Lukas Novak thinks I am being politically, or rather philosophically, 'correct' in rejecting Meinongianism. And a relier on 'intuitions' to boot. I plead innocent to the first charge. As for the second, I rather doubt one can do philosophy at all without appealing to some intuition somewhere. That would make for an interesting metaphilosophical discussion. For now, however, an argument against Meinongianism. I will join the Frenchman to beat back the Austrian. But first we have to understand at least some of what the great Austrian philosopher Alexius von Meinong was about. What follows is a rough sketch that leaves a lot out. It is based on Meinong's writings, but also on those of distinguished commentators including J. N. Findlay, Roderick Chisholm, Karel Lambert, Terence Parsons, Richard Routley/Sylvan, Reinhardt Grossmann, and others.
A Meinongian Primer
The characteristic Meinongian thesis is the doctrine that some items have no Being whatsoever: they neither exist nor subsist nor have any other mode of Being. A Meinongian item (M-item) is something, not nothing; it is just that it has no Being. A famous example is the golden mountain. It has no Being at all according to Meinong. It is a pure Sosein, a pure whatness, a Sosein without Dasein, "beyond Being and non-Being." (jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein.) What's more, the golden mountain actually has properties: it is actually made of gold and actually a mountain. It is not merely possibly these things, nor is it merely imagined or merely thought to be these things. The golden mountain is actually made of gold even though it does not exist or subsist or enjoy esse intentionale or any other mode of Being!
Furthermore, the golden mountain, though in one sense merely possible, is in itself actual, not merely possible. It is merely possible in relation to existence, but in itself it is actual, though nonexistent. The realm of Aussersein is a realm of actualia. This holds also for the round square which is both actually round and actually square. It is in one sense impossible: it cannot exist, or subsist either. But it is not nothing: it is some actual item even though it has no Being whatsoever. Actually round, actually square, actually an item!
We should also note that the golden mountain is an incomplete object: it has exactly two properties, the ones mentioned, but none of their entailments. The set of an M-object's properties is not closed under entailment. Consider the blue triangle. It is not colored. Nor is it either isoceles nor not isoceles.
A number of philosophers, Kant being one of them, held to the Indifference of Sosein and Sein, but what is characteristic of Meinong is the radical Independence of Sosein from Sein:
Indifference: The being or nonbeing of an item is no part of its nature or Sosein. Whether an item is or is not makes no difference to what it is.
Independence: An item has a nature or Sosein whether or not it has Being and so even if it has no Being at all. In no instance does property-possession entail existence. There are no existence-entailing properties.
The two principles are clearly distinct. The first principle implies that nothing is such that its nature entails its existence. But it is neutral on the question that the second principle takes a stand on. For the second principle implies that an item can actually have a nature without existing, and indeed without having any Being at all. (Nature = conjunction of monadic properties.)
Independence entails Indifference. For if an item has a nature whether or not it has Being, then a fortiori it is what it is whether or not it is. But the converse entailment does not hold. For consistently with holding Indifference one could hold that Being is a necessary condition of property-possession: nothing can have properties unless it either exists or subsists or has some other mode of Being. Independence, however, implies that the actual possession of properties does not require that the property-possessor have any Being at all.
Do I know, and how do I know, that I am not a nonexistent object, say, a purely fictional individual like Hamlet? Can I employ the Cartesian cogito to assure myself that I am not a nonexistent person?
The following is excerpted from my "Does Existence Itself Exist? Transcendental Nihilism Meets the Paradigm Theory" in The Philosophy of Panayot Butchvarov: A Collegial Evaluation, ed. Larry Lee Blackman, The Edwin Mellen Press, 2005, pp. 57-73, excerpt pp. 67-68.
If anything can count as an established result in philosophy, it is the soundness of Descartes' famous cogito ergo sum 'argument.' Thus to the query, 'How do I know that I exist?', the Cartesian answer is that the very act of doubting that one exists proves that one indubitably exists. Now this may not amount to a proof that a substantial self, a res cogitans, exists; and this for the reason that one may doubt whether acts of thinking emanate from a metaphysical ego. But the cogito certainly does prove that something exists, even if this is only an act of thinking or a momentary bundle of acts of thinking. Thus I know with certainty that my present doubting is not a nonexistent object. But if Meinong were right, my present doubting could easily be a nonexistent object, indeed, a nonexistent object that actually has the property of being indubitably apparent to itself.
For on Meinongian principles, I could, for all I could claim to know, be a fictional character, one who cannot doubt his own existence. In that case, the inability to doubt one's own existence would not prove that one actually exists. This intolerable result certainly looks like a reductio ad absurdum of the Meinongian theory. If anything is clear, it is that I know, in the strictest sense of the word, that I am not a fictional character. My present doubting that I exist is an object that has the property of being indubitable, but cannot have this property without existing. It follows that there are objects whose actual possession of properties entails their existence. This implies the falsity of Meinong's principle of the independence of Sosein from Sein, and with it the view that existence is extrinsic to every object. Forced to choose between Descartes and Meinong, we ought to side with Descartes.
Is the Above Argument Rationally Compelling?
What is the difference between me enacting the cogito and a purely fictional Hamlet-like character -- Hamlet* -- enacting the cogito? What I want to say is that Hamlet* is not an actual individual and does not actually have any properties, including the property of being unable to doubt his own existence. Unlike me. I really exist and can assure myself of my existence as a thinking thing via the cogito, but Hamlet* is purely fictional, hence does not exist and so cannot assure himself of his existence via the cogito.
That is what I want to say, of course, but then I beg the question against Meinong. For if an item can actually have properties without existing, then it is epistemically possible that I am in the same 'boat' with Hamlet*: we are both purely fictional nonexistent items.
So I don't believe I can show compellingly that Meinong is wrong in his characteristic claims using the Cartesian cogito. But I have given an argument, and it is a reasonable argument. So I am rationally justified in rejecting Meinongianism, and justified in just insisting that I am of course not a nonexistent person but a fully existent person with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto.
This fits nicely with my metaphilosophy which teaches that there are no rationally compelling arguments for ANY substantive thesis in philosophy and cognate areas of controversy.
So this is enough to answer Novak's first charge. And perhaps also his second. In the end I recur to the intuition that I really exist, and that I am not merely possible, or purely fictional, or nonexistent. The appeal to intuition is justified. And must not Novak also appeal to an intuition if he disagrees with me, the intution, say, that some items have no Being at all? Or does he have a knock-down argument for that thesis?