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“Only the Lover Sings” by Josef Pieper Essay

“Thoughts about Music””…music prompts the philosopher’s continued interest because it is by nature so close to the fundamentals of human existence” (Pieper 39). In the section, “Thoughts about Music,” from Josef Pieper’s Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation, discusses music and the intriguing question, “What do we perceive when we listen to music?” (40).

Pieper answers this question by quoting Schopenhauer, who claimed music, “does not speak of things but tells of weal and woe” (42). This makes sense because it relates to “man’s good,” and our yearning for perfect happiness. When listening to music certain emotions surface, as Plato stated, “Music imitates the impulses of the soul” (Pieper 45). Thus, to truly understand what we perceive when we listen to music, one must understand what is being expressed, and not simply “listen.” For many, music can be an “out of body experience,” something that truly reveal’s man and his meaning in life. Some may argue that music is simply “…a means of personal enchantment, of escapism…” (Pieper 50). How one views and interprets music truly reveals one’s character, because, “music lays bare man’s inner existential condition,” (Pieper 50).

In addition, Pieper continues to answer the question of what we perceive when we listen to music, by quoting other philosophers and the ideas of Western philosophical traditions. “To repeat: thus has the nature of music variously been understood in the Western philosophical tradition- as nonverbal articulation of weal and woe; as wordless expression of man’s intrinsic dynamism of self-realization, a process understood as man’s journey toward ethical personhood, as the manifestation of man’s will in all aspects, as love.

This, for instance, is the meaning of Plato’s statement that ‘music imitates the impulses of the soul’, or as Aristotle puts it: music is similar to ethics and related to it. The same tradition continues in remarks by Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche when they say that music ‘invariably is the expression of an immediacy as no interfering medium is involved’; or (Schopenhauer) that of all the arts it is music that represents the will itself; or (Nietzsche in his interpretation of Wagner) that music lets us hear “nature transformed into love”” (Pieper 44-45).

The philosophy of music is something that can be interpreted differently by all. Pieper uses sufficient evidence to support the claim that music does in fact play an important role in man’s true character and how he views his life, and ultimately his existence.


Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation by Josef Pieper

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