I stumbled across this word on p. 539 of the heaviest, fattest, stompingest tome in my library, Richard Routley's Exploring Meinong's Jungle and Beyond (Ridgeview, 1980). The thing is 1,035 pages long. I could kill a cat with it, and you hope I won't. A mere $500 for an Amazon used copy. One copy available at the moment. No, I won't sell my copy unless you give me $500,000.00 for it. Cash on the barrel head.
In this way depauperate objects such as the present king of France can be seen as limiting cases of fictional items . . .
As an ornery aporetician, I want ultimately to say that an equally strong case can be made both for and against the thesis that ficta are impossibilia. But here I only make (part of) the case for thinking that ficta are impossibilia.
Every human being is either right-handed or not right-handed. (But if one is not right-handed, it doesn't follow that one is left-handed. One could be ambidexterous or ambisinistrous.) What about the fictional character Hamlet? Is he right-handed or not right-handed? I say he is neither: he is indeterminate with respect to the property of righthandedness. That makes him an incomplete object, one that violates the law of Excluded Middle (LEM), or rather one to which LEM does not apply.
Hamlet (the character, not the play) is incomplete because he has all and only the properties ascribed to him by the author of the play, and the author left Hamlet's handedness unspecified. It is worth noting that Hamlet the play is complete and this holds for each written token of the play, the type of which they are tokens, and each enactment of the play. This is because the play and its enactments are actualia.
But don't we say that Hamlet the play is fictional? We do, but what we mean is not that the play is an object of fiction, but that the people and events depicted therein are fictional. The play is not fictional but entirely real. Of course, there could be a play that is a mere object of fiction: a play within a play. The same holds for novels. My copies of Moby Dick are each of them complete and actual, hence full-fledged citizens of the real, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto; but Ishmael, Queequeg, and Ahab are not. They are objects of fiction; those books are not. And presumably the type of which they are tokens, though an abstract object, is also actual and complete. A person's reading or 'enactment' of the novel is typically a long, interrupted process; but it too is complete and actual and resident in the real order.
Back to the character Hamlet: he is an incomplete object, having all and only the properties ascribed to him in the play (together with, perhaps, entailments of these properties). London Ed balks at this:
I don't follow this at all. I don't agree with the second sentence "He has all and only ….". Of course Shakespeare said that there was a person called ‘Hamlet’ who had certain properties (e.g. he said that Hamlet was a prince of Denmark. It doesn’t follow that there is someone who has or had such a property. For example, legend says that there was a horse called ‘Pegasus’ that flew. It doesn’t follow that there are or were flying horses.
This objection shows misunderstanding. I did not say or imply that there exists in actuality, outside the mind, a man named 'Hamlet.' The point is rather that when I read the play there appears before my mind a merely intentional object, one that I know is fictional, and therefore, one that I know is merely intentional. If Ed denies this, then he denies what is phenomenologically evident. And, as a matter of method, we must begin with the phenomenology of the situation.
Suppose I write a two-sentence novel:
It was a dark and rainy night. Shakey Jake, life-long insomniac, deciding he needed a nightcap, grabbed his flashlight and his raincoat and headed for the Glass Crutch bar and grill, a local watering hole a half a mile from his house.
Now I couldn't have written that, and you can't understand it, without thinking about various intentional objects that do not exist. Am I saying that there exist objects that do not exist? No, that would be a contradiction. Nor am I committed to saying that there are objects that have mind-independent being but not existence. Furthermore, I am not committed to Meinong's doctrine of Aussersein.
All I am doing is holding fast to a phenomenological datum: when I create a fictional character as I just did when I created Shakey Jake the insomniac, I bring before my mind an intentional object. (The act-object schema strikes me as having pretty good phenomenological credentials, unlike the adverbial schema.) What can we say about this merely intentional object? First, it is no part of the acts through which I think it. My acts of thinking exist in reality, but Shakey Jake does not exist in reality. (This point goes back to Twardowski.) When I think about Hamlet or Don Quixote or Shakey Jake, I am not thinking about my own mind or any state of my mind. I am not thinking about anything real. But it doesn' t follow that I am not thinking of anything.
If Ed denies that there are merely intentional objects, then he is denying what is phenomenologically evident. I take my stand on the terra firma of phenomenological givenness. So for now, and to get on with it, I simply dismiss Ed's objection. To pursue it further would involve us a in a metaphilosophical discussion of the role of phenomenological appeals in philosophical inquiry.
