Reburial of Nonexistents

Reconsidering the Meinong-Russell Debate


Alexius Meinong claimed to uncover a brave new world of nonexistent objects. He contended that unreal objects, such as the golden mountain and the round square, genuinely had properties (such as nonexistence itself) and therefore, deserved a place in an all-inclusive science. Meinong’s notion of nonexistents was initially not well-received, largely due to the influence and criticisms of Bertrand Russell. However, it has gained considerable popularity in more recent years as academics have uncovered shortfalls in Russell’s philosophy and strived to explain apparent “facts” about the beingless. Some philosophers have continued Meinong’s project, further explaining nonexistent objects or formulating logic systems that incorporate them.
The more recent developments beg for a re-examination of Meinongianism. This book does just that, putting the theory on trial. Part One considers if Russell truly defeated Meinongianism. It addresses Meinongian rejoinders in response to Russell’s main criticisms and further defends Russell’s alternative solution, his Theory of Descriptions. Part Two explores the rationale for nonexistents and their use in interpreting three types of statements: characterization, negative existential, and intentional. The book argues that, despite appearances, Meinongianism cannot plausibly account for its own paradigm claims, whereas Russell’s framework, with some further elucidation, can explain these statements quite well. Part Three primarily addresses claims about fiction, exploring the short-comings of Meinongian and Russellian frameworks in interpreting them. The book introduces a contextualization solution and symbolic method for capturing the logical form of such claims – one with the complexity to handle cross-contextual statements, including negative existential and intentional ones. It finally considers where that leaves nonexistent objects, ultimately rejecting such so-called entities.
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Review Quote

”[a] clearly and forcefully argued book. … Swanson has very clearly laid out the issues about which anyone following in Meinong’s path must resolve. I read the book with delight, finding in one problem after another a possible motivation for the various choices made by different Neo-Meinongians over each of her issues. As well the spirited defense of the Russellian solutions, even if they are not accepted in the end, will present Meinongians with a standard that their own accounts must meet.” in: Grazer Philosophische Studien 85 (2012)

Table of contents

The Meinongian Edifice: Did Russell Destroy It?
Meinong’s Theory and Rationale for Beingless Objects
Russell’s Concern about Violated Logic Principles
Russell’s Concern about Existential Implications
Russell’s Alternative to Beingless Objects
The Paradigm Facts: Do Beingless Objects Explain Them?
Characterization Facts
Negative Existential and Intentional Facts
The Fictional Facts: A Need for a New Interpretation?
The Problems with Names
The Need for Contextualization
The Final Verdict on Beingless Objects
Works Cited
About the Author


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