Music and the rise of aesthetics
The development of the new subject of aesthetics from the middle of the eighteenth century onwards and the changes in the status of music associated with the rise of 'Romanticism' form a constellation which has profoundly affected many aspects of modern thought. Perhaps the most striking illustration of this constellation is the quite widespread acceptance, between the later part of the eighteenth and the middle of the nineteenth centuries in Europe, of the Romantic idea that music might be able to say more about philosophy than philosophy can say about music. Just how strange such an idea would have been during much of the eighteenth century can be gauged by the fact that in his Critique of Judgement of 1790 Immanuel Kant, who was in other respects decisive for the development of Romanticism, still saw music as a lowly art form, the effects of which were analogous to a person in society taking out a perfumed handkerchief whose smell could not be avoided. The wider significance of the changes in the status of music derives from their connection both to major transformations in conceptions of language in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and to the new accounts of the mind in the philosophy of the same period. These issues do not fit straightforwardly into the nineteenth century, and it is only possible to understand them if one recognises that the conceptions which determine the aesthetics of at least the first half of the nineteenth century are a product of the later part of the eighteenth century. 'Nineteenth-century' music aesthetics should in this sense be said to emerge around the 1780s and to be already established by the later 1790s.
The crucial innovation in conceptions of language during the second half of the eighteenth century has been characterised by the philosopher Charles Taylor as a move from regarding language exclusively as the symbolic means of representing pre-existing ideas and of representing already constituted objects in the world, to regarding it as 'constitutive' or 'expressive' of what becomes intelligible to us. In this latter view language reveals aspects of the world and ourselves which could not even be assumed already to exist before