Ich muss meinen Weg gehen so sicher, so fest entschlossen und so ernst wie Duerers Ritter, Tod und Teufel. (Edmund Husserl, "Persoenliche Aufzeichnungen" ) "I must go my way as surely, as seriously, and as resolutely as the knight in Duerer's Knight, Death, and Devil." (tr. MavPhil) Note the castle on the hill, the hour glass in the devil's hand, the serpents entwined in his headpiece, and the human skull on the road.
Time is running out, death awaits, and a mighty task wants completion.
1. Are you troubled by the following apparent contradiction to which you are apparently committed, namely, that consciousness is both nothing and something? This (apparent) contradiction comes out clearly in your 1994 Midwest Studies in Philosophy paper "Direct Realism Without Materialism," p. 10.
2. You say above that your metaphysical picture is compatible with physicalism. How so? Consciousness for you is real, albeit impersonal. Your "direct realist conception of consciousness" (Midwest Studies, p. 9) suggests that there is something physicalism cannot allow, namely, consciousness. After all, your conception of consciousness, while externalist, is not eliminativist: you are surely not maintaining that consciousness just is (identically) its objects.
3. Consciousness in your sense has no subject or subjects. But must it not have a 'site,' i.e., must it not be tied to animal organisms in nature? And what is the nature of this 'tie'? Or does consciousness 'float free' of all organisms and objects generally?
Butchvarov's Replies with My Rejoinders
1. “Consciousness is both nothing and something” is Sartre’s view, which I endorse. It’s no more self-contradictory than Meinong’s “there are objects concerning which it is the case that there are no such objects” or Wittgenstein’s that a sensation “is not a something, but not a nothing either.” They are attempts to convey a radically new thought. Even in everyday life we often hear sentences like “He is and he is not,” “I like it but also I do not.”
BV: We will agree that Meinong's paradoxical formulation involves no formal contradiction. He chose to express himself in that way for literary effect. What he is saying, of course, is that some objects do not exist. To be precise, he is saying that some objects neither exist, subsist, nor enjoy any mode of Being whatsoever. Pace van Inwagen and many others who toe the Quinean line, there is no formal contradiction involved in maintaining that some objects do not exist. The apparent contradiction in Meinong's formulation is shown to be merely apparent by distinguishing two senses of 'there are,' one existentially noncomittal, the other existentially loaded.
What I don't understand, however, is what the Meinong example has to do with Sartre's radically externalist, anti-substantialist theory of consciousness. It is no contradiction to say of the golden mountain that it is something and nothing: we can read this as saying that it is some item but nothing that exists, or subsists for that matter. It is a contradiction, however, to say of consciousness that it is something and nothing -- unless one can make a distinction, parallel to the distinction made in the Meinongian case -- one that shows that the contradiction is merely apparent. What would that distinction be?
In the everyday cases that Butch cites, it is clear that they can be read as non-contradictory. But again, what does this haveto do with Sartre? Agreed, Sartre is aiming to convey a radically new thought. But the question is whether it is a contradictory thought. (Side point: a case could be made that the thought is already in Heidegger.)
Consciousness is not nothing, but neither is it a thing. “[Consciousness] ‘exhausts’ itself in its objects, [Sartre] wrote, precisely because it is nothing but the revelation of them: ‘consciousness is outside; there is no ‘within’ of consciousness.’ It has no inhabitants. Whether perceptual or conceptual, consciousness is not a ‘thing.’ One may even go so far as saying that it is nothing. To use a word Heidegger had applied, consciousness is only the ‘lightening’ of its objects, like the coming of dawn, which lightens, reveals, the rocks, bushes, and hills that had been invisible in the darkness of the night, but is not itself an object of sight” (page 204). See also 2 below.
BV: I agree with this as a description of Sartre's theory. But it leaves us with the problem. Consciousness, although other than every object and every entity, is not a mere nothing, a nugatory nothing, ein nichtiges Nichts to borrow a phrase from Heidegger. Why not? Well, it is is the 'light' in which objects appear and without which they would not appear. Although this 'light' does not itself appear as an object of sight as Butch well explains, it is not a mere nothing: it is in some sense or other 'real.' Note also that while Butch is surely right to describe Sartrean consciousness as exhausting itself in its objects, this 'exhaustion thesis' is not an eliminativist claim to the effect that consciousness just is its objects such that there is no distinction at all between consciousness and objects. There is this distinction and so its terms must be 'real': consciousness on the one hand and its objects on the other.
