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date: 22 February 2020


Abstract and Keywords

This article introduces the aims and assumptions of the book. It evaluates the range of philosophical practice; music, education, and philosophy as practices; greater inclusiveness in philosophical inquiry; and tolerance, complexity, plurality, and change. This handbook intends to show something of the richness and diversity of philosophical practice in ways that may lead to a more vital, grounded, and inclusive understanding of its importance to the field of music education. Music education's disciplinary specializations stand to benefit significantly from philosophical inquiry and, at the same time, they have a great deal to contribute to it.

Keywords: music education, music-education philosophy, philosophical practice, philosophical inquiry

Aims and Assumptions

The recurrent, systematic, and critical examination of beliefs and assumptions—of the grounds for our musical and instructional actions—is fundamental to professional practice in music education. Without it we have no secure basis for claims that our instructional efforts are congruent with the ends for which our profession exists. More strongly yet, without philosophical inquiry our claims to professional status are rather dubious. The kind of inquiry we have in mind, however, is not the exclusive work of academic specialists: it is, rather, a process in which all music education professionals must participate—a fundamental undertaking to which all music educators must contribute.

It is natural that such inquiry disposes us to assume firm positions from time to time—to embrace “this” philosophical stance rather than “that”; but these positions are best regarded as temporary, as working hypotheses, as stances that are subject to revision and refinement in light of changing circumstances and as needs arise. It is the process of philosophical inquiry that is essential to music education, not the products it generates from time to time or place to place. In principle, nothing in music education should be exempt from philosophical scrutiny: no musical practice, no instructional aim, no assumption or belief. These are central among the convictions we bring to this project.

But what is the best way to advance and refine these philosophical processes? How can we use words and ideas to enrich musical learning and experience when the experience of music invariably exceeds—and often, quite dramatically—what we can say about it? Is talking about music, as some have claimed, like dancing (p. 4) about architecture: an undertaking that is ultimately rather absurd? Do the radical differences between talk and music (to say nothing of the profound complexity of education) render philosophical inquiry pointless? If our questions have no definitive or final answers (if they are best regarded as hypotheses) is it futile to pursue them? We hope the essays of which this handbook is comprised will help demonstrate that philosophical inquiry is both unavoidable and fundamentally important to the responsible practice of music education.

This volume does not attempt an exhaustive overview of the field of music education philosophy. In the first place, philosophical inquiry is by its nature highly dynamic; it is not, we submit, the kind of discipline for which an exhaustive overview is a realistic goal. Second, music education philosophy is still very much in its nascent stages.1 Although the number of scholars whose work is primarily devoted to it is increasing, it is still rather small. Instead of presuming to offer a comprehensive overview that delivers readers to the “cutting edge” of the discipline, then, we hope to advance awareness of philosophical inquiry’s nature and potential importance to the field—the powerful ways it informs and orients practice at all levels and in all settings. We hope this handbook will introduce readers to the numerous and diverse ways philosophical inquiry serves the music education profession. We hope too that it may challenge conventional assumptions about philosophy’s nature, its sphere of relevance, and its usefulness.2

We do not necessarily agree with or endorse all the views advanced here, but that has not been our concern as editors. Our objective has been to create a volume that illustrates the kind of differences philosophy can make for music educators’ professional actions. While we might take issue with certain of the arguments advanced here, we heartily endorse the spirit with which they are advanced and the aims to which they are devoted: the philosophical habitus3 they collectively represent. We understand philosophical practice not as an area of inquiry reserved for a handful of specialists whose job it is to craft doctrine for use by consumer-practitioners but rather as a constitutive dimension of professional practice in music education. The most important outcomes of philosophical inquiry, then, are not unequivocal or ultimate answers but the ability to ask better, more useful questions. (p. 5) One of the primary values of philosophical inquiry lies in the ways it helps refine and clarify our understanding of the questions we should be asking ourselves. Music education philosophy consists in an open-ended process that seeks to identify important practical problems and to frame them in ways that contribute incrementally to their resolution. Problems and issues are not annoyances to be done away with, then, but valuable resources. Moreover, what constitutes an important philosophical question or a valid philosophical answer is situated: it is relative to, among other concerns, time and place, ends-in-view, and one’s understanding of the nature and aims of philosophical practice. For all these reasons and for others that will become more fully apparent in due course, we submit that philosophical inquiry should be among music education’s most fundamental concerns, an area whose neglect—and it is widely neglected—has dire professional consequences.

