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This Independent Study project is, as the title implies, an investigation into any possible meaningful content of pure music; in other words, it is trying to find an answer to the question: What is the meaning of music devoid of any lyrical content? It will attempt to answer this in several ways. First, I will analyze the concept of ‘meaning’, ending up with multiple conceptions, and thereby, ways in which pure music may potentially be meaningful. Also preliminary to the primary investigation, I will explicate Hanslick’s formalist view, and argue against it in support of a cognitivism about musical expressive properties. I will follow with an investigation into expression theories, including the classical theory of Collingwood, as well as contemporary theorists such as Kivy, Davies, and Levinson. I will demonstrate how this may be understood as a way in which pure music can participate in one type of meaning. From here, I will discuss the ‘other side’ of musical expression in the form of arousal-based theories, by the likes of Walton and Robinson. Finally, I will briefly look at Goodman’s controversial theory of expression. I will use aspects of his and Walton’s theories to develop a concept of metaphorically possessed qualities that can be appropriately described as part of pure music. These qualities are representational, but have nothing to do with expression.


Hustwit, Ronald




Aesthetics | Other Music | Other Philosophy


Aesthetics, Philosophy of Music, Expression, Musical Meaning

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2015 Nicholas P. Solem