Article

Analytic Philosophy of Music

Stephen Davies

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online June 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0067
Analytic Philosophy of Music

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Analytic philosophy, with its emphasis on clear, topic-based argument, is usually dated to the early 20th century and is contrasted with Continental philosophy, which is more often concerned with overarching systems and theories. Analytic philosophers did not turn their attention to music until the last decades of the 20th century. Of course, they were influenced by and commented on earlier, philosophically motivated discussions of music, starting with the Greeks and much later including relevant work by musicologists, composers, critics, and psychologists as well as philosophers. Three topics became prominent: the expression of emotion in music, the nature of musical works, and what is involved in understanding and appreciating music. Philosophers asked if music expresses emotion, and if they answered yes, as most did, they asked how this is possible and whether the attribution could be literal. Is music expressive by virtue of some connection with the world of human feeling or in its own, perhaps indescribable fashion? Why is the listener moved by the music’s expressiveness if no one undergoes the emotions it expresses? In the case of works, the interest was in their connection to notational specifications and performances. If they are abstract, does this mean they are discovered rather than created? Philosophers considered what makes a performance a performance of a given work, whether faithfulness to the work is important and what it entails, and in what respects the performer is free to interpret the work. In addition, they debated the prerequisites for musical understanding: for example, is knowledge of musical technicalities helpful or even necessary, and should the listener track the music’s large-scale structure? And why do we value music so highly given that it does not provide useful information? As these topics imply, the primary focus at first fell on notated classical Western music composed for multiple, live performances by instrumentalists, and the main perspective was that of the listener. When the scope of interest was broadened, different issues emerged. Jazz, for example, raised questions about the nature of improvisation and about how the appreciation of music not intended for replay might differ from that appropriate for notated works. Rock, with its reliance on electronic mediation and recordings, provoked new debate about the nature of recorded works and about the relevant differences between recordings of works intended for live performance and recordings of works that essentially involve electronic manipulations and the kind of editing that cannot be achieved in real time. The range of philosophical topics invited by consideration of music and its role in human life continues to expand, though this article concentrates on those matters that have received most attention.

Article.  8640 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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