Unsound sentiment: a critique of Kivy's 'Emotive Formalism'

Matravers, Derek (1993). Unsound sentiment: a critique of Kivy's 'Emotive Formalism'. Philosophical Papers, 22(2)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/05568649309506399


In his book The Corded Shell (republished along with some additional essays under the title Sound Sentiment), Peter Kivy attempts to solve the problem of the expression of emotions by music. the task he sets himself is to explain away the apparent contradiction between the following propositions, each of which seems independently plausible: (i) Music can correctly be described in terms drawn form the human emotions and (ii) the connotations of such emotion terms preclude their application to music. Most of us would, I think, accept (i). Why should we accept (ii)? Kivy's argument is that in the central uses of emotion terms there is an equivalence (taking sadness as our example) between being sand and feeling sad. Music is insensate; it cannot feel anything and - therefore - cannot feel sad. But, according to the above equivalence, if it cannot feel sad it cannot be sad. And if it cannot be sad, music criticism which describes apiece in this way is, at best, confused.

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