Wollheim on Art Ontology

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Richard Wollheim. 
My personal comments are in red. 

Wollheim begins with the idea that he is challenging, the physical object hypothesis.

The hypothesis says that a work of art is an individual physical object (e.g., the Mona Lisa is a painted canvas in Paris).

The hypothesis is wrong for two reasons. In some cases (e.g., famous novels and musical works) there is no single thing in space and time that counts as the object. In other cases, there is such an object, yet it's a mistake to think that it is the work.

Suppose there is such an object for music and literature. What would it be?

The author's original manuscript.

For literature, this is wrong, because evaluating the book in no way requires evaluating the manuscript. With music, music is heard, but you cannot hear a written score.

We could make another move: it's not the object, but rather the class of such objects (a set of things).

 This suggestion is wrong; novels and and musical works are completed at a specific time, in a specific year, but the set is not completed then. More importantly, equating the work with the set avoids the real issue: Why is one sequence of words/sounds an instance of this work and not that other one?

One might point to resemblance as the relationship for grouping, but that is clearly wrong. There is lots of deviation/difference among the instances.

CONCLUSION AT THIS STAGE: For any particular literary or musical work, there is no physical object which is the musical or literary work.

So what are these artworks? TYPES.

Other examples of types: the word "red" and the Red Flag (better example for Americans: The White Flag, as in "The enemy hung out the white flag").

In contrast, a class of objects has no relationship among its members beyond some arbitrary grouping principle (e.g., the only thing that "my stuff" has in common, compared to your stuff, is that mine belongs to me -- I'm the grouping principle. Similarly, the class of things in Moorhead includes the Concordia bell tower and some cans of soup at Hornbachers, which really don't have anything in common that distinguishes them from the elements of the class of things in Phoenix, AZ).

In contrast to a class, a universal is any property that is present in any and all of its elements. Thus, redness (not the word "red"!) is present in all instances of red.

A type is like a universal (it is whatever is present in all the elements/instances) but it is something more: a type is a particular human invention through which the properties are transmitted. This can be by directly copying, or by following instructions, or by creating a thing that generates copies.

The important issue is how properties are transmitted between type and token. It isn't just a case of sharing some feature(s), but of being in the one because it is in the other.

This issue allows us to make sense of a distinction, in the case of any instance, of which of its features are there necessarily because it is a token of that type, and which are not. (Did the squeal of the oboe belong to the performance as a necessary component of the type, or was it a feature that does not belong by virtue of being a feature of the type?)

  1. If a feature can be found in the particular cases (can be "predicated" of them), it can be a feature of the type. (If musical performances can be described as loud, then some musical works can properly be described as loud, too, even if some performances aren't particularly loud.)

  2. Some features of the tokens need not be features of the type. (The tokens can have additional properties. A particular print might have a smudge on it, while another has a crease mark. But you can't jump to the conclusion that the work is smudged, or creased, or whatever. A boring performance is not itself evidence of a boring musical work!)

  3. In the performing arts, it is necessary that not all features of the tokens transmit to the type. Thus, the tokens will be interpretations of the type.

                        Last updated July 14, 2011 ~ All text 2011 Theodore Gracyk