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Roger Scruton on judging music

Is classical music the only real music?
18 March 2013

Is it just a matter of taste? When it comes to good taste, British philosopher Roger Scruton thinks it is - in his view classical music is far superior to all other music genres.

Roger Scruton has been invited by the Faculty of Philosophy to give the annual GRIPh Lecture on Wednesday 3 April, at 8 p.m. in the Aula of the Academy Building. In a lecture entitled Judging Music, he will discuss whether we can compare the various music styles with each other, and what are the ideas and grounds on which we base ourselves when forming an opinion. He will also examine why it is important not to avoid having an opinion.

Cultural philosopher René Boomkens will introduce the speaker and act as moderator for the discussion. A number of prominent figures from the Groningen music world have been invited to engage in debate with Scruton from the front row.

Learning how to judge music is not only important for our personal development, but essential to the preservation of Western culture itself. Scruton greatly regrets that children are no longer taught about Mozart and Wagner so that they learn 'what they should feel'. In his opinion, pop music is not capable of making allusions to higher values and meanings, and it represents a society in decay.

Highest human achievement

According to Scruton, music has played a major role in shaping Western civilization. Music has had a significant influence on the way our society developed, whether in religion, at court or in the domestic sphere. The ability to listen to music, as a defining activity with a defining effect, meant that music made its way from the church into the home and concert halls, and around this culture a tradition developed that many rightly regard as the greatest, highest human achievement.

Plato and hip hop

However, other genres are gradually challenging the classical tradition. These are types of music that are not always intended to be listened to, but to dance to or serve as a background to other activities. Music lovers are being confronted with the question of how to differentiate between the sounds that surround us. Are there principles that make serious music criticism possible? If there are, can they be applied to all kinds of music, or only to a few? Is there a way we can compare hip hop with folk music from around the world, or a chamber orchestra with a heavy metal band? In his challenging lecture, Scruton will give his views on these and other questions that have been posed by philosophy since the time of Plato.

Prof. Roger Scruton (1944) is a popular speaker and a conservative and controversial thinker. His books cover a wide range of topics, from the climate crisis to beauty and Spinoza. Scruton is renowned for his involvement in the resistance in Eastern Europe against the Communist authorities, and for his participation in the public debate in Great Britain. From 1971 to 1992 Scruton was professor of Esthetics at Birkbeck College in London, and since 1992 has held part-time positions at the University of Boston, the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C., and the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Prof. René Boomkens is professor of cultural philosophy in Groningen, a member of the Council for Culture, and previously a professor of pop music.

GRIPh lecture

The annual GRIPh lecture is an initiative of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Groningen and is organized in cooperation with Studium Generale Groningen and the Centrum voor Filosofie en Publiek [Centre for Philosophy and Society]. GRIPh is an abbreviation for the Groningen Research Institute for Philosophy, which gathers together all the research conducted by the Faculty.

Note for the press

For more information and requests for interviews and press cards: Renzo Tuinsma or Sanne Raap

Last modified:13 March 2020 02.15 a.m.
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