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Sunday, January 23, 2011


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>>"We sometimes think about the nonexistent" simply records a pre-theoretical fact

You have now expressed more clearly what you mean by W1. My objection to it was mainly that it was unclear, and that the only clear reading of it was (for me) to read it 'the non-existent' as a sort of plural referring term like 'the unemployed'. But if we read it that way, it is clearly inconsistent and self-contradictory: there are some things we think about, and there are no such things. If you are going to claim that something is self-evident, you should be perfectly clear what it means.

Now you argue in the post you link to here http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/11/is-meinongs-theory-of-objects-obviously-self-contradictory-van-inwagen-says-yes.html that Meinong's theory is not obviously inconsistent. This appears to invoke the old distinction between 'wide' existence assertion, as in 'no gold mine is in Surrey', and 'narrow' existence assertion as in 'a gold mine in Surrey does not exist/is non-existent'.

This is more about the meaning of the word 'exists'. I hold that 'some F is G' is equivalent to 'some F-that-is-G exists' - I have called this 'Brentano equivalence' and have discussed it a number of times e.g. here http://ocham.blogspot.com/2011/01/nonexistent.html . This is not a metaphysical thesis, it is merely about what some word means.

But even if I agree that 'exist' has the meaning that the Meinongian claims it means, this is no help at all in resolving the intentionality problem, as I have argued here http://ocham.blogspot.com/2011/01/seeking-nonexistent.html and passim. For

(1) Gerald is looking for a gold mine in Surrey

is consistent with

(2) No gold mine is in Surrey

which is 'wide existential denial', and thus inconsistent with

(3) Some non-existing gold mine is in Surrey.

which implies that some gold mine (a non-existent one) is in Surrey. Thus the Meinongian cannot explain the consistency of (1) and (2) by invoking non-existent beings. They are perfectly consistent even though there are no such beings at all. It is vain to explain with more what can explained by less.

"the alternatives to saying that intentionality is a relation are not at all appetizing."
Would it be possible to know why? thanks.

See paper by Pete Mandik addressing these issues, Beware the Unicorn: Consciousness as being represented and other things that don't exist.

Hi Eric. I skimmed through Malik’s paper and noted with interest his ‘aporetic triad’

1) Relations can obtain only between relata that exist.
2) There exist mental representations of nonexistent things.
3) Representation is a relation between that which does the representing
and that which is represented.

Note these are differently ordered to Bill’s, but essentially are the same. Malik notes that a standard approach is to use 1 and 2 as premisses to infer the denial of 3. That is essentially the approach I have argued for elsewhere. Note also I disagree with the manner of expressing these assumptions, as making the whole issue seem more problematic than it really is (‘nonexistent things’ e.g.).


Thanks for the reference. I haven't read Mandik's paper, but I will. Here it is once again: http://www.petemandik.com/philosophy/papers/unicorn.pdf

I have now read the paper more carefully and I recommend it. Eric, you have a neuroscience blog?


If a house lacks a garden, then it lacks something.

Certainly. To lack = to want.

However the house is a non-animate subject, which cannot have mental states. Consider also

Our bedroom wants a good clean.
That paper deserves an A grade.
This chair is missing a leg.

Are these problems for materialism?

No. These appear to be analogical uses. It is the writer of the paper who deserves an 'A'. By an analogical extension, the paper deserves an 'A.' Can a dog's food and urine be healthy? Yes, but only analogically. Healthy food is food the consumption of which conduces to health in the animal who eats it; healthy urine is urine that indicates health in the animal whose urine it is, etc.

That was so not my point. Verbs like ‘lack’, ‘missing’ etc. behave logically very much like intentional verbs. ‘This house lacks a garden’ implies ‘this house lacks something’, yet is consistent with ‘there is no garden belonging to this house’. It is of the form ‘a R some x’, yet does not imply that any x exists. Do we think of this as puzzling? No. Why are we not tempted to construct aporetic puzzles like this?

(1) Some objects lack the nonexistent
(2) Lacking is a relation between an object, and the object that is lacked
(3) Every relation is such that, if it obtains, all its relata exist

Why do some philosophers find the same logical phenomenon so challenging in the case of other verbs (thinks of, wishes, is looking for etc.)? More here http://ocham.blogspot.com/2011/01/metaphysical-reasoning.html

Silence in Phoenicia? I just found this excellent paper by Mark Sainsury – “Intentionality without Exotica” https://webspace.utexas.edu/rms9/www/Publications/RMSIntentionality.pdf . Londonista to the core. Literally so as Mark taught at KCL for many years, although he has moved since to the Texan desert. And theology so: I have corresponded with Mark for a long time about things of this nature. Mark begins with an argument for exotica as follows:

1. The sentence ‘‘John is thinking about Pegasus’’ is true.
2. The sentence is syntactically relational.
3. Hence it is semantically relational.
4. Hence ‘‘Pegasus’’ has a referent.
5. Since ‘‘Pegasus’’ does not have an ordinary object as its referent, it
has an exotic object as its referent: one that is nonexistent, nonactual,
or nonconcrete.

He points out an argument of similar form

1. The sentence ‘‘I did it for John’s sake’’ is true.
2. The sentence is syntactically relational.
3. Hence it is semantically relational.
4. Hence ‘‘John’s sake’’ has a referent.
5. Since ‘‘John’s sake’’ does not have an ordinary object as its referent,
it has an exotic object as its referent.

He explains this by a ‘propositionalist’ account of intentional constructions. Tim Crane, who has objections to the propositionalist approach, discusses Mark’s paper here http://web.mac.com/cranetim/Tims_website/Online_papers_files/Sainsbury%20on%20aboutness.pdf

Londonista slogan “syntactic relationality does not entail semantic relationality.”

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