In the first part of this series, I considered a hypothetical situation.  Two people have contradicting preferences on Christian music.  One enjoys the genre for its musical qualities; the other does not enjoy the genre because of its musical qualities.  How do we adjudicate between these conflicting preferences?

This question reminds me of a disagreement over Bob Dylan that I had with some college friends.  To me, Bob Dylan’s gift to the world is that he has allowed his music to be covered by others.  His performances of his own work, though, often struck me as plagued with pitch problems and irregular guitar strumming.

A few of my friends, though, found these qualities of his performances endearing.  I thought them irrational; after all, pitch and rhythm are important!  But my friends insisted that they were intrigued by the uniqueness of Dylan.  There’s some earthy charm to his pre-autotune, pre-computer-generated work.

My charge of irrationality was a bit strong.  I hadn’t really considered the meta-questions about musical preferences:  what kind of beliefs, if they are beliefs at all, are musical preferences?  What would make the formation of musical preferences irrational?

If musical preferences are, in fact, beliefs, they would seem to be properly basic beliefs.

Some beliefs we hold upon the basis of other beliefs.  For instance, I have a deep-seeded, default optimism, which depends upon a litany of beliefs about, among other things, the existence of God, the goodness of God, the power of God, and the reality of sin.

Other beliefs, however, we do not hold on the basis of other beliefs.  These beliefs philosophers (e.g., Alvin Plantinga) call “properly basic beliefs.”  This distinction is quite controversial among epistemologists.  A few examples, though, will show the practicality of this distinction:

  • I believe that I had a pre-packaged blueberry pastry for breakfast this morning.
  • I believe that my co-commuter occupying the adjacent traffic lane has a brain.
  • I believe that God exists.

None of these beliefs I hold on the basis of other beliefs.  I cannot produce conclusive argumentation for any of these beliefs.

But, certainly, these beliefs are rational!  I have this seemingly unmistakable notion that I consumed a pre-packaged blueberry pastry this morning; it is a dictate of memory, which perhaps could be a manipulation or hallucination, but seems most probably true.

Though the nearby driver exhibits behavior that makes me doubt the existence of his brain (e.g., not using his blinker, weaving in and out of traffic), surely, it would require intellect to operate that machine.

It seems to me that God exists, but many arguments have been put forth against his existence and many arguments adduced for his existence lack persuasiveness.  However, I am still plagued with this persistent belief.

My proposal is that beliefs regarding musical preferences belong comfortably alongside these other assertions.  “I believe that Christian music stinks” and “I believe that the Dove Awards are the most important musical night of the year” are properly basic beliefs.  They are held apart from some sort of deductive or inductive reasoning from already believed propositions.  Our beliefs regarding music are incorrigible for us.

In the conclusion of this series, we will apply the proper basicality of musical preferences to the question of rationality.  The question for discussion will be “is the belief in Christian music’s goodness irrational?”