Price Ontology versus Price Determination

I’ve been thinking a lot about our research question, and it seems to me that a useful (re)start may be the difference between the ontology of prices and the determination of prices. Ontology normally refers to the study of conceptions of reality. The ontology of price would be an explicit specification of that conceptualization (Gruber 1993: 199). The idea is that we would be trying to understand what price is – how is it made understandable. This is a bit challenging because when we look especially at secondary markets for Art, it is taken for granted that prices already exist. Auctions, as we’ll read Charles Smith’s account of them, are actually designed to help determine prices when there is uncertainty over how much something is worth. But this says less about what makes price itself knowable.

The ontology of prices would look at the shift between a work of Art being price-less and being price-able. This is what I had in mind when we started the semester.

However, it is obviously not the only way to approach things. Clearly in our discussions, we have thought about the other part of this – how are prices for Art determined? This is another natural question to ask, and it gets at more the underlying drivers for art prices to be high or low, stagnant or booming. Here, we might simply assume that prices exist, and they are determined somehow by either supply/demand (traditional price theory in economics), or at the intersection of what a willing buyer would pay and what a willing seller would sell for (in the IRS’s language), or whatever else you might think. What is of interest in this view are questions like: does marketing the Art raise its price? Does artist reputation change its price? Do changes in the economy change the prices for Art? Does genre explain Art prices?

It seems that the research questions we can answer seem geared more towards this second kind of question. But I’m not quite certain about wheat direction you/we would like to go as a class for the rest of the semester. (cue comments)

Gruber, Thomas. 1993. “A translation approach to protable ontology specifications.” Knowledge Acquisition 5(2): 199-220.

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