Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Confessional About How a Priest Lacks Virtue.

I have a confession to make… most of my confusion while reading Towards Non-Being stems from the odd sentence or two (not the whole thing as a conjunction thereof, ha!) that Priest chucks out that lack any argument. He takes for granted certain claims as undeniable, then leaves things the way they are full stop and carries on. Today, I shall harp on one of these priceless Priestly moments which can be found in the chapter on Fiction (second paragraph of 6.2).

I have another confession to make… The ‘p’ word, as in phenomenological, makes me queasy. It’s similar to the word intuition. I find both words to be nebulously vague (yes, nebulous & vague, not either or) when used to define something, and when used, lend to more questions than clarifying answers. So, I’ll use (and hopefully Priest is using the term in the same manner) it as is defined in the Stanford Encyclopedia’s entry on phenomenology:

“Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions.”

So, with this definition in the back of our minds, imagine me on the bus eavesdropping on two chicks, and their conversation goes something like this:

“blah, blah, … yeah I remember hearing this story about a kid whose family decided to emigrate over to Canada from India. So they managed to hitch a ride on a boat that was carrying a bunch of circus, or zoo, or something, animals on it. But, the boat shank and the kid had to survive on a dingy for like months with a bunch of animals. Crazy, eh!”

On overhearing this story I’m struck with many intentional states, like admiration for, sadness for, etc., about the kid in the story. Then the conversation goes on:

“Yeah that’s crazy. So where did you hear this? An who was the kid?”

“I think his last name was Patel or something. Someone wrote a book about it a few years ago called The Life of Pi.”

Now I, being reasonably up on my Canadianna, am darn well aware that The Life of Pi is a work of fiction cooked up by an author named Yann Martel. There is no kid named Pi Patel who endured a heroic journey as described from India to Canada. And my intentional state about some object, in this particular case the kid Pi, has dramatically changed. The admiration for, sadness for, etc., I felt is now of a lesser degree.

It’s important to note, that Priest does not claim that you cannot have intentional states based on the existential status of a fictional objects, he claims quite the opposite, that we can have the same full bodied experience about a fictional object as we would about an existent one. What he claims is that the existential status of an object “is completely immaterial phenomenologically.”(117) But, if the status of a fictional object is completely immaterial, then why did my admiration for, sadness for, etc. change? Perhaps, this point is more in the domain of aesthetics with reference to such classic examples as Carroll’s Loath Letter (a personal fav.!) or Moore’s Glass Flowers, which do not illustrate directly the issue of existence vs. non-existence. But, do show that our intentional states about an object can vary or flux depending on that object’s phenomenology.

Our intentional states (or experience of or about some object O) is by virtue of O’s content or meaning (it’s representation or phenomenology). One is not immaterial to the other.

To compound the issue further, if Priest wishes to define existence as just another thing in the set of properties (as seen in the Proof of Arbitrary Existing Entities below) to get out of the mess that CP causes for Meinongians, then he will have to give an account as to how the existence property can be prized out of the set before, during, whenever, it is connected with a representation. Properties, intentional states, and representations are all connected by virtue of each other. In this case virtue does make a world of difference!


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