2. Physicalism denies the existence of mind and consciousness as they are usually understood, and so do I. It asserts that there are only physical things. Consciousness is not nothing, but neither is it a “thing” (see 1). On page 235 I explain: “[C]onsciousness has no intrinsic nature and no “inhabitants,” not even an ego.... there is just the world. Hence, there is some plausibility of the physicalist picture of the world as matter. But, unlike it, ours does not exclude consciousness – it merely does not include it, much as a group portrait of a family usually does not include the photographer” (235).
BV: Butchvarov is telling us here that his picture neither excludes nor includes consciousness. I am afraid I find this as contradictory as the claim that consciousness is both nothing and not nothing.
3. As I just said, my picture of the world “does not exclude consciousness – it merely does not include it.” I deny that consciousness is a thing in the world, that “the photographer is included in the photo.” This is why I say nothing about its site or ties to animal organisms in nature.
Of course, I do not deny that sometimes I have a headache, that sometimes I am hungry, that usually I remember what I read yesterday, that I need eyeglasses to see better, that what other people say often makes sense to me, etc. In these everyday or scientific contexts we may speak of consciousness as tied to animal organisms, though the word is seldom used. They may involve nonphysical, “mental,” events, but these events would hardly be bits of consciousness rather than just objects of consciousness. Biology, psychology, and linguistics may tell us what they involve. I doubt that philosophers have special knowledge of such essentially empirical matters. But it is exactly in these contexts that to hold, as only philosophers might, that consciousness shapes or makes the world would be especially absurd.
One of my aims has been to question philosophical claims, especially in ethics and epistemology but also in philosophy of mind and metaphysics, to knowledge of what can only be empirical matters.
A full answer to this excellent question, however, would require a whole book -- or several books!
BV: I would insist that it is legitimate to ask about the relation of consciousness as Butchvarov conceives it and what goes on in us when we think, perceive, imagine, remember, feel, and so on. Granted, consciousness is not a thing in the world, and so it cannot be identified with or reduced to any events that transpire in human animals or their brains when they perceive, imagine, remember, and so on. I also grant that empirical matters should be left to empirical scientists. But that does not change the fact that consciousness in Butchvarov's Sartrean sense is involved when a man sees a tree or imagines a tree or remembers a tree. Suppose a man sees a tree. This cannot be accounted for without referring to consciousness in whose non-physical 'light' the tree appears. Butchvarov will of course grant this. He will surely not maintain that the 'lightening' that he mentions above can be accounted for by the empirical sciences of vision. Consciousness is a transcendental condition of the revelation of objects; as such, it is not something that can itself be investigated objectively by empirical means.
Given all this, is it not legitimate to ask how consciousness, as Butchvarov conceives it, is related to animal organisms, or at least those who we describe in ordinary language as conscious? Butchvarov maintains that consciousness is subject-less. But it doesn't follow that we can ignore the question of how consciousness is 'tied to' animal organisms.
One possible answer is that consciousness is not tied to animal organisms at all: it floats free. Not a very satisfactory answer! Where did it come from? Another answer is that it is an emergent. Doesn't Sartre speak of the "upsurge" of the For-Itself?
In any case, I don;t see that this question can be evaded in the way that Butchvarov evades it by reiterating the point that consciousness is not a thing in the world. I grant that!
It is plain that 'sees' has many senses in English. Of these many senses, some are philosophically salient. Of the philosophical salient senses, two are paramount. Call the one 'existence-entailing.' (EE) Call the other 'existence-neutral.' (EN) On the one, 'sees' is a so-called verb of success. On the other, it isn't, which not to say that it is a 'verb of failure.' Now there is difference between seeing a tree (e.g.) and seeing that a tree is in bloom (e.g.), but this is a difference I will ignore in this entry, at some philosophical peril perhaps.
EE: Necessarily, if subject S sees x, then x exists.
EN: Possibly, subject S sees x, but it is not the case that x exists.
Now one question is whether both senses of 'see' can be found in ordinary English. The answer is yes. "I know that feral cat still exists; I just now saw him" illustrates the first. "You look like you've just seen a ghost" illustrates the second.
So far, I don't think I've said anything controversial.