Ficta are Impossibilia
Let us confine ourselves to purely fictional objects and leave out of consideration real individuals who are partially fictionalized in fables, legends, apocryphal stories, so-called historical novels that blend fact and fiction, and the like. One of my theses is that purely fictional objects cannot exist and thus are broadly logically impossible. They are necessarily nonexistent, where the modality in question is broadly logical. It does not follow, however, that pure ficta have no ontological status whatsoever. They have a mode of being that could be called existential heteronomy. On this point I agree with Roman Ingarden, a philosopher who deserves more attention in the Anglosphere than he receives here.
Earlier I gave an argument from incompleteness: the incomplete cannot exist and so are impossible. But now I take a different tack.
Purely fictional objects are most plausibly viewed as made up, or constructed, by novelists, playwrights, et al. It may be that they are constructed from elements that are not themselves constructed, elements such as properties or Castaneda's ontological guises. Or perhaps fictional objects are constructed ex nihilo. Either way, they have no being at all prior to their creation or construction. There was no Captain Ahab before Melville 'cooked him up.' But if Ahab were a merely possible individual, then one could not temporally index his coming to be; he would not come to be, but be before, during, and after Melvlle's writing down his description.
The issue could be framed as follows. Are novels, plays, etc. which feature logically consistent pure ficta, something like telescopes that allow us to peer from the realm of the actual into the realm of the merely possible, both realms being realms of the real? Or are novels, etc. more like mixing bowls or ovens in which ficta are 'cooked up'? I say the latter. If you want, you can say that Melville is describing something when he writes about Ahab, but what he is describing is something he has made up: a merely intentional object that cannot exist apart from the acts of mind trained upon it. He is not describing something that has ontological status apart from his mind and the minds of his readers. He is also not descrbing some real feature or part of himself as subject. So we could say that in describing Ahab he is describing an item that is objectively but not subjectvely mind-dependent.
Here is an Argument from Origin:
1. Pure ficta are made up or constructed via the mental acts and actions of novelists, playwrights, et al.
2. Ahab is a pure fictum.
3. Ahab came into being via the mental activity of a novelist or playwright. (from 1,2)
4. No human being comes into being via the mental activity of novelists, et al., but via the uniting of human sperm and human egg.
5. Ahab is not a human being. (from 3, 4)
6. A merely possible human being is a human being, indeed a flesh-and-blood human being, though not an actual flesh-and-blood human being.
7. Ahab is not a merely possible human being, but a fictional human being where 'fictional' unlike 'merely possible' functions as an alienans adjective.
This argument does not settle the matter, however, since it is not compelling. A Meinongian or quasi-Meinongian could, with no breach of logical propriety, run the argument in reverse, denying (7) and denying (1). One man's modus ponens, etc.
This is proving to be a fascinating topic. Let's push on a bit further.
Aquinas says that any given nature can be considered in three ways: in respect of the esse it has in concrete singulars; in respect of the esse it has in minds; absolutely, in the abstract, without reference to either mode of esse. The two modes are esse naturale (esse reale) and esse intentionale. We can speak of these in English as real existence and intentional existence.
According to Schopenhauer, the medievals employed but three examples: Socrates, Plato, and an ass. Who am I to deviate from a tradition at once so hoary and noble? So take Socrates. Socrates is human. The nature humanity exists really in him, and in Plato, but not in the ass. The same nature exists intentionally in a mind that thinks about or knows Socrates. For Aquinas, there are no epistemic deputies standing between mind and thing: thought reaches right up to and grasps the thing itself. There is an isomorphism between knowing mind and thing known. The ground of this isomorphism is the natura absoluta, the nature considered absolutely. Call it the common nature (CN). It is so-called because it is common to both the knower and the known, informing both, albeit in different ways. It is also common to all the singulars of the same nature and all the thoughts directed to the same sort of thing. So caninity is common to all doggy thoughts, to all dogs, besides linking the doggy thoughts to the dogs.
My concern over the last few days has been the exact ontological status of the CN.
This morning, with the help of Anthony Kenny, I realized that there are four possible views, not three as I stated earlier:
A. The CN really exists as a separate, self-subsistent item.
B. The CN exists only intentionally in the mind of one who abstracts it from concrete singulars and mental acts.
C. The CN has Meinongian Aussersein status: it has no mode of being whatsoever, and yet is is something, not nothing. It actually has properties, but is property-incomplete (and therefore in violation of LEM) in that it is neither one nor many, neither universal nor particular, neither intentionally existent nor really existent.
