Do Higher-Order Music Ontologies Rest on a Mistake?

British Journal of Aesthetics 51 (2):169-184 (2011)
Recent work in the ontology of music suggests that we will avoid confusion if we distinguish between two kinds of question that are typically posed in music ontology. Thus, a distinction has been made between fundamental ontology and higher-order ontology. The former addresses questions about the basic metaphysical options from which ontologists choose. For instance, are musical works types, indicated types, classes of particulars, or some other kind of entity? Higher-order ontology addresses the question of what lies ‘at the centre’ of a specific form of music, such as rock or jazz—or perhaps classical music. The argument of this essay is, first, that a close examination of the best efforts in two of these territories shows that they have the effect of pressing the music in each sphere into implausible Procrustean beds. Second, it is argued that the general question that higher-order ontologies pose, that is, ‘What work-kind is it that lies at the centre of a given kind of music, F?’ is a question based on a mistaken but seductive assumption, namely that the concept of the work of F has actual application. In fact, these concepts—upon which higher-order ontology depends—are mere artefacts of philosophy. The question is also addressed why the assumption is so seductive. Finally, the question finally is posed about what, if anything, is implied from the foregoing about the traditional ontology of classical music
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