Nineteenth Century Philosophy

Alexius Meinong

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.


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