Some dozen years ago, I was riveted by a report in the press about the findings of a study that investigated what male Americans enjoy most in their lives. As best as I can recall, the candidates included work, family, sex, and music. The winner, hands down, was music. But why was this the case? What is distinctive about the musical experience? The study in question was predictably silent on these matters, but the English philosopher Roger Scruton is not in his important new work, The Aesthetics of Music.[1] This book is aptly described on its cover as “the first comprehensive account of the nature and significance of music from the perspective of modern philosophy, and the only treatment of the subject to be extensively illustrated with musical examples.”

But what exactly is the “aesthetics of music” as a field of study? In Scruton’s view, it amounts to an...


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