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Thread: A thought experiment for the objectivists

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    Quote Originally Posted by BachIsBest View Post
    I'm not sure where ontology is coming in here, but I'll try and answer.

    It's been proven rigorously that no machine can evaluate the truth or falsehood of all mathematical statements. In fact, I have no idea how one would even attempt to build a machine that even approximately except for the most trivial mathematical statements or given a very, very, specific subset of mathematical truths. To be frank, this math truth machine is, at current levels of knowledge, (in my opinion) a bit of a pipe-dream.

    For music, roughly speaking, (I'm not an expert on programming), you should find a way to encode musical scores into arrays of numbers. Then, input a large amount of common practice period works into the computer with a rating as to the general consensus as to how highly rated this composition is (say on a three-point scale and you could input works on which there is wide consensus). I would guess one should be able to fine-tune a machine-learning algorithm to get reasonable results for non-originally inputted CPP music.
    You didn't mention one fundamental flaw with machines: they all eventually break down.
    Last edited by ArtMusic; Apr-08-2021 at 06:21.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BachIsBest View Post
    with a rating as to the general consensus
    The issue is whether that consensus is objectively correct or not, so that's basically circular reasoning.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    This is a straw man.
    It's called satire. Over your head, I guess.

    But seriously, why respond with riddles? Why respond with vacuity? Why respond?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    It's called satire. Over your head, I guess.

    But seriously, why respond with riddles? Why respond with vacuity? Why respond?
    Because stuff is at stake.

    Or it's fun.

    Whatever. Why ask?

    I don't believe it was satire, actually. I think you, like your ideological allies here, really believe that the consequence of acknowledging that aesthetic values are subjective is that then there is no truth, no basis for judging anything, everything just willy-nilly. The point several of us on the other side are making is that it ain't necessarily so. We all live and breathe in communities of people who share most of our values to varying extents, so within those communities the shared values -- to the extent that they are in fact shared -- have a kind of independent, even in some sense objective existence.

    So you can have what you want, but you can't have it outside of your chosen community. If you'd settle for that we'd have no problem. The continual allusions to how stupid everyone else is -- we all know lots of people who'd value Yellow Submarine more than anything by Feldman or Bach -- is where the problem arises. When people don't share values, there's hardly a conversation to be had unless one group has enough political power to force other people to pretend to submit.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    The default position is that opinion is the factor governing our appreciation of art among the vast bulk of "practical" humanity. The labored efforts of Plato and other Idealists to concoct theories of inherent excellence transcending mere human tastes and frailties are carried on in this very group of threads, yet convince only their devotees.
    There is no "default position," and the recognition of excellence in art has nothing to do with Platonism. The "vast bulk of practical humanity" knows more about aesthetics than it realizes, but with you teaching the course "Art as Ice Cream 101" it's sure never to realize anything more.

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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    The issue is whether that consensus is objectively correct or not, so that's basically circular reasoning.
    This is not a response to my post. You made the claim that a machine couldn't be programmed to figure out which compositions would be considered great. I responded:

    "We probably could build a machine that recognises which music we consider excellent in the CPP with reasonably high accuracy."

    I assumed apriori that it is the music we consider excellent whether that be subjective or objective. You then asked for details, and I roughly explained how someone might attempt this. My post was a refutation, not an argument. Now that the claim has been refuted, I may be wrong, but I believe you are accusing me of doing something I clearly did not do to hide the invalidity of your previous point.

    I don't consider what machines can and can not determine at all a reasonable criteria for what can be known objectively. It seems a virtually certainty that no machine can determine every law of the universe with 100% accuracy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    Because stuff is at stake.

    Or it's fun.

    Whatever. Why ask?

    I don't believe it was satire, actually. I think you, like your ideological allies here, really believe that the consequence of acknowledging that aesthetic values are subjective is that then there is no truth, no basis for judging anything, everything just willy-nilly. The point several of us on the other side are making is that it ain't necessarily so. We all live and breathe in communities of people who share most of our values to varying extents, so within those communities the shared values -- to the extent that they are in fact shared -- have a kind of independent, even in some sense objective existence.
    Truth is objective. If music evaluation is entirely subjective, then there is no truth in music evaluation. This is just definitional. No one has claimed that music evaluation being entirely subjective means there is no basis for judging anything, rather, that there is then no objective basis for evaluating anything, which is again just definitional.

    As I have pointed out previously, I, and I suspect many of the other objectivists, believe that although some values (probably the vast majority) are subjective, others are not. There is no community in the world that believes cold-blooded murder without cause is right. Some values aren't just within our community, they are within the entirety of humanty.

