NEWS

Mount talk examines connections between philosophy, music, and individuals with disabilities

April 13, 2018
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -

Charles Zola, director of the Catholic and Dominican Institute and professor of Philosophy at the Mount, and author and professor Licia Carlson, who recently presented “Sonification: On the Ethical Significance of Music” at the college.

Charles Zola, director of the Catholic and Dominican Institute and professor of Philosophy at the Mount, and author and professor Licia Carlson, who recently presented “Sonification: On the Ethical Significance of Music” at the college.

 

The philosophy of music in relation to intellectual disabilities was the focus of professor and author Licia Carlson’s recent talk, “Sonification: On the Ethical Significance of Music,” at Mount Saint Mary College. 

Carlson’s research focus for the past 20 years has been on defining the personhood of those with intellectual disabilities, especially how that personhood is displayed through exposure to music.

“I was really struck by how rich the musical lives of those with intellectual disabilities can be,” explained Carlson.

She noted that music can become a mode of communication for individuals whose disabilities that make them nonverbal. For example, Carlson explained the some patients with dementia, who have progressed to the point where they are unable to speak or remember the past, can play the piano and sing songs with little trouble. 

From a philosophical standpoint, she offers the idea that playing or listening to music increases several virtues – including empathy and humility.

A musician herself, Carlson appreciates the many layers of relationships that form through musical connection, including between performers (which is oftentimes nonverbal), between performer and audience, and the shared experience of the audience.

She cautions that musical experience is not the solution to all of the world’s discord, but that it could be a great start for many people.

“Musical experience is a powerful way one raises recognition of the fellow human subject,” she said. She added that sharing in a musical experience, whether as a performer or a listener, creates a sense of shared humanity.

Carlson received a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Music from Vassar College, and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Toronto. She has held positions at Seattle University and Harvard University, and she is currently professor of philosophy at Providence College. Her research interests include the philosophy of disability, bioethics, 20th century French philosophy, feminism, and the philosophy of music.
 
She has published numerous articles on philosophy and intellectual disability, and is the author of The Faces of Intellectual Disability: Philosophical Reflections (Indiana University Press, 2010). She has also co-edited two volumes: Cognitive Disability and Its Challenge to Moral Philosophy and Phenomenology and the Arts (Lexington Press, 2016). Her current work includes a book on music, philosophy and disability, and research on the ethical and existential dimensions of genetic testing. She lives in Boston and plays violin with the Longwood Symphony Orchestra.

The talk was sponsored by the Mount’s Catholic and Dominican Institute (CDI). CDI promotes the Mount’s heritage of St. Dominic, advances the Dominican charism of study and service, provides a forum for discussion of contemporary ethical issues, and enhances Catholic and Jewish dialogue. The Institute welcomes persons of varied faiths and acknowledges different religious traditions as essential to the college’s intellectual and spiritual life.