Philosophy Ontology of Art
Guy Rohrbaugh
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0319


Ontological questions are questions about existence: Which things are truly existent? Into which fundamental categories do they fall? One seeks, not just an inventory of reality, but a map of it, one that could help to structure and navigate one’s other philosophical concerns. In the case of art ontology, we seek to understand where artworks fit into this wider organization of reality. We might wish to know, for example, whether they are just material things, or mental in some way, or even abstract entities of some sort. Such questions have a clear bearing on the epistemology of their appreciation, which is often our central aesthetic-philosophical concern. The category of art is, however, wildly heterogeneous. It includes paintings, musical theater, films, improvisations, earth-works, novels, poems, pottery, dance, videos, installations, conceptual art of various stripes, and much more besides. It appears that art is not itself an ontology category, but a status achieved by items from a variety of ontological categories. Definitions of “art” attempt to clarify this status, but are not a properly ontological investigation. The work left to ontologists involves characterizing those items that achieve this status, identifying commonalities and differences in the kinds of objects that form the media of different arts. There is interest both in finding whether all artworks belong to one, two, or more fundamental categories, and in identifying what makes the objects of the individual arts different from one another. The former, “fundamental” question has centered on the phenomenon of repeatability. While works in some arts, like painting, appear to be particular individuals, work in other arts, those like classical music, theater, and printmaking, involve multiple performances or prints or, more generally, occurrences. Since each occurrence cannot be the work, a real puzzle about the ontological character of the work itself emerges. Perhaps for idiosyncratic reasons, Western classic music has been the central case of this sort under discussion. Musical examples have also driven the latter, applied investigations, although here attention has often been drawn to musical practices that differ, in some important regard, from the classical cases so often found at the middle of disputes about the fundamental ontology.


Because it is a smaller and newer field, there are few collections of papers and none at all that attempt to survey the area as a whole or collect its central papers. Extant anthologies are loosely organized around narrower themes and combine papers on ontology with papers on the same theme that are not primarily concerned with ontological issues. Stock 2007 is organized around themes from the philosophy of music, as is Alperson 1998, though both contain a number of useful ontology papers. Mag Uidhir 2012 focuses squarely on the role of abstract objects within aesthetics. Stock and Thomson-Jones 2008 collects new papers from all across aesthetics at that time, including some in ontology. Lamarque and Olsen 2003 includes ontology amid its wider coverage across aesthetics.

  • Alperson, Philip, ed. Musical Worlds: New Directions in the Philosophy of Music. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.

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    A reprint of The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 52:1 (1994), a special issue devoted to the philosophy of music, with two additional papers.

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    • Lamarque, P., and Stein Olsen, eds. Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003.

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      An older but quite comprehensive anthology in aesthetics, with four basic papers about the ontology of art.

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      • Mag Uidhir, Christy, ed. Art & Abstract Objects. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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        Thirteen original papers about abstracta in aesthetics. This collection is animated by an interest in the intersection of aesthetics and general metaphysics and draws its authorship from both sides of this line, including several who do not usually work in aesthetics.

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        • Stock, Kathleen, ed. Philosophers on Music: Experience, Meaning, and Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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          Part I of this collection is focused on musical ontology and includes original papers on individuation of musical works, the connection between their creatability and value, and the role of versions.

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          • Stock, Kathleen, and Katherine Thomson-Jones, eds. New Waves in Aesthetics. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

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            A collection mostly held together by the idea of “new work,” this group of original papers gives a vivid snapshot of philosophical concerns and approaches at the time of its publication and contains a number of papers that remain important contributions to ontology or closely related issues.

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            Reference Works

            There are several short encyclopedia, guide, and handbook entries that characterize the main themes of this subfield, identify its central questions, and sketch mainstream answers to these questions. While these overlap considerably in their treatment of central material, each has a distinctive strength or focus. Davies 2003 is particularly interested in distinguishing among kinds of repeatability instead of taking it to be a single phenomenon. Thomasson 2004 is distinguished by an emphasis on semantic constrains on viable ontological accounts. Rohrbaugh 2013 reflects an increasing interest in methodological issues in this area. Irwin 2014 is the most recent and focuses on puzzles presented by contemporary visual works. Caplan and Matheson 2011 is briefer and more directly focused on the ontology of music. Dodd 2008 gives a fine sense of why one would hold the orthodox view and be unsatisfied with newer alternatives. Livingston 2013 approaches art ontology as a historical issue, reaching back much further than contemporary debates.

            • Caplan, Ben, and Carl Matheson. “Ontology.” In The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music. Edited by Theodore Gracyk and Andrew Kania, 38–47. London: Routledge, 2011.

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              Specifically addresses musical ontology, this brief overview is organized by issue rather than by position, with a helpful section on meta-ontological issues.

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              • Davies, Stephen. “Ontology of Art.” In The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Edited by Jerrold Levinson, 155–180. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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                Goes beyond the basic distinction between singular and multiple works to posit three kinds of “multiplicity” and differentiate between “works for performance” and works intended for appreciation in distinct manners. A concern with the nature of authenticity is central to the presentation.

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                • Dodd, Julian. “Musical Works: Ontology and Meta-Ontology.” Philosophy Compass 6 (2008): 1113–1134.

                  DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2008.00173.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                  This thorough overview is sympathetic to type-theoretic approaches and the mainstream metaphysical methodologies that make it plausible but gives equal time to alternative, rejected approaches.

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                  • Irwin, Sherri. “Contemporary Art: Ontology.” In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Vol. 2. 2d ed. Edited by Michael Kelly, 170–172. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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                    Focused on the ontological challenges to standard theories presented by works of contemporary art, in which conceptual elements surrounding physical objects or events are more central than their appearance. Suggests conceiving of their status in terms of the norms governing the works.

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                    • Livingston, Paisley. “History of the Ontology of Art.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Summer 2013.

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                      Unique overview of art ontology grounded in historical sources, which, in many cases, are the first to worry about issues that are still of concern. These early sources are connected up to the contemporary literature.

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                      • Rohrbaugh, Guy. “Ontology of Art.” In The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. 3d ed. Edited by Berys Gaut and Dominic Lopes, 235–245. New York: Routledge, 2013.