D. The CN exists intentionally in the mind of God, the creator.
(A) is a nonstarter and is rejected by both me and Lukas Novak. (B) appears to be Novak's view. (C) is the interpretation I was tentatively suggesting. My thesis was that the CN must have Aussersein status, but then it inherits -- to put it anachronistically -- all the problems of Meinongianism. The doctor angelicus ends up with Meinongian monkey on his back.
Let me now try to explain why I reject (B), Novak's view, and incline toward (C), given that (A) cannot possibly be what Aquinas had in mind.
Consider a time t before there were any human animals and any finite minds, and ask yourself: did the nature humanity exist at t? The answer has to be in the negative if there are only two modes of existence, real existence in concrete singulars and intentional existence in finite (creaturely) minds. For at t there were no humans and no finite minds. But surely it is true at t that man is rational, that humanity includes rationality. This implies that humanity at t cannot be just nothing at all. For if it were nothing at all at t, then 'Man is rational'' at t would lack a truth-maker. Furthermore, we surely don't want to say that 'Man is rational' first becomes true when the first human being exists. In some sense, the common nature must be prior to its existential realization in concrete singulars and in minds. The common nature cannot depend on these modes of realization. Kenny quotes Aquinas (Aquinas on Being, Oxford 2002, p. 73):
Socrates is rational, because man is rational, and not vice versa; so that even if Socrates and Plato did not exist, rationality would still be a characteristic of human nature.
Socrates est rationalis, quia home est rationalis, et no e converso; unde dato quod Socrates et Plato non essent, adhuc humanae naturae rationalitas competeret. (Quodl. VIII, I, c, 108-110)
Aquinas' point could be put like this. (i) At times and in possible worlds in which humans do not exist, it is nevertheless the case that rationality is included in humanity, and (ii) the metaphysical ground of humans' being rational is the circumstance that rationality is included in humanity, and not vice versa.
Now this obviously implies that the CN humanity has some sort of status independent of real and intentional existence. So we either go the Meioningian route or we say that CNs exist in the mind of God. Kenny:
Aquinas' solution is to invoke the divine mind. There are really four, not three ways of considering natures: first, as they are in the mind of the creator; second, as they are in the abstract; theitrs, as they are in individuals; and finally, as they are in the human mind. (p. 74)
This may seem to solve the problem I raised. CNs are not nothing because they are divine accusatives. And they are not nothing in virtue of being ausserseiend. This solution avoids the three options of Platonism, subjectivism (according to which CNs exist only as products of abstraction), and Meinongianism.
The problem with the solution is that it smacks of deus ex machina: God is brought in to solve the problem similarly as Descartes had recourse to the divine veracity to solve the problem of the external world. One ought to be forgiven for thinking that solutions to the problems of universals, predication, and intentionality ought to be possible without bringing God into the picture. But this is a separate can of worms.
So, a common nature or essence according to its absolute consideration abstracts from all existence, both in the singulars and in the mind. Yet, and this is the important point, it is the same nature that informs both the singulars that have this nature and the minds conceiving of them in terms of this nature. To be sure, this sameness is not numerical sameness, and thus it does not yield numerically one nature. On the contrary, it is the sameness of several, numerically distinct realizations of the same information-content, just like the sameness of a book in its several copies. Just as there is no such a thing as a universal book over and above the singular copies of the same book, so there is no such a thing as a universal nature existing over and above the singular things of the same nature; still, just as it is true to say that the singular copies are the copies of the same book, so it is true to say that these singulars are of the same nature.
I am struggling to understand this. Consider the common nature humanity. When we consider it in itself, or absolutely, we abstract from its existence in material singulars (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, . . .) and from its existence in minds. When we consider it absolutely we thus consider it in abstraction from esse, whether esse naturale or esse intentionale. So considered, the common nature has no mode of esse or existence. Having no mode of existence, the common nature does not exist. This prompts my first question:
Q1. How can an item have no being or existence at all? (I am using 'being' and 'existence' interchangeably.) Would it not then be nothing? But it is not nothing; it is the very common nature that it is, one distinct from other common natures. What we have here, as it seems to me, is an anticipation of Meinong's doctrine of Aussersein, with the problems that the latter brings in its train. But having invoked Meinong I now send him back to his jungle; my present concern is merely to understand Aquinas. There is this item, humanity, which, absolutely considered, has no being, but is nonethless a definite mind-independent item. Mind-independent yet beingless. Do you not find this puzzling?