What constitutes philosophy is a big question with far-reaching implications: implications at least as big and as far-reaching as one’s understandings of music and of education. It would be foolish, then, to expect the intersection of music, education, and philosophy in music education philosophy to yield to simple analysis. However, we can point to what might be called the nerve of philosophical practice, the internal goods it is understood to serve by those who engage in it. Philosophy seeks to identify confused thinking and action, making action more intelligent, more informed, more congruent with responsibly held, defensible beliefs. The last thing we would want philosophy to do, then, is to compound confusion. Unfortunately, instances abound where this continues to happen. Too often music education philosophy involves opaque discourse that is irrelevant to the difficult problems facing music educators. Too often it pursues distinctions that make no discernible difference for practice. The fact it has so often fallen short of its potential is not an indication of inherent uselessness, however; rather it underscores the dangers of undisciplined philosophical practice. It shows the need to think more carefully and more rigorously about what philosophy involves and what we should expect of it. We hope this volume will contribute at least modestly to these urgent ends.

Readers should not approach this volume expecting to find the philosophy of music education or even a philosophy of music education. We are interested less in philosophy of music education than philosophy in music education: processes of sustained inquiry brought to bear on any—and potentially, every—aspect of music educational practice. The notion that music education philosophy consists of ironclad arguments about music’s and music education’s inherent natures—advocacy arguments designed to secure music education’s rightful place within public school curricula—is one we do not espouse. Philosophy’s “prevailing habitus,” as Shusterman (2007) has observed, “is critical analysis” (94). Philosophy, he continues, citing the well-chosen words of Fred Maus, “savors precise conceptual distinctions and explicit argumentation” and involves “commitment to clarity and fairness.” These, Shusterman suggests, are “cardinal virtues in the ethics of reading and writing” (95)—and, we would add, of philosophical inquiry done well.

This kind of philosophical practice is not easy, nor is it always comfortable or comforting; critical analysis often challenges and subverts habitual thought (p. 6) processes, processes that are familiar, reassuring, and consoling. Philosophical inquiry works, when and if it does, by generating conceptual tensions that may initially involve confusion and discomfort. The trick, one might say, is to distinguish confusion and discomfort that are only that (and no more) from confusion and discomfort that promise fruitful conceptual and practical realignments—the kinds of adjustments or recalibrations that lead to more enlightened, responsive, and responsible action.

Acknowledging the central importance of questions and problems to music education presents a rather significant challenge to those who prefer just-the-facts-please approaches to instruction, curriculum, evaluation, and research. Indeed, even practitioners of philosophy have at times approached their field more as a body of doctrine than a mode of inquiry. However, while facts and truths may be laudable goals, they are seldom timeless, universal, or unqualified. There is no substitute for the critical habits and dispositions that are music education philosophy’s stock in trade. The neglect of philosophical inquiry leaves a gaping hole at the center of the discipline.

Philosophy explores questions about what ought to be, musically and educationally—issues involving ethics and values. It is not so much concerned with what-is or how-to questions as with concerns about what might or should be. It seeks to achieve clearer understandings of such crucial and complex questions as what it means to be musical; what it means to educate musically; who should execute or benefit from educational interventions; what (of all we might like to teach) must be taught; and what happens when such questions are neglected.

Music education philosophy as we are suggesting it be envisioned is not an esoteric body of knowledge and should not be regarded as an isolated discipline. It overlaps with other domains, contributing to them in vitally important ways. Music education’s disciplinary specializations stand to benefit significantly from philosophical inquiry, then, and at the same time they have a great deal to contribute to it. Philosophy is too important to be left to philosophers.