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                        Basic issues are framed by a concern for the methodology of the ontology of art, and by a contrast between accounts that take all artworks to be particulars and those that do not.

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                        • Thomasson, Amie L. “The Ontology of Art.” In The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics. Edited by Peter Kivy, 78–92. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

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                          Review of standard positions distinguished by emphasis on slightly older, foundational works. The explicit methodological reflections are anchored in semantic considerations of reference fixing and lead to a call for a novel metaphysics of “abstract artifacts” and a rejection of the usual choices on offer.

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                          Quality original work in the ontology of art is highly concentrated in just two journals, each of which is edited by a distinguished philosophical duo. The British Journal of Aesthetics is the publishing organ of the British Society of Aesthetics. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism reflects the (similar) concerns of the American Society for Aesthetics, and contains older work in its run, as it has been in publication some two decades longer.


                          As the art ontology literature has matured, there has been an increasing emphasis on methodological issues, as writers argue for their first-level views via indirect arguments about how first-level issues ought to be settled. Most of the conflict concerns the correct understanding of the role of our practices in art-ontological disputes. Kania 2008 and Stecker 2009 are wide-ranging reviews of such issues. Thomasson 2005 (cited under Deflationary Approaches), Thomasson 2006, and Davies 2009 are central proponents of a pragmatic methodology on which collective error is not possible. Irwin 2012 argues that the pragmatic methodology leads to a need for theoretical diversity to match a real diversity found among cases. Davies 2001 is both a call for greater attention to the details of real-life cases drawn from a wider variety of sources and a demonstrative exercise in carrying this out. Dodd 2012 resists the global pragmatism of Thomasson 2005, while Dodd 2013 resists the local pragmatism of Kania 2008 and others. Other voices are broadly skeptical that we possess an adequate self-understanding of the business of art ontology. Kraut 2007 raises methodological worries about explanatory adequacy of the entire enterprise, while Ridley 2003 voices deep skepticism about the enterprise based in considerations grounded in aesthetic value.

                          • Davies, Stephen. Musical Works and Performances. Oxford: Clarendon, 2001.

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                            Influential, wide-ranging book animated by a concern for the musicological and anthropological details of real life musical examples, importantly including those drawn from non-Western cultures, over the level of theory-making that tends to blur and elide such considerations.

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                            • Davies, David. “The Primacy of Practice in the Ontology of Art.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 67 (2009): 159–171.

                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6245.2009.01345.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Important articulation of pragmatic, practice-oriented methodology in midst of attack on Platonism of Dodd 2007 (cited under Type-Theory).

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                              • Dodd, Julian. “Defending the Discovery Model in the Ontology of Art: A Reply to Amie Thomasson on the Qua Problem.” British Journal of Aesthetics 52.1 (2012): 75–95.

                                DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayr047Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                A defense of traditional, broadly Quinean metaphysical methodology against Thomasson’s neo-Carnapian alternative, by re-deploying some ideas of Gareth Evans to counter her arguments.

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                                • Dodd, Julian. “Adventures in the Metaontology of Art: Local Descriptivism, Artefacts, and Dreamcatchers.” Philosophical Studies 165 (2013): 1047–1068.

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                                  A defense of “mainstream metaphysics” and “metaontological realism” against the sort of practice-oriented pragmatism promoted by Davies 2009, Kania 2008, and others.

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                                  • Irwin, Sherri. “Artworks, Objects, and Structures.” In The Continuum Companion to Aesthetics. Edited by Anna Christina Ribeiro, 55–73. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.

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                                    Combines detailed review and discussion of the theoretical options, drawing from a wider variety of sources than is usual, with a concern for difficult cases drawn from the contemporary arts, ending with a brief for the acceptance of ontological diversity among the cases.

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                                    • Kania, Andrew. “The Methodology of Musical Ontology: Descriptivism and Its Implications.” British Journal of Aesthetics 48 (2008): 426–444.

                                      DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayn034Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Sympathetic review of the growth of pragmatic methodologies and the difficulties they get into, accompanied by a brief for an alternative, fictionalist approach.

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                                      • Kraut, Robert. Artworld Ontology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                        Concerns with explanatory issues are at the forefront of this wide-ranging critique of the current state of art-ontological discussion.

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                                        • Ridley, Aaron. “Against Musical Ontology.” Journal of Philosophy 100 (2003): 203–220.

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                                          Justly famed screed against art ontology firmly grounded in value-theoretic considerations that, he argues, are widely, fatally ignored by our current methodologies.

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                                          • Stecker, Robert. “Methodological Questions about the Ontology of Music.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 67 (2009): 375–386.

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                                            Judicious, neutral review of the current state of play in ontology of art, with serious consideration given to how we might try to settle the first-order disputes.

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                                            • Thomasson, Amie L. “Debates about the Ontology of Art: What Are We Doing Here?” Philosophy Compass 3 (2006): 245–255.

                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2006.00021.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Review of standard positions is brought into contrast with Thomasson’s own concern with the semantics of reference to artworks and the primacy of our ordinary conceptions of these artworks over the need to choose among standard categories supplied by general metaphysics.

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                                              Ontological Theories

                                              Interest in the ontology of art among Anglo-analytic philosophers really starts in 1968 with the original publication of both Wollheim 1980 and Goodman 1976 (cited under Concretism). Wollheim 1980 poses the basic question, “What are works of art?” and formulates a basic version of what is still the orthodox answer: repeatable works of art are types, in contrast to particular tokens of those works. Most work in the ontology of art can be understood either as in sympathy with this basic idea, or developed in opposition to it. Goodman 1976 then provides a nominalistic alternative and an emphasis on individuation that left its mark on a generation of art ontologists. Ingarden 1989 (cited under Cultural Objects) and Ingarden 1973 (cited under Poetry and Literature) turn out to have raised many of these issues, and novel solutions, as early as 1930, but become influential in this literature only later, after being translated into English.


