Seeing and the Existence of the Seen

0. This is not the post which, in the immediately previous post, I indicated the next post would be. Let me explain why. In that immediately previous post, published on December 30th, in which I presented some statements of some very basic theses concerning knowledge, I offered the following definitions of epistemism as the thesis that:

It is possible for there to be a knowledge of some existent.

or (in a “stronger” version, one passing from the merely possible to the actual):

There actually is a knowledge of some existent.

I then went on to say:

I should perhaps recognize here, at least for the record, that the two versions just given of the thesis of epistemism assume, without argumentation, that knowledge is knowledge of something and not of “nothing.” But I’m comfortable in so assuming for the purposes of the present exercise.

1. I discovered later on in the day, when I went to check up on what Bill Vallicella might have posted that day on Maverick Philosopher, that, for at least part of the day of December 30th, his area of concern had overlapped mine, for one can read in the post, “On Seeing: Intentionality without Aspectuality?”:

Now seeing in the existentially loaded sense might seem to be a perfectly good example of an intentional or object-directed state since one cannot see without seeing something. One cannot just see.  Seeing takes an object.

Well, I said to myself, there’s one more thing on which I find myself in agreement with Bill: I said, more generically, that knowledge is the knowledge of something and he said, more specifically, that seeing is the seeing of something.

2. But only one more thing. I do not find myself in agreement with the distinction he draws between an “existentially loaded sense” of “seeing” and “existentially neutral sense.”

Sees’ is often taken to be a so-called verb of success:  if S sees x, then it follows that x exists.  On this understanding of ‘sees’ one cannot see what doesn’t exist. Call this the existentially loaded sense of ‘sees’ and contrast it with the existentially neutral sense according to which ‘S sees x’ does not entail ‘X exists.’

That is, I have been assuming the more generic existentially loaded thesis that the knowing of something, the actual knowing of something, does entail that that something exists, at least at the time of the knowing. Since seeing is a species of knowing, I have also been assuming the more specific existentially loaded thesis that the seeing of something, the actual seeing of something, does entail that that something exists, at least at the time of the seeing.

3. In contrast with my merely assuming, however, Bill has offered some argumentation on behalf of his thesis. After having noted:

Intentional states are therefore not only necessarily of something; they are necessarily of something as something.  And given the finitude of the human mind, I want to underscore the fact that even if every F is a G, one can be aware of x as F without being aware of x as G.   Indeed, this is so even if necessarily (whether metaphysically or nomologically) every F is a G. Thus I can be aware of a moving object as a cat, without being aware of it as spatially extended, as an animal, as a mammal, as an animal that cools itself by panting as opposed to sweating, as my cat, as the same cat I saw an hour ago, etc.

he continues:

But now it seems we have a problem.  If that which is (phenomenlogically [sic], not spatially) before my mind is necessarily property-incomplete, then either seeing is not existentially loaded, or existentially loaded seeing is not an intentional state.  To put the problem as an aporetic tetrad:

1. If S sees x, then x exists

2. Seeing is an intentional state

3. Every intentional state has an aspectual shape: its object is incomplete

4. Nothing that exists is incomplete.

The limbs of the tetrad are collectively logically inconsistent.  Any three of them, taken together, entails the negation of the remaining one.  For example, the conjunction of the first three limbs entails the negation of the fourth.

But while the limbs are collectively inconsistent, they are individually very plausible. So we have a nice puzzle on our hands.  At least one of the limbs is false, but which one?   I don’t think that (3) or (4) are good candidates for rejection.  That leaves (1) or (2).

I incline toward the rejection of (1).  Seeing is an intentional state but it is not existence-entailing.

4. I myself feel at home with but aporetic dyads and often find myself admiring the aporetic triads Bill comes up with. I find myself almost left without words when faced with an aporetic tetrad.

But only almost, for it seems to me that the best candidate for rejection is the third “limb.” It seems to me that both of the propositions contained therein are problematic. First, it does not seem to me to be right that “[e]very intentional state has an aspectual shape.” Rather, it seems to me that a better formulation would be: the object of every intentional state has an aspectual shape, as or qua an object of that intentional state.

Second, it does not seem to me to be right that the object of an intentional state “is incomplete.” If he and I were both looking at the cat of which he makes mention, I of course from the left and he of course from the right, neither of us would see the side of the cat which the other would see. The cat, however, would be complete, lacking neither side. And we would each be seeing the same complete cat, though I would be seeing it as or qua visible from the left and he would be seeing it as or qua visible from the right.

There is a scholastic distinction that should be brought to bear here, the distinction between the “material object” of an intentional act such as seeing and its “formal object.” My vision of the cat and Bill’s vision of the cat has the same material object, the cat. But they have distinct formal objects, the cat as or qua visible from the left and the cat as or qua visible from the right.

5. I conclude, then, that rather than adopting limbs (2), (3), and (4) as premises in an argument the conclusion of which is the negation of (1), we should adopt limbs (1), (2), and (4) as premises in an argument the conclusion of which is the negation of (3). Seeing is an existence-entailing intentional state. But I stand ready to be corrected.

6. In what is perhaps a side note, one wandering off into the very speculative, I’d like to suggest that Bill may want to revisit his statement that “…no intentional state is such that every aspect of the object is before the mind of the person in the state,” for that would rule out divine knowledge; though others may be so prepared, he may not be prepared to take that step. The statement, already quoted, that:

And given the finitude of the human mind, I want to underscore the fact that even if every F is a G, one can be aware of x as F without being aware of x as G.

suggests that he might want to say something like “…no intentional state of a finite intender is such that every aspect of the object is before the mind of the person in the state,” leaving open the possibility that there may be an intentional state of some infinite intender which is such that every aspect of the object is before the mind of that infinite intender.

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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2 Responses to Seeing and the Existence of the Seen

  1. Richard,
    I just saw this post of yours. Thank you for reading my post and responding to it. I would like to reply and I hope to get around to it in a day or two. Happy New Year!

  2. Happy New Year to you, too, Bill. I’m looking forward to your reply, with equal parts hope and fear.

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