Saturday, January 22, 2011

Meaning and Meinong

David Brightly asks whether we can avoid Meinong quite so easily. Meinong draws a distinction between being and existing. Thus some things which have Being may not exist - the golden mountain which I am thinking of, perhaps?

I already engaged with this objection in my second point here. The problem for the Meinongian thesis is that "Vallicella is thinking of a non-existent thing" is perfectly consistent with "no thing is non-existent", where scope of 'no thing' covers every object whatsoever, and is therefore inconsistent with "some non-existent thing has Being". So the Meinongian solution doesn't solve anything.

I suppose the Meinongian could object that the scope of 'no thing' may fail to cover those things that have Being but which are non-existent. But (a) I can still insist that I mean nothing whatsoever, not just nothing that is not a non-existent Being. And (b) as I argued here it would not be possible for the Meinongian and the anti-realist to have an argument at all unless they agreed on the meaning of categorical statements like 'no A is B' or 'some A is not B'. When the anti-realist says that there aren't any non-existent, he is denying exactly what the Meinongian asserts when he asserts that there are such things. The expression 'there are' is completely unambiguous in this argument, and has to be, in order that there can be an argument at all.

David also comments on the curious fact we can reason about apparently non-existent objects. Indeed. The Square of Opposition seems to work for fictional characters. 'All the characters in Lord of the Rings are hobbits' implies 'some of the characters in Lord of the Rings are hobbits', is the contrary of 'none of the characters in Lord of the Rings are hobbits' and is the contradictory of 'some of the characters in Lord of the Rings are not hobbits'. More is needed.


David Brightly said...

Hi Ockham,

I'm afraid that you've lost me completely with your para 2 argument from consistency. No matter.

I'm just not convinced that our use of 'there are', 'some', and so on is as 'completely unambiguous' as you would like. For we say things like 'Some things used to exist but no longer exist. Julius Caesar, for example.' I know I keep harking back to this but my strong feeling is that we must come to an agreement on sanitising these usages. Without this, criticism of Meinongianism will have no bite. And it's an issue that bogs down discussions at BV's too. His notion of 'tenseless existence' has something to do with this but it's hard to pin him down. He seems to delight in his aporia whereas I'm just irked that the language is leading me astray and I can't quite see how.

But this is certainly not to say that the positive aspects of Ockhamism shouldn't be said. Quite the contrary. Do go on. And I hope you'll find constructive any comments I make.

Edward Ockham said...

Let me expand on para 2

1. All agree that 'Bill is thinking of an F' is consistent with 'Fs do not exist'

2. Meinongians explain this by positing things which have being but not existence

3. Thus in (1), Bill is thinking of somethat that is F. But this F is a non-existent F

4. Objection: 'Bill is thinking of an F' is also consistent with 'nothing is an F'. Bill can want a cigarette, and there can be no cigarettes at all

5. Substitute 'non-existent' for 'F'. Then it is clear that the Meinongian has a problem. He agrees with (4), and so agrees that Bill can be thinking of a non-existent thing even though absolutely nothing is non-existent (everything exists). So he cannot explain Bill's thought as being - in this particular scenario - about a non-existent thing, for he has already agreed that the scenario does not have such things.

On the single sense of 'there are', I don't see the problem. If I have a disagreement with the Meinongian, it is about whether there are non-existent things. The Meinongian says there are such things. The Ockhamist says there aren't. In order to have a disagreement, you have to agree on what you are disagreeing about. In this, an unambiguous existential claim, expressed using 'there are'.

On your point about tensing, of course I agree that there *were* things which do not exist now. But my disagreement with the Meinongian is whether there *are* such things. I say there were, but there aren't now.