                                              This orthodox framework for answers to the question “What is a repeatable work of art?” is set out in Wollheim 1980. Wolterstorff 1980 famously adds the machinery of “norm kinds” to the approach. Kivy 1983 and Kivy 1987 provide now-standard defenses against objections to Platonistic type-theories. Levinson 1980 and Levinson 1990 lay out the widely accepted contextualist alternative. Dodd 2007 resuscitates the Platonist project with an elaborate and spirited defense. Currie 1989 provides an alternative application of the type-theoretic machinery, arguing that all artworks are types of events.

                                              • Currie, Gregory. An Ontology of Art. New York: St. Martin’s, 1989.

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                                                Crisp review of prior work and argumentation, leading to a novel twist on the type-theory, that works are types of events, specifically, the type of which individual acts of authorship and creation are tokens. The thesis is extended to all artworks, and the distinction between singular and repeatable artworks is rejected in principle.

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                                                • Dodd, Julian. Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

                                                  DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199284375.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  The new standard-bearer for traditional, Platonic type-theories. Clearly expressed and argued, this book breathed new life into a position all but done in by contextualist arguments.

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                                                  • Kivy, Peter. “Platonism in Music: A Kind of Defense.” Grazer philosophische Studien 19 (1983): 109–129.

                                                    DOI: 10.5840/gps19831922Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    Classic defense of Platonic type-theory against standard objections, and a starting point for all recent work in this area.

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                                                    • Kivy, Peter. “Platonism in Music: Another Kind of Defense.” American Philosophical Quarterly 24 (1987): 245–252.

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                                                      A continuation of Kivy 1983, more directly focused on defusing contextualist lines of argument.

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                                                      • Levinson, Jerrold. “What a Musical Work Is.” Journal of Philosophy 77 (1980): 5–28.

                                                        DOI: 10.2307/2025596Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        Seminal paper outlining a series of now-standard arguments against Platonic versions of the type-theory and providing a contextualist-style alternative, so-called “indicated types.” The influence of this paper is difficult to overstate.

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                                                        • Levinson, Jerrold. “What a Musical Work Is, Again.” In Music, Art, and Metaphysics. Edited by Jerrold Levinson, 215–263. Cornell, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

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                                                          Sequel to Levinson 1980, in which he clarifies his account and defends it against an initial round of objections and misunderstandings.

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                                                          • Wollheim, Richard. Art and Its Objects. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

                                                            DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781316286777Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Illuminating, tremendously influential, and wide-ranging discussion of issues in aesthetics. Introduced many to specifically ontological issues, as well as orthodox type-theoretic solution. Originally published in 1968.

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                                                            • Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Works and Worlds of Art. Oxford: Clarendon, 1980.

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                                                              Wide-ranging classic of aesthetics, including, in Part II, an early and important development of type-theory to include the idea of “norm kinds,” an extended discussion of the nature of performance, and an understanding of some artistic predication as “analogical.”

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                                                              Most rejections of the type-theoretic approach identify repeatable works of art with one or another brand of concrete particular. Goodman 1976 is an early version of nominalism, identifying repeatable works with classes of their performances. Kaplan 1990 argued against the type-theory in the case of words and offered an alternative stage-continuant view. Alward 2004 adopted the Kaplanian approach to the case of repeatable artworks. Caplan and Matheson 2006 and Caplan and Matheson 2008 develop and defend, at greater length, the related idea that repeatable artworks are mereological sums. Tillman 2011 develops a neglected materialist alternative, that a repeatable work is a multiply located performance, with further defense of the idea coming in Tillman and Spencer 2012. Davies 2004 argues that works of art are identical with the artistic actions of their creation, playing a role among concretists which Currie 1989 (cited under Type-Theory) plays among type-theorists.

                                                              • Alward, Peter. “The Spoken Work.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 62 (2004): 331–337.

                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-594X.2004.00166.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                A brief for the application to the arts of the “common currency” conception of words proposed in Kaplan 1990.

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                                                                • Caplan, Ben, and Carl Matheson. “Defending Musical Perdurantism.” British Journal of Aesthetics 46 (2006): 59–69.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayj0004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Proposes that musical works are mereological sums and provides initial arguments for the view.

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                                                                  • Caplan, Ben, and Carl Matheson. “Defending ‘Defending Musical Perdurantism.’” British Journal of Aesthetics 48 (2008): 80–85.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/aym037Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Further defense of the mereological sum proposal, against objections from Dodd 2007 (cited under Type-Theory) and elsewhere.

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                                                                    • Davies, David. Art as Performance. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1002/9780470774922Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      Highly influential for its methodological reflections, which highlight the role of our practices in pursuing art ontology. Also famed for its novel proposal that works of art are particular events, those we would ordinarily identify with actions surrounding authorship or creation of a work.

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                                                                      • Goodman, Nelson. Languages of Art. 2d ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1976.

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                                                                        Source of the allographic/autographic distinction, the claim that repeatable artworks are classes, and a principled account of their individuation, which notoriously does not allow for incorrect instances. First edition published in 1968.

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                                                                        • Kaplan, David. “Words.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, supplementary volume 64 (1990): 93–119.

                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/4106880Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          A minor classic from the intersection of metaphysics and philosophy of language, this paper argues that the type-theory, which was originally proposed by C. S. Pierce for the case of words, is wrong about that very case. A “common currency” view is proposed as a replacement.

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                                                                          • Tillman, Chris. “Musical Materialism.” British Journal of Aesthetics 51 (2011): 13–29.

                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayq028Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            Applying recent work in general metaphysics to art ontology, this paper points out a neglected alternative to the mereological approach, on which repeatable works of art are multiply located token performances.

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                                                                            • Tillman, Chris, and Joshua Spencer. “Musical Materialism and the Inheritance Problem.” Analysis 72.2 (2012): 252–259.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1093/analys/ans042Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              Further investigation of the multiple-location proposal, attempting to deal with a central objection.

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                                                                              While the rhetoric of artists sometimes suggests that works of art have a literal mental component or constitution, this idea is not often taken seriously. Instead, this idea is mostly used as a foil for the development of contrasting ideas. The idealism of Croce 1922 and the expressivism of Tolstoy 1995 and Collingwood 1938 are often pressed into just this service, but see Ridley 1997 for an attempt to take Collingwood as more than a strawman. See, also, Wollheim 1980 for influential criticisms of the whole approach. Although difficult to make out, Sarte 1966 seems to treat artworks as intensional objects of the imagination.

