The Epistemological Power of Taste

Journal of the American Philosophical Association 7 (3):398-416 (2021)
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It is generally accepted that sight—the capacity to see or to have visual experiences—has the power to give us knowledge about things in the environment and some of their properties in a distinctive way. Seeing the goose on the lake puts me in a position to know that it is there and that it has certain properties. And it does this by, when all goes well, presenting us with these features of the goose. One might even think that it is part of what it is to be a perceptual capacity that it has this kind of epistemological power, such that a capacity that lacked this power could not be perceptual. My focus in this essay is the sense of taste—the capacity to taste things or to have taste experiences. It has sometimes been suggested that taste lacks sight-like epistemological power. I argue that taste has epistemological power of the same kind as does sight, but that as a matter of contingent fact, that power often goes unexercised in our contemporary environment. We can know about things by tasting them in the same kind of way as we can know about things by seeing them, but we often do not. I then consider the significance of this conclusion. I suggest that in one way, it matters little, because our primary interest in taste is not epistemic but aesthetic. But, I end by suggesting, it can matter ethically.

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Louise Richardson
University of York


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