Music in German Philosophy: An Introduction

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Though many well-known German philosophers have devoted considerable attention to music and its aesthetics, surprisingly few of their writings on the subject have been translated into English. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, a philosopher, and Oliver Fürbeth, a musicologist, here fill this important gap for musical scholars and students alike with this compelling guide to the musical discourse of ten of the most important German philosophers, from Kant to Adorno.

Music in German Philosophy includes contributions from a renowned group of ten scholars, including some of today’s most prominent German thinkers, all of whom are specialists in the writers they treat. Each chapter consists of a short biographical sketch of the philosopher concerned, a summary of his writings on aesthetics, and finally a detailed exploration of his thoughts on music. The book is prefaced by the editors’ original introduction, presenting music philosophy in Germany before and after Kant, as well as a new introduction and foreword to this English-language addition, which places contemplations on music by these German philosophers within a broader intellectual climate.

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Editorial Reviews

“A handy reference for those seeking a reliable introduction to what German yphilosophers have thought about music.”
“A handy reference for those seeking a reliable introduction to what German yphilosophers have thought about music.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226768373
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 1/30/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Stefan Lorenz Sorgner teaches philosophy at the University of Erfurt. Oliver Fürbeth is a lecturer in musicology and music theory at the Music Academy Kassel. Susan H. Gillespie is founding director of the Institute for International Liberal Education at Bard College and the translator of several previous books.

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Read an Excerpt

Music in German Philosophy

An Introduction

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2010 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-76838-0

Chapter One



Brief Biography

Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724, in Königsberg, as the fourth child in a journeyman's family. He was a frail child, who enjoyed the special care and attention of his mother. He was raised in the spirit of Pietism, the Lutheran Protestant religious tendency that valued individual piety above participation in religious practices as prescribed by the church. After attending the Königsberg Latin School for eight years, he entered the University of Königsberg at age sixteen. There he studied the natural sciences along with philosophy. His family was barely able to support him during his seven years of study at the university, and he lived in very impoverished circumstances. after leaving the university without having sat for the final examination, he found work as a private tutor on remote East Prussian estates. Kant utilized the period of his employment as a private tutor to save the money he needed to embark on the scholarly career that he sought. In 1755, he submitted his master's thesis, written in Latin, to the philosophical faculty of the University of Königsberg. In the same year, after defending a second academic thesis, also written in Latin, he joined the faculty as an instructor. For many years after that, Kant continued to teach as a lecturer while pursuing his academic projects. During his years as a lecturer he already achieved a certain fame as an author and academic teacher. Johann Gottfried Herder was among the prominent individuals who attended his lectures (in 1762). Much later, his lectures were attended by Moses Mendelssohn (in 1777) and Johann Gottlieb Fichte (in 1791). Kant declined invitations to teach at other universities (he was offered a position at Erlangen in 1769 and one in Jena in 1770), in the hope that he would be given a chair at the University of Königsberg. This ambition was realized in 1770, when he was named holder of a chair in logic and metaphysics. In connection with this promotion, he composed his third academic thesis. This thesis, which is known as Kant's "inaugural dissertation," bears the title "On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World" ("De mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis"). It contains two cornerstones of Kant's critical transcendental philosophy: (a) the distinction between a phenomenal, sensually perceptible, recognizable world and an intelligible and as such nonperceptible world, and (b) the subjectivization of space and time as "forms of intuition."

Kant's thought, initially, had remained within the framework of German academic philosophy as established by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Christian Wolff. He developed his own theory of human cognition and the corresponding capacity for moral action and the judgment of the beautiful, sublime, and organically purposive (the central themes of his philosophy) under the influence, above all, of Jean-Jacques rousseau and David Hume. After the publication of his inaugural dissertation, however, Kant the scholar fell silent for ten years. This is the period during which he worked out his critical transcendental philosophy. In 1781, Kant at last published Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft). This was followed, alongside many other smaller publications, by Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, 1795), the second, significantly revised edition of Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1787), Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, 1788), and finally, in 1790, Kant's third and final critique, Critique of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft), which completed the system of his critical philosophy.

The first section of Critique of Judgment contains the "Critique of aesthetic Judgment," the Kantian theory of our judgment of the beautiful and the sublime. Kant had already concerned himself with the beautiful and the sublime in the precritical essay "Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime," which was first published in 1764 and went through eight editions during Kant's lifetime. Additional remarks on the topic of aesthetics are also contained in Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht, 1798).

The public response to the publication of Critique of Pure Reason and the following two critiques was rather disappointing for Kant. Some reviewers found fault with the obscurity of Kantian discourse; others criticized its content. But in the meantime Kant's fame was growing; he was elected to membership in the academies of Science of Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Siena. nevertheless, Kant's transcendental philosophy never became the basis of a real school. The critical encounter with his thought led to German idealism, whose chief representatives, apart from the above-mentioned Johann Gottlieb Fichte, were Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. But during his lifetime there were also some adherents of his philosophy, among them such prominent poets as Friedrich Schiller and Heinrich von Kleist.

