(UPDATE: 23 March. Butchvarov sent me some comments via e-mail the main ones of which I insert in the text in red.)
This post assumes familiarity with Panayot Butchvarov's "protometaphysics," as he calls it. But I will begin by sketching the distinction between objects and entities. Then I will present an objection that occurred to me and Larry Lee Blackman independently. That will be followed by a response that Butchvarov could make to the objection. Finally, I will try to show that Blackman's objection, despite his disclaimers, commits him to a doctrine of modes of existence, but that this is not the bad thing he thinks it is. This post ties in with our earlier explorations of the modes-of-existence doctrine which is dogmatically denied by a majority of analytic philosophers. (These earlier posts are collected in the Existence category.) There is also an obvious tie-in with earlier posts on Intentionality.
I. Entities and Objects
Entities exist while objects may or may not exist. Some objects exist and some do not. When one imagines Santa Claus or hallucinates a pink rat, an object appears, an object that doesn’t exist. When one perceives his hand, an object appears too, one that exists. The difference between an object that exists and one that does not is explicated by Butchvarov in terms of indefinite identifiability: An object exists if and only if it is indefinitely identifiable with other objects. The domain of objects is logically prior to the domain of entities. The application of the concepts of identity and existence to the domain of objects results in a "conceptual transition" from the domain of objects to the domain of entities or existents. (BQB 39) The concepts of identity and existence sort objects into the existent and the nonexistent. Identity and existence are therefore classificatory concepts. Of the two concepts, identity is the more basic since existence is explicable in terms of it. The identity in question is material as opposed to formal identity, the kind affirmed in true, informative identity statements like 'The morning star is the evening star.' But although identity and existence are genuine concepts, they are only concepts: there is nothing in the world that corresponds to them.
Butchvarov’s Meinongian commitment to nonexistent objects is a direct consequence of his Sartrean view of consciousness as exhausting itself in its objects. For on this view consciousness harbors no representations or other intermediary contents that could serve as surrogate objects when we think about what does not exist. Imagination of a mermaid is not consciousness of a mental image or other content of consciousness but precisely consciousness of a mermaid. Consciousness of a mermaid is just as outer-directed and revelatory of a material item as consciousness of a dolphin. But mermaids do not exist. Therefore, some objects do not exist. To take intentionality at phenomenological face-value, as Butchvarov does, is to accept nonexistent objects. Phenomenologically, consciousness is just the revealing of objects, only some of which are indefinitely identifiable. (THIS SECTION STATES MY VIEWS BETTER THAN I HAVE EVER DONE MYSELF!)
II. An Objection
There is a strong temptation to suppose that if there are nonexistent objects, as Meinongians maintain, then they must have some ontological status despite their not existing. After all, they are not nothing. And so one might suppose that they must have the status of merely intentional objects. By 'merely intentional object' I mean an accusative of consciousness that does not exist in reality but does exist as, and only as, an accusative of consciousness. (We will have to ask whether one who accepts merely intentional objects must also accept modes of existence.) (I AM UNEASY ABOUT YOUR USE OF ‘ACCUSATIVE.’ IT IS A GRAMMATICAL TERM. WHAT YOU MEAN BY IT IS ‘OBJECT,’ BUT THEN YOUR PHRASE “MERELY INTENTIONAL OBJECTS” JUST MEANS “OBJECTS THAT DO NOT EXIST BUT SOMEONE IS CONSCIOUS OF THEM.) But for Butchvarov, the class of nonexistent objects does not have the same extension as that of merely intentional objects. For he tells us that there is "no contradiction in supposing that there are objects that are not perceived, or imagined, or thought by anyone." (BQB 62, quoted in Larry Lee Blackman, "Mind as Intentionality Alone," Metaphysica, vol. 3, no. 2 December 2002,p. 45) If there are such nonexistent objects, then of course it cannot be true that x is a nonexistent object iff x is a merely intentional object.
Furthermore, what I am calling merely intentional objects are mind-dependent: they exist as, and only as, accusatives of mind. No mind, no merely intentional objects. But Butchvarov's nonexistent objects are neither mind-dependent nor mind-independent, whether logically or causally. Only what exists is either mind-dependent or mind-independent. It follows that none of his nonexistent objects are what I am calling merely intentional objects.
