It seems self-evident that music plays more than just an aesthetic role in contemporary society. Its social, political, emancipatory, and economical functions have been the subject of much research. Given this, it is surprising that discussions of ethics have often been neglected in relation to music. The ways in which music engages with ethics are more relevant than ever, and require sustained attention.
The book Music and Ethics (Ashgate 2012, co-author Dr. Nanette Nielsen), being the result of my research on the relation between music and ethics, begins from the idea that music is not only a vehicle to transport ethical ideas, ideas that can also be articulated verbally or discursively; rather, the book demonstrates that music ‘in itself’ can, in a unique and purely musical way, contribute to theoretical discussions about ethics as well as concrete moral behaviour.
Music can teach us to listen carefully and without prejudice. It can also teach us to cooperate and interact with others outside preconceived goals and benefits. It can offer insights into expressions of selfhood, as a key player in the construction of subjectivity. However, on the other hand, music also plays an important role in the disciplining and controlling of human beings. In that sense, music has ‘unethical’ sides as well.
Music and Ethics does not offer a general musico-ethical theory, but explores ethics as a practical concept, and demonstrates through concrete examples that the relation between music and ethics has never been absent.