Teaching & learning guide for: Musical works: Ontology and meta-ontology

Philosophy Compass 4 (6):1044-1048 (2009)
Abstract
A work of music is repeatable in the following sense: it can be multiply performed or played in different places at the same time, and each such datable, locatable performance or playing is an occurrence of it: an item in which the work itself is somehow present, and which thereby makes the work manifest to an audience. As I see it, the central challenge in the ontology of musical works is to come up with an ontological proposal (i.e. an account of what sort of thing a work of music is) which enables us to explain what such repeatability consists in, whilst doing maximal justice to the way in which we conceive of musical works in our reflective critical and appreciative practice. To this end, many have found it tempting to defend some version or other of the type-token theory : the thesis that a work is a type and its occurrences are its tokens. Much of the early debate prompted by the publication of Jerrold Levinson's seminal 'What a Musical Work Is' in 1980 has taken the type-token theory for granted, choosing to focus on how musical works, qua types, are individuated. (A key question here has been whether we should hold, with the sonicist , that works are identical just in case they sound exactly alike; or whether we should agree with Levinson's contextualist thesis that exact sound-alikes are distinct, if composed in distinct musico-historical contexts.) More recently, however, the type-token theory itself has been put under pressure, and alternatives have been suggested. So, e.g. Gregory Currie and David Davies have held versions of the thesis that musical works (and artworks generally) are acts of composition, whilst Guy Rohrbaugh has recommended that we think more innovatively about our metaphysical categories, and treat musical works (along with all repeatable artworks) as historical individuals . Historical individuals, like particular substances, come into and go out of existence, could have been somewhat different than they are, and can change through time; but such items, unlike particular substances, are nonetheless capable of having occurrences. In the last few years, ontologists of music have also stepped back to consider the very nature of their enterprise. In particular, a debate has ensued concerning the cogency of ontological proposals (such as those of Nelson Goodman, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Julian Dodd) that are substantially revisionary of our folk concept of a work of music. Amie Thomasson, David Davies and Andrew Kania occupy, to a greater or lesser degree, the descriptivist standpoint, according to which such revisionary ontologies are misconceived. The debate between revisionists and descriptivists in the ontology of music – if prosecuted against the backdrop of an awareness of developments in meta-ontology more generally – is a particularly fertile area in the philosophy of music at present. Author Recommends Wollheim, Richard. Art and its Objects . 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. This seminal study nicely introduces and motivates the type-token theory, and in the course of doing so, helpfully, although perhaps contentiously, distinguishes types from both sets and properties. Wollheim's treatment was to a large part responsible for stimulating the subsequent debate as to the ontological nature of musical works. Levinson, Jerrold. 'What a Musical Work Is.' Journal of Philosophy 77 (1980); reprinted in his Music, Art and Metaphysics , 63–88. This paper has, perhaps, been the most influential account of the nature of musical works, post-Wollheim. Presuming the type-token theory to be correct, Levinson elaborates it by claiming musical works to be, not sound structures (i.e. structured patterns of sound-types), but a species of types he calls indicated structures . According to Levinson, a work of music is not to be identified with its sound structure, S ; it is, in fact, a compound of S and a performance-means structure, PM , as indicated (typically, via a score) by its composer on a certain occasion : something that we can represent as S/PM -as-indicated-by- X -at- t . Such indicated structures, Levinson argues, fit the bill for being what works of music are, because they come into being with their indication (i.e. their composition), are individuated in terms of the musico-historical context in which they were composed, and have their specified performance-means (i.e. their instrumentation) essentially. Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Works and Worlds of Art . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980. Part I of this book sees Wolterstorff defend a Platonistic version of the type-token theory (although Wolterstorff calls them 'kinds' rather than 'types'). According to Wolterstorff, considerations about the existence conditions of types commit us to the thesis that works of music, qua types, are entities that cannot come into or go out of existence. Kivy, Peter. 'Platonism in Music: A Kind of Defence.' Grazer Philosophische Studien 19 (1983): 109–29. In this article, Kivy ingeniously (and wittily) defends a variety of Platonism about works of music against the animadversions of Levinson. Currie, Gregory. An Ontology of Art . New York: St, Martin's Press, 1989. Here Currie introduces and defends the thesis that works of music (and, indeed, all artworks) are compositional action-types. The book also contains some well-aimed criticisms of Levinson's account. Dodd, Julian. Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. In this book, Dodd defends the type-token theory, but argues that no version of it can escape the Platonisic consequence that musical works exist at all times (and hence, are discovered, rather than created, by their composers). Dodd also defends another controversial thesis, this time concerning musical works' individuation. According to Dodd, and pace Levinson and others, sonicism is correct: works that sound exactly alike are identical. Rohrbaugh, Guy. 