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Hardcover | $40.00 Short | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780262140966 | 400 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 50 illus.| November 2007
Paperback | $20.00 Short | £13.95 | ISBN: 9780262517454 | 400 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 50 illus.| January 2012

Essential Info

The Musical Representation

Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion


How human musical experience emerges from the audition of organized tones is a riddle of long standing. In The Musical Representation, Charles Nussbaum offers a philosophical naturalist's solution. Nussbaum founds his naturalistic theory of musical representation on the collusion between the physics of sound and the organization of the human mind-brain. He argues that important varieties of experience afforded by Western tonal art music since 1650 arise through the feeling of tone, the sense of movement in musical space, cognition, emotional arousal, and the engagement, by way of specific emotional responses, of deeply rooted human ideals.

Construing the art music of the modern West as representational, as a symbolic system that carries extramusical content, Nussbaum attempts to make normative principles of musical representation explicit and bring them into reflective equilibrium with the intuitions of competent listeners. Nussbaum identifies three modes of musical representation, describes the basis of extramusical meaning, and analyzes musical works as created historical entities (performances of which are tokens or replicas). In addition, he explains how music gives rise to emotions and evokes states of mind that are religious in character. Nussbaum's argument proceeds from biology, psychology, and philosophy to music—and occasionally from music back to biology, psychology, and philosophy. The human mind-brain, writes Nussbaum, is a living record of its evolutionary history; relatively recent cognitive acquisitions derive from older representational functions of which we are hardly aware. Consideration of musical art can help bring to light the more ancient cognitive functions that underlie modern human cognition. The biology, psychology, and philosophy of musical representation, he argues, have something to tell us about what we are, based on what we have been.

About the Author

Charles O. Nussbaum is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Arlington.


"Charles Nussbaum has given us an extraordinarily rich book, which uses the tools of analytic philosophy and the resources of cognitive science to explore the delightful mystery that is human musical experience. Those with an interest in aesthetics, in connections between cognitive science and the humanities, and in the tradition of instrumental music that stretches from Mozart and Beethoven through Mahler and Shostakovich will find this compelling reading."
Lawrence Zbikowski, Department of Music, University of Chicago, andauthor of Conceptualizing Music

"Drawing on a breathtaking range of sources, Nussbaum develops a powerful case for the thesis that musical meaning is embodied, and he uses this to provide an ingenious account of how music influences our emotions. This book is hugely inventive, humblingly ambitious, and chock full of ideas that will significantly advance the study of musical cognition."
Jesse J. Prinz, John J. Rogers Professor of Philosophy, University of North Carolina, and author of Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis

"Charles Nussbaum goes a long way toward unraveling the mystery of musicalexperience. The Musical Representation ranges brilliantly over therepresentational, somatic, and affective dimensions of Western music.Nussbaum's arguments are at once sharp and subtle, and his knowledge ofWestern music is impressive. The Musical Representation is an excitingvolume, bound to inspire new ideas among philosophers, cognitive scientists,aestheticians, and just about anyone else interested in the experience ofmusic."
Anthony J. Cascardi, Director, Townsend Center for the Humanities,University of California, Berkeley