We advance to a philosophical question, and embroil ourselves in controversy, when we ask whether, corresponding to the existence-neutral sense of 'sees,' there is a type of seeing, a type of seeing that does not entail the existence of the object seen. One might grant that there is a legitimate use of 'sees' (or a cognate thereof) in English according to which what is seen does not exist without granting that in reality there is a type of seeing that is the seeing of the nonexistent.
One might insist that all seeing is the seeing of what exists, and that one cannot literally see what does not exist. So, assuming that there are no ghosts, one cannot see a ghost.
But suppose a sincere, frightened person reports that she has seen a ghost of such-and-such a ghastly description. Because of the behavioral evidence, you cannot reasonably deny that the person has had an experience, and indeed an object-directed (intentional) experience. You cannot reasonably say, "Because there are no ghosts, your experience had no object." For it did have an object, indeed a material (albeit nonexistent) object having various ghastly properties. (Side question: Is 'ghastly' etymologically connected to 'ghostly'?)
This example suggests that we sometimes see what does not exist, and that seeing therefore does not entail the existence of that which is seen. If this is right, then the epistemologically primary sense of 'see' is given by (EN) supra.
Henessey's response: "I grant the reality of her experience, with the reservation that it was not an experience based in vision, but one with a basis in imagination, imagination as distinguished from vision." The point, I take it, is that what we have in my example of a person claiming to see a ghost is not a genuine case of seeing, of visual perception, but a case of imagining. The terrified person imagined a ghost; she did not see one.
I think Hennessey's response gets the phenomenology wrong. Imagination and perception are phenomenologically different. For one thing, what we imagine is up to us: we are free to imagine almost anything we want; what we perceive, however, is not up to us. When Ebeneezer Scrooge saw the ghost of Marley, he tried to dismiss the apparition as "a bit of bad beef, a blot of mustard, a fragment of an underdone potato," but he found he could not. Marley: "Do you believe in me or not?" Scrooge: "I do, I must!" This exchange brings out nicely what Peirce called the compulsive character of perception. Imagination is not like this at all. Whether or not Scrooge saw Marley, he did not imagine him for the reason that the object of his experience was not under the control of his will.
The fact that what one imagines does not exist is not a good reason to to assimilate perception of what may or may not exist to imagination.
Second, if a subject imagines x, then it follows that x does not exist. Everything imagined is nonexistent. But it is not the case that if a subject perceives x, then x does not exist. Perception either entails the existence of the object perceived, or is consistent with both the existence and the nonexistence of the object perceived.
Third, one knows the identity of an object of imagination simply by willing the object in question. The subject creates the identity so that there can be no question of re-identifying or re-cognizing an object of imagination. But perception is not like this at all. In perception there is re-identification and recognition. Scrooge did not imagine Marley's ghost for the reason that he was able to identify and re-identify the ghost as it changed positions in Scrooge's chamber. So even if you balk at admitting that Scrooge saw Marley's ghost, you ought to admit that he wasn't imaging him.
I conclude that Hennessey has not refuted my example. To see a ghost is not to imagine a ghost, even if there aren't any. Besides, one can imagine a ghost without having the experience that one reports when one sincerely states that one has seen a ghost. Whether or not this experience is perception, it surely is not imagination.
This is a second entry in response to Hennessey. The first is here.
Consider again this aporetic tetrad:
1. If S sees x, then x exists
2. Seeing is an intentional state
3. Every intentional state is such that its intentional object is incomplete
4. Nothing that exists is incomplete.
The limbs of the tetrad are collectively logically inconsistent. Any three of them, taken together, entails the negation of the remaining one. For example, the conjunction of the first three limbs entails the negation of the fourth.
But while the limbs are collectively inconsistent, they are individually very plausible. So we have a nice puzzle on our hands. At least one of the limbs is false, but which one? I don't think that (3) or (4) are good candidates for rejection. That leaves (1) or (2).
I incline toward the rejection of (1). Seeing is an intentional state but it is not existence-entailing. My seeing of x does not entail the existence of x. What one sees (logically) may or may not exist. There is nothing in or about the visual object that certifies that it exists apart from my seeing it. Existence is not an observable feature. The greenness of the tree is empirically accessible; its existence is not.
