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Why Does Pure Music Not Have Semantic Content?

Why Does Pure Music Not Have Semantic Content?

Elzė Sigutė Mikalonytė, “Why Does Pure Music Not Have Semantic Content?,” Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 74, no. 4 (2018): 1355–76,

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Why Does Pure Music Not Have Semantic Content?

Type Journal Article
Author Elzė Sigutė Mikalonytė
Rights © 2018 Aletheia - Associação Científica e Cultural | © 2018 Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia
Volume 74
Issue 4
Pages 1355-1376
Publication Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia
ISSN 0870-5283
Date 2018
DOI 10.17990/RPF/2018_74_4_1355
Language English
Abstract The aim of this paper is to analyze the possibility of semantic content in pure music. The paper argues that pure music does not have semantic content. This conclusion relies on the Gricean analysis of meaning in terms of speakers’ intentions and on Peter Kivy’s argument that pure music does not meet the Gricean requirement for the composers’ intention. First, we analyze the results of empirical studies of metaphorical conceptualization of music; they show that the connections between properties of sound and various metaphors are not “one-to-one” but “one-to-many”. These results support a further argument that it is not possible for a composer to have an intention to communicate by his work of music what is, as we know from the empirical studies, perceived in music by the listeners; and if he has an intention to communicate something more specific than what is perceived by the listeners, the communication is bound to fail. This failure shows the absence of a Gricean communicative intention in the composer, even if an informative intention would be present.
Date Added 23/01/2019, 18:45:30
Modified 24/01/2019, 11:16:26


  • conceptualization of music,
  • content of music,
  • intention,
  • Paul Grice,
  • semantics of music


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