Blackman's worry, and mine too, is expressed by Blackman when he writes, "He [Butchvarov] denies that nonexistent objects are mind-dependent, but in an obvious sense they are, since, in a world without minds, there would be no perceivings of golden mountains, no imaginings of centaurs, etc." (Blackman, 55) Now Butchvarov denies on phenomenological grounds that there are individual mental subjects and mental acts as well. So Butchvarov might respond that of course there are no imaginings of centaurs, if imaginings are mental acts. So we need to put Blackman's objection more precisely. The objection needn't presuppose that there are individual minds or mental acts. The essence of the objection is that in a world without mind (consciousness) there are no perceptual or imaginal objects. (THIS IS AMBIGUOUS, THOUGH THE FAULT IS MINE BECAUSE I USE ‘PERCEPTUAL’ AND ‘IMAGINAL’ FOR THE NONRELATIONAL PROPERTIES IN QUESTION. BUT THEY ARE EXPLICITLY INTENDED TO EXCLUDE REFERENCE TO A CONSCIOUSNESS.) Denying as he does that there are minds and mental acts, Butchvarov must deny that imagining, perceiving, remembering, etc. are types of mental acts or properties of mental acts. Act-differences are displaced onto the object as monadic (nonrelational) properties of objects. Thus it is a nonrelational, and hence intrinsic, property of centaurs that they are imaginal objects. This being understood, Blackman's objection can be put by saying that in a world without consciousness there would be no perceptual or imaginal or memorial objects, and that therefore, in a world without consciousness, there would be no such nonexistent objects. Blackman is of course assuming that there could be a world without consciousness. If Butchvarov were to claim that there could not be, then his theory of objects would have idealism as a consequence.
The problem can be set forth as an aporetic triad:
1. Only what exists is either mind-dependent or mind-independent. (MY POINT IS THAT CAUSAL RELATIONS HOLD ONLY BETWEEN EXISTENT OBJECTS. IF THERE IS AN EXISTENT SUCH AS MIND, THEN DEPENDENCE ON IT WOULD BE SUCH A RELATION.)
2. There are objects that do not exist.
3. Both the distinction between objects and entities, and the related distinction between existent and nonexistent objects, are mind-involving in the sense that in a world without mind these distinctions would not obtain. (THE TERM ‘MIND’ HERE IS AMBIGUOUS. IF IT MEANS ‘CONSCIOUSNESS’ THEN MIND IS NOT THE SORT OF THING ON WHICH ANYTHING CAN DEPEND OR NOT DEPEND.)
The limbs of this triad are individually plausible but jointly inconsistent. For example, (1) and (2) taken together entail the negation of (3). Indeed, any two limbs, taken together, entail the negation of the remaining one. Since Butch is committed to both (1) and (2), he will solve the problem by denying (3). Unfortunately, (3) is at least as plausible as (1) and (2). Blackman, if I have understood him, will go further and say that (3) is more plausible than (1). Accordingly, Blackman will solve the problem by denying (1).
There is of course the possibility that the inconsistent triad is a genuine aporia, a conceptual impasse, and thus insoluble on the plane of the discursive intellect, which of course is where philosophy must operate. I can't prove that it is a genuine aporia, but all three limbs, though jointly inconsistent, make a strong claim on our acceptance. It is therefore not unreasonable to hold that we have no rational ground to prefer the rejection of one limb rather than another. Of course, there is no way to stop people from being dogmatic. Thus some will quickly reject (2) while ignoring the phenomenological and dialectical considerations Butch adduces in support of it.
My point, then is that Butchvarov's position, which requires the acceptance of (1) and (2), and the rejection of (3), is not compelling and is rationally rejectable.
