Thursday, February 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Meinong!

We have had several occasions to to hail that celebrated ontologist, gentleman, astronaut and circus-clown (for such he might have been, in a parallel universe), Professor Alexius Meinong.   We have even alerted the world to his birthday -- a delicate and needful act, that, since (like Easter) it falls on a different day each year, and sometimes  twice in a fortnight.

Meinongism has seen a resurgence of late.  A recent historian of philosophy quotes the ontological maximalist Alvin Plantinga, thus:

Of course, it isn’t my claim that this state of affairs [e.g. Putnam’s being a politician, or Meinong a circus clown] does not exist, or that there simply is no such state of affairs;  indeed there is such a state of affairs and it exists just as serenely as your most solidly actual state of affairs.  But it does not obtain; it isn’t actual.
-- “Actualism and Possible Worlds” (1979), quoted in Stephen Schwartz, A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy (2012), p. 220.

This is essentially an exhumation of the Meinongian view (see The Golden Mountain Does Not Exist), but with the terminology of exist vs. subsist being replaced -- most awkwardly -- by obtain vs. exist.   (You can imagine the confusions such paltering might give rise to:  “It depends upon what the meaning of is is.”)

Even more bizarrely, he goes on:

Socrates is a contingent being;  his essence, however, is not.  Properties, like propositions and possible worlds, are necessary beings.  If Socrates had not existed, his essence would have been unexemplified, but not nonexistent.  In worlds where Socrates exists, Socrateity is his essence;  exemplifying Socrateity is essential to him.

Here, truly, we have Eigenschaften ohne Männer!  Our master Quine  foresaw such folly.  (Almost thou persuadest me to become a Nominalist.)

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