Music: the Food of Love

For these past few months, I studied and researched the philosophy of music for my final presentation on Dante’s Purgatory. This study is one of my favorites as I am a musician. After researching poetry last semester, I realized that I had not developed a philosophy for music, which is the reason why I decided to study music this semester. In this presentation, I argue that music in Purgatory is for the purification of the soul as opposed to the mere sway of emotion. My major sources include Dante’s Divine ComedyThe Fundamentals of Music by Boethius, The Republic by Plato, and Treatise on Happiness by Aquinas. The words below contain some of my overall thoughts on the nature of music and its effects on the soul.

Music is the abstract art of sound. For there to be music, there must be harmony because music is created through the harmonious union of pitch and time. Harmony is the relation between objects. Of course, there is dissonance music. However, dissonance exists through some degree of order since there must be at least two notes that are unified, and thus in harmony, to be dissonant. Dissonance is by definition a clash between components. Music as an art form is abstract because it does not refer to language; although language is an ordering of vowels and consonants, the music of language would refer to the pitch and rhythm of one’s voice rather than speech itself. Music therefore does not pertain to certain situations and is thus an abstract art.

The harmony of music is analogous to the harmony within man. According to Boethius, there is music in everything that exists because everything that exists has harmony. It is through harmony that everything exists because in order for something to exist, its components must be formed harmoniously according to its proper nature. Thus, harmony within music is the same as the harmony within the universe and soul. Boethius further argues that harmony is capable of depicting the states of man. This can be seen in the harmonious union of reason, sentiment, and instinct in man. It is through this harmony that man reasons, feels, and acts. This concept can be seen in the fact that people are attracted to music that pertains to their situation; the harmony of music is then in conjunction with the harmony within man. As a result, music is capable of influencing the soul at its core. Since music and man are created in a similar likeness, man by contemplating certain harmonies within music, contemplates a certain type of harmony that can be found within the self.

Since music expresses harmony, music produces proper sentiment. Sentiments are trained dispositions that determine one’s knowledge of qualities. The development of sentiment is important for the soul because it produces proper responses to ideas such as being awed by beauty or loving truth. Music trains the sentiments by associating sentiments with certain ideas.

The sentiments produced by music are indeed proper because music expresses the Forms. The Forms are abstract, universal concepts distinct from space and time. They are qualities that objects share such as goodness, beauty, and justice. Music expresses the Forms because harmony, melody, and rhythm are capable of communicating universal ideas in abstract forms. This is evident since music is a universal language such that a quality depicted musically is universally received as that quality. For instance, music that depicts happiness can be translated into several instances of joy because that music depicts happiness itself. Because music is an abstract art, the ideas expressed musically are the Forms of these ideas because music expresses the nature of qualities. Music therefore produces proper sentiment because these sentiments are proper responses to the Forms.

Music is therefore a means to behold goodness. As stated before, music produces proper sentiment. In Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise, music is configured to associate wonder and love with goodness. Music itself is an endeavor to experience goodness, since people naturally are pleased by harmonious sounds, which is goodness, while cringing at dissonance. Hence, in music man learns to behold goodness in a truer form by associating the positive sentiments of wonder and love with goodness.

Thoughts on Poetry

Boethius was in mourning of life

Till Philosophy comes and cures his strife

With poetry and prose, instruments used

For thinking pure thoughts to be cured

Though Plato says, “Boo! Poetry’s an imitation to you,”

The Lady replies, “Poetry raises man’s mind

And gives a glimpse of the divine.”

This was a poem I wrote for my presentation on poetry. Overall, I thought it was a successful presentation. It was a lot of fun. I originally was not very interested in poetry so this was a new topic for me. Anyways, the following are some of my conclusions about poetry and its use in philosophy.

Poetry is more than an imitation. It is rather the expression of an image through which man is able to know his ideas. Imitation is a technique used to create art and is not the art itself. This can be seen in the fact that art is always directed towards an idea which is beyond the technique used. The images that man creates become his knowledge and of course by being an image it expresses itself. In the case of poetry, the words used become a way of thinking about an idea. In a sense, all people who think and express are artists. However, the ones who are more artistic are the ones who express themselves more accurately.

Poetry sanctifies language and therefore thought. As art, it expresses through meter, rhyme, rhythm, etc., which in turn further infuses meaning into one’s words. Words always portray an image. Through poetry, this image can be further expressed. For example, rhymes can be used to connect ideas or the rhythm may be used to express certain feelings. Man’s thoughts are in a language, whether that be in words or pictures. By bettering words, one betters thought. In a way, poetical images are much more truthful since they communicate far more in its technique. It sanctifies language in which it conforms the poetical image of our words to our ideas.

