Methodology in aesthetics: the case of musical expressivity

Philosophical Studies 155 (1):45 - 64 (2011)
A central method within analytic philosophy has been to construct thought experiments in order to subject philosophical theories to intuitive evaluation. According to a widely held view, philosophical intuitions provide an evidential basis for arguments against such theories, thus rendering the discussion rational. This method has been the predominant way to approach theories formulated as conditional or biconditional statements. In this paper, we examine selected theories of musical expressivity presented in such logical forms, analyzing the possibilities for constructing thought experiments against them. We will argue that philosophical intuitions are not available for the evaluation of the types of counterarguments that would need to be constructed. Instead, the evaluation of these theories, to the extent that it can succeed at all, will centrally rely on inferential, non-immediate access to our subjective musical experiences. Furthermore, attempted thought experiments lose their methodological function because no proper distinction can be drawn between the persons figuring in the thought-experimental scenario and the evaluator of the scenario. Consequently, some of the central contributions to what is generally understood to be analytic philosophy of art are shown to represent a form of aesthetic criticism, offering much less basis for rational argumentation than is often thought
Keywords Intuition  Evidence  Thought experiments  Aesthetics  Philosophy of music  Expressivity
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