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Explain and Assess Russell’s Objections to Meinong’s Nonexistent Objects

2021-06-16 来源: 51Due教员组 类别: Essay范文

Explain and Assess Russell’s Objections to Meinong’s Nonexistent Objects

19世纪末以来,西方的本体论、逻辑学、语义学、心灵哲学及其交叉领域出现了一个引人注目的现象。有些哲学家执着于理性精神和“不存在”或“虚无”的存在,他们的研究沉浸在“存在的论证”中(Alai, 2006)。这可以追溯到美浓的哲学。美浓在《现实主义与现象学背景》一书中提出的客体理论对罗素的描述理论产生了重大影响。罗素的描述论被认为是哲学的典范著作。它开创了以现代逻辑为工具对传统哲学问题进行精确分析的先河。描述理论也是罗素著作中最受关注的学术课题。正是分析哲学家对这一问题的多方面讨论,极大地促进了后来分析哲学的发展(Griffin, 1986)。本文首先对美农的不存在的物体悖论进行了解释,并提出了作者的观点。后面的部分解释和评估罗素的反对美浓在他的描述理论。

Introduction

Since the end of the 19th century, a notable phenomenon has emerged in branches of philosophy including Western ontology, logic, semantics, the philosophy of mind, and their intersections. Some philosophers are fixated on the spirit of logos and on the existence of “nonexistence” or “nothingness”, and their research is immersed in the “argument of existence” (Alai, 2006). The origins of this can be traced back to Meinong’s philosophy. The object theory proposed by Meinong in his book In Realism and the Background of Phenomenology has had a significant impact on Russell's theory of descriptions. Russell's theory of descriptions is regarded as a model work of philosophy. It sets a precedent for the precise analysis of traditional philosophical issues using modern logic as a tool. Description theory is also the greatest subject of academic attention in Russell’s work. It is precisely the multi-faceted discussion of this issue by analytical philosophers that has greatly contributed to the development of later analytical philosophy (Griffin, 1986). This essay begins with an explanation of Meinong’s paradox of nonexistent objects and puts forward the authors point of view. Latter parts explain and assess Russells objections to Meinong in terms of his theory of descriptions.

Meinong’s Paradox

It is generally believed that the theory of objects proposed by the Austrian philosopher Meinong in his book In Realism and the Background of Phenomenology had a significant impact on Russell’s theory of descriptions. The theory of objects holds that the objects in the world are not only limited to concrete things that actually physically exist and some common concepts but also include the nonexistent objects. Nonexistent objects are a kind of existence because they can still be the objects of people’s thinking. According to the theory of objects, anything that can be used as a grammatical subject can be a type of existence; every reference expression in a language can represent a non-verbal object, even if the object does not exist. Both Meinong’s and Russell’s theories are trying to solve the paradox of existence, that is, they have to solve such a problem: when the subject of a proposition does not exist in the real world, how does the proposition have meaning? Take Meinong’s famous example here, when we say “the golden mountain does not exist” or “the round square does not exist”, what exactly does not exist? This has been an important metaphysical problem that has plagued Western philosophers since Plato. In Meinong’s view, the theory of objects can answer this question. According to the theory of objects, although phrases such as “the golden mountain” and “the round square” do not refer to any physical objects in the real world, propositions like “the golden mountain does not exist” and “the round square does not exist” are still meaningful, because “the golden mountain” and “the round square” play the role of the subject in a proposition and it can be the objects of people’s thinking (Meinong, 1981). It means that they still represent a nonexistent object and when people say “the golden mountain does not exist”, we have actually given “the golden mountain” a certain attribute of existence. Here, Meinong actually solved this paradox by introducing a hypothetical entity, or existence.

As its name emphasizes, the main goal of the theory of objects is to explain “objects.” To Meinong, objects refer to all objects that can be considered, that is, the generalized object in a general sense. Meinong often uses the German “Gegenstand” to refer to the object as this meaning; the object can also refer to the “object” in the narrow sense, that is, the simple object grasped by the concept, with objectivity and existence. Meinong expressed it in the German word “Objekt” (Meinong, 1904). As a psychologist, logician, and linguist, Meinong seems to be more concerned about all the objects that can be imagined and spoken.

As we could see, the special proposition or principle in the theory of objects is “there are no-being objects”. This could be seen as Meinong’s unique “argument of existence”. In terms of the commonness of objects, the “being” in traditional metaphysics is only its second-level attribute, not the most general attribute or essence. The most common property shared by all objects is “there is”. What he said about “existence” is different from the traditional ontology's existence predicate (being). Because existence only captures the characteristics of “existence” and “subsistence”. The so-called existence refers to the most real way of being in existence. Subsistence refers to objects that do not have the specified time and space, such as abstract objects, commonality, etc. They are a form of existence, but because there is no specific physicality, time-space regulation, and only secondary reality, it is called subsistence. Meinong emphasized that existence is not the commonality of all objects, but only the commonality of existing objects (existent and subsistent objects). Because the object contains nonexistent objects. For example, although there is no round square in the world, it is thought of by people. The round square that appears in the mind is not absolutely nothing. In order to explain the commonality of all objects, he endowed “there is” with a specific meaning, and believed that “there is”, “being”, “existence” and other words have the same meaning. When an object appears as a fact, it is an object but does not necessarily exist. To put it bluntly, “there is” is a neutral predicate without ontological commitment, not an existential predicate.