                                                                              Cultural Objects

                                                                              Although many ontologists of art are sympathetic to the idea that artworks are, in one way or another, “culturally emergent objects,” there is not a unified literature developing the idea. Ingarden 1989 is a central text in an intellectual tradition of dissatisfaction with the choice between type-theory, idealism, and concretism. Margolis 1974 is another early proponent of this sort of approach and introduced that place-holder phrase to aesthetics. Rohrbaugh 2003 posits “real, historical particulars,” which echo themes from Ingarden. Searle 1995 has provided a possible comprehensive framework for such issues, one further developed by Thomasson 2014, although neither is directly aimed at art issues in particular. Outside of the Searlean tradition, Lamarque 2010 is the most recent work on ontology to include a significant, constitutive role for culture in the ontology of an artwork.

                                                                              • Ingarden, Roman. The Ontology of the Work of Art. Translated by Raymond Meyer and John Goldthwait. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1989.

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                                                                                Influential rejection of ontological choice between “real” objects, either material or mental, and “ideal” objects of the abstract, Platonic sort, in favor of some new category of social ontology. Originally published in 1962.

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                                                                                • Lamarque, Peter. Work and Object. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199577460.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  Monograph on a variety of topics, some of which are ontological, but one theme running throughout the texts is the dependence of artworks on the practice in which they exist.

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                                                                                  • Margolis, Joseph. “Works of Art as Physically Embodied and Culturally Emergent Entities.” British Journal of Aesthetics 14.3 (1974): 187–196.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1093/bjaesthetics/14.3.187Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    Early and important, if somewhat difficult to follow, attempt to understand repeatable works as neither abstract types nor ordinary material particulars by addressing the role of culture.

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                                                                                    • Rohrbaugh, Guy. “Artworks as Historical Individuals.” European Journal of Philosophy 11 (2003): 177–205.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/1468-0378.00182Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      A package of anti-type-theoretical arguments is said to suggest that repeatable artworks are “real” and “historical” objects of some non-material but ontologically dependent kind.

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                                                                                      • Searle, John. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press, 1995.

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                                                                                        Touchstone development of Searle’s earlier work on speech acts into a comprehensive picture of how social ontology grows out coordinated thought and intention.

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                                                                                        • Thomasson, Amie. “Public Artifacts, Intentions and Norms.” In Artefact Kinds: Ontology and the Human-Made World. Edited by Maarten Franssen, Peter Kroes, Thomas A. C. Reydon, and Pieter E. Vermaas, 45–62. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2014.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-00801-1_4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          Reflection on the normative aspects of those functions and features that are often taken to be essential to artifactual kinds, centering on public norms of treatment.

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                                                                                          Deflationary Approaches

                                                                                          Unsurprisingly, there are philosophers who have taken anti-realist or otherwise deflationary attitudes to the sort of debates art ontologists take themselves to be having. Rudner 1950 is an early skeptic, unimpressed by any of the basic art ontological proposals. Cameron 2008 provides a simple, contemporary argument against the existence of repeatable works, as Hazlett 2012 does on modal grounds. Kania 2008 (cited under Methodology) develops but stops short of proposing a fictionalist treatment. Goehr 2007 argues that the very idea of a “musical work” is a recent creation and cannot play the role assigned to it by art ontologists. A very different sort of deflationary attitude is found in the neo-Carnapian project of Thomasson 2005. Such an account does not deny the existence of artworks, but rather the substantiality of the (true) assertion that they do exist. Its skepticism is thus metaontological rather than straightforwardly ontological.

                                                                                          • Cameron, Ross P. “There Are No Things That Are Musical Works.” British Journal of Aesthetics 48 (2008): 295–314.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayn022Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            Straightforward eliminativist view of repeatable works and account of how our apparent talk about such things is not ontologically committing.

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                                                                                            • Goehr, Lydia. The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works. Rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                              Argues that closer attention to the actual history of art and music shows art ontology’s target has been largely imaginary and that the idea of a “musical work” is a comparatively recent concoction. Originally published 1992.

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                                                                                              • Hazlett, Allan. “Against Repeatable Works.” In Art and Abstract Objects. Edited by C. Mag Uidhir, 161–178. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                Eliminativist view grounded in modal considerations.

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                                                                                                • Rudner, Richard. “The Ontological Status of the Esthetic Object.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 10 (1950): 380–388.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/2103271Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  Early skeptical view, marshaling arguments against all basic art ontological positions.

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                                                                                                  • Thomasson, Amie L. “The Ontology of Art and Knowledge in Aesthetics.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63 (2005): 221–229.

                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/j.0021-8529.2005.00202.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                    Early paper in the development of Thomasson’s larger neo-Carnapian project. Argues that the existence of artworks is not the proper subject of any kind of substantial metaphysical dispute and that all there is to say about them can be read off from how we talk about them.

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                                                                                                    Other Views

                                                                                                    One small family of views takes the relation of work to occurrence to be an intensional relation of representation, as opposed to something extensional like instantiation or parthood. The basic idea is that what the concrete performances of a single work share is that they are representations of the same thing. In Bruno 2006 the emphasis is on details of musical performances and the variability one finds among them. Dilworth 2005 is a comprehensive account that identifies the artwork with the shared content of what the occurrences represent. A very different relation is at issue in Evnine 2009, which suggests that musical works are constituted by abstract sound structures, from which they are distinct, through an investigation of “qua objects.”

                                                                                                    • Bruno, Franklin. “Representation and the Work-Performance Relation.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63.3 (2006): 355–365.

                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-594X.2006.00213.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      The relation of representation is contrasted with more standard views that take the “performance-of” relation to be one of exemplification. A variety of detailed examples suggest the range of variability we find in performance is better accounted for on a representationalist account.

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                                                                                                      • Dilworth, John. The Double Content of Art. Amherst: Prometheus, 2005.

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                                                                                                        Comprehensive application to the arts of the idea that the repeatable relation at issue is one of representation, that the concrete occurrences represent a certain content, a world, which is the work itself.

