Meinong, Alexius (1853–1920)

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated


Alexius Meinong studied under Franz Brentano at the University of Vienna from 1875 through 1878 and taught at the University of Graz from 1882 until his death. In 1894 he established at Graz the first laboratory for experimental psychology in Austria. Some of his psychological writings fall within this area, but most pertain to what Brentano called descriptive psychology. The philosophical works, referred to below, also pertain to descriptive psychology.

Meinong's most important contributions to philosophy concern the theory of objects, the theory of assumptions, the theory of evidence, and the theory of value. He also discussed, at considerable length, the nature of the emotions and their relation to intellectual phenomena, imagination, abstraction, wholes and other "complex objects," relations, causality, possibility, and probability.

Theory of Objects

The two basic theses of Meinong's theory of objects (Gegenstandstheorie ) are (1) there are objects that do not exist and (2) every object that does not exist is yet constituted in some way or other and thus may be made the subject of true predication. Traditional metaphysics treats of objects that exist as well as of those that merely subsist (bestehen ) but, having "a prejudice in favor of the real," tends to neglect those objects that have no kind of being at all; hence, according to Meinong, there is need for a more general theory of objects.

Everything is an object, whether or not it is thinkable (if an object happens to be unthinkable then it is something having at least the property of being unthinkable) and whether or not it exists or has any other kind of being. Every object has the characteristics it has whether or not it has any kind of being; in short, the Sosein (character) of every object is independent of its Sein (being). A round square, for example, has a Sosein, since it is both round and square; but it is an impossible object, since it has a contradictory Sosein that precludes its Sein.

Of possible objectsobjects not having a contradictory Sosein some exist and others (for example, golden mountains) do not exist. If existence is thought of as implying a spatiotemporal locus, then there are certain subsistent objects that do not exist; among these are the being of various objects and the nonbeing of various other objects. Since there are horses, there is also the being of horses, the being of the being of horses, the nonbeing of the nonbeing of horses, and the being of the nonbeing of the nonbeing of horses. And since there is no Pegasus, there is the nonbeing of Pegasus, as well as the being of the nonbeing of Pegasus and the nonbeing of the being of Pegasus.

Meinong's theory must be distinguished from both Platonic realism, as this term is ordinarily interpreted, and the reism, or concretism, of Brentano and Tadeusz Kotarbiński. (Meinong noted that since his view is broader than realism, it might properly be called objectivism.) Thus, the Platonic realist could be said to argue: "(P ) Certain objects that do not exist have certain properties; but (Q ) an object has properties if and only if it is real; hence (R ) there are real objects that do not exist." The reist, or concretist, on the other hand, reasons from not-R and Q to not-P ; that is, he derives the contradictory of Plato's first premise by taking Plato's second premise along with the contradictory of Plato's conclusion. But Meinong, like Plato and unlike the reist, accepted both P and R ; unlike both Plato and the reist, he rejected Q by asserting the independence of Sosein from Sein ; and therefore, again unlike both Plato and the reist, he said that the totality of objects extends far beyond the confines of what is merely real (das Universum in der Gesamtheit des Wirklichen noch lange nicht erschöpft ist ).

This doctrine of Aussersein of the independence of Sosein from Sein is sometimes misinterpreted by saying that it involves recourse to a third type of being in addition to existence and subsistence. Meinong's point, however, is that such objects as the round square have no type of being at all; they are "homeless objects," to be found not even in Plato's heaven. Bertrand Russell objected that if we say round squares are objects, we violate the law of contradiction. Meinong replied that the law of contradiction holds only for what is real and can hardly be expected to hold for any object, such as a round square, that has a contradictory Sosein.

Russell's theory of descriptions is often thought to constitute a refutation of the doctrine of Aussersein ; actually, however, his theory merely presupposes that Meinong's doctrine is false. According to Meinong, the two statements "The round square is round" and "The mountain I am thinking of is golden" are true statements about nonexistent objects; they are Sosein and not Sein statements. The distinction between the two types of statements is most clearly put by saying that a Sein statement (for example, "John is angry") is an affirmative statement that can be existentially generalized upon (we may infer "There exists an x such that x is angry") and a Sosein statement is an affirmative statement that cannot be existentially generalized upon; despite the truth of "The mountain I am thinking of is golden," we may not infer "There exists an x such that I am thinking about x and x is golden." Russell's theory of descriptions, however, presupposes that every statement is either a Sein statement or the negation of a Sein statement and hence that there are no Sosein statements. According to Russell, a statement of the form "The thing that is F is G " may be paraphrased as "There exists an x such that x is F and x is G, and it is false that there exists a y such that y is F and y is not identical with x." If Meinong's true Sosein statements, above, are rewritten in this form, the result will be two false statements; hence Meinong could say that Russell's theory does not provide an adequate paraphrase.