I am not suggesting that there is a narrowly-logical (purely formal) contradiction in There is an item that has no being. Some will be tempted to mount that objection since the italicized sentence certainly does smack of formal-logical contradiction: There is an x such that x is not. But the formal-logical contradiction seems to dissipate if we put it like this: Some item is beingless, where 'some' has no existential or ontological import whatsoever. The latter italicized sentence is not formally self-contradictory. Its form is Some F is G which admits of true substitution-instances.
So I see no formal-logical contradiction in the doctrine of common natures any more than I see a formal-logical contradiction in Meinong's doctrine of Aussersein. My point is not formal-logical but metaphysical. I just don't understand how something can be mind-independent without having any being at all.
Note also that this item -- humanity as common nature or natura absoluta -- is neither particular nor universal. It would be particular if it existed with esse naturale in singulars; it would be universal if it existed with esse intentionale in a mind. But in itself, considered absolutely, it exists in neither way and is therefore neither particular nor universal. This prompts my second question:
Q2. How can a nature be common and yet not in some sense universal? There is this item which we are considering in abstraction from its material existence in singulars and from its immaterial existence in minds. It seems that what we must say that it is universal, not particular. After all, it is common. How can an item be common to many (to many material singulars and to many acts of thinking) without being universal?
These are not rhetorical questions. I really don't understand the doctrine. (Some people have the unpleasant habit of accusing one of posing rhetorical questions when one genuinely asks questions. Isn't that what philosophers mainly do, ask questions?)
What's more, common natures are neither one nor many. In De Ente et Essentia, Thomas gives an argument for this claim, an argument I examine and reject in a separate post. At the moment I am concerned with the intelligibility of the claim, not its justification. I want to understand the claim, but so far I am finding it unintelligible. Hence my third question:
Q3. How can a common nature be neither one nor many? Must it not be one item to be common?
Klima offers an analogy. It is a commonplace that there can be many copies of the same book. Each copy is a material singular. And of course 'same book' does not refer to a material singular over and above the many copies. And yet the same information-content is expressed in each (uncorrupted) copy and is understood by each mind that reads (with comprehension) a copy. A common nature, then, is like the information-content of a book.
Unfortunately, this analogy does not help me. It seems obvious to me that the information-content is one, not neither one nor many.
To sum up. A common nature, considered absolutely, is neither one nor many, neither universal nor particular. Considered absolutely, it exists neither in singulars nor in minds. What's more, this absolute consideration, this consideration of it as it is in itself, does not make of it an abstractum that depends on a mind for its existence. And so it has some sort of mind-independent status along with its matter-independent status. Having neither esse naturale nor esse inentionale, it has no being at all. Having no being at all, we can say that common natures are ausserseiend in Meinong's sense, jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein, "beyond being and nonbeing." Each of these items is a pure Sosein with no Sein.
Is this a coherent conception? I can't see that it is. But I don't claim to have refuted it. For my misgivings rest on an assumption that, while it seems intuitively obvious to me, I would be hard-pressed to justify in a non-circular way,, namely, that whatever has mind-independent status must have some mode of being or other.
Three hours before showtime, Brian Wilson says: “There is no Rhonda.” Sitting backstage at Merriweather Post Pavilion, gathering strength for the evening’s 48-song, 150-minute concert, Wilson was not asked about her, he just volunteered this fact. The other members of the Beach Boys seem mildly surprised to learn that the 1965 song “Help Me, Rhonda” was about no one in particular.
The philosopher of language in London Ed should find the above intriguing. The song was about no one in particular in that Brian Wilson had no actual person in mind as Rhonda. But surely the song was about three people, one named 'Rhonda,' another girl referred to only by an antecedent-less 'she,' and the singer. "Since she put me down, I was out doin' in my head." There is a sense in which these are three particular, numerically distinct, persons.
If you deny that, aren't you saying that the song is not about anybody? And wouldn't that be wrong?
Of course, the persons in question are incomplete objects. They violate the property version of the Law of Excluded Middle. We know some of Rhonda's properties but not all of them. We know that she looked "so fine" to the singer. And we know that she caught the singer's eye. But we don't know her height, the color of her eyes or her blood pressure. With respect to those properties she is indeterminate. Same with the other girl. We know she was going to be the singer's wife, and he was going to be her man, but not much else.