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                                                                                                        • Evnine, Simon J. “Constitution and Qua Objects in the Ontology of Music.” British Journal of Aesthetics 49.3 (2009): 203–217.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/aup015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          Suggests that repeatable musical works are not identical to sound structures but are constituted by them, much as some think a statue is not identical with its matter but constituted by it. Surprising parallels are found between theories of qua-objects and the work of Levinson 1980 (cited under Creation).

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                                                                                                          Flashpoint Issues

                                                                                                          Disputes among the main theoretical contenders have coalesced around certain issues that continually reappear in the literature. The main threat to the type-theoretic orthodoxy, identified in Levinson 1980 (cited under Creation), comes from the purported creatability of musical works. Levinson 1980 also crystalizes a second robust literature concerning the individuation conditions for musical and other repeatable works. Goodman 1976 (cited under Concretism) looms over this literature as well, foregrounding the question of how mistaken performances are to be accommodated by theory. Two more recurring issues, raised together in Rohrbaugh 2003 (cited under Modality), involve questions about variation, over times or possible worlds. Can artworks change over time, or are their aesthetic properties somehow fixed at the moment of completion? Could artworks have been any different than they in fact are, or are their aesthetic properties essential to them? The answers have direct implications in picking an ontological theory. Newer, or less developed, issues of contention include the perceptibility of repeatable works, the correct account of predication associated with such works, and the role of aesthetic reasons (and values more generally) in musical ontology.


                                                                                                          One hotly contested issue has been the creatabilty of repeatable works of art. It seems that abstract objects are timeless, while works of art are created things. Both premises have been the subject of dispute. Levinson 1980 levels this charge against traditional, Platonistic type-theories. Predelli 2001 reviews the charge and the inadequacy of some attempts, including Levinson’s, to get around it. Morris 2007 reaches the same conclusions from the direction of considerations about value and understanding. Deutsch 1991 and Caplan and Matheson 2004 offer different reasons for thinking these conclusions are too fast. Dodd 2002 responds to a wide variety of creation-based arguments against his version of Platonism. Although Thomasson 1999 mostly targets fictional objects and not works of art, creatability issues are central to both and the machinery developed here is helpful in both cases.


                                                                                                          The individuation of repeatable works has been a sore point since Goodman 1976 argued that perfect score compliance was required of every performance of a musical work. Most contemporary disputes center on whether the identity conditions of musical works are a purely sonic matter, as Scruton 1997 and Dodd 2007 argue, or whether context of composition or the kinds of instrumentation used in performance can make a difference, as argued in Levinson 1980. Davies 2008 criticizes Dodd’s sonicism, but see Dodd 2010 for his reply. In the background of all this is general movement toward contextual-style thinking about art on many different fronts, a tendency exemplified by the widely read Walton 1970 and Danto 1981.


                                                                                                          Though not always clearly conceived apart from the straightforward individuative issues, a number of modal issues about whether and in what ways particular works of art could have been different, their modal flexibility, creates added difficulties for many accounts. Rohrbaugh 2003 argues for the “modal flexibility” of artworks and its importance in the larger ontological debate. Davies 2004 argues for the relativity of such modal predication to individual works. Caplan and Matheson 2008 argue that Davies 2004 is no more successful than Levinson 1980 (cited under Creation) and Levinson 1985 in avoiding the modal difficulties. While the question of the necessity of authorship is raised in Levinson 1980 and Levinson 1985, Rohrbaugh 2005 offers an argument in favor of this thesis. Dilworth 2008 wonders how concrete objects could be understood to have necessary properties of content.


                                                                                                          Questions about the possibility of change, and whether genuine change in works of art is possible, is often raised in connection with issues about restoration and conservation. Bacharach 2005 and Rohrbaugh 2003 (cited under Modality) suggest such change is possible, as against the merely epistemic change endorsed by Levinson 1987. Sagoff 1978 and Savile 1993 provide now standard accounts of restoration as restoring the unchanging properties of works. De Clercq 2013 takes these considerations to point toward (different) quite radical views about the ontology of singular works like painting and sculptures.

                                                                                                          • Bacharach, Sondra. “Toward a Metaphysical Historicism.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63.2 (2005): 165–173.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.0021-8529.2005.00193.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            Clearly distinguishes epistemic and metaphysical issues in order to argue that the latter sort of change in artworks is genuine.

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                                                                                                            • De Clercq, Rafael. “The Metaphysics of Art Restoration.” British Journal of Aesthetics 53.3 (2013): 261–275.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayt013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              Conflicting intuitions are reconciled by distinguishing the relation of time to artistic value and to aesthetic value. The choice between “purist” and “integral” restoration of Sagoff 1978 leads to surprising ontological suggestions that names of many artworks refer only to a succession of distinct aggregates that have their parts essentially.

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                                                                                                              • Levinson, Jerrold. “Artworks and the Future.” In Aesthetic Distinction. Edited by T. Anderberg, T. Nilstum, and I. Persson, 56–84. Lund, Sweden: Lund University Press, 1987.

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                                                                                                                Elaborate defense of the claim that all the change we need to admit in connection to artworks is not genuine change in the artwork but in its relation to changing audiences. Reprinted in Levinson 1990 (cited under Type-Theory).

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                                                                                                                • Sagoff, Mark. “On Restoring and Reproducing Art.” Journal of Philosophy 75 (1978): 453–470.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/2025386Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  Issues of change, authenticity, and restoration come together in this early suggestion that there is more to a work of art than its appearance properties.

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                                                                                                                  • Savile, Anthony. “The Rationale of Restoration.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 51.3 (1993): 463–474.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/431518Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    Contains a long discussion of how an artwork’s properties are “fixed” at the time of completion, in connection to further issues about the role of the author in right interpretation.

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                                                                                                                    Other Issues

                                                                                                                    Some issues that bear on the resolution of art-ontological issues are important but have not yet generated the literature they deserve. Davies 2009 raises the issue of audibility of musical works in the context of criticizing Dodd 2007 (cited under Type-Theory). Predelli 2011 argues against an account of predication that many have taken for granted since Wolterstorff 1980 (cited under Type-Theory). Kleinschmidt and Ross 2012 shares Predelli’s critique but offers a different, less ontologically loaded account. Ridley 2012 argues that many accounts cannot give aesthetic reasons their necessary role.

