Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology

Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology

Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology

Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology

Synopsis

In this original and iconoclastic book, Julian Dodd argues for what he terms the simple view of the ontological nature of works of pure, instrumental music. This account is the conjunction of two theses: the type/token theory and sonicism. The type/token theory addresses the question of which ontological category musical works fall under, and its answer is that such works are types whose tokens are sound-sequence-events. Sonicism, meanwhile, addresses thequestion of how works of music are individuated, and it tells us that works of music are identical just in case they sound exactly alike. Both conjuncts of the simple view are highly controversial, and Dodd defends them vigorously and with ingenuity. Even though the simple view is favoured by very few writers in the philosophy of music, Dodd maintains that it is the default position given our ordinary intuitions about musical works, that it can answer the sorts of objections that have led other philosophers to dismiss it, and that it is, on reflection, the most promising ontology of music on offer. Specifically, Dodd argues that the type/token theory offers the best explanation of the repeatability of works of music: the fact that such works admit of multiple occurrence. Furthermore, he goes on to claim that the theory's most striking consequence - namely, that musical works are eternal existents and, hence, that composers discover rather than create their works - is minimally disruptive of our intuitions concerning the nature of composition and our appreciation of works of music. When itcomes to sonicism, Dodd argues both that this way of individuating works of music is prima facie correct, and that the putative counter-examples it faces - most notably, those propounded by Jerrold Levinson - can be harmlessly explained away. In the ontology of music, simplicity rules.

Excerpt

Wynton Marsalis composed In This House, On This Morning in 1992. But what is the nature of the thing he composed? This, in essence, is the ontological question that I address in this book. As such, it should be distinguished from another question with which I am not concerned: namely, 'What is it for such an entity to count as music?'. This latter question is a plea for a piece of conceptual analysis: an analysis of the concept of music that will help us to determine, for example, whether something is a piece of music rather than mere noise. The ontological question is unconcerned with such matters: its correct answer, by contrast, will enlighten us as to the kind of entity musical works are. Such enlightenment, at any rate, is what this book seeks to provide.

Having disentangled this ontological question from the question of the correct application of the concept of music, we can, in fact, decompose it into two discrete inquiries. First of all, there is what we may call the categorial question: the issue of which ontological category works of music belong to. Someone addressing this question is engaged in a project of ontological classification, with a view to revealing musical works to be concrete particulars, properties, sets, types, or some such. But, of course, merely assigning musical works to an ontological category does not tell a fully satisfying story about their nature. Such a story must also include an answer to the individuation question: an account of the identity conditions of musical works. The ontologist of music should thus provide something informative of the form 'Work W and work W* are numerically identical if and only if…', or else explain why no such account can be forthcoming.

In what follows, I shall motivate, elaborate, and defend one particular theory concerning the ontological nature of works of music: what I shall call the simple view. This account comprises two theses, constituting answers . . .

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