, because, Wilfrid, while you know much about philosophy, those of us who are not philosophers know that academic philosophy mostly exists to justify things after the fact that the rest of us have figured out on our own. And heaven forbid we ever let philosophers do more than this.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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OK people, after 145 posts and 1312 viewings of this thread, I think it's time to summarise for the benefit of the 862 new members who joined eGullet after the thread started, and of course for Tommy who unaccountably hasn't posted here yet.

So here is my take on the debate so far .....

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Not that Plotnicki and I are hanging our hats entirely on physiology. Some things have to be learned, but it doesn't make them any less absolute. The universe doesn't revolve around human perception. We're just visitors.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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