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Saturday, November 23, 2013


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"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. "
How about Hamlet's motivations? There is a great amount of literature trying to interpret the possible (sic!) reasons why Hamlet didn't avenge his father. Indeed it's hard to find those reasons explicitly declared and coherently pursued. So why would scholars do this if it didn't make any sense given that you can't ascribe anything to a fictional character else than what the its author had?

Bill, you say:

(1) Hamlet is an incomplete object, having all and only the properties ascribed to him in the play

(2) Sentence (1) above does not say or imply that there exists in actuality, outside the mind, a man named 'Hamlet.'

My emphasis to highlight the straw man. Sentence (1) says not there exists a man, but there exists an incomplete object.

Whether or not incomplete objects exist in reality or actuality inside or outside the mind (I don't care which), you have certainly claimed that there are such things as incomplete objects. In which case my original point stands. You cannot infer from

(3) Shakespeare said (in a play) that there was a man called 'Hamlet'.


(4) There is an incomplete object corresponding to 'Hamlet'.

Do you believe the inference from (3) to (4) is valid or not? It’s a simple point, and a matter of logic, not metaphysics.

>> 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. <<

The point of philosophical enquiry is to dismiss any kind of appeal to revelation, authority, etc. But I am not sure yours is an appeal to revelation. You seem to be starting from statements of fact which we can all agree on, such as the possibility of writing a story about an insomniac, to statements about other things such as pure ficta or ‘merely intentional objects’. I am objecting on logical grounds, not phenomenological ones. See my comment immediately above.


Expert logician that you are, you know that if a deductive inference from one proposition to a second fails, it does not follow that the second is false or bereft of support from another source. Although I have some misgivings about the way you formulate (3), I grant you that (4) does not follow from (3). So we agree on this point of logic.

What you are failing to address is my claim that support for (4) is phenomenological.

>>The point of philosophical enquiry is to dismiss any kind of appeal to revelation, authority, etc.<<

False as formulated. What you want to say, I think, is that the philosopher qua philosopher makes no use of divine revelation or any authority when it comes to the grounding of his claims. But this is consistent with allowing that certain truths can be known only via revelation or authority. Philosophy is not anti-revelation or anti-authority.

In any case, a phenomenological appeal is neither an appeal to revelation not an appeal to authority. But I have to go play chess now.

OK but can you add you add a bit more colour to your argument? You make the following two crucial claims.

(*) When I read Hamlet there appears before my mind a merely intentional object, one that I know is fictional, and therefore, one that I know is merely intentional.

(**) To deny this is to deny what is phenomenologically evident.

The first thing that confuses me is that the claim following the 'therefore' seems to be existential. You seem to be saying that the phenomenology is evidence for there being an object that is merely intentional.

So where we disagree is about whether there are such things as intentional objects at all.

But then a further confusion is that you say later that intentional objects do not exist. So are we disagreeing or not?

I would agree that 'something' appears before my mind. But that is just an image or an idea. Not the same as Hamlet.

In summary, you need to make the logic of your claim much clearer. Are you claiming that there are merely intentional objects or not? And if you are, how do your phenomenological observations justify their existence? As I have already pointed out, my (3) above does not imply (4).


For you, 'Some items do not exist' is a contradiction because it reduces to the contradiction, 'There exist items that do not exist.'

But suppose there are modes of existence, a thesis I argued in the that long paper, "Two Dogmas of Analysis," that you read, forthcoming in the Routledge anthology. Then 'Some items do not exist-1' is not a contradiction. For they might exist in a different mode.


Your question about Hamlet's motivations is an interesting one. I would say that any speculation about his motivations is just further fictionalizing, further ascription of properties to a fictional object. There can be no reasonable speculation about what a fictional individual's motivations really are in the way there can be about the motovations of say, Barack Obama, who is unfortunately nor a purely fictional item.

I think our difference is of another kind. Of course there are 'phenomenological' facts that we can agree on, subject to interpersonal verification, and which do not depend on personal or privileged revelation. But I was trained to take such Moorean data and argue from these in numbered deductive steps.

I've never been comfortable with your more discursive and 'Sartrean' style.

I don't see how you get in simple numbered steps from facts like writing a story about a made-up character to 'intentional objects'.

I think I understand 'intentionality'. You cannot desire without desiring something. But I don't see how you get there logically speaking to intentional objects.

Perhaps we Brits define ourselves by opposition to things Frenchified but I share Ed's misgivings. To be more specific, one of my concerns is this. As you use them, the terms 'fictional', 'intentional', 'possible', 'incomplete', and others like 'past' have a distinctive effect on the concept terms they qualify. Ordinary adjectives have the effect of narrowing the extension of the concept term they qualify: the red balls are a subset of the balls, the female prime ministers are a subset of the prime ministers, and so on. The terms in question have the opposite effect. They appear to widen, or indeed offset altogether, the extension of the qualified concept. They are thus potent alienating terms. So the question arises, What is the relation (if any) between the concepts 'fictional person' and 'person', between 'intentional object' and 'object', and 'possible X' and 'X'? Ordinary qualification can be uniformly understood in terms of set intersection. Is there a uniform explanation underlying these alienating qualifications? I say a bit more here.


Thanks for your comments. But an important ComBox rule is: be pithy. Don't dump my entire post back into the ComBox.

The terminology I use is technical but necessary and familiar to philosophers. I am not writing for the general public in these mre technical posts.


I responded to you in a separate post.

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