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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Music in Philosophy by Ralph Blumenau

"What great thinkers said about great music." according to Ralph Blumenau lectures on the History of Philosophy at the University of the Third Age in London, and the author of  Philosophy and Living.

Today some universities have courses in the Philosophy of Music. They study such questions as: What is the definition of music? What makes us say that a particular set of sounds is music while another set of sounds is not? What is the relationship of music to the mind? How does music affect (a) our emotions, (b) our intellect? How can we evaluate the value of any given piece of music? What is the relationship between a piece of music and its performance? What do we mean when we say a piece of music is sad? Where does the ‘sadness’ reside? and so on. Such questions are treated in a highly technical way in, for example, the article ‘Philosophy of Music’ in the on-line Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. There we can see what issues about music are being debated by the current academic establishment.

That is not what I want to do in this article. This is historical, describing what some individual philosophers have said about music. I could not find any website that gives an account of how significant philosophical ideas about music have developed over time. That time seems to me to end with Friedrich Nietzsche, who died in 1900. Since then, it seems to me, no great name in philosophy has given music a significant place in his philosophy – although there are of course many lesser philosophers who are not (relatively) household names who are referred to in the Encyclopedia.

The other thing that struck me is the enormous time gap between, on the one hand, the two philosophers of antiquity, Pythagoras and Plato, who said something about the philosophy of music, and the topic being taken up again in the Eighteenth Century by Leibniz. So the bulk of this article will deal with a relatively short period, from about 1714 to about 1889, during which time famous names in philosophy – Leibniz, Kant, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche – concerned themselves with ideas about music.

But to begin with the ancients:

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Additional resources

In this book Ralph Blumenau brings out for the non-specialist the bearing that thinkers of the past have on the way we live now...

Source: Philosophy Now 


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