Dodd on Music & Ontology

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Julian Dodd. 
My personal comments are in red. 

Although Dodd focuses on the writings of Jerrold Levinson, Dodd is also attacking the view of Richard Wollheim. The central point of dispute is whether humans can create types.

Some people (e.g., Levinson, Wollheim) think that humans can create types, and so musical works are “initiated types.”

Dodd disagrees, because all abstract structures exist at all times. (The position that types and universals exist at all times is often called Platonism.) Creativity does not involve creating types. It involves selecting a type from among the always-existing abstract structures. Selection is a kind of creativity, so Platonism does not deny creativity to composers, poets, etc. (A scientist’s discovery can be creative, as when Albert Einstein discovered special relativity, yet no one thinks that Einstein created the laws of physics.)

The central question of the debate is whether musical composition involves creation, or merely creativity.

For Dodd, our talk of creating and initiating types is merely a recognition that a particular person was the first to generate tokens of the type.

Dodd argues that humans cannot create abstract types: we cannot, because their parts must be abstract parts, and we have no power over abstract things that could involve joining them together into new patterns. (We cannot cause things to happen to abstract things.)

The type makes the tokens possible. However, don’t confuse the fact that some tokens cannot come into exist at any earlier time with the non-existence of the type. The type, “child born in 1999” has always existed, but there were no tokens until 1999. The type is a coordinated set of properties, and properties are themselves types. For any other group of properties that’s coherent, we can often add the further property, “being an instance of it as indicated by so-and-so at a specified time.” But THAT’s just another eternal type.

Key distinction: Indicated doesn’t equal initiated.

Non-art example: The Ford Thunderbird. While it’s true that no tokens of this could exist in 1900, it does not follow that the type didn’t exist, including the type, “being an instance of the Thunderbird design as indicated by Ford engineers in 1957.” (“Being an instance of the Thunderbird design as indicated by GM engineers in 1956” is another eternal type, but our social laws prevented that one from ever getting tokens.)

To get anything like Levinson’s theory of initiated types, we would have to equate musical compositions with events, not types. (Because events do have times as constituent elements.) However, musical works are not events. Instead, they have events as their tokens.

                        Last updated July 18, 2011 ~ All text © 2011 Theodore Gracyk