Russell’s Objections

In summary, Meinong’s theory of objects can be explained this way: when people say “the golden mountain does not exist” we already confirmed the existence of the corresponding being of “the golden mountain”, at least the existence of the concept of the golden mountain. Russell systematically elaborated the theory of descriptions for the first time in his 1905 essay On Denoting and proposed a solution to the paradox of Meinong. This essay not only occupies an extremely important position in history because it marks the real birth of analytical philosophy, but also a major turning point in the development of Russell’s philosophy.

Russell pointed out directly at the beginning of the seventh paragraph of the chapter Descriptions: because there is no propositional function, many logicians are forced to draw a conclusion that there are unreal objects. For example, Meinong in such a defense, we can talk about the golden mountain and the round square, so we could see them as objects. On the other hand, Russell believes that not only must distinguish the proper proposition from the real name; so, they must be some kind of logic. Otherwise, the propositions in which they appear would be meaningless (Russell, 1919). However, in Meinong’s theory, he supported meaningful discussions of nonexistent objects, not only real objects that exist in real space and time such as human and physical objects, but also other nonexistent things such as numbers, and even fictional or even impossible objects. Meinong refers them to as nonexistent objects. But Russell cannot tolerate the existence of unreal or nonexistent objects. He emphasized: when correctly analyzing the propositions related to nonexistent objects (such as unicorns, golden mountains, round squares, etc.), it is necessary for real sound consciousness (Russell, 1919). In addition, Russell abides by the principles of Occam's Razor, which indicates “entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” The ontological world of philosophy is already overcrowded, and Russell would use Occam's Razor to remove all nonexistent objects such as the golden mountain and the round square. Russell used the theory of descriptions as a weapon and used mathematical logic analysis methods to eliminate these nonexistences from the logic level, and fundamentally put an end to the ontological commitment. Specifically, according to the theory of descriptions, the golden mountain at the subject position is not a logically proper name, but a descriptive word that does not describe anything. It can be rewritten into “the mountain made of gold”, so the position of the subject is changed to the position of the predicate, so it is not a real subject.

As we can see, an important question related to the understanding of the theory of descriptions is: in what sense does the theory provide an analysis of propositions containing the descriptive words? Russell himself did not seem to answer this question directly. The author believes that Russell’s analysis is essentially a translation plan or suggestion, and also a mutual translation between two statements while maintaining the same meaning. At the same time, it is revealed in the process of this translation and remains the true logical form of the original proposition.

First of all, Russell’s analysis of descriptions is undoubtedly a suggestion or plan for interpretation. Russell defined the general form of descriptions as "(ιx) (φx)". What it concludes is that it can be interpreted as “($c): φx. ºx.x = c”; the general form of propositions containing descriptions is “f{(ιx) (φx)}”, which concludes that it can be interpreted as “($c): φx.ºx.x = c:fc”. Obviously, Russell is proposing an interpreting rule or plan. As Russell himself believes, this interpretation has the advantage that Meinong’s theory does not have: it avoids the situation where Meinong’s view violates the law of contradiction because it eliminates the description in the original proposition, which makes people safely and boldly talk about things that do not actually exist, such as the golden mountain.

Secondly, Russell’s theory of descriptions is to solve the paradox of existence. The root of the paradox of existence is to misunderstand the logical form of the proposition and be misled by its superficial grammatical form. Therefore, the primary task or purpose of the analysis of propositions containing descriptions is to describe the true logical form of the propositions and explain how the descriptions work in everyday language, so as to achieve the purpose of eliminating misunderstandings. The relationship between the theory of descriptions and everyday language is a relationship of equal meaning; the accuracy of the interpretation (that is, the equality of meanings) included in the correct analysis of the descriptions and the propositions containing the descriptions In the process, that is to say, the process of correct analysis itself proves the accuracy of this interpretation. Of course, one thing must be clear, that is, although Russell's original intention was to keep the meaning unchanged before and after description, in many cases, it is impossible to do so. After the formal processing of everyday language, part of the meaning will inevitably be lost in the process of formalization.

Russell’s theory of descriptions provides a model for the logical analysis of everyday language. This theory successfully illustrates the truth: the logical structure of a proposition is different from its grammatical structure, and the meaning it contains is also different from the meaning that has been expressed. Grammatical structure and superficial meaning often cause ideological contradictions and confusion. The true meaning of a proposition is determined by the logical structure, and it needs logical analysis to reveal its structure and meaning. This is an effective way to avoid contradictions and confusion caused by the expression of everyday language.

Conclusion

Russell’s theory of descriptions provides a method of analyzing the relationship between the words of a proposition and the real objects they describe from a logical perspective, helps to eliminate false concepts, clarifies vague concepts, makes them more in line with objective reality, and achieves true correspondence between language and reality. Therefore, Russell's theory of descriptions has created a model for applying logical analysis to the study of language and philosophical issues, which has a profound and lasting impact on the development of English and American language philosophy. As the American scholar Charles Eames once pointed out: Russell has an important influence on all contemporary schools of language and philosophy, and this influence has both positive and negative aspects. For some people, Russell is a model, and he provides a dream and tool to realize his dream…he has become an example for intellectuals and philosophers (Eames, 1989). Today, language philosophers are still using the logical analysis method created by Russell to study everyday language. Logical analysis techniques make philosophical reasoning clearer and philosophical research more productive. It laid the foundation for the later works of Wittgenstein, Carnap, Quinn, and others to construct an ideal language to truly reflect the structure of the world. This article only analyzes Russell's refutation of Meinong, but his influence on later philosophers is also a direction that the author hopes to further study in the future.


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