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Lecture Notes

PHIL 418

Table of contents
  1. Ethics, Spinoza
  2. “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose”, Kant
  3. “On Popular Music”, Adorno
  4. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, Adorno and Horkheimer

Ethics, Spinoza


  • God exists necessarily, is unique, is and acts from the necessity of his nature; all things have been predetermined by God, not by freedom of the will, but by God’s absolute nature / infinite power
  • Teleology is a prejudice – men always act upon an end and seek ends as understandings
  • Men see things in nature which suit their advantage, and so they say that there is God which has created it
  • Prejudice turns into superstition – from “his own temperament” emerges a whole host of different understandings
  • Belief in God is fundamentally egoistic: we want special treatment of God such that they may fix certain things to our advantage
  • “Nature and the Gods are as mad as men” – storms, earthquakes, etc. happen because the Gods are angry of wrongs done tot hem by men.
  • Standards of truth
  • The teleological doctrine inverts everything: it makes the perfect imperfect, the cause the effect, etc.
  • “take imagination for intellect”
  • Anthropormophism of god – all men can very easily imagine god and their actions
  • “Men have been so mad as to believe that God is pleased by harmony”
  • Men judge things byt heir disposition, an dso many controversies arise among men, giving rise to skepticism and relativism
  • Mechanisms for explaining nature are only modes of the imagination, rather than substantively the nature of anything
  • Why are their so many imperfections if God is perfect – displeasure, imperfection, etc. are given in the metric of man

EIVpreface – “On Human Bondage, or the Powers of the Affects”

  • Bondage: man’s lack of power to moderate and restrain the affects
  • The imperfection or perfection of something is dependent on whether its maker’s end is known or not.
  • Universal ideas: perfection is harmony with the universal idea.
  • Final causes are really abscriptions of appetites
  • Perfection and imperfection are only des of thinking.


  • Good: what is “useful” to us
  • The end of something is appetite
  • Virtue = power: virtue is the essence of man insofar as he has teh power of bringing about certain things


  • Man’s existence is limited and infinitely surpassed by the power of external causes.


  • It is impossible for man not to be part of nature
  • Man must be surpassable through alien causes


  • The knowledge of good and evil is nohting but an affect of joy or sadness
  • Mind is united to the body


  • A desire arising from Joy is stronger than one from Sadness
  • Desire is the essence of man, through which man strives to persevere
  • Joy comes from human power and the power of external cuase; sadness is defined by human power alone.
  • Virtue is about self-preservation, happiness is the ability to self-preserve
  • We ought to want virtue for its own sake
  • The suicidal are weak-minded and conquered by external causes


  • Acting absolutely from virtue is nothing else in us but acting, living, and preserving our being by the guidance of reason
  • Acting absolutely from virtue is acting from the laws of our own nature


  • No one strives to preserve his being for the sake of anything else.


  • If a thing agrees with our nature, it is necessarily good.


  • Men will agree in nature if they live according to the guidance of reason, rater than passions
  • Human nature is defined by reason

“Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose”, Kant

  • “A regular progression among freely willed actions”
  • Men are neither acting purely by instinct or by rational cosmopolitanism
  • “Childish malice and destructiveness” populates human history
  • What opinion should we have of our ‘species’?

First Proposition

  • All natural capacities of a creature are destined to evolve completely to their natural end
  • A teleological view of nature
  • Otherwise we are faced with an “aimless, random process, and the dismal reign of chance”

Second Proposition

  • In man, natural capacities directed towards use of reason develop in the species, not the individual

Third Proposition

The Musical Material

The Two Spheres of Music

  • “Popular vs serious music”
  • Can we do a historical analysis of the division in music production.
  • American music even accepted the division from the outset
  • Fundamental characteristic of popular music: standardization.
  • “The whole structure of popular music is standardized, even where the attempt is made to circumvent standardization” (3)
  • The general types of hits, dance types, rigidities of patterns, characters, harmonic cornerstones.
  • Break, blue chords, dirty notes: standardization which hides behind a vener of individual “effects”
  • The listener has stronger reactions tot he part than to the whole: the whole is not the living experience, but pre-given and pre-accepted. Details which occupy strategic positions in the framework have a better chance for recognition.
  • “Serious music”: every detail derives its musical sense from the concrete totality of the piece. The true meaning of each piece gets acquired throughout the context; its particular lyrical and expressive quality is built up in contrast and development from its first theme.
  • Popular music is aggregative, permutable; “the listener can supply the ‘framework’ automatically”
  • Interrelatinoship of elements is unaffected
  • Connection: this is what Wimsatt calls “aggregativity”
  • Consistency between the formal structure and its specific content
  • The detail “contains the whole and leads to the exposition of the whole”
  • In popular music the relationship is fortuitous


