Musical Philosophy: Music Criticism

6 Responses

  1. Jeremy Hovda says:

    “De gustibus non est disputandum.” But we dispute anyway because it’s illuminating to hear opinions you don’t agree with, and to put your own views at risk, opening them up to critique. That’s how your views get better and your horizons broader.

    One of the central concerns of Kant’s aesthetic theory is to reconcile the subjective nature of taste with the desire to make objective claims. So, for example when I say that certain music is good, I’m saying more than, “I happen to like it.” I’m trying to make an objectively binding case that others should like it too because it is in and of itself good. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way.

    What’s most harmful to dialogue is a dismissive relativism that says, “That’s just your opinion,” or worse that reverts to some kind of ad hominem on the speaker who’s putting forth an honest take on things. If you disagree, that’s great. Now articulate why you disagree. If your view is more adequate than mine, you should be able to make it apparent why it is more adequate. Taking your own views and those of others seriously requires a willingness to engage in good faith dialogue. Even if we never come to complete agreement or arrive at the shining presence of objective truth, proceeding in this way is inherently constructive.

  2. jonbehm says:

    Ah, I figured the philosophy professor might have some thoughts on the subject…;)

    Regarding Kant though I think music might defy rational reasoning – how do you attempt to make an objectively binding case that certain music is good? I mean you can support your arguments with specific obervations, like “see here how the bassist plays extremely complex scales – that must mean the music is good” but how does that explain particularly why the music actually resonates with you? Complex music doesn’t necessarily equate good music. I feel like basically the whole argument boils down to “this music resonates with me for reasons I can’t explain.” You can attempt to explain in rational terms but art generally defies logic.

    For instance I don’t know why I enjoy The Kinks more than I enjoy Steely Dan – The Dan undoubtedly play more complex, technically proficient music. The Kinks, however, I just generally enjoy more. But when someone asks me “why do you like the Dirty Projectors more than Matt & Kim?” I might fall back on “well, the DP play more coplex, technically proficient music.” But is that why I really like them? probably not.

    So how do we know what makes us like certain music and not others?

  3. solace says:

    Matt & Kim are a crappy example as they have 3 good songs total 😉

  4. Jeremy Hovda says:

    A) Kant hated music, so maybe that answers the question right there. Two of his favorite things to whine about were 1) the “enthusiasm” of the Pietist worship service, and 2) the prisoners who were forced to sing hymns in the evening while he was trying to digest his dinner (he lived across from the town jail).

    B) No one really likes Steely Dan. They may say that they do, but they’re mistaken.

    C) I agree completely that what good music communicates or allows me to experience is ultimately ineffable. It can’t be reduced to logic or theory.

    D) While we’re talking about truth, it’s worth pointing out that the original meaning of the Greek word for truth – aletheia – is something like “uncovering,” “disclosure” or “revelation.” In this understanding “truth” has to do with bringing something into the light of day – allowing something to be seen that was previously covered over and hidden. Good music can do that – as can good criticism – although in very different ways.

  5. Meyer says:

    I like Steely Dan.

  6. Harry says:

    You are mistaken.

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