The TLS gets better

The TLS seems to have got a new philosophy editor, Tim Crane, and his influence on this week’s issue is remarkable. For a start there is his own long, excellent essay on what religion is and isn’t, exposing the inadequacies of treating is as either a mere set of propositions or only a social arrangement. The only thing this gets wrong is the tentative suggestions that Pentecostalism represented a novelty, or that this is what Pentecostal congregations are in search of.

In principle, it is possible for these two things to be separated: people might gather spontaneously, utter words, and perform some kind of ceremony together, even if these things had never been said or done before. (Perhaps Pentecostals’ speaking in tongues is an example of this kind of thing.)

Not only was the Asuza Street revival an entirely self-conscious attempt to return to the condition of the early Church; the services today are as ritualised as post-77 Grateful Dead concert. So for that matter, is an Alpha Course. Everything is done to condition expectations towards the arrival of the Holy Spirit. See also the “Was he slain or was he pushed?” passage of our church book.

Then there is the dispute between Roger Scruton and Timothy Williamson, also flagged on the cover. As usual, Scruton seems to be punching where his opponents aren’t, but landing some real blows none the less. I still think that the best approach to his philosophy is through his thoughts on music.

There are concepts that play an organizing role in our experience but which belong to no scientific theory, because they divide the world into the wrong kinds of kind – concepts like those of ornament, melody, duty, freedom, purity, which divide up the world in a way that no natural science could countenance. Consider the concept of melody. Science tells us a lot about the properties of pitched sounds; but it tells us nothing about melodies. A melody is not an acoustical but a musical object. And musical objects belong to the purely intentional realm: they are sounds heard under a musical description. That means, sounds as we self-conscious beings hear them, under concepts that have no place in the science of sounds. No sound could rise from the depths as the E-flat major arpeggio rises from the depths at the start of Das Rheingold.

I am particularly susceptible to these arguments as someone who is profoundly affected by music but unable to reproduce or even consciously analyse it. But even if I were able to do that to the degree that a professionally trained musician can there would still be — I think — an absolute divide between analysis and experience. I find from music that I don’t believe in zombies. There is something it is like to listen to music which is absolutely unlike anything available in the third person world.

What I find odd is the question of whether this arises, as Scruton says, from our experience of other subjects. What effect does music have on severely handicapped babies?

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