The Is-Ought Problem or Facts versus Values
From no matter of fact does any course of action follow. Descriptions do not produce prescriptions. Values must also be thrown into the mix. This is why it is impossible to argue someone into abiding by morality. They must already affirm the value of a moral perspective, and if they do not appreciate the value of morality, then nothing you can say will convert them to your view. You can show them pictures of atrocities and explain the negative consequences of acting immorally, but they will simply shrug their shoulders and say, "So what?"
The same division—or unbridgeable chasm—between facts and values explains why you cannot talk anyone into loving or even liking something which they do not love or like. Many people would rather read a genre fiction "page turner" than an abstruse and labyrinthine multilayered and nonlinear nouveau roman. They may affirm the brilliance of the latter (if they understand it), but when it comes time to pick up a book to read onboard a plane en route to a land far away, they may select a paperback book from the bestsellers shelf.
In perfumery, you might recognize that a great deal of technical skill was needed to produce a given creation, but that alone will not make you like it. You might in fact detest it so much that you would never wear it. Nonetheless, we tend to think that the perfumes which we dislike are not good perfumes, because we consider our perceptions to be authoritative, and they are—to us.
"I know what I like" rings nowhere truer than in the realm of perfume, because at the end of the day, perfume is for wearing, and wearers have personal idiosyncracies and likes and dislikes which appear to determine their evaluations. Our values precede our experience of perfume, not the other way around.
Philosophers usually talk about the "is-ought" problem as it applies in moral contexts. How can you convince a seasoned killer that what he does is wrong? In fact, you cannot. Once someone has already crossed over the line from within to beyond the pale, he may become even more inclined to do what he has already done in order to prove to himself that there was nothing wrong with what he already did. Indeed, it may be the very act of committing a moral transgression which converts some people to belief in amorality or immorality.
Can the analogous thing happen with perfume? Can you force yourself to wear a perfume which you truly dislike initially to the point where it becomes familiar and somehow comforting to you? Can you habituate yourself to a scent which you did not initially like? I do not believe that an intrinsically unwearable perfume can work in this case—say something like Estée Lauder Intuition, which in my experience was so unpleasant that I actually returned the bottle for a refund at the counter where I had bought it. That is something which I nearly never do, but I could not bear the thought of wearing Intuition again, as it was an experience akin to forcibly removing my toenails, which, needless to say, I would never choose to do.
However, I do believe that fragrances toward which we are more neutrally inclined are easy to become habituated to. That explains the tsunami of sweet laundry and shampoo and conditioner scents which one finds littering the wall at Sephora these days. People are being slowly habituated to the idea that that sort of composition is perfume. It makes a lot of sense really, when you think about who's in on the perfume business game these days. Procter & Gamble, anyone?
The very concept of perfume has been transforming as a result of the models being fobbed off on Joe and Jill Q. Consumer, who may go to purchase gifts for each other at Sephora and end up with an aquatic cologne for him and a pink fruity-floral fragrance for her, which they will wear until they are gone, at which point they'll go shopping again and look specifically for what they have already worn—or something like it.
This explains, too, the culture shock on the part of perfumistas whose formative sniffing and wearing experiences pre-dated these new developments. Anyone who is old enough to remember what perfumes were like before the twenty-first century may simply deny that the aromachemical-heavy "stuff" being pumped out of vats into plastic-flower-capped bottles these days is perfume at all.
We are in the midst of a complete breakdown of perfume culture as a result of the fact that many perfumistas do remember the good old days, while at the same time, the ever-encroaching forces of abstraction engendered in part by the IFRA continue to act on everything produced in the mainstream realm.
Returning to the "is-ought" problem, the fact that many women's fragrances are abstract, pink, fruity-floral fragrances does not imply that they should be. But they are. The question remains: what to do? This is a very deep question which divides perfumistas into two camps well-represented by savvy perfume writers Bryan Ross at From Pyrgos and Bigsly at bigslyfragrance.com. In the not-too-distant future, I'll take up their debate and attempt to navigate a third way between their two seemingly incompatible and irreconcilable approaches.