                                                                                                                    • Davies, David. “Dodd on the ‘Audibility’ of Musical Works.” British Journal of Aesthetics 49 (2009): 99–108.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayp001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      Strong criticisms of the attempts in Dodd 2007 to deal with lingering questions about how one is in epistemic contact with musical works if they are abstract objects.

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                                                                                                                      • Kleinschmidt, Shieva, and Jacob Ross. “Repeatable Artwork Sentences and Generics.” In Art and Abstract Objects. Edited by Christy Mag Uidhir, 125–157. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                                        Follows Predelli 2011 in rejecting standard accounts of predication for repeatable works in favor of treatment as a kind of generic predication but differs in the details in a way more friendly to nominalistic ontologies of the repeatable.

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                                                                                                                        • Predelli, Stefano. “Talk about Music: From Wolterstorffian Ambiguity to Generics.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 69.3 (2011): 273–283.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6245.2011.01471.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Introduces the idea of generic predication to the aesthetics literature, putting severe pressure on the familiar account of “analogical prediction” for repeatable works due to Wolterstorff 1980.

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                                                                                                                          • Ridley, Aaron. “Musical Ontology, Musical Reasons.” Monist 95 (2012): 663–683.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.5840/monist201295433Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            Argues that aesthetic reason must be given a central role in art ontology, a consideration that tells against non-contextualist views.

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                                                                                                                            Applied Ontology

                                                                                                                            While much work in the ontology of art is directed at discovering the basic ontological categories inhabited by works of art, recent work increasingly focuses on individual arts and what is ontologically distinctive about them. While examples drawn from classical music have often been at dispute, new attention to the rock and jazz forms has shown how much room there is for additional, practice-centered work of this kind. Davies 2001 (cited under Methodology) calls for just this kind of work, which attends to the musical details of various traditions on the expectation that they matter philosophically. There is also an increasing interest in examples beyond those of music. Irvin 2008 (cited under Visual Arts) is a sample of the metaphysical difficulties specific to the visual arts. Brown 2011, though driven by the same concern for respect of the details in diversity, concludes that higher-order ontology is not a viable philosophical project.


                                                                                                                            This subfield is driven by recognition, and dispute over the significance, of several aspects of practice peculiar to rock ’n’ roll, including the centrality of studio recording and use of production technologies, the use of electronic and pre-recorded or pre-sequenced music, the phenomenon of covers, and the commercially inflected relation of live performances to recorded work. Fisher 1998 and Gracyk 1996 develop the thought that the recording practices behind rock music make for an ontologically distinctive media. Davies 2001 (cited under Methodology) and Brown 2000 resist this recording-centric line, while Kania 2006 attempts to stake out a compromise position.

                                                                                                                            • Brown, Lee B. “Phonography, Rock Records, and the Ontology of Recorded Music.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 58 (2000): 361–372.

                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/432181Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                              Sympathetic critique of Gracyk 1996 as oversimplifying a welter of difficult, real-life examples.

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                                                                                                                              • Brown, Lee B. “Do Higher-Order Music Ontologies Rest on a Mistake?” British Journal of Aesthetics 51 (2011): 169–184.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayr002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                This paper is openly skeptical about the very idea of applied ontology in the face of the irrepressible diversity of actual practices and cases. A change of mind since Brown 2000.

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                                                                                                                                • Fisher, John. “Rock ‘n’ Recording—The Ontological Complexity of Rock Music.” In Musical Worlds: New Directions in the Philosophy of Music. Edited by Philip Alperson, 109–123. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                  Recording-centric ontology of rock.

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                                                                                                                                  • Gracyk, Theodore. Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                    Famously examines the role of recording and studio technologies in rock music and the underestimated philosophical challenges they represent.

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                                                                                                                                    • Kania, Andrew. “Making Tracks: The Ontology of Rock Music.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64 (2006): 343–353.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-594X.2006.00219.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      Attempting to split the difference between recording-centric and performance-centric view by claiming rock is focused on tracks, not songs. Promotes the importance of phenomenon of covers.

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                                                                                                                                      The heterogeneity of jazz practices, including the role of improvisation and the diversity of jazz forms, make the kind of theoretical generalizations ontologists expect uniquely difficult to find. Alperson 1984 highlight the role of improvisation and suggests each performance is a work. Young and Matheson 2000 is a good introduction to the range of issues, one that looks for continuity between jazz and classical practices as a default. Brown 1996 and Kania 2011 suggest that jazz might lack works altogether. Kraut 2005 examines the oft-heard analogy between jazz and language.

                                                                                                                                      Visual Arts

                                                                                                                                      Perhaps surprisingly, the visual arts have been less central in discussions of art ontology, largely because most writers have taken arts like paintings and carved sculpture to be singular, and not repeatable, arts and thus identifiable with ordinary physical objects of some kind, although Strawson 1974 famously denies their singularity. Zemach 1986 and Zemach 1989 also deny the singularity of paintings, suggesting adequate duplicates count as recurrences of the very same painting. However, even without so radical a premise, Irvin 2008 and Irvin 2012 argue that contemporary visual arts have considerably complicated these issues, in part because such works sometimes contain essential performative aspects. Thomasson 2010 investigates similar examples from the standpoints of the semantic question “How is reference to such things achieved?” Evnine 2013 uses familiar cases of ready-mades to argue for a neo-Aristotelian hylomorphic view of such material objects.

                                                                                                                                      • Evnine, Simon. “Ready-Mades: Ontology and Aesthetic.” British Journal of Aesthetics 53.4 (2013): 407–423.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayt033Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        Applies neo-Aristotelian hylomorphic ontological framework to deal with difficulties surrounding case of ready-mades.

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                                                                                                                                        • Irvin, Sherri. “The Ontological Diversity of Visual Artworks.” In New Waves in Aesthetics. Edited by K. Stock and K. Thomson-Jones, 1–19. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1057/9780230227453_1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          A reminder that detailed consideration of the visual arts from an ontological viewpoint reveals a diversity of cases that present challenges rivaling that of music.