    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    So you can have what you want, but you can't have it outside of your chosen community. If you'd settle for that we'd have no problem. The continual allusions to how stupid everyone else is -- we all know lots of people who'd value Yellow Submarine more than anything by Feldman or Bach -- is where the problem arises. When people don't share values, there's hardly a conversation to be had unless one group has enough political power to force other people to pretend to submit.
    No one has claimed those who listen to Yellow Submarine are stupid.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I disagree with a couple of things here. I don't think that human beings have failed to identify aesthetic qualities that arouse pleasure and admiration on an effectively universal basis. We find certain attributes of both art and nature which arouse these feelings across time, cultures and styles, and it's partly the seeming universality of many aesthetic judgments that makes aesthetic questions compelling. "Universality" doesn't mean that every work of art must exhibit all such characteristics to be either effective or praiseworthy, or that all works must embody these qualities in the same way, or that all individuals must be equally sensitive to or concerned with any particular qualities.
    I don't believe in universal aesthetic qualities, but the idea that each community is locked up in its own image of the world is equally wrong. Of course you can be moved by Sung Dynasty landscapes or Benin sculptured heads without having grown up in those cultures. That artistic communication is always possible, however, doesn't mean that there is a universal or general conception of beauty/art.

    But I should make a distinction here between aesthetic qualities and perceptual cues. There have been experiments on this very topic: Balkwill and Thompson (1999) found pitch range, tempo, and rhythmic/melodic complexity to be basic perceptual cues and considered the emotional associations with Indian ragas to be enculturated cues. However, the distinction between these two types of cues may be blurred under the influence that learned schemata has on perception. For example, what sounds deviant to an uninitiated listener may not sound deviant from the perspective of a musical insider, and yet the impression of deviance may seem perceptually evident. "Such an impression could well have an impact on the listener's ability to recognize emotional content, distracting attention from such content or prompting affective response" (Higgins 2012). Contemporary psychologists do not take the establishment of regularities in spontaneous judgments of emotions expressed to be proof of universal aesthetic qualities. Some have postulated that the "apparently species-invariant acoustic cues for expressing emotions were selected by evolution for clear communication of broad emotion categories, not for nuances." While the use of loud, fast, accelerating patterns in high registers seems to "universally" cue emotional excitement, there are always nuances which are conceptualized in the language of a certain group (and no ideal language or set of aesthetic qualities is available for those nuances).

    But this is not a bad thing! It's not necessary to share a language to communicate (this holds both for people that speak the "same" language and for people that don't). Hence, incommensurability between languages and concepts could be interpreted in a positive way - that is, the communication process is kept in motion by what the participants don't share.

    No one is free of "biases" of these sorts, but the ability to perceive basic aesthetic qualities is a part of human nature, and so, to one degree or another, is the ability to detect the masterful employment of aesthetic principles and engagement of our perception by artists.
    Once upon a time ago, Longfellow said that "music is the universal language of mankind." The idea retains currency among those who partake in so-called world music, but it's certainly less commonplace than it used to be. Not that Germans don't understand Italian music anymore. But as Europeans began to encounter Asian music, they realized that not all music resembled that of their own societies. Some of it, in fact, seemed unintelligible. European theorists in the 19th century simply decided that other people's music was less advanced than that of Europe. Take Darwin's description of "discordant noises, the beating of tom-toms and the shrill notes of reeds'' pleasing "the ears of savages." The tonal system, a European discovery, was seen as the apex of musical progress. A view only slightly less extreme still has adherents today: Roger Scruton was without doubt extremely musically knowledgeable, yet he argued that Western tonality is the optimal employment of musical resources. "Our tradition," he says, "could fairly claim to be the richest and most fertile that has yet existed." Utter nonsense.

    When the great sitarist Nikhil Banerjee was taken to a concert where Rostropovich performed the Bach cello suites, he remarked, "He played out of tune the entire time; he didn't develop any of the themes; and it sounded almost like the music was written out in advance." An Albanian folk musician taken to a performance of Beethoven's Ninth described it as "Fine - but very, very plain." I don't think these examples can be chalked up to individual "biases," nor am I advocating for a total subjectivist position. Bach and Beethoven should obviously be judged according to their tradition's broad musical aims. I'm sure that both Banerjee and the Albanian musician were aware of basic perceptual cues present in the music, but nuanced aesthetic qualities were clearly lost on them.

    Critics are no different than the rest of us, except (we hope) in the amount of knowledge and thought they bring to their job, and a sense of obligation to learn to appreciate even art that doesn't naturally appeal to them. Works of art have their own distinct concepts to convey, but the artist's ability to carry out his conception in a clear and potent way depends very much on his sense of aesthetic fitness, and the choices he has to make are not arbitrary. Beauty, in its looser sense, is in the eye of the beholder, but for the artist beauty, in the narrower and stronger sense of aesthetic integrity, is achieved in definite ways. The knowing appreciator of art - the good critic, professional or otherwise - sees how the artist has achieved it and, sometimes, of course, how he has failed to.

