Sunday, November 24, 2013

Appeals to phenomenology

IN his latest post on ‘pure ficta’, Arizona Bill wheels out what looks like an argument from revelation.
If Ed denies that there are merely intentional objects, then he is denying what is phenomenologically evident. 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.
Well, it probably would involve us in such a discussion, and I wouldn’t want to go there, correct. I don’t recognise the validity of any kind of appeal to revelation in strictly philosophical enquiry.
None of these men [the pre-Socratics], it is to be noted, tried to answer these questions by an appeal to any revelation, to myth, or religious knowledge of any kind; but attempted to extract the answer by using their reason; and they used it almost without reference to sensible observation and experiments. Why was this ? Clearly because they were convinced that the thing they sought lay deeper in the heart of the world than the superficial aspect of things, of which alone the senses could tell them. (Modern Thomistic Philosophy, R.P. Phillips, London 1934)
But is Bill really making such an appeal? I don’t think so. He is actually appealing to premisses which are uncontroversial, such as our ability to create fictional characters, imagine centaurs etc, and then arguing from such uncontroversial premisses to a more controversial conclusion. So it’s a matter of logic, not ‘phenomenological appeal’. The argument looks like this:
(1) You cannot write or understand a story without thinking about various fictional characters. (2) When you create a fictional character, you bring before your mind an intentional object. (3) The existence of such intentional objects is therefore phenomenologically evident.
I can buy the first premiss. The second I can understand only figuratively. What is an intentional object? The third I reject. It is bizarre to make an existence claim about things which purportedly do not exist, and such existence is far from evident. It’s a neat example of the fallacy of logical intransitivity. You start with a premiss containing a logically intransitive verb, such as ‘imagine’, ‘desire’ and so on. A logically transitive verb is one which takes a grammatical accusative but not a logical one. The accusative of the sentence ‘Jake wants to marry a mermaid’ is ‘a mermaid’, but the sentence is consistent with ‘nothing is a mermaid’. A logically transitive verb, by contrast, requires a real object. The truth of ‘Jake married a mermaid’ requires that some person is such that she was married by Jake. The fallacy consists in drawing a conclusion that contains a logically transitive verb, and which for that reason is existential. The fallacy is a specific instance of the more general existential fallacy, in which we erroneously draw an existential conclusion from non-existential premisses.

Over to you Bill.

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