To think of a thing is to exercise an idea of a thing. An idea of a thing is a set of properties (or predicates?). To exercise an idea is to entertain, for some or all the properties or predicates in the idea, the proposition that the thing has that property or satisfies that predicate. The propositions so entertained form the content of the thought. The idea of a thing is thus a description or specification. There is no requirement that there be an entity that satisfies the description or specification, nor indeed that there could be. If there is such an entity, then the idea will be incomplete in that it can be extended with further properties/predicates that the entity has or satisfies. If there is not, then we may say that the idea is uninstantiated, or is not realised, or has no being. Thus an idea of a thing may exist yet have no being, in this sense of have being. If the properties/predicates are inconsistent with one another, or inconsistent with some assumed set of 'background' propositions that we accept as true, then the idea is impossible---it cannot be realised. Note that, strictly, we must say that the idea of the thing is impossible, not the thing itself, just as we say the idea is incomplete, and not the thing itself. The latter locutions, as I hope I have shown elsewhere, lead to dreadful tangles. Note also that the idea of a thing does not do duty for the thing itself. If Jack wants a sloop then he wants a sloop and not the idea of a sloop. Yet the idea of a sloop must be inherent in his wanting: he must have some idea of what he wants. Perhaps this is how we should see Brentano's point that one cannot simply think or want, but must think of something or want something. Such intentional states necessarily involve an idea or conception of the thing thought about or wanted.
I reject all talk of 'intentional objects', precisely because it leads to the aporias which Bill has so ably presented over the years. Fortunately, everything which needs to be said can be said in ordinary language without using this phrase. Intentional objects can be 'translated away' without loss. For example, in The Aporetics of the Intentional Object, Part I, Bill at one point says,
So when Tom thinks of a mermaid, a mermaid is his intentional object. For it is that to which his thought is directed.What purpose is served by the underlined clauses? Is this an attempt to elaborate upon or explain 'thinking of a mermaid' in terms of a new theoretical construct? If so, this is like explaining combustion in terms of phlogiston or the advance of the perihelion of Mercury in terms of the planet Vulcan. If a conception leads to contradictions then it can't be instantiated. Do we then have a use for it? We must, perhaps reluctantly, put it to one side and start again, just as we do with the concept 'rational square root of two'. But Bill would say that I am rejecting what he takes to be 'datanic'. For Bill, when he thinks about his blue coffee cup, there really is an object 'before his mind', just as there is a coffee mug before my eyes and hands (no scare quotes) right now. Why do we differ so greatly on this? This is a matter of psychology rather than logic, I think. Possibly another post.
We now have the apparatus we need to dissolve all the aporias under Bill's Intentionality and Meinong Matters categories. This is a bold claim, and I have no general argument for it. All I can do is show how it can be done, instance by instance. Here, for example, is a post from November 2013 entitled Imagining X as Real versus Imagining X as Unreal and a Puzzle of Actualization.
Peter and I discussed the following over Sunday breakfast.
1. Suppose I want a table, but there is no existing table that I want: I want a table with special features that no existing table possesses. So I decide to build a table with these features. My planning involves imagining a table having certain properties. It is rectangular, but not square, etc. How does this differ from imagining a table that I describe in a work of fiction? Suppose the two tables have all the same properties. We also assume that the properties form a logically consistent set. What is the difference between imagining a table I intend to build and imagining a table that I do not intend to build but intend merely to describe as part of the fictional furniture in a short story?
2. In the first case I imagine the table as real; in the second as fictional. Note that to imagine a table as real is not the same as imagining a real table, though that too occurs. Suppose I remember seeing Peter's nondescript writing table. To remember a table is not to imagine one; nonetheless I can imagine refurbishing Peter's table by stripping it, sanding it, and refinishing it. The imagined result of those operations is not a purely imagined object, any more than a piece of fiction I write in which Peter's table makes an appearance features a purely fictional table.
3. The two tables I am concerned with, however are both nonexistent. In both cases there is a merely intentional object before my mind. And in both cases the constitutive properties are the same. Moreover, the two are categorially the same: both are physical objects, and more specifically artifacts. Obviously, when I imagine a table, I am not imagining a nonphysical object or a natural physical object like a tree. So there is a clear sense in which what I am imagining is in both cases a physical object, albeit a nonexistent/not-yet-existent physical object.
4. So what distinguishes the two objects? Roman Ingarden maintains that they differ in "ontic character." In the first case, the ontic character is intended as real. In the second, intended as fictional. (The Literary Work of Art, p. 119).
5. Now I have already argued that purely fictional objects are impossible objects: they cannot be actualized, even if the constitutive properties form a logically consistent set. We can now say that the broadly logical impossibility of purely fictional objects is grounded in their ontic character of being intended as fictional. The table imagined as real, however, is possible due to its ontic character of being intended as real despite being otherwise indistinguishable from the table imagined as fictional.
6. Now here is the puzzle of actualization formulated as an aporetic triad
a. Every incomplete object is impossible.The limbs are collectively inconsistent, but each is very plausible. At an impasse again.
b. The table imagined as real is an incomplete object.
c. The table imagined as real is possible, i.e. actualizable.
I have underlined the pseudo-concept terms that we need to translate out. I gave up at the triad itself and underlined everything. The first thing to say is that here we have just a single idea for a table. Bill concedes this in para (1) where he says 'the two tables have all the same properties' and in para (3) where he says 'in both cases the constitutive properties are the same'. The two cases differ in Bill's attitude to the idea. On the one hand he sees the idea as a specification that he wants to realise by suitably machining and assembling pieces of wood to make a table that conforms to his concept. On the other hand he sees the idea as a description that he will transcribe or elaborate into sentences to be included in his next work of fiction. Bill says he can 'imagine the table as real' or 'imagine the table as fictional'. This is not exactly ordinary English. If we take these phrases literally as attributing properties of 'realness' and 'fictionality' to the table, then Bill cannot fail to imagine the former and must fail to imagine the latter. For 'realness' is one of those vacuous pseudo-properties like 'existence' that a table cannot fail to possess, and to ascribe 'fictionality' to a table, rather than a work of literature, for example, is a category mistake. What we have to take Bill to mean is that he can imagine both the process and result of realising his design in wood, and also both the process and result of transcribing his idea into sentences. How are we to render Bill's triad? I suggest something like this:
- Every idea is incomplete; no object is incomplete.
- The idea of the table is incomplete; it can be extended with further properties.
- If consistent within itself, and consistent with true background assumptions as to what is possible, then the idea of the table is realisable.