Music, Philosophy, and Cognitive Science

Philosophers of music (and also music theorists) have recognized for a long time that research in the sciences, especially psychology, might have import for their own work. (Langer 1941 and Meyer 1956 are good examples.) However, while scientists had been interested in music as a subject of research (e.g., Helmholtz 1912, Seashore 1938), the discipline known as psychology of music, or more broadly cognitive science of music, came into its own only around 1980 with the publication of several landmark works. Among the most important of these were The Psychol- ogy of Music (1980), a collection of papers edited by the psychologist Diana Deutsch, and A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (1983) by music theorist and composer Fred Lerdahl and linguist Ray Jackendoff. These works and others made possible the first attempts to apply scientific research to philosophical issues concerning music (e.g., Raffman 1993, DeBellis 1995). Since the 1980’s, of course, a great deal of research has been done in cognitive science, philosophy, and music. For philosophers, there are perhaps three topics with respect to which findings in the cognitive sciences are most likely to be germane—the nature of musical understanding, the role of emotions or feelings in music, and the evaluation of musical works. This brief overview will describe some of the scientific research that has been done on these topics, and then indicate how it might be philosophically significant.
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