Can subjective, individual taste be reconciled with an objective, universal standard? In Homo Aestheticus, Luc Ferry argues that this central problem of aesthetic theory is fundamentally related to the political problem of democratic individualism.
Ferry's treatise begins in the mid-1600s with the simultaneous invention of the notions of taste (the essence of art as subjective pleasure) and modern democracy (the idea of the State as a consensus among individuals). He explores the differences between subjectivity and individuality by examining aesthetic theory as developed first by Kant's predecessors and then by Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and proponents of the avant-garde. Ferry discerns two "moments" of the avant-garde aesthetic: the hyperindividualistic iconoclasm of creating something entirely new, and the hyperrealistic striving to achieve an extraordinary truth. The tension between these two, Ferry argues, preserves an essential element of the Enlightenment concern for reconciling the subjective and the objective—a problem that is at once aesthetic, ethical, and political.
Rejecting postmodern proposals for either a radical break with or return to tradition, Ferry embraces a postmodernism that recasts Enlightenment notions of value as a new intersubjectivity. His original analysis of the growth and decline of the twentieth-century avant-garde movement sheds new light on the connections between aesthetics, ethics, and political theory.