Music and Metaphor

Stephen Davies

in Musical Understandings and Other Essays on the Philosophy of Music

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780199608775
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191729669 | DOI:
Music and Metaphor

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A simple argument suggests that attributions of expressiveness to purely instrumental music are metaphoric. Only sentient creatures can have or experience emotions such as sadness; music is non-sentient; so music cannot have or express emotions such as sadness; despite realizing this, we say such things as “the music is sad” or “the music expresses sadness”; so these attributions must be metaphoric rather than literal. In rejecting this position I suggest that terms such as “sad” are used polysemously and literally of music. A person's description of music as sad does not involve a novel, creative use of language that provokes others to try to puzzle out what she could be driving at, given how incongruous her choice of words appears to be. When something is simply our shared way of experiencing music and sound, rather than talking of imagination and projection, it is more to the point to consider how what we all perceive is structured and filtered by our evolved perceptual, cognitive, behavioral, and affective systems.

Keywords: metaphor; expressiveness; polysemy; instrumental music; perceptual system; cognitive system; behavioral system; affective system

Chapter.  7174 words. 

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

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