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Luis Manuel Valdés-Villanueva

Expectation and Anticipation As Key Elements for the Constitution of Meaning in Music
Author(s): Elisa Negretto
Source: Teorema: Revista Internacional de Filosofía, Vol. 31, No. 3, Filosofía de la
música/Philosophy of Music (2012), pp. 149-163
Published by: Luis Manuel Valdés-Villanueva
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Vol. XXXI/3, 2012, pp. 149-163
ISSN: 0210-1602
[BIBLID 0210-1602 (2012) 31:3; pp. 149-163]

Expectation and Anticipation As Key Elements

for the Constitution of Meaning in Music

Elisa Negretto

Utilizando un enfoque multidisciplinar que combina la fenomenología, la musico-
logía y la psicología cognitiva de la música, abordo en el presente artículo los aspectos
siguientes: ¿de qué manera los oyentes reconocen en su propia experiencia perceptiva
musical un significado especial?, y, ¿cuáles son los aspectos principales que determinan
el significado subjetivo que una experiencia musical adquiere en un contexto y en una
situación específicos? Centrándome en la manera en que los oyentes perciben la música,
mi objetivo principal es encontrar los elementos clave que influyen en la creación de
significado de las experiencias musicales cotidianas. En particular, analizo un proceso
cognitivo especialmente importante para la construcción del significado durante el desa-
rrollo de un acto perceptivo: el proceso de la expectación. De este modo, propongo una
distinción conceptual entre "expectativa" y "anticipación", argumentando que una y otra
influyen de manera diferente en la experiencia perceptiva de la música y, por tanto, en el
significado que ésta adquiere para cada individuo.

Palabras clave: expectación, anticipación, constitución, significado, experiencia


Through an interdisciplinary approach involving phenomenology, musicolog
and cognitive psychology of music, this paper examines the following questions: h
do listeners become aware of their musical perceptual experience as having a spec
meaning? And, what are the main aspects constituting, within a particular context
a set of circumstances, the subjective meaning of a musical experience? Focusing
the way listeners perceive music, this paper aims to find the key elements that inf
ence how meaning is shaped in everyday musical experience. The paper analyzes
pectation, a cognitive process that is particularly relevant for the constitution
meaning during the unfolding of the perceptual act. Finally, a conceptual distinctio
proposed between 'expectation' and 'anticipation', and it is argued that they make di
ferent contributions to the perceptual experience of music and, therefore, to the me
ing music acquires for the subject.

KEYWORDS: Expectation, Anticipation, Constitution, Meaning, Perceptual Experience


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1 50 Elisa Negretto

I. Introduction

The human perceptual experience is a fundamental process of knowledg

that allows the immediate awareness of an event or object in the world to
understood as meaningful. According to Gallagher and Zahavi (2008), perce
tion goes beyond a simple reception of information; it is a process in which
terpretations change according to context and may directly be influenced
previous experiences.
Focusing on individual auditory perception, every perceptual awarenes
of a particular sound experience (musical or otherwise) has a specific mean
ing for the subject. Thanks to complex mental processes (such as expectati
anticipation and grouping) and perceptual structures (such as intentionality
and temporal structure), meanings are 'constituted' in consciousness witho
the mediation of conscious thought.
Related to the problem of where meanings come from, Husserl' s inter-
pretation of time-consciousness is an attempt to reply to the question: "ho
in a flow of consciousness, is the awareness of a temporally extended objec
constituted?" [Brough (2005), p. 248]. And in the case of music the question
becomes: how is the perceptual awareness of a musical event - a temporally
extended object - constituted by a subject in a complex auditory environmen
'Constitution' is a concept used by Husserl to explain the origin o
meanings [Sokolowski (1964)]. It is an articulated process of consciousn
that governs the way meanings come to be - how human beings are aware
their experience in the world as meaningful.
In regards to musical experience, through the process of constitution,
listeners understand sequences of sounds as music by perceptually organizi
them into musical forms. In this way, auditory experiences acquire specifi
meanings: firstly, that of being musical experiences. Listeners' music
knowledge and past experiences also concur to form a more complex mean
ing framed in the particular moment and context. Music may be somethin
familiar, emotionally powerful, or have a specific musical meaning (like b
ing in sonata form or the song of a famous songwriter). Interestingly, at th
perceptual level, listeners do not need to consciously reflect on their expe
ence in order to be aware of such meanings.
This brings us to examine how listeners organize auditory traces and
how this organization influences the kind of meanings (musical or ext
musical) that experiences of sound acquire at the perceptual level. In li
with the development of the cognitive psychology of music and a phenom
nological understanding of the human perceptual structures of consciousnes
an interesting way to engage in this inquiry is by investigating the main me
tal processes that determine the constitution of meanings.
First, this requires an analysis of various relevant empirical studies and
hypotheses considering what listeners mentally do to hear music: which per