Therefore, poetry is a useful instrument in philosophy since if one betters thought one betters understanding. Through the beauty of words, one is able to express the beauty of wisdom. Since wisdom is beautiful, one’s language and thus thoughts ought to reflect this beauty. In poetical images, man is able to behold the beauty of wisdom. Plato describes the philosopher as one who loves wisdom. Poetry is a means to express the beauty of wisdom and thus to love wisdom.

By using poetry, one imitates this cosmic idea of expression as seen in the Incarnation where the Word became flesh. The Word is the image of God and as St. Augustine describes is being expressed eternally. In poetry, one’s words become flesh merely because it is spoken. Poetry involves the use of breath, tongue, teeth, and lip to express an image. In this sense, our words become incarnated. Hence, one imitates the idea of the Incarnation through poetry.

I consider poetry, and all art for that matter, the victory of man. In art, man “hits the mark” where the meaning of one’s ideas are expressed artistically and truthfully. It is in the very order and conventions of art that man reaches greater heights. Essentially, order and convention are goodness. Thus, in poetry man achieves victory in thought.

Is Manipulation Okay?

So I am taking a class on Shakespeare and one of the questions asked for As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing was whether or not manipulation is ever okay. Of course, it is granted that not all manipulation is right. Those who persuade others to do wrong are not acting in love towards one another. And yet, it seems that there may be manipulation that is justifiable.

First of all, I do not associate manipulation necessarily with deceit. Deceit often involves manipulation. However, not all manipulation is deceitful. For example, a person in a speech may place jokes here and there to cause people to laugh. This can be considered manipulation and yet it is without deceit. The jokes merely present hilarious phrases that call for laughter. Hence, I will consider manipulation as presentation, the way one communicates ideas that may be either true or false.

It is given that man is influenced by many things in life. This includes friends, music, art, circumstances, etc. It is also true that people are influenced by what people say, which is often how people are manipulated for better or for worse. One of the questions asked during class is whether or not this takes away free will. I do not think any persuasion from mere mortals can accomplish this. If manipulation or influence could take away the will of man, man would be like an animal or anything in nature for that matter. He would react based upon various stimuli, which would imply that man’s actions are dictated by nature and hence without choice. However, it is seen that man is able to make choices since he is able to make wrong choices which would be against nature. Since man is able to make choice, any action taken is the responsibility of the person who acts as opposed to circumstance and manipulation. Of course, it is granted that the person who manipulates and causes others to stumble is not without guilt. However, any person who is manipulated is nevertheless responsible for his own actions.

No person can be without influence, especially since man bases his actions on experiences. It would be worse to be without influence because that would mean for one to be without knowledge since knowledge is influential. It is man’s responsibility to choose the surroundings in his life. Man ought to therefore choose wisely to the best of his ability the most beneficial circumstances.

Why Study?


What are you eating? There was a passage that I was reading in 1 Corinthians that I thought would be good to share with all of you. Paul states in 1 Cor. 3.1−3:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready; for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

As they are dependent upon others for all their needs, infants are always being fed until they learn to feed themselves. In the same way, the spiritually young are unable to feed themselves with the Word of God. Of course, believers are not meant to stay young in the faith. Believers are meant to grow in their faith. However, in spite of this, many do remain young due to their lack of biblical and theological knowledge, which is what I hope to address in the following thoughts.

The reason why I want to draw attention to the importance of studying Scripture is because there is so much to know. Our knowledge of Scripture and therefore of God is the foundation of our Christian walk. Scripture is not the end goal (that would be Christ), but it is a means to Christ. As we start the new school year, I hope to encourage all of you to grow in studying God and His Word diligently as part of conforming to the likeness of God. Now is the time for us to really focus on learning how to study Scripture as we become thinking, adult Christians.

What I hope to address in the following paragraphs is really why we as followers of Christ need to study Scripture. The main point that I want to get across is this: scriptural knowledge is the foundation for our faith which therefore is necessary for a higher level of communion with God and spiritual guidance.

Sermons and Sunday school lessons are not meant to be the whole of our Christian education. Of course, we do need each other and most importantly, what the other person knows of God, but it is not enough to always be sitting in lectures, to always being fed as opposed to learning to feed ourselves. Oftentimes, we hear people disagree on what the Bible means in certain passages. One thing that we do not want is to take someone else’s word on what the Bible means based on their authority, especially when it is something as important as our knowledge of God and His Word. Besides that, should we ever be satisfied with knowing only what the teachers know? Of experiencing God secondhand through the teacher’s experience? When we only listen to lectures for our Christian education instead of reading the Word for ourselves, we are not forming our own beliefs of who God is, but a conglomeration of other people’s experience. Until we wrestle with our faith and come to our own conclusions as to why we believe what we believe, our faith is not our own. The only way for us to develop our own beliefs is to read from the Word itself and come to an understanding of who God is. The teachers have already struggled with their questions of who God is to them. If we have not, then we are experiencing secondhand accounts of God. We have the living Word in our hands through which we can hear the very voice of God. To put it simply, like any other great book we want to hear Scripture in the author’s own voice, especially since Scripture is the greatest book. Of course, we can hear the voice of God elsewhere, but Scripture itself is the means that God has given us to commune with Him, to be conscientiously aware of His presence.

