Wittgenstein and the understanding of music

British Journal of Aesthetics 44 (1):1-9 (2004)

Authors
Roger Scruton
University of Buckingham
Abstract
Wittgenstein's contribution to musical aesthetics is not often discussed, which is surprising, given his rare musicality and musical connections. His distinctive achievement is to have focused on the question of musical understanding, and to have connected this with two other philosophical problems: the nature of the first-person case, and the understanding of facial expressions. Wittgenstein's third-person approach to philosophical psychology leads him to emphasize the role of performance in the understanding of music, and also to introduce an ‘intransitive’ concept of expression. At times Wittgenstein seems to be arguing for an entirely non-relational account of musical meaning; however, a proper analysis of the first-person case shows that his theory of musical understanding might allow that, at some level, you understand a piece of music only if you imaginatively grasp the state of mind expressed by it.
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DOI 10.1093/bjaesthetics/44.1.1
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