Philosophical Studies

, Volume 177, Issue 3, pp 805–824 | Cite as

Why can’t I change Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony?

  • David FriedellEmail author


Musical works change. Bruckner revised his Eighth Symphony. Ella Fitzgerald and many other artists have made it acceptable to sing the jazz standard “All the Things You Are” without its original verse. If we accept that musical works genuinely change in these ways, a puzzle arises: why can’t I change Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony? More generally, why are some individuals in a privileged position when it comes to changing musical works and other artifacts, such as novels, films, and games? I give a view of musical works that helps to answer these questions. Musical works, on this view, are created abstract objects with no parts. The paradigmatic changes that musical works undergo are socially determined normative changes in how they should be performed. Due to contingent social practices, Bruckner, but not I, can change how his symphony should be performed. Were social practices radically different, I would be able to change his symphony. This view extends to abstract artifacts beyond music, including novels, films, words, games, and corporations.


Music Abstract objects Ontology of art Change Rohrbaugh Evnine 



Special thanks to Katrina Elliott and Dominic Lopes for their help with this paper. Thanks also to Emily Anderson, Dan Blacksberg, Wesley Cray, Sam Cumming, Simon Evnine, Deborah Friedell, Ellen Friedell, Steven Friedell, Pamela Hieronymi, Marc Kaplan, Ned Markosian, Samantha Matherne, Gary Ostertag, Antonia Peacocke, Nick Riggle, Michael Rings, Guy Rohrbaugh, Kyle da Silva, Michel-Antoine Xhignesse, the members of the 2018 Beauty and Why It Matters Conference, and an anonymous referee.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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