Kant never married. He died on February 12, 1804, in his house in Königsberg. He had never left East Prussia.

Philosophy and Art

Kant places the theory of cognition at the beginning of his critical transcendental philosophy, in Critique of Pure Reason. He conceives this theory as a response to the question "How are a priori synthetic judgments possible?" What he understands by synthetic judgments are statements about a realm of objects whose truth depends on the objects' constitution (Beschaffenheit). Such statements are a priori when the insight into their certainty (Gewissheit) does not rely on experience. Kant's answer to the leading question of his theory of cognition is: By applying pure concepts of the understanding (Verstand) to pure intuitions (specific mental presentations3 in space and time), a priori synthetic judgments are possible. A priori synthetic judgments, whose object is the cognizable world, include the general principles of newtonian mechanics, among others. Human beings, as cognizing subjects, impose these principles on the world that they recognize. The proof of the validity of these principles of natural law is the task of transcendental philosophy and must be brought independently of any experience. Kant grants these principles the status of natural laws, whose unrestricted validity for the world of cognition we can know with absolute certainty. The price of this guarantee is his distinction between the world that is the object of our cognition and is organized according to these laws (for Kant the so-called "world of appearances"), and the world of the things-in-themselves, which is not accessible to our cognition. Empirical, objective knowledge of the world is possible, according to Kant, only within the framework of these a priori laws and presupposes their proven validity.

However, according to Kant, there are diverse phenomena that we experience whose presence in the world of phenomena cannot be explained by these world-determining laws. These phenomena include the freedom of human action, the beauty of objects of our intuition, and the organic purposiveness (organische Zweckmässigkeit) of living beings. Human actions and their freedom are treated in Critique of Practical Reason; beauty and organic purposiveness in Critique of Judgment.

The consciousness of the freedom of our will puts its impress on our self-understanding as moral subjects who act in the world. to the extent that a particular kind of causality is manifested in free will, free will is also subject to a law. However, the law in question is not one of the laws of nature, which apply only to the world of phenomena, but rather the moral law, which we, as autonomous beings, impose on ourselves and on the world of our free and moral actions. According to Kant, human beings are lawgivers not only as cognizing subjects but also as morally acting subjects. Moral law, however, does not refer to the world of phenomena, for that world is causally organized and therefore mechanistically determined; it permits no free actions. rather, the rational determination of our free will to want only those things that correspond to the moral law is mediated by what Kant calls the feeling of "respect" (Achtung). We desire and act in accordance with moral law out of respect for this law. Unlike the feelings of pleasure and displeasure, the feeling of respect is "a feeling that is self-induced by means of a rational concept"; in this feeling we experience the determination of our will by pure practical reason in accordance with the moral law.

The project of Kant's third critique follows immediately from his theories of theoretical cognition and moral action. Since human beings appear as lawgivers not only in their role as cognizing subjects but also in their role as subjects of moral action, and yet, in the two cases, function as lawgivers in relation to quite different worlds, the problem arises of how to explain the possibility of free and, as such, moral action in the causally determined world of phenomena. to solve this problem and explain the phenomena of beauty and organic purposiveness, Kant, in Critique of Judgment, develops a theory of "purposiveness" (Zweckmässigkeit). What he understands by "purposiveness" is a structure or order that we observe, by means of our judgment, in objects of sensual intuition, and whose creation manifests purposes and processes that are nevertheless not explainable by mechanical rules. Objects of this kind are purposive in the sense that they appear to be "artifacts," without our being able to give mechanical rules for their creation; their generation as "artifacts" is explainable, finally, only by recourse to a superhuman being, for example, God. Such an explanation has no basis in experience; hence every judgment about this kind of purposiveness of an object, about an object as "artifact," betrays a certain hypothetical character. Purposively organized "artifacts" manifest intentionally rational actions on the one hand, and rule-governed behaviors on the other. This thought allows us to try to comprehend Kant's hope of developing, on the basis of the purposiveness of "artifacts," a possible way of holding together in the mind the incompatible orders of the causal/mechanistic world of phenomena and the free world of moral action. Evidence that such a project has prospects for success is provided by those objects that we use our faculty of judgment to judge as "artifacts"—the beautiful objects of nature on the one hand, and living organisms on the other.