'Artworks as Historical Individuals.' European Journal of Philosophy 11 (2003): 177–205. In this essay, Rohrbaugh makes some pointed criticisms of the type-token theory of repeatable artworks in the course of arguing that such works should be viewed, not as types, but as historical individuals (see above). Rohrbaugh suggests that treating musical works as historical individuals best captures our intuitions about such works' temporal and modal characteristics, and, in the course of elaborating his position, he makes some meta-ontological claims that see him endorsing a non-revisionary, descriptivist approach to the ontology of art. As Rohrbaugh sees it, ontologies of art are 'beholden to our artistic practices' (179), and 'aesthetics should not be beholden to the metaphysics on offer, but rather should drive new work in metaphysics' (197). Ridley, Aaron. 'Against Musical Ontology,' Journal of Philosophy 100 (2003): 203–220. This paper sees Ridley outlining a sceptical attitude towards the project of formulating ontological proposals. In his view, a 'serious philosophical engagement with music is orthogonal to, and may well in fact be impeded by, the pursuit of ontological issues' (203). Thomasson, Amie. 'The Ontology of Art and Knowledge in Aesthetics.' JAAC 63 (2005:221–9). Thomasson defends descriptivism in the ontology of art by arguing that such a position is a consequence of the only defensible solution to a problem in the theory of reference: the so-called 'qua' problem concerning how the reference of a term can be fixed. Davies, David. Art as Performance . Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. Davies' position is characterised by two theses: one methodological, the other ontological. The methodological claim is that the ontology of art faces a pragmatic constraint : roughly speaking, the ontology of art is answerable to the epistemology of art. The ontological claim is that the rigorous enforcement of the pragmatic constraint commits us to the thesis that all artworks are compositional action-tokens. Online Materials http://www.blackwell-compass.com/subject/philosophy/article_view?article_id=phco_articles_bpL173 Dodd, Julian. 'Musical Works: Ontology and Meta-Ontology.' Philosophy Compass 3/6 (2008): 1113–34. doi: [DOI link] http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118557784/abstract Thomasson, Amie. 'Debates about the Ontology of Art: What are We Doing Here?' Philosophy Compass 1/3 (2006): 245–55. doi: [DOI link] http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/122517227/abstract Davies, David. 'Works and Performances in the Performing Arts.' forthcoming in Philosophy Compass . doi: [DOI link] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/music/ Kania, Andrew. 'The Philosophy of Music.' Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Sample Mini-Syllabus Week 1: The Type/Token Theory Introduced Wollheim, Richard. Art and its Objects , §§4–8, 21–3, 35–7. Kivy, Peter. Introduction to a Philosophy of Music , chapter 11. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002. Dodd, Julian. Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology , chapter 1. Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Works and Worlds of Art , chapter 2. Week 2: The Type/Token Theory and Platonism in Music Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Works and Worlds of Art , chapter 2. Levinson, Jerrold. 'What a Musical Work Is'. Dodd, Julian. Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology , chapters 2–5. Kivy, Peter. 'Platonism in Music: A Kind of Defence.' Grazer Philosophische Studien 19 (1983): 109–29. Kivy, Peter. 'Platonism in Music: Another Kind of Defence.' American Philosophical Quarterly 24 (1987): 245–52. Predelli, Stefano. 'Against Musical Platonism.' British Journal of Aesthetics 35 (1995): 338–50. Caplan, Ben and Carl Matheson. 'Can a Musical Work be Created?' British Journal of Aesthetics 44 (2004): 113–34. Week 3: Musical Works as Indicated Structures Levinson, Jerrold. 'What a Musical Work Is'. Levinson, Jerrold. 'What a Musical Work Is, Again', in his Music, Art and Metaphysics . Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1990. 215–63. Dodd, Julian. 'Musical Works as Eternal Types.' British Journal of Aesthetics 40 (2000). Davies, Stephen. Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Account , chapter 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Howell, Robert. 'Types, Indicated and Initiated.' British Journal of Aesthetics 42 (2002): 105–27. Caplan, Ben and Carl Matheson. 'Fine Individuation.' British Journal of Aesthetics 47 (2007): 113–37. Week 4: Musical Work as Historical Individuals Rohrbaugh, Guy. 'Artworks as Historical Individuals'. Dodd, Julian. Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology , chapter 6. Caplan, Ben and Carl Matheson. 'Defending Musical Perdurantism.' British Journal of Aesthetics 46 (2006): 59–69. Caplan, Ben and Carl Matheson. 'Defending "Defending Musical Perdurantism".' British Journal of Aesthetics 48 (2008): 331–37. Week 5: Musical Works as Compositional Actions Currie, Gregory. An Ontology of Art . New York: St, Martin's Press, 1989. Davies, David. Art as Performance . Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. Dodd, Julian. Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology , chapter 7. Week 6: Meta-ontology of Music: What are we Doing When we do the Ontology of Music? Ridley, Aaron. 'Against Musical Ontology'. Thomasson, Amie. 'The Ontology of Art and Knowledge in Aesthetics'. Thomasson, Amie. Ordinary Objects , chapter 11. OUP, 2007. Davies, David. 'The Primacy of Practice in the Ontology of Art.' Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 67 (2009): 159–72. Kania, Andrew. 'Piece for the End of Time: In Defence of Musical Ontology,' British Journal of Aesthetics 48 (2008): 65–79. Kania, Andrew. 'The Methodology of Musical Ontology: Descriptivism and its Implications.' British Journal of Aesthetics 48 (2008): 426–44. Cameron, Ross. 'There are No Things That are Musical Works.' British Journal of Aesthetics 48 (2008): 295–314. Dodd, Julian. 'Musical Works: Ontology and Meta-Ontology.' Philosophy Compass 3/6 (2008): 1113–1134. doi: [DOI link] Focus Questions 1. Are musical works literally created by their composers? 2. Critically examine Levinson's thesis that musical works are 'indicated structures'. 3. What, if anything, is wrong with the thesis that musical works are identical just in case they sound exactly alike? 4. Should we immediately be sceptical of ontological proposals for works of music that are substantially revisionary of the way in which we ordinarily think of them?
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