Friday, March 31, 2023

James O. Young's "A History of Western Philosophy of Music"

James O. Young is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Victoria. His books include Art and Knowledge (2001), Cultural Appropriation and the Arts (2008), and Critique of Pure Music (2014) and Radically Rethinking Copyright in the Arts (2020).

Young applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, A History of Western Philosophy of Music, and reported the following:
Fortuitously, page 99 would give a reader a good idea about my book. At the highest level of generality, a major claim of A History of Western Philosophy of Music is that the central debate in philosophy has always asked whether music is appreciated as contentless form or whether it is heard as having a relation to something extra-musical (usually emotion). In other words, the question of whether musical beauty is autonomous or not has been ubiquitous.

In the ancient world, several writers on music believed that music is primarily appreciated for formal qualities such as proportion and balance. Some of these writers, notably Ptolemy, believed that music’s proportion and balance are appreciated for their own sake. Many of these writers, including Augustine and Plotinus, believed that listeners appreciate these formal properties because they reflect the proportion and order of divinely-created reality. Other ancient writers held that music is an imitative art was widespread and it was adopted by philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. Aristides Quintilianus is typical of such thinkers when he writes that “music imitates the characters and passions of the soul.” In the middle ages, the view that music is valuable due to its order and harmonious proportions was widely-adopted and very little is said of musical expression or music’s relation to emotion. In the early modern period the same division of opinion about music re-emerges. One school of thought, which stretches from Gioseffo Zarlino in the sixteenth century to Descartes in the seventeenth and Rameau in the eighteenth, held that music was valuable as a result of its harmonic form. The other early modern school begins with the revival of ancient philosophy of music by the Florentine Camerata and continues into the eighteenth century in thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These thinkers adopted a version of the resemblance theory of musical expressiveness and held that music is expressive of emotion by resembling human expressive behaviour. In the contemporary world, the debate is between formalists and their anti-formalist opponents but the debate has raged from the earliest days of philosophy of music.
Learn more about A History of Western Philosophy of Music at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue