For these past few months, I studied and researched the philosophy of music for my final presentation on Dante’s Purgatory. This study is one of my favorites as I am a musician. After researching poetry last semester, I realized that I had not developed a philosophy for music, which is the reason why I decided to study music this semester. In this presentation, I argue that music in Purgatory is for the purification of the soul as opposed to the mere sway of emotion. My major sources include Dante’s Divine Comedy, The Fundamentals of Music by Boethius, The Republic by Plato, and Treatise on Happiness by Aquinas. The words below contain some of my overall thoughts on the nature of music and its effects on the soul.
Music is the abstract art of sound. For there to be music, there must be harmony because music is created through the harmonious union of pitch and time. Harmony is the relation between objects. Of course, there is dissonance music. However, dissonance exists through some degree of order since there must be at least two notes that are unified, and thus in harmony, to be dissonant. Dissonance is by definition a clash between components. Music as an art form is abstract because it does not refer to language; although language is an ordering of vowels and consonants, the music of language would refer to the pitch and rhythm of one’s voice rather than speech itself. Music therefore does not pertain to certain situations and is thus an abstract art.
The harmony of music is analogous to the harmony within man. According to Boethius, there is music in everything that exists because everything that exists has harmony. It is through harmony that everything exists because in order for something to exist, its components must be formed harmoniously according to its proper nature. Thus, harmony within music is the same as the harmony within the universe and soul. Boethius further argues that harmony is capable of depicting the states of man. This can be seen in the harmonious union of reason, sentiment, and instinct in man. It is through this harmony that man reasons, feels, and acts. This concept can be seen in the fact that people are attracted to music that pertains to their situation; the harmony of music is then in conjunction with the harmony within man. As a result, music is capable of influencing the soul at its core. Since music and man are created in a similar likeness, man by contemplating certain harmonies within music, contemplates a certain type of harmony that can be found within the self.
Since music expresses harmony, music produces proper sentiment. Sentiments are trained dispositions that determine one’s knowledge of qualities. The development of sentiment is important for the soul because it produces proper responses to ideas such as being awed by beauty or loving truth. Music trains the sentiments by associating sentiments with certain ideas.
The sentiments produced by music are indeed proper because music expresses the Forms. The Forms are abstract, universal concepts distinct from space and time. They are qualities that objects share such as goodness, beauty, and justice. Music expresses the Forms because harmony, melody, and rhythm are capable of communicating universal ideas in abstract forms. This is evident since music is a universal language such that a quality depicted musically is universally received as that quality. For instance, music that depicts happiness can be translated into several instances of joy because that music depicts happiness itself. Because music is an abstract art, the ideas expressed musically are the Forms of these ideas because music expresses the nature of qualities. Music therefore produces proper sentiment because these sentiments are proper responses to the Forms.
Music is therefore a means to behold goodness. As stated before, music produces proper sentiment. In Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise, music is configured to associate wonder and love with goodness. Music itself is an endeavor to experience goodness, since people naturally are pleased by harmonious sounds, which is goodness, while cringing at dissonance. Hence, in music man learns to behold goodness in a truer form by associating the positive sentiments of wonder and love with goodness.