Musing on Music

  • Richard Feist
Part of the The Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 75)


Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (ca. 480–524) would have been most puzzled by what Shakespeare’s Lorenzo says. The reasons for his supposed perplexity lie in the background views on music that he appropriates from ancient Greek philosophy. Boethius’ compendium on music, De institutione musica (The Fundamentals of Music), along with similar texts on arithmetic, geometry and astronomy, formed the medieval quadrivium. It is surprising that the scholastic philosophers, who were often deeply concerned with logical consistency and order, were unperturbed by the inconsistencies running rampant throughout De institutione musica. On the one hand, the work’s first part is Pythagorean: music was inseparable from numbers, which governed the universe. Music exemplified the cosmic order. On the other hand, the work’s latter sections contain anti-Pythagorean sentiments; music is not necessarily anything that expresses universal orders. So, it is difficult to say precisely what Boethius thought about music. Further complicating this is the fact that, with respect to music, Boethius was not always a terribly original thinker. He often borrowed from a (now lost) treatise on music by Nicomachus and from the first book of Ptolemy’s Harmonics. Still, in the most original section of the book, the opening chapters, Boethius expresses a view of music that is relevant to the historical development of music and how thinkers addressed problems in the philosophy of music.


Representative Function Musical Representation Instrumental Music Formalist View Individual Thing 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.St Paul UniversityOttawaCanada

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