Critical Review of Parsons' Non-Existent Objects
Fine (Kit)
Source: Philosophical Studies 45 (1984) 95-142
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. There has recently been a rebellion within the ranks of analytic philosophy. It has come to be appreciated that, in the debate between Russell and Meinong, Russell was perhaps mistaken in his criticisms and Meinong was perhaps correct in his views. As a consequence, an attempt was made to rehabilitate the Meinongian position, to defend it against the most obvious attacks and to develop it in the most plausible ways. Terence Parsons was among the first of the contemporary philosophers to make this attempt, and so it is especially appropriate that his views should now be set out in a book.
  2. I should say, at the outset, that I thoroughly approve of the Meinongian project. As Parsons makes clear (pp. 32-38), we refer to non-existents in much the same way as we refer to other objects. It is therefore incumbent upon the philosopher to work out the principles by which our discourse concerning such objects is governed. Not that this is necessarily to endorse a realist position towards the objects of the resulting theory. Nominalists and Platonists alike may attempt to set out the principles that govern arithmetical discourse; and it is in the same spirit that the realist or anti-realist may attempt to set out the principles of our fictional discourse.
  3. Despite my approval of the project, I must admit to some misgivings as to how Parsons has carried it out. These misgivings are of two kinds. There are first some internal criticisms, requiring only change within Parsons' basic approach. There are then some external criticisms, requiring change to the basic approach.
  4. These criticisms, though, should not be thought to detract from the merits of Parsons' book. It is, in many ways, an admirable contribution to the field. It gives weight both to the interest and the legitimacy of the Meinongian enterprise; it pinpoints the difficulties which any satisfactory theory must deal with; and in its solution to those difficulties, it sets up a theory with a degree of rigour and systematicity that should serve as a model for years to come. As a well worked-out and accessible contribution to object theory, there is no better book.

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