What's "Good?"

The post about Guinness below has provoked some philosophical consideration. No one doubts Guinness's place in history, but as to whether their signature pint of plain is a good pint--well, that depends on the meaning of "good," doesn't it?

I was amused to see our resident economist's take. File this under the "you can take the boy out of his discipline of economics, but you can't take the econ out of the boy."
Is Bud a 'good' beer, is Wonderbread 'good' bread, is Velveeta 'good' cheese. Most would say no but the market appears to say yes.

Do crowds have wisdom or collective stupidity?

Does quality mean only appealing to the few enlightened consumers or does it mean appealing to as many as possible.
We've discussed this before, on this blog and others, but it does bear periodic reconsideration. Patrick applies a market test to the question--can't "good" be whatever's most popular? It's a framework that works for business and politics, and is clean and easily measured. The best beer is Bud, the best candidate is president, and so on.

Well. I studied the arts and humanities, so my framework is aesthetic. In this mental framework, we identify quality based on subjective judgments. It's not as clean as Patrick's but it has other virtues. (For example, what happens when a product is no longer the best-seller; do we rethink its status? Are we prepared to consider that the nature of something is not fixed? It wasn't very good two years ago, but strong sales made it good last year, but now it's weak sales make it bad again. And what about politicians? Truman was despised when he left office, but we look back and say, "Our bad, you were actually doing the right thing." Are we prepared to leave the judgment to others?)

Aesthetic judgments require tolerance of ambiguity, but they may more ably probe a thing's true nature. Aesthetics have two major components--the superficial and the contextual. The superficial is obvious: in the case of beer, for example, we have ready access to the appearance, scent, and flavor. The contextual is the more important, though, because it lays out the rules for judgment. You sample the appearance, scent, and flavor of a beer, but before you can answer the question "is it good?", you need to ask: compared to what?

Some beers are supposed to be sour; in others it's a fatal flaw. Of those that are sour, some are sweet-sour, some tart-sour, some dry-sour. The more we know about the entire pantheon of sour beers, the more we are able to judge how well a given candidate balances its aesthetic elements. Everyone will not agree about a given beer, but the exercise of trying to understand the beer's nature--how it tastes in context, what the brewer was aiming for and how well he accomplished it--can't be answered any other way.

Patrick wonders if the masses have collective wisdom or stupidity. But clearly, their insight is not correlated to quality. If you look at Oregon's ten best-selling craft beers, no doubt you'll find some exceptional examples of craft among them. But you'll also find uninspiring beers. The reasons for this are probably many and in some cases contradictory. To judge "good," though, you have to rely on more finely-tuned palates (starting with your own!).