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Why does music move us? part 3


The sense of hearing and the passions (continued)

Sensible knowledge and the passions


         We observe first of all that all forms of sensible knowledge give rise to affective tendencies or emotions in us. We experience emotion when we see someone we love; the smell of baking bread or brewing coffee gives rise to a desire in us. These affective tendencies are a certain tension in us whereby we are turned towards, inclined to the sensible reality that attracts us, or on the other hand we are repelled by it and want to flee it if it is an evil rather than a good for us. These emotions I experience necessarily presuppose a sensitive knowledge of the reality, obviously, and yet sensible knowledge of itself does not involve my being drawn towards the object known. The sensible knowledge I have of a reality comes from the reality itself, but the emotion I experience comes from within me; it links me to the reality that attracts me, in a link that is not a physical corporal link (implied in my being drawn towards it is precisely a distance between myself and the reality) but is an intentional, affective link – a spiritual and sensible link.

         If we consider very carefully, we see that the reality I am drawn towards is not desired for its particular qualities – its colours, its shape, etc. – but is desired in as much as it is a good for me, i.e. capable of bringing me a certain perfection, a certain fullness, a pleasure. (It is thanks to the internal sense we call the cogitative faculty that a reality is grasped in as much as it suits me, is good for me, is connatural to me.) And thus we see that whereas sensible knowledge is an intentional assimilation of a reality’s qualities, and that the presence of that reality is thus a necessary condition for that assimilation, these affective tendencies or emotions are not an assimilation but a tendency towards a reality in as much as it is good for us, and therefore do not require the physical presence of the reality in question; just thinking of the person we love is enough to experience the affective link whereby we are drawn towards him. Indeed we ‘suffer’ under sensible realities more profoundly in our affective tendencies than in our sensible knowledge because in these affective tendencies we are drawn to realities as they exist in themselves which is not the case with sensible knowledge, where it is only the sensible qualities of a reality that we ‘suffer’ or receive.
          Sensible knowledge, as we have seen, involves a certain physical alteration in the relevant receptive organ, and there seems to be also a physical alteration in the body involved in our affective tendencies; we know how emotions can affect us physiologically, can bring about physical changes in the body. It is indeed one’s whole self, body and soul that is drawn towards a sensible good. If these emotions or affective tendencies put us in a certain state of tension whereby we are taken hold of and drawn towards a reality, the passions appear specifically as the affective movements resulting from these affective tendencies. In an analysis of the passions we can distinguish two, as it were, ‘sets’ of passions.  There are those passions which are concerned directly with the sensible good or evil – the passions of the concupiscible: we experience a love for a good; we desire to be united with it; we know a joy when an effective union with that good is realised. On the other hand we feel hatred for an evil; rather than desiring it we want to flee it; we are sad when we are unable to escape it.  In between the ‘affective tendency towards’ and the ‘effective union with’, is the distance that separates me from the reality. There are then a second set of passions that are concerned with the good in as much as it is difficult to reach, or the evil in as much as it is difficult to escape – the passions of the irascible: there is the hope of being united with the good, but when it seems that this is no longer possible comes the opposite movement of despair. When faced with a danger or evil we experience fear, but the hope of victory may transform this fear into boldness. Finally, there is anger when an evil appears that attacks or damages the proper order of things, the order between myself and the good or evil. The irascible passions will always terminate in the concupiscible passions, given that they are concerned with overcoming obstacles to those concupiscible passions. It is in the movement that the passions are, therefore, that I effect a change in the distance that exists between myself and the sensible reality that I know and towards which I am drawn or from which I am repelled.

       Thus we see that if the sense of hearing alerts me to the presence of a reality and to its distance from me, this sensible knowledge of reality immediately concerns the passions. Also, if the affective tendencies are not dependent on the physical presence of the sensible reality, concerned as they are, not with that reality’s sensible qualities but with that reality in as much as it is a good, we can start to see why music, which does not represent any sensible object, might be particularly linked with the affective tendencies, if it yet manages to convey a sense of good or evil in the affective or spiritual order. In order to see why sounds might be able to do this, we shall next consider what sound itself is in more detail.
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