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Though many well-known German philosophers have devoted considerable attention to music and its aesthetics, surprisingly few of their writings on the subject.
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Music in German Philosophy: An Introduction

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Search within my subject: Select Politics Urban Studies U. History Law Linguistics Literature. Music Neuroscience Philosophy Physical Sciences. Forster and Kristin Gjesdal Abstract This Handbook provides a comprehensive introduction to the philosophy of nineteenth-century Germany that will be helpful to readers of very different sorts, all the way from laymen to undergraduates to experts.

Editors Michael N. A different kind of objection is that if the persona theory were true, expressive music could not constrain our imaginative activity in such a way as to yield convergent judgments of expressiveness among understanding listeners. It is not clear even how we might individuate one such agent from another, re-identify an agent over time, and so on.

These criticisms seem a little uncharitable. So Levinson can simply help himself to whatever level of specificity of emotions expressed the best resemblance account has to offer. Both appeal to listeners with understanding of the kind of music under discussion. This raises the question of what counts as understanding a matter considered in section 4 , below. One thing that cannot be appealed to in this connection, though, is an ability to hear the right emotional expressiveness in music, for this would render any account circular.

Levinson points out that one can appeal to everything but such understanding of expressiveness, and thinks that sensitivity to expressiveness will come along with the rest a: Aside from this, though, there is the fact that some apparently understanding listeners simply deny that music is expressive of emotion.

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Levinson thinks we can reasonably exclude such listeners from the class whose responses are appealed to in the analysis of expressiveness, since only those generally disposed to hear expressiveness are reasonably appealed to in determining the specific expressiveness of a particular passage, which are the terms in which he puts his theory. A major burden of such a theory is to explain away the widespread tendency to describe music in emotional terms. This has been attempted by arguing that such descriptions are shorthand or metaphor for purely sonic features Urmson , basic dynamic features Hanslick , purely musical features Sharpe , or aesthetic properties Zangwill There are many problems with such views.

For one thing, they seem committed to some sort of scheme for reduction of expressive predicates to other terms, such as sonic or musical ones, and such a scheme is difficult to imagine Budd a: 31—6. For another, anyone not drawn to this theory is likely to reject the claim that the paraphrase captures all that is of interest and value about the passage described, precisely because it omits the expressive predicates Davies —4. Perhaps Levinson, Davies, et al.

It is a nice question, however, whether, if our musical culture fell into the grip of anti-expressivist formalism—in the future or the past—it would be appropriate to exclude ourselves from the reference class of listeners appealed to by such theories as those of Davies and Levinson. If so, this would point to a kind of high-level contextualism or cultural relativity about the expressiveness of music, making it a more contingent matter than most theorists imply.

There are two main questions asked about our emotional responses to pure music, apart from what role they play in expressiveness. It is not clear why we should respond emotionally to expressive music when we know that no one is undergoing the emotions expressed. I address these questions in turn. One might simply deny that we respond emotionally to music.

Sharpe 1—83 , while stopping short of outright denial, suggests that our emotional responses to music are a much smaller component of our understanding experience of it than the philosophical literature on the topic would suggest see also Zangwill Peter Kivy goes almost all the way, arguing that those who report emotional reactions to music are confusing the pleasure they take in the beauty of the music, in all its expressive individuality, with the feeling of the emotion expressed.

When one listens to a sad piece of music, however, one knows there is nothing literally feeling an emotion of sadness, and thus it is puzzling that one should be made sad by the experience. Part of the puzzle can be resolved by acknowledging that not all emotional responses broadly construed are cognitive Robinson ; — For instance, it is no more puzzling that one could be startled by a fortissimo blow to a bass drum than that one could so respond to a thunderclap.

Similarly, we might respond non-cognitively to basic musical elements such as tension and release just as we do to the tension we observe in a balloon being over-inflated, or to the release of doves into the air. As for higher-order emotional responses, there are at least two possible explanations. Davies —; —8. When surrounded by moping people, one tends to become sad.

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One is not necessarily sad for the mopers, nor whatever they are sad about, if anything. The advantage is only slight because the question of how and why we respond emotionally to fictions is itself a philosophical problem of some magnitude. Nonetheless, there are several theories available see entry on imagination, section 5. One difficulty with appealing to a solution to the paradox of fiction is that it is not clear that our emotional responses to the expressiveness of music are the same as those to emotionally expressive characters. For instance, the standard example of an emotional response to music is being made sad by a funeral march, while the standard example of emotional response to fiction is something like to feel pity for a sad character.

