Philosophy of Music


Philosophy 404 / 504 — Syllabus

 TR 3:30 - 4:45





Daniel Bukvich, Music, Lionel Hampton School of Music 203, 885-7055 or 885-7524


Michael O’Rourke, Philosophy, Morrill 411, 885-5997 or 885-7107, ,


Office hours:

Bukvich: See office hours posted on his office door.

O’Rourke: 12:30-1:30 Wednesday and Thursday, or by appointment



TLC 149

Teaching Assistant:


Justin Horn, Philosophy MA student, . Justin will hold a weekly office hour, do some of the grading, and help us deliver the course.




Eduard Hanslick, On the Musically Beautiful, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing

Peter Kivy, An Introduction to a Philosophy of Music, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Kathleen Stock, Philosophers on Music: Experience, Meaning and Work, Oxford: Oxford University Press


These books will be on sale at the UI Bookstore, although you are certainly welcome to order them online, if you wish. There will be additional and recommended readings posted on e-reserve; once this is up and running, we will send you the username and password. E-reserve will be linked from the Handouts page of the course website. The syllabus, the handouts, our lecture notes, and pointers to relevant sites will be available on the course website, accessible through . If you miss class, you will need to obtain a copy of the lecture notes and the handouts you missed off the website.

Something about the Course:


Few, if any, elements of human culture are as widespread and universal as music; there is virtually no human culture anywhere on Earth that does not engage in some sort of musical practice. In this class, we will examine music using the method of contemporary philosophers working in the analytic tradition, i.e. conceptual analysis. The goal of the philosopher of music is to secure reasoned and defensible answers to questions about what music is, how it functions, and how we interact with it. These answers should fit together without contradicting one another, and they should together form a comprehensive view of the nature of music.

      Although philosophy of music is properly a sub-branch of aesthetics, or the philosophy of art and beauty, music has often been singled out from among the arts for special philosophical consideration. The connection between music and philosophy goes all the way back to Pythagoras, Plato, and the ancient Greeks. Unfortunately, these disciplines did not remain so intimately connected in subsequent eras, and the philosophy of music spent many centuries as a fallow field. Recently, however, a number of contemporary philosophers have reinvigorated this corner of philosophy, sparking lively, interesting, and fruitful debates. These debates often intersect with other areas in philosophy, allowing philosophers whose specialties lie outside the musical arena to get a foot in the door. Ontologists might wonder about the nature of a musical work. Metaphysicians might become interested in questions about identity in music, or the relationship between differing musical entities, e.g., the conditions under which a particular performance counts as an instance of some musical work. Philosophers of emotion might explore the ways in which music evokes emotional response in an audience. Philosophers of language might ask to what extent music, as a medium, is capable of supporting meaning. Philosophers of mind might ask about the relationship between objective acoustical properties of some piece of music and the subjective experience of hearing it performed. There is no shortage of interesting philosophical issues and puzzles related to the nature of music, as we shall see over the course of the semester.

      The class will be organized largely as a structured reading group and seminar. We will begin the semester with a crash course in basic music theory (for the philosophers) and a brief introduction to philosophical method (for the musicians in the class). Following this, we will digest Eduard Hanslick's seminal text On the Musically Beautiful; this text, first published in 1854, represents the reawakening of the philosophy of music, and serves as a historically important work that frames much subsequent debate in the field. Following this, we will work through Peter Kivy's An Introduction to a Philosophy of Music. Kivy is an undisputed leader in philosophy of music today, and this book represents a unified view of music through the eyes of a single philosopher. Finally, after Spring Break, we will work through Kathleen Stock's recent collection, Philosophers on Music: Experience, Meaning and Work. Stock comprises ten recent essays on music by leading analytic philosophers, organized around a number of philosophical sub-themes: ontology, expression, meaning, and new issues.


Learning Goals:


We have several goals in this course.


