The Ontology of Repeatable Artefacts

  • Geoffrey Stevenson

Student thesis: Phd


Abstract for a thesis submitted to The University of Manchester for the degree of Ph.D. by Geoff M. J. Stevenson, and titled The Ontology of Repeatable Artefacts. August, 2010Many of those artefacts with which we are so familiar - including, for example, works of music, photographs, novels, essays, films, television adverts, and graphic designs - share a common ontological nature. I argue in this thesis that they are all repeatable, and set out to provide an ontological account of these entities that explains the phenomenon of repeatability. In a fruitful meeting of aesthetics and metaphysics, a great deal has been written recently on the ontological nature of musical works. More encompassing enquiries have sought to understand the ontology of artworks in general. I will be responding to and engaging with this body of literature insofar as it also offers accounts of the entities I describe as repeatable. However, my approach gives metaphysical concerns and the phenomenon of repeatability primacy over aesthetic concerns.Here I argue that repeatable artefacts fall into the ontological category of kinds. I develop an account of repeatable artefacts as kinds that has two key components. Firstly, on my view kinds are physical rather than abstract. Secondly, I argue that repeatable artefacts, as kinds, have essences that are purely relational and historical. The thesis begins with a discussion of method. The methodological issue has grown in prominence in recent years, as theorists have sought some higher level arbitration on the expanding number of theories and approaches being offered in response to ontological puzzles. Drawing on the work of Amie Thomasson, I defend a methodology according to which we should develop an ontological account using careful conceptual analysis that assesses our intuitions about the application of referring terms. This commitment to conceptual analysis is then defended from misunderstandings and objections. I apply this method in giving an ontological explanation for the phenomenon of repeatability. I argue that repeatable artefacts are kinds. Kinds are strongly individuated by their essences, which are the conditions that must be satisfied for the kind to be instanced. I then develop an account of kinds as physical multiply located entities, that exist when and where they have instances. This stands in contrast to the prevailing view according to which kinds are abstract. I then set out to give an account of the essences of paradigmatic repeatable artefacts. I argue that this can be done if we are willing to reject the default view according to which essences are at least partly structural, and replace it with an account of purely relational and historical essences. The essences of many paradigmatic repeatable artefacts, I claim, involve causal historical processes of copying.
Date of Award31 Dec 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJulian Dodd (Supervisor) & Michael Scott (Supervisor)


  • Ontology
  • Artefacts
  • Metaphysics
  • Repeatability
  • Conceptual Analysis
  • Kinds

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