Artworks as historical individuals

European Journal of Philosophy 11 (2):177–205 (2003)
In 1907, Alfred Stieglitz took what was to become one of his signature photographs, The Steerage. Stieglitz stood at the rear of the ocean liner Kaiser Wilhelm II and photographed the decks, first-class passengers above and steerage passengers below, carefully exposing the film to their reflected light. Later, in the darkroom, Stieglitz developed this film and made a number of prints from the resulting negative. The photograph is a familiar one, an enduring piece of social commentary, but what exactly is The Steerage which Stieglitz has given us? It is clearer what The Steerage is not. It is distinct from each of its prints and from its negative. These may be dusty or torn without The Steerage being so, and any one of these could be destroyed without thereby destroying The Steerage itself. Nor is The Steerage the set of its prints. The set could not have had different members, while The Steerage could have had more, fewer, or different prints.1 Similar reasoning rules out the mereological sum of parts of its actual prints, for The Steerage’s prints might not have comprised just these parts. We are left with a puzzle, what sort of thing is a photograph? This puzzle is not unique to photography. Similar reasoning generates an analogous puzzle for any repeatable work of art. Novels, poems, plays, symphonies, songs, and the rest share an ontological predicament and create a 1 general puzzle concerning the ontological status of repeatable works of art. It is widely held that the puzzle has an equally general solution, one which I will argue fails for systematic reasons. Although my target here is the supposed solution to the general problem, photography will remain the central case under scrutiny. I offer it as a model for our thinking about the wider class in order to reap the benefits of thinking in terms of concrete cases. Although this risks a trade-off with the generality of my conclusions—there are important differences of detail between the cases—I hope it is clear that the considerations I appeal to in photography are not idiosyncratic but shared by the wider class..
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/1468-0378.00182
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history
Request removal from index
Download options
Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 26,702
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Posthumous Writings.Gottlob Frege - 1991 - Wiley-Blackwell.
Naming and Necessity.Saul Kripke - 2010 - In Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel (eds.), Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 431-433.
Realism in Mathematics.Penelope Maddy - 1990 - Oxford University Prress.
Papers on Time and Tense.A. N. Prior - 1968 - Oxford University Press.

View all 15 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
The Vagueness Argument Against Abstract Artifacts.Daniel Z. Korman - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 167 (1):57-71.
Musical Works: Ontology and Meta-Ontology.Julian Dodd - 2008 - Philosophy Compass 3 (6):1113-1134.
An Ontology of Ideas.Wesley D. Cray & Timothy Schroeder - 2015 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 1 (4):757-775.
Modality, Individuation, and the Ontology of Art.Carl Matheson & Ben Caplan - 2008 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 38 (4):491-517.

View all 9 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

305 ( #9,671 of 2,158,464 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

23 ( #16,255 of 2,158,464 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.

Other forums