Now nothing incomplete can exist. So the three persons are three particular nonexistent objects, and the song is about three persons in particular.
I wrote this just to get London Ed's goat. The record will show that I myself eschew Meinongianism.
There is a very good and a very simple reason why Meinong cannot be accused of multiplying entities beyond necessity, and that is because his characteristic objects are not entities! An entity, by definition, is anything that is or has being. Since Meinongian objects lack being, they are not entities.
The golden mountain and the round square, to take the two most celebrated, neither exist, nor subsist, nor have any mode of being whatsoever. This is a point that is often missed. Misled by Russell, many think that Meinong's possibilia and impossibilia have a mode of being weaker than existence. Not so: his objects are jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein, beyond being and nonbeing. They are ausserseiend, outside of being. Indeed, he speaks of das Aussersein des reinen Gegenstandes. The phrase is hard to translate, but "the extrabeing of the pure object" approximates to its sense. The point is that an object like the golden mountain is a pure Sosein: its Sein is exhausted by its Sosein, its being by its being-so. It is a pure what, a pure essence wihout being.
I reject Meinong's Theory of Objects for reasons I may provide later. My present point is merely that the theory cannot be faulted for a lack of ontological parsimony. A theory cannot posit entities beyond necessity if it does not posit them at all.
In his early Principles of Mathematics (1903), Bertrand Russell made a distinction that he later abandoned, namely, a distinction between Being and existence:
Being is that which belongs to every conceivable term, to every possible object of thought -- in short to everything that can possibly occur in any proposition, true or false, and to all such propositions themselves. [ . . . ] Existence, on the contrary, is the prerogative of some only amongst beings. (p. 449)
But this has nothing to do with Meinong and should not be read back into Meinong. Now Meinong does distinguish between existence and subsistence (Bestehen), but the latter is the mode of Being of ideal entities such as state of affairs; it has nothing to do with items like the golden mountain and the round square.
(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.
Marco Santambrogio, "Meinongian Theories of Generality," Nous, December 1990, p. 662:
. . . I take existence to mean just this: an entity, i, exists iff there is a determinate answer to every question concerning it or in other words, for every F(x) either F[x/i] or ~F[x/i] holds. The Tertium Non Datur is the hallmark of existence of reality. This is entirely in the Meinong-Twardowski tradition.
In other words, existence is completeness: Necessarily, for any x, x exists if and only if x is complete, i.e., satisfies the property version of the Law of Excluded Middle (Tertium Non Datur). Now I have long maintained that whatever exists is complete, but I have never been tempted by the thesis that whatever is complete exists.
Why can't there be complete nonexistent objects? Imagine the God of Leibniz, before the creation, contemplating an infinity of possible worlds, each of them determinate down to the last detail. None of them exists or is actual. But each of them is complete. One of them God calls 'Charley.' God says, Fiat Charley! And Charley exists. It is exactly the same world which 'before' was merely possible, only 'now' it is actual.
Etienne Gilson famously remarked that "Philosophy always buries its undertakers." That is the first of his "laws of philosophical experience." (The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Scribners, 1937, p. 306) As a metaphilosophical pronunciamento it is hard to beat. It is equally true that philosophy always resurrects its dead. Let that be my first law. The history of natural science is littered with corpses, none of which is an actual or potential Lazarus. Not so in philosophy.
None of the classical problems has ever been demonstrated to be a pseudoproblem pace Wittgenstein, Carnap and such epigoni as Morris Lazerowitz; none of the major theories proposed in solution of them has ever been refuted once and for all; no school of thought has been finally discredited.
Thomism, to take an example, was once largely confined to the academic backwaters of Catholic colleges where sleepy Jesuits taught the ancient lore from dusty scholastic manuals to bored jocks. (I am not being entirely fair, but fair enough for a blog post.) But in the last twenty years an increasing number of sharp analytic heads have penetrated the scholastic arcana and have been serving up some fairly rigorous forward-looking stuff that engages with contemporary analytic work in a way that was simply beyond the abilities of (most) of the sleepy Jesuits and old-time scholastics.
