Musical Ontology: Critical, Not Metaphysical
Contemporary Aesthetics 12 (2014)
AbstractThe ontology of musical works often sets the boundaries within which evaluation of musical works and performances takes place. Questions of ontology are therefore often taken to be prior to and apart from the evaluative questions considered by either performers as they present works to audiences or an audience’s critical reflection on a performance. In this paper I argue that, while the ontology of musical works may well set the boundaries of legitimate evaluation, ontological questions should not be considered as prior to or apart from critical evaluation. Rather, ontological claims are a type of critical evaluation made within musical practices. I argue that philosophers of music might learn from the debate in political philosophy about the difficulty of setting the limits of public reason in a way that remains open to a plurality of legitimate evaluative perspectives. Just as pre-political or metaphysical identification of the boundaries of public reason fail to accommodate the fact of pluralism in contemporary democratic politics, so too does a metaphysical identification of the boundaries of legitimate evaluation of musical works and performances fail to accommodate the fact of pluralism in contemporary musical practices. I apply John Rawls’s formulation of political liberalism, arguing that musical ontology should be critical, not metaphysical.
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