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                                                                                                                                          • Irvin, Sherri. “Installation Art and Performance: A Shared Ontology.” In Art and Abstract Objects. Edited by Christy Mag Uidhir, 242–262. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                            Some of the ontological challenges of contemporary installation pieces are considered in connection with the art ontology of the performing arts, especially the way in which parameters specified by artists may or may not be filled out by others.

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                                                                                                                                            • Strawson, Peter F. “Aesthetic Appraisal and Works of Art.” In Freedom and Resentment. 178–188. London: Methuen, 1974.

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                                                                                                                                              Primary source of view that painting is, contrary to appearances, a repeatable art in principle, later defended in Currie 1989 (cited under Type-Theory).

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                                                                                                                                              • Thomasson, Amie. “Ontological Innovations in Art.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 68.2 (2010): 119–130.

                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6245.2010.01397.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                With the points of Irvin 2008 in mind, Thomasson brings the semantic concerns of singular reference to bear on novel and cutting-edge artwork kinds, where there may not already be conditions of identity and existence associated with established sortal terms.

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                                                                                                                                                • Zemach, Eddy M. “No Identification without Evaluation.” British Journal of Aesthetics 26.3 (1986): 239–251.

                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/bjaesthetics/26.3.239Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                  Sortal-relativity of ontology and the interest- and value-laden quality of our usage of sortal terms undergird a view of paintings on which they are not painted canvases, but present everywhere an adequate replica is present.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Zemach, Eddy M. “How Paintings Are.” British Journal of Aesthetics 29.1 (1989): 65–71.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1093/bjaesthetics/29.1.65Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    Defense of Zemach 1986 against criticisms by Jerrold Levinson.

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                                                                                                                                                    Poetry and Literature

                                                                                                                                                    The literature surrounding the literary arts tends to recapitulate some of the larger themes of art ontology on a smaller scale. We find the individuation debate between structuralists and contextualists represented by Currie 1991 and Elgin and Goodman 1986, with Stevenson 1957 already showing these tensions early on within a type-theoretic framework. Howell 2002 articulates the pluralist position. Ingarden 1973 is often considered the inspiration for attempts to find an alternative ontology of socially constructed objects. Lamarque 2010 looks to Wittgenstein for help on understanding the practice-bound character of literary works.

                                                                                                                                                    • Currie, Gergory. “Work and Text.” Mind 100 (1991): 325–340.

                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/mind/C.399.325Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                      Distinguishes literary works from literary texts by arguing that their individuation conditions differ, resulting in a broadly contextualist ontology of literary works. Extensive engagement with Elgin and Goodman 1986.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Elgin, Catherine, and Nelson Goodman. “Interpretation and Identity: Can the Work Survive the World?” Critical Inquiry 12.3 (1986): 564–575.

                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1086/448351Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                        Lively defense of anti-contextualist individuation of literary works that identifies them with texts.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Howell, Robert. “Ontology and the Nature of the Literary Work.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 60 (2002): 67–79.

                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1111/1540-6245.00053Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                          Argues that no single ontological theory applies within the heterogeneous realm of literary works, using a wealth of disparate examples.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Ingarden, Roman. The Literary Work of Art. Translated by George Grabowicz. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

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                                                                                                                                                            Very early development of an ontology of cultural, as opposed to merely material, objects as applied to literary works, while attempting not to surrender a realistic attitude toward such objects. Originally published, in German, in 1931.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Lamarque, Peter. “Wittgenstein, Literature, and the Idea of a Practice.” British Journal of Aesthetics 50.4 (2010): 3–32.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayq040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              Discussion of the Wittgensteinian roots of the notion of an artistic practice, focusing on the example of a literary practice.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Ribiero, Anna Christina S. “The Spoken and the Written: An Ontology of Poems.” In The Philosophy of Poetry. Edited by John Gibson, 127–148. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199603671.003.0007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                Revolves around challenges posed by the performative, oral, and unfixed nature of much poetry. Applies broadly type-theoretical machinery, understood as “abstract artifacts” along the lines of Thomasson 2004 (cited under Reference Works), to the difficulties.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Stevenson, Charles. “On ‘What Is a Poem?’” Philosophical Review 66 (1957): 329–362.

                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/2182438Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                  Early application of type-theoretic machinery to poetry and consideration of contextualist issues, introducing notion of “megatype” as tokens sharing contextual determined meaning as well as linguistic structure.

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                                                                                                                                                                  Theatrical cases present a particular set of difficulties because they often involve both a script, making them like literature, and a performance based in that script, making them more like music. Hamilton 2007 is primarily concerned with defusing the assimilation of theater to literature. Dilworth 2002 takes these difficulties to point toward a particular strength of his representationalist account: one and the same content (and thus work) can be represented in different ways by very different sorts of occurrences in very different sorts of artistic media. Davies’s (Davies 2011) systematic discussion of these issues also sees the performing arts as supporting his wider ontological theory identifying all works of art with their generative performances. Thom 1993 distinguishes performances that are “of” pre-existing works from those that are not, and offers an account of the former as imperatives or instructions.

                                                                                                                                                                  • Davies, David. Philosophy of the Performing Arts. Oxford: Blackwell, 2011.

                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1002/9781444343458Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                    Extension of issues familiar from musical cases to the additional complexities raised by the performing arts, in some ways a very natural territory to explore given the central claim of Davies 2004 (cited under Modality) that all artworks are essentially performative in character.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Dilworth, John. “Theater, Representation, Types, and Interpretation.” American Philosophical Quarterly 39.2 (2002): 197–209.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Theatrical performance is the central example used in developing a representationalist ontology of performed works that identifies them with the fictional world represented.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Hamilton, James. The Art of Theater. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.

                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1002/9780470690871Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                        Centrally concerned with establishing the autonomy of theater from our understanding of literary works, to which they have often been assimilated.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Thom, Paul. For An Audience: A Philosophy of the Performing Arts. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Wide-ranging discussion of the status of performances and their relation to audiences. Argues that works in the performing arts are instructions for executing performances and that stand-alone or improvised performances are not necessarily artworks in their own right.