This leads me into my second point. The Bible is a means for us to know, love, and commune with God. As seen in the passage above, God does not mean for us to remain infants in the faith. This is apparent. What is less apparent is that our knowledge of the Word determines our capacity to love God. In order for us to love anything, we must know what or who it is. Can a person love what he does not know? If we do not know the object we claim to love, we love a false image. Consequently, if we do not know who God is, we do not love God, but a false image of God. In order to spend time with God, we therefore need to know who He is. Biblical studies enable us to know and therefore love who God is.

Hence, personal study is essential to being a good Christian because it functions as the core of one’s faith. One’s knowledge of Scripture and God is meant to be the foundation for all thought and actions, which leads me into my third point. We act based on what we believe. We know what is right based upon what we know of God ultimately because God defines goodness. When we are without knowledge of God and hence virtue, we may commit acts of virtue, but we will not be virtuous ourselves. One is never accidentally virtuous. If we blindly follow the lead of others who tell us what is right without studying why, we may not be committing wrong, but we are certainly not committing any right. The person who commits right acts without right reason does not seem to me to be a good Christian. We are responsible for our beliefs and consequently our actions. If we do not study the Word, do we know why we love God and others? How we are to live in the City of Man while being a citizen of the City of God? Can we be conformed to the likeness of God without knowledge of God?

In conclusion, we ought to be Christian scholars because we cannot expect to be good and virtuous Christians without personal study. One way in which we can enhance our pursuit is by spending time reading and studying the Word of God, asking questions, and discussing the various passages with others. When we have this burning passion to know God more, we may as a group even want to pursue theological studies. As we become adult Christians, we should be able to articulate our faith and know what is in Scripture. In the end, we will be held accountable for our beliefs by God such that we are going to have to answer to God why we believed what we believed. After all, God commands each of us to love Him with all of one’s mind.

Can Darkness be Beautiful?

During a class discussion, we were asked whether darkness could be beautiful and whether it was good to have darkness in the arts. By darkness, we meant all things evil, troubling, tragic, etc. For the first question, my answer was that darkness itself is not beautiful, but the goodness that is seen more clearly in the darkness. My answer to the second question was that it was not good to have darkness in the arts because the arts have such an influence over the soul and the piece of art could be so much more beautiful if there was more goodness. Yet it almost seems as if there is a necessity for tragedy to be realized. Right now, I should like to focus on my answer to the second question while reviewing the first for context.

I do not believe that darkness itself can be beautiful mainly because beauty consists of goodness and can only be seen through light. I wonder if people would like the night sky as much if it was pure black and without stars. In both physical and mental darkness, one cannot distinguish and therefore is unable to think. If one is unable to think, one is unable to appreciate beauty. Since darkness is never actually pursued for the sake of darkness itself, there must not be beauty within darkness; otherwise, darkness would be pursuable for its own sake. If anything is found beautiful, there must be a degree of light/goodness. From this, I inferred that any darkness in the arts that is found beautiful must be a result of goodness being shown more clearly because of the surrounding darkness.

Now, to the second question I answered that it is not good for darkness to be in the arts. In class, it was mentioned that there seems to be a danger in that the arts would cause one to desire darkness. This would be misleading. Tragedy is never beautiful to the person experiencing it. Surely, if there is any beauty in tragic things, one would have to be outside of the tragedy to notice it. For example, The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe may be written beautifully, but to the person who experiences what the character in the poem experiences, it is anything but beautiful. As seen in The Raven or in other tragic works, darkness in the arts can be misleading. My second reason was that it seems art can be so much more beautiful if there is more good. As stated before, beauty is measured by goodness. Hence, the degree of beauty is parallel to its degree of goodness. Art that is the most good would then be the most beautiful. In general, it seems best for people to live in an environment that is the most beautiful.

However, I believe that I was mistaken in believing that there cannot be goodness in recognizing tragedy. Humanity is fallen and that is tragic. It is a tragedy that should not be overlooked or disregarded. In fact, it is seen to be the cause of all tragedies and human frailties, including the need to be healed through tragedy. I think this is illustrated well in The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. In the story, the narrator and fellow passengers on the bus become ghosts upon reaching Reality. They did not, however, become ghosts but as the narrator realizes, they were always ghosts compared to Reality. The grass does not bend beneath their feet and the apples are too heavy to lift. Throughout this story, the Solid people bid them stay, saying that they can learn to walk upon the grass and enjoy the place and eventually become solid. Now in a sense the ghosts’ situation may be considered tragic; they are only shadows and have yet to experience Reality. Their path to salvation is tragic as well because they have to experience pain to be able to become solid. Their pain is a necessary result of seeing Reality and also the start of their healing. The ghost would have to realize his or her tragic state to want to become solid. Tragedy, in this case the recognition of one’s broken self compared to the divine, is a necessary consequence of seeing the divine.

