Prelude to a Theory of Musical Representation


  • Brandon Polite Knox College



philosophy of music, musical representation, program music, musical meaning


In this paper, I present the beginnings of a resemblance theory of representation. I start by surveying the contemporary philosophical debate surrounding musical representation and reveal that its main interlocutors share a conception of artistic representation as a mode of meaningful communication. I then show how conceiving of artistic representation in this way severely limits music’s possibilities as a medium for representation. Next, I propose an alternative conception of representation that, despite its widespread acceptance outside of the philosophy of art, has been largely denigrated within it: namely, that representation fundamentally depends on structural resemblance. Finally, I demonstrate how conceiving of artistic representation as grounded upon structural resemblances, rather than as a mode of meaningful communication, provides us with a more accurate picture of both (a) how music represents and (b) how we perceive and appreciate musical representations.


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Polite, B. (2017). Prelude to a Theory of Musical Representation. Revista Música, 17(1), 89-108.