    The worldwide acceptance of the most diverse forms of art as true manifestations of beauty - the ability of individuals worldwide to appreciate and enjoy the art of cultures far from their own - is much more significant, and much more in need of explanation, than the existence of personal dislikes and critical "blind spots." Artistic perception is grounded in more fundamental aspects of human nature - cognitive, affective and physical - than are cultural differences. "Why have musicians and listeners around the world for almost 300 years considered Bach a master of music?" is a difficult but important question. "Why doesn't my cousin Leslie like Bach?" is neither.
    I was pointing out the implications of a critic admitting to their blind spots, not simply the existence of personal dislikes. When critics admit to blind spots, it can be taken as a confession that their general competence prevents them from "learn[ing] to appreciate even art that doesn't naturally appeal to them." Does a critic who can't see any merit in Stockhausen betray their occupational obligation? I don't necessarily think so, but you might?

    As for someone appreciating cultures far from their own, I maintain that the possibility of artistic communication doesn't mean that there is a universal language. That human traditions are similar is no ground to suppose that there is one prototypical "Way of Life" that they necessarily share.
    Last edited by Portamento; Apr-08-2021 at 08:25. Reason: never too late to find a typo

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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    Because stuff is at stake.

    Or it's fun.

    Whatever. Why ask?

    I don't believe it was satire, actually. I think you, like your ideological allies here, really believe that the consequence of acknowledging that aesthetic values are subjective is that then there is no truth, no basis for judging anything, everything just willy-nilly. The point several of us on the other side are making is that it ain't necessarily so. We all live and breathe in communities of people who share most of our values to varying extents, so within those communities the shared values -- to the extent that they are in fact shared -- have a kind of independent, even in some sense objective existence.

    So you can have what you want, but you can't have it outside of your chosen community. If you'd settle for that we'd have no problem. The continual allusions to how stupid everyone else is -- we all know lots of people who'd value Yellow Submarine more than anything by Feldman or Bach -- is where the problem arises. When people don't share values, there's hardly a conversation to be had unless one group has enough political power to force other people to pretend to submit.
    The question of what personal value anyone places on Bach or the Beatles is irrelevant to the qualities present in their work. Anyone may prefer any music they please, and for any reason. That doesn't make all music equally good.

    I don't listen to music as part of a "community" but as an independent artistic mind.

    Your sermons, heavy with moralism, are beside the point.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Apr-08-2021 at 08:18.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BachIsBest View Post
    There is no community in the world that believes cold-blooded murder without cause is right. Some values aren't just within our community, they are within the entirety of humanty.
    That does not make it objective. "Agreed upon" is not the definition of objective.

    Quote Originally Posted by BachIsBest View Post
    No one has claimed those who listen to Yellow Submarine are stupid.
    What word would you like to use rather than "stupid?"
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    The question of what personal value anyone places on Bach or the Beatles is irrelevant to an evaluation of the qualities present in their work. I don't listen to music as part of a "community" but as an independent artistic mind.
    Ah, the island of whose existence Donne was unaware.

    Romantic individualism might have a place, but your values (even that individualism) come from somewhere. You've been shaped by your world. We all know this, so it's hardly worth denying.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Your sermons, heavy with moralism, are also irrelevant.
    Are they? I understand you want to say so, and why, but I they appear relevant to me, not least as a way to understand why we have to keep going back over the same ground repeatedly, pretending that it hasn't been conceded repeatedly.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    That does not make it objective. "Agreed upon" is not the definition of objective.
    No, it doesn't necessarily make it objective. But you were talking as though one could always find a community with different values from ones own; hence my response.

    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    What word would you like to use rather than "stupid?"
    I'm not sure what I'm supposed to gather from the fact that a person likes Yellow Submarine other than that said person liked Yellow Submarine. There is no word for "person who likes Yellow Submarine", but if there was, I'd choose it!

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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    Ah, the island of whose existence Donne was unaware.

    Romantic individualism might have a place, but your values (even that individualism) come from somewhere. You've been shaped by your world. We all know this, so it's hardly worth denying.