The meat of Hennessey's response consists in rejecting (3) and runs as follows:
. . . it does not seem to me to be right that the object of an intentional state “is incomplete.” If he and I were both looking at the cat of which he makes mention, I of course from the left and he of course from the right, [of course!] neither of us would see the side of the cat which the other would see. The cat, however, would be complete, lacking neither side. And we would each be seeing the same complete cat, though I would be seeing it as or qua visible from the left and he would be seeing it as or qua visible from the right.
There is a scholastic distinction that should be brought to bear here, the distinction between the “material object” of an intentional act such as seeing and its “formal object.” My vision of the cat and Bill’s vision of the cat has the same material object, the cat. But they have distinct formal objects, the cat as or qua visible from the left and the cat as or qua visible from the right.
5. I conclude, then, that rather than adopting limbs (2), (3), and (4) as premises in an argument the conclusion of which is the negation of (1), we should adopt limbs (1), (2), and (4) as premises in an argument the conclusion of which is the negation of (3). Seeing is an existence-entailing intentional state. But I stand ready to be corrected.
Richard's response is a reasonable one, and of course I accept the distinction he couches in scholastic terminology, that between the material and the formal object of an act. That is a distinction that needs to be made in any adequate account. If I rightly remember my Husserl, he speaks of the object as intended and the object intended. Both could be called the intentional object.
What I meant by 'intentional object' in (3) above is the object precisely as intended in the act, the cogitatum qua cogitatum, or intentum qua intentum, precisely as correlate of the intentio, the Husserlian noema precisely as correlate of the Husserlian noesis, having all and only the properties it appears to have. It seems obvious that the formal object, the object-as-intended, must be incomplete. Suppose I am looking at a wall. I can see it only from one side at a time, not from all sides at once. What's more, the side I see as material object is not identical to the formal object of my seeing. For the side I am seeing (and that is presumably a part-cause of my seeing it) has properties that I don't see or are otherwise aware of. For example, I might describe the formal object as 'beige wall' even though the wall in reality (if there is one) is a beige stucco wall: I am too far away to see if it has a stucco surface or not. The wall in reality, if there is one, must of course be one or the other. But the formal object is indeterminate with respect to the property of having a stucco surface.
Here is a further wrinkle. Necessarily, if x is beige, then x is colored. But if I see x as beige, it does not follow that I see it as colored. So it would seem that formal objects are not closed under property entailment.
This is why I consider (3) to be unassailably true. Richard and I both accept (2) and (4). But he rejects (3), while I reject (1).
So far, then, a stand-off. But there is a lot more to say.
Richard Hennessey questions the distinction between existentially loaded and existentially neutral senses of 'sees' and cognates. He quotes me as saying:
'Sees’ is often taken to be a so-called verb of success: if S sees x, then it follows that x exists. On this understanding of ‘sees’ one cannot see what doesn’t exist. Call this the existentially loaded sense of ‘sees’ and contrast it with the existentially neutral sense according to which ‘S sees x’ does not entail ‘X exists.’
I should add that I consider the existentially neutral sense of 'see' primary for the purposes of epistemology. For if visual perception is a source (along with tactile, auditory, etc. perception) of our knowledge of the existence of material things, then it seems obvious that the perception verbs must be taken in their existentially neutral senses. For existentially loaded uses of these verbs presuppose the mind-independent existence of material things.
So here is a bone of contention between me and Hennessey. I maintain that seeing in the epistemologically primary sense does not entail the existence, outside the mind, of that which is seen. Hennessey, I take it, disagrees.
We agree, however, that a parallel distinction ought not be made with respect to 'knows': there is no legitimate sense of 'knows' according to which 'S knows x' does not entail 'x exists.' Now consider this argument that Hennessey's discussion suggests:
1. Every instance of seeing is an instance of knowing
2. Every instance of knowing is existence-entailing
3. Every instance of seeing is existence-entailing.
I reject the initial premise, and with it the argument. So I persist in my view that seeing an object does not entail the existence of the object seen. Hennessey and I agree that seeing is an intentional or object-directed state of the subject: one cannot see without seeing something. Where we disagree is on the question whether there are, or could be, cases in which the object seen does not exist.
