Dissertation Index

Author: Wright, James K.

Title: Schoenberg, Wittgenstein, and the Vienna Circle: Epistemological Meta-Themes in Harmonic Theory, Aesthetics, and Logical Positivism

Institution: McGill University

Begun: September 1999

Completed: February 2002


This study examines the relativistic aspects of Arnold Schoenberg's harmonic and aesthetic theories in the light of a framework of ideas presented in the early writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the logician, philosopher of language, and Schoenberg's contemporary and Austrian compatriot. The author has identified correspondences between the writings of Schoenberg, the early Wittgenstein (the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in particular), and the Vienna Circle of philosophers, on a wide range of topics and themes. Issues discussed include the nature and limits of language, musical universals, theoretical conventionalism, word-to-world correspondence in language, the need for a fact- and comparison-based approach to art criticism, and the nature of music-theoretical formalism and mathematical modeling. Schoenberg and Wittgenstein are shown to have shared a vision that is remarkable for its uniformity and balance, one that points toward the reconciliation of the positivist-relativist dualism that has dominated recent discourse in music theory. Contrary to earlier accounts of Schoenberg's harmonic and
aesthetic relativism, this study identifies a solid epistemological core underlying his thought, a view that was very much in step with Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle, and thereby with the most vigorous and forward-looking stream in early twentieth century intellectual history.

Keywords: Schoenberg, Wittgenstein, Vienna Circle, Formalism, Positivism, Conventionalism, Relativism, Empiricism, Universals, Harmony, Aesthetics


Chapter 1: Introduction
Decline of the Quest for Universals in Twentieth-Century Music Theory
Schoenberg and Wittgenstein

Chapter 2: Universalism and Relativism in Schoenberg's Harmonic Theory
Relativism in Schoenberg's Harmonic and Aesthetic Theories
The Problem of Universals
The Epistemological Foundations of Harmonic Theory: Four Propositional Categories
Schoenberg's Universalism: The Icarus Principle
Schoenberg's Relativism and Conventionalism: The Schenker/Schoenberg Controversy

Chapter 3: Schoenberg and Wittgenstein: Positivism and the Limits of Language
Language and Knowledge: Analytic Philosophy and the Vienna Circle
Wittgenstein's Tractatus
Wittgenstein's "Stop": The Is/Ought Dichotomy and the Limits of Language
Schoenberg's "Stop": Facts versus Values in Harmonic Theory
The Proper Role of Art Theory and Aesthetics: Pointing to Facts and Making Comparisons
"Important Nonsense": Showing the Value of Values
Equating Ethics and Aesthetics: Emphasis on Praxis over Theory
Schoenberg on the Limits of Language: "O Word, Thou Word that I Lack"
Wittgenstein, Schoenberg, and Schopenhauer: The Art Object Sub Specie Aeternitatis
Rejecting "Heart and Brain" Dualism

Chapter 4: Problems of Formalism
Vienna-Circle Conventionalism: The Autonomy of Language and Logic
The Autonomy of Musical Languages: Creating Worlds of Our Own Making
Radical Formalism in Twentieth-Century Harmonic Theory
Was Schoenberg a Radical Formalist?
Wittgenstein's Grundgedanke: The Autonomy of Logic and Mathematics
Music-Theoretical Formalism and the Problem of Tautology
Wittgenstein's Rejection of Set Theory: Chasing Cantor and Hilbert from Paradise
Logical and Mathematical Formalism as "Scaffolding"
The Proper Role of Mathematical Modeling: Wittgenstein's Constructivist Viewpoint
Things versus Facts and "States of Affairs": A Theory of Chords Versus a Theory of Harmony

Chapter 5: Summary and Conclusions



James K. Wright
1226 Erie Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA
K1V 6G6

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