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Philosophy = Art?

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Posted by Harvey on May 28, 2002 16:21:48 UTC


I'm glad you decided to keep this discussion going. Things have become a little boring since I can't pick on Dick anymore being that he took his show somewhere else.

***H: "Put together music that violates the laws of music (as you understand them) and advertise it as 'you cannot help but totally hate this music'" etc... L: Can't we do this trick with philosophy as well? Of course we can, and I bet a few yahoos would quickly buy into our ad hoc philosophy. But, a thrown-together piece/type of music (or philosophy) is hardly tantamount to an entire culture's music (or philosophy), no matter how isolated the culture might be!***

I see that we are headed back into the realist/antirealist controversy. The music realist might say that a taste in music is real and that it exists outside the preferences for humans. If a music antirealist (such as myself) says "no, taste in good music is not a real taste in something good but merely our predispositions" then the music realist can use my antirealist arguments (of music) against my realist views of philosophy or science.

As Mario and I were discussing, if we argue realism by just looking at external factors (e.g., prediction, inference to the best explanation, etc), then I agree with you that you can doubt any realist argument in support of what philosophy or science are trying to do. However, if we look at these issues from an internal point of view (i.e., what is meaningful), then I think that realism makes sense from a philosophical/scientific stance. The problem is, I don't think you can use an internalist argument of realism in support of music realism (or art realism).

An internalist argument in support of philosophical/scientific realism works because we must ascribe to some logic of the world in order for our statements to hold any meaning. On the other hand, I don't think we need logic in order for our music/art to hold meaning. Musical and artistic expression that doesn't know what it is trying to communicate (i.e., meaningless) does not disqualify that kind of expression from being musical/artistic expression. Rather, the expression is merely vague or meaningless, but it can be appreciated as being vague or meaningless. The key to artistic expression is the appreciation that obtains from it.

With philosophy/science this is not the case. Meaningless statements in philosophy or science is a contradiction of these enterprises. By definition these fields are about trying to find coherent meaning in the world that one might understand by which to further one's knowledge (or accepted knowledge) of the world. If one accepts meaningless propositions in either philosophy or science, then one is not in pursuit of a coherent understanding. Therefore, an internalist argument supports realism of a philosophical and scientific variety, but it does not support realism of an artistic/musical/moral type.

You can, of course, appeal to externalist methods in support of realism of art, music, morality, etc, but the argument is not fully supportable.

***H: "We humans obviously have prejudices for certain tones, colors, morals, logics, etc, but we have another tendency to love things that are contrary to those 'universals'." Ahh, again you've opened the door to another trap! Not just anything contrary to 'universals' works. If it did, I'd invest in a bunch of paint and become the next Pollock!***

But, you could become great if you enough people appreciated your message or non-message. All that has to occur is that people for whatever reason grab onto your expression. This could be some random event. For example, people are using the debris of the Twin Towers as meaningful tokens to the significance of that day. The meaning attached to these artifacts is purely applied human meaning that occurred from some 'random' terrorist event. Similarly, a random event could propel any piece of non-conforming music or non-conforming art to become 'great' (and therefore making you a 'great' artist or musician).

***Art progression isn't simply a matter of who thought of it first, and how original it was. Indeed, there is complex and subtle rationale behind all art. Edgard Varese's avant garde material wasn't popular simply because it was avant garde. Anyone can make a bunch of noise, but there is a logical transition from contemporary trends to "cutting edge."***

True, but I think you have the order backwards. We don't think that such and such would make a great piece of art and then become automatically famous. Rather, the events of history are what picks the 'winners' and 'losers'. The successful method is an after-the-fact decision. If other people don't like a movie, then we tend not to talk about it - especially if people think we are quirky for liking it (this happens to me all the time). We tend to gravitate to popular tunes, art, movies, etc and then we analyze what made it popular. We use the explanation as a means to justify the wide acceptance of something. Rather, often acceptance is based on random events (e.g., the WTC artifacts becoming museum pieces). Sometimes we are aware that a random event is what bestowed meaning on a piece, and other times we simply fool ourselves with an explanation as to what really made it desirable. We might think that Grandma's pie being delicious is what made the pie delicious, but it is simply the warm childhood memories of being at Grandma's house that we associate with the pie that really makes it that delicious. Advertisers are so aware of this that they make their advertisements surrounding events that we all want to be a part (e.g., sexy women to sell beer, nature roads to sell cars, etc).

***H:"Art is known to play with universals and contradict them." And philosophy is not?***

Science is not also? The point is that the sense of truth that comes along with philosophy and science stems from an inherent need to draw meaning from our sensory contacts with the world. This need does not exist in music and art. We can perfectly well appreciate a meaningless piece of art if it is popular and there is an art opening that we are attending where champagne and wine are being served. We are encouraged at such events to try to find meaning and the artist will even avoid ascribing meaning to the piece. I like art openings as much as the next Bohemian, but I know that I am applying meaning to the piece.

If a philosophical theory was presented at something akin to an art opening with the philosopher saying that his theoretical view has no inherent meaning but we are to find our own meaning, I would generally think I have stumbled upon a weird social gathering and find my way out to the nearest exit (and I wouldn't drink the wine).

***H: "The art of 21st century would not be recognizable to someone in the 15th century who valued 'universals' of good art." L: I disagree! Let's consider existentialism. Is there not a solid stream of logic behind existentialism? Could the Greeks have understood and appreciated it? Of course! Did they come up with it, or did the transition take centuries? The movement clearly has its ancient and religious origins, but again we see how this weakens your position: art and music have ancient and religious roots too! As the tired old expression goes, hindsight is 20/20.***

The ancient Greeks would understand modern philosophy much better than modern art and modern music. Explaining to Plato the tenets of logical empiricism (a modern philosophical view) would take only an essay. An ongoing debate (such as here) might get Plato to seriously consider some of his views. However, explaining modern music or modern art would require that Plato bought into the idea that it is good to enjoy what modern people enjoy even if you don't understand the reason. What reason could you give a resurrected Plato to enjoy rap music? You simply have to hope that he likes it. You can't force a contradiction in his liking of a certain kind of music or art. The contradiction of philosophical reasoning could and would force a mind like Plato to accept some modern philosophical theories (of course, we might learn a thing or two from him too).

***In the mid 1970s an avant garde band calling themselves The Residents created a type of sublime music light years ahead of other 'cutting edge' groups (in terms of artistic genius). At around the same time, or a little thereafter, another group calling itself Negativland (sic) released its own brand of avant garde soundscapes. Much unlike The Residents, Negativland failed to garner any real critical success -- not because someone with influence came out first with the assessment "this is Language Removed," but rather because Negativland just didn't get it.***

What didn't they get? They failed to pick up on the trends of the industry. Sure, those trends look perfectly algorithmic after-the-fact, but Negativland had an algorithm, it just wasn't accepted. Had the critics enjoyed Negativland shortly after some historical event that made their music look 'cutting edge', then your example would be reversed (Negativland would be 'cutting edge' and The Residents would be the band that didn't get it). The point is that there is no internalist criteria by which to decide which music to accept. The criteria is people's whims and background that is largely determined by 'random' events. I'm sure that certain music will become trend setting simply because of 9/11. If 9/11 hadn't occurred, then those bands simply would not have gotten it.

Warm regards, Harv

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