What Does PRAXIAL Mean?

Praxial comes from the word “praxis.” As Aristotle used the word in his Poetics, “praxis” connotes action that is embedded in and responsive to a specific context of effort.

I call Music Matters a praxial philosophy because this one-word label captures a key idea (but not all key ideas) of this philosophy: that a full understanding of the nature and significance of music involves more than an understanding of pieces or works of music.

I argue that music involves processes-and-products (actions-and-outcomes) intertwined. Praxial is meant to convey the idea that “music” pivots on particular kinds of human doing-and-making that are purposeful, contextual and socially-embedded.

By calling Music Matters a praxial philosophy, I want to highlight the importance of conceiving “music” as a particular form of action that is purposeful and situated and, therefore, revealing of one’s selfhood and one’s relationship with others in a community. “Praxial” emphasizes that music (as products-and-processes) ought to be understood in relation to the meanings and values evidenced in actual music making, music listening and musical outcomes in specific cultural contexts.


Praxial was coined by my friend and colleague Dr. Philip Alperson (Professor of Philosophy, University of Louisville, Kentucky).

Alperson first used “praxial” in a paper published in the Journal of Aesthetic Education to contrast “aesthetic” concepts of music with an alternative way of thinking about the nature of music and music education. This alternative concept of music traces back to the earlier work of Francis Sparshott, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

(Sparshott, now retired, is the author of many books and articles on the philosophy of art and a former President of the American Society of Aesthetics. Sparshott was Alperson’s mentor and chief PhD advisor at the University of Toronto. Some of Sparshott’s thoughts on music are contained in an important book edited by Alperson called What is Music?).

Here is Alperson’s explanation (1991) of “praxial”:

The praxial view of art resists the suggestion that art can best be understood on the basis of some universal or absolute feature or set of features such as . . . aesthetic formalism, whether of the strict or enhanced [expressionist] variety. The attempt is made rather to understand art in terms of the variety of meaning and values evidenced in actual practice in particular cultures. . . . (p. 233) . . . on the praxial view, a music education program which aims to educate students about musical practice in its fullest sense must take into account, not only the history and kind of appreciation appropriate to the musical work of art, but also the nature and significance of the skills and productive human activity that bring musical works into being, if for no other reason than the fact that the results of human action cannot be adequately understood apart from the motives, intentions, and productive considerations of the agents who bring them into being. (pp. 235-236)