Gilbert Ryle once predicted with absurd confidence, "Gegenstandstheorie . . . is dead, buried, and not going to be resurrected." (Quoted in G. Priest, Towards Non-Being, Oxford, 2005, p. vi, n. 1.) Ryle was wrong, dead wrong, and shown to be wrong just a few years after his cocky prediction. Variations on Meinong's Theory of Objects flourish like never before due to the efforts of such brilliant philosophers as Butchvarov, Castaneda, Lambert, Parsons, Priest, Routley/Sylvan, and Zalta, just to mention those that come first to mind. And the Rylean cockiness has had an ironic upshot: his logical behaviorism is temporarily dead while Meinongianism thrives. But Ryle too will be raised if my parallel law of philosophical experience -- Philosophy always resurrects its dead -- holds.
It may be worth noting that if philosophy resurrects its dead then it can be expected to raise the anti-philosophical (and therefore philosophical) positions of philosophy's would-be undertakers. Philosophy, she's a wily bitch: you can't outflank her and she always ends up on top.
Many of us are inclined to say that purely past individuals (James Dean, Scollay Square, my cat Zeno, anything that existed but does not exist now), though past, yet exist. Of course, they don't presently exist. But why should only what presently exists, exist? Why should that which loses the temporal property of presentness fall into an abyss of nonbeing? Surely that is not obvious. Presentism may be true, but it is not obviously true. Nor is it a position favored by common sense as some contemporary writers seem to think. Let me sketch a couple of anti-presentist considerations. I will not present them rigorously and I do not claim that they are absolutely compelling.
Purely past individuals are part of the actual world inasmuch as they are not merely possible. And what is actual exists. So purely past individuals exist (tenselessly). Or will you say that when Dean ceased to presently exist he underwent a transformation from an actual being to a merely possible one? How then would you distinguish between past merely possible beings and past actual beings? As far as I know Dean did not have any children. Suppose that is true. Still, he might have had a child. In the past, that was a possibility, though it is not a possibility now. Surely there is a difference between a past possible individual such as Dean's child and an actual past individual such as Dean. Dean was; his child never was.
Moreover, we refer to past individuals and we say true things about them. 'James Dean died in a car crash in 1955.' 'Dean's fame is mainly posthumous.' 'Scollay Square was located in Boston.' The subject terms of these sentences not only did refer to something, they do refer to something, something that exists, though not at present. Furthermore, whatever has properties exists. Dean has properties, ergo Dean exists. That is not to say that he presently exists, but if he didn't exist in any sense, how could he have properties? So a case can be made for the reality or existence of past individuals.
But this morning I stumbled upon an interesting argument from Richard Routley, who later in life came to call himself Sylvan. (Presumably because of an attraction to forests and jungles and an aversion to desert landscapes.) In any case, after beginning p. 361 of Meinong's Jungle and Beyond (Ridgeview 1980) with some question-begging sophistry that I won't bother to expose, he uncorks an interesting argument on the other side of the question, one that that stokes my aporetic fire:
Purely past and purely future items are, like merely possible items, not (now) determinate in all extensional respects: hence (applying the results of 1.19) they do not exist. Compare the items Aristotle and Polonious, and remember Peirce's question as to how long before Polonious died had he had a hair cut and Russell's as to the baldness of the present king of France. Well, is Aristotle bald now?If he is, how long has he been bald? If not, how long since he had a hair cut and how long is his hair? Since Aristotle has ceased to exist, it is false that Aristotle is now bald and false that he is not now bald . . . . Thus Aristotle is indeterminate in respect of the extensional property of (present) baldness. Hence he does not exist now; hence he does not exist.
The argument is short and snappy:
1. For any x, if x exists, then x is now determinate in all extensional respects. 2. It is not the case that purely past individuals are now determinate in all extensional respects. Therefore 3. It is not the case that purely past individuals exist.
The argument is valid but why should we accept (1)? I have no problem with the following two cognate principles which I warmly embrace:
1*. For any x, if x now exists, then x is now determinate in all extensional respects.
1**. For any x, if x exists, then x is determinate in all extensional respects.
But I see no reason to accept the question-begging (1). After all, Aristotle, unlike Polonious, exists, but Aristotle -- if (2) is to be believed -- is not now determinate in respect of baldness or the opposite.
Suppose, however, that we accept (1). Why should we also accept (2)? Presumably because it is not now the case that Aristotle is either bald or not bald. But this far from clear. During his life, Aristotle either counted as bald or as not bald. Suppose he counted as bald. Then I say that Aristotle exists (tenselessly) and is (tenselessly) bald. So he is now determinate in respect of baldness or its opposite. He is tenselessly bald and so is now tenselessly bald.