The Range of Philosophical Practice

The chapters in this volume are intended to exemplify some of the interesting ways philosophical work may be approached. Each contributing author brings her or his own assumptions about the range of things properly understood as instances of music, as education, and as philosophy. Music education philosophy is a three-dimensional construct, with each dimension open to various, sometimes conflicting interpretations. Tensions often arise among these dimensions: assumptions about the nature of musical practice may conflict, for instance, with our understandings of education or vice versa. What counts as music education philosophy and by what criteria it should be judged are clearly complex matters.

Whether because of this complexity or because of unfortunate beliefs that such concerns are devoid of practical implications, the systematic, deliberate pursuit of philosophical inquiry has been a rather marginal concern in the professional (p. 7) preparation of music educators. Relatively few resources and little instructional time are devoted to its practice or improvement. We hope that this volume may help demonstrate its importance to the field and that it will raise useful questions about the ways musical, educational, and philosophical endeavors interrelate.

We are deliberately stretching the boundaries of what has often been considered music education philosophy because we see it as a tool that is far more broadly useful than conventional beliefs have allowed. Some chapters veer toward what some may consider historical deliberation, while others will explore practices that have been consigned by convention to domains like curriculum. But again, we believe that confining music education philosophy to a disciplinary ghetto—a domain that deals with concerns that are “all philosophy’s own”—is the surest way to assure its irrelevance. Philosophy’s contribution to the music education profession involves asking tough questions about the full range of our beliefs, habits, and practices: seeking alternative possibilities, and interrogating habitual modes of thought and action with the intent of identifying better ones where needed—“better” in the sense of improving professional practice.

As we have said, because philosophical inquiry is at least as concerned with questions as it is with answers, readers should not approach this volume in hopes of finding neat or ultimate solutions. The field is, by its very nature, not neat; nor should it aspire to be; nor do its utility and value require it. The essays collected here coalesce loosely around a handful of general themes intended to show ways philosophical work offers to inform, redirect, and thus improve practices of music teaching and learning. Because these practices take place in diverse settings serving markedly different ends, we resist their equation with school-based music instruction. Our concern with disciplinary boundaries is not just academic or theoretical. Boundaries influence our assumptions about the proper object of philosophical inquiry, about whom it is for, by whom it should be done, and ultimately, how it is best done—concerns that are both practical and political.

Another reason this handbook does not advance one authoritative music education philosophy is that we do not see that as philosophy’s purpose. Its point is not so much to achieve closure or to provide final answers—things that bring inquiry to a halt—but to improve practice, making it more intelligent, more effective, more useful, and more responsible. However, to approach philosophy looking for immediate or direct “implications for practice” would be equally shortsighted. Philosophy improves practice not technically or directly—by prescribing rules for practice—but incrementally and indirectly: by refining and improving habitual ways of thinking and acting. Philosophical inquiry opens us to future trajectories and possibilities in the way Dewey (1916, 297) once claimed for the arts: it contributes to the formation of the “standards for the worth of later experiences.” It does this by “arousing discontent with conditions which fall below [its] measure,” revealing depths and ranges of meaning that might otherwise be passed over as insignificant or uninteresting. Philosophical inquiry helps shape what Dewey called our “organs of vision.”

In short, this handbook is intended to show something of the richness and diversity of philosophical practice in ways that may lead to a more vital, (p. 8) grounded, and inclusive understanding of its importance to the field(s) of music education.

Music, Education, and Philosophy as Practices

Implicit in what we have said thus far is the conviction that music, education, and philosophy—and therefore music education philosophy—are practices. They are modes of human action, deeply embedded in collective human processes of life and living. Their natures and their values—what they “are” and their proper uses—are not given, but are loosely consensual affairs that emerge from and exist amid human action. Their full understanding thus requires attention not just to the artifacts or entities they generate but to the shifting sociocultural processes from which they emerge and in which they are grounded.

