Musical pluralism and the science of music

Adrian Currie, Anton Killin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    The scientific investigation of music requires contributions from a diverse array of disciplines (e.g. anthropology, musicology, neuroscience, psychology, music theory, music therapy, sociology, computer science, evolutionary biology, archaeology, acoustics and philosophy). Given the diverse methodologies, interests and research targets of the disciplines involved, we argue that there is a plurality of legitimate research questions about music, necessitating a focus on integration. In light of this we recommend a pluralistic conception of music— that there is no unitary definition divorced from some discipline, research question or context. This has important implications for how the scientific study of music ought to proceed: we show that some definitions are complementary, that is, they reflect different research interests and ought to be retained and, where possible, integrated, while others are antagonistic, they represent real empirical disagreement about music’s nature and how to account for it. We illustrate this in discussion of two related issues: questions about the evolutionary function (if any) of music, and questions of the innateness (or otherwise) of music. These debates have been, in light of pluralism, misconceived. We suggest that, in both cases, scientists ought to proceed by constructing integrated models which take into account the dynamic interaction between different aspects of music.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)9-30
    JournalEuropean Journal for Philosophy of Science
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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