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There was a question recently about whether "language" was necessary for

There was a question recently about whether "language" was necessary for "thought" and no one mentioned music! if I "hear" a tune running through my head, is that "language" and is that "thought"?

I suppose to hear the sound of music all you need is hearing, so anything with functioning ears can hear the noise. But to hear the music you need some basic grasp of what music is, in just the same way that to understand words you need to have an idea of a language.

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.

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.

Why do mainstream listeners find it difficult to consider extreme metal music (e

Why do mainstream listeners find it difficult to consider extreme metal music (e.g. death metal, black metal, etc) aesthetically pleasing? Some forms of progressive death metal (e.g. bands like Opeth) do an excellent job of balancing truly 'beautiful' and 'sublime' elements. Can it be, that due to an aversion on worldview level, people do not recognize the aesthetic elements?

I listen to all types of music but have a hard time with the screaming in extreme metal. It just jangles my nerves. But it is true, I think, that certain life perspectives could render it difficult to detect the beauty in certain types of music. For instance, I imagine that people with a particular view, would not find it easy to grasp the beauty of some of Tupac's songs. Opinion and prejudice definitely influence our aesthetic sensibilities.

It is said that good art communicates things. Music, though, doesn't appear to

It is said that good art communicates things. Music, though, doesn't appear to communicate anything beyond vague aesthetic-emotional sensations (if we ignore experimental music that communicates about itself by, for example, playing Beethoven's 9th using only objects taken from a lower-class family home). Yet people also say of music that it is a "universal language". I'm not a musical expert, though, so I'm not clear on all this. Does music communicate anything beyond sensations/emotions? What can it communicate? How does that communication take place?

I see no reason to think of communication as consisting solely of the transfer of information and concepts. Communicating emotions is by no means trivial. Philosophers such as Kierkegaard would also contend that emotions contain cognitive content as well.

I am listening to the theme music of a movie soundtrack. While I enjoy the theme

I am listening to the theme music of a movie soundtrack. While I enjoy the theme music there is nonetheless something about it that strikes me as inauthentic and hallow. The thing is that I can't point to what it is that I find inauthentic. Maybe I might say that the music tries for an unconvincingly and excessively cinematic vastness and grandeur of emotion. But much equally ambitious cinematic music does not strike me as inauthentic. Is it philosophically incoherent to speak of a piece of music as lacking certain virtues such as authenticity when you are not even certain how a piece of music might be called authentic in the first place? How could it make sense? It seems odd to me that I can make such judgments.

Interesting! The topic of authenticity in music has been a lively one, especially (for some reason) in the 1980s and 1990s. The topic was usually defined by disputes about whether a musical performance of, say, Bach, could be authentic if it was performed with instruments that were unknown to the composer. Might it be the case that to really hear Bach's B Minor Mass one has to hear it on instruments modeled on those employed by the great German Baroque era composer? I believe Peter Kivey has a good book on authenticity in the arts, especially music. I think that the majority of philosophers who have considered this question concluded that authentic Bach does not require using only Baroque era instruments.

But quite apart from concerns with instruments or questions about when music is faithful to a composer's intentions, etc (which you did not ask about!), I think there are other ways of talking about authentic music. In your case, I don't think it is odd at all to think in terms of authenticity or inauthenticity. If someone described a piece of music as inauthentic and filled it out, as you have, with the observation that the music was unconvincing and excessive, I would think the music was unsuccesful insofar as it detracts from the movie or it somehow renders the film incredible or I might think of the music as sentimental and manipulative. In each (or all) of these respects I think one may reasonably think of inauthentic music as somehow failing to convince one of the drama or narrative of the film (e.g. the music that is supposed to overwhelm us with joy seems merely sacharine and smug).

I can also imagine that a movie sound track might sound inauthentic or hallow if listened to without the visuals. In that case, perhaps one's sense of inauthenticity and hallowness comes from the fact that some music is explicitly composed and intended to be part of an audiovisual experience, just as some visual experiences are reproduced in film that are intended and edited to include a movie sound track. Possibly, when you are only listening to the theme music you are only experience a fragment of wrok of art. The theme music without the visuals really is hallow and inauthentic, but matters change when experiencing the work of art as a whole.

