Musical listening and abductive reasoning: Contributions of C.S. Peirce’s
Number of pages
SourceJournal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies, 4, 1, (2010), pp. 45-70
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ DCC AI
Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies
SubjectCognitive artificial intelligence; DI-BCB_DCC_Theme 2: Perception, Action and Control
Background in music philosophy. Questions about musical meaning are usually discussed within the area of philosophy of music. These questions gained particular urgencyin the Modern Age, when music had lost its connection with the old cosmologies that assured its position among the other disciplines related to harmony and numbers. In the last centuries philosophers and composers have tried to explain music as art and one of the most prominent attempts was the formalist perspective advocated by Hanslick. From that perspective music is considered on its own without any required connection with something non-musical, and its meaning or its content consists of the very unfolding of musical structures over time that are intelligible to the intellect through some form of reasoning. Background in music psychology. We consider two psychological theories of musical meaning that have been developed by two authors: Leonard Meyer and David Huron. Meyer created a theory of musical meaning based on the Gestalt principles and the practice of music analysis; Huron has constructed a theory based on experimental psychology and statistical analysis of music. On the one hand, both theories are complementary, especially regarding the role hypotheses have in the process of music signification; on the other hand, both lack an explanation of how hypotheses are generated. Aims. This paper aims at connecting the contributions of C.S. Peirce’s philosophy to the studies and investigations of musical meaning. Firstly, we consider his pragmatic concept of meaning; secondly, we analyze the role abductive reasoning has in his logic of discovery, outlining how the generation and evaluation of hypotheses can help to explain an encountered phenomenon. Thirdly, we apply the insights derived from this to an analysis of musical meaning, by indicating how a meaningful interpretation of a musical piece can be provided through the generation of hypotheses about its underlying structure. Main contribution. If the assumption is correct that hypotheses formulation is at the basis of music signification processes, we believe that Peircean philosophy, especially his semiotics, can help to elucidate how hypotheses are generated during music listening, furnishing an interesting and fruitful picture of musical meaning and complementing the psychological perspective on it with a logical and pragmatic point of view. Implications. C.S. Peirce’s thought is extremely interdisciplinary. The Peircean approach to musical meaning in collaboration with empirical studies of music psychology, can offer a more complete logical description of hypothesis generation (the basis of music signification). Moreover, the Peircean approach can strengthen the speculative practice of music philosophy, by providing a pragmatic and logical concept of meaning in music in close dialogue with scientific approaches.
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