I would say that there are actual cases of this. Suppose a person claims to have seen a ghost and behaves in a manner that makes it very unlikely that the person is lying or joking. (The person may be your young daughter with whom you have just watched an episode of "Celebrity Ghost Stories.") The person is trembling with fear as she recounts her experience and describes its object in some detail, an object that is of course distinct from the experiencing. (Describing an ugly man with a wart on his nose, she is describing an object of experiencing, not the experiencing as mental act.) Now suppose you are convinced that there are no ghosts. What will you say to the person? Two options:
A. You didn't see anything: ghosts do not exist and you can't see what does not exist!
B. You saw something, but what you saw does not exist, so have no fear!
Clearly, the first answer won't do. The subject had a terrifying visual experience in which something visually appeared. If you give the first answer, you are denying the existence of the subject's visual experience. But that denial involves unbearable chutzpah: the subject, from her behavior, clearly did have a disturbing object-directed experience. You are presumably also confusing not seeing something with seeing something that does not exist. That would be a sort of operator shift fallacy. One cannot validly move from
S sees something that does not exist
It is not the case that S sees something.
The correct answer is (B). The person saw something, but what she saw does not exist.
In dreams, too, we sometimes see what does not exist. I once had a dream about my cat, Maya. It was an incredibly vivid dream, but also a lucid one: I knew I am was dreaming, and I knew that the cat that I saw, felt, and heard was dead and gone, and therefore nonexistent (assuming presentism). And so I philosophized within the dream: this cat does not exist and yet I see and hear and feel this cat. Examples like this, which of course hark back to Descartes' famous dream argument, are phenomenological evidence that we sometimes perceive objects that do not exist.
(There are those who will 'go adverbial' here, but the adverbial theory gets the phenomenology wrong, among other things.)
Hallucinations and dreams provide actual (nonmodal) examples of cases in which we perceive what does not exist. But even if we never dreamt or hallucinated, we would still have (modal) reason to deny the validity of the inference from 'S sees x' to 'X exists.' For suppose I see a tree, one that exists apart from my seeing it. My perception would in that case be veridical. But it is an undeniable phenomonological fact that there is no intrinsic difference, no difference internal to the experience, between veridical and nonveridical perception. That is: there is no feature of the intentional object that certifies its existence outside the mind, that certifies that it is more than a merely intentional object. It is therefore logically possible that I have the experience of seeing a tree without it being the case that the object of the experience exists. Since the object seen is what it is whether or not it exists, I cannot validily infer the existence of the object from my seeing it. It is possible that theobject not exist even if in actuality the tree perceived exists extramentally.
What I am saying is consistent with perception being caused in the normal cases. For me to see an existing green tree it is causally necessary that light of the right wavelengths enter my retina, that my brain be supplied with oxygenated blood, etc. What I am saying is inconsistent, however, with a philosophical (not scientific) theory according to which causation is logically necessary for perception. So consider a third senses of 'sees' according to which there are two logically necessary conditions on seeing, first, that the object seen exists, and second, that the object seen stand in the right causal relation to S. This is a gesture in the direction of a causal theory of perception according to which causation is a logical ingredient in perception.
What I am maintaining is clearly inconsistent with such a philosophical theory. For if the proverbial drunk literally (not figuratively) sees the proverbial pink rat when in the grip of delirium tremens, a rat that does not extramentally exist, then his seeing cannot involve causation from the side of the rat. For presumably an existent effect cannot have a nonexistent cause.
Peter and I discussed the following over Sunday breakfast.
Suppose I want a table, but there is no existing table that I want: I want a table with special features that no existing table possesses. So I decide to build a table with these features. My planning involves imagining a table having certain properties. It is rectangular, but not square, etc. How does this differ from imagining a table that I describe in a work of fiction? Suppose the two tables have all the same properties. We also assume that the properties form a logically consistent set. What is the difference between imagining a table I intend to build and imagining a table that I do not intend to build but intend merely to describe as part of the fictional furniture in a short story?
In the first case I imagine the table as real; in the second as fictional. Note that to imagine a table as real is not the same as imagining a real table, though that too occurs. Suppose I remember seeing Peter's nondescript writing table. To remember a table is not to imagine one; nonetheless I can imagine refurbishing Peter's table by stripping it, sanding it, and refinishing it. The imagined result of those operations is not a purely imagined object, any more than a piece of fiction I write in which Peter's table makes an appearance features a purely fictional table.
