Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Yet another interesting Cyrenaic claim

Here is another interesting bit of Cyrenaic doxography, from Diogenes Laertius 2.90:
λέγουσι δὲ μηδὲ κατὰ ψιλὴν τὴν ὅρασιν ἢ τὴν ἀκοὴν γίνεσθαι ἡδονάς. τῶν γοῦν μιμουμένων θρήνους ἡδέως ἀκούομεν, τῶν δὲ κατ' ἀλήθειαν ἀηδῶς.

They say that pleasures do not arise from mere sight or hearing alone. At any rate, we listen with pleasure to those imitating a lament but without pleasure to those who are doing it in truth.

The idea seems to be as follows: proof that pleasure is not generated by mere perceptual experience alone is provided by the fact that two identically sounding performances of a song of lament can produce different hedonic results. We might enjoy listening to someone merely performing a song of mourning, that is: someone who is not in fact themselves in mourning. But we do not take pleasure in listening to someone singing who is genuinely in mourning.

This is an interesting claim in itself and is also interesting given other Cyrenaic views. It seems that a lot of weight is carried by the distinction between someone merely 'pretending' to lament and someone doing so 'in truth'.

One question not addressed explicitly here is whether the distinction between the enjoyable performance and the not-enjoyable performance is that the audience is believes that one is being performed 'for real', as it were, and the other is a mere imitation. Presumably so, since the conclusion would seem to depend on the premise that the performances sound identical in order to rule out the possibility that the different hedonic effects are indeed due to hearing alone. There is therefore no difference in the mere audible nature of the performances being compared that might be responsible for one appearing an imitation and another appearing to be genuine.

I imagine also that the compressed report here is not meant to claim that an audience is always either well-informed or even correct in its assessment of the singer. By this I mean that we can imagine someone being mistaken and imagining that a lament is an expression of genuine grief although in fact it is merely an imitation or, conversely, someone imagining that a performance is a mere imitation when in fact it is generated by genuine grief. It would be odd to think that the claim here is that we take pleasure in listening to imitations of lament whether or not we in fact believe the performance to be an imitation or that we do not take pleasure in listening to genuine laments whether or not we think that they are genuine. That would be odd because it would allow the possibility of taking pleasure in something we take to be a genuine expression of grief (but which is not).

In that case, the difference must lie in the fact that one's enjoyment or not of a performance is affected crucially by one's conception of the mental state or perhaps even intention of the performer. In a way, that is rather helpful because given the general framework of Cyrenaic epistemology it would be difficult if not impossible to have an accurate and reliable grip on another person's affective states. Nevertheless, it is an interesting aesthetic claim and perhaps even a true one.

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