III. A Possible Butchvarov Response
Suppose we reject (1) as I am inclined to do. We would then be maintaining that an item can be mind-dependent without existing in reality. ('Exist' when used without qualification just means 'exist in reality.') An imagined centaur would then exist-in consciousness without existing in reality. And so we would have to distinguish between two distinct modes of existence, existence simpliciter (existence in reality) and intentional existence (existence in consciousness as a mere intentional object). A scholastic philosopher would speak of esse reale and esse intentionale. At this point Butch would probably object by saying that talk of modes of existence involves an intolerable equivocation on 'exists.' If one adheres strictly to the univocity of 'exists' and cognates, then one cannot sensibly speak of modes of existence (as opposed to categories of existent). So one can imagine Butchvarov arguing: (a) To reject (1) is to embrace a doctrine of modes of existence which entails the thesis that 'exist(s)' is equivocal. (b) But this equivocity thesis is unacceptable. So (c) (1) ought to be accepted. (d) Given the phenomenological evidence for nonexistent objects, (3) ought to be rejected. On the equivocity of 'exist(s)' see the work by the Butchvarov student, Dennis E. Bradford, The Concept of Existence: A Study of Nonexistent Particulars (University Press of America, 1980), pp. 37 ff.
IV. Blackman's Attempt to Avoid Equivocity
Blackman agrees with me that in a world without mind there are no nonexistent objects. But Blackman doesn't agree with me that holding this commits him to modes of existence: ". . . to assert that gargoyles exist as the objects of our awarenesses is not to employ the term 'exists' equivocally, as Butchvarov might allege." (Blackman, 55) Why not?
To say that gargoyles exist as the objects of my imaginings and that penguins exist as the the objects of my (veridical) perceptions is no more to use the term 'exists' equivocally than it is to to claim that the word 'exists' is used equivocally in the locutions, 'I exist as a father' and 'I exist as a husband.' In neither case are we supposing different 'modes' of existence. (Ibid.)
The comparison is faulty. I grant that there is no equivocation on 'exists' as between 'I exist as a father' and 'I exist as a husband.' The first is equivalent to 'I exist and I am a father' while the second is equivalent to 'I exist and I am a husband.' No equivocation! But then 'Gargoyles exist as the objects of my imaginings' is equivalent to 'Gargoyles exist and gargoyles are objects of my imaginings' and 'Penguins exist as the objects of my (veridical) perceptions' is equivalent to 'Penguins exist and penguins are the objects of my (veridical) perceptions.' Here there is equivocation! From this one can see that the comparison is flawed. For while it is true that penguins exist and are the objects of my (veridical) perceptions, it is false that gargoyles exist and are the objects of my imaginings when 'exists' is employed univocally. Penguins exist but gargoyles do not.
Blackman is trying to have it both ways: he is trying avoid the doctrine of modes of existence (modes of being) while maintaining that nonexistent objects are mind-dependent. But this is impossible. If nonexistent objects are mind-dependent, then they must exist in some way or mode. This is because ontological dependence/independence obtains only between items that have some mode of existence. An item that has no being or existence whatsoever cannot be said to be independent or dependent on mind or on anything else. This is the core insight embodied in (1). On the other hand, if there are no modes of being or existence, then nonexistent objects cannot be said to be mind-dependent.
Although Blackman is on very solid ground in claiming that nonexistent objects are mind-dependent, he falls into incoherence because of his adherence to the analytic dogma that there cannot be modes of existence. Further proof of the incoherence is in evidence when Blackman states that "We might say that nonexistent objects, like the existent ones, belong to something larger called 'reality,' but the claim that nonexistent objects are in a sense 'real' is innocuous, as long as it understood that their 'reality' consists merely in their being the (strictly mental) intentions of certain awarenesses. (55-56) It seems to me that the first independent clause in this sentence contradicts the second. If reality is common to existent and nonexistent objects, then surely the reality of an object (whether existent or nonexistent) cannot consist in its being the strictly mental intention (i.e., intentum, intentional object) of certain awarenesses.
I claim that the widespread analytic view that there cannot be modes of existence is but a dogma. In earlier posts collected in the Existence category I try to show that typical arguments against the doctrine fail and that there is a way between the horns of univocity and sheer equivocity of the river bank/financial bank sort (which I grant is intolerable). If I am right about this, the insights of both Blackman and Butchvarov can be accommodated. Blackman is right to insist that nonexistent objects are mind-dependent. And Butchvarov is right to think that only what exists can stand in relations of dependence or independence. But Butchvarov is wrong to think that only what exists in reality exists. What exists in the mode of esse intentionale also exists but not in reality, only in consciousness.