An impossible object, as indicated above, is an object having a Sosein that violates the law of contradiction. An incomplete object, analogously, is one having a Sosein that violates the law of the excluded middle. Of the golden mountains, which most readers will think of on reading the paragraph above, it will be neither true nor false to say that they are higher than Mount Monadnock. And some objects are even more poorly endowed. For example, if I wish that your wish will come true, then the object of my wish is whatever it is that you happen to wish; but if, unknown to me, what you wish is that my wish will come true, then this object would seem to have very little Sosein beyond that of being our mutual object. Meinong said that such an object is a defective object and suggested that the concept may throw light upon some of the logical paradoxes.

The theory of complexesthat is, the theory of wholes and other such "objects of higher order"upon which Meinong wrote at length, also falls within the theory of objects.

None of the objects discussed above is created by us, nor does any of them depend in any way upon our thinking. Had no one ever thought of the round square, it would still be true of the round square that it does not exist; the round square need not be thought of in order not to exist. We draw these objects, so to speak, from the infinite depths of the Ausserseienden, beyond being and not-being.

Theory of Assumptions

Meinong's theory of assumptions, or suppositions, is set forth in Über Annahmen ("On Assumptions"; first ed., Leipzig, 1902; 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1910). The theory is best understood by contrasting it with two theses held by Brentano, to which Meinong's theory may be said to be a reaction. The first of Brentano's theses is that of reism, or concretism, referred to above: Every object is a concrete thing; there are no objects such as the being of horses or the nonbeing of unicorns; the object of a judgment, therefore, is not a proposition, fact, or state of affairs; it is, rather, a certain concrete thing that the judgment may be said either to accept or to reject. And according to the second of Brentano's theses, there are basically only two types of intellectual attitudes we can take with respect to any object: We can simply think about the object, in which case it is the object of a thought or idea, or we can take an intellectual stand with respect to the object, either accepting it or rejecting it, in which case it becomes the object of a judgment. Meinong rejected both these theses of Brentano.

The object of a judgment, according to Meinong, is not a concrete thing; it is an "objective" (Objektiv ). "That there are horses," for example, designates an objectivean object of higher order, containing horses as a kind of constituent. (Thus, the nonexisting, nonsubsisting round square is a constituent of that subsisting objective that is the nonbeing of the round square.) Assumptions, like judgments, take objectives as their objects.

What Meinong intended by his term assumption (Annahme ) is most clearly exemplified in deliberation: "Suppose I were to do A. What would happen then? And now suppose I were not to do A. What would happen then?" Assumptions belong to a category falling between ideas and judgments. Like mere ideas, they do not themselves involve commitment, belief, or conviction; therefore, as such, they do not involve any possibility of error. Like judgments, they are concerned with objectives (in the above example, with what is designated by "I shall do A "), which are either true or false (it is either true or false that I shall do A ); and, like judgments, assumptions involve either affirmation ("Suppose I do A ") or denial ("Suppose I do not do A "), but affirmation or denial without commitment.

Meinong argues that only by reference to assumptions can we understand such phenomena as the nature of inference, our apprehension of negative facts, communication in general, desire, art, and the nature of play and of games. Über Annahmen, which is probably Meinong's best book, contains important material on these and many other topics.

Theory of Evidence

The concept of evidence involves three dichotomies: (1) direct and indirect; (2) a priori and a posteriori; and (3) "evidence for certainty" and "evidence for presumption." Meinong's conception of the first two dichotomies is similar to that of Brentano. Thus there are axioms of mathematics and logic and the theory of objects, which are directly evident and a priori; and there are facts of "inner perception"for example, the fact that I am making such-and-such an assumption, or the fact that I take something to be a treewhich are directly evident and a posteriori. (Any psychological process that "presents" an object to us, as memory may be said to present certain objects of the past, is also a process that "presents itself"; "self-presentation" is thus the source of that evidence which is direct, certain, and a posteriori.) These directly evident judgments may confer evidence upon certain other judgments, which are then said to be indirectly evident.

For Meinong, paradigm cases of what is a priori evident would be expressed by "Round squares are both round and square" and "red is different from blue." Every a priori judgment has four characteristics: It is grounded in the nature of its object (gegenständlich begründet ); it is certain; it is necessary; and it does not take into consideration the question whether its object exists. (Brentano had said that every a priori judgment is a judgment to the effect that a certain type of object does not exist.)

An evident presumption (Vermutung ) may be directly evident but not certain. The concept is needed, according to Meinong, in order for us to understand memory, perception, and induction. In each of these three cases we have a source of knowledge that cannot be impugned as such but may on occasion mislead us. A particular memory judgment, for example, may not be certain, but it may