Stephen Davies on the Issue of Literalism

Debates in Aesthetics 13 (1) (2017)
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Abstract
In this paper I discuss Stephen Davies’s defence of literalism about emotional descriptions of music. According to literalism, a piece of music literally possesses the expressive properties we attribute to it when we describe it as ‘sad’, ‘happy’, etc. Davies’s literalist strategy exploits the concept of polysemy: the meaning of emotion words in descriptions of expressive music is related to the meaning of those words when used in their primary psychological sense. The relation between the two meanings is identified by Davies in music’s presentation of emotion-characteristics-in-appearance. I will contend that there is a class of polysemous uses of emotion terms in descriptions of music that is not included in Davies’s characterization of the link between emotions in music and emotions as psychological states. I conclude by indicating the consequences of my claim for the phenomenology of expressive music.
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Archival date: 2018-06-19
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