Skip navigation
Hardcover | Out of Print | 400 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 50 illus. | November 2007 | ISBN: 9780262140966
Paperback | $25.00 Short | £18.95 | 400 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 50 illus. | January 2012 | ISBN: 9780262517454
eBook | $18.00 Short | January 2012 | ISBN: 9780262253048

Look Inside

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. 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.

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
“Charles Nussbaum goes a long way towards unraveling the mystery of musical experience. The Musical Representation ranges brilliantly over the representational, somatic, and affective dimensions of Western music. Nussbaum's arguments are at once sharp and subtle, and his knowledge of Western music is impressive. The Musical Representation is an exciting volume, bound to inspire new ideas among philosophers, cognitive scientists, aestheticians, and just about anyone else interested in the experience of music.”
Anthony Cascardi, University of California, Berkeley
“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