Special event
• Updated
19 March 2024

Jean Nicod Lectures and Prize 2024 - Christopher Peacocke "Understanding music"

The Prix Jean Nicod 2024 is awarded to Christopher Peacocke, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. Christopher Peacock will give a series of lectures at the ENS in May and June 2024.

pjnChristopher Peacocke worked for many years in England, as a Prize Fellow at All Souls College, a Tutorial Fellow at New College, and eventually as Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy in Oxford University. He moved to New York, at NYU, in 2000. He has also had long associations with the University of London, as Stebbing Professor at Kings College London, as Wollheim Professor at University College London, and presently as Fellow of the Institute of Philosophy in the School of Advanced Study.

His work has broadened from the philosophy of mind and language into general issues concerning the proper integration of metaphysics, epistemology, and the theory of understanding. His aim has been both to address challenges of integration in particular domains - the self and the first person, perceptual content, time, magnitudes, numbers - and also to formulate general explanatory principles to which such attempts at integration should conform. He was granted a Leverhulme Research Professorship to carry out this research. A continuing concern with the nature of perception and its content led him to think more about the perception of music, for which he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Christopher Peacocke has served as President of the Mind Association, and has delivered the Whitehead Lectures at Harvard, the Kant Lectures at Stanford, the Kohut Lectures at the University of Chicago, the Context and Content Lectures at the Institut Jean Nicod, and the Gareth Evans Memorial Lecture at Oxford.


Understanding Music 

Understanding Music : New Resources
Presentation of the Jean Nicod Prize and cocktail reception after the lecture

Thursday 23th May-2pm 
Salle des Actes, 45 rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris

Music bears a unique relation to the emotions, which is just one of a suite of characteristics of music that can be explained with the help of contemporary philosophy of mind. A first question is : how are emotions and other mental states given to us when we hear them in a passage of music ? I propose that we need to recognize a new kind of mode of presentation, which I call an identifier, to be distinguished from demonstratives and other familiar kinds of modes of presentation. Properly deployed, a theory of identifiers can explain legitimate forms of the ineffability of the content of music, and music’s ability to leap over the first-person/third-person barrier in the characterization of others’ mental states. Identifiers also raise questions about the structure and relations of mental representations involved in the perception of music.

Monday 27th May - 10am 

Salle des Actes, 45 rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris

Characterizing how a mental state is heard when it is heard in a piece of music is one thing ; it is a further task to say what relation a perceiver has to have to that state, so given, to hear it in the music. This lecture aims to characterize that relation. The account is distinct from philosophical theories that mention the perception of contour, mentioning mirror theories, or proposing referential or semantical accounts. The positive account is also extended to characterize what is involved in a listener’s appreciation of an extended piece of music. In combination with the theory of identifiers from the lecture of 23 May, the account can contribute to an explanation of the power possessed by music that language lacks.

Music as Agency and Communication
Thursday 30th May- 2pm 

Salle des Actes, 45 rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris

The role of agency in music is pervasive. It is involved in what makes a sound music in the first place ; it is involved in what it is to hear something as music ; it is involved in the distinctions we perceive when we hear a piece of music ; it is crucial in an account of the perception by an audience of a performer, most particularly in opera ; and agency is involved in musical communication and the value of live performance. I elaborate these various kinds of involvement, and contrast accounts that recognize this involvement with those that overlook it. Musical communication is particularly challenging : what is it that is communicated ? A good answer to this question can help explain the significance - and also the limits - of the role of music in political and social movements.

Applications and Methodology
Monday 3d June - 3pm 

Salle des Actes, 45 rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris

The preceding lectures exhibit a methodology in which a theory of the constitutive - of what makes something musical perception - contributes essentially to the explanation of empirical phenomena. The methodology can be applied beyond philosophical and phenomenological issues. In psychology, the constitutive theses about music perception can be applied to develop a conception of the mental representations underlying the perception of music, and to contribute to the explanation of cases of amusia. In musicology, the points of the earlier lectures can be applied to a topic in musicology that has proved vexing, viz. the proper characterization of musical styles. The points can also be applied to characterize a common explanatory structure, but with relevant differences, present in the perception of poetry and the perception of music. I conclude with some general remarks on the relation between constitutive philosophical investigation and empirical disciplines.

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Bibliographic selection

  • 2024 Two Kinds of Explanation and Their Significance, in Perceptual Experience and Empirical Reason ed. O. Beck and M. Vuletic. Springer.
  • 2020 The Distinctive Character of Musical Experience, The British Journal of Aesthetics60,2 183-197.
  • 2019 The Primacy of Metaphysics. Oxford University Press.
  • 2014 The Mirror of the World : Subject, Consciousness, and Self-Consciousness. Oxford University Press.
  • 2008 Truly Understood. Oxford University Press.
  • 2004 The Realm of Reason. Oxford University Press.
  • 1999 Being Known. Oxford University Press.
  • 1992 A Study of Concepts. MIT Press.
  • 1988 The Limits of Intelligibility : A Post-Verificationist Proposal” Philosophical Review XCVII, 3, 463-496.
  • 1983 Sense and Content : Experience, Thought, and their Relations. Oxford University Press.