Oh yes, this is very much the crux of it! We seem to have the odd policy of assuming everyone is unavoidably biased in their aesthetic taste (while requiring at the same time that they show not a trace of prejudice in other areas--race and gender, for example). Anyone that writes about music or the arts is assumed to be hopelessly personally biased. This can often be the case, of course, but aren't those people inherently less worth listening to? This is the problem I keep constantly running into in writing on music. Everyone assumes everyone is biased and no-one makes the attempt not to be. Objectivity is impossible, so why bother? But this means so much of what you read about music is just half-baked nonsense.
Hard to disagree with any of this as it is pure common sense. I have my prejudices, which I try to examine and analyse so that I don't allow them to corrupt my judgment. You will note that I rarely write about jazz. The reason is that I don't entirely trust my judgment in that area. On the few occasions I have written about it, I have put forth my opinions boldly and tried to give a justification for them. Most genres of classical music I have enough experience with to make objective judgments--at least, that's the plan! I am able to distinguish in my mind a piece that has greater or lesser aesthetic value generally from one which I personally would rate higher or lower. Take Mozart, for example. He is a composer that any reliable critic would put in the absolute first rank of composers. His music is widely enjoyed and much of it is very profound. But with the exception of a couple of pieces, I personally find his music to be a bit lightweight. I recognize this as being a bias in my judgment, so I'm careful, when talking about Mozart, to compensate for it. In other words, I use my reason to compensate for a bias. Hume is also pointing out some other uses of reason in the guidance of taste. It can be used to overlook the design and consistency of a piece and evaluate it according to its purpose.
Again, this is so clear and so soundly reasoned that it hardly needs comment! That the principles of taste are universal (given, perhaps a couple of caveats), but that most of us labor under some defect, or lack delicacy or experience, surely this is just ordinary common sense? The academic and intellectual worlds have been over-specializing in UNcommon sense for so long, that I'm sure this is shocking to many readers. But really, "when a critic has no delicacy, he judges without any distinction" should hardly be controversial. In this blog I am constantly using the device of comparison to point out 'frivolous beauties'. It could scarcely be put better than Hume does: "Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character; and the joint verdict of such, wherever they are to be found, is the true standard of taste and beauty."
My immediate response is by their fruits ye shall know them. I don't find it impossible to give credence to a critic I don't know based on the quality of his argument--even if I am unfamiliar with the piece under consideration.
This is another nice crux that Hume presents. Perhaps the best argument against the irrational, individual relativism of all aesthetic judgment is that it takes away our grounds for having the discussion. Why bother? But if matters of taste can be universal and can be objective, then we can discuss them to mutual profit. We "must acknowledge a true and decisive standard to exist somewhere, to wit, real existence and matter of fact."
Now let's listen to some Mozart and see if we can hear some of those "finer touches". Here is Friedrich Gulda playing and conducting (the way it would have originally been performed) the slow movement of the piano concerto K. 466: