In a paper I wrote for a class last quarter, I began with the concept of "music as a lens for culture" and ultimately ended up drawing parallels between culture, language, and music -- more specifically, the classification and/or taxonomy thereof.

My comparison began with culture; one can consider the culture of a nation as one thing (e.g. Japanese culture), even though obvious regional differences exist in different parts of that nation. To account for these regional differences, one can speak of the culture of a specific place (e.g. the culture of Tokyo or the culture of Kyoto) -- and yet general truths exist which can accurately describe all of those individual regional cultures as well. It is possible to continue this process of specification down to a single individual: as every person's experiences differ so does their culture, if only slightly, differ. Similarly, it is possible to continue this process in reverse via generalization. One could theoretically describe what makes "human" culture (though I posited that these "humannesses" would become much clearer with a non-human culture to which to compare it).

Music and language are analogous to culture in this respect. Language can be classified down to a single individual (the language of a single person is an "idiolect"), and musical genre can be unique down to a specific song (or perhaps even phrase).

And so, now that the long explanation is out of the way, I ask: are these things actually analogous, or is there something inherent to the way that humans reason that results in this particular type of classification?

It is likely worth noting that I have been that Immanuel Kant discussed this very issue, but in no more detail than that. As an aside to my actual question, what did Kant say about this, and what was his reasoning?

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    Classifying things are something inherently human, because it helps simplify and deal with a complex reality. very few, if any, of the boxes we tend to put things in have any objective existence. Although the differences can be measurable, the classifications themselves are arbitrary. – Lennart Regebro Jun 28 '11 at 11:32
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    There is a branch called ontology devoted to this - you can see this wikipedia page for some philosophers' opinions. You might need to ask a more specific question in order to get an answer here. – Xodarap Jun 28 '11 at 17:26

This sort of categorization seems a necessary beginning for any sort of inductive study. Aristotle was obsessed with categorizing everything he observed. Forms of argument that include premises about category, such as "all coffee is bitter", imply categories exist. It is a meaningless statement unless we can agree on what sort of beverage coffee is and what it isn't. Aristotle noted that some individuals make good representatives of a category and others don't. The Reliant Robin would make a poor example of the category of "Car" since it has three wheels and could be (and was) argued to be a motorcycle. Useful categories include the set of individuals that are part of the category and exclude the set that are not. The difficulty in assigning certain individuals to categories implies that categories are artificial or imposed by human reason.

On the other hand, Aristotle was in opposition to his teacher, Plato, on this issue. Plato believed that individuals were shadows of true, idealized Forms. He explained the difficulties in comparing individuals to their Form as a result of the imperfection of the material world. Mathematical objects, such as integers and shapes, obviously have theoretical definitions that might not be exactly reproducible in the real world. (If I say I have 3 brothers that's not exactly true since each one is different than the other. The theoretical idea of "3" doesn't perfectly apply.) To Plato, classifications actually exist, even though we don't observe them perfectly in the world.

Much of the work of philosophy in the West has tried to sort through these distinctions and their implications. Whether it's a happy accident that individuals can be usefully grouped or whether information naturally fits into groups stands as one of the great unsolved (and perhaps unsolvable) problems of the field.

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