Discovered, Not Created

Submitted by Benjamin B. Cohen on Tuesday, 3/29/2011, at 12:35 PM

I must admit that part of me agrees with Cameron's theory that abstract objects cannot be created.  In saying that there are no statues, only clay that can be arranged into something "statue-shaped", Cameron is eliminating another complicated metaphysical argument:  If statues are objects that can be created out of clay, at what point does a ball of clay become a statue, and at what point does a statue cease to exist as such?  While Cameron's hypothesis is frustrating semantically (we will never stop referring to statues as statues), I think that it applies well to an earlier argument discussed a few classes ago:  That works of music are discovered rather than created.  The chords, notes, and sonorities that constitute the general abstract sound structure from which to pull from are similar to apples on an apple tree.  On the one hand, to select an apple definitely implies agency and a certain creative aspect to the person selecting; on the other hand, this does not mean that the selector created the apples.  He/she is only selecting from an array of particulars already given.  A piece of music, then, can function as a manipulated sound structure, just as a statue is a manipulated ball of clay.

Cameron Response

Submitted by Spencer C. Russell on Tuesday, 3/29/2011, at 11:34 AM

One of the three propositions that Cameron starts with is 3. Abstract objects cannot be created.  Cameron argues that this claim is intuitively supported, yet I personally found (going into the article) that this claim was not intuitive.  I actually found the evidence that music, like a lot of art, is both abstract and created to be proof of the 3rd claim, not refuting it .  But, I think he does have a point as he explains the argument of why 3. is intuitive, although I do not think I completely understand it.   Also, I am a little bit confused about the distinction he draws between ontological statements and normal statements.  Ioanida begins to explain it in her response, which is helpful, but I still don't quite understand the difference between, say, #3, and the bolded #3a.  It seems to me that if one were to be true than so would the other, and vice versa, but I think I am just misunderstanding his argument more so than disagreeing with it.

Then & Now

Submitted by Yamira C. Serret on Tuesday, 3/29/2011, at 11:00 AM

Cameron asserts that statues are things that do not exist because each one is merely “a collection of (enduring) simples” (clay, in this example), “arranged a certain way for a while, and then arranged a different way as a result of the intentional action of agents” (299). In the case of Michelangelo’s David, the agent (Michelangelo) “brings about a change in what things are” by causing it to have a particular arrangement of form (303-4).  The clay (or to be more accurate, the marble) is not undergoing a fundamental change in its existence when it is arranged statue-wise and called the David, but rather the statue is the resulting form when the intentional action of an agent (Michelangelo) is to arrange the clay/marble statue-wise. The entity that existed before the work (the clay) only undergoes a change in its intentional existence in the world of concreta.

That said, I think I understood Cameron’s point to be that the creation of an object is not its bringing into existence but rather the intentional arrangement of entities that existed already by an artist/composer into the piece it is now. In my mind this no way contradictory to the Platonist views of composing musical works (if we take it to believe that musical pieces are the arrangements of sound entities already in existence prior to the work itself).

Things don't exist ontologically

Submitted by Ioanida Costache on Tuesday, 3/29/2011, at 10:59 AM

I agree with Brian that Cameron's argument which is similar to Kivy's makes sense. When he says that there are no such things as statues he is saying that statues are not a fundamental "simple" that have always exists, I think. So in response to Hilary ontologically speaking there are no such things as cars but that doesn't mean that "cars exist" is a false English sentence. So I guess in Cameron's ontological language nothing can be created because when you're "creating" (english sentence) something you're really only rearranging simples or changing certain properties such as form. His boldface ontological language is another mode of expression that doesn't necessary deny our English sentences conception of creation and existence it's just simply that I think another mode of expression.

Cameron makes an important distinction between the thing that exists (say a statue) and the components that exist (ontologically). He says that "Michelangelo's David is not the marble from which it was sculpted" (CR 161). And later he emphasizes process: " so 'there are musical works' comes to be made true not by a change in what there is but by a change in the properties of certain things that exist throughout (that is, not by bringing a new entity--a work of music--into existence, but by changing certain properties of a thing--the abstract sound structure--that has been there all along" (164). Maybe we can say that creation ( in our English language) is equivalent I think to Cameron's notion of "changing certain properties of a thing" whether it be a sound structure or a mound of clay.

Statues Vs. Statuees-Shaped

Submitted by Christopher W. Payne on Tuesday, 3/29/2011, at 10:37 AM

I am going to agree with Tony when he challenges Cameron's claim that "statue-shaped" can exist without the existence of "statue". How can it be possible to liken an object to a noun that does not exist? I am completely confused with Cameron's statement and his explanation of this claim only confuses me further. I feel as though he constantly plays with the flexibility of language to prove these bold statements of his and thus perpetuates the absurdity of one claim after another. I believe that Cameron takes the world "Ontological" and uses the complexity of the word to speak in circles throughout the article and does not really give a solid justification anywhere in the article. I think its pretty evident that: "Statue-shaped" cannot not exist with the word "statue". Brian claims that "statue-shaped" can exist atemporality but there does not have to be an object fulfilling the role of "statue". This argument does not convince me as well. I would to talk more about this statement and if it holds any legitimacy. 

Can Creation Ever Occur?

Submitted by Hilary Cullen Budwey on Tuesday, 3/29/2011, at 9:39 AM

While I agree with Cameron that musical "works" are not created, I am interested by how he seems to define creation, and thereby existence.

Cameron states that abstract objects cannot be created, which seems to be a solid claim, as abstracta must exist externally. So he seems to say that something is created when it is brought into existence. He also bars explanations where two things occupy the same place and time (the statue and the lump of clay, for example). Barring extraordinary fiat-lux-esque examples, we can't create something out of (literal) nothing. So is anything ever created? When we first began to discuss creation vs discovery in this class, I thought that, perhaps, only physical things could be created. But now it looks like that too is impossible, although Cameron claims that "the only things that can be created are things that stand in causal relations to other things."