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Expectation and Anticipation As Key Elements for ... 151

ceptual structures are involved and which cognitive principles are used. The
main goal of this paper is to find the key elements that influence listeners'
constitution of meaning and the specific, subjective meaning a musical ex-
perience acquires. In this way we may better understand where meanings
come from and how human beings know and become familiar with the world
they inhabit.

II. The Expectation Process

Music is composed using individual sounds that are heard as a contin

ously connected whole. It presents itself as a continuous process in which
every moment, what people hear follows in a compelling way from w
came before. Thanks to specific perceptual mechanisms, cognitive princip
and neural processes, listeners are able to find relationships among the s
events occurring in the acoustical environment. In this way they integrat
sounds they hear into a structural whole and thereby understand the acou
cal environment in terms of musical structures.
A specific cognitive process, that of expectation, seems to be particular
relevant for both the understanding and constitution of meaning during the
folding of the perceptual act. In its broader sense, expectation may be con
ered as a basic strategy of the human mind that reflects a tendency
intentional movement toward the future. Such movement is based on prev
experiences. During the perceptual organization of sounds, listeners create
pectations about the future of the ongoing music or incoming sound events, t
influencing both the way relationships between sounds are made and the m
ing (emotional, musical or otherwise) their auditory experience may acquire
The majority of theories [Meyer (1956), Narmour (1990; 1992), Huron
(2006)] and empirical studies [Margulis (2003), Larson (2004), Marguli
Levine (2004), Unyk & Carlsen (1987), Krumhansl & Agres (2008)] h
explained musical expectations within the framework of the Western to
syntactic system and in accordance with the structural regularities that lis
ers learn through cultural exposures. Many empirical studies have demon
strated that listeners develop some sort of basic structural understandin
the perceptual level. Expectations are built on the basis of syntactic relat
ships between musical sounds and their frequency of occurrence.
Following this perspective, a musical meaning is the product of expe
tation when a musical event points to and makes us expect another musi
event. In Meyer's words, "the significance of a musical event - be it a to
motive, a phrase, or a section - lies in the fact that it leads the practiced
tener to expect, consciously or unconsciously, the arrival of a subseq
event" [as cited in Levinson (1997), p. 53]. Listeners' expectations are base
on the way they connect their knowledge of musical style with probabil

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1 52 Elisa Negretto

about future events based

felt by listeners are a cons
The most well-known t
Huron (2006)] characterize
listeners' emotional and af
constitution of extra-musi
aroused in the listener whe
tion - is arrested or inhibi
velop a sense of musical ex
(e.g. tonic, subdominant, d
syntactic relationships betwe
filment or violation of an e
tions. For instance, the viol
feeling of surprise that mig
Works like Haydn's Symp
1791) show how expectati
meaning of the listener'
structed, the work sets up
lated. For example, the S
second movement - conta
commonly occur in slow, q
surprise - a cognitively 'si
pected stimuli that may be
sadness. An important fact
previous introduction of t

Fig. 1 Main theme from J

movement (Andante),

In Vuust and Frith's opin

for the fundamental mech
as well as emotion" [(2008),

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Expectation and Anticipation As Key Elements for.. . 153