·                Wonder about the nature of music. Through the first half of the semester, we will consider unified, philosophical examinations of music from the perspective of individual theorists; during the second, we will consider a several topics of interest to contemporary philosophers of music. At the conclusion of the semester, students will be familiar with current issues and views within the philosophy of music, and be able to adopt and defend reasoned positions of their own with respect to these issues.


·                Know a bit about the nature of music and the nature of philosophy. We will begin with a crash course in music theory, and the specific character of music will be our focus throughout. But you will not be learning how to be musicians; rather, you will be learning how to be philosophers, applying conceptual and logical tools to the investigation and analysis of notions used to understand music.


·                Do work at the cutting edge of the philosophy of music. While Hanslick is certainly not new, it has framed much of the contemporary discussion. Kivy is one of the world’s leading experts in the philosophy of music, and we will study a recent expression of his views. Finally, the Stock volume presents a number of very recent studies of topics related the music.


·                Develop critical reading, listening, and writing skills. Good philosophers are charitable readers and listeners, and they are also cogent writers. Philosophical writing is difficult, but clear thinking and clear writing go hand in hand. You will be given the opportunity to exercise these skills in this class.


·                Begin developing sustainable views of your own about the conceptual intricacies of music. You will have an opportunity to study a number of different topics, and you will also be writing a research paper on an aspect of the philosophy of music. Philosophy isn’t about memorizing the positions of others or about mastering a vernacular. Philosophy isn’t about memorization—it’s about intellectual growth.

Class Management:


            We plan to conduct this primarily as a reading group/seminar, which is to say that everyone is required to come to each class prepared and ready to talk. Once we get into the readings, we will reserve the right to talk first on Tuesdays, but Thursdays are wide open. There will be structured presentations that feel quite a bit like lectures, but for the most part we are interested in working out the details of these works with you, not for you.



            Class Participation. You will be expected to contribute to the discussions. We will take attendance daily. You will be allowed two unexcused absences, and every unexcused absence after that will result in the loss of one of your participation percentage points (see below). Furthermore, you will be expected to turn your assignments in regularly and on time. The topics we will consider are complex and challenging—if we hope to acquire understanding of them, we must work together.

            Papers. The best way to learn philosophy is to write, so you will write a bunch in this class. The most substantial piece of writing will be a research paper on a topic in the philosophy of music. You will be responsible for selecting the topic. The paper should be no less than 10 pages and no more than 15 pages in length. It will be a research paper, and we will require you to use at least five recent sources (i.e., within the last two years). This will mean that you will spend time in the library exploring current discussions of your topic. You will submit two drafts of this essay to us for evaluation. The first draft is due in class on April 7 and the final draft is due in O’Rourke’s box in Morrill 407 by 5 pm on Wednesday, May 11. IMPORTANT: the first paper you submit should not be your first and roughest draft. You should think “paper topic” from the get go in this class. We are happy to look at and comment on rough notes, outlines, or early drafts prior to April 7. Late research papers will be docked a letter grade for each class period they are late, unless you contact us on or before March 31 and give us a compelling reason for your late submission.

Special Option: for this class, because of its topic, we are willing to consider a creative project in lieu of a research paper; however, the project must be documented with at least five pages of research-based writing, and it must be submitted in rough form, revised, and resubmitted in final form. Those who pursue this will be required to present it in an oral defense during finals week. If you are interested, you must pitch your idea to us by Spring Break.

In addition to the research paper, you will produce several short essays on the readings over the course of the semester. These essays will be two double-spaced pages in length, and they will concern some argument or issue in the assigned reading. We will give you topic ideas for the first two essays, but then you will need to select the subject of each essay. (An important part of your philosophical development is learning how to get puzzled by what you read.) You should devote the first half of the essay to reconstruction of the argument or issue you focus on and the second half to your comment. This comment can be critical in nature, but it need not be. For example, if you focus on an argument that you find compelling, you could devote the comment to consideration of the argument’s implications. The first of these is due in class on Thursday, February 3. We will not accept late reading essays, where “late” means submitted after class has started on the day the assignment is due. If you know you will have a conflict, you will need to speak with us in advance and get the paper in before the class when it is due.

