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Monday, February 15, 2021

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Dear Bill,

Thank you for engaging so thoroughly with my paper. Again, I am deeply honoured.
I would like to make two points:

First point.

You say:

The Scotistic-Novakian theory seems to imply that when I think about the golden mountain I am thinking about an operation wholly immanent to the divine intellect.
I wonder what the justification of this is. I would say that the SN-theory implies precisely the opposite: for the GM has properties incompatible with that of the divine act of cognition (DAC):
  • DM does not exist, DAC does exist;
  • DM would be finite and material, if it existed, DAC is infinite and immaterial;
  • DM is a creature, DAC is God;
etc.

Of course, the SN-theory my imply both horns and be incoherent, for that reason; but given that the implication of non-identity seems to be undeniably clear, the other implication would have to be made equally clear in order that the incoherence charge were fair.

Second point.

You object:

We are being told that the intelligibility of the GM, for example, is due to a wholly immanent operation on God's part. That is: no act of divine intellection is directed outward toward a transcendent object even if said object is beingless. But if the divine production of the intelligibility of the GM, say, is wholly immanent then this can only mean that the production proceeds by God's conceiving-GM-ly. But this amounts to adverbialism and a denial of the relationality of intentionality, which Novak is otherwise committed to.
I take it you are making the following argument:
  1. An immanent act of cognition is not outward-directed.
  2. A not-outward-directed act of cognition is adverbial.
  3. An adverbial act of cognition is non-relational.
  4. Ergo, an immanent act of cognition is non-relational.
I contest all three premises.

(Ad 1) I distinguish: (a) outward-directed as to an effect; (b) outward-directed as to an object. Since there are ways how to be an object without being an effect (e.g. my wife is an object of my love but I have not effected her), (b) does not imply (a) [and (~a) does not imply (~b)]. I concede (1) in the sense (a) and reject it in the sense (b).

(Ad 2 and 3) I am not sure about the precise meaning of "adverbial". It seems to me that there can be a harmless sense not involving the rejection of relationality: why could not adverbial content be relational, just like adjectival content? I don't know the details of Chisholm's theory, but isn't the "relationality" he sook to exclude rather the Frege-Russellian one (ordered pairs or dyadic predicates)?

So I distinguish: "adverbial-sans-relationality" - I reject (2) and concede (3); "adverbial -cum-relationality" - I reject (3) and concede (2).

All this generally speaking. But the case of God is special, because God cannot be really related to creatures. God's cognition is intentionally directed to its object not because it is specified by the object and thus really related to it, but because of its all-encompassing transcendent perfection. So perhaps in case of God the relation-less "adverbial" language would be all the more in place - provided that there is no real difference in God in "cognizing GM-ly" and "cognizing [something else]-ly". God is of necessity cognizing fully and totally, the difference between "God cognizing X" and "God cognizing Y" is completely extrinsic to God.

Lukas,

Thanks for the detailed response. Unfortunately I am having a hard time understanding the Scotist theory.

Your view, I take it, is that such items as the golden mountain (GM) have no being at all. And yet we "single them out" (your phrase which I like!) in thought and speech.

Please answer the following objection of mine.

"An object that has no being is nothing. How then can I be thinking about something that is nothing? And if what I am thinking about is nothing at all, then how is my thinking of Frodo different from my thinking of the GM? Acts are individuated by their objects; if the objects are nothing, then they do not differ and cannot serve to individuate the acts trained upon them."

Let's proceed very slowly and carefully, in small chunks of discourse, back and forth, and see how far we get.

Dear Bill,

let me try.

"How can I be thinking about something that is nothing?" One answer could be: Why not? Why should thinkability require existence?

Perhaps a better answer: "Thinking about nothing" is ambiguous. It either means "thinking about an object which is merely possible, i.e. does not exist but can exist"; and "thinking about the absence of any object". In the first way, "thinking about nothing" is also "thinking about something" (because it is thinking about something possible).

"How is my thinking of Frodo different from my thinking of the GM?" Great question! Thinking of Frodo is thinking of something that does not exist at all, but if it existed, it would be a sentient humanoid with curly hair and hairy feet etc., whereas thinking of a (rather than "the" - there are many possible GM's) GM is thinking of something that does not exist at all either (and in this respect it is undistinguishable from Frodo) but if it existed, it would be a large, non-sentient geological formation made of a precious metal -- i.e. something quite different from Frodo.

In other words, the distinction between possibilia is the distinction between what they would be like if they existed. When we think of possibilia, we think of them under the descriptions they would satisfy if they existed. To grasp a possible world is to think of how the actual world could be but is not, i.e. to imagine as hypothetically existing what actually does not exist. To be possible is to be possibly actual. Therefore, we grasp and distinguish the potentialities and possibilia in relation to the distinct actualities they are possibilities of.