The two tables I am concerned with, however are both nonexistent. In both cases there is a merely intentional object before my mind. And in both cases the constitutive properties are the same. Moreover, the two are categorially the same: both are physical objects, and more specifically artifacts. Obviously, when I imagine a table, I am not imagining a nonphysical object or a natural physical object like a tree. So there is a clear sense in which what I am imagining is in both cases a physical object, albeit a nonexistent/not-yet-existent physical object.
So what distinguishes the two objects? Roman Ingarden maintains that they differ in "ontic character." In the first case, the ontic character is intended as real. In the second, intended as fictional. (The Literary Work of Art, p. 119).
Now I have already argued that purely fictional objects are impossible objects: they cannot be actualized, even if the constitutive properties form a logically consistent set. We can now say that the broadly logical impossibility of purely fictional objects is grounded in their ontic character of being intended as fictional. The table imagined as real, however, is possible due to its ontic character of being intended as real despite being otherwise indistinguishable from the table imagined as fictional.
Now here is the puzzle of actualization formulated as an aporetic triad
a. Every incomplete object is impossible.
b. The table imagined as real is an incomplete object.
c. The table imagined as real is possible, i.e. actualizable.
The limbs are collectively inconsistent, but each is very plausible. At any impasse again.
In the recent post Mary Neal’s Out of Body Experiences you state: "No experience, no matter how intense or unusual or protracted, conclusively proves the veridicality of its intentional object. Phenomenology alone won't get you to metaphysics."
I have been attempting to reconstruct your reasoning here, and the following is the best I could come up with.
1) No experience, no matter how intense or unusual or protracted, conclusively proves the veridicality of its intentional object.
2) The subject matter of phenomenology is experience.
3) The subject matter of metaphysics is existence, which includes the quest of proving the veridicality of intentional objects. Therefore:
C) Phenomenology alone won't get you to metaphysics.
I have an issue with (1). Surely, the very meaning of ‘veridical experience’ designates a harmonious pattern of interconnected experiences, the paradigm case being perceptual experiences. Correlatively, when one speaks about the intentional object existing, one means nothing other than the reappearance of the self-same object across this harmonious flow.
Non-veridical experiences, e.g. hallucinations, are then just those experiences that promise, but fail, to endure harmoniously. Whenever non-veridical experiences obtain so do veridical experiences. For example, I was mistaken that there was a cat walking outside on the pavement, and hence had a non-veridical experience of the cat, but I had a veridical experience of the pavement itself. Ultimately, the experience of the world is given as the veridical background that serves as a foundation for all non-veridical experiences. To speak ontologically, the existence of non-veridical experiences depends on veridical experiences and likewise non-existence objects demand existent objects. Therefore, non-veridical experience could never exist on their own, which does not prevent us as talking about them as self-sufficient.
In relation to (2), I would argue that the subject matter of phenomenology is not just experience but also the object experienced just as it is experienced. But if existence is just the reappearance of an object through a harmonious flow of experience, then phenomenology does have metaphysical implication.
I do not think that perceptual experience is the only mode of experience through which existence is experienced; the room is left often for experiences that reveal the divine.
As always, I am very grateful for the existence of your blog.
Thanks for reading, E. C., for the kind words, and for the above response.
First of all, you did a good job of setting forth my reasoning in support of (C). But I take issue with your taking issue with (1). You are in effect begging the question by just assuming that what makes veridical experience veridical is its internal coherence. That is precisely the question. It may well be that coherence is a criterion of truth without being the nature of truth. By a criterion I mean a way of testing for truth. It could be that coherence is a criterion, or even the criterion, of truth, but that correspondence is the nature of truth. One cannot just assume that truth is constituted by coherence. I am not saying the view is wrong; I am saying that it cannot be assumed to be true without argument or consideration of alternatives. Such arguments and considerations, however, move us beyond phenomenology into dialectics.
To say of an experience that it is veridical is to say that it is of or about an object that exists whether or not the experience exists. If so, then the existence of the object in reality cannot be explicated in terms of its manners and modes of appearing. If you say that it can, then you are opting for a form of idealism which, in Husserlian jargon, reduces Sein to Seinsinn. I would insist, however, that it part of the plain sense of outer perception that it is of or about objects whose existence is independent of the existence of perceivers and their experiences. To borrow a turn of phrase from the neglected German philosopher Wolfgang Cramer, it is built into the very structure of outer perception that it is of or about objects as non-objects. That may sound paradoxical, but it is not contradictory. The idea is that the object is intended in the act or noesis as having an ontological status that surpasses the status of a merely intentional object. Whether it does have that additional really existent status is of course a further question.
