An Analysis of Julian Dodd’s ‘Musical Works as Eternal Types’

In this paper, I will analyze section II of Julian Dodd’s article from ‘Musical Words as Eternal Types,’ which argues that works of art are not created, but discovered. First, I will canvas the most prominent argument of the passage, that being the rejection of Levinson’s argument from creation on the existence of abstract objects. Second, I will outline Dodd’s contribution to the metaphysics of works of literature with respect to this specific passage. Third, I will present and analyze Levinson’s response to Dodd’s refute of the creation requirement, which I believe to be the most convincing objection.

First, it is important to note that Dodd’s argument against the creation of artworks is of a purely defensive nature. Before I outline what that defense is, however, I will first define several terms, in order to best interpret the complexities of this paper. Dodd is a platonist, which references the theory that numbers or other abstract objects are objective, timeless entities, independent of our physical world and the symbols used in their representation. In stating that artistic works are abstract types, Dodd is implying that works of literature are eternally existing, and as such, not created by their respective authors. In defining the term “abstract type,” it should be noted that a “type” can be considered as a general sort of thing, whereas a token is looked upon as an instance of such an entity. Some thing-in-the-world can also be abstract or concrete; either possessing spatial-temporal location, or not.

an irrelevant photo of me

In Dodd’s argument against creation, Dodd insists that musical works (or in our case, works of literature), are abstract; not only do they not possess any spacial-temporal tethering to the physical world, but they do not have causal powers. To clarify, Dodd would insist that the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has and will continue to exist long before and after its authoring in 1960, and long before after Harper Lee. Further, had Harper Lee not existed at all, the work itself would still “be” in our universe, and as such, it is logically possible that we could be holding another writer in high esteem for authoring it. This outcome may seem counterintuitive to our own assumptions about works of literature. I will enforce this instinct in the final part of my paper, but for the time being will continue to push forward with my analysis of Dodd’s defense.

In arguing against the creation requirement, Dodd is pushing against the first premise in Levinson’s rejection to works of literature being abstract word structures. Here, Levinson states that authors are known as being the creators of their works of art for the simple reason that this is prima facie logical. As a result, Dodd’s objection to Levinson’s assumption opens an important dialogue regarding the metaphysics of literature. Namely, in Dodd’s defense against Levinson’s premise, Dodd argues that we have confused creation with creativity; the latter being both what an author ought to have and the reason for their acclaim in the first place. Under this assumption, great works of physics and math would too exist eternally, and only under creative acts of discovery be made into known and commonly-practiced theories. This, of course, aligns with the default view in the maths and sciences, namely that theorems are discovered, not created. We mustn’t take too much stock in the philosophy of maths and sciences for this case, however, as artistic works have much less objective ground to stand on.

Levinson argues that one of the reasons we esteem artists is because they create their own
artworks, manufacturing these structures from no eternally existing universal type. Dodd, however, believes that most people aren’t creative by nature, and as such regards artists in held in high esteem because of their ability to be; to select the most artful types from the infinitely existing “pool” of abstract possibilities for all of us to enjoy.

Though this selection process can be viewed as a creative act, I have a problem with the justification that discovery ought to be our default ontology. Having a far less competent creative capacity, it would seem difficult for the normal citizen to possess the skill required to recognize a creative mind, much less celebrate the creative aptitude a highly-esteemed author possesses. Could I not, being an average-minded individual, select a word-structure type, label it immensely creative, and have the majority of the population believe me? Surely, As Levinson states, “the suggestion that some artists, composers in particular, instead merely discover or select for attention entities they have no hand in creating is so contrary to this basic intuition regarding artists and their works that we have a strong prima facie reason to reject it if we can. (Levinson, 8)”

Another, perhaps more convincing argument against Dodd is that of creational context. As Levinson justifies:

The total musico-historical context of a composer P at a time t can be said to include at least the following:

(a) the whole of cultural, social, and political history prior to t, (b) the whole of musical development up to t, © musical styles prevalent at t, (d) dominant musical influences at t, (e) musical activities of P’s contemporaries at t, (f) P’s apparent style at t, (g) P’s musical repertoire at t, (h) P’s oeuvre at t, (i) musical influences operating on P at t. These factors contributing to the total musico-historical context might be conveniently divided into two groups, a-d and e-i. The former, which we could call the general musico-historical context, consists of factors relevant to anyone’s composing at t; the latter, which we could call the individual musico-historical context, consists of factors relevant specifically to P’s composing at t (10–11).

This argument appears as the most convincing against Dodd’s critique of Levinson’s argument from creation. Under this belief, a junior-level preschool english teacher authoring Grapes of Wrath in the year 2000 would invoke a different meaning than had John Steinbeck written it in 1939. This, to me, appears logical. The way a work of art of art is received and interpreted is uniquely tied to the socio-historic context of its debut to the public conscious unlike any other philosophical discipline. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, for instance, would hardly incite shock if it were penned in 2017. As such, it seem contestable that works of literature are worthy of being interpreted more holistically than Dodd defines them. Word structures, like other works of art, seem to be much more than their syntax as unique and created types tethered to the contexts in which they are assembled.

REFERENCES:

Levinson, Jerrold. What a Musical Work Is. The Journal of Philosophy Vol. 77, №1 (Jan., 1980), pp. 5–28.

Dodd, Julian. Musical Works as Eternal Types. British Journal of Aesthetics. 4th ed. Vol. 40. Manchester: n.p., 2000. Print.


NOTES:

Dodd (as well as Levinson) are particularly focused on the creation of musical works in this paper, as opposed to those of literature. However, as both are considered to be repeatable works of art by philosophers of this genre, it is easy for us to imagine word structures taking the place of several bars of melody.

To distinguish between types and tokens, consider this line from Gertrude Stein’s poem, Sacred Emily
 “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

In one sense, we may count three different words; rose, is and the. In another sense, we see ten different words. We can classify the words in this first sense as “types” and the latter, “tokens.” Types are generally classified as abstract and unique, whereas tokens are concrete and particular, composed of the matter in ink, pixels of light on a screen, electronic strings of dashes and dots, solar flares, hand signals, sound waves, and the like.

With respect to “the default view” of maths and sciences…there are a few exceptions, one of them being Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which was miles ahead of what anyone else was doing at the time.

This intuition being that musicians or authors create their works, that creation is “one of the most firmly entrenched of our beliefs concerning art. There is probably no idea more central to thought about art than that it is an activity in which participants create things-these things being art-works (8)”