I think this may be the reason (or at least part of the reason) people fear angels upon meeting them. Perhaps man is unable to bear the divine directly. Angels might be too happy for us to see without tragedy. Perhaps tragedy is the method by which we are healed and able to bear the divine. Of course, we cannot be free from tragedy yet. That would mean that we would have to be free from love and therefore Love Himself as Lewis writes. Art may then be a means to see tragedy correctly. Tragedy itself may be a gift to mankind, for man only repents upon realizing the need to.

Is Ignorance Bliss?

Most people have heard the phrase “ignorance is bliss” and have probably found it to be true. However, it seems to me that ignorance is the main cause of most, if not all, evil and by extension unhappiness. Every time I study knowledge I am further convinced that ignorance is, in fact, the furthest thing from bliss.

Perhaps the best way to proceed is to examine knowledge first. If we take ignorance as being the lack of knowledge, we should know what knowledge is and what it does. I suppose that it it obvious what the uses of knowledge are. For my purposes here, I shall refer to knowledge as being knowledge that is true. I do not refer to false knowledge because to be false means to be not. Hence, false knowledge would mean not knowledge, which would mean ignorance.

Knowledge and ignorance guide our thoughts and therefore our actions. As rational beings, man acts based on what he knows or does not know. Knowledge enables one to pursue all things good while knowing and avoiding all things bad. When a person has false knowledge, one will attempt to pursue all things good, but will in actuality be pursuing falsities. People will always act in pursuit of perceivable goods, meaning that no person will act if he or she does not perceive any goodness to come from the action. In order to pursue the actual good, one must have knowledge. Hence, the more one knows of what is actually good, the better one’s life is.

This pursuit of the good involves all of the things in one’s life simply because goodness measures all things in morals, beauty, level of quality, etc. I think that what most people miss out on is the fact that pursuing the most good is part of being good. For instance, I have heard people mention the moral gray areas in life, such as questionable movies. However, it seems to me that the gray areas may be less gray than they actually seem. I mean, is it best for one’s soul to be watching these questionable movies? It may depend on what is best for a certain type of person of course, but that also means that there are no gray areas for each individual. One always has a “best” to pursue and ought to pursue it to become the most like Christ. Now, in order for one to do best, one must have knowledge of what is good and by extension the most good. Since knowledge is for the pursuit of the good which involves all things, one’s amount of knowledge is proportionate to one’s ability to pursue the most excellent.

Of course, one might argue that one can be ignorant of certain things and pursue the good. Let us use golf for an example. Now, if a man does not know golf, does he know if golf is good or bad? I think it obvious that he would not. If it is good for his soul, he ought to pursue golf. If it is detrimental to his soul, then the man ought to avoid it. Now let us say that to golf is to commit a mortal sin for whatever reason. The man who does not know golf does not know this. If he plays golf out of ignorance, he commits a mortal sin. If the man does not, he may not have sinned, but because he does not know of golf he may be led astray easily.

The example is a bit extreme, but I hope it is obvious what I am trying to say. Part of pursuing the good is to examine all that one does or may do so that we may know what is good. To be ignorant means to be defenseless against wrong. Now one may say that you do not have to know of anything evil, but how can you know what is evil if you do not know what it is? The man who ignorantly goes through life may be committing a mortal sin that he will have to answer for in the end. The man who does not commit a mortal sin while ignorant may not be sinning, but for sure the man is not committing anything good. One is never accidentally good.

Can one be ignorant of the “meaningless” facts and be happy? Perhaps it may be true, but it is not true that the “meaningless” facts are not worth knowing. I take it for granted that man has a need for adventure, or perhaps for better choice of a word, wonder. Why else do people watch movies or read books? To pursue adventure, people will often go across continents to look at the “big” things such as mountains as opposed to the molehill in the backyard. And yet, molehills are mountains. When people are always looking for the “big” things in life, I think they are missing out on the pleasure of the “small” things. Man finds joy in the small things, which are not even small when examined. There are so many wonders to be found around us when all one has to do is look around.

I think most of what has been said can be summed up in these next two sentences. Ignorance is empty. Knowledge is full. Since ignorance essentially means the lack of knowledge, that which guides one to all things good and worthy, I do not see how it can be bliss. If anything, it is the cause of sorrow and evil. One may be ignorant and blissful, but one’s bliss will not be a result of ignorance. It will be the result of knowledge. Of course, more can be said so I will return to this topic at another time.