Music, metaphors and secondary meaning

  • Marta Benenti
Keywords: Metaphor, Music, Secondary meaning, Emotions, Expressiveness


Scholars do not agree on whether descriptions of music in terms of emotions should be considered literal or metaphorical. I begin by introducing the intuitively convincing idea that emotion words apply metaphorically to music. After guaranteeing this approach the support of nominalism, I argue that it is still unable to ground expressive descriptions in musical properties. As an alternative, I present some literalist accounts based on resemblances and focus especially on the advantages of Contour theory. Although it manages to anchor expressive descriptions to the perceivable structure of music, Contour theory has difficulty in accounting for expressive descriptions of musical items that do not resemble any behavioural expression. In order to overcome this deficiency of the theory, I suggest that a combination of multi-dimensional theories of emotions along with the Wittgensteinian notion of secondary meaning helps to avoid the appeal to resemblances, thereby accounting in a literalist fashion for the application of emotions terms to musical objects that do not resemble human expressions.


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How to Cite
Benenti, M. (2020) “Music, metaphors and secondary meaning”, Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio, 14(1). doi: 10.4396/2020113.