Friday, July 23, 2010

Rejoicing Correctly


One of the oddities of Aristotle's Politics--at least for the modern reader--is that it ends with a somewhat lengthy discussion of music, which would have been even lengthier if the complete work had come down to us. But when we remember that Aristotle was a student of Plato, who taught that "the ways of poetry and music are not changed anywhere without change in the most important laws of the city," we will begin to see why Aristotle placed so much importance on the role of music in the polis.

Aristotle, like his teacher, recognizes that music has a profound power. But what is this power good for? Aristotle rejects the idea that music should be a mere amusement like "sleep and deep drinking" (Bk. VIII.iv.3;1339a17), or even that it should be an intellectual entertainment for the cultured (1339a25). Instead, he emphasizes its formative influence on the soul, and its ability to help the young develop virtue.

But, virtue sounds boring, and it also sounds like hard work--which Aristotle admits, when he calls education in virtue a "painful process" (μετὰ λύπης γὰρ ἡ μάθησις). So, why regulate music in what is bound to be a painful process for the young?

Aristotle's answer is simple, but profound: Music must be regulated so that the young can learn to "rejoice correctly" (χαίρειν ὀρθῶς). Good music helps the young to govern their emotions, and to attain happiness. In a later part of the discussion, Aristotle repeats this very same phrase phrase, and then adds two more emotions that need to be learned correctly: love and hatred (1340a15).

So, why should we pay attention to what kind of music we listen to? So that we can love, hate, and rejoice correctly.
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