Music, Emotions, and Self-Comprehension: An Enquiry Concerning the Nature and Value of Musical Expressivity

The dissertation project focuses on examining the nature and value of pure music’s emotional expressivity, linking current discussions on music’s expressivity as well as on the ontology and rationality of emotions in analytic philosophy.

Project No. G 314

Stefan Zwinggi

Since antiquity, the puzzling relationship between music and emotions has been frequently discussed in philosophy. The dissertation project focuses on examining the nature and value of pure music’s emotional expressivity, linking current discussions on music’s expressivity as well as on the ontology and rationality of emotions in analytic philosophy. Also, it takes into account recent findings in music cognition and interdisciplinary research on emotions.

I defend the thesis that expressive musical works enhance our ability to comprehend, reflect on, and organize our self in that they provide implicit knowledge of the phenomenology of human feelings in the safe setting of their performances. Emotions are analyzed as complex mental states. I will demonstrate that implicit knowledge of the phenomenology of feelings enables us to grasp our emotions more clearly and to cope with them more consciously. This ability is key to establishing the integrity of our self.

The main thesis outlined above should be elaborated in the second part of the project. It should be backed by the account of the nature of music’s expressivity that I develop in the first part: Starting with an analysis of metaphors as often being used in aesthetic characterizations of musical works, I claim that expressive works build, fit, and violate multi-layered expectations about musical progressions. Embedded in their respective “musicworld” context, they arouse valenced feelings in the attentive listener by means of which she can detect their expressivity. Conventional elements can define their expressivity more narrowly.

The project’s objectives are thus twofold: On the one hand, a more integrative arousalist account of the nature of music’s expressivity is aimed at. On the other hand, the question of the significance of music’s expressivity for understanding our selves, mostly neglected in philosophical literature, will be addressed.

The project is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF.

Discipline

Philosophy

Supervisor

Prof. Dr. Georg W. Bertram

Prof. Dr. Matthias Vogel