David Brightly comments:
As you use them, the terms 'fictional', 'intentional', 'possible', 'incomplete', and others like 'past' have a distinctive effect on the concept terms they qualify. Ordinary adjectives have the effect of narrowing the extension of the concept term they qualify: the red balls are a subset of the balls, the female prime ministers are a subset of the prime ministers, and so on. The terms in question have the opposite effect. They appear to widen, or indeed offset altogether, the extension of the qualified concept. They are thus potent alienating terms. So the question arises, What is the relation (if any) between the concepts 'fictional person' and 'person', between 'intentional object' and 'object', and 'possible X' and 'X'? Ordinary qualification can be uniformly understood in terms of set intersection. Is there a uniform explanation underlying these alienating qualifications?
1. First of all, contrary to what David says, there are plenty of ordinary adjectives that do not narrow the extension of the terms they qualify. There are redundant adjectives, alienans adjectives, and there is the construction known as the contradictio in adiecto. For example, 'decoy' in 'decoy duck' is an ordinary adjective despite its being an alienans adjective; it is just as ordinary as 'female' in 'female duck,' which I call a specifying adjective and which does narrow the extension of the noun 'duck.' I see no reason to say that specifying adjectives are the only ordinary ones.
2. We can agree on this: red balls are a proper subset of balls, and female prime ministers are a proper subset of prime ministers. We will also agree that round balls are a subset of balls, though not a proper subset, and that female girls are an improper subset of girls. We could say that the last two examples illustrate the null case of specification. We could make a distinction between properly specifying and improperly specifying adjectives corresponding to the distinction between proper and improper subsets.
3. We can also agree that specificatory qualification (but not all qualification) can be uniformly understood in terms of set intersection if the intersection is non-null. The set of cats and the set of dogs has an intersection, but it is the null set. Intersection is defined over all sets, disjoint or not, hence one cannot say that the set of dogs and the set of cats do not intersect. They intersect all right; it is just that their intersection is empty. 'Canine cat' is an example of a contradictio in adiecto which reflects the fact that the corresponding sets are disjoint. 'Canine' does not specify 'cat.' It does not divide the genus into two species, the canine cats and the non-canine cats.
4. I can't, pace David, think of an example in which an adjective widens the extension of the term it qualifies. Can you? For example, 'former' in 'former wife' does not widen the extension of 'wife.' It is not as if there are two kinds or species of wives, former and present. Tom's former wife is not his wife. 'Former' does not narrow the extension either. It is an alienans adjective. It is the same with 'artificial leather.' Alligator leather and cowshide are two kinds of leather, but artificial and real are not two kinds of leather.
5. We will agree that all or most the following constructions from ordinary, i.e., non-philosophical English feature alienans adjectives, adjectives that shift or 'alienate' or 'other' the sense of the term they qualify:
- former wife
- decoy duck
- negative growth
- faux marble
- putative father
- artificial leather
- legally dead
- male chauvinist (on one disambiguation of its syntactic ambiguity; see article below)
- generational chauvinist (I am a generational chauvinist when it comes to popular music: that of my generation is superior to that of the immediately preceding and succeding American generations.)
- quondam inamorata
- socially contagious (see here)
6. Note that the adjective in 'alienans adjective' is not alienans! Note also that 'putative' and 'artificial' function a little differently. Exercise for the reader: explain the difference and formulate a general test for alienans adjectives.
7. Observe that 'artificial' in 'artificial insemination' is not an alienans adjective in that artificial insemination is indeed insemination, albeit by artificial means. Whatever the means, you are just as pregnant. So whether an adjective is alienans or not depends on the context. A false friend is not a friend, but false teeth are teeth.
8. We now come to more or less controversial examples:
- same-sex marriage (Conservative position: same-sex marriage is not marriage)
- relative truth (I have a post on this)
- material implication (see here)
- epistemically possible
- derivative intentionality
- fictional man
- merely intentional object
- merely possible animal ('The chimera is a merely possible animal.')
- future individual
- incomplete individual
Is a (purely) fictional man a man? You might be tempted to say yes: Hamlet is fictional and Hamlet is a man, so Hamlet is a fictional man. But the drift of what I have been arguing over the last few days is that a fictional man is not a man, and that therefore 'fictional' functions as an alienans adjective. But I am comfortable with the idea that a merely possible man is a man. What is the difference?
There might have been a man distinct from every man that exists. (Think of the actual world with all the human beings in it, n human beings. There could have been n + 1.) God is contemplating this extra man, and indeed the possible world or maximal consistent state of affairs in which he figures, but hasn't and will not ever actualize him or it. What God has before his mind is a completely determinate merely possible individual man. There is only one 'thing' this man lacks: actual existence. Property-wise, he is fully determinate in respect of essential properties, accidental properties, and relational properties. Property-wise the merely possible extra man and the actual extra man are exactly the same. Their quidditative content is identical. There is no difference in Sosein; the only difference is Sein, and Sosein is indifferent to Sein as Aquinas, Kant, and Meinong would all agree despite their differences. As Kant famously maintained, Sein is not a quidditative determination, or in his jargon 'reales Praedikat.'
For this reason a merely possible (complete) man is a man. They are identical in terms of essence or nature or quiddity or Sosein, these terms taken broadly. If God actualizes the extra man, his so doing does not alter the extra man in any quidditative respect. Otherwise, he ould not be the same man God had been contemplating.
9. Brightly hits upon a happy phrase, "alienating qualifications." In my first bullet list we have examples of alienating qualifications from ordinary English. I expect Brightly will agree with all or most of these examples. His questioin to me is:
Ordinary qualification can be uniformly understood in terms of set intersection. Is there a uniform explanation underlying these alienating qualifications?
If Brightly is looking for a test or criterion I suggest the following:
Let 'FG' be a phrase in which 'F' is an adjective and 'G' a noun. 'F' is alienans if and only if either an FG is not a G, or it does not follow from x's being an FG that x is a G. For example, your former wife is not your wife, a decoy duck is not a duck, artificial leather is not leather, and a relative truth is not a truth. Is an apparent heart attack a heart attack? It may or may not be. One cannot validly move from 'Jones had an apparent heart attack' to 'Jones had a heart attack.' So 'apparent' in 'apparent heart attack' is alienans.
Now it is obvious that a decoy duck is not a duck, and that a roasted turkey is not a turkey, but the cooked carcass of a turkey; but it is not so obvious that a fictional man is not a man, while a merely possible man is a man. To establish these controversial theses -- if 'establish' is not too strong a word -- requires philosophical inquiry which is of course very difficult and typically inconclusive. But once we have decided that a certain philosophical phrase is an alienating qualification, then my test above can be applied.