What Routley has done in the above passage and surrounding text is merely beg the question in favor of presentism. He has given us no non-question-begging reason to accept it.
Perhaps the central problem to which the phenomenon of intentionality gives rise can be set forth in terms of an aporetic triad:
1. We sometimes think about the nonexistent. 2. Intentionality is a relation between thinker and object of thought. 3. Every relation R is such that, if R obtains,then all its relata exist.
The datanic first limb is nonnegotiable, a 'Moorean fact.' The other two limbs, being more theoretical, can be denied if one is willing to pay the price. But something has to give since they cannot all be true.
Brentano denied (2) with unpalatable consequences to be explored in a separate post. Why not accept (2), deny (3) and admit that there are abnormal relations, relations that connect existents with nonexistents?
Consider the round square, that well-worn example that goes back at least to Bernard Bolzano. Since there is no such thing, and cannot be, one will be tempted to say that the round square is an idea (presentation, Vorstellung) without an object. That is what Bolzano maintained using that very example of rundes Viereck. (Theory of Science, pp. 88-89) In section 5 of Zur Lehre vom Inhalt und Gegenstand der Vorstellungen (1894), Kasimir Twardowski criticizes Bolzano's position.
Twardowski distinguishes among the following: there is the expression 'the round square.' Then there is the mental act, the act of presentation (Vorstellungsact) that transpires in someone who uses the expression with understanding. Corresponding to the act is a content (Inhalt) which constitutes the meaning of the expression. But there is also a fourth item, that to which the expression refers, the round square itself, that which combines logically incompatible properties and whose existence one denies as soon as one advances from the presentation round square to a judgment about it. (Cf. the Brentanian theses that judgments are founded upon presentations, and that every judgment is existential, involving the acceptance or rejection of a presentation.)
This of course sticks in the craw. One hesitates to admit that there is something outside the mind to which 'round square' refers, something that has the property of nonexistence. It smacks of a contradiction. Clearly, 'There exists an x such that x does not exist' IS a contradiction, but this is not what a Meinongian will say.
Note that Twardowski has a couple of powerful reasons for not identifying the round square and its colleagues with mental contents. The first is that contents exist while nonexistent objects don't. So the round square cannot be identified with the content expressed by 'the round square.' The second reason is that we ascribe to the round square attributes that not only cannot be ascribed to the corresponding content, but are logically incompatible to boot. Thus no content is round and no content is square and of course no content is both round and square. Since contents exist, they cannot have contradictory properties.
These arguments, spelled out a bit perhaps, show that mental contents cannot go proxy for nonexistent items, whether merely possible like the celebrated golden mountain or impossible like the round square. One could extend the argument to cover abstract objects which are not mental contents or in any way mind-dependent. They too are unsuited to go proxy for nonexistents. For (1) abstracta exist while nonexistents do not, and (2) the properties of nonexistent concreta cannot be attributed to abstracta. Thus a flying horse is an animal, a golden mountain is a mountain, and a round square is round. But no abstract object is an animal or a mountain or round.
When I think about the round square or the golden mountain (in whatever psychological mode) the object of my thought is neither a mental content nor an abstract object. What is it then? Why, it is the round square or the golden mountain! As bizarre as this sounds, it makes a certain amount of sense. If I want to climb the golden mountain, I want to climb a physical prominence, not a mental content or an abstractum.
The position under examination, then, is not only that every mental act has a content, but that every mental act has an object as well. But not all of these objects exist. One obvious advantage of this approach is that it allows us to hold onto (2) of our opening triad in full generality: in every case, intentionality relates a thinker through a content to a transcendent object, and not to some surrogate object, either!
Why is this a good thing? Well, if intentionality is relational only in some cases, the veridical cases, then it cannot be essential to mental acts to be of an object: whether or not an act actually has an object will depend on contingent facts in the world beyond the mind. For Brentano, all mental acts are intentional by their very nature as mental. The Twardowski-Meinong approach upholds this.
But the price is very steep: one must accept that there are items that actually instantiate properties (not merely possibly instantiate them), and that these items nevertheless do not exist, or indeed, as on Meinong's actual view, have any mode of being at all. This is his famous doctrine of the Aussersein des reinen Gegenstandes, the 'extrabeing of the pure object.' Thus the golden mountain is actually golden and actually a mountain despite having no being whatsoever. It is a pure Sosein utterly devoid of Sein.
