Expressive meaning in music: Generality versus particularity

British Journal of Aesthetics 45 (4):342-367 (2005)
Abstract
The dilemma referred to in the title occurs in many contexts concerned with expressive meaning in art, and especially music, which suggests that the issue it raises will be central to any complete theory of musical expressiveness. One notable attempt to resolve the paradox of simultaneous generality and particularity in music is in Aaron Ridley's book Music, Value and the Passions. I show why I consider his account unsatisfactory and then propose my own resolution of the paradox. It takes the form of distinguishing between two distinct notions of generality (which I term ‘generality’ and ‘abstractness’) and of particularity (‘specificity’ and ‘concreteness’), and of constructing two relatively independent oppositions: the concrete versus the abstract and the specific versus the general. Finally, I show that a description of music's expressive meaning as abstract, but specific, rightly captures what is usually thought about music, and does not entail any contradictions.
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