Chapter 17. "Music Is The Language of Emotion" by Herbert Spencer

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from "On the Origin and Function of Music"
The Reading Selection from "On the Origin and Function of Music"
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Herbert Spencer adapted from Thoemmes

About the author …

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), considered by many to be the founder of sociology, was essentially self-educated. Initially, he wrote for the The Economist after working for the railroad and writing for journals on such topics as universal sufferage and slavery. He developed the philosophy of "Social Statics" which sought to set forth the conditions for the universal happiness of mankind. His magnum opus is A System of Synthetic Philosophy, an influential nineteenth century account of biology, sociology, and politics based on evolutionary theory.

About the work …

In his "On the Origin and Function of Music",[1] Herbert Spencer argues that music derives from physiological responses which produce vocal sounds reflective of various human emotions. He believes that musical culture develops an "emotional language" of sympathy forming the basis of human happiness as well as the welfare of society. In short, music, as a language of feelings, is a means by which human emotion is communicated, and, consequently, music ranks the highest of the fine arts.

Ideas of Interest from "On the Origin and Function of Music"

  1. Explain the principle Spencer asserts that underlies all vocal phenomena and, as a consequence, music, itself.

  2. What are some of the physiological results of variations in feelings which Spencer mentions?

  3. What is the relation between both loudness and pitch to the quality of emotions, according to Spencer?

  4. Explain Spencer's law relating feelings or emotion to muscular action.

  5. According to Spencer, how are passionate effects achieved in music?

  6. On Spencer's hypothesis, in what ways are dancing, music, and poetry related?

  7. How does Spencer acccount for the altruistic socializing effect of music through sympathy?



Herbert Spencer. "On the Origin and Function of Music" in Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects. London: J.M. Dent & Sons. 1911. 312-330.