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Say there is a music band whose members engage in frequent illegal/immoral acts,

Say there is a music band whose members engage in frequent illegal/immoral acts, e.g. drunken driving, drug use, prostitution, rape, assault, etc. I want to buy their latest album, but I know that the money they receive from me will end up fueling their criminal behavior. Knowing this, is it wrong for me to buy the album?

You've given some good reasons for not buying the album. And since it's hard to make the case that you need this particular album, the reasons seem pretty strong - strong enough to convince me, at least.

That said, there's a larger and harder issue here, and I'm guessing you may have it in the back of your mind. Many of us spend money at businesses whose practices we really wouldn't approve of if we let ourselves think about it. Perhaps they buy goods from sweat shops. Perhaps they have despicable labor practices.

Without pretending that this does justice to the matter, a couple of issues strike me. One has to do with thresholds and balances. At what point are the practices of a business "bad enough" or insufficiently offset by the value of what they provide (including employment) that I should stop patronizing them? And how strong are my obligations to inform myself? I may know that business X has some very nasty practices. I might decide to patronize business Y instead, but the only difference between X and Y may be that I happen to know the bad things about X and haven't dug deep enough to inform myself of the equally nasty facts about Y.

Those aren't just rhetorical questions, nor are they the only ones worth asking. But they do suggest that the relatively clear case you present is set against a backdrop of tricky questions.

You've given some good reasons for not buying the album. And since it's hard to make the case that you need this particular album, the reasons seem pretty strong - strong enough to convince me, at least. That said, there's a larger and harder issue here, and I'm guessing you may have it in the back of your mind. Many of us spend money at businesses whose practices we really wouldn't approve of if we let ourselves think about it. Perhaps they buy goods from sweat shops. Perhaps they have despicable labor practices. Without pretending that this does justice to the matter, a couple of issues strike me. One has to do with thresholds and balances. At what point are the practices of a business "bad enough" or insufficiently offset by the value of what they provide (including employment) that I should stop patronizing them? And how strong are my obligations to inform myself? I may know that business X has some very nasty practices. I might decide to patronize business Y instead, but the only...

How would a person who believes that musical works are universals account for

How would a person who believes that musical works are universals account for instances of musical works which seem to imply that each performance of the same piece is always different, not only in the sense that all performances are different interpretations of the same score, but taking the examples of the arab "maqam", the indian "raga" or western jazz music, in which improvisation and sometimes a radical "mutation" of the work plays an important role, not accidental but essential to the performance of that work? Victor G.

Any performance of a musical work will always differ in some ways from other performances. And universalist theorists know that. What's required is that the performance nonetheless have the characteristics that the relevant universal call for. (Or have enough of them; we'll set issues about imperfect performances aside.) So suppose the universalist would say something like this: there's something that makes a performance even of a work that allows for accident or improvisation a performance of one work rather than another. Whatever that is tells us which universal the work corresponds to. It may just be that in some cases, the pattern that the work "is" may be more abstract.

Whether that's fully adequate is harder to say. But it's the obvious way to deal with the sort of worry that you raise.

Any performance of a musical work will always differ in some ways from other performances. And universalist theorists know that. What's required is that the performance nonetheless have the characteristics that the relevant universal call for. (Or have enough of them; we'll set issues about imperfect performances aside.) So suppose the universalist would say something like this: there's something that makes a performance even of a work that allows for accident or improvisation a performance of one work rather than another. Whatever that is tells us which universal the work corresponds to. It may just be that in some cases, the pattern that the work "is" may be more abstract. Whether that's fully adequate is harder to say. But it's the obvious way to deal with the sort of worry that you raise.

It is generally accepted that certain intervals in music sound "harmonious", i.e

It is generally accepted that certain intervals in music sound "harmonious", i.e. 3rds, 4ths and 5ths. Why is this so? Why do these certain intervals constitute a pleasant sounding harmony, as opposed to jarring, dissonant intervals like 2nds and 7ths? I do not believe it is a matter of taste - most people, even those with no musical training will uniformly identify a harmony as harmonious (or in tune) or dissonant (or out of tune, I suppose). However, I am open to being disproved on this point.

It's an intriguing phenomenon. And it turns out, so I gather, that it's not confined to humans. Various animals differ in their responses to what we label consonant and dissonant intervals. Why this should be isn't something that a philosopher, as such, is in a good position to say. It clearly has some physiological basis and seems to have something to do with the phenomenon of "beats" (something you can actually experience as pulses when two high-pitched notes that differ slightly in pitch are played together.) One study I discovered (by Jonatan Fishman et al. of Albert Einstein medical college) looks at the neural correlates of dissonance in macaques and in humans. If you're able to follow the neurophysiological details (I'm not) you can have a look at the link. There are also references to earlier work.

There are still some things left over that a philosopher might want to puzzle about. One is the sort of thing that physiology might straightfowardly help us understand: why is it that intervals we identify as dissonant are also perceived as unpleasant when we hear them in isolation? Another is famously hard to get a handle on: suppose that Fishman and his colleagues are right and that perception of dissonance has to do with "oscillatory neuronal ensemble responses phase-locked to the amplitude-modulated temporal envelope of complex sounds" -- whatever exactly that means. How do we get from that to "what it's like" to experience dissonance? Of course, that's of a piece with a much more general question: how do we get from physiological accounts of perception and sensation to the way that we experience things? This is a question that divides philosophers deeply; they are nowhere near agreeing on what would count as an answer, nor even on whether the question is a good one to begin with.

Fishman et al point out that there's a distinction we need to keep in mind: the dissonance of intervals (such as the minor 2nd or the augmented 4th) vs. musical dissonance and consonance. Dissonant intervals occur all the time in music that we find quite pleasing (as I'm sure you're already more than well aware.) And it's not just that the alternation between dissonant and consonant chords adds musical interest; whereas a major 7th (e.g, C-B) sounds dissonant by itself, when we add notes to form a major 7th chord (as in C-E-G-B) the result sounds pleasant to most people, even in isolation. One suspects that there's a complex combination of cultural and physiological factors at work here; this is clearly an area for fruitful collaboration among aestheticians, psychologists and physiologists.

It's an intriguing phenomenon. And it turns out, so I gather, that it's not confined to humans. Various animals differ in their responses to what we label consonant and dissonant intervals. Why this should be isn't something that a philosopher, as such, is in a good position to say. It clearly has some physiological basis and seems to have something to do with the phenomenon of "beats" (something you can actually experience as pulses when two high-pitched notes that differ slightly in pitch are played together.) One study I discovered (by Jonatan Fishman et al. of Albert Einstein medical college) looks at the neural correlates of dissonance in macaques and in humans. If you're able to follow the neurophysiological details (I'm not) you can have a look at the link. There are also references to earlier work. There are still some things left over that a philosopher might want to puzzle about. One is the sort of thing that physiology might straightfowardly help us understand: why is it that...