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Two Thumbs Up

How Critics Aid Appreciation

Far from an elite practice reserved for the highly educated, criticism is all around us. We turn to the Yelp reviewers to decide what restaurants are best, to Rotten Tomatoes to guide our movie choices, and to a host of voices on social media for critiques of political candidates, beach resorts, and everything in between. Yet even amid this ever-expanding sea of opinions, professional critics still hold considerable power in guiding how we make aesthetic judgements. Philosophers and lovers of art continue to grapple with questions that have fascinated them for centuries: How should we engage with works of art? What might enhance such encounters? Should some people’s views be privileged? Who should count as a critic? And do critics actually help us appreciate art?

In Two Thumbs Up, philosopher Stephanie Ross tackles these questions, revealing the ways that critics influence our decisions, and why that’s a good thing. Starting from David Hume’s conception of ideal critics, Ross refines his position and makes the case that review-based journalistic or consumer reporting criticism proves the best model for helping us find and appreciate quality. She addresses and critiques several other positions and, in the process, she demonstrates how aesthetic and philosophical concerns permeate our lives, choices, and culture. Ultimately, whether we’re searching for the right wine or the best concert, Ross encourages us all to find and follow critics whose taste we share.

Author Information

Stephanie Ross is professor emerita of philosophy at the University of Missouri—St. Louis. She is the author of What Gardens Mean, also published by the University of Chicago Press.


“Leading with a discussion of food and wine criticism, Ross shows how debates about objectivity of taste provide a clue to the role of critics in the appreciation of art. She demonstrates encyclopedic knowledge of the main figures and arguments regarding aesthetic properties and opens up the material with her accessible style and concise summaries of the central topics.”
— Alan Goldman, author of Life's Values: Pleasure, Happiness, Well-Being, and Meaning

“At a time when philosophers of art are paying more attention to criticism, Two Thumbs Up offers an excellent contribution. It covers every aspect of the Humean tradition of criticism as well as pertinent debates, such as on the nature of aesthetic properties, supplementing the philosophical discussion with a valuable overview of the literature, all written in language clear to both general readers and philosophical specialists.”
— Noël Carroll, author of Beyond Aesthetics

Two Thumbs Up offers a persuasive argument that experienced critics can importantly aid our appreciation of works of art. Stephanie Ross defends Hume’s famous view of the development of taste, addressing a host of philosophical questions regarding the subjectivity of aesthetic preferences. Her sophisticated solution is convincingly presented in an enjoyable, readable style.”
— Carolyn Korsmeyer, author of Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics

“One surprising delight is that Ross considers a tremendous variety of art forms that include architecture and landscape, not only visual or literary art forms that are comparatively easier to theorize. . . . my overall evaluation of Two Thumbs Up is that it is indeed a worthy work of art, and I recommend that you appreciate it.”
— PopMatters

Audience: Professional and scholarly;