. . .most music theoreticians consider musical anticipation as one of the principal

means by which music conveys meaning and emotion. According to this point
of view, understanding music is related to the anticipatory interplay between lo-
cal auditory events and a deeper structural layer partly inherent in the music it-
self, and partly provided by mental structures in the listeners that is induced by
music. In short, the musical experience is dependent on the structures of the ac-
tual music, as well as on the expectations of the interpreting brain. These expec-
tations are dependent on long-term learning of musical structures (culture-
dependent statistical learning), familiarity with a particular piece of music, and
short-term memory for the immediate musical history while listening to a musi-
cal piece, as well as on deliberate listening strategies. Brain structures underly-
ing musical expectation are thus shaped by culture, as well as by personal
listening history and musical training [Vuust & Frith (2008), p. 599].

The authors not only suggest the relevance of expectation for the constitution
of meaning, but indicate most of the aspects that influence the process: sub-
jectivity, formal musical structures, learning and culture, memory and tempo-
ral development. The basic idea is that meaning in music is constituted in
real-time dynamic processes, and expectation is particularly relevant in de-
termining such a meaning.
What becomes apparent is that these authors - like many others - use
not only the term 'expectation' but even 'anticipation' without clearly distin-
guishing them. In what follows, refraining from an extensive discussion on
musical expectation theories and empirical studies, I will question the ana-
lytical terms anticipation and expectation with the aim to provide a helpful
distinction for a better comprehension of the way cognitive principles influ-
ence the subject's musical experience and the constitution of meaning.

III. Expectation versus Anticipation

In the Glossary of his book Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psycholo
of Expectation , David Huron gives the following definition of 'anticipat
"1. The subjective experience accompanying a strong expectation that a p
ticular event will occur; also referred to as the feeling of anticipation. 2.
Western music theory, a type of melodic embellishment in which an expec
note is immediately preceded by the same pitch. E.g. The "ta" in the "ta-
cadence" [(2006), p. 409]. He also relates 'anticipation' to 'premonitio
which he defines as "a long-range feeling of anticipation " [(2006), p. 418
the glossary we do not find a definition of 'expectation', even though bo
expectation and anticipation are fundamental concepts in Huron's the
They both appear in the title of his work {Sweet Anticipation. Music and
Psychology of Expectation) in a way that suggests Huron views anticipati
as a particular kind (sweet anticipation) or part of a general process of exp

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1 54 Elisa Negretto

tation (for which there i

the book, it emerges that
tion: it refers to the positi
some future events, such a
considered as a special subs
dwell too much on particu
of his book is better ident
Expectation. However, th
means that Huron makes a
even though they are not
what kind of distinction he
a better comprehension of
general tendency of human
individuals expect their pl
the subject's intentional mo
I suggest that, in a broad
tal process that is fundame
sense, expectation is a men
ing which a range of prob
a particular moment durin
which listeners represent in
The specificity of expec
plained by analysing empir
music that focus on musica
ogical account of the tempo
tion of the structure of th
the perception of endurin
[Husserl (1893-1917)].
An aspect of the perceptu
the constitution of subjecti
time. Listeners constitute t
temporal development; tha
events (e.g. a note, a noise
auditory environment.
The temporal structure o
at two levels of complexity
tion-primal impression-pr
of acoustic events as an en
a unity persisting in time.
and expectations about th
meaning which that expe
complexity are part of the p
cognitive principles, they

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Expectation and A nticipation As Key Elements for... 155

time. These two levels are strictly related: secondary memory and expectation
elaborate and solidify what the more primitive forms first make available.

