Musical Profundity: Wittgenstein's Paradigm Shift

Apeiron. Estudios de Filosofia 10:41-58 (2019)
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The current debate concerning musical profundity was instigated, and set up by Peter Kivy in his book Music Alone (1990) as part of his comprehensive defense of enhanced formalism, a position he championed vigorously throughout his entire career. Kivy’s view of music led him to maintain utter skepticism regarding musical profundity. The scholarly debate that ensued centers on the question whether or not (at least some) music can be profound. In this study I would like to take the opportunity to relate Wittgenstein’s ideas on music to this current debate, thereby achieving a twofold goal: not only to reintroduce Wittgenstein’s ideas into the current debate, but also to use the current debate as a foil to better appreciating Wittgenstein’s otherness as a philosopher of music. I argue that Wittgenstein’s unique philosophical response to the Romantic framing of the discourse concerning musical profundity —specifically, its threefold emphasis on the specificity, aboutness, and artistically exalted status of music— occasioned a view, which was bound to be glossed over by a philosophical tradition, whose origins had made it inimical to Wittgenstein’s original philosophical insights. I conclude that, in a sense, Wittgenstein occasions a paradigm shift by his philosophical thrust to undo the gravitational forces which form the current debate: the very idea of aboutness pertaining to music, and the very idea that a clear line could ever be drawn between music and language.

Author's Profile

Eran Guter
Max Stern Yezreel Valley College


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