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Julian Dodd: Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology.

Julian Dodd

Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology.

Toronto and New York: Oxford University

Press 2006.

Pp. 304.

Cdn$100.95/US$75.00 (cloth ISBN-13: 978-0-19-928437-5).

Dodd's Works of Music provides the most sophisticated, rigorous and well-developed ontology of music recently or, perhaps, ever developed. Although I disagree with Dodd's position, it is difficult to refute. In saying this I mean, in part, that his position is admirably defended and internally coherent. But I also mean that I wonder whether questions about the ontology of music are pseudo-questions, in Rudolf Carnap's sense of the term. I wonder, that is, whether any number of accounts of the ontology of musical works is consistent with all of the empirical facts about music. If such a Carnapian position is accepted, no alethic basis exists for choosing between ontologies of music. This is not to say that there is no basis at all: pragmatic criteria are available and these count against Dodd's position.

Dodd provides an answer to the categorical and individuation questions about musical works. That is, he tells us what works of music are and how they are to be individuated. According to Dodd, a work of music is a norm-type that establishes what properties a sound-sequence-event must have in order to count as a token of a work-type. Works of music are, on his view, abstract, eternal, incomposite and temporally and modally inflexible (that is, they possess their intrinsic properties necessarily). Dodd is also committed to the existence of property associates. For every type T there is a property-associate being a T. A consequence of Dodd's view is that musical works are discovered, not made. Types are individuated by how their tokens sound. Dodd maintains 'that work of music W = work of music W* just in case [tokens of] W and W* are acoustically indistinguishable' (249). He calls this 'the simple view', but it actually carries with it a rich and complex Platonic ontology, complete with an infinite number of uninstantiated types.

After an extended defense of his ontology of music, Dodd rejects two recently developed alternatives to his position. According to the first of these, 'a work of music is the composer's compositional action' (167). Gregory Currie has defended the view that musical works are action-types. David Davies takes the view that they are individual compositional actions. Dodd also argues against the view that works of music are 'continuants', that is, a sort of particular that is not a material object and which has 'occurrences'. This sort of position is associated with Guy Rohrbaugh. Dodd finds the compositional action and continuant positions less satisfactory than his own.

I have my doubts about all of these positions. Carnap famously distinguished between what he called internal and external questions. He wrote (in 'Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology') that, 'If someone wishes to speak in his language about a new kind of entities, he has to introduce a system of new ways of speaking, subject to new rules.' The introduction of a new way of speaking about entities Carnap calls the construction of a framework. Internal questions are questions about the existence of entities within a framework. When we are concerned with the ontology of music, the following would be internal questions: 'Was Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 performed at the concert last night?', 'Was there really a mandolin concerto by a Captain Corelli or was it simply imaginary?', 'Can one pianist perform Gould's Wagner transcriptions, or are they only realized in engineered recordings?' External questions would be questions such as 'Was the performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto last night a token of an abstract, modally-inflexible type?' and 'Is a performance of Brandenberg Concerto No. 5 an occurrence of a continuant?' According to Carnap, internal questions can be settled by empirical investigation. External questions are decided purely on the basis of convenience.

Dodd provides us with a textbook case of someone who is engaged in the construction of a framework. At a number of places in his book, he is quite explicitly introducing 'new ways of speaking' about 'a new type of entities'. For example, we often speak as though musical works are structured and have parts. Dodd's theory leads us to believe that works are incomposite. Consequently, he must adopt Wolterstorff's doctrine of anological predication. This doctrine requires us to adopt a particular reading of a predicate such as 'ends with an A minor chord'. When this predicate is applied to a work, it 'expresses the property of being such that a sound-event cannot be a properly formed token of it unless it ends on an A minor chord' (4). Elsewhere, Dodd discusses the identity of types in the face of small variations (his example is the Ford Thunderbird). He writes that he doubts that 'any user of ordinary language would complain if this remark [about the change of a type] were unpacked as the claim that the company had developed a new type of car based on the original Thunderbird' (56).

What Dodd does not recognize is that there may be more than one framework available that is compatible with all of the facts that we acknowledge about music. From an empirical point of view, it does not really matter which framework (or way of speaking) we adopt. Dodd notes that sometimes we speak in ways that sound opposed to his Platonic ontology. His response to this is, quite rightly, to say that, 'such cases can be re-described in a way that is congenial to Platonism' (109). That is, we can adopt a Platonic framework. Dodd does not acknowledge that the opposite is also true. While we speak in a Platonic idiom, a nominalist paraphrase can usually be found.

Even if we cannot find a nominalist paraphrase, we ought not to accept the truth of Platonic ontology. Carnap allows that it is often difficult to avoid reference to abstract entities. He insists, however, that, 'the acceptance of a language referring to abstract entities ... does not imply embracing a Platonic ontology.' This is a lesson that Dodd has not taken to heart. Sometimes Dodd's opponents are charged with having to paraphrase undoubted truths in awkward and unmotivated manners. Dodd does not tell us why a manner of speaking should tip us off to the answers to ontological questions.

We need to have recourse to pragmatic criteria of theory (or ontology) choice. In particular, we need to ask which ontology of music is the simplest. Our search for a simpler alternative should begin by reconsidering one of Dodd's crucial assumptions. Central to his position is the view that 'the things that are composed by composers are surely works of music, not their scores' (24). So far as I can tell, no argument is provided for this conclusion. (The use of the adverb 'surely' is often a dead giveaway that an author has no argument for some claim.) In any case, Dodd's conclusion is far from intuitive. A composer sits down at a desk with a pen and paper (or, these days, with a computer). When he is done, the obvious way in which the world has changed is that it contains a score that did not previously exist. Surely (if I may use the word) the default position is that the composer has produced a score. Let me suggest that the composer has also produced a type of score and this is the work of music.

This suggestion is not original. It is essentially the account of musical works given by Paul Thom in For an Audience: A Philosophy of the Performing Arts, a work absent from Dodd's bibliography. Thom quotes Searle's well-known article on fictional discourse. Searle writes that, 'The illocutionary force of the text of a play is like the illocutionary force of a recipe for baking a cake. It is a set of instructions for how to do something, namely how to perform the play.' Thom suggests that the processes of composing music and composing plays are parallel. In writing a musical composition, a composer is giving directions to performers. A musical work is a recipe for producing performances. In the terms a philosopher of language might employ, a musical work is a set of propositions with imperative force applied to them. Once we recognize that this is the case, the ontology of musical works is no more puzzling than the ontology of the Fanny Farmer Cookbook recipe for shortbread cookies.

One might ask why anyone would favor the ontology of music that I have just sketched over Dodd's. The reason is that is it so incredibly simple. We can give an ontology of music that appeals to only one theoretical entity: propositions. And this theoretical entity is one that is already firmly established as an indispensable feature of any satisfactory ontology.

None of these critical remarks should detract from Dodd's accomplishment. He has produced a comprehensive and rigorous working out of a Platonic ontology of music. His book is a model of philosophical analysis and should be read by everyone interested in ontology of art.

James Young

University of Victoria
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Author:Young, James
Publication:Philosophy in Review
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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