  • “lowbrow / highbrow”, “simple / complex”, “naive / sophisticated”
  • These are not good ways ot describe the difference between popular and serious music.
  • Structural standardization aims at standard reactions.
  • Popular music aims at “a system of response mechanisms wholly antagonistic to the ideal of individuality in a free, liberal society”. “This has nothing to do with simplicity and complexity” (5)
  • In hit music, the structure underlying the piece is abstract; it never functions as itself but as a disguise: the ear deals with this by achieving slight substitutions in the knowledge of patterns. Translation of the unique into the norm is planned. Popular music is “pre-digested”
  • “The production of popular music is highly centralized in its economic organization, but still ‘individualistic’ in its social mode of production.”
  • Standard patterns of “have become invested with the immunity of bigness”
  • Popular music must simultaneously meet two demands: for stimuli that provoke the listener’s attention, and for material to call into the “musically untrained listener”’s notion of ‘natural music’
  • “Extravagances are tolerated only in so far as they can be recast into this so-called natural language” – this is a real risk, the naturalization of tendencies, not leaving things contingent
  • Popular music should be “stimulatory” by deviating in some way from the established “natural”, and the supremacy of the natural is exergeted against this deviation
    • Consumer demand


  • Both stimulatory and natural – “the paradox in the desiderata”
  • Residues of individualism are alive in the ideological categories as taste and free choice
  • Pseudo-individualism: endowing cultural mass production with the halo of free choice or open market on the basis of standardization itself. (6)
  • Pre-digestion of the material.
  • “So-called improvisations” – planned sponteneity
  • Improvisations have become so “normalized”as to enable ä holwe terminology to be developed to express the standard devices of individualization”
  • Stereotyping of improvisatory details
  • “Thus, standardization of the norm enhances in a purely technical way standardization of its own deviation – pseudo-individualization.”
  • Two socio-psychological qualities of popular music
    • The listener always feels on safe ground
    • Function of substitution
  • “Popular music becomes a multiple-choice questionaire” – mechanical dichotomy breaks down indifference, you must favor, you must enjoy. Careful differentiation.

Theory about the Listener

Popular Music and ‘Leisure Time’

  • Why does this type of music have a hold on the ‘masses’?
  • Simultaneously one of distraction and inattention
  • “LIsteners are distracted from the demands of reality by entertainment which does not demand attention either.” ()
  • “People want to have fun”
  • Relief from both boredom and effort simultaneously
  • Patterned and pre-digested, so it induces relaxation.
  • The tunes lull the listener to inattention. “They tell him not to worry, for he will not miss anything.” – we should not interpret this in a moralizing sense, but rather in the sense that personalization gives one control, sovereignty.

The Social Cement

  • “music listened to with a general inattention which is only interrupted by sudden flashes of recognition is not followed as a sequence of experiences that have a clear-cut meaning of their own, grasped in each instant and related to all the precedent and subsequent moments”.
  • “One may go as far as to suggest that most listeners of popular music do not understand music as a language itself. If they did it would be vastly difficult to explain how they could tolerate the incessatn supply of largely undifferentiated material.”
  • “Music today is largely a social cement”
  • “INdividuals of the rhythmically obedient type” “are most suspectible to a process of masochistic adjustment to authoritarian collectivism.”
  • There is a real risk of “anthropophagos collectivism” – repression and crowd-mindedness
  • “The obedient type is the rhythmical type”
  • Disillusion: “antiromantic” feelings, adapting musical adaptation to “reality”, acceptance of the unpleasant.
  • Hollywood does not provide categorical wish fulfillment. They in fact find that the whole order of contemporary life ordinarily forbids them to admit happiness. The wretchedness of your own life. “The actual function of sentimental music lies rather in the temporary release given to the awareness that one has missed fulfillment.”
  • “They are taken in by the musical expression of frustration rather than by that of happiness.”
  • Catharsis for the masses, but catharsis which keeps them all the more firmly in mind
  • “Music that permits its listeners the confession of their unhappiness reocnciles them, by means of this ‘release’ to their social dependence.”
  • The opportunity to feel something, anything

“The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, Adorno and Horkheimer

  • Culture today infects everything with sameness
  • Technical rationality is the rationality of domination, it is the compulsive character of a soceity alienated from itself
  • film denies its audience any dimension in which they might roam freely in imagination
  • The paradox of routine travestied as nature is detectable in every utterance of the culture industry, and in many is quite blatant. A jazz musician who has to play a piece of serious music, Beethoven’s simplest minuet, involuntarily syncopates, and condescends to start on the beat only with a superior smile.