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Lord, Catherine, , . A Kripkean approach to the identity of a work of art
1977, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 36 (2):147-153.
Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Abstract: Now THAT THE NEW essentialism is forcing us to reconsider many issues in diverse areas of philosophy, it is appropriate to examine some of the implications of Saul Kripke’s work for aesthetics. I shall be focusing on Kripke’s “Naming and Necessity.” 1 On Kripke’s account, the table in my dining room could not have been made out of any other wood than the wood that was, in fact, actually used to make it. It is not merely that this particular kind of wood must have been used, namely oak, but this very piece, otherwise it would not be this particular table. I intend to show how Kripke’s line of argument applies to a work of art and to draw the consequences of it for aesthetics. If we do not want to accept these consequences, then we will be forced into a ra- tional reconstruction of the identity issue. My application of Kripke’s position is con- fined to painting and sculpture and turns for its example on Michelangelo’s David. (Whether or not or how Kripke’s analysis and our conclusions can be extended to the other arts is outside the scope of this paper.) Let me be clear about strategy. Through- out I assume without argument Kripke’s position. I also assume and, in fact hold, again without argument, that the David is a physical entity. When the consequences of CATHERINE LORD is professor of philosophy at Syra- cuse University. the Kripkean analysis are explored, I engage in a descriptive metaphysics and assume these to be the facts. There is no waffling on the assumption that the David is a physical object. When the consequences of the Kripkean analysis are applied to that assumption, we may not wish to accept them. At that point I engage in a rational reconstruction. The descriptive metaphysics and the rational reconstruction or revisionary meta- physics must not be confused. Following Kripke’s analysis, I shall show how it is that Michelangelo could not have made his David out of a different block of marble than the block which he actually used. Since this is counter-intuitive, we may want to protest as follows. Let us pretend that Michelangelo walks into his studio. There are two blocks of marble before him, block A and block B. As the sculptor de- liberates as to which block he will use, he has the work of art in his mind. In fact he has before his mind a perfect image, complete in every detail, of the statue which will result from his efforts. (Here I am not com- mitted to any particular theory of the imagination – one could be Rylean. On any account I see no logical difficulty in supposing that Michelangelo knew exactly what he wanted to do, that he had a representation vivid in every detail of what he would later execute.) We may say, then, that Michelangelo’s intention, and I emphasize the word, intention, was to embody a certain idea in matter perhaps even a certain kind of matter, marble, and even perhaps a certain kind of marble. (Again, in speaking of embodying a certain idea, I should not be taken as prejudicing the case in favor of or against any theory of aesthetics.) After examining block A and block B and finding nothing to choose between them, Michelangelo chose block A. Now as far as Michelangelo’s intention was concerned it could have been realized in block B. His intention was to create a definite statue which he envisioned in every detail. Accordingly, we seem bound to say that the David might just as readily have been made out of block B as block A. On a Kripkean analysis that is not the case. Had Michelangelo chosen to embody his idea in block B, an entity different from the David would have resulted. It would have looked exactly as the David does in fact look. It might, indeed, have weighed the same amount, etc., but it would not have been identical to the entity to which the David is identical. It would certainly have been a David. “. . . is a David” is a general term which is true of many statues; “the David,” as I am using the expression, is a singular term referring to only one. Al- though there is a possible world in which Michelangelo embodies his idea in block B and in which the resulting sculpture comes to be put in the Academia in Florence and even to be enjoyed in precisely the same way as we do in fact enjoy the David, the object of our attention in that possible world is not to be identified with the entity in the Academia, i.e., with the David we ac- tually do enjoy. To grasp Kripke’s central contention, let us consider it in its most dramatic formula- tion where he argues that Socrates could not possibly have come from different parents. More precisely, Kripke is willing to allow that the sperm and egg from which Socrates came might possibly have been transplanted from the bodies of his mother and father to the bodies of a different man and woman. Had such a transplantation taken place, Socrates might well have come from differ- ent parents, as the term is ordinarily under- stood. The key issue can be brought out as follows. Suppose that Socrates’ parents had died in an earthquake in their early youth at a time before they first met. There is such a possible world. Now suppose that some other Athenian couple gave birth to a son on the precise date on which Socrates, our Socrates, was born. Suppose that this son was snub-nosed like Socrates, indeed looked exactly like him at every stage of his life. We may even suppose that his per- sonality, his genetic make-up, etc. was the same as our Socrates. We can imagine his living a life from birth to death just like the life Socrates lived, even becoming the teacher of Plato and being given the hem- lock. Would that person have been our Socrates? The answer for Kripke is No. Somewhere in outer space there may now, in fact, be a double of Gerald Ford. He may live on a planet qualitatively indistin- guishable in every respect down to the last detail from the planet Earth. He may even be president of a country exactly like ours, etc., but he would not be Gerald Ford even though his name may be “Gerald Ford.” Qualitative similarity cannot suffice to es- tablish identity. To return to the table in my dining room, in traditional Aristotelian terms, Kripke in- sists that essential to the table is both its form and its matter, its being a table, on the one hand, and its being made of the very wood it is indeed made of, on the other. Supposing Michelangelo had chosen block B instead of block A for embodying his idea. Suppose also that Leonardo da Vinci had stepped into his studio and absconded with block A.2 Suppose that by some extraordi- nary coincidence Michelangelo and Leo- nardo, working separately, each produced a statue qualitatively indistinguishable from the David which is in the Academia. Which of the two works, that of Michelangelo or that of Leonardo would be the David, Michelangelo’s made out of block B or Leo- nardo’s made out of block A? Take a simpler case. Suppose that Michelangelo had worked on both blocks of marble and produced two qualitatively indistinguish- able statues. Let the one made from block A find its way to the Uffizi or the Louvre and the one made from block B find its way to the Academia (perhaps in the manner of Kripkean Approach To Identity of Art Work those statues of Daedelus). There is no logical reason why our David should have found its way to the Academia. There is, however, a necessity – an onto- logical necessity – that the David should have been made out of block A, though the truth of the sentence, “The David was made out of block A,” cannot be established on the basis of a purely a priori reflection. We have here, then, a necessary a posteriori proposition. And it is the a posteriori char- acter of the proposition that encourages one to suppose that we could have discovered that the David was made out of granite. If we discover that the David is made out of granite, not marble, then we have dis- covered that the David is necessarily made out of granite. This is merely an epistemic possibility. We could even now, in a scepti- cal frame of mind, say that as far as we know David might in fact have been made out of granite. But since, in fact, the David is made out of marble and made from block A, in all possible worlds it is made of marble and from block A. There is no ontologically possible world in which we discover it to be made of granite or out of block B.

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