MUS31400 Music & Philosophy

Academic Year 2023/2024

*** Not available in the academic year indicated above ***

This course aims to create a dialogue between key works in the philosophy of music on the one hand and in philosophically-oriented musicology on the other. Sometimes this involves building on explicit responses from scholars in one discipline to the work of scholars in the other; sometimes we will initiate the dialogue ourselves, picking up on places where scholars have talked past one another in addressing closely related issues. The word ‘and’ in the title of the course is crucial to our aims. The ‘of’ in the common phrase ‘philosophy of music’ can suggest a certain sense of possession: music and its elements are seen as objects in need of explanation and definition from philosophy. The ‘and’ in ‘music and philosophy,’ by contrast, does not seek to exclude philosophical insights into music, but allows equally for musical insights into philosophy, and avoids any connotation of a superior discipline.

Key questions include: What does it mean to think philosophically about music? What could it mean to think musically about philosophy? Why does music move us? What ethical significance does music carry? Can music ever be ‘pure’? The course begins with an introduction to the philosophy of music as practiced in the so-called ‘analytic’ tradition, dominant in philosophy departments in many English-speaking countries. It continues with an examination of Theodor Adorno and Vladimir Jankélévitch, two of the most controversial figures in the modern history of continental philosophy, an alternate mode of philosophy that has been hugely influential in recent musicology. There are then four case studies exploring particular issues related to music and philosophy: absolute music, emotion, time, and ethics. We conclude by examining the relation between ‘music and philosophy’ and broader interdisciplinary trends in the arts and humanities.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the course, you should be able to:

• demonstrate an understanding of key themes in music and philosophy;
• participate in debates pertaining to these themes;
• challenge received opinions on these themes;
• articulate clearly original positions relating to these themes.

Indicative Module Content:

Analytic philosophy and music
Continental philosophy and music
Absolute music
Music, philosophy, and related disciplines

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Autonomous Student Learning




Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Lectures (to provide foundations in topics as a whole); seminars (to allow in-depth discussion of key issues); independent research. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Assignment: Two "reading responses," one written and one spoken, to key literature in the field Throughout the Trimester n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Essay: Final essay on a topic arising from the course Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Individual feedback on reading responses and final essay; additional feedback on draft of final essay.

Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.

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