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Paper 16: Introduction to Music and Philosophy

Aims and Objectives

This course investigates critically the emerging interdisciplinary subject area of music and philosophy. By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of key themes in music and philosophy;
  • participate in debates pertaining to these themes;
  • challenge received opinions on these themes;
  • articulate clearly original positions relating to these themes.

Description of the Course

The course aims to create a dialogue between key works in the philosophy of music on the one hand and in philosophically-oriented musicology on the other. Sometimes this involves building on explicit responses from scholars in one discipline to the work of scholars in the other; sometimes we will initiate the dialogue ourselves, picking up on places where scholars have talked past one another in addressing closely related issues. The word ‘and’ in the title of the course is crucial to our aims. The ‘of’ in the common phrase ‘philosophy of music’ can suggest a certain sense of possession: music and its elements are seen as objects in need of explanation and definition from philosophy. The ‘and’ in ‘music and philosophy,’ by contrast, does not seek to exclude philosophical insights into music, but allows equally for musical insights into philosophy, and avoids any connotation of a superior discipline.

Key questions include: What does it mean to think philosophically about music? What could it mean to think musically about philosophy? Why does music move us? What ethical significance does music carry? Can music ever be ‘pure’? The course begins with an introduction to the philosophy of music as practiced in the so-called ‘analytic’ tradition, dominant in American and British philosophy departments. It continues with an examination of Theodor Adorno and Vladimir Jankélévitch, two of the most controversial figures in the modern history of continental philosophy, an alternate mode of philosophy that has been hugely influential in recent musicology. There are then four case studies exploring particular issues related to music and philosophy: absolute music, emotion, time, and ethics. We conclude by examining the relation between ‘music and philosophy’ and broader interdisciplinary trends in the arts and humanities.

Lecturer: Tomas McAuley

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