Music, aesthetics of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M030-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved May 17, 2022, from

5. Musical arousal

Assuming that music often arouses some sort of mental state in many listeners, why does it do so? Leaving aside extramusical associations (such as a piece of music making me sad because it was my recently deceased grandmother’s favourite work) as the cause of musical arousal, some suggest that music arouses mental states simply due to its aesthetic qualities (Kivy 2002). Others argue instead that music arouses us because we empathize with an imagined persona in the music (Levinson 1994), just as empathizing with real persons or with fictional characters often moves us.

A related issue concerns what sort of mental states music arouses in us. It has been argued that music cannot arouse fully fledged emotions (Kivy 1989, 2002), because whatever mental states it evokes lack the cognitive component and the intentionality of ordinary emotions (see Emotions, nature of §2). Instead, it has been suggested that music only evokes quasi-emotions such as awe, excitement and wonder. Others counter that music may arouse mental states that are directed on or about the music itself or its persona, and that these mental states may involve the judgement or belief that the music itself is sad or happy (Trivedi 2006). Psychological studies also suggest that many subjects report feeling emotions in hearing music, and that they also feel such things as pounding heartbeats, quickening pulse rates and hair standing on end (Krumhansl 1997).

There has also been debate over why many enjoy listening to sad music even though it makes them feel something like negative emotions. While some have suggested that we enjoy listening to sad music simply due to its aesthetic features (Kivy 2002), others have argued that we may get certain emotional rewards such as catharsis in hearing sad music (Levinson 1990), just as we do in experiencing tragedy (see Katharsis). It may be possible, however, to claim that we enjoy listening to sad music both for its aesthetic and emotional rewards (see Emotion in response to art).

Citing this article:
Trivedi, Saam. Musical arousal. Music, aesthetics of, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M030-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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