Reification, Music and Problems of Modern Philosophy

Jonathan Lewis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This dissertation aims to show how the relationship between reification and music discloses problems in modern philosophy and critical musicology. In chapter one, I attempt to articulate the relationship between reification and music in order to put forward a vision for a non-reified engagement with musical praxis. Accordingly, I suggest that once we distance ourselves from theoretical attempts to characterise the object ‘music’ in analytic aesthetics, instead, seeking to make sense of concrete musical events within the varying contexts of our everyday practices, then music can be conceived as an inherently meaningful phenomena that discloses the worlds in which it is created, performed and received.
The following two chapters explore problems surrounding the interpretation of musical praxis in relation to the world-disclosive vision of music offered in chapter one. By looking at the debates surrounding Richard Wagner’s works, chapter two explains how interpretive difference is a hermeneutic problem, one which allows us to accept the musical work as something that can ‘change in itself’, thus dissolving a number of problems associated with classical conceptions of musical meaning.
It is in the light of these traditional approaches to the issue of aesthetic meaning that the third chapter seeks to consider how the philosophy of music brings about the reification of musical praxis. By situating the philosophy of music in relation to the world-disclosive vision of musical engagement articulated in previous chapters, I demonstrate how musical meaning can be understood in the context of socially- and culturally-cultivated tacit norms and practices.
Subsequently, following discussions of the philosophical problems surrounding the association between music and reification, the fourth chapter examines the relationship in the context of critical musicology. Specifically, I attempt to show how music analysis, in an age where ‘postmodern’ New Musicology has largely given way to a critical musicology that is willing to accept and work with aspects of its ‘modernist’ past, can be included within a world-disclosive conception of music. The issue remains, however, that although critical musicology attempts to understand music in the context of everyday practices, it has simultaneously opened itself up to the charge of having condoned relativism.
It follows that chapter five seeks to address the ethical and political problems that arise in ‘postmodern’ musicology as a result of the pressures of cultural relativism. I argue that in order to avoid ‘postmodernising’ itself out of existence, critical musicology, if it is to continue to give the institutional go-ahead for the interactions between ‘modernisms’ and ‘postmodernisms’, must face up to the questions of intersubjective legitimacy which maintain it as an institution and which presuppose its very existence. By turning to trans-cultural and trans-historical basis of interpretive validity, the future of critical musicology becomes entangled in contemporary philosophical debates surrounding the emergence, maintenance and transcendence of socio-cultural norms.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Bowie, Andrew, Supervisor
  • Harper-Scott, J. P. E., Advisor
Award date1 Sept 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


  • analytic philosophy
  • European philosophy
  • Music
  • Music Analysis
  • reification
  • Heidegger
  • Adorno
  • Gadamer
  • richard wagner
  • Wittgenstein
  • Wellmer
  • Aesthetics
  • Pragmatism
  • Rorty
  • Phenomenology
  • hermeneutics

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