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Thread: 'Music is the only sensual pleasure without vice' - Is this true?

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    Senior Member Jobis's Avatar
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    Question 'Music is the only sensual pleasure without vice' - Is this true?

    Words spoken by Samuel Johnson. Is this true, at least within the realm of virtue ethics? and beyond?

    For those of us who are religious, can it be sinful to love music too much, can we sometimes value it before God? If so, how do we avoid this.

    I have re-found my catholic faith recently, and yet I continue to value music above many things; I wonder at what point this love turns sour and becomes immoral. Even in the context of religious music, it seems to me one can get wrapped around the music itself more than the meaning, I can't work out if this is a bad thing or not, since music is a natural part of creation and is meant to be enjoyed.

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    Senior Member Garlic's Avatar
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    I'm not religious and this post makes me sad.
    Why must pleasure be a bad thing? How can anything that doesn't hurt anyone be immoral?

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    Senior Member ahammel's Avatar
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    I'm irreligious myself, but that sounds like a complete load of waffle to me. Are we supposed to be suspicious of sensual pleasure in general for some reason?

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    Senior Member Jobis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Garlic View Post
    I'm not religious and this post makes me sad.
    Why must pleasure be a bad thing? How can anything that doesn't hurt anyone be immoral?
    That is the question, can music be bad for you if you excessively love it? Or is it totally without vice as the title suggests.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    First, Johnson was putting on his usual overstatement for effect. You can give your natural senses pleasure in many ways without it being sinful. Reading, hearing a play, eating, even stroking a cat - these and much else can give pleasure to the senses.

    As to the question of loving music too much. Of course you can love it too much. For example, if I listen to music to the neglect of my wife and family then it's wrong. The same can be said about the love of sport. The whole thing is to keep balance.

    As for faith, I personally have found that faith makes sense of things like music.

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    Senior Member Jobis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    First, Johnson was putting on his usual overstatement for effect. You can give your natural senses pleasure in many ways without it being sinful. Reading, hearing a play, eating, even stroking a cat - these and much else can give pleasure to the senses.

    As to the question of loving music too much. Of course you can love it too much. For example, if I listen to music to the neglect of my wife and family then it's wrong. The same can be said about the love of sport. The whole thing is to keep balance.

    As for faith, I personally have found that faith makes sense of things like music.
    I think you are pretty much spot on.

    Part of what caused me to make this thread was a passage from Dante's Inferno (not that I hold it to be anything beyond enjoyable poetic speculation of the afterlife) where Dante comes across the great poets in Limbo, Homer and Ovid etc., who spend an eternity contemplating aesthetics and poetry in an existence without suffering, but which lacks the joy and enlightenment of heaven.

    I found it an interesting perspective, since there is some truth in the idea that aesthetic appreciation and contemplation is not the be-all and end-all to our existence. It sounds obvious now but I know I myself can get caught up in music in such a way.

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    Many of the world's greatest composers were very religious, and they were pretty caught up in music. I don't feel the least bit guilty for enjoying sensual pleasures, and loving music. The division of sensuality and spirituality is an unfortunate aspect of western religion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jobis View Post
    For those of us who are religious, can it be sinful to love music too much, can we sometimes value it before God? If so, how do we avoid this.
    Many people find consolation in music and treat it as kind of sanctuary in which they find refuge from world's miseries. This is often accomplished by "running away" into music from reality and conciousness. In Christian morality, it can be considered immoral since people ought to look for consolation and refuge in God by means of understanding and embracing his will and his perfections.

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    The love of art or music could be wrong if used for 'mere' selfish enjoyment which stops you really caring about people in need that you could make an effort to help. Mea culpa, I have sometimes had a feeling, when a crisis loomed and I was required to get off my butt and do something, that I'd been so looking forward to a film or some music, and what a shame these family members (or whatever) had got in the way!

    But with that proviso, I think 'losing' yourself in music gives you a mystical experience that brings you closer to God; or if you're not religious, it gives an insight into the beauty of this world.

    Erasmus, who prided himself on his Latin style, had a dream in which he arrived at the gates of heaven and asked to be admitted. St Peter demurred. Erasmus said, 'Christianus sum' - I am a Christian.

    To which St Peter replied, 'Non Christianus, sed Ciceronianus.' - You are not a Christian, you are a Ciceronian.

    And shut the gate!

    This dream helped Erasmus get his priorities right!
    My fiddle my joy.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aramis View Post
    Many people find consolation in music and treat it as kind of sanctuary in which they find refuge from world's miseries. This is often accomplished by "running away" into music from reality and conciousness. In Christian morality, it can be considered immoral since people ought to look for consolation and refuge in God by means of understanding and embracing his will and his perfections.
    This is a very ascetic view. In fact music can aid our appreciation of God. If you look in the Psalms there is plenty of mention of music. Even when the prophet Elisha was in need of inspiration, he said, 'Bring me a minstrel!' We are made with a soul as well as a spirit and music can minister to that part of us.

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    It's interesting that some conservative islamists prohibit music because it's sensual pleasure, thus sinful. While Quran recitation 'sung' in a maqam (scale) is not considered music at all.
    Some sufists on the other hand think we love music because it's a direct image of God (no form 'in between'). Eventually Hazrat Inayat Khan gave up music to be in closer contact with God. His pantheistic view also includes that everything is 'music' (cf John Cage).

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    Senior Member hreichgott's Avatar
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    I'm a little confused by the OP because the Johnson quote is that music is a sensual pleasure WITHOUT vice -- and the OP suggests that, at least under certain conditions, enjoying music IS a vice.

    It's probably worth noting that the quote comes from a time when novel-reading and theatre-going were also considered vices by many religious people. As with cigars and port, these vices were associated with wealth and status, acceptable and decent in their way, but everyone knew that overindulgence was bad for you (and religious people used them as a way to criticize a wealthy lifestyle). Johnson then comes along and says that music is like all these things because it's fun, but unlike all of them it isn't a vice.

    Johnson was a pretty satirical guy also, so probably any quotes from him shouldn't be read out of context.
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano
    http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    As I say there has been a certain asceticism come into the Christian faith. This included for example the fact that there was no singing in certain churches after the reformation. Martin Luther didn't ascribe to this as he believed that music was a fundamental to worshipping God. Similarly the evangelicals in England wrote many wonderful hymns of whom Charles Wesley's are the greatest. The fact is that the Bible says that God has given us all things are richly to enjoy. But he has given us the responsibility of being the judges of how that enjoyment should take place in his world.

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    I've appreciated all the comments so far.

    When I first came to the Christian faith, I made a personal decision to put aside things like music for a time because I loved it too much, and it distracted me from God. Paul in the letter to the Romans makes allowances for people like that, who he calls weak in the faith, and fellow believers respected my decision.

    With time, though, I've gained perspective, and now I listen to all types of music. The proviso is that I can listen with God present. This has even included "immoral" music (at least immoral from a religious perspective) at times - from the Velvet Underground to Eminem - because it has allowed me to understand how other people think, to understand other peoples' experience, or to understand what other people are moved/influenced by; I just don't overindulge in or celebrate that kind of music.

    As to the OP, personally, I love jazz. Because of that, I listen in small doses, or I'd get caught up in it - always thinking about how someone played a piece, what licks he strung with what, that kind of thing. I know it's time to stop when I feel it start to pull on me, and that's how I deal with it.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    I believe it was a certain JS Bach who said that music was for the glory of God!

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