Music Without Metaphysics?

British Journal of Aesthetics 51 (4):383-398 (2011)
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In a recent pair of articles, Aaron Ridley and Andrew Kania have debated the merits of the study of musical ontology. Ridley contends that the study of musical ontology is orthogonal to more pressing concerns over the value of music. Kania rejects this, arguing that a theory of the value of music must begin with an understanding of the ontology of music. In this essay, I will argue that, despite Kania's rejections, Ridley's criticism exposes a false methodological assumption that needs to be addressed—a poorly understood adherence to the priority of ontology, which is the belief that the resolution of ontological disputes must precede our understanding of the evaluation of musical performances. I will argue that there is a central claim at the heart of Ridley's criticisms that must be appreciated—that standard accounts of the ontology of music make unwarranted assumptions about the rigidity of the identification of musical performances—and yet Kania is right to claim that the resolution of some ontological questions will play some role in our evaluation of musical performances. I will argue that part of the disagreement between Ridley and Kania can be resolved by accepting a greatly weakened version of the priority of ontology.



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Christopher Bartel
Appalachian State University

Citations of this work

Musical Works as Structural Universals.A. R. J. Fisher - 2023 - Erkenntnis 88 (3):1245-67.
Kind of Borrowed, Kind of Blue.P. D. Magnus - 2016 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74 (2):179-185.
The Poverty of Musical Ontology.James O. Young - 2014 - Journal of Music and Meaning 13:1-19.

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