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Friday, July 04, 2014


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When you say, "The theory implies that when I think about the golden mountain I am thinking about an operation wholly immanent to the divine intellect" that seems out of accord with your earlier account of the theory. Surely the right thing to say (on the theory) is that I am thinking about the object of that divine operation, not the operation itself. Saying that I am thinking about the divine operation itself would make of the Scotist theory another version of actualist ersatzism, putting the really existent divine operation in place of the non-existent object.

It seems like Novak/Scotus is trying to say that the operation of the divine mind somehow grounds, or makes possible, the human mind's ability to conceive non-existents, not by being itself the object of those human conceivings, but in some other way.

I am not sure you appreciate the difficulty. Whereas I had argued that merely intentional objects have being of their own, albeit mere esse intentionale, Novak argues that they have no being whatsoever. Now if merely intentional objects have no being whatsoever, then they they are not distinct from the wholly immanent operation of the divine intellect whose effect, Novak says, remains wholly confined to the divine intellect. Thus the act-object distinction collapses, and merely intentional objects reduce to wholly immanent operations of the divine intellect.

If, on the other hand, merely intentional objects are "beyond being and nonbeing" as Meinong thought, if they are distinct items despite their having no being whatsoever, then why bring God into the picture? Why not reject (PR) the way Meinong does?

Dear Bill, thanks for your comment. Your representation of Scotus's theory (which I tentatively accept) and of my theoretical desiderata is perfect. But I second to Christopher McCarthey's criticism of your objection. When you infer that "if merely intentional objects have no being whatsoever, then they they are not distinct from the wholly immanent operation of the divine intellect", and therefore, presumably, they are identical with it, and therefore my cognitive acts terminate at God's intellections, there is a non-sequitur involved. Since the objects have no being whatsoever, they are, properly speaking, neither really distinct nor really identical to divine intellections. So the inference is blocked. It seems to me that you are being driven by the PR: the need to find _something_ in the reality to which the intellections of non-existents could refer. The theory of Scotus is that there is nothig to be found. The real being of the divine intellections is NOT that which is the subject of the _esse obiective_. The Scotian thesis is that the act-object distinction (or better non-identity) can be maintained even if the object is really nothing. "Being an object" simply does not require reality in any degree - and this is NOT to say that objects are identical to the respective acts.

Furthermore: in my understanding, Meinong does not, in ultimate analysis, reject the PR. His Aussersein seems to be a limit-case of being. But suppose Meinong indeed rejected the PR in the way you say. Why not accept such a theory and bring God into the picture? This is a crucial question, because it illuminates the role of God in Scotus's theory. For in a sense, I would say, let us accept that theory (but let us not be misled to ascribing any reality whatsoever to these objects)! Indeed, God is not needed in order to _justify_ or _make intelligible_ our capacity to refer to non-existents. Scotus, as I interpret him, suggests that this needs no justification in this sense, just like, e.g., the existence of bodies needs no justification or explication in this sense. So on this level, we might do without God in both cases. But we can also ask further: is not there any necessary condition to the existence of bodies? Is not there any necessary condition to the inteligibility of things? And _here_ enters God as the ultimate answer. So the rebuttal of the DEM objection does not consist merely in pointing out the independent reasons for accepting God's existence, but also, and principally, in showing that God is not really necessary to make the possibility reference to non-existents prima facie plausible and intelligible.

One further point: This is not something Scotus thought of, but I don't think we should say that the conceived object, say, the Golden Mountain, only has those few properties we acutally conceive it as having. For we (usually) do not conceive objects as having only those properties we conceive them as having. We conceive them as having all sorts of usual properties, merely without specifying most of them. An object merely having the actually explicitly conceived properties and those implied by it would not be a possible object - but we intend to conceive the Golden Mountain as a possible object.

In other words, I suggest we can conceive the non-existents vaguely or indiscriminatedly. There are certainly many individual possibilia satisfying our rough conception of Hamlet - but we need not be bothered about which one is the one referred to, because we simply do not want to bother, we do not need to make our reference that precise. It is enough for our needs to stipulate that it is the same individual referred to by Shakespeare, whichever it was (surely, there was no _single one_ individual possible Hamlet referred to by Shakespeare, the playwright's reference having been as vague as ours). But certainly Shakespeare's play is about a complete possible _individual_, not about a universal or an incomplete object.

Thanks for your careful responses, Lukas. I will have to think them over when I have more time. But it is not clear to me whether and how your theory differs from Meinong's and why you need to bring God into the picture.

Perhaps I will talk about Aussersein in a separate post.

In one place in your paper you say something about sucking mother's milk. 'Imbibing' is a much better word.

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