If the former is to be explained in the same way as the latter, we would expect listeners to feel pity in response to the funeral march pity for the persona imagined to be expressing herself through it. See also imagination, section 5. While this sort of reasoning may play a role, it cannot be a complete solution, since for most pieces that elicit negative responses there are many others that elicit fewer or less intense negative responses for the same positive payoff.

More sophisticated versions of the same suggestion argue for a more intimate link between the negative emotional response and the payoff. One such is that we cannot understand the work we are engaging with without understanding its expressiveness, which brings the negative response with it Goodman —51; S. Davies —20; Goldman 68; Robinson — Closely related is the benefit of an aesthetic or artistic appreciation of the expressiveness responsible for the negative response.

A question that must be answered by any defender of this kind of response is the extent to which it explains, first, our persistence in seeking out music that elicits negative emotional experiences and, second, the enjoyment we seem to take in these negative responses, as opposed to putting up with them for their related benefits. A different kind of solution to the problem argues that responses such as sadness that are evoked by expressive music are not really negative. Hume argues, with respect to tragedy, that the pleasure we take in the mode of presentation of the content of an artwork does not simply counterbalance the negative emotion evoked, but rather subsumes and transforms it into a pleasurable feeling.

Kendall Walton argues also with respect to tragedy that sadness is not in itself negative. Rather, it is the situation to which sadness is the response that is negative. Similarly, we cannot affect the sadness of a musical work by not listening to it, and so we welcome our sorrowful response to it as appropriate. A difficulty for both, however, is the extent to which they accord with our emotional experience in rejecting the characterization of our sadness as negative.

Stephen Davies —20 argues that the kinds of solutions given above construe the problem too narrowly. Though he agrees that we accept the negative responses some music elicits because we are interested in understanding it, he points out that this gives rise to the further question of why we should be so interested in understanding something that brings us pain. However, he points out that human life is suffused with activities that people willingly engage in despite, or indeed partially because of, the difficulties they bring about.

Many things, from watching the news, through mountain-climbing, to raising children, are fraught with well-known difficulties, including negative emotional responses. Yet we enthusiastically engage in such activities because that is the kind of creature we are. Regarding the first point, our emotional responses to music lack many of the behaviors characteristic of the supposedly felt emotion. Some take our responses instead to be weaker versions of ordinary emotions Davies — , others take them to share some aspects of ordinary emotions, such as their characteristic affective states, but to lack others, such as a specific intentional object Levinson —22; Radford Apart from debate over which of these proposals most closely matches our experience, there is the question of how well each of them fits with the various solutions discussed above to the problem of our negative responses to music, and with empirical work on the emotions, which leads me to the second point: There is growing interest in both the variety of emotions and affective states more broadly, and non-cognitive aspects of, or alternatives to, cognitive theories of the emotions e.

Davies a,b; Young A central topic in the understanding of paradigmatically representational art forms, such as literature and film, is what constitutes an acceptable interpretation of a work. One debate concerns whether there is a single correct interpretation of any work or multiple acceptable interpretations; another concerns the constraints on acceptable interpretations, e. Though these questions seem equally applicable to musical works S. Davies a; Dubiel , most of the literature on understanding music has focused on the nature of more basic musical understanding, presumably because this seems more mysterious than the understanding of language or pictures.

While a critical interpretation of a musical work often called an analysis is roughly equivalent to an interpretation of a novel, typically expressed linguistically, a performative interpretation is a way of playing or singing the work, typically expressed in a performance of it. It is not easy to clarify the relationship between these two kinds of musical interpretation, but see Levinson , Maus , Thom , and Neufeld For the remainder of this section, I focus on basic musical understanding.

Animals can hear music in a sense—your dog might be frightened by the loud noise emitted by your stereo.

source But we do not hear music in this way; we can listen to it with understanding. What constitutes this experience of understanding music? To use an analogy, while the mere sound of a piece of music might be represented by a sonogram, our experience of it as music is better represented by something like a marked-up score. We hear individual notes that make up distinct melodies, harmonies, rhythms, sections, and so on, and the interaction between these elements. Such musical understanding comes in degrees along a number of dimensions.


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Your understanding of a given piece or style may be deeper than mine, while the reverse is true for another piece or style. I may hear more in a particular piece than you do, but my understanding of it may be inaccurate. My general musical understanding may be narrow, in the sense that I only understand one kind of music, while you understand many different kinds Budd b: —5; S. Davies c: 88— Moreover, different pieces or kinds of pieces may call on different abilities, since some music has no harmony to speak of, some no melody, and so on. Many argue that, in addition to purely musical features, understanding the emotions expressed in a piece is essential to adequately understanding it e.