Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jesse Prinz

Committee Members

Thomas Teufel

Noël Carroll

Subject Categories

Aesthetics | Comparative Philosophy | Music


emotion, expression, illusion, Ji Kang, Marcel Proust, music


This project aims to examine whether music has an emotional nature. I use the ancient Chinese text Music Has No Grief or Joy to construct three arguments for the illusion view, according to which music has no emotional nature and the emotional appearances of music are illusory. These arguments highlight representational inconstancy, expressive incapability, and evocative underdetermination as three ways to problematize the idea that music has an emotional nature. I draw on the Confucian tradition to formulate three responses to the illusion view from representational reliability, expressive sincerity, and evocative appropriateness. These responses are shown to be inadequate. To examine the illusion view in detail, I adopt a comparative approach to structure a dialogue between ancient Eastern philosophy and contemporary Western philosophy. Nine arguments are constructed from three prominent approaches in contemporary Western musical aesthetics on the evocation, expression, and representation of emotion. I argue that each of these arguments reads emotion into music. Nevertheless, three insights emerge from the comparative discussion. The autonomy of emotional enjoyment, the possibility of emotional communication, and the function of emotional language in musical experiences call for explanations. I argue that the illusion view are amenable to these insights. The illusion view allows us to claim full ownership of emotional responses, have emotional communication by recognizing intended emotional meanings in music, and appreciate the practical value of emotional language in music industry and education. I formulate a possible objection on the basis of Charles Swann’s musical experience in Marcel Proust’s novel, according to which music has emotional agency in the formation of an emotion. This objection can be met and Swann’s musical experience can be integrated into the illusion view. The illusion view turns out to be experientially richer than it might appear at first. This project liberates musical listening and philosophical thinking from beliefs entrenched in the emotional illusion of music.