Dissertation Index

Author: Gleason, Scott M.

Title: Princeton Theory\'s Problematics

Institution: Columbia University

Begun: June 2010

Completed: October 2013


This dissertation situates historically a group of philosophical problematics informing a thread of post-World War II American music theory, begun at Princeton University under Milton Babbitt (1916—2011) and his students. I historicize and demonstrate the logics behind, without attempting to explain away, problematic notions from experimentalism to experience, solipsism to ethics. Initially a formalist project, Princeton Theory in the early 1970’s underwent an under-discussed Turn toward experimentalism, seemingly rejecting its earlier high-modernist orientation. The dissertation situates this Turn as an auto-critique and provides a variety of hermeneutics for the Turn. I discuss how Princeton Theory before the Turn problematically situated itself as both a logical positivist or empiricist discourse, wherein musical experience plays a foundational role, and a formalist, conceptual, discourse, complicating the claim that Princeton Theorists were unconcerned with music hearing as such. Because musical experience seems to be personal, not sharable, I historicize Princeton Theory’s uneven appeals to the notion of solipsism—that only the listening or theorizing “I” exists—and question this position’s implications for ethics, arguing that Babbitt and his students have been more concerned with ethics and morality than their formalist commitments may imply. This dissertation offers a sustained discussion and critique of mid-century high-modernist formalism, raising the stakes of our understanding of this foundational discourse for modern music theory by showing its historical situatedness, contentious status even for the practitioners involved, and what claims it may still make on our own musical imaginations.

Keywords: History of Music Theory, Milton Babbitt, Experimentalism, Experience, Solipsism, Ethics


List of Musical Examples iii

List of Figures iv

Acknowledgements v

Dedication vi

I. Defining Princeton Theory 1

II. The Turn 28

1. Princeton Theory’s High-Modernism 33

2. Princeton Theory’s Experimental Turn 38

3. Meta-/Object-Languages 61

4. Temporalized Being
and the Critique of the Metaphysics of Presence 68

5. Tracing Continuities 73

6. An Experimental Reading of Compose Yourself 76

III. Experience 83

1. What Is Music Theory: Explanation, Description, or Metatheory? 91

2. Philosophy of Science and the “Stuff” of Music Theory 100

3. Babbitt on Theory, Practice, and Experience 116

4. Lewin’s Denaturalization of Music Theory 138

IV. Solipsism 149

1. Solipsism and Communication 153

2. Logical Positivism, Methodological Solipsism, and the Self 160

3. Rahn’s “Epistemological Problem” of Intersubjectivity, Solipsism, and Objectivity 170

4. Boretz’s (Anti-)Solipsism 178

5. Boretz’s Solipsism of the Present Moment 187

6. Babbitt, Guck, Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument, Solipsism and Language 197

V. Ethics 205

1. Solipsism and Ethics 207

2. The Fact/Value Dichotomy 216

3. Ethics of Discourse and Music 230

4. Lewin and Authentic Analysis 240

References 245



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