IV. Differences Between Expectation and Anticipation

VI. 1 Object of Reference

Expectation and the attempt to anticipate the future can be explained

through the phenomenological concept of temporal 'horizon', which is pa
of the temporal structure and represents the place where intentional mo
ment toward an unknown future is developed. At the basis of this concep
the idea that, as Miller writes, "objects are perceptually experienced by u
"inadequately": at any given moment the object is always experienced by
as from a certain perspective, as having "more" to it than is captured by
perceptual act at that moment" [Miller (1984), p. 82]. We have an incompl
perceptual experience that involves an intentional movement toward the
sibilities that could fulfil the content of our perceptions. The horizon can t
be understood as a set of possibilities to which the consciousness points d
ing the perceptual temporal experience. It consists of a pattern of recolle
tions and expectations regarding past and future experiences in relation to
present act of perception, whose content continually changes as the perc
tual experience progresses. Moreover, it guarantees the subjective aspect o
the experience and shows the influence of learning and past experiences.
Due to these features, the concept of horizon may be related to t
probabilistic aspect of the expectation process, which is captured by the
cept of statistical learning. In his psychological theory of expectation (th
ITPRA, which attempts to explain how expectations evoke various fee
states), Huron argues that the process of expectation depends upon audito
learning: listeners learn the regularities of the sound environment and t
are sensitive to the probabilities of different sound events and patterns. T
probabilities are then used to form expectations about the future. Therefo
what listeners expect might simply reflect what they have most frequen
experienced in the past. For example, studies have shown that listeners' spe
of response (verbal or otherwise) is faster when they are exposed to mus
material that are more frequently present in the music of their culture.
Based on the concepts of 'horizon', statistical learning and the idea th
in expecting a future event there is some kind of reference to its 'being',
important difference between expectation and anticipation emerges. I prop
that expectation refers to something possible, but not well defined, and
longing to a range of probabilities within the indefinite possibilities of the
rizon, while anticipation attends to a specific event in the future which
already known. Sherburne, for example, uses "anticipation" to suggest th

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156 Elisa Negretto

awaiting of a known outc

which suggests that the r
event is not" [Titchener &
In trying to understand
dresses the questions: "ho
events, or do we expect
firstly replies to such que
tion might classify it as a
or class of events is likely
'belief may refer to a ran
of certainty about the occ
are evident in a person's '
tabolism, or conscious tho
ble outcomes, but not for
that something will happ
does not mean that they r
expectation refers to a ser
which the most likely eve
In Meyer's view, expec
state of suspense: "what
specified, but this does
(1956), p. 29]. Listeners se
are not aware of exactly w
sensitive to a range of po
experiences. Suspense, in
events, from which strong
Huron defines anticipati
strong expectation that a
phenomenological account
rence within the indefini
offered by immediately p
lated to some specific eve
through a mental represen
that is not clearly defined
In the framework of the
and the statistical working
statistical hierarchy of po
and determines their exp
ample, to predict the likel
hierarchy of possibilities
auditory environment ha
an individual subject's kno

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Expectation and Anticipation As Key Elements for.. . 157

familiar music, listeners can have quite precise anticipations due to the con-
tribution of learning and memory.

IV. 2 Awareness and Mental Representation

In order to further tackle the distinctions and similarities of anticipation

and expectation, two important questions need to be addressed: first, are lis-
teners aware of their expectations and anticipations? Second, is the object of
one's expectation or anticipation perceived by the subject?
Considering the last question first and following a phenomenological
perspective, expectation and anticipation are both acts of consciousness, part
of a cognitive process that develops itself during the perceptual act. However,
they do not correspond to the perception of a future event because such an
event is not yet sensorily experienced nor it is present to consciousness.
The vast majority of expectations are unconscious; they are occurring
all the time without explicit cognitive awareness. The perceivers can, how-
ever, be aware of experiencing a state of expectation and suspense about
something in the future, which is not exactly known. Because of such uncer-
tainty, the state of expectation does not correspond to a mental representation
of which the perceivers can be aware of.
We may therefore define expectation as a pre-presentation of future,
not-clearly defined events belonging to a range of possibilities contained
within the subject's horizon. It results in a mental state of suspense during
which a range of possibilities are pre-presented in consciousness: there is a
kind of reference to these future events, but not a present perception of them
or the awareness that something specific is going to happen.
This theoretical model is supported by empirical studies that suggest that ex-
pectation refers to a state of tension about what has to come, but it is not a
conscious representation of a specific expected event [Margulis & Levine
(2004), Barnes & Jones (2000)].
I propose that anticipation as mental representation may lead to listen-
ers' awareness of a mental projection about a future predicted event. Antici-
pation thus becomes the action of mentally representing a highly expected
event or a known outcome before its occurrence in time. It is based on a past
experience with similar musical situations and follows a strong expectation.
It is not an act of perception because it does not coincide with the sensory
experience of the anticipated object (which is not present to consciousness)
and it does not have the complex structure of a perceptual act. More pre-
cisely, I propose to consider anticipation as a 'quasi-perception' of a future
event that we 'perceive' in advance and without its sensory occurrences in
the moment of its anticipation in our mind.
However, this approach brings into the forefront the problem of how to
consider mental representations. In general, a mental representation is an im-

