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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.

256 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Philosophy: Aesthetics, General Philosophy, History and Classic Works


"An expansive and witty examination of the usefulness of criticism... Ross cites the Latin 'de gustibus non est disputandum' ('there is no disputing of tastes'), a maxim that, in the age of social media, has never seemed more relevant. Opinions about newly-released films, books and television shows are like Twitter accounts: almost everybody has one. Stephanie Ross does not seem to be on Twitter, which perhaps explains how she found both the time and the enthusiasm to produce such an exhaustively researched book about critical assessment. One elegantly recursive passage in particular does a perfect job of summing up the value of the critic: in it, Ross quotes Lev Grossman’s review of James Wood’s How Fiction Works (2008), in which Grossman likens reading Wood to going bird-watching 'with somebody who has better binoculars than yours and is willing to share.' Ross recognizes this as the illuminating metaphor it is, and in doing so – and drawing our attention to it – offers up her own binoculars to the reader, giving us the pleasure of seeing clearly what might otherwise have remained out of sight.”

Times Literary Supplement

“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.”


“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

Table of Contents


Chapter One: Taste and Preference
Chapter Two: Aesthetic Qualities
Chapter Three: Hume on the Standard of Taste
Chapter Four: Identifying Critics
Chapter Five: When Critics Disagree
Chapter Six: Comparing and Sharing Taste
Chapter Seven: Some Applications
Appendix: A Checklist for Appreciation

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