Philosophy of Music

Theodore Gracyk

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Philosophy of Music

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  • Music
  • Applied Music
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Music Theory and Analysis
  • Musicology and Music History
  • Music Education and Pedagogy


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Narrowly construed, philosophy of music encompasses all theorizing about music that arises within philosophy. More broadly construed, it includes any theoretical discussion of music informed by recognized philosophical methodologies and theories. As a result, premodern philosophizing about music is closely associated with scientific speculation (or “natural philosophy”). The scientific revolution of the early modern period encouraged separation of scientific from philosophical inquiry. Like most recent philosophy, contemporary philosophy of music focuses on issues that are not subject to empirical inquiry. Although there are some differences in focus and methodology, contemporary philosophy of music can overlap with music theory. This bibliography will emphasize the narrower construal, in which philosophy of music is non-empirical, philosophically based inquiry into the nature of music. From this perspective, philosophers have discussed music since the recorded beginnings of Western philosophy, with the nature of music playing an important role in the thought of Pythagoras (c. 570–c. 490 bce) and then Plato (429–347 bce). Pythagoreanism and Platonism further demonstrate that philosophy of music should not be equated with aesthetic theory as extended to music, for those philosophers did not restrict themselves to narrowly “aesthetic” questions. Philosophy of music has been and remains a much broader field than philosophical music aesthetics. For example, Pythagoreanism investigated music as part of the quadrivium of four mathematical sciences, while Plato emphasized music’s effects on the health of the soul. Music’s mathematical dimension became less important to philosophers after the Renaissance, after which most philosophers adopted the prevailing view that music is an art form rather than a science. After 1700, modern philosophy developed aesthetic theory as a distinct subcategory of inquiry. Since then, philosophy of music has generally reflected, and in many cases guided, philosophical inquiry into the nature of art and of aesthetic properties such as beauty and sublimity. The 19th and late 20th centuries have been particularly robust periods of development in the philosophy of music. Plato’s inquiry into music’s effects on the soul has given way to inquiry into the nature of emotive expression and of music’s power to alter the emotions of listeners. Different accounts of the emotions have generated a range of views on music’s relationship to the emotions, including the influential formalist position that expressiveness detracts from music’s unique value as an art. Accounts of music’s role in cosmology have evolved into sophisticated debates about the distinct kinds of entities that arise in musical practice. Philosophy of music currently reflects the recent, general division of philosophy into the analytic and continental approaches, with relatively little exchange between the two approaches.

Article.  10994 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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