What is the difference between music and an aesthetically interesting grouping

What is the difference between music and an aesthetically interesting grouping of sounds? I ask because I was listening to the opening of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and I while I found the sounds which were made to resemble a flock of birds to be very interesting and even quasi-musical sounding at times it didn't sound like music. It really is brilliant so why or why wouldn't it qualify as music? Listen to it yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0DeA6PPbMI/

For a very extended, and musically informed discussion of your question, I would strongly recommend Roger Scruton's book The Aesthetics of Music. He develops a sophisticated account of the way that we use our imaginations to experience the notes as moving in dance-like ways.

Why is it that, in music, major chords, by themselves, isolated and without any

Why is it that, in music, major chords, by themselves, isolated and without any musical context, sound bright and happy, while minor chords are dark and sad? How can arbitrary collections of frequencies elicit distinct emotions from people?

Even if the chords are not presented in the context of a music piece, they are heard in the (more backgrounded) context of music one has heard. Our associations with those pieces of music prime us to hear major versus minor chords in particular ways.

There is also a physical reason for finding major chords to be more settled or stable than minor chords: the wavelengths of a major third match the overtones of the root of a chord more closely than do the wavelengths of a minor third . When we hear a C, for example, it is already producing secondary wavelengths that are those of an E (at a higher octave); the addition of a nearby E thus seems to fit in without added strain.

Does philosophy concerning music have any worth or substance? Or is music

Does philosophy concerning music have any worth or substance? Or is music simply too abstract for there to be any meaningful philosophical insights gleaned from it?

Treatments of music have long been a part of aesthetics: perhaps precisely because music is as abstract as it is--that is, it is not representational, or at least not obviously so--consideration of music raises questions about meaning, and human responses that are very different from those raised by representational arts such as painting or film. While there has been much written on the philosophy of music, I think that a very good place to start is with the work of the philosopher Peter Kivy, who has written on a wide range of topics in the aesthetics of music over the years.

Does music exist without a listener? This is kind of a corollary to the tree

Does music exist without a listener? This is kind of a corollary to the tree falling in the woods question- but it definitely deviates. Does the noise exist without someone to hear it? If music is created by a musician, does it really matter if anyone hears it? Does music have more value than random noise- because it was created with a purpose? Does this purpose give it more value than other waves?

Great questions. If by 'music' one means actual auditions (sounds), then it seems that the same reply works with the tree in the woods. There would be no sound and thus no music without auditions and thus without someone or thing to hear it. And the definition of music in terms of sound is an important one in the philosophy of music. Jerrold Levinson, for example, defines music as follows:

Sounds temporily organized by a person for the purpose of enriching or intensifying experience through active engagement (e.g. listening, dancing, performing) with the sounds regarded primarily, or in significant measure as sounds.

But if we change things a bit and think of musical composition, then your question about the musician seems very tempting. After all, imagine a musician composed a piece like the ninth symphony, perhaps writing out all the score, but the piece is never played. In that case, I think many of us would say the muscial composition exists even if there is no sound made at all based on the score. I would even say it is possible that all manner of musical compositions exist (or can exist) even if not written down, so long as someone simply composes the pieces in her head (so to speak!) and never tells a soul.

As for random versus purposive noise, Levinson's definition seems to rule out as music sounds produced by non-persons (e.g. birds) and mere noise (e.g. the wind's impact on trees). You may wish to challenge his position on that front. But one reason for thinking that persons and pursposiveness comes into play with music, is that most of us believe that music has expressive qualities or moods (joy, anger, sadness...) and it is difficult to think of noises that are non-purposive as possessing such expressive qualities. Making matters more complicated, however, is that some contemporary musicians make great use of random sound waves. For a philosopher who has done excellent work on the philosophy of music, check out Peter Kivy.

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