Jerrold Levinson  

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"A work of art is a thing intended for regard-as-a-work-of-art: regard in any of the ways works of art existing prior to it have been correctly regarded." --"Defining Art Historically", 1979, Jerrold Levinson

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Jerrold Levinson (born 11 July 1948 in Brooklyn) is an American philosopher. He is particularly noted for his work on the aesthetics of music, as well as for his search for meaning and ontology in film, art and humour.

His paper "Defining Art Historically"” (1979) launched the historical theory of art.

On erotica, erotic art and pornography

In Contemplating Art (2006), Levinson included two chapters on erotic art, "What Is Erotic Art?" (1998), and "Erotic Art and Pornographic Pictures" (2005). He co-edited with Hans Maes Art & Pornography: Philosophical Essays (2012).

Levinson also wrote a text on sexual perversion, "Sexual Perversity" (2003).


Levinson's interest in the aesthetics of music has led to an examination of musical ontology from a historical-contextual perspective, and of performance with an emphasis on performing means. He has posited theories of evaluating music and has considered the legitimacy of emotional response in musical appreciation. Within his study of performance he has also examined the distinctness of performing and critical interpretation.

Levinson advocates the position that music has the same relation to thought as does language; i.e., if language is an expression of thought, so is music. This is particularly revealed in his analysis of Wittgenstein's ideas on the meaning in music:

What Wittgenstein is underscoring here about the appreciation of music is this. Music is not understood in a vacuum, as a pure structure of sounds fallen from the stars, one which we receive via some pure faculty of musical perception. Music is rather inextricably embedded in our form of life, a form of life that is, as it happens, essentially linguistic. Thus music is necessarily apprehended, at least in part, in terms of the language and linguistic practices that define us and our world.

This raises interesting points in the debate on absolute music.


  • Music, Art, and Metaphysics, Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990; 2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011.
  • The Pleasures of Aesthetics, Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1996.
  • Music in the Moment, Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1998.
  • Aesthetics and Ethics, ed., Cambridge UP, 1998.
  • Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, ed., Oxford UP, 2003.
  • Contemplating Art, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.
  • Musical Concerns, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015.
  • Aesthetic Pursuits, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016.

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