The Hedonics of Taste

The Hedonics of Taste

The Hedonics of Taste

The Hedonics of Taste


A study of hedonism could conceivably operate on a massive scale. This book, however, concentrates specifically on the hedonics of taste. The editor notes some important reasons for limiting the argument in this manner. First of all, this is an area of hedonics in which a handful of experimenters continued to do research during a period when hedonism might have been lost altogether. Secondly, the past ten years have seen quite a number of researchers turn their attention to taste preferences, and so it seems appropriate to celebrate the fact that new findings can be incorporated into a very old conceptual framework: the ancient concept of hedonism.

The contributors approach their subject from many different angles. Historical, conceptual, and methodological chapters are presented; developmental aspects, psychological substrates, and the social considerations of hedonics are discussed. This volume offers viewpoints from dataphiles and theorists, mechanists and cognitivists, unifiers and disrupters -- a diversity that reflects the vital state of psychology today.


Promoting a cause is a tricky business. How does one sell a concept, especially one as old as hedonism? Does one push it as a revival, or as a brand new idea? Or should one take the middle road that it has been with us all along; it never left us. Down underneath we are all hedonists, and always have been. Without answering that one here, I will move on to another tactical question, which is whether one should push for the cause in a quiet, unthreatening way, or go for it in a grand manner, as Watson did with behaviorism. Let us begin by considering Watson's declaration-of-war approach.

You start with a broad theory, a general motivational theory based on hedonic principles. Then you argue how such a hedonic theory might be usefully applied in different areas of psychology. One might start with social psychology, an area that is notorious for studying phenomena that are theoretically curious but empirically unimportant, in the sense of accounting for very little variance. Consider cognitive dissonance, which is surely an interesting effect, but an effect that no one pretends accounts for more than 1% of the variance in behavior in any social situation. To get social psychology on the right track, it needs a hedonic theory, because the one thing we know for sure about people is that we like some folks a lot more than we like others. That is a robust phenomenon--a good starting point.

Cognitive psychology could use a dose of hedonic theory too. Remember that Charles Osgood once got into the question of meaning, and to get at this tough old nut he had a great number of subjects rate a great number of words on a great number of scales and then took his truckloads of punched cards off to the first great computer, the Illiac, to get the data factor analyzed. What the computer found was that there was one very large prime factor, which obviously had to be labeled good-bad. Then there were a couple of minor, hard to interpret factors . . .

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