Austrian, b: 17 July 1853, Lemberg (now Lvov), d: 27 November 1920. Cat: Metaphysician. Ints: Philosophy of mind; perception. Educ: Studied at University of Vienna, first History with subsidiary Philosophy (graduating 1874), then, via the Law School, Philosophy. Infls: Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, Brentano, Carl Menger, Russell and several of his own students. Appts: Taught at Vienna, 1878–82, and then Graz, becoming full Professor, 1889; founded first laboratory for experimental pyschology in Austria at Graz, 1894.
After his initial study of history Meinong entered philosophy via its own history, working on his own on Kant for the subsidiary subject in his first degree, and then, at Brentano’s suggestion, on Hume. He soon turned to pure philosophy, though in his early years combining it, as was almost inevitable then, with psychology, setting up the first Austrian experimental laboratory in psychology, in Graz, where he worked from 1882, being almost completely blind for his last fifteen years or so. His experimental work was on psychology of perception, but he gradually emancipated himself from ‘psychologism’, the attempt to solve philosophical problems by irrelevant empirical or introspective methods. Here as elsewhere he worked in parallel with Frege and Husserl, though apparently without any mutual influence. Nevertheless he insisted that psychology must not be abandoned altogether. Like a good phenomenologist he insisted on ‘inner experiences’ as a, if not the, subject matter for philosophy (1968–78, vol. 7, p. 11, written in 1920), and in 1912 wrote an article entitled ‘For psychology and against psychologism in general value theory’ (Logos III, 1912, reprinted in vol. 3 of Alexius von Meinong Gesamtausgabe (1968–78).
Meinong was unfortunate in living too early to be flung out of Austria by Hitler, so that he could not join the many German-speaking philosophers in exile who wrote in English. Apart from a single page in Mind (1879, reprinted in 1968–78, vol. 7) he wrote exclusively in German, and, despite the better fate of Mach and Frege, that may be partly why he has never achieved the popularity in Anglophone philosophy of Moore and Russell, with whom he has considerable philosophical kinship. Only recently, after the pioneering efforts of J.N.Findlay and R.M.Chisholm and others, have translations started appearing.
The one thing everybody knows about Meinong is that he had a jungle, providing rich nutrient for all manner of strange beasts, from the golden mountain to the round square. Recently, however, the lustiness of its vegetation has come under more sceptical scrutiny (Grossman 1974; N. Griffin in Grazer Philosophie Studien, 1985–6). The issue is complex. Meinong does talk in a jungly sort of way, and apart from being and subsistence we are asked to accept, at various times, quasi-being, pseudo-existence and ‘outside-of-being-ness’ (Aussersein, variously translated, but often and perhaps best left untranslated). If we are to talk about something, he thinks, there must in some sense be something there to talk about. But in what sense? Every thought must have an object (Gegenstand), which Meinong then treats as an entity (Grossman (1974) translates Gegenstand as ‘entity’, but this seems question-begging and breaks the link with thought). Some objects are real (wirklich): roughly, those that are perceptible and in space and time. These also subsist (bestehen), but some objects merely subsist and are not real, though they still have being (Sein); they are higher-order objects and presuppose objects of the lowest order, which one can say ‘with a grain of salt’—one of Meinong’s favourite expressions—they have as parts; a stock example is the difference between red and green, although the assignment of objects in general to the different orders is a complex matter. Some objects, however, neither exist nor subsist, such as the golden mountain and the existence of the golden mountain, although we can think of them and they have properties or ‘being so’ (Sosein): the golden mountain is golden.
Meinong now faces a problem because of the principle that higher-order objects presuppose lower-order ones. But how can the perfectly good higher-order object, the nonexistence of the golden mountain, subsist if its presupposed lower-order object, the golden mountain, does not? At first he toyed with a shadowy third kind of being, or ‘quasi-being’, which would belong to every object, i.e. anything at all, however absurd or contradictory. There are objects of which it is true that there are no such objects’, as he puts it with conscious paradox (1904, translation p. 83), thereby raising questions about quantification that have similarly engaged Frege, Russell and Quine. This does indeed suggest the jungle, and he later said that it betrayed the same ‘prejudice in favour of the actual’ (or real) that he had sought to oppose by a third alternative to existence and subsistence (1910, translation pp. 159, 170). But his main objection was that being of universal application it would have no significance, and his later solution was ‘the Aussersein of the pure object’ (1904, translation pp. 83–6). The point, in effect, is to abandon the need to specify an ontological status for the basic objects of thought. But alas! Aussersein itself ends up as something ‘being-like’ (seinsartiges), which does not after all apply universally: the round square has it only in a qualified way, and things even more defective, like the paradoxical Russell class, not at all (1917, chapter 2; cf. Heanue’s introduction to his translation of 1910, pp. xxx–xxxi; Griffin, in Grazer Philosophische Studien 1985–6, draws some interesting implications regarding modern ‘paraconsistent’ logic).
Meinong regards all this as a new philosophical subject, the theory of objects, an a priori science of objects in general; so far, he thinks, mathematics is the only part of this theory which has been developed. It goes beyond metaphysics, which is, or should be, an empirical science studying everything which can be known empirically (1904, translation pp. 109–10 especially). Facts about what exists can only be known empirically, whereas all other facts are knowable only a priori (1910, translation p. 61). This claim, however, to see a new rival to metaphysics has not been generally accepted.
In escaping from psychologism Meinong went beyond Brentano by distinguishing (along with Twardowski and Husserl but with greater insistence) the object and the content of a thought or experience (e.g. 1917, chapter 7), and also by distinguishing ‘assumptions’ or ‘supposais’ (Annahmeri) as intermediate between judgements and ideas or representations (Vorstellungen)—a topic to which he devoted a whole book, although he has been accused (by C.D.Broad reviewing 1910 in Mind, 1913) of conflating assuming (or just pretending) a proposition is true with merely entertaining it (does 1910—translation p. 254—counter this?) . But judgements etc. are not the propositions or states of affairs they are of. Meinong calls these ‘objectives’ (Objektive), a rather wider term (1910, translation pp. 75–6). Objectives form a special class of objects, distinguished as essentially being positive or negative, the (in German) rather harsh term Objekt then being introduced for other objects. Finally he applies these various notions, or analogues of them, to develop theories of emotional and conative, as well as cognitive, mental processes and their objects, and develops an objectivist theory of values. Apart from his widespread role as an Aunt Sally of ontological profligacy, Meinong influenced the ‘critical realism’ of Dawes Hicks and others, and philosophers currently better known such as Ryle and Chisholm. Some of the ideas touched on in the last paragraph show a considerable kinship with, if less direct and overt influence on, the later theories of speech acts and the currently popular investigations into content. (See also Findlay, in Radakovic et al. (eds) 1952.)
Sources: PI; Passmore 1957; Edwards; personal communication with Prof. P.Simons.
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