Kant's theory of the beautiful is conceived as a theory of judging the beautiful by means of the faculty of judgment. Judgments made in this way are what Kant calls "judgments of taste." These judgments, according to Kant, represent "something remarkable ... for the transcendental philosopher." They are remarkable because they unite in themselves two characteristic qualities that, taken individually, are associated with fundamentally different sorts of judgments. Like cognitive judgments, which are based on the application of objective concepts to intuitions, judgments of taste are linked to a claim of general validity. But at the same time, judgments of taste are not based on the application of objective concepts to intuitions, for "beauty is no concept of an object." rather, these judgments—and in this respect they resemble judgments about pleasure and displeasure, which are valid only for the subject who is doing the actual judging—are based on a feeling. Kant uses the term "disinterested liking" (interessenloses Wohlgefallen) to characterize the feeling that causes us to judge the object whose intuitive presentation transmits this feeling as beautiful. But how can a judgment of taste, which is based on a mere feeling, nevertheless be justifiably linked to a claim of general validity? This is the leading question of Kant's aesthetics, and in answering it he takes his orientation from the model of the specific feeling of respect for the moral law. Like this feeling of respect, the disinterested liking induced by the beautiful is a feeling in which the feeling subject becomes conscious of an intellectual achievement. While in the feeling of respect we become conscious of the determination of our will by pure reason in accordance with the moral law, in the disinterested liking that is induced by the beautiful we are conscious of the free play of the cognitive powers of the imagination and understanding. This thought holds the key to the answer to the above-mentioned leading question of Kant's aesthetics. The aesthetic judgment of an object, as in the case of all cognitive judgments, is an achievement of our cognitive powers. The difference is that in the case of cognition these powers operate under the guidance of an objective concept, whereas in the case of judgments about beauty they may play freely, that is, without the guidance of a specific objective concept. In this "free play," what is at issue is the judgment of the beauty of an object as intuitively presented, which Kant describes as a "form of purposiveness in the presentation of an object ... without any purpose" for the object. In other words, what we experience as beautiful is that object whose intuitive presentation (anschauliche Vorstellung) seems to have been formed with a purpose in mind, but which we nevertheless cannot think in the form of an objective concept of a specific purpose. Where, in an object, we notice this form of purposiveness without a purpose, our freely playing powers of cognition enter into a state of harmony, and it is this state that we experience as disinterested liking and that causes us to judge the intuitively presented object to be beautiful. Kant also characterizes the beauty of an object as the "presentation [Vorstellung] of aesthetic ideas," whereby he understands under "aesthetic idea ... that presentation of the imagination that gives much to think about, without any determinate thought, i.e., concept, being able to be adequate to it, and that, consequently, no language reaches and can render understandable." Judgments of taste concerning the beauty of an object, which rest on the free and playful activity of the cognitive powers, can justifiably be linked to a claim of general validity. That we nevertheless experience, time and again, that others do not agree with our judgments of taste concerning the beauty of objects is based on the difficulty of distinguishing between manifestations of real, intersubjective taste and of (merely) private taste, which Kant also calls "sensual taste" (Sinnengeschmack).

Although he describes our experience of beauty as "disinterested liking," Kant's conception is cognitivist, and not emotivist. Kant avoids the now common expression "aesthetic experience" (Erfahrung); he reserves the word "experience" for empirical cognition. Beauty, for Kant, is a phenomenon that we experience primarily in natural objects. Initially, artworks do not play a central role in his aesthetics. One can adduce systematic reasons for this. Artworks are artifacts in the literal sense, and this applies especially to creations of the fine arts. The latter are objects produced by human beings according to mechanical rules—objects that were formed with a purpose in mind that we can very well think in the form of a specific, objective concept. But their character as artifacts in the literal sense works against their beauty. natural objects, on the contrary, are not produced by humans according to a mechanical rule; therefore, as artifacts, they come close to the conditions required for beauty. Because they are not artifacts in the literal sense of the word, we can more easily experience them as "artifacts," as purposively organized products of the rational activity of a nonhuman being. nevertheless, Kant does not deny that there are beautiful objects in the realm of human artifacts, i.e., works of fine art. Kant explains the possibility of objects that are artifacts and that we nevertheless experience as beautiful with the help of his theory of genius. Geniuses are human beings who have a natural talent that allows them to be guided in their productive activity not by objective concepts and mechanical rules but rather by concepts and rules that are given to them by "nature," in other words, by concepts and rules of the type manifested in beautiful natural objects: "Genius is the innate capacity [ingenium] through which nature gives to art its rule(s)." Insofar as artifacts that are produced by a genius manifest an order and a structure similar to those found in beautiful natural objects, these artifacts are beautiful and are thus works of fine art. From the perspective of the aesthetic experience of beauty, we consequently find, in Kant, a rapprochement between nature and art: "nature was [called] beautiful if it simultaneously looked like art; and art can only be called beautiful if we are conscious of the fact that it is art, and yet it looks to us like nature." With this move, the project of a rapprochement between the structures that organize the world of phenomena and the structures of the world of freedom and morality takes on a promising aspect. This applies to the aesthetic experience of beautiful objects of nature, in particular, but also to (genius-created) art. Kant does, then, speak of "beauty as a symbol of morality."


Excerpted from Music in German Philosophy Copyright © 2010 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

            H. James Birx
Introduction to the English-language Edition 
            Michael Spitzer
            Stefan Lorenz Sorgner and Oliver Fürbeth
            Christel Fricke
            Gunter Scholtz
            Herbert Schnädelbach
            Berbeli Wanning
            Günter Zöller                                                                                       
            Stefan Lorenz Sorgner
            Francesca Vidal
            Günther Pöltner
            Beate Regina Suchla
            Lucia Sziborsky

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