Contemplating Music: Source Readings in the Aesthetics of Music - Vol. 3

Contemplating Music: Source Readings in the Aesthetics of Music - Vol. 3

Contemplating Music: Source Readings in the Aesthetics of Music - Vol. 3

Contemplating Music: Source Readings in the Aesthetics of Music - Vol. 3

Excerpt

“Essence” is generally understood as referring to an indispensable quality or element of a thing, or, more broadly, to the nature of a thing. What seems commonplace in daily usage, however, constitutes a major philosophical problem, intimately linked to a host of important issues. To begin with, there are critical constraints on what may be said to exist, and how we come to know about that to which we refer. This is further complicated by the fact that alternative descriptions sometimes refer to identical things, creating problems concerning their identity. Certain characteristics, on the other hand, may persist through change. Identity and individuation are thus closely related to the question of essence, presenting problems that are particularly salient as far as music is concerned. To be sure, identities retained through different performances are not abstract qualities but, rather, qualities embodied in physical ways. Do abstract entities also have an existence independent of their physical embodiment?

Our knowledge of geometrical truths lent support to a theory that claimed such an existence, not least because such abstract entities can also be shown to refer to properties of real things. Moreover, such abstract universals have been thought of as especially suitable for the explanation of necessary truths. Yet, while that to which we refer is perceptual, the abstract universal quality is not, for it is neither in time nor in space. Is it then a purely intellectual apprehension? Do particular sound combinations have a relation to some universal that makes us refer to them as music?

Though general words for qualities and relationships are indispensable to discourse, it is not at all clear how we apply such universals to things we have never encountered before. Are our abstract ideas based on an awareness that the thing to which they have been applied have a . . .

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