Some, like van Inwagen, think that Meinong's theory of objects is obviously self-contradictory. I don't believe this is right, for reasons detailed here. Even so, I find Meinong's theory incoherent. 'Some items have no being at all' is not a formal contradiction. Still, I cannot get a mental grip on the notion of an item that actually has properties, but is wholly beingless.
In addition, one must accept that there are genuine relations that connect existents to nonexistents.
The price is too steep to pay. The Twardowski-Meinong-Grossmann solution is just as problematic as the original problem.
REFERENCE: Reinhardt Grossmann, The Categorial Structure of the World, Indiana UP, 1983, p. 197 ff.
Are there nonexistent objects in the sense in which Meinong thought there are? One reason to think so derives from the problem of reference to the dead. The problem can be displayed as an aporetic tetrad:
1. A dead person no longer exists. 2. What no longer exists does not exist at all. 3. What does not exist at all cannot be referred to or enter as a constituent into a state of affairs. 4. Some dead persons can be referred to and can enter as constituents into states of affairs. (For example, 'John Lennon' in 'John Lennon is dead' refers to John Lennon, who is a constituent of the state of affairs, John Lennon's being dead.)
Despite the plausibility of each member, the above quartet is logically inconsistent. The first three propositions entail the negation of the fourth. Indeed, any three entail the negation of the remaining one. Now (1) and (4) count as data due to their obviousness. They are 'datanic' as opposed to 'theoretical' like the other two. Therefore, to relieve the logical tension we must either reject (2) or reject (3).
To reject (2) is to reject Presentism according to which only temporally present items exist. One could hold that both past and present items (tenselessly) exist, or that past, present, and future items (tenselessly) exist. Such anti-presentist theories break the two-way link between existence and temporal presentness: what is temporally present exists, but what exists need not be temporally present.
But another option is to reject (3). One could adopt the view of Alexius von Meinong according to which there are items that stand jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein, "beyond being and nonbeing." These items have no being whatsoever. Meinong's examples include the golden mountain (a possible object) and the round square (an impossible object). His doctrine was misunderstood by Russell and generations of those influenced by him. The doctrine is not that nonexistent objects have a mode of being weaker than existence, but that they have no being whatsoever. And yet they are not nothing! They are not nothing inasmuch as we can refer to them and predicate properties of them. They are definite items of thought possessing Sosein but no Sein, but are not mere accusatives of thought. A strange view, admittedly, and I do not accept it. (See my A Paradigm Theory of Existence, Kluwer 2002, pp. 38-42.) But distinguished philosophers have and do: Butchvarov, Castaneda, T. Parsons, Routley/Sylvan, et al.)
So Meinongianism is a theoretical option. The Meinongian line gives us a way to answer Epicurus. For Epicurus death is not an evil because when we are, death is not, and when death is, we are not. The point is that at no time is there a subject possessing the property of being dead. When I am alive, I am not dead. And when I am dead, I do not exist. It is not just that when I am dead I no longer presently exist, but that I do not exist at all. (Presentism seems part and parcel of the Epicurean position.) And because I do not exist at all when I am dead, I cannot have properties. (Anti-Meinongianism is also part and parcel of the Epicurean position: existence is a necessary condition of property-possession.) But then I cannot, when dead, have the property of being dead, in which case there is no state of affairs of my being dead. And that gives us a deep ontological reason for denying that death is an evil: if there is no state of affairs of my being dead, then there is nothing to possess the property of being evil. (Note that it is not the property of being dead that is evil, or me the individual, but the putative state of affairs of my being dead.)
As I read Epicurus, his position on death, namely, that being dead is not an evil for the one who is dead, requires both Presentism and Anti-Meinongianism. If that is right, then one can answer Epicurus either by rejecting Presentism or by accepting Meinongianism.
Anti-Presentism breaks the two-way link between existence and temporal presentness, while Meinongianism breaks the two-way link between existence and property-possession. The anti-presentist faces the challenge of giving a coherent account of tenseless existence, while the Meinongian owes us an explanation of how there can be items which actually have properties while having no being whatsoever. Epicureanism maintains both links but flies in the face of the powerful intuition that death is an evil.
A good solution eludes us. And so once again we end up in good old Platonic fashion up against the wall of an aporia.