For example, my seeing of a tree is an intentional experience: it is of or about something that may or may not exist. (Note that, phenomenologically, 'see' is not a verb of success. If I see x in the phenomenological sense of 'see,' it does not follow that there exists an x such that I see it.) Now if you say that the existence of the tree intended in the act reduces to its ongoing 'verification' in the coherent series of Abschattungen that manifest it, then you are opting for a form of idealism. And this seems incompatible with the point I made, namely, that it is part and parcel of the very nature of outer perception that it be directed to an object as non-object. The tree is intended as being such that its existence is not exhausted by its phenomenological manifestation.
But the point is not to get you to agree with this; the point is to get you to see that there is an issue here, one subject to ongoing controversy, and that one cannot uncritically plump for one side. If you haven't read Roman Ingarden on Husserl, I suggest that you do.
As for premse (2), we will agree that there are acts, intentional experiences (Erlebnisse), and that they are of an object. Throughout the sphere of intentionality there is the act-object, noesis-noema correlation. But this leaves wide open the question whether the being of the thing in reality is exhausted by its noematic being, whether its Sein reduces to its Seinsinn. On that very point Ingarden disagreed strenuously with his master, Husserl.
"But if existence is just the reappearance of an object through a harmonious flow of experience, then phenomenology does have metaphysical implications." That is true. But I deny the consequent of your conditional and so I deny the antecedent as well.
My point, in sum, is that you cannot just assume the truth of the antecedent. For that begs the question against realism. From the fact that an object manifests its existence in the manner you describe, it does not follow that the very existence of the object is its manifestation.
It may be methodologically useful to bracket the existence of the object the better to study its manners and modes of appearing, but this very bracketing presupposes that there is more to the existence of the object than its appearing. One could say that Husserl was right to bracket the existence of the object for purposes of phenomenology, but then, in his later idealistic phase, he forgot to remove the brackets.
For Butchvarov, all consciousness is intentional. (There are no non-intentional consciousnesses.) And all intentionality is conscious intentionality. (There is no "physical intentionality" to use George Molnar's term.) So, for Butchvarov, 'consciousness' and 'intentionality' are equivalent terms. Consciousness, by its very nature, is consciousness of something, where the 'of' is an objective genitive.
(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.
Light. It is a fire that does not burn. (Notebooks, 21)
Just as the eyes are the most spiritual of the bodily organs, light is the most spiritual of physical phenomena. And there is no light like the lambent light of the desert. The low humidity, the sparseness of vegetation that even in its arboreal forms hugs the ground, the long, long vistas that draw the eye out to shimmering buttes and mesas -- all of these contribute to the illusion that the light is alive. This light does not consume, like fire, but allows things to appear. It licks, like flames, but does not incinerate. ('Lambent' from Latin lambere, to lick.)
Light as phenomenon, as appearance, is not something merely physical. It is as much mind as matter. Without its appearance to mind it would not be what it, phenomenologically, is. But the light that allows rocks and coyotes to appear, itself appears. This seen light is seen within a clearing, eine Lichtung, which is light in a transcendental sense. But this transcendental light in whose light both illuminated objects and physical light appear, points back to the onto-theological Source of this transcendental light.
Augustine claims to have glimpsed this eternal Source Light upon entering into his "inmost being." Entering there, he saw with his soul's eye, "above that same eye of my soul, above my mind, an unchangeable light." He continues:
It was not this common light, plain to all flesh, nor a greater light of the same kind . . . Not such was that light, but different, far different from all other lights. Nor was it above my mind, as oil is above water, or sky above earth. It was above my mind, because it made me, and I was beneath it, because I was made by it. He who knows the truth, knows that light, and he who knows it knows eternity. (Confessions, Book VII, Chapter 10)
'Light,' then, has several senses. There is the light of physics, which is but a theoretical posit. There is physical light as we see it, whether in the form of illuminated things such as yonder mesa, or sources of illumination such as the sun, or the lambent space between them. There is the transcendental light of mind without which nothing at all would appear. There is, above this transcendental light, its Source.
One could characterize a materialist as one who is blind to the light, except in the first of the four senses lately mentioned.