A fundamental explanation of musical meaning in terms of mental states

Ross, Barry (Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch, 2010-12)

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study concerns the widespread phenomenon that music is perceived as meaningful to the listener in some sense. The study adopts a style of conceptual clarification and investigation that is current in the analytic philosophy of language, and is further informed by recent research into the fundamental biology of human musicality, which suggests that musicality and language are neurologically related. The problem of musical meaning is approached as a problem of communicative behaviour, and is hence conceptually related to the concept of meaningfulness in the various modalities of linguistic communication. ‘Communication’ is defined in terms of the intended consequences of communicative acts – that is, a communicative act is an attempt on the behalf of the utterer to cause some sort of change in the listener’s mental states. From this premise, meaning in both musical and linguistic acts is defined in terms the mental states elicited in the mind of the listener. Two classes of mental state are identified: cognitive states, which are propositional in nature; and affective states, which are essentially nonpropositional. It is proposed that meaning in both music and language (as well as in other communicative acts) can be explained in terms of the elicitation of these classes of mental states in the minds of competent listeners, and that in any linguistic or musical act, a competent listener will entertain a composite of these mental states that will be perceived as meaning. The mechanisms responsible for the elicitation of these states are discussed, and it is concluded that the causal powers of the communicative act, as it is represented in the mind, are responsible for the elicitation of these mental states. Directly causal means are responsible for affective states: there is a relationship of direct causation between relevant features of the communicative act, as represented in the mind, and affective states. Affective states are nonpropositional, in that they cannot be subjected to deductive or propositional operations in the mind. By virtue of their being non-propositional, such states are also considered to be beyond verbal explication (‘ineffable’). Cognitive states, on the other hand, are propositional in nature. The mechanisms by which they are realised are complex in terms of propositional computation: the relevant propositional features of the communicative act, as represented in the mind of the listener, undergo manipulation by mental processes (for instance, the computational system for linguistic syntax). Cognitive states are expressible in propositional terms, and are hence expressible in language. Whereas linguistic communication is efficacious for the elicitation of cognitive states, musical utterances tend to elicit affective states to a far greater degree. Furthermore, whereas the syntax of language aids communication in the facilitation of semantics, the syntactic dimension of music is principally a means of implementing affective states in the listener. Therefore, any explanation of musical meaning must take the syntactical dimension of music into account. It is also argued that there are features of performance common to both language (in its spoken modality) and musical utterances that serve to elicit affective states.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie ondersoek die verskynsel dat musiek deur die meeste luisteraars as betekenisvol ervaar word. ’n Styl van konseptuele verduideliking en ondersoek word gebruik wat eie is aan die analitiese filosofie van taal. Terselfdertyd word die jongste navorsing op die gebied van die fundamentele biologie van menslike musikaliteit in aanmerking geneem, wat suggereer dat taal en musikale vermoë neurologies met mekaar verwant is. Die probleem van betekenis in musiek word as ʼn probleem van kommunikatiewe gedrag benader, en is dus konseptueel verbind aan die konsep van betekenisvolheid in die verskeie modaliteite van kommunikasie deur middel van taal. ‘Kommunikasie’ word in terme van die geïntendeerde uitkomste van kommunikatiewe aksies/dade gedefinieer. Met ander woorde, ʼn kommunikatiewe aksie/daad is ʼn poging deur die spreker om uiteindelik ʼn verandering in die geestesgesteldheid (‘mental state’) van die luisteraar teweeg te bring. Op hierdie basis word twee tipes geestesgesteldheid onderskei: ʼn kognitiewe gesteldheid, wat proposisioneel van aard is, en ʼn affektiewe gesteldheid, wat nie-proposisioneel is. Daar word voorgestel dat betekenis in beide musiek en taal, soos ook in ander vorme van kommunikasie, verduidelik kan word as die belewenis van sodanige geestesgesteldhede aan die kant van die bedrewe luisteraar. Dit impliseer dat die betekenis van enige uiting in taal of musiek as ʼn bepaalde kombinasie van hierdie twee geestesgesteldhede deur die bedrewe luisteraar ervaar word. Die meganismes wat hierdie geestesgesteldhede ontlok word bespreek, en die gevolgtrekking word gemaak dat dit die kousale mag van die kommunikatiewe daad is, soos dit in die bewussyn (‘mind’) neerslag vind, wat hierdie twee tipes geestesgesteldheid ontlok. Daar word beweer dat ʼn proses van direkte kousaliteit verantwoordelik is vir ʼn affektiewe gesteldheid: daar is ’n oorsaaklike verhouding tussen die onderskeie kenmerke van die kommunikatiewe daad, soos dit in die bewussyn voorgestel word, en die uiteindelike affektiewe geestesgesteldheid. ʼn Affektiewe geestesgesteldheid is nie-proposisioneel omdat dit nie in terme van deduktiewe of proposisionele prosesse in die bewussyn verstaan kan word nie. Omdat dit nie-proposisioneel is word die kenmerke van hierdie affektiewe geestesgesteldheid as onsegbaar (‘ineffable’) deur die luisteraar beleef. Daarteenoor is ʼn kognitiewe geestesgesteldheid proposisioneel van aard. Die meganismes wat veroorsaak dat hierdie geestesgesteldheid gerealiseer word is kompleks: die onderskeie kenmerke van die kommunikatiewe daad, soos dit in die bewussyn van die luisteraar voorgestel word, ondergaan manipulasie deur denkprosesse wat proposisioneel van aard is (bv., die denkproses wat die sintaktiese dimensie van taal moet verwerk). ʼn Kognitiewe geestesgesteldheid kan in proposisionele terme weergegee en gevolglik in taal verwoord word. Terwyl kommunikasie deur middel van taal effektief is om ʼn kognitiewe geestesgesteldheid te ontlok, is musikale uitdrukking veel eerder geskik om ʼn affektiewe geestesgesteldheid te ontlok. Verder, terwyl die sintaksis van taal bydra tot verwesenliking van semantiese betekenis, dra die sintaktiese dimensie van musiek eerder daartoe by om ʼn affektiewe geestesgesteldheid by die luisteraar te vestig. Dus moet elke verduideliking van musikale betekenis die sintaktiese dimensie van musiek in aanmerking neem. Verder word beweer dat daar algemene kenmerke in sowel taal (in die gesproke modaliteit) as musiek voorkom wat spesifiek ʼn affektiewe geestesgesteldheid tot stand bring.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/5429
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