Philip Armstrong

Symphony 4


Philip Armstrong’s Symphony 4, Of Ecology and Mind, examines the ethical and metaphysical relationship between the human domain and that of the environment. It refutes the principles of anthropocentrism and asserts both the intrinsic value of nature and the associated moral imperatives for people to promote environmental sustainability and biodiversity. Each of the seven movements uses a text prepared by the composer based around the work of a writer who addresses these or related issues.

1: ‘Of Contingency’ is based upon Plato’s ‘Cratylus’, in which Socrates argues that everything is subject to change, and accordingly that people possess the efficacy to make a positive difference in the world.

2: ‘Hubris’ is based upon Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’, illustrating the pitfalls of arrogance towards nature.

3: ‘The Round River’ is based upon the work of Aldo Leopold, whose notion of a land ethic posits the natural environment as a community that is to be respected as a whole, and loved; an ethical action is one that underpins the integrity, stability and beauty of the ‘land’ community.

4: ‘Aesthetic Theory’ is based upon the work of Theodor Adorno, who asserted the value of the aesthetic, moral, expressivist aspect of human life oriented upon freedom, spontaneity and creativity; environmental degradation is motivated by disorientation and alienation from nature caused by a constricted positivist conception of rationality, which views natural processes as entirely predictable and easily manipulated, and is thus motivated by progress, authority, and technological regulation.

5: ‘The Ecology of Wisdom’ is based upon the work of Arne Naess, who argues for the principle of deep ecology and the refutation of atomist individualism.

6: ‘The Way of the One and the Many’ is based upon the work of Freya Mathews, who advances a sensuous rendition of panpsychism and the notion that the integrity of the natural environment and the world as a whole is grounded by the many diverse forms of consciousness and sentience.

7: ‘Of Mind’ is based upon the work of David Chalmers, who further develops the theory of Russellian Monism, the notion that conscious awareness is not merely a contingent function of biology but intrinsic to the fundamental level of nature and physicality.


The music is scored for four vocalists (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass baritone), chorus (SATB), organ, and large orchestra. The music was composed in 2019 and has a duration of about 47 minutes.

Click here to access the orchestral parts.

Of Contingency

Socrates (bass baritone): This water flows. All things in motion, Nothing at rest; The doctrine of Heraclitus; Never again can we immerse unto the same river. All is contingent. Then, could this be some other way?