WARNING! Scholastic hairsplitting up ahead! If you are allergic to this sort of thing, head elsewhere. My old post, On Hairsplitting, may be of interest.
My Czech colleague Lukas Novak seems to hold that there is no mode of being that is the mode of being of purely or merely intentional objects:
. . . no problem to say that a merely intentional object O has an esse intentionale; but what is this esse? There are reasons to think that it is nothing within O: for objects have intentional being in virtue of being conceived (known, etc. . . ), and cognition in general is an immanent operation, i.e., its effects remain within its subject. It would be absurd to assume that by conceiving of Obama just now (and so imparting to him an esse intentionale) I cause a change in him! So intentional being seems to be a mere extrinsic denomination from the cognitive act, a merely extrinsic property. Consequently, objects which have only intentional being, are in themselves nothing. They do not represent an item in the complete inventory of what there is. It seems to me that it is an error (yes, I believe there are philosophical errors:-)) to assume that objects must be something in themselves in order to be capable of being conceived (or referred to).
While agreeing with much of what Novak says, I think it is reasonable to maintain that merely intentional objects enjoy intentional being, esse intentionale, a mode of being all their own, despite the obvious fact that merely intentional objects are 'existentially heteronomous,' a phrase to be defined shortly. But to discuss this with any rigor we need to make some distinctions. I will be drawing upon the work of Roman Ingarden, student of Edmund Husserl and a distinguished philosopher in his own right. I will be defending what I take to be something in the vicinity of Ingarden's position.
1. An example of a purely intentional object is a table that does not exist in reality, but is created by me in imagination with all and only the properties I freely ascribe to it. In a series of mental acts (intentional experiences) I imagine a table. The table is the intentional object of the series of acts. It is one to their many, and for this reason alone distinct from them. Act is not object, and object is not act, even though they are correlated necessarily. In virtue of its intentionality, an act is necessarily an act of an object, the italicized phrase to be read as an objective genitive, and the object, being purely or merely intentional, is dependent for its existence on the act. But although the object cannot exist without the act, the object is no part of the act, kein reeller Inhalt as Husserl would say. So, given that the act is a mental or psychic reality, it does not follow that the object, even though purely intentional, is a mental or psychic reality. Indeed, it is fairly obvious that the imagined table is not a mental or psychic reality. The object, not being immanent to the act, is in a certain sense transcendent, enjoying a sort of transcendence-in-immanence, if I remember my Husserl correctly. Of course it is not transcendent in the sense of existing on its own independently of consciousness. Now consider a really existent table. It may or may not become my intentional object. If it does, it is not a purely intentional object. A purely intentional object, then, is one whose entire being is exhausted in being an object or accusative of a conscious intending. For finite minds such as ours, nothing real is such that its being is wholly exhaustible by its being an intentional object.
My merely imagined table does not exist in reality, 'outside' my mind. But it also does not exist 'in' my mind as identical to the act of imagining it or as a proper part of the act of imagining it, or as any sort of mental content, as Twardowski clearly saw. Otherwise, (i) the merely imagined table would have the nature of an experience, which it does not have, and (ii) it would exist in reality, when it doesn't, and (iii) it would have properties that cannot be properties of mental acts or contents such as the property of being spatially extended.
2. The problem posed by purely intentional objects can be framed as the problem of logically reconciling the following propositions:
A. Some mental acts are directed upon nonexistent, purely intentional, objects.
B. Anti-Psychologism: These purely intentional objects typically do not exist intramentally, for the Twardowskian reasons above cited.
C. These purely intentional objects do not exist extramentally, else they wouldn't be purely intentional.
D. These purely intentional objects are not nothing: they have some mode of being.
E. Existential Monism: everything that exists or has being exists or has being in the same way or mode.
The pentad is logically inconsistent. One solution is to reject (D): Purely intentional objects do not exist at all, or have any sort of being, but we are nonetheless able to stand in the intentional relation to them. To this Twardowski-Meinong-Grossmann view I have two objections. First, what does not exist at all is nothing, hence no definite object. Second, if intentionality is a relation, then all its relata must exist. A better solution, that of Ingarden, is to reject (E).3. Ingarden rejects Existential Monism, maintaining that there are different modes of being. (TMB, 48) Here are four modes Ingarden distinguishes:
a. Existential Autonomy. The self-existent is existentially autonomous. It "has its existential foundation in istelf." (Time and Modes of Being, p. 43)
b. Existential Heteronomy. The non-self-existent is the existentially heteronomous. Purely intentional objects are existentially heteronomous: they have their existential foundation not in themselves, but in another. Now if existential heteronomy is a mode of being, and purely intentional objects enjoy this mode of being, then it follows straightaway that purely intentional objects have being, and indeed their own heteronomous being. If Novak denies this, then this is where our disagreement is located.
c. Existential Originality. The existentially original, by its very nature, cannot be produced by anything else. If it exists, it cannot not exist. (52) It is therefore permanent and indestructible. God, if he exists, would be an example of a being that is existentially original. But matter, as conceived by dialectical materialists, would also be an example, if it exists. (79)
d. Existential Derivativeness. The existentially derivative is such that it can exist only as produced by another. The existentially derivative may be either existentially autonomous or existentially heteronomous. Thus purely intentional objects are both existentially derivative and existentially heteronomous.
4. Now let me see if I can focus my rather subtle difference from Novak. I am sure we can agree on this much: purely intentional objects are neither existentially original nor existentially autonomous. They are existentially derivative, though not in the way a divinely created substance is existentially derivative: such substances, though derivative, are autonomous. So I think we can agree that purely intentional objects are existentially heteronomous. The issue that divides us is whether they have their own, albeit heteronomous, being. Or is it rather the case that their being reduces to the being of something else? I say that purely intentional objects have a very weak mode of being, existential heteronomy, in Ingarden's jargon. Novak denies this. Novak cites his master, the doctor subtilis, Duns Scotus:
And if you are looking for some “true being” of this object as such [viz. of
the object qua conceived], there is none to be found over and above that
“being in a qualified sense”, except that this “being in a qualified sense” can
be reduced to some “being in an unqualified sense”, which is the being of
the respective intellection. But this being in an unqualified sense does not
belong to that which is said to “be in a qualified sense” formally, but only
terminatively or principiatively — which means that to this “true being” that
“being in a qualified sense” is reduced, so that without the true being of this
[intellection] there would be no “being in a qualified sense” of that [object
qua conceived]. - Ord. I, dist. 36, q. un., n. 46 (ed. Vat. VI, 289)
The idea seems to be that the being of the purely intentional object reduces to the being of the act, and that it therefore has no 'true being' of its own. The purely intentional object has being only in a qualified sense. This qualified being, however, reduces to the being of the intellection. I think this reduction opens Scotus and Novak up to the charge of psychologism, against which Ingarden, good student of Husserl that he was, rails on pp. 48-49 of TMB. For if the being of the purely intentional object reduces to the being of the act, then the purely intentional object has mental or psychic being -- which is not the case. The object is not a psychic content. It is not the act or a part of the act; not is it any other sort of psychic reality.
Psychologism is avoided, however, if purely intentional objects are granted their own mode of being, that of existential heteronomy. Although they derive their being from the the being of mental acts, their being is not the being of mental acts, but their own mode of being. Analogy: Though created substance derive their being from God, their mode of being is their own and not the same as God's mode of being.