What’s your philosophy? Whether you think about it or not, we all subscribe to and practice different philosophies in our everyday life. Philosophies shape the way we interact with each other, how countries are run by their leaders, and even how different organizations are set up to provide products and services.
As you can see, this is another one of those seemingly off-topic articles. It’s for those of you who like to mix a little philosophy with your songwriting or maybe just interested in the topic. The truth is, the things we believe in and expect have an effect on creating music as well, so it’s not entirely out of the way. Is much of your music hinged on trying to decipher human behavior (in love, relationships, war, etc.)? That's a form of philosophy.
The topic is so broad, each subtopic under philosophy could take up several blog posts. That's why we are only focusing on the basics here. Let’s look at idealism, positivism, and optimism in philosophy and what they mean in the grand scheme of things.
What is philosophy?
Philosophy is a rather deep topic that goes back several millennia and is tied to some of the most well-known thinkers (Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras etc.). Among its many branches include metaphysics, logic, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics. Science, mathematics, law, language, and politics are some of the more recognizable modern facets of life that are explored under philosophy.
But there have also been many musicians and songwriters who took a philosophical approach to creating music. Friedrich Nietzsche, John Cage, and Charles Ives are among many who have been noted for their works that were steeped in philosophy. In modern music, artists such as Radiohead, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and The Cure are among those who have put out songs that have philosophical undertones.
Since it is linked to so many subject areas, philosophy has numerous definitions, depending on who you ask. However, a simple definition that can probably suffice for all is that philosophy is the pursuit of understanding of the way things are, human behavior, existence in general.
So, where do optimism, positivism, and idealism come in? At the end of the day, everything that people do goes back to choices that were made. And those choices are influenced by one’s mindset, which is in turn influenced by theories that are relied on in the presence or absence of physical proof. In philosophy, optimism, positivism, and idealism are all philosophical theories that are often at the bedrock of decision making (and the songs people write).
Whereas some aspects of philosophy are rooted in metaphysics, that is, beyond or apart from the physical world, positivism has to do with scientific facts. Developed in the 19th Century by August Comte, a French sociologist and philosopher, it posits the notion that the only reliable form of knowledge is that which is backed by scientific findings.
It falls under epistemological philosophy and projects an objective view rather than a subjective. It does not concern itself with how things “ought to be.” Arriving at any decision, therefore, must be as a result of applying scientific methods that are based on quantifiable evidence and specific rules.
Positivism is governed by five main principles:
- Logic in inquiry
- Interrogation of variables in order to make determinations about a phenomenon (as well as to predict/control future occurrences).
- Research that can be understood by human senses and used to create arguments that can be tested.
- Scientists observing the distinction between science and “common sense.”
- The goal of creating new knowledge that is objective and not influenced by morals, politics, personal beliefs, etc.
Today, orthodox positivism is not as popular as it used to be but there are many areas of life that it influences, including the creation of laws, scientific practices, and social justice.
Idealism is a school of thought that reality is constructed in the mind. In other words, everything in the world you can see and perceive to be real are, in fact, all products of a concept. But idealism is not as simple as that. Through time, different idealism philosophers have added their own spin.
Plato, who was the first to popularize and document idealism, brought the ontological view of idealism. His theories suggest that, while there is a material world, it runs parallel to a spiritual or mental world. In addition, that spiritual world is utopian compared to the “experiential” world that is constantly in flux, not perfect, and not in order.
Another form of idealism is rooted in the belief of the existence of a God, whose mind created everything. This is where we get religions that are rooted in the idea of a supreme being.
Subjective idealism is another variant where nothing is believed to be real, except for the mind that creates the reality, of course. A common demonstration of this is the Descartes (another famous philosopher) saying “I think, therefore I am.”
Yet another form of idealism is the epistemological view, which focuses on understanding how the mind works and its constraints as it relates to perception of the unseen world.
In light of the different forms of idealism, being an idealist doesn’t always mean the same thing when it comes on to philosophy. However, if you’re an idealist, in general, you aspire to a particular outcome that others (especially materialists and realists) can’t “see,” even if the things you can sense (see, hear feel, etc.) suggest that it might not be possible/real.
If you are considered an optimist, you are seen as someone who always see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. You have confidence that things will get better and that you will always “land on your feet,” no matter what.
While this is an acceptable universal meaning of optimism, it is not entirely the same for how it is viewed in philosophy. In fact, when it comes on to philosophy, optimism is often linked to the man who invented calculus, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, who once argued that humans lived in the best of all possible worlds. Since this argument is tied to the belief in the existence of a God, optimism has not been explored as deeply as other philosophical thought processes.
Either way, in scientific circles, research has shown that being optimistic has been linked to increased success, better health, and higher levels of happiness. So, regardless of how you look at optimism (believing you are a part of the best of all possible worlds or always expecting the best outcome), being optimistic does have its perks.
Whether you are aware of and aspire to a particular philosophy or not, we all face new challenges as life progresses, and the attitude taken often determines the outcome. In addition, we want to believe that the work we do is significant, meaningful, and impactful while bringing us to our highest potential, regardless of philosophy.
When you set out to write your next song, think about the philosophy behind your song idea and the effect you would want it to have on the audience. Who knows, nailing down the philosophy at the start might make it easier for you to create.
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