TALK: “Music and Cheesecake, or, Why art is not a spandrel” Stephen Davies (Professor of Philosophy, University of Aukland)

Event Date: 

Monday, October 27, 2008 - 4:00pm

Event Location: 

  • UCen Harbor Room

If one views humans' creation and appreciation of art as grounded in our biological nature, it might be tempting to see art as a spandrel, as an adventitious by-product of some adaptation without adaptive significance in itself. Such a position connects art to our evolved human nature yet apparently avoids the demands of demonstrating how art behaviors enhanced the fitness of our ancestors in the Upper Paleolithic. In this paper I explore and defend three arguments against the suggestion that art is best regarded as a spandrel. The first rejects the idea that the spandrel option is somehow less demanding or controversial than the alternative view according to which art is an adaptation. The second argues that if art behaviors came to us as spandrels, they would not remain so; their occurrence in the usual manner would become normative because they would come to provide honest signals of fitness. The third objection questions the assumption that ancient, universal behaviors must be either adaptations or spandrels; the idea is that human invention takes us beyond such parameters.

Stephen Davies was in residence at UCSB during the Fall quarter of 2008 as a research affiliate of CISM. He teaches philosophy at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He is a fellow of the New Zealand Academy of the Humanities and President of the American Society for Aesthetics. He has published numerous books and articles on aesthetics and music, including Philosophical Perspectives on Art (Oxford UP, 2007), Themes in the Philosophy of Music (Oxford, 2003), Musical Work and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration (Clarendon, 2001), and Musical Meaning and Expression (Cornell UP, 1994).