Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ways of Defining Music

The "is-ought" problem is common to meta-ethics and linguistics. In meta-ethics: are we describing how people act, or how they ought to act? In linguistics, some people describe grammar while other prescribe grammar. I imagine the same approaches to understanding music:

  1. Descriptive definitions of music, which take into account various musical traditions and extrapolate common themes within and between them.
  2. Prescriptive definitions of music, which involve reflection and thought-experiments — philosophy, really — sometimes accompanied by experimental compositions.

To explore the first without the second is superficial, and to philosophize without context is unrealistic.

1/26/08: "Noise" has the same issue, describing how the word "noise" is used is very different from prescribing definitions. Describing things can be difficult, but prescriptions can get really messy. It's probably best to set out a goal for a prescriptive definition before seeking/giving one. Prescriptions might be about: unifying themes of descriptions, offering a new definition that illuminates others, expanding or restricting the dominant contemporary definition...


Jason LaPorte said...

Interesting that you note this. I was thinking just yesterday of this very same thing, only in relation to dance, and not music.

I often wonder if people dream the same dreams, or else why would there be so many coincidences?

Kyle said...

I think humans are just the best coincidence-identifiers :) The is-ought problem can be extended to a lot of fields, I only mention meta-ethics and linguistics because those are the best known. Anything that happens "naturally" that there is also a science for/study of will also run into these issues. Besides dance, I think it's also a pressing question in epistemology.