- Music, Mind, and Morality:Arousing the Body Politic
If like Aristotle one agrees that the responsibility of philosophy is to offer as comprehensive a picture of phenomena as possible, then one must admit that sometimes the methods and goals of analytic philosophy stand in the way of getting the job done properly; they may even distort one's findings. This is not said in order to eschew analytic philosophy. It is simply a reminder that sometimes we need to stand back and check to reassure ourselves that the tail is not wagging the dog.
One example of where this danger looms is in the philosophy of art. In the eighteenth century the Modern System of the Arts was born.1 It included the practices that we think nowadays are the appropriate inhabitants of art schools and art centers and the legitimate beneficiaries of programs like the National Endowment for the Arts in the United States. These arts included poetry, painting, sculpture, music, dance, and sometimes gardening. These are what we might call the arts with a "capital A."
This is a different way of understanding the notion of the arts and the nomenclature from which they derive in Latin and Greek. For Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato, arts were simply any skilled practice. Poetry, for Aristotle at least, was an art, but so were navigation, medicine, and statecraft. And there were, of course, the martial arts. What happens with the emergence of the Modern System of the Arts—otherwise known as the Fine Arts, or the Beaux Arts, or, for us, the Arts with a capital A—is that a subset of the arts in the Greco-Roman sense were selected out and christened as a class unto itself, [End Page 1] different from the other "small a" arts. Whereas once upon a time chemists and painters might have been grouped together in the same guild in virtue of the fact that both types of workers ground substances, such as pigment; with the advent of the Modern System of the Arts, chemists and painters became first and foremost categorically different.
However, the consolidation of the class of Arts with a capital A demanded a theoretical answer to the question of what criterion an art form had to meet in order to gain membership in the Modern System of the Arts. The first suggestion was that a candidate practice had to possess the capacity to imitate the beautiful in nature. This was not a definition that had legs. For when absolute or pure instrumental music—or, as Peter Kivy calls it, music alone2 —took center stage as the most important form of music as well as the Art with a capital A to which all the other arts putatively aspired, the criteria for entry into the Modern System of the Arts had to be reconceived. Since music alone could not creditably be described as the imitation of the beautiful in nature (or, for that matter, the imitation of anything else), a new license for practicing Art with a capital A had to be found. And this has become one of the animating tasks of the analytic philosophy of art.
But the analytic philosophy of art comes with a certain bias toward discharging this task. It is committed to finding an essentialist answer to resolving the question of what warrants citizenship in the republic of Art (with a capital A). That is, what makes something an Artistic practice or, for that matter, a work of Art such that it is different from other things? What separates the Arts and the artworks from everything else?
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the most popular and recurring proposals here is that the Arts are what are primarily intended to promote aesthetic experience where that has formerly been characterized as disinterested pleasure but, more recently, as experience valued for its own sake. Experience valued for its own sake, of course, is virtually by definition conceptually independent from any other end, whereas the practices that do not belong to the Modern System of the Arts are primarily devoted to securing other ends—useful or utilitarian ends, knowledge...