David Davies (McGill): Descriptivism and its Discontents
28th April 2016 – 4:00 pm, Edinburgh
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Julian Dodd has recently argued against what he terms ‘local descriptivism’ as a meta-ontological principle in the philosophy of art. Dodd distinguishes local descriptivism from another meta-ontological view, ‘folk-theoretic modesty.’ The two views differ as to the relationship between the folk-theoretic beliefs about artworks implicit in our practices and the correct ontology of art for particular art forms. The local descriptivist thinks that the folk-theoretic beliefs in some way determine the ontological characters of artworks, whereas proponents of folk-theoretic modesty think that properly rigorous philosophical inquiry in accordance with the demands of “mainstream metaphysics” can lead us to rightly conclude that our folk ontology of art is seriously in error. Dodd takes his objections to descriptivism as counting equally against the idea that the ontology of art is by its very nature constrained by artistic practice. I argue, against Dodd, that according a grounding role to artistic practice in the ontology of art need not conflict with the demands of meta-ontological realism and can allow for both practices and folk beliefs about those practices to be revised. Practice, I argue, must ground our ontological inquiries into the nature of artworks of various kinds because the ontologist’s task is to make sense of the practices into which such artworks enter. But neither the practices themselves nor our folk beliefs about those practices are sacrosanct. In taking ontology of art to be reflectively accountable to artistic practice, I also reject Thomasson’s global descriptivism in the ontology of art. My objection, however, is independent of the merits of Thomasson’s ‘easy view’ in metaphysics more generally. Rather, I argue, she misunderstands the nature of the questions that ontologists of art are asking. Ontology of art is by its very nature reflective and potentially revisionary of certain aspects of our practice. It involves not conceptual analysis but the codification of a practice in a way that clarifies the role played by certain things in that practice.
About the speaker
David Davies is Professor of Philosophy at McGill University where he has taught since 1987. His research and publications span a wide range of topics in aesthetics including film, literature, music, performance, and the visual arts, as well as issues in metaphysics, epistemology and the philosophy of mind and language. He is the author of three monographs: Art as Performance (Blackwell, 2004); Aesthetics and Literature (Continuum, 2007); and Philosophy of the Performing Arts (Blackwell, 2011). For more information, please visit Professor Davies’ website: https://www.mcgill.ca/philosophy/people/faculty/davies
The lecture will be followed by a dinner with our speaker. Please inform the organisers by Sunday, 24th April if you would like to join us for dinner.
There are limited funds to cover dinner expenses for two students, offered on a first-come-first-served basis.