And what exists? How simple must a simple thing be? Cameron says that statues do not exist. But then what about cars? Say, for example, I build a Mustang out of metal (and whatever else I'd need to build a car). Does the car exist? Or it is just a bunch of metal in the shape of a car? It seems that the car is in the same situation as the statue. In fact, as Cameron states, there are no [non-living] complex objects.

Brian and Anthony: As far as the statues and no statues thing goes, I think that what Cameron wants to say is that there are things shaped like the abstract idea of a statue, but that that abstract idea does not and has not come into physical existence. Does this make sense?

Pros and Cons

Submitted by Joseph T. Kelly on Tuesday, 3/29/2011, at 9:12 AM

On page 312, Cameron says, "the point for today is simply that fundamental ontology need not contain distinct entities with distinct powers to make these sentences of English true." I think Cameron is correct and astute in making this claim. In fact, I'm not convinced that a fundamental ontology need exist in order to make these sentences true. However, I fail to see how Cameron explains the jump from this point (that the ontological entity need not exist) to a confident assertion that such a musical entity does not exist. He admits the epistemic access worry on pages 307-8, but what about the epistemological basis worry? How could Cameron - someone who exists in the material world - come to know the nature of entities in the abstract, eternal world? And if this is beyond his capabilities, it seems awfully ridiculous that he suppose to speak the language and understand the logic of a space with which humans cannot causally interact.

On another note, there is one aspect of Cameron's article that I find particularly compelling. I think his system does a good job (or at least the best we've read so far) at capturing our everyday language and our intuitions about music. I want to say that musical works are created and he sustains that possibility. Also, by claiming that musical works are not ontological entities, Cameron leaves open the possibility that what counts as music can be a complicated web of entities (like Wittgenstein's game) and not something limited by arbitrary (necessary and sufficient) criteria.

Causal Chain

Submitted by Maxfield H. McKenna on Tuesday, 3/29/2011, at 8:53 AM

Early in Cameron's article, he writes that the "only things that can be created are things that can stand in causal relations to other things. but abstract objects cannot be the relata of causal relations--they can neither exert a causal influence or be causally acted upon; hence, abstract objects cannot be created." (Ross, p. 296).  This immediately seems a very odd claim to me, because I feel that the musical work, whatever it might happen to be, is causally responsible for its performances, at the very least.  It does not seem counter-intuitive or problematic at all to me to say that a musical work is abstract, but also causally determinant, and standing in causal relations to other things.

Cameron's is an error theory

Submitted by Farris D. Hassan on Tuesday, 3/29/2011, at 3:47 AM

Sean writes, "It seems fitting... to say that Beethoven discovered the abstract sound structure that is instanced when Beethoven’s 9th symphony is played. Saying Beethoven discovered this abstract sound structure seems to make more sense as (1) Beethoven is not bringing anything into existence in any real sense."

I disagree. It seems most accurate to say that Beethoven is bringing into existence an activity—the activity of people referring to the abstract sound structure denoted by “Beethoven’s 9th Symphony”. What he is creating is an activity of awareness.

On another point, in his argument Cameron says that the English sentence “A statue exists” does not imply that a “a statue exists in an ontological sense (which would imply the existence of non-living composites)”. But many people do in fact believe in the existence of non-living composites; that is, many people are not nihilists like Cameron. Therefore, it seems they are saying “A statue exists in the ontological sense.”  To argue that they are not doing so, Cameron must assert that what they believe they have in mind when they said in English, “statues exist”, is not what they actually have in mind, or that they have no coherent, ontological idea in their mind when they assert “statues exist.”

It may help if I put this point in another form: A nihilist is someone who believes that there are ontologically no complex objects. Not everyone is a nihilist. In fact, a large portion of ordinary people are not nihilists. Hence, when state in English “A complex object (say a musical work) exists”, they must mean ontologically, “A complex object exists.” Therefore, Cameron is incorrect to say that English sentences like “a complex object exists” don’t mean in ontologese, “a complex object exists.” To speak correctly, he must say some English sentences have a nihilist claim about the world, some English sentences have an anti-Nihilist claim about the world, and the latter are false. False. He’s purporting a massive error theory.

Beyond "So What?"

Submitted by Samia K. Hesni on Tuesday, 3/29/2011, at 2:41 AM

It's easy to get frustrated with Cameron's ontological jargon and to read his assertion of " 'a exists' can be true without committing us to an entity that is a" as a precautionary measure against having to revamp the way we speak. But I think we can also critique Cameron on his own terms? Returning to the three propositions he lays out in his introduction gives us an idea of why Cameron resorts to his "meta-ontological view." As he tells us, he is trying to somehow acknowledge each of the three propositions -- for their intuitiveness, it seems -- while avoiding or reconciling the inconsistency within the three. To do so, he distinguishes ontological truths from regular statements: "ontology is concerned with what there is fundamentally..." (and later: "the fundamental existents together with their fundamental properties are all we need to do all our truthmaking work.")


Cameron's argument ultimately turns on the claim that the third proposition -- "abstract objects cannot be created" -- is ontologically motivated, and thus different from the first two sentences. This is because ontology deals with abstracta. But what keeps proposition 2 --which also deals with abstracta -- from being ontologically motivated? Cameron can't say that it is the part about creation that makes 3 ontological and 2 not, because then he would have to allow for 1 to be ontological. In section IV, he tells us not to worry about 1 and 2 in an ontological sense, because they are false, because there are no musical works. But is he not just begging the question?

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