Relevant to my interest in the philosophy of existence is Peter van Inwagen's "McGinn on Existence" which is online here, and published in Andrea Bottani and Richard Davies (eds.), Modes of Existence: Papers in Ontology and Philosophical Logic, Ontos Verlag, 2006, pp. 105-129. On p. 108 we read:
. . . Meinong's theory has a rather more important defect than its incorporation of the idea of modes of being, and that is that it's self-contradictory — obviously self-contradictory. Here is one way of bringing out the contradiction in the theory: Meinongianism entails that there are things that participate in neither mode of being, things that have no being of any sort; but if there are such things, they obviously have being. For a thing to have being is for there to be a such a thing as it is; what else could being be? Now this defect in Meinong's theory — its being obviously self-contradictory — is avoided by certain recent theories whose proponents describe themselves as Meinongians, philosophers such as Terence Parsons and Richard Routley, among others. I call these people neo-Meinongian, since, although their theories incorporate many Meinongian elements, they reject a component of Meinong's theory of objects that I consider essential to it, the doctrine of Aussersein, a doctrine an immediate consequence of which is the self-contradiction that I just called your attention to: that there are things of which it is true that there are no such things. (Emphasis in original.)
I said that van Inwagen makes two mistakes in the above passage. The first is that he attributes an obvious self-contradiction to Meinong's theory when what is obvious is that there is no such obvious self-contradiction to be found therein. (For the record, I do not accept Meinong's theory, and I believe there are good arguments for rejecting it; my point is that the self-contradiction van Inwagen alleges is not to be found in it.) Now everyone will concede that the following is obviously a logical self-contradiction:
1. There are items that have no being.
For that is tantamount to saying that there ARE items that ARE NOT. But I challenge anyone to explain to me how the following proposition is a formal-logical self-contradiction:
2. Some items have no being.
Note first that exegetical charity demands that we refrain as far as possible from imputing contradictions to our interlocutors. We should do unto them as we would have them do unto us. Thus we ought to shrink from imputing the likes of (1) to Meinong and neo-Meinongians. So I suggest we impute to them the likes of (2). Now there is nothing self-contradictory about (2). We could express it as
2*. Some items are nonentities
which has the logical form
2*F. Some I are N
which obviously has both true and false substitution-instances, whence it follows that (2*) and (2) are not logically self-contradictory. (A formal-logical self-contradiction is a statement the logical form of which admits only false substitution-instances.)
No doubt one can derive a contradiction from (2) if one adds the auxiliary premise that
3. Every item is or exists.
But (3) just begs the question against the Theory of Objects. The theory entails the denial of (3); thus it entails the denial of that which would have to be added to it to generate a contradiction.
Glance back at the last sentence of the van Inwagen quotation: ". . . there are things of which it is true that there are no such things." One could employ this paradoxical form of word to express a proposition that is not self-contradictory: Some things are such that they neither exist nor subsist nor have any mode of being whatsoever. And that is what Meinong means, charitably interpreted.
The point is not that the italicized sentence is ultimately defensible. The point is that van Inwagen is wrong to consider it logically self-contradictory.
Van Inwagen makes a second mistake in the passage quoted above. He says that neo-Meinongians such as Richard Routley (who later changed his name to Richard Sylvan) "reject a component of Meinong's theory of objects that I consider essential to it, the doctrine of Aussersein. . . ." Now the doctrine in question is indeed essential to Meinong's theory. But it is simply false to say that Routley rejects it. Had van Inwagen read merely two pages into Routley's Exploring Meinong's Jungle and Beyond: An Investigation of Noneism and the Theory of Items, Ridgeview, 1982, he would have seen that Routley accepts the doctrine of Aussersein: "Very many objects do not exist; and in many cases they do not exist in any way at all, or have any form of being whatsoever." (p. 2) Routley is not merely glossing Meinong in this passage but enunciating a ptroposition that his Theory of Items espouses as becomes quite clear to any one who reads his book. The discussion of Aussersein on pp. 856 ff. makes it especially evident that Routley takes this thesis on board.
A Third Mistake
Van Inwagen says something else that shows no comprehension of the most sophisticated of the neo-Meinongian theories, namely Routley's: "Unlike Meinong, however, the Neos [the neo-Meinongians including Routley] happily apply the term 'exists' to abstract things, and they (fortunately) do not maintain that there are things that fall outside the realm of being." (p. 109) This is doubly mistaken. Routley, we have just seen consigns concrete items such as the golden mountain to the realm of Aussersein. But he also states on the very first page of Exploring Meinong's Jungle that:
None of space, time, or location — not, for that matter, other important universals such as numbers, sets or attributes — exist; no propositions or other abstract bearers of truth exist: but these items are not therefore nothing, they are each something, distinct somethings, with quite different properties, and, though they in no way exist, they are objects of discourse, of thought, and of quantification, in particular of particularisation.
In sum, nonexistent items for Routley include not only nonexistent concreta but also nonexistent abstracta. Both of the last two mistakes could have been avoided with just two pages worth of reading.
Finally, how does this post relate to our recent discussions? One of my concerns is to show that existence has nothing to do with quantification, pace Quine's version of the thin theory of being, to which van Inwagen subscribes. Meinongian theories are useful foils that illustrate how the link can be broken.