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1 5 8 Elisa Negretto

age, a concept or a belief. It

upon one's own experiences.
in music, the related mental
ture event that is in some w
correspond to a structural f
meaning or musical content
experience. Thus, one has m
lates a musical event (in the
belief) to something that is
It is in this framework that
the subjective and experient
teners form in response to
In the field of music cognition, melodic expectation is generally defined
as the tendency to have a feeling about what might come next in a melody or
succession of harmonies. For example, if the ascending musical partial octave
'do-re-me-fa-sol-la-ti...' is heard, listeners familiar with Western tonal music
will have a strong expectation to hear one more note, in order to complete the
octave, the note 'do' an octave higher than the "do" on which they began.
This expectation would be very strong. I propose to consider the general feel-
ing of moving toward a musical goal as an expectation, and the strong expec-
tancy to hear the specific note 'do' as an anticipation.

IV. 3 Function

Another important aspect which distinguishes expectation and anticipa-

tion concerns their function. This is clear if we analyse the way subjects pre-
pare themselves for the event outcome.
From a biological perspective, in the case of musical expectation, I, as a
listener, feel that something has to happen and so prepare myself to react to
it, while not being sure what the 'something' is. When anticipation occurs, on
the other hand, I not only prepare myself for specific events, but I react to
them before their effective occurrence [Zanto, Snyder & Large (2006)].
It follows that expectation has the biological function of preparing the
subject to respond to a probable future event, while anticipation allows the
subject to act in response to the anticipated event before it occurs.
In his ITRPA theory of expectation, David Huron distinguishes five ex-
pectation-related response systems that are evoked at different times during
the expectation cycle; these are divided into pre-outcome and post-outcome
responses with respect to the event onset. The pre-outcome responses are: the
imagination response and the tension response. According to Huron, the
former has the purpose of motivating an organism, "to behave in ways that
increase the likelihood of future beneficial outcomes" [(2006), p. 15]. In im-

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Expectation and Anticipation as Key Elements for.. . 1 59

imagining different outcomes, feeling states are thus activated. The latter has
the purpose of preparing an organism, "for an impending event by tailoring
arousal and attention to match the level of uncertainty and importance of an
impending outcome" [(2006), p. 15]. As an expected event approaches, physio-
logical arousal typically increases, often leading to a feeling of increased ten-
The post-outcome responses include: the prediction response , which
provides positive and negative inducements that encourage the formation of
accurate expectations and evokes feelings in relation to whether one's predic-
tions were born out; the reaction response , which addresses a possible worst-
case situation by generating an immediate protective response; and the ap-
praisal response , which provides positive and negative reinforcements re-
lated to the biological value of various final states.


Pre-Expectancy Realization 1 Post-Expectancy Realization

i Reaction

I Imagination Appraisal
î î Prediction
Expectancy Generating Expectancy Realization
Event Event


Fig. 2 The schematic time course of Huron's expectancy processes [Scott,

Tsou, Schmuckler & Brown (2008), p. 138].

