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Alexius Meinong

Who was Alexius Meinong?

Alexius Meinong (1853-1920) was born in Lemberg, Austria, and studied philosophy with Franz Brentano (1837-1917), who set him the task of reading David Hume (1711-1776). This resulted in two early books on Hume, the first on abstraction and the second on relation, which appeared as Hume-Studien in 1877 and 1882, respectively. Like Brentano, Meinong is considered an analytical phenomenologist. Unlike those phenomenologists in the so-called continental tradition, he applied the rigors of logic to introspection. He established the Institute of Psychology in Graz, Austria, where he was a professor. Meinong is best known for his theory of objects and values, and his principle publication is On Assumptions (1902).

What was Alexius Meinong's psychological theory?

Meinong divided mental experience into act, content, and object. He worked on the basis of Brentano's theory of intentionality, whereby all mental states intend objects. The mental act, or "act element," is the way that the subject is directed toward the object, whereas the specific content, or "content element," is its focus in that case. For example, it is a different act to think of an apple versus to desire an apple. Thinking of an apple and thinking of a car is a difference in content, and going from one to the other is a change in focus.

Meinong's object theory bypassed traditional ontology because as intended objects (in the sense of Franz Brentano [1837-1917]), it was not necessary that all objects exist. In fact, Meinong stressed a bias toward existence in the history of metaphysics, which he called a "prejudice in favor of the actual." Each object has a sosein, or character, which is given through its "nuclear features." Because objects truly possess their characters, even statements about nonexistent objects can be true, because how objects are is independent of their existence. For example, a pink unicorn is genuinely pink, even though unicorns do not exist.

Was Alexius Meinong serious about nonexistent objects?

Yes, and it cost his reputation dearly, because Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was to make great fun of him for it in his famous article "On Denoting" (1905). Still, other twentieth-century philosophers, such as Terence Parsons (1939-) and Roderick Chisholm (1916-1999) were to defend the consistency of Meinong's ontology and the usefulness of being able to talk about non-existent objects. Meinong believed that nonexistent objects include the merely possible, as well as the impossible. He thought that existence was just a property of objects, like smell or shape, so that, for example, fictional characters lack that property, while Meinong himself had it.

What was Alexius Meinong's theory of value?

Our emotions and desires have a cognitive ability to discern value. This does not mean that our emotions and desires can "think" but that they tell us something about the world, often faster than our minds. Objects—those things intended by us—present themselves with value features. For instance, the smell of the apple directs me to eat it—it has the value of being good to eat. Or a sunset presents itself as beautiful, a property that does not reduce to facts about the refraction of light or the amount of pollution in the air. There are also value universals, such as the good, the beautiful, the agreeable, the desirable, and different kinds of the obligatory (the general category of our duties). Meinong distinguished between "dignitatives" that are associated with ideas of the good, and "disideratives" associated with ideas of duty.

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