This means that, for instance, what legitimately constitutes a musical piece, work, improvisation, or composition is always a function of social values: a function of what influential actor-agents within a particular social milieu regard as properly musical action. Such determinations are historically and culturally situated: they change over time and differ across practices. The same can be said for educational processes. What constitutes a genuinely educational action, aim, or outcome is not “given” but a matter built on often-fragile consensus. What constitutes good or bad practice, useful or wasteful effort, are not matters that are set in stone. Rather they are negotiated, situated, and often temporary. What music education philosophy is and what its worth may be are matters requiring dialogue and careful communication.

Understandably, then, the chapters in this volume involve different, sometimes divergent assumptions as to what music education philosophy means: what it should look like, what its value may be, and how best it should be done. Chapters have been deliberately chosen to make this diversity and divergence apparent. Philosophical inquiry (like music, and like education) ultimately means what its practitioners agree it means. This points to what we believe is crucial to philosophical practice: the ability to engage in communicative action, guided by ethical commitments to fairness and clarity.

We believe that philosophical truths are, like all truths (scientific truths included), for now: as far as we know; until further notice; subject to revision in light of better information or in light of shifts in actions and their attendant values. Accordingly, differences and disputes are not anathema to music education philosophy but rather its lifeblood. Unanimity is neither very common in philosophical practice nor is it particularly desirable. As we have said, the point of philosophical inquiry is not to create doctrine but to engage in communicative processes dedicated to improving practice; its desired outcome is not so much a set of ultimate answers but the ability to ask better questions. Philosophical practice is as much about framing and exploring useful questions as it is about answers.

This is not to say that answers do not matter, or that any answer is as a good as another: Not only would that be irresponsible but it is not at all representative of the (p. 9) spirit and depth of conviction typical of philosophical disputes. Because both questions and answers are of time and place, though, we should not be too quick to embrace one era’s or one culture’s philosophical beliefs as universal or absolute. Philosophy is no more that kind of thing than is music—or education for that matter. Again, do not expect the chapters in this handbook to coalesce into a uniform position that eliminates all need for further inquiry. That is not their purpose or our goal. Our hope, rather, is to create more nuanced frameworks for belief and action.

To ends like these, not just anything will do: one view is not just as good as another. At the same time, what constitutes things like “better,” “more useful,” or “more refined” are themselves philosophical issues. Accordingly, one of philosophy’s fundamental obligations—at least in a human field of practice like music education—is to show why its questions and answers represent potential improvements over other ways of approaching practice. Some chapters in this volume address these concerns more explicitly and directly than others; some, it might be argued, exemplify better philosophical practice than others. But the criteria for drawing such distinctions we intend to leave to you, our readers. Doing so is consistent, we think, with the view of philosophy we endorse: as an open and evolving practice.

Toward Greater Inclusiveness

We have asserted that philosophical inquiry is contextually situated: of a time, of a place, and so on. However, North American and European scholars and music educators have generated the vast majority of the field’s philosophical scholarship, to the near total exclusion of those from other geographical and cultural settings, to say nothing of those North Americans and Europeans whose musical and educational concerns derive from practices that differ substantially from those of English-speaking academics in more privileged or “developed” parts of the world. It has become commonplace to acknowledge that music is many things and that it is practiced in many ways; however, as Luis Estrada argues in his chapter, the plurality and diversity of musical and educational practices require that efforts to account for them be similarly diverse, plural, and open-ended.

Because we believe music education philosophy has too often proceeded as if it were perfectly obvious what musical, educational, and philosophical theorizing should involve, we have sought in this volume to draw upon views and voices that have been underrepresented in—and in some instances wholly absent from—philosophical dialogue about music education. We have sought a greater presence for work from other cultures, a more extensive representation of women among our contributing authors, and a balance between established scholars and individuals new to or outside the discipline of music education. Believing that who speaks and who is heard cannot be fairly separated from what is said, we have tried to take at least preliminary steps toward more diverse and inclusive practice.

To gesture in the direction of greater inclusivity is the easy part, however. If a publication is to show and respect what other cultures think about musical education—what they understand music and education and philosophy to entail, and (p. 10) what they see as problematic and requiring philosophical scrutiny—we as readers need to be prepared to question what we ourselves “know” about such things. We need to be prepared to allow differences to be different and to allow challenges to influence our conceptual habits and assumptions. This can be an enormous challenge to those accustomed to thinking about philosophy in terms of right and wrong, true and false—a challenge that extends to the very basis for our identity as musicians, educators, and scholars.

