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egotism, elitism, and the ethics of musical humility
forthcoming, Oxford University Press

Book Description

Egotism, Elitism, and the Ethics of Musical Humility examines how cultures of superiority pervade our musical and social lives. Combining philosophical inquiry with empirical research and popular culture references, this book takes a sobering look at how our perpetual striving for individual achievement can lead us to grow increasingly disconnected from one another—and how humility can help us to restore our common humanity. It suggests that musical settings offer fertile ground for promoting social change by navigating the delicate balance between individual self-expression and the pursuit of a collective vision.


Across three major sections, author William J. Coppola critiques the damaging effects of egotism on individual musical development, examines how institutional structures perpetuate ideologies of elitism and exclusion, and explores the transformative potentials of musical humility as an empowering virtue for musicians and music educators. The book also underscores the need to expand our understanding of ethical responsibility beyond a focus on individual failings by confronting the structural ailments prevalent in modern society—including racial oppression, gender inequity, and the neoliberal drive for perpetual growth and achievement.


By critically examining the dialectical tensions between egotism and inadequacy, and elitism and exclusion, musical humility becomes about more than just knocking ourselves down a peg from time to time, but also about uplifting ourselves—and others—to celebrate our shared humanity and artistic dignity. By embracing musical humility in both individual and collective terms, musicians and music educators can contribute to social change efforts by fostering honest self-reflection, facilitating genuine dialogue with others, and embracing the ethical tensions inherent to our diverse musical lives.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Introduction: In Pursuit of an Artistic Virtue

Part 1: Egotism

Chapter 2. A Study of Artistic Vices

Chapter 3. Egotism as Artistic Vice

Chapter 4. Egotism and Inadequacy

Part 2: Elitism

Chapter 5. From Individual to Collective Vices

Chapter 6. Elitism as Collective Vice

Chapter 7. Elitism and Exclusion

Part 3: The Ethics of Musical Humility

Chapter 8. A Study of Artistic Virtues

Chapter 9. Musical Humility as Artistic Virtue

Chapter 10. Healthy Pride

Chapter 11. Teaching and Learning Musical Humility

Chapter 12. Collective Humility for Social Change


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