Of pixels and pictures

Sat 22 Jun 2013 06:49 PM

Last month, I presented a short version of my paper on musical works as historical individuals at our department's annual video conference with philosophers in Russia. My colleague Jason D'Cruz presented a paper about Goodman's distinction between autographic and allographic works, applying the distinction to digital photographs. We got to talking afterwards and, realizing we had common interests, began to collaborate.

The result, so far, is a paper about digital pictures. It's far enough along that today I posted a draft on my website.

Are digital pictures allographic?


Abstract: The short answer to our title question is yes, but of course there are complications along the way.

Bullet point outline

1. We begin by discussing Nelson Goodman's distinction between autographic and allographic arts. There are several prima facie puzzles which the distinction promises to resolve.

2. We then consider a recent argument by John Zimebekis which alleges that digital pictures explode the autographic/allographic distinction. We argue that the distinction survives the would-be refutation.

3. Nevertheless, there is another familiar problem the distinction, especially as Goodman formulates it. It seems to entirely ignore an important sense in which all art works are historical.

We point out that, for some art forms, a work can be conceived of both as an historical object or process and as a formal structure. Talk about such works is ambiguous between the two conceptions. This allows us to recover Goodman's distinction: Art forms which are ambiguous in this way are allographic.

4. With that formulation settled, we argue that digital pictures are allographic.

5. We then consider the objection that digital photographs, unlike other digital images, would come at as autographic by our criterion. We argue, however, that this points to the vexed nature of photography rather than any problem with the distinction.

You can get a complete draft from my website. Any comments are welcome.