Prospects for timbre physicalism

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Timbre is that property of a sound that distinguishes it other than pitch and loudness, for instance the distinctive sound quality of a violin or flute. While the term is obscure, the concept has played an important, implicit role in recent philosophy of sound. Philosophers have debated whether to identify sounds with properties of waves, events, or objects. Many of the intuitive considerations in this debate apply most clearly to timbre qualities. Two prominent forms of timbre physicalism have emerged: one identifying timbre with the spectral composition of proximal waves; the second identifying timbre with the mechanical vibrations at a sound source. I demonstrate that the first possibility is conceptually unsatisfying, while the second fails to meet the standards of rigor established by the color physicalism literature. One response to these worries might be to adopt a more modest, non-reductive realism about timbre, such as the ecological view of J. J. Gibson.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503–529
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number2
Early online date13 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2018


  • timbre
  • sound
  • physicalism
  • constancy
  • colour

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Prospects for timbre physicalism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this