By whom and for whom should music education philosophy be conducted? Whose domain is it? Whose needs and whose interests should serve? To what ends should a more inclusive philosophical practice be directed? By what criteria is its effectiveness properly gauged? If philosophical inquiry is to improve action in ways that are ethical, responsible, or professional; and if what constitutes valid practice is culturally relative, then a universalistic, gods-eye conception of philosophy (devoted to identifying the “really real” or “the one true way”) will not do. Twenty-first-century music education philosophy cannot simply assume that what is good or useful or even demonstrably “true” of music and music education in one part of the world is equally valuable, practical, or valid everywhere—except where we can identify genetic universalities that ameliorate differences.

As we have said, philosophical practice in music education must accommodate diversity in its own practice. But how diverse can philosophical practice become before it is no longer coherent and useful; before it no longer serves the goods it exists to serve in the first place; before it deteriorates into multiple, incompatible arguments incapable of advancing the common good? How inclusive can it be, how many interests/concerns can it accommodate before it no longer warrants the name philosophy? What counts as bona fide philosophical practice? What counts as a legitimately philosophical problem? Who gets to decide?

These too are important philosophical issues. We hope our readers will use them to help guide their readings of the chapters that follow: to inform judgments about their utility, relevance, and rigor, and to help refine their expectations of philosophical practice in the diverse field we find convenient to call music education.

Tolerance for Complexity, Plurality, and Change

The result of the assumptions we have been exploring here is an orientation to music education philosophy that blurs conventional boundaries, mixing unfamiliar voices and perspectives with familiar ones. There are risks and challenges associated with this. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the conceptual dissonance created when differing views and values—competing conceptual and cultural frameworks—collide. Yet, with this challenge come potential benefits. Awareness of perspectival limitations has too often been absent from music education’s philosophical discourses, to the detriment of such discursive virtues as responsiveness, flexibility, and communicative intent.

Some of the chapters in this volume may create discomfort, calling into question beliefs and habits regarded as givens or irrefutable. But again, part of (p. 11) philosophy’s practical value lies in the conceptual realignments to which such discomfort may lead. Diverse views and assumptions afford opportunities to weigh the pros and cons of differing value systems and to think carefully about the grounds for our own. We hope this collection of essays—from one perspective a rather eclectic compilation—will contribute in a preliminary way to forging a music education profession that is more philosophically conversant, more philosophically self-aware, and more philosophically engaged. For this to happen, differences and discomfort need to be approached as potentially valuable resources—as opportunities to clarify, enrich, and enliven the practices of music education.

Doing philosophical work requires diligence, patience, tenacity, and courage. Exposing one’s ideas to critical scrutiny (and to criticism, since that is crucial to philosophical progress) is not easy. We are deeply appreciative of the efforts of those whose work appears here. We are particularly grateful to those whose first language is not English and whose cultural roots lie outside the discursive spheres of Western English-speaking academic culture. A great deal of excellent thinking occurs in the non-Anglophone world, thinking that does not make its way into English because of expense and difficulties of translation. At the same time, much of the excellent thinking that goes on among speakers of English is unavailable to the millions of music educators outside the English speaking world. We have tried to address the former concern by involving contributors whose linguistic and cultural frames diverge from the ones typically associated with philosophy of music education. The cultural imperialism of the English language is a problem contemporary English-speaking scholars need to acknowledge and address. English writers and speakers are culturally privileged in many ways. Non-Anglophones—and even more so those from non-Western cultures—must make enormous efforts to participate in discussions others of us simply take for granted. We are especially grateful for the participation—and for the patience and persistence—of our non-English contributors.

