Thursday, October 31, 2013

On the mode of being of poets

Arizona Bill has some more ideas about modes of being here, so we can pick up where we left off last year (see modes of being of hobbits). Bill picks up on a passage from Scotus’s Ordinatio cited by Lukas Novak (Ord. I, dist. 36, q. un., n. 46 (ed. Vat. VI, 289). The Latin is from the Logic Museum, the English from Bill’s post.

[46] Et si velis quaerere aliquod esse verum huius obiecti ut sic, nullum est quaerere nisi 'secundum quid', nisi quod istud 'esse secundum quid' reducitur ad aliquod esse simpliciter, quod est esse ipsius intellectionis; sed istud 'esse simpliciter' non est formaliter esse eius quod dicitur 'esse secundum quid', sed est eius terminative vel principiative, ita quod ad istud 'verum esse secundum quid' reducitur sic quod sine isto vero esse istius non esset illud 'esse secundum quid' illius.And if you are looking for some “true being” of this object as such [viz. of the object qua conceived], there is none to be found over and above that “being in a qualified sense”, except that this “being in a qualified sense” can be reduced to some “being in an unqualified sense”, which is the being of the respective intellection. But this being in an unqualified sense does not belong to that which is said to “be in a qualified sense” formally, but only terminatively or principiatively — which means that to this “true being” that “being in a qualified sense” is reduced, so that without the true being of this [intellection] there would be no “being in a qualified sense” of that [object qua conceived].

The puzzle about the ‘being’ of objects of thought was a common topic in medieval literature and there were many attempts at solving it. Peter of Cornwall has a go at it here. (The English translation is my hurried attempt).

Sed nomen accidentis aliquando repraesentat aliquid in opinione secundum Aristotelem; ut ‘Homerus est aliquid, ut poeta’, hic ‘poeta’ repraesentat aliquid in opinione, quia secundum Aristotelem Homerus est poeta non sequitur ‘ergo Homerus est’. Ergo nomen substantiae potest aliquid repraesentare in opinione. Ergo sic dicendo ‘Caesar est homo’ potest ly ‘homo’ stare pro homine in opinione. Et sic erit vera.But the name of an accident sometimes represents something in opinion according to Aristotle [De. Int. 11 21a25sqq]. For example ‘Homer is something, namely a poet’ – here ‘poet’ represents something in opinion, for according to Aristotle, Homer is a poet, but ‘Homer exists [est]’ does not follow. Therefore the name of a substance can represent something-in-opinion. Therefore when we say ‘Caesar is a man’, the word ‘man’ can stand for a man-in-opinion, so it will be true” Note that according to the medievals, past objects such as Caesar or Homer no longer exist.

Bill objects that this kind of thing is a form of ‘psychologism’.
For if the being of the purely intentional object reduces to the being of the act, then the purely intentional object has mental or psychic being -- which is not the case. The object is not a psychic content. It is not the act or a part of the act; not is it any other sort of psychic reality.
According to this objection, Homer is a poet and a man, and not an opinion or an intellection. I reply, Homer as conceived or as represented or as the object of opinion is a man. And ‘Homer’ stands for a man as the object of opinion, or as Peter Cornwall says ‘man in opinion’. So this trivial objection to the view does not stand. Whether it withstands deeper scrutiny is a more difficult question. Ockham has a more sophisticated view, see here, p. 366, by distinguishing the mode of reference or ‘supposition’ of words like ‘chimera’. Is the sentence ‘a chimera is understood’ or ‘thought about’ true or false? Ockham says that if the term ‘chimera’ is read as having ‘personal supposition’, so that the sentence is true if ‘chimera’ is satisfied by something in reality which is thought about, then if it false. But if it is read as having ‘simple’ or ‘material’ supposition, i.e. as referring to language or concepts, then it is true. For Ockham’s understanding of supposition theory, see here.