Expressiveness, Ineffability, and Nonconceptuality

In much of the discussion of expressive qualities in the 19th and 20th Centuries, music and artworks were viewed as capable of expressing emotions too fine-grained to be captured by language or concepts, and this ineffability and nonconceptuality was seen as a primary source of the value of music and the arts. In recent debates about expressive qualities, however, there has been a good deal of skepticism about both the ineffability claim and the claim about value. This essay argues for a moderate position on both of these claims. I argue that while many expressive qualities are indeed fine-grained, they are ultimately neither nonconceptual nor ineffable, since they can be adequately captured by demonstrative concepts of the form THAT MELANCHOLY EXPRESSIVE QUALITY, and hence by corresponding demonstrative language. But there is nonetheless a good deal of truth in the traditional ineffability claim, in that many expressive qualities are descriptively ineffable – they cannot be captured by non-demonstrative descriptive expressions. I also suggest, more briefly, that the descriptive ineffability of expressive qualities represents a significant source of the value of many works.
Keywords Expressiveness  Ineffability  Nonconceptualism  Conceptualism  Expressive Qualities  Demonstrative concepts
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DOI 10.1111/j.1540-6245.2012.01522.x
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