PROFESSOR R.A. SHARPE ; Scholar of Musical Aesthetics
Cockburn, David, The Independent (London, England)
The philosopher R. A. Sharpe was most widely known through his work in aesthetics. His Contemporary Aesthetics: a philosophical analysis appeared in 1983, and The Philosophy of Music in 2004. In his Music and Human-ism (2000), described by one reviewer as "a richly observed and highly insightful piece of writing that should be read by anybody seriously interested in the current state of musical aesthetics", Sharpe examines the humanist conception of music as a language, stressing the fundamental connections between music and human life, and argues against the persistent tendency to underestimate the cognitive element in our response to music.
His deep commitment to the idea that our tastes in the arts can be more or less well informed was closely linked with his anger at images that have come to dominate public thinking about education: for example, the image of pupils and students as "customers". In a letter to The Independent(15 August 2001), he wrote, with characteristic passion:
The dreadful thing about all this is that nobody will be surprised that such stupid and ill-considered twaddle comes from the Chairman of the Learning and Skills Council in an address to the Royal Society of Arts. The rock-bottom morale in education in this country is not only a product of the way that endless and pointless paper chases have interfered with teaching and learning' it is also a result of the way education seems to be run by people who have no understanding of the way education enriches lives or the way it can be a voyage of discovery, and who lack the wit to see the obvious objections to their view that education is just another form of business.
Alongside numerous other publications in aesthetics, ethics, the philosophy of science, psychoanalysis, and the philosophy of mind, in the last 10 years of his life Sharpe was increasingly concerned with what he regarded as the deeply corrupting effect that religious belief may have on morality. In his book The Moral Case against Religious Belief (1997) he argues that some important virtues cease to be virtues at all when set in a religious context, and that, consequently, a religious life is, in many respects, not a good life to lead.
In another book on the same theme, on which he was working when he died, he writes that his tone in the earlier work had been more generous to believers than some might think appropriate "partly because I owed much to a Christian upbringing and because much of it I still value". He adds that the sequel will be "much harsher" because "the intervening decade has brought home to us the terrible results of religious conviction". …