Towards a Philosophy of the Musical Experience: Phenomenology, Culture, and Ethnomusicology in Conversation
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation engages the questions and methodologies of phenomenology, the philosophy of culture, the philosophy of music and ethnomusicology in order to investigate the significance of music in human life. The systematic orientation of Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms provides the overarching framework that positions the approach in chapter one. Following Cassirer, art in general and music in particular are not regarded as enjoyable yet dispensable pastimes, but rather as fundamental ways of experiencing the world as intuitive forms and sensations. Establishing the ontological significance of music entails unpacking the sui generis experience of time, space and subjectivity that characterize the musical experience. Phenomenology, in particular the thought of Alfred Schütz, provides a point of departure for thinking more concretely about the musical experience. The turn to phenomenology is motivated both by its systematic consanguinuity with Cassirer’s project as well as its insistent focus on the details of lived experience. However, bolstered by what is argued to be a more holistic description of the musical experience gleaned from the work of ethnomusicologists, Schütz’s phenomenological account of the music is challenged on a number of key issues such as music’s ontological status and the tendency to equate “music” with “musical works.” Despite the blind spots of his writings on music, Schütz’s phenomenology of the social world proves to be a useful framework for thinking about the multiplicity of ways in which music is experienced as meaningful and how the equivocality of the concept of musical meaning brings the social nature of the musical experience into view. Sociality also figures into a discussion of improvisation, an important theme that has only relatively recently begun to receive philosophical attention. Arguing that an adequate philosophical treatment of music must account for both the variety of musical cultures as well as the variety of musical practices, a consideration of improvisation helps philosophy think outside of the work-paradigm that was critiqued in chapter two.