The function of music in the acquisition of knowledge according to medieval Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic philosophical texts (FuMAK)


This research project investigates the way in which music features in the process of knowledge acquisition from medieval texts from Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin traditions. This project is based on a corpus of philosophic-scientific texts composed between the 10th and 13th centuries, a period that corresponds to the introduction of Aristotelianism within scholarly centres from Baghdad to Oxford. The progressive and profound imposition of Aristotelian rationalism created an important paradigm shift in philosophical studies and redefined the inner geography of the field of knowledge. This project aims to determine why, at a time when rationalism tends to compartmentalise knowledge, music is still involved in the teachings of different disciplines (i.e. philosophical, psychological, medical...). Indeed, despite an increasing rationalisation of the discourse on music, the elements of another frame of thought, based on the Pythagorean-platonic model, continued to be cultivated and employed in philosophical texts, albeit with an importantly new purpose. There are two hypotheses that this project intends to investigate: first, these elements permeated various teachings in order to facilitate the process of learning, notably through metaphorical thinking, and to transmit and explain certain concepts (e.g. harmony, love, divine retribution...); second, these elements were also associated with a more speculative, even subjective understanding of music that coexisted with the rational approach. In order to prove these hypotheses, the texts will be approached from a cross-cultural perspective and from the point of view of the history of ideas. This project is innovative in that it compares different scholarly and linguistic traditions that are based on the same antique cultural foundation. However, the main innovation of this project consists in identifying the common themes of the discourse on music in Arab, Hebrew and Latin philosophical-scientific texts, and in comparing their respective interpretations and purpose. By interrelating the readings of the texts, this project shows that music is a tool in the acquisition of knowledge and brings to light new aspects of medieval thinking.

Page last edited - 15 Nov 2022