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Brief Musings

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Brief Musings

Two miscellanea in a row? Well, why not? This is a collection of some quotes and random thoughts. If a quote, it will be attributed. If not attributed it is likely an original thought, or at least one that I read somewhere and don't recall where.

Things are not good because we desire them; we desire them because they are good.
—Aristotle, Metaphysics

If virtue can be beautiful cannot the beautiful be virtuous? (This comes from reading Eco on Aquinas whom he quotes as follows:
...the beautiful and the good are the same in any subject. For they are grounded in the same thing, namely form, and this is why the good is esteemed as beautiful. They are different notions nonetheless. For the good, which is what all things desire, properly has to do with appetite. So, too, it has to do with the idea of an end; for appetite is a kind of movement toward an end. Beauty, however, has to do with knowledge, for we call those things beautiful which please us when they are seen. [ Eco, op. cit. p. 35 quoting Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 5, 4.]
I am looking into this idea of the interrelation of the transcendentals (the Good, the True and the Beautiful) because I have long been uneasy with the idea that there is no connection between, for example, the engagement with aesthetic things, i.e. beauty, and the good generally. This is often cited as the problem of the concentration camp guards enjoying Schubert lieder in the evening and going out and gassing Jews the next day, to put it crudely. This is one of the things that, I think, leads us as a culture into a kind of dystopian way of looking at everything. Yes, the line between good and evil may run through every human heart as Solzhenitsyn said, but I still think that asserting that there is no connection whatsoever between aesthetic quality, i.e. the Beautiful, and moral quality, the Good, is simplistic. Perhaps it is a consequence of the Enlightenment idea of aesthetics, based on the idea of the exercise of individual taste. That takes us far away from Beauty as a transcendental quality. A merely subjective liking for Schubert is not inconsistent with your day job as a Nazi. Complicated, yes, and we have to look at the notion of virtue. But to me the idea that there is absolutely no connection between virtue and beauty is extreme. We are sold this in our popular culture, of course. The locus classicus is probably the scene in The Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lector enjoys listening to the Glenn Gould recording of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations before committing horrific crimes. Message: psychopaths in particular enjoy beautiful music. But isn't this quite unbelievable? Do murdering psychopaths really enjoy transcendental music? I doubt it, because psychopathy involves the inability to have empathy for anything.

…art does not proceed from the Things that man contemplates. It proceeds from men who contemplate Things.

--Maritain, Jacques. Creative Intuition in Art & Poetry (Kindle Location 465). Cluny Media. Kindle Edition.

Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.
—Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics

I have long had the idea that the practice of classical music (perhaps all music) involves the cultivating of certain virtues: discipline, industriousness, openness to experience, sensitivity to sound and to the effects of sound and so on. I have speculated before that you do not run into a lot of sociopaths in classical music circles (other than record company executives, of course) because the necessity of these virtues tends to cause them to self-eliminate. Recall that one of the qualities of a sociopath is that they cannot stand to be wrong, but must always find someone else to blame. This is related to narcissism, a frequent failing of our time. Sociopaths are deceitful and impulsive. At some point early on in every classical musician's life there comes a situation that a sociopath will find extremely hard to deal with. Imagine this: you are a music student and your teacher assigns you a piece, perhaps a simple piece by Bach. You go off to the practice room. There you are, all alone, just you, your instrument, a chair, a music stand and this piece by Bach. If you don't develop the focus and discipline to learn the piece, there is absolutely no-one to blame except yourself. You can try to blame the teacher or even Bach himself, but that's not going to go anywhere. So you will likely drop out of the music program in favor of a field where your lying and lack of discipline will not be a barrier to advancement. Something like politics, or business administration or journalism. Too harsh?


UPDATE: I replaced the Gould clip with one by Igor Levit because the audio quality was poor.


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