The Five Best Books on the Philosophy of Music

Lennox Johnson Books

From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on the philosophy of music, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on the philosophy of music. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading.

It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.

Here are the best philosophy books on music in no particular order.

Philosophy of Music: An Introduction – R. A. Sharpe

Category: Short Introduction | Length: 208 pages | Published: 2004

Publisher description: This lively and lucid introduction to the philosophy of music concentrates on the issues that illuminate musical listening and practice. It examines the conceptual debates relevant to the understanding and performing of music and grounds the philosophy to practical matters throughout. Ideal for a beginning readership with little philosophical background, the author provides an overview of the central debates enlivened by a real sense of enthusiasm for the subject and why it matters. The book begins by filling in the historical background and offers readers a succinct summary of philosophical thinking on music from the Ancient Greeks to Eduard Hanslick and Edmund Gurney. …

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An Introduction to a Philosophy of Music – Peter Kivy

Category: Introduction | Length: 304 pages | Published: 2002

Publisher description: Philosophy of music has flourished in the last thirty years, with great advances made in the understanding of the nature of music and its aesthetics. Peter Kivy has been at the center of this flourishing, and now offers his personal introduction to philosophy of music, a clear and lively explanation of how he sees the most important and interesting philosophical issues relating to music. Anyone interested in music will find this a stimulating introduction to some fascinating questions and ideas.

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Philosophers on Music: Experience, Meaning and Work – Kathleen Stock

Category: Anthology | Length: 272 pages | Published: 2010

Publisher description: Philosophers on Music: Experience, Meaning, and Work presents significant new contributions to central issues in the philosophy of music, written by leading philosophers working in the analytic tradition.

Music is an increasingly popular object of reflection for professional philosophers, as it raises special questions not only of relevance to music practitioners, theorists, and philosophers of art, but also of wider philosophical interest to those working in metaphysics, the philosophy of emotion, and the philosophy of language, among other areas. The wide range of contributors to this volume reflects this level of interest. It includes both well-known philosophers of music drawing on a wealth of reflection to produce new and often startling conclusions, and philosophers relatively new to the philosophy of music yet eminent in other philosophical fields, who are able to bring a fresh perspective, informed by that background, to their topic of choice. …

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The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music – Theodore Gracyk

Category: Companion | Length: 680 pages | Published: 2013

Publisher description: The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music is an outstanding guide and reference source to the key topics, subjects, thinkers and debates in philosophy and music. Over fifty entries by an international team of contributors are organised into six clear sections:

  • general issues
  • emotion
  • history
  • figures
  • kinds of music
  • music, philosophy and related disciplines

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music is essential reading for anyone interested in philosophy, music and musicology.

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On the Musically Beautiful – Eduard Hanslick

Category: Classic | Length: 151 pages | First Published: 1854

Publisher description: “Like Hanslick, Professor Payzant is both musician and philosopher; and he has brought the knowledge and insights of both disciplines to this large undertaking.” –Gordon Epperson, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

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The following sources were used to build this list:

University Course Syllabi:

Bibliographies:

Other Recommendations:

Additional Resources

You might also be interested in the following reading lists:

Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.


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