One more point. The possibilia need not, and indeed cannot, be actually distinct from each other a parte rei. They would have to actually exist in the first place. But they can be actually distinct qua being thought of, and they are potentially distinct in reality in the sense that if they existed, they would be distinct. We have the power of abstractive cognition and abstractive cognition abstracts from existence -- we conceive of or imagine things irrespective of whether they exist. Therefore, we also abstract from whether the distinction between them is merely potential or actual; i.e. are capable of singling out qua distinct an individual in spite of its possible non-existence, and, consequently, lack of distinction. We are not confined to thinking merely of that which is, but can think of that which merely would be as well.

>>"How can I be thinking about something that is nothing?" One answer could be: Why not? Why should thinkability require existence?<<

You make it sound as if the question is gratuitous, when it it not. It is not gratuitous because there is a problem here. One cannot think objectlessly. To think is to think about something. Thinking about the GM I am thinking about something, some definite item distinct from other definite items. But there is no GM. So I am thinking about something that is nothing. Now that is apparently contradictory. But contradictions cannot be abided. The problem is to explain why it is not really contradictory.

So, Lukas, do you admit that there is a genuine problem here? As I said, we should proceed very slowly. So please answer the question I just posed.

Wer eilt, bewegt sich nicht auf dem Boden der Wissenschaft. (Franz Brentano)

Bill,

I did not want to imply that the question is gratuitous. I just asked you to spell out your reasons why you think there is a problem; to spell out your tacit assumptions. Which you have done and I can respond.

"To think is to think about something." If you construe this as "about something actual", then I simply reject this assumption, and ask again: why should it be necessary that intentional acts are directed to something actually existing? What are the reasons for believing this?

I concede the principle if "something" is construed so as not to imply actual existence. I claim that it is not meaningless in this sense -- at least in the natural language it is perfectly comprehensible what it means to think of hobbits of GM's. So if you want to assume a contrary philosophical principle, you need to somehow justify it.

And if the principle is construed thus, then there is nothing contradictory on thinking about objects that do not exist.

Seeing that I have not explicitly responded to your question:

I am not sure what you mean by "genuine problem". I don't think, obviously, that there is any real contradiction. I admit there is a seeming contradiction, triggered by neglecting certain distinctions (viz. in the terms "something" and "nothing"), or, alternatively, by restricting the extension of "something" to actually existing objects.

One more amendment: instead of

... or, alternatively, by restricting the extension of "something" to actually existing objects.
I should have written:
... and that a real contradiction arises under the assumption that the extension of "something" is restricted to actually existing objects.
You're right, I should slow down....

Lukas,

Your view is that one can think about something that has no being at all. (This is Meinong's official doctrine according to which Aussersein is NOT a third mode of being in addition to existence (Dasein) and subsistence (Bestehen). But we don't have to bring Meinong into the discussion.) Suppose I demand that you prove tjat one can think of something that is nothing at all. How will you do it?

You will presumably invoke the "pre-philosophical datum" that "we all know that we can refer to non-existing things." (p. 186 of your paper) You use the example of Frodo, a fictional item, but that muddies the waters some. Let's use the GM. I distinguish the act from the object. Do you? Is the GM a part of the act or intentionales Erlebnis? Presumably not. Does the GM depend on the act in the sense that if there were no acts, there would still 'be' the GM? Can you allow that question? Suppose there is no God and no finite minds. In that situation are there any nonexistent objects? More later.

Bill,

"Do you distinguish the act from the object?" Yes, I do distinguish the act from the object: in such a way that does not commit me to posit the object as being in any sense realy there. The object is not the act precisely because the act is there whereas the object might not be there. If I think of a GM, the GM is not my act of thinking of the GM, because my act exists while the GM does not; my act is an accident but the GM would be a substance, my act is not what is thought of by the act but the GM is what is thought of by the act, etc.

"Does the GM depend on the act?" The object depends on the act in its being thought of. The object does not depend on the act of a creature in its being thinkable. The object does depend on the act of God in its being thinkable. However, neither this esse intellectum nor the esse intelligibile involves any metaphysical status of, or "ontological stuff" in, the object as such; therefore, there is nothing in the nonexistent object that actually depends. Both the esse intellectum and the esse intelligibile are extrinsic denominations.

"Supposing there is no God and no finite minds, are there any nonexistent objects?" First point: properly speaking, there are no nonexistent objects even given that some acts exist. They are not there, they are just being thought of.

But construing the question in a non-committal way: there is a deeper problem, viz. that the assumption (that Goddoes not exist) is impossible. There is no such possible world, therefore it cannot be described as to the presence or absence of anything. Assuming God does not exist, just anything follows: both that the objects "are there" and that they "are not there", in any chosen sense.

