Stephen Davies reviews Malcolm Budd’s Aesthetic Essays

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Aesthetic Essays

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NDPR has published a review, written by Stephen Davies (University of Auckland), of Malcolm Budd’s Aesthetic Essays (Oxford Univ. Press, 2008). Below, I’ve excerpted the review’s opening paragraph, and then four paragraphs from the middle of the review, in which Davies addresses Budd’s approach to the aesthetics of music, an area in the philosophy of art to which Davies himself has made particularly important contributions (see this book, for a sampling). To read the whole review, click here.

To see a limited preview of Budd’s chapter on “Wittgenstein on Aesthetics,” click here.

Here is the first paragraph of Davies’ review:

This important collection by the prominent aesthetician Malcolm Budd brings together fourteen papers on the nature of aesthetic judgment and value, expression and movement in music, and depiction. In addition, there is a masterly analysis and exposition of Kant’s account of the pure judgment of taste (Chapter Five) and another of Wittgenstein’s view of aesthetics (Chapter Thirteen). Most of the papers are only slightly modified or supplemented, but two are combined in a chapter on musical understanding. Related chapters complement each other nicely without excessive overlap.

And here is Davies’ discussion of Budd’s claims about music:

Of special interest in the philosophy of music is the nature and role of descriptions of music as involving spatial motion and emotional expression. Such descriptions are frequently taken to be metaphoric. Budd does not necessarily agree. He appeals instead to Wittgenstein’s idea of secondary senses, these being senses that retain the word’s literal meaning outside its home domain but that cannot, unlike metaphors, be replaced by non-synonymous terms. Nevertheless his primary concern is not with this terminological issue.

Sibley claims that metaphoric descriptions of music necessarily are involved in characterizing music with understanding. Yet he also allows that equally apt alternative descriptions are always available and he does not demonstrate the connection invoked by the metaphor between the extra-musical concepts of the word’s home domain and the music’s character, so his claim of necessity is unproved. Scruton also regards metaphor as central to musical experience, with metaphors of spatial motion being ineliminable from the experience of melody, rhythm, and harmony. Budd responds that we often refer to timbre with metaphorical descriptions, but reference to extra-auditory phenomena is not essential to hearing the timbral quality that is described. The same applies to metaphors of spatial movement and to Scruton’s claim that these are necessarily implicated in hearing a melody in a sequence of tones. Budd’s alternative suggestion is that melody is experienced as a temporal Gestalt of elements on a non-spatial continuum. Similarly, rhythm can be explained without reference to dance and the notion of metaphor. Again, chords need not be experienced as spatially separated simultaneous sounds; they are notes falling on a non-spatial pitch continuum.

I share Budd’s view that Scruton fails to unpack the metaphors to which he appeals or to demonstrate their necessity, and I agree that melodies and the like are better described in terms of temporal process than as individuals in motion, but I am not sure we can fully describe the experience of simultaneous, differently pitched notes in non-spatial terms. Crucial here is the universal human recognition of octaves as the same or equivalent notes at a different location, usually characterized as higher or lower.

Scruton also insists that music cannot be literally sad, since it is non-sentient, yet he holds that the metaphoric use of the term is essential to an account of the musical quality. What is more, understanding the metaphorical application of the term to music must be guided by an understanding of its literal, non-musical meaning. As Budd rightly points out, however, the musical quality might differ from the literal one, while being connected with it in a way that licenses the extension of the term to the musical case. (Others have argued, for instance, that the comportment of music can match human behaviors that present an expressive appearance, even when they are not giving expression to a felt emotion.)

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