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Ontology and the Nature of the Literary Work

19 January, 2021

Howell R.
First pub. in: Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 60. № 1, Winter 2002. pp. 67–79.

Poems, novels, and other works of literature have long provided prime examples for the ontology of art. Theorists have made many attempts to identify the ontological kind or kinds into which such works, or their major or standard sorts, fall. Familiar suggestions for such kinds include, among others, sequences of word types, “norm kinds,” and verbal entities essentially linked to the authors and historical processes involved in their creation. These suggestions have been of great philosophical interest, but in my view they all are deficient. Numerous examples, and also more general considerations, show that it is not possible, in any informative, general way, to fix an ontological kind such that, necessarily, all works of literature fall into that kind. Literary works—and, I believe, works of the other arts—do not form such a kind. As interpreters and theorists, we would do well to recognize that fact.

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