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                                                                                                                                                                          The essential role of the body and movement in dance exert unique pressures on accounts of dance ontology. Although dance is a central example in the structural-nominalist approach of Goodman 1976 (cited under Concretism), Armelagos and Sirridge 1978 and Pakes 2013 resist this assimilation. While Langer 1953 and Khatchadourian 1978 offer an understanding on which dance performances are particular movements and not actions, Beardsley 1982 starts a more contemporary tradition in which dance involves an ontology of intentional actions, although Carroll and Banes 1982 influentially criticizes the role of expression in Beardsley’s account. Meskin 1999 renews the promise of a type-theoretical understanding by discriminating three different aesthetically relevant types that a single performance tokens. Van Camp 1998 provides a short overview of specially ontological issues in dance.

                                                                                                                                                                          • Armelagos, Adina, and Mary Sirridge . “The Identity Crisis in Dance.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 37.2 (1978): 129–139.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Resists the structural-notational treatment of dance suggested by Goodman 1976, pointing to the importance of unscored elements of dance and the range of permissible flexibility between score and performance.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Beardsley, Monroe C. “What Is Going on in a Dance?” Dance Research Journal 15 (1982): 31–37.

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                                                                                                                                                                              Extends notion of “artistic medium” to dance, arguing it is made up of “movings” constituted by bodily movements with a certain expressive character. The action-theoretic approach here is in direct conflict with Khatchadourian 1978.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Carroll, Noël, and Sally Banes. “Working and Dancing: A Response to Monroe Beardsley’s ‘What Is Going on in a Dance?’” Dance Research Journal 15.1 (1982): 37–41.

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                                                                                                                                                                                Critique of Beardsley 1982, particularly the exclusive role assigned to expressiveness in bringing movements to constitute full-fledged actions.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Khatchadourian, Haig. “Movement and Action in the Performing Arts.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 37.1 (1978): 25–36.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Developing an aspect of Langer 1953, argues that dance movements are not actions because they are not intentional even though they are voluntary. Unlike Langer, he allows non-representational, or “pure” movements as well.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Langer, Suzanne K. Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art Developed from Philosophy in a New Key. New York: Charles Scribner, 1953.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Within larger investigation of the arts as “symbol-making” endeavors, dance is identified with the symbol of gesture and the structures of such.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Meskin, Aaron. “Productions, Performances, and Their Evaluation.” In Dance, Education, and Philosophy. Edited by Graham McFee, 45–61. Oxford: Meyer and Meyer Sport, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Argues that a dance performance instantiates three distinct works—choreographic, production, and interpretive—all of which are susceptible to type-theoretic treatment.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Pakes, Anna. “The Plausibility of a Platonist Ontology of Dance.” In Thinking through Dance: The Philosophy of Dance and Dance Performances. Edited by J. Bunker, A. Pakes, and B. Rowell, 84–101. Hampshire: Dance Books, 2013.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        Resists a type-theoretic understanding of dance, even if it has a structural vocabulary or artistic medium, in favor of the physical actions in which such structure is embodied.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Van Camp, Julie. “The Ontology of Dance.” In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Edited by Michael Kelly, 399–402. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Overview of ontological issues related to dance, especially disputes over the identity conditions for dances and dance performances. Copyright law is used to gain some leverage on identity issues.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Printmaking and Photography

                                                                                                                                                                                          Several philosophers have found attention to the details of the practices of printmaking to be a source of interesting challenges to models of repeatability derived, largely, from musical cases. Mag Uidhir 2012 starts a discussion of these issues, though it is focused on photographic printmaking. Gover 2015 and Davies 2015 both consider irregularities emerging from printmaking traditions. Cook and Meskin 2015 attempts to distinguish, even more finely, the difference between comics and other printmaking practices.


                                                                                                                                                                                          On the frontier of higher-order art ontology is work devoted to electronic works. Crowther 2008 considers interactive digital works, while Tavinor 2009 focuses on video games. Irmak 2012 addresses the ontological status of software, in general, but with an eye to the ontology of music.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Conceptual Art

                                                                                                                                                                                          Another frontier of seemingly nothing but difficult cases for ontology, many documented in Lippard 1997. Goldie and Schellekens 2007 is an excellent starting place, collecting several good essays in one place. Goldie and Schellekens 2010 presents “the idea idea” account of conceptual art. Cray 2014 resists this and offers a concretist alternative.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Other Arts

                                                                                                                                                                                          Work on ontological issues in specific relation to yet further arts is underdeveloped. While there is a large philosophy literature on film and its “ontology,” or powers of representation, little work has been done on the ontology of film in the sense relevant here. Davies 2012 discusses how well some of the usual candidate theories fare in this application. Architectural ontology is another sparsely inhabited subfield, perhaps because it seems obvious that buildings are material objects. Lopes 2007 challenges this assumption, at least in relation to one specific architectural practice. De Clercq 2008 and De Clercq 2012 defend the simpler thought that buildings are material, to which Lopes 2008 responds.

                                                                                                                                                                                          • De Clercq, Rafael. “Lopes on the Ontology of Japanese Shrines.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 66.2 (2008): 193–194.

                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6245.2008.00299_1.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                            Response to Lopes 2007, arguing that even rebuilt Japanese shrines can be understood as a succession of ordinary material objects bearing the same name.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            • De Clercq, Rafael. “Architecture.” In The Continuum Companion to Aesthetics. Edited by Anna Christina Ribeiro, 201–214. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Discussion of several philosophical aspects of architecture, including a materialist ontological treatment of buildings and issues having to do with restoration, conversation, and change.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Davies, David. “What Type of ‘Type’ Is a Film?” In Art and Abstract Objects. Edited by Christy Mag Uidhir, 263–283. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                Discussion of the possibilities of bringing the standard ontological theories, especially type-theories, to bear on the case of film.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Lopes, Dominic M. “Shikinen Sengu and the Ontology of Architecture in Japan.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65.1 (2007): 77–84.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-594X.2007.00239.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Challenge to simple thought that all buildings are just material objects, through consideration of the building (and re-building) practices at certain Japanese shines and modernist pre-fab kit houses. It is suggested that the shrines may be understood as token events.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Lopes, Dominic M. “Reference, Ontology, and Architecture: Response to Rafael de Clercq.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 66.2 (2008): 194–196.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6245.2008.00299_2.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Response to De Clercq 2008 and consideration of evidence for and against the linguistic hypothesis of De Clercq.

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