The question can be given a reasonable sense if construed so as not to invite one to describe a certain "what if" situation, but merely to determine which particular inferences are legitimate. Speaking of "inferences" as actual moves in a discourse according to specified rules, not as relations of entailment (because anything is entailed by an impossible premise).

Assuming this interpretation of the question: if God did not exist, the objects would not be cognizable. (I.e.: assuming that God did not exist, we could immediately infer that the objects are not cognizable, given that it is God who makes them cognizable. We could also infer that they are cognizable, because of "ex impossibili quodlibet", but we are disregarding now this particular kind of inference.) Consequently, they would be neither cognized, nor would they be possible. So, they would not "be there" in any sense I can think of at the moment.

>>"How is my thinking of Frodo different from my thinking of the GM?" Great question! Thinking of Frodo is thinking of something that does not exist at all, but if it existed, it would be a sentient humanoid with curly hair and hairy feet etc., whereas thinking of a (rather than "the" - there are many possible GM's) GM is thinking of something that does not exist at all either (and in this respect it is undistinguishable from Frodo) but if it existed, it would be a large, non-sentient geological formation made of a precious metal -- i.e. something quite different from Frodo.<<

It now strikes me that what you and I mean by 'nonexistent object' is different. What I mean is an INDIVIDUAL that actually has properties, but does not exist or have any mode of being. The example I have been employing is THE golden mountain. It ACTUALLY, not merely possibly, has exactly two properties, being a mountain and being made of gold. Just those two properties and no properties entailed by them. There can only be one such item; hence THE GM.

What you mean by GM is something which, if it existed, would be made of gold, etc. but which, since it doesn't exist, is indistinguishable from Frodo. And yet you think one can refer to this item that does not exist. Well, what are you referring to, a mountain or a humanoid? Neither? A bare particular?

Bill,

You are right that I deny that a merely possible GM is actually golden and actually a mountain. A GM, in my sense, is an item that can exist but does not exist. An item that only has two properties, viz. being a mountain and being made of gold, cannot ever exist because it is incomplete. And if, per impossibile, it could exist, it would not be that item of which the actualization would be an actual golden mountain. Because it is possible that there were two golden mountains, and the actualization of the possibility of one is not the actualization of the possibility of the other. But since there can only be one GM in your sense, it cannot relate to all these actualizations, therefore it does not correlate with any, on the parity of reasons.

[Novak's GM], since it doesn't exist, is indistinguishable from Frodo. Yes, according to its intrinsic actual properties. But it is distinguishable from Frodo according to is other properties: e.g. Frodo was made up by Tolkien, not so any of the possible GM's. This is an actual extrinsic property of Frodo. And Frodo, if existed, would be a hobbit, whereas a GM would be a mountain. These are potential intrinsic properties.

Perhaps we should say that Frodo and a GM are not, qua merely possible, actually distinct, even though they are distinguishable.

What are you referring to, a mountain or a humanoid? Neither? A bare particular? Not anything that is actually a mountain or a humanoid, obviously. But, in the case of Frodo, a would-be humanoid, and in the case of a GM, a would-be mountain. Not a bare particular, because a bare particular already actually has (at least) its trivial properties, and has (almost) no nontrivial properties essentially, not even when actualized. Whereas Frodo has no actual intrinsic properties while still merely possible, but once actualized, he would be essentially a hobbit, essentially an animal, essentially a substance etc.

When we refer to Frodo, we refer to an item that would have a hobbit's essence, if it existed. When we refer to a bare particular, we refer to something that has not and would not ever have a (non-trivial) essence. Therefore, referring to Frodo we do not refer to a bare particular.

Ultimately, a bare particular is (I believe) an impossible object, unlike Frodo: because for each and every possible object, that object is not a bare particular (and also for other reasons).

It seems to me that you are fixed on searching for some actual intrinsic properties that might allow us to distinguish Frodo from a GM. But there are none. We distinguish them not in virtue of their actual intrinsic properties, but in virtue of their actual exstrinsic properties and potential intrinsic properties.

I am not championing any theory of non-existent but still somehow actual entities ("esse essentiae without esse existentiae" or whatever). I am pointing to the fact that we can refer even to absolutely non-existent, non-actual entities. Even if there were such queer things as The GM actually having exactly two properties, or bare particulars in limbo (individuals only actually having trivial (and a few other inevitable) properties), we could still refer to a number of completely non-actual golden mountains or to the completely non-actual Frodo (who certainly is not a bare particular, neither an actual nor a possible one) but a hobbit: a merely possible one, actually, but possibly actual (which is the same thing).

Another way to put it: Genuine nothingness is the amorphous possibility of anything. But we can refer to it under the connotation of this or that particular possible way how it could be actualized, thus singling out the individual possibilia.

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