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What Music Teaches about Emotion

  • Geoffrey Madell (a1)

It is a remarkable feature of most contemporary discussions of emotion that they have been conducted without any reference to what it could mean to talk of the expression of emotion in music. This is a crucial absence, I shall argue, since a proper understanding of music's expression of emotion must lead to a correct view of the nature of emotion itself. Such an understanding will yield the view that emotion is a state of consciousness which is both intentional and affective, and at the same time totally undermine the view that emotions are, or necessarily involve, judgments or evaluations.

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1 Eliot T.S., The Dry Salvages.

2 Hanslick E., The Beautiful in Music (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merril Company, 1957), 2024.

3 Kivy P., ‘What was Hanslick Denying?’, in his The Fine Art of Repetition (Cambridge University Press, 1993), 276295.

4 Kivy P., Sound Sentiment (Philadelphia: Temple University Press), 1989, chapters 1-8.

5 Sound Sentiment, 80.

6 Radford C., ‘Muddy Waters’, Journal of Aesthetics and Arts Criticism, 49,1991,249.

7 Levinson J., Music, Art and Metaphysics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 321–2.

8 Levinson attempts to answer this point by suggesting that our interest may well be directed to these feelings as communicated by a particular musical structure (Music, Art and Metaphysics, 331). That may indeed be our interest, but, on the view Levinson develops, it can hardly be essential that our interest should be of this sort.

9 In spite of the flaws in Levinson's position, it is fair to say that he goes some considerable way towards grasping what is wrong with Hanslick's argument. See section 2 of his ‘Hope in the Hebrides’, Music, Art and Metaphysics, 341–346. The error which undermines his position is his acceptance of the Hanslickian doctrine that ‘music is clearly incapable, without special assistance, of identifying for the listener a special object of an emotion’ (147). This leads him to suggest that an adequate substitute for this is music's ability to convey ‘the idea or impression of having an object’ (348), and to propound the view that the listener imaginatively supplies some sort of indeterminate object for the emotion evoked by the music.

10 Hanslick, 23.

11 Hanslick, 24.

12 Budd M., Music and the Emotions (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985), 124.

13 See, among many others, Lyons W., Emotion (Cambridge University Press, 1980), and Gordon R., The Structure of Emotions, (Cambridge University Press, 1987).

14 Hamlyn D.W., ‘The Phenomena of Love and Hate’, Philosophy, 53, 1978,15.

15 Spinoza B., Ethics, (London: Oxford University Press, 1930), 170.

16 See, for example, her analysis of the distinctive mixture of affect which distinguishes one sort of fear from another in her Emotions and Reasons (New York: Routledge, 1988), 32.

17 See, for example, Kivy P., Sound Sentiment, especially Ch. 14. It is odd that one who sees the expressiveness of music to lie in its resemblance to human expressive gesture should hold this view; what can be conveyed by human gesture is often be very subtle indeed.

18 Levinson says much of value on this point in his essay on ‘Music and Negative Emotion’. See Music, Art and Metaphysics, 322-9.

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
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