            The first written assignment for everyone is due by midnight on Friday, January 21. You will need to compose an e-mail message on the account you use most frequently and send it to and . Please put the course number (404 or 504) in the subject line. In this message, we want you to tell us how much philosophy you’ve studied, how much music you’ve studied,  and then explain why you took this class and what your expectations are for it. Also, include a paragraph in which you supply a definition of ‘music’. This is worth two points that will be added to your reading essay total. We will reply to each message we receive; we likely will not reply to messages we do not receive.

            There will also be some in-class writing that will not be graded. This writing will be done in advance of some discussions as well as after some discussions. You learn philosophy by thinking about it, and you learn to think about it through writing.

Discussions. On Thursday of a week with reading assignments, you will be required to come with three typed discussion questions. You can use these to influence the discussion. You will submit them at the end of class when you leave. They will be part of your Class Participation grade. We will not accept these late.

            Graduate Students in Phil 504. If you are enrolled in Phil 504, you will be required to defend your revised research paper in a 30 to 45 minute oral exam during finals week. There may also be additional expectations concerning presentation of material as we go along—stay tuned.




            The research paper will be assigned a letter grade. The reading essays will be evaluated on a scale of 0 to 3, with “0” indicating no credit, “1” adequacy, “2” high quality, and “3” excellence. At the end of the semester, we will drop your lowest score and add the points you’ve received on the remaining essays, and then curve these totals to determine what grade you will earn for the reading essay component of this course. You should expect to average a “2” on the reading essays to earn an “A” on that part of the course. There will be a handout that describes the relevant grading style available on the web page.

            The final grade will be determined as follows for students in 404:


Research Paper

Rough Draft

Final Draft



Reading Essays



Class Participation







Students in 504 will be graded according to the following schedule:


Research Paper

Rough Draft

Final Draft + Oral Defense



Reading Essays



Class Participation








            We only give incompletes in the event of a documented emergency. If you believe that your emergency qualifies you for an incomplete, you will need to discuss it with us, probably at length.


Accommodation for the Disabled:


            If there is anyone who has a disability that might affect performance or participation in this class, please let us know. We’ll do everything we can to be of assistance.


Academic Honesty:


            It is the policy of the Department of Philosophy to refer all instances of suspected academic dishonesty to the Student Judicial Council.


Tentative Schedule:


            What follows is a tentative and partial schedule for reading assignments. This list may be augmented by additional readings on e-reserve—we will update the list on-line. The jargon-laced section titles will probably do you little good at this point, but you will know what they mean when we get to them.



Class Meetings

Assigned Material

Week 1 – January 13


Week 2 – January 18, 20


Week 3 – January 25, 27

Hanslick, Sections 1-3

Week 4 – February 1, 3

Hanslick, Sections 4-7

Week 5 – February 8, 10

Kivy, Ch. 2-4, pp. 14-66

Week 6 – February 15, 17

Kivy, Ch. 5-6, pp. 67-109

Week 7 – February 22

Kivy, Ch. 6-7, pp. 110-134


Week 8 – March 1, 3

Kivy, Ch. 8-10, pp. 135-201

Week 9 – March 8, 10

Kivy, Ch. 11-13, pp. 202-263


Enjoy yourselves

Week 10 – March 22, 24


Stock, Introduction, pp. 1-20

Week 11 – March 29, 31


Stock, Ch. 1, pp. 23-51; Davies, "John Cage's 4'33": Is it Music?" (E-Reserve)

Week 12 – April 5, 7


Stock, Chs. 2-3, pp. 52-94

Papers due, April 7 – first draft

Week 13 – April 12, 14


Stock, Ch. 4-6, pp. 95-146

Week 14 – April 19, 21


Stock, Ch. 7-8, pp. 149-202

Week 15 – April 26, 28


Stock, Ch. 9-10, pp. 209-253


Reserved for catch-up and closing discussion; no assigned readings


Papers due, May  – second draft; oral exams – 504 students