As is clear from the ITPRA schema, in Huron's view expectation is a

complex cognitive process that is characterized by very specific moments op-
erating in a continuous chain of dependent responses preceding and following
the occurrence of a particular event. In order to define 'expectation' in its
narrowest sense, I focus my attention only on the pre-outcome responses. In
particular, I propose to consider both expectation and anticipation as imagi-
nation responses that maintain different functions. The anticipation imagina-
tion response, for example, is very important to survival: in a dangerous

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1 60 Elisa Negretto

situation it is more import

able to consciously represen
events of which they have
tion imagination response.
By creating a state of su
range of probabilities abou
creasing the level of attent
ganism to respond adequat
gestures. Based on the abil
tion allows the subjects to
fore it occurs.
It becomes apparent that
ferent ways the tension re
post-outcome responses.
Applied to the domain of
responses and understandin
perience acquires in a partic

V Influence on the Constitution of Meaning

Expectation and anticipation respectively contribute (together with oth-

er cognitive processes) to the creation of structural and meaningful relation-
ships between sounds. Their intentionality is directed toward future events i
order to prepare the organism to respond appropriately or to act before they
happen. Both influence the organization of experienced sounds into structura
forms, which acquire a particular meaning for the subject (such as that of be
ing a cadence in tonal music). For example, on the basis of segmentation and
grouping and creating patterns of tension and relaxation, expectation and an-
ticipation determine when a musical sequence or movement finishes and an-
other begins. In this way they influence the constitution of meaning b
connecting the events that form the experienced object in meaningful ways.
The difference between expectation and anticipation is particularly vis-
ible in terms of the listener's experience of unfamiliar music. I suggest tha
one of the reasons listeners might have a sense of misunderstanding in the
encounter with unfamiliar music is that they lack the ability to anticipate.
As previously defined, expectation refers to the cognitive ability of pre-
presenting future events which are not well defined, while anticipation is a
'quasi-perception' of a highly expected event. When listeners are not familiar
with the music they are hearing, they are not able to anticipate the future on
going of the musical events from one moment to the next. For this reason
they have a sense of misunderstanding of that music. After sufficient expo
sure, however, and thanks to the process of learning, they will come to under

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Expectation and Anticipation As Key Elements for.. . 161

stand and anticipate the music they are listening to. These processes, which
are essentially unconscious, influence the meaning that listeners' perceptual
experience acquires, as well as their responses to music.
Moreover, the occurrence of expectations or anticipations lead to dif-
ferent bodily responses and cognitive states. Because of their different func-
tions and features, they not only determine a different preparation to the
event outcome, but also a different emotional response to it that changes ac-
cording to the fulfilment or violation of both expectation and anticipation.
For example, in case listeners form expectations but are not able to anticipate,
they experience a state of suspense, which may determine strong emotions in
cases where expectations are violated or satisfied. Such emotions correspond
to the extra-musical meaning the listener's musical experience acquires be-
cause they are subjectively determined. Two subjects, for instance, may have
very different responses and emotional states in relation to the same musical
event due to their different experiences, musical knowledge, and the context
or situation in which the music is experienced.
The difference between expectation and anticipation thus results in dif-
ferent interpretations of a piece of music, different understandings and mean-
ings a particular musical experience may acquire, as well as different bodily
and emotional responses in listening to more or less familiar music. It may also
explain why some music is more difficult to hear and appreciate than others.

VI. Conclusion

In this article I focus my attention on anticipation and expectation in

frame of how listeners perceptually constitute musical meanings. The an
sis sheds new lights on the philosophical investigation into the human exp
ence in the living world and in the human processes of knowledge.
Determining the way a listener organizes musical sounds, the expectat
process contributes to the constitution of meaningful subjective experie
and the realization of the intentional movement that allows a listener to be con
scious of music and of a sequence of sounds as having musical meanings.
I define anticipation as a particular moment in the process of expect
tion: it is the moment in which the listener mentally represents how the m
will go on. More precisely, it is the ability to have a kind of mental represe
tion of a future event, which influences the listener's comprehension of m
and ultimately may define the difference in their understanding or misun
standing of unfamiliar music.
Further empirical investigation about the specificity of expectation an
anticipation (what a listener expects or anticipates at any moment when
tening to music) is necessary in order to find more evidence that supports
slight but important distinction. I would suggest that it can be better gra

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1 62 Elisa Negretto

by examining the differen

while they listen to more
different in case listeners
Studying the way listeners
be another way to find evid

Department of Philosophy
Università degli Studi de P
Piazza Capitaniato 3, 3513
E-mail: elisa. negr etto@virg


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