Organization of the Volume

We have chosen somewhat arbitrarily to divide this handbook into five sections. These do not represent discrete areas of concern, but differences in emphasis. Similarly, the significance of individual chapters often extends beyond the section in which they appear. While we devote a section to philosophy, for instance, each chapter in this volume contributes to that topic—whether through the strategies it employs, the issues it seeks to clarify, the kinds of arguments it advances, or the things it offers as evidence. And while we have dedicated a section to the nature and value of music—an obviously foundational concern for those who presume to teach it—discussion of these matters often implicates consideration of educational, curricular, and instructional matters. Similarly, while one section is more explicitly (p. 12) devoted to challenges faced by music education philosophy, each of the volume’s chapters presents at least implicit challenges to the practice: that is in no small part what philosophical inquiry does, after all.

Because we believe there is a significant need for more discriminating philosophical practice within the field, the first section is intended to shed light upon the aims of philosophical practice in music education—what it involves, the kinds of issues it should address, the range of evidence upon which it should draw, and so forth. Many disputes among music education philosophers can be traced to divergent assumptions about the aims, purposes, methods, and standards of the practice. There is, therefore, a pressing need for greater clarity about our aims and aspirations. If philosophy amounts to no more than the passionate expression of deeply held convictions, for instance—strong opinions buttressed by stirring rhetorical skills—we have no way of distinguishing between philosophy that is useful or worthless, rigorous or sloppy, compelling or trivial. Where persuasion is its point, anything goes and winning the argument is paramount—as distinct from more properly philosophical concerns like coherence, validity, clarity, fairness, and utility. If music education philosophy is to achieve its professional potential, it is imperative that we think more carefully and critically about what it is—how it differs, or should differ, from things like mere opinion, ideology, dogma, or advocacy—and how distinctively philosophical skills can best be developed. Inspiring narratives designed to justify prevailing practices have too often been mistaken for philosophy. Style has been mistaken for substance, with dire consequences for our understandings of philosophy’s practical value. Especially since agreement can be a relatively rare philosophical commodity, developing more rigorous and better informed expectations for philosophical practice in music education is a major professional challenge.

The second section explores questions and assumptions about what music is, and what these imply for instructional practice in music education. While considerations like these are clearly foundational to informed practice, it has often been wrongly assumed that they are sufficient to music education philosophy—that identification of an innermost essence of music (a level on which it is all alike) answers all important questions about how best to teach it. The more we know about music, however, the more apparent it becomes that it is not the kind of thing that has an innermost essence, a single, unifying nature and value. Musics are diverse and changing human practices, modes of action that are bearers of multiple meanings and values. The notion that music education philosophy takes its ultimate direction from the nature and the value of music is thus one whose persuasiveness has rightly begun to wane. This does not mean such concerns are no longer philosophically relevant; but it does suggest that they be regarded as plural, diverse, fluid, and culturally relative. If music’s nature and value are culturally modulated—rather than resident in pieces or works, as the Western notion of “art for art’s sake” has implied—then we must attend much more closely to what people do with and through music, and how. Understandings of music’s nature and value are clearly essential to music education philosophy but they are not sufficient.

(p. 13) The chapters in the third section revolve around concepts of education, exploring what the notion of musical education commits us toas distinct from musical instruction that is more closely aligned with other ends. At issue, ultimately, are the relationships between musical instruction and the diverse ends it may serve. Philosophical inquiry in music education depends importantly upon our understanding of the aims and outcomes of education. Or, put differently, the educational validity of our instructional methods and strategies depends upon the aims to which they are devoted, the ends they demonstrably serve, their educational consequences. What are the aims of education, then? In what ways is music especially well suited (or perhaps ill suited) to their attainment? What educational outcomes are reasonably expected of musical instruction? Or, as Vernon Howard asks provocatively in his chapter, is education even the kind of process that has “an aim”? To what concerns and responsibilities do our claims to educational benefits oblige us? Does instruction that is explicitly educational involve philosophy more essentially than other instructional endeavors? Such issues are at least as fundamental to music education as our understandings of music’s nature and value.

