Ideas in music

Shand, John (2019). Ideas in music. Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia, 74(4) pp. 1307–1328.



It is often taken for granted that music, whatever else it is able to do, cannot articulate ideas. This paper aims to refute that formalist claim and present an anti-formalist one showing why thinking formalism true is based on a fallacy and involves a misunderstanding of ordinary language. By ‘idea’ is meant a view, and reflection on that view, which in the limiting case may be a worldview, a Weltanschauung. That in this sense ideas are articulated in music is to say that they are, among other things, presented, conveyed and considered. This goes well beyond the usual anti-formalist claim that music may express emotions. The paper goes on to show how ideas may be articulated in music. This follows from properly understanding how it is that any idea may be articulated. Without music being able to include articulating ideas, the high artistic and cultural value we place upon music, as well as the way people actually talk about music, while being compatible with music having other features that we value, is inexplicable. In this sense the question is raised as to how it is possible to articulate ideas in music.

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