Music and the Emotions: The Philosophical Theories

By Malcolm Budd | Go to book overview
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1 In The Meaning of Music Carroll C. Pratt posed in the following way the problem of the apparent ascription of emotional qualities to music. 1 Let us say that what a person experiences as outside his body is for that person objective and that what he experiences as belonging to or inside his body is for him subjective. By this criterion moods and emotions are subjective for the person who feels them: what someone feels when he feels worry, anxiety, uneasiness, fear and joy belongs to or lies within his body. An emotion is subjective in the sense that what is felt is located within, rather than outside, the subject’s body. When a person experiences an emotion he feels the contraction of his brow, the tension of his muscles, the pounding of his blood, or some other happenings in or to his body. But moods and emotions are sometimes spoken of as though it were thought that they could be properties of phenomena that are for each person objective—in particular, as though they could be properties of music. Yet it cannot be literally true that music embodies emotion, for it is not a living body which feels its own bodily processes. How, then, are we to understand the characterisation of music as agitated, calm, wistful, seductive, restless, pompous, passionate, sombre, triumphant or yearning?

The main theory that Pratt was concerned to present an alternative to was the theory that these are merely moods or feelings which the listener has erroneously transferred from himself to the music because he has become a victim of the pathetic fallacy. Ruskin believed that our emotions can induce a falsity in our experience of the external world. 2 Physical objects can assume false appearances under the influence of violent emotion, so that we impute characteristics to such objects that


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Music and the Emotions: The Philosophical Theories


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