Music, personhood, and eudaimonia

Educative and ethical music making and teaching based on a praxial philosophy of music education can be carried out in a variety of ways that create places and spaces in schools and community settings for a variety of human values or “goods.” These human goods, benefits, life-values, and life-goals include, but go beyond, making and listening to classical instrumental and vocal music, or any other kind of music, for “the music itself.”

A fundamental premise of MM2’s praxial philosophy is that musics do not have one value; musics have numerous values, depending on the ways in which they are conceived, used, and taught by people in different personal, historical, cultural, political, and/or gendered contexts in specific musical praxes.

For example, when music education is ethically guided—when we teach people not only in and about music, but also through music—we achieve what Aristotle and many other great thinkers consider the most crucial, rewarding, significant, and intrinsic set of human values that Aristotle summarized in one word: eudaimonia.

Eudaimonia is a multidimensional concept we explain in great detail throughout MM2 in relation to the natures and values of music and music education and, briefly, in this recent article in The Journal of Transdisciplinary Research in South Africa.

In our view, eudaimonia should be at the center of music educators’ thinking and doing—the numerous values this term integrates should anchor the “why, what, and how” of music teaching and learning in schools and communities.

Following an examination of three community music settings—in Ireland, New York, and Uganda—that exemplify educative and ethical musical interactions, our article builds a concept of personhood that draws from embodied, enactive, empathetic, and ecological concepts of personhood put forth by many of today’s most eminent cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and philosophers of mind. Our discussion of personhood leads to an examination of two major constituents of eudaimonia—or full human flourishing—that are often omitted from discussions of music education: happiness and wellbeing. Since music and music education are, or should be, major sources of human happiness and well being, as hundreds of thinkers across the world have argues for 6,000 years, it’s extremely odd that teachers and advocates omit these values from discussions from the why, what, and how of music education. As our article explains, happiness is a complex and highly robust concept and reality. Thus, it’s something we as music teachers should understand as fully as possible and place at the heart of our aims, strategies, curriculum development, and assessment.

Our discussion ends by integrating the above themes with explanations of praxis, praxial music education, and the implications of all concepts in this article for school and community music education.