Roger Scruton ( Understanding Music: Philosophy and Interpretation ) finds Wittgenstein’s effort to link recognition of facial expression with musical understanding useful, but doesn’t think Wittgenstein’s use of the analogy finally satisfying.

Scruton writes,

“comparison of musical and physiognomic understanding does not have the implication that he seems to draw from it, which is that musical expression is confined to the intransitive idea. For Wittgenstein the crucial fact lies in the recognition of expression,’ rather than the perception of a state of mind that lies behind the expression, and which is revealed in it. Likewise in understanding music, the crucial fact, for Wittgenstein, lies in an act of recognition, comparable to grasping the expression on a face, rather than in any familiarity with the state of mind expressed. But why does the recognition of expression (in the intransitive sense) have such importance for us? Surely because it is the vital first move in understanding other peoplein grasping what they think, feel or mean. Likewise in art, the act of recognition is the first stage in a process of imaginative involvement, the end point of which is familiarity with a character or a state of mind.”

It’s only on the basis of a further stage beyond recognition that we can engage in music criticism: “we become the music, while the music lasts. Into our own first-person perspective there creeps a phony state of mind that sits uncomfortably with our sense of who we are. It is surely one of the roles of taste or aesthetic judgement to discriminate between the expression with which we might identify, and the expression that invites us to sympathize with a state of mind that in our better moments we seek to shun. But this discrimination would be impossible if we did not advance, in our thinking, from the intransitive to the transitive idea of expression.”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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