Robin Barrow


This paper defends the commonsense view that judgments about the quality of human achievement in the arts can be true or false and shown to be so by objective reasoning, as against both subjectivist views and, more particularly, the view that they can be quantitatively expressed and scientifically demonstrated. It focuses on Charles Murray’s recent attempt to rank-order the great achievers in an objective manner, arguing that it is fundamentally flawed, especially in confusing the quantification of references with an argument for quality. Any attempt to justify a judgment relating to the quality of achievement must involve expertise in the sense, at least, of a thorough understanding of the nature of the activity in question. Nothing in Murray’s lengthy book in fact relates to justification for any of the judgments. The paper concludes that the trappings of science do not make for science; that expertise in a field is necessary for making sound judgments in that field; that the broader the judgment, the harder it is to justify; that objectivity is to be distinguished from precision (as truth is from certainty); and that understanding of what counts as literature (art, sculpture, etc.) is an indispensable part of arguing for the quality of a work or an artist.

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