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In reply to a recent question about whether aesthetic judgments are reliable

In reply to a recent question about whether aesthetic judgments are reliable Stephen Maitzen wrote http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/5097 "(1) We often seem to make objective aesthetic judgments, such as the judgments concerning Bach and Rihanna that you mentioned in your question; why not take those judgments at face value? Why think we have to interpret those judgments as non-objective?" Often we (or some of us) feel that the aesthetic value of a work derives from an ontological sense that the music represents, expresses or even manifests a higher reality. We don't take Rhianna very seriously as a great artist because her music doesn't seem to convey anything of profound importance. We can feel that way even if we happen to enjoy her music a lot. If we listen to Suite Number 3 in D Major by Bach we might feel that the music conveys something grand but we can't say for certain what. It's that lack of certainty about what is conveyed by the music that I think makes people question the validity of...

Thanks for your reply.

As I did in my previous answer, let me emphasize that aesthetics isn't my specialty, so I hope specialists will come forward to answer your questions. I'm not sure what to say about the idea that a musical work "conveys something grand" or "manifests a higher reality" than what's manifested by another musical work. So I'll leave that to others to address. But we might just compare Bach and Rihanna in terms of the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of their music; their inventiveness in developing a theme during the course of a piece; their skill in writing for various instruments; whether they incorporate enough surprise in a piece to maintain our interest yet not so much that the piece lacks integrity; and so on. Pop music almost always strikes me as very simple music -- it's often more "ear candy" than something having subtle flavors -- which may explain its mass appeal. Now, it's probably unfair to compare Rihanna to Bach, because by definition Bach's music has stood the test of time: we still listen to and perform it 275 years after he wrote it. Only time will tell if Rihanna's music enjoys the same longevity, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Most of all, though, I'd emphasize that the difficulty of settling aesthetic issues, or the lack of confidence we might feel in making some aesthetic judgments, needn't be a reason to regard aesthetic judgments as non-objective, i.e., as merely a matter of personal preference. Difficult issues and lack of confidence arise in many fields -- such as history or the sciences -- where we're not tempted to conclude that everything is a matter of opinion.

Thanks for your reply. As I did in my previous answer , let me emphasize that aesthetics isn't my specialty, so I hope specialists will come forward to answer your questions. I'm not sure what to say about the idea that a musical work "conveys something grand" or "manifests a higher reality" than what's manifested by another musical work. So I'll leave that to others to address. But we might just compare Bach and Rihanna in terms of the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of their music; their inventiveness in developing a theme during the course of a piece; their skill in writing for various instruments; whether they incorporate enough surprise in a piece to maintain our interest yet not so much that the piece lacks integrity; and so on. Pop music almost always strikes me as very simple music -- it's often more "ear candy" than something having subtle flavors -- which may explain its mass appeal. Now, it's probably unfair to compare Rihanna to Bach, because by definition Bach's music has stood the...

We often hear people saying about how a certain artist or composer is better

We often hear people saying about how a certain artist or composer is better than another. Many people, for example, believe Bach and Verdi to be better musicians than, say, Rihanna or Justin Bieber. I share this same belief, but it is mostly based on intuition than on rational arguments. It is certainly true that Bach was able to develop a musical theme in a much more organized and logical way than Rihanna is, but does it really mean that Bach is a better musician than Rihanna? Is it true that there is such thing as a good and a bad composer or is it all just a matter of taste? Could you point out to me some arguments and readings which are relevant to this type of question?

Aesthetics isn't my area, but since no one else has responded I'll take a stab at it. To someone who thinks that aesthetic judgments can't be objectively true or false -- someone who thinks that aesthetic judgments are in that respect fundamentally subjective -- I'd pose two questions:

(1) We often seem to make objective aesthetic judgments, such as the judgments concerning Bach and Rihanna that you mentioned in your question; why not take those judgments at face value? Why think we have to interpret those judgments as non-objective?

(2) If there's a worry that aesthetic judgments can't be objectively true or false, does that worry extend to normative judgments in general, including the judgment that some ways of reasoning are better than others or that some ways of treating people are better than others? If it does, then it's a worry about objective normative judgments in general rather than aesthetic judgments in particular. If it doesn't, then what makes aesthetic judgments less likely to be objective than other kinds of normative judgment?

Again, though, this isn't my area. You'll no doubt learn much more by exploring the entry on 'Aesthetic Judgment' in the SEP and the Aesthetics Online website. Best of luck.

Aesthetics isn't my area, but since no one else has responded I'll take a stab at it. To someone who thinks that aesthetic judgments can't be objectively true or false -- someone who thinks that aesthetic judgments are in that respect fundamentally subjective -- I'd pose two questions: (1) We often seem to make objective aesthetic judgments, such as the judgments concerning Bach and Rihanna that you mentioned in your question; why not take those judgments at face value? Why think we have to interpret those judgments as non-objective? (2) If there's a worry that aesthetic judgments can't be objectively true or false, does that worry extend to normative judgments in general , including the judgment that some ways of reasoning are better than others or that some ways of treating people are better than others? If it does, then it's a worry about objective normative judgments in general rather than aesthetic judgments in particular. If it doesn't, then what makes aesthetic judgments less likely to...