HPS Colloquium: Objective Being and Implicit Content

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Location: 201 O'Shaughnessy Hall

Join us as John Hanson presents his recent research!  We meet every Tuesday before Fall Break at 4 PM for coffee, snacks, and a chance to catch up before the presentation begins.

A cornerstone element in Descartes’ philosophy of mind is the notion of objective being, that particular mode of being which objects have in our minds when we think of them. Everyone agrees that an idea’s representing an object entails that said object has objective being in that idea, because Descartes says so many times. However, according to a highly influential treatment due to Margaret Wilson, objective being is also a category for describing the presentational or experiential content of thought. I argue that this interpretation is either mistaken or in serious need of clarification, due to a problem I call the Implicit Content Problem. This problem arises from a core element of Descartes’ innatism, namely, that where our ideas are innate, there can be recognition of unknown contents in them. In such cases, our thought presents new features of things which were previously unnoticed. I suggest that this pairs poorly with understanding objective being as both a category of representation and presentation, for then in cases of recognition of unknown contents, there is change in what we experience, but stability in what object it is we think of, and thus a contradiction with regards to whether the objective being in question is stable or changing. I suggest that the solution to this issue is to regard objective being as describing the totality of what can be veridically experienced about the object of thought, and thus its proper role is for capturing something akin to logical containment, rather than for describing particular phenomenal episodes. In favor of this position, I point to a number of texts, including (a) Descartes account of innate ideas in the Comments on a Certain Broadsheet, (b) Descartes’ account of essences in the Fifth Meditation, and (c) Descartes’ characterization of capacities for thought in the Fourth Replies, and suggest that all of these remarks can be tied together provided we adopt accept my approach.

John Hanson is a sixth-year HPS student in the philosophy track. His interests are in the Philosophy and History of Science, Early Modern Philosophy, Philosophy of Language, and Metaphysics.