The relationships between one’s understandings of music, of education, and practical concerns like curricular content, structure, delivery, and evaluation are—or they should be—very intimate. The essays in the fourth section examine some of the practical actions implicated by our philosophical understandings of music education. How should musical experiences be structured, coordinated, sequenced, and evaluated in order to realize their educational potentials? Of all the ways we might engage with music, which (given our understandings of music and of education, and available resources) must we pursue? Why this way rather than that one? What is the proper focus of musical actions that are intended to serve educational ends? How might concern to develop things like musicality, creativity, character, and agency manifest themselves in the experiential opportunities we design for our students? How can music education’s lifelong and lifewide objectives best be achieved?

Although each of these sections (and indeed, each chapter in this handbook) raises implicit questions about the nature of philosophy and the ways it should be practiced, our fifth section addresses these questions more directly. How successful has music education philosophy been? What is it doing right or wrong? To what extent and in what ways has it realized or fallen short of its potential? Whose interests has it served, and how? If philosophical inquiry in music education is to fulfill its distinctive mission, it is essential that we become clearer about the nature of that mission, more fluent in its practice, and more broadly engaged in the quest to improve it.


Like all practices, philosophy is situated—of a place and time. Yet, again like all practices, it is never only of a particular place or time. Philosophy that seeks to be (p. 14) communicative—to engage other inquirers and practitioners in a quest for shared perspectives capable of informing practice— must identify common horizons: it involves what Habermas has famously called communicative rationality. It must accommodate diversity and plurality without becoming solipsistic. It must seek improved understanding and more effective practice without insisting upon a single, definitive, or ultimate point of arrival. Continued growth is its ideal.

Because philosophical inquiry does not reduce to mere personal opinion, and because its validity must be grounded in more than claimed authority or rhetorical panache, not just anything counts as genuine philosophical practice. One view or argument is not as good as any other. Philosophical practice is grounded in the collective actions and beliefs of a culturally and historically extended community, one that is devoted to goods that—in the views of its participants—serve philosophical ends. Philosophers bring different perspectives and various ways of participating to an endeavor that resembles an extended conversation: an exchange that invariably involves both understanding and misunderstanding yet remains deeply committed to pursuing of the former.

Again, one of the important goals in this volume is to achieve greater inclusivity in these important conversations, to draw more voices into philosophical discourse in order to make it more interesting, more vital, and more connected to the diversity and change that characterize music and music education. Where having a voice, speaking, and being heard are our sole concerns, the result is noise and chatter, not conversation: activity rather than action, behavior rather than practice. Things like coherence, clarity, fairness, and responsiveness are thus crucial concerns for philosophical discourse. To achieve them, we must attend carefully to nerve of the practice: to the ends it exists to serve; to the habitus that distinguishes rigorous philosophical practice from mere assertion or expression of opinion; to the distinctions between philosophically motivated inquiry and arguments advanced largely for the sake of winning or impressing others.

The challenge before us is to make music education philosophy a more culturally inclusive and diverse practice while at the same time refining the disciplinary rigor essential to its claim to a place of prominence within music education. As the process devoted to nurturing a continuously evolving relationship between theory and practice, philosophy involves diversity and dispute. However, these must be directed to better understanding and improved practice; to action that is more intelligent; to intelligence that is more active.


Dewey, John. 1916. Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: Macmillan.Find this resource:

Shusterman, Richard. 2007. Body and consciousness: Variations on some themes. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education 9(1): 93–114. this resource:


(1) This is not to suggest that it is immature or naïve. To the contrary, many contributions to music education philosophy show remarkable sophistication and maturity. Music education philosophy is, however, in many ways distinct from music philosophy, from educational philosophy, and from “academic” philosophy in general. The confluence of music, education, and philosophy results in a distinctive practice with distinctive values, responsibilities, and concerns. The nature of this practice is very much a work in progress.

(2) While we believe that philosophy done poorly is trivial, irrelevant, unimportant—and even, in a practical field like music education, potentially dangerous—philosophical inquiry done well is not only highly useful but essential. At issue, of course, is what it means to do philosophy poorly or to do it well. This is, we believe, a crucially important question.

(3) The term habitus designates a set of dispositions that generate practices and perceptions. Itself an important philosophical/sociological concept, it has been extensively explored and developed in the work of Pierre Bourdieu.