Kant’s “Theory of Music”

Oliver Thorndike


One thing to expect from a theory of absolute music is that it explains what makes it so significant to us. Kant rightly observes that the essence of absolute music is our affective response to it. Yet none of the standard 18th century theories, arousal theory and aesthetic rationalism, can explain both the universality of a judgment of taste and its subjective emotional content. The paper argues that Kant’s own aesthetic theory of aesthetic ideas is on the right path for explaining the emotive significance of music, but that Kant does not further pursue this route because his interest in a “theory of music” is only peripheral to his systematic interest as a transcendental philosopher. For both philosophical and historical reasons, Kant does not have a “theory of music.” Nevertheless, if we free Kant’s conception of aesthetic idea and its restriction to Geist from the background of its 18th century humanism, then Kant’s aesthetics of free play becomes a good theory to account for the broad variety of emotions in absolute music as a fine art proper.

Palabras clave

Kant; Hume; Hutcheson; absolute music; paradox of subjective universality; arousal theory; aesthetic rationalism; aesthetic ideas

Texto completo:



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DOI (HTML): https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5776100

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