    Are they? I understand you want to say so, and why, but I they appear relevant to me, not least as a way to understand why we have to keep going back over the same ground repeatedly, pretending that it hasn't been conceded repeatedly.
    Let me say this straight out. What "we all know," what you think others are "denying," what you "understand" about other's thinking and motivations, what you "understand" that I understand, what you think we all think, what people are "pretending," how you think we should all express ourselves, and all the rest of your presumptuous psychologizing and moralizing, are toxic. If you're unaware that you engage in this stuff constantly, I suggest a little reflection on personal boundaries. I had to put up with too much impertinence from millionrainbows, and I'm in no mood for more of it. Just express your opinions on art and leave it at that.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Apr-08-2021 at 08:15.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Portamento View Post
    I don't believe in universal aesthetic qualities, but the idea that each community is locked up in its own image of the world is equally wrong. Of course you can be moved by Sung Dynasty landscapes or Benin sculptured heads without having grown up in those cultures. That artistic communication is always possible, however, doesn't mean that there is a universal or general conception of beauty/art.

    But I should make a distinction here between aesthetic qualities and perceptual cues. There have been experiments on this very topic: Balkwill and Thompson (1999) found pitch range, tempo, and rhythmic, and melodic complexity to be basic perceptual cues and considered the emotional associations with Indian ragas to be enculturated cues. However, the distinction between these two types of cues may be blurred under the influence that learned schemata has on perception. For example, what sounds deviant to an uninitiated listener may not sound deviant from the perspective of a musical insider, and yet the impression of deviance may seem perceptually evident. "Such an impression could well have an impact on the listener's ability to recognize emotional content, distracting attention from such content or prompting affective response" (Hansen 2012). Contemporary psychologists do not take the establishment of regularities in spontaneous judgments of emotions expressed to be proof of universal aesthetic qualities. Some have postulated that the "apparently species-invariant acoustic cues for expressing emotions were selected by evolution for clear communication of broad emotion categories, not for nuances." While the use of loud, fast, accelerating patterns in high registers seems to "universally" cue emotional excitement, there are always nuances which are conceptualized in the language of a certain group (and no ideal language or set of aesthetic qualities is available for those nuances).

    But this is not a bad thing! It's not necessary to share a language to communicate (this holds both for people that speak the "same" language and for people that don't). Hence, incommensurability between languages and concepts could be interpreted in a positive way - that is, the communication process is kept in motion by what the participants don't share.



    Once upon a time ago, Longfellow said that "music is the universal language of mankind." The idea retains currency among those who partake in so-called world music, but it's certainly less commonplace than it used to be. Not that Germans don't understand Italian music anymore. But as Europeans began to encounter Asian music, they realized that not all music resembled that of their own societies. Some of it, in fact, seemed unintelligible. European theorists in the 19th century simply decided that other people's music was less advanced than that of Europe. Take Darwin's description of "discordant noises, the beating of tom-toms and the shrill notes of reeds'' pleasing "the ears of savages." The tonal system, a European discovery, was seen as the apex of musical progress. A view only slightly less extreme still has adherents today: Roger Scruton was without doubt extremely musically knowledgeable, yet he argued that Western tonality is the optimal employment of musical resources. "Our tradition," he says, "could fairly claim to be the richest and most fertile that has yet existed." Utter nonsense.

    When the great sitarist Nikhil Banerjee was taken to a concert where Rostropovich performed the Bach cello suites, he remarked, "He played out of tune the entire time; he didn't develop any of the themes; and it sounded almost like the music was written out in advance." An Albanian folk musician taken to a performance of Beethoven's Ninth described it as "Fine - but very, very plain." I don't think these examples can be chalked up to individual "biases," nor am I advocating for a total subjectivist position. Bach and Beethoven should obviously be judged according to their tradition's broad musical aims. I'm sure that both Banerjee and the Albanian musician were aware of basic perceptual cues present in the music, but nuanced aesthetic qualities were clearly lost on them.



    I was pointing out the implications of a critic admitting to their blind spots, not simply the existence of personal dislikes. When critics admit to blind spots, it can be taken as a confession that their general competence prevents them from "learn[ing] to appreciate even art that doesn't naturally appeal to them." Does a critic who can't see any merit in Stockhausen betray their occupational obligation? I don't necessarily think so, but you might?

    As for someone appreciating cultures far from their own, I maintain that the possibility of artistic communication doesn't mean that there is a universal language. That human traditions are similar is no ground to suppose that there is one prototypical "Way of Life" that they necessarily share.
    I appreciate this post and would like to address it, but it's too late at night here. Maybe tomorrow.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    So the reason why the music of Bach, an 18th-century German church musician, is regarded, by those who know it, as one of the pinnacles of Western music and has endured and been loved and venerated by performers, composers, scholars, students and audiences, not only in the West but around the world, and not only by classical musicians but also by jazz musicians and musicians from other cultures, and has been so regarded, and even increasingly well-regarded, for almost three centuries, is that there is a "self-selected, relatively small, group of classical music aficionados" who, inexplicably, enjoy it.
    I'm not responding to the substance of your post just yet, but this is Run-On Sentence of the Year.

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