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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Connatural Errors

During my freshman semester of philosophy at Christendom College, we read Plato's Republic, and my professor Dr. Cuddeback spent some time explaining the passages on music and moral formation. I was not completely unfamiliar with the idea that a musical genre - not just the lyrics of a song - can be intrinsically evil; upper classmen and my older sister warned me playfully, but wisely trusted in the persuasions of philosophy to effect a serious change. As I sat and listened in that class, the arguments made sense and the evidence was strong. They convicted my conscience. The next time I went home on break, I brought all my "disordered" music and left it there. Over the summer, I finally mustered up some fortitude and cast it all into the dust bin. Later that year, I heard Father Basil Nortz of Opus Sanctorum Angelorum give a more comprehensive exposition of the issue. (btw, if anyone is interested his lecture "Music and Morality" is available at this site: http://www.opusangelorum.org/english.html )
After the philosophy lecture, it surprised and disappointed me how few people changed their music listening habits. After Fr. Nortz's speech, my discomfiture increased. It still confounds me. I cannot even convince my family of the import of the question, even though they recognize the reasonableness of the arguments. Why are so many conscientious and intelligent Catholics eager to forget this debate? A perfectly reasonable explanation exists in the notion of connatural knowledge.
Connatural knowledge came up in a few philosophy classes, and from what I understand, it is basically a kind of intuition, or knowledge we acquire from our desires. For those who have never studied St. Thomas, here is a very limited summary of his human nature philosophy. He divides man into the body and soul, the soul into the apprehensive and appetitive parts. Basically the apprehensive powers "see" things, and the respective appetitive powers desire and possess them. For example, the intellect grasps the concept of humility and the will desires to be humble. Speaking precisely, the will doesn't know things; yet, St. Thomas says that the virtuous man has a kind of intuitive knowledge about what is morally good, and that knowledge comes from his desires. In other words, he knows a thing is good primarily because he wills it and not because he reasons that it is good. Kind of wierd, isn't it? Apparently, however, it is natural for man to operate in that way. Unfortunately, concupiscense complicates things and this natural order of knowing makes it really hard to become virtuous. Your reason tends to be guided by disordered desires, and when the desires are habitual, the conviction that they must be correct becomes even stronger. Thus, people with a habitual attachment to poor music often deny or disregard the arguments against it. Conscientious Catholics usually trust their own taste, so its hard to convince them that the music they enjoy compromises their moral life.
It was really difficult for me to give up my rock and pop junk, and I had it easier than a lot of people for several reasons: first, my best friends already had better habits by the time we became acquainted; secondly, I am a melancholic/phlegmatic - i.e., I take everything seriously (unless some kind friend intervenes and reins me in) and consider intellectual things, in particular, with some natural degree of emotional detachment; and finally, thank God, my early musical formation was pretty wholesome - I didn't listen to anything really dreadful until highschool, and I already enjoyed many of the acceptable genres (classical, folk, sacred, etc.). At this point, I have a physical aversion to the typical radio fare, but it distresses me that I cannot convey this conviction to others. In earlier ages, man recognized that music deeply influences the moral life, so if you are a traditionalist about everything but music, please take a moment and honestly consider why. If anyone reads this and wants to hear the arguments and learn the principles for judging the moral character of music, please get the cds by Fr. Nortz. I am open to discussion of the issue, but he explains it much more eloquently and completely.

1 Comments:

Blogger GFvonB said...

Thank you! I also have had trouble explaining to others what the inherent problems of modern music are.

9:28 PM  

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