Philosophy of the Arts


Timeless or outdated? Some arguments.

1. What kind of property is ‘timeless’ (or its counterpart “outdated”)? It is not a normal, objective property, like ‘loud’, or ‘in D minor’. These latter properties have clear rules of application. Instead “timeless” is a value; ‘is outdated’ is its negative counterpart, also a value.

2. How should we understand this value? Either nominally, or realistically.
Understood nominally, ‘this piece is timeless’ merely means something like: we have been listening to this piece for many centuries, we still like it, hence it is timeless.
Who is the ‘we’? Does one person suffice, or do we mean: “the work is still very popular”. Next question: how many people should still like a piece for it to be timeless, and will any kind of people do? These questions show the failure of the nominal understanding of the term, which does not specify what a piece of music should be like to be timeless.
If, however, one tries to understand it realistically, one is bound to realize soon or later that what one is after, rather, is a means to critically assess works’ artistic merits.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with that; it is just that a remark of the sort that some particular work stood the test of time has the sound of a firmness comparable to objective truth, and this just doesn’t seem compatible with critical appraisal and the perennial debates connected with it.

Hume, David. 1985. “Of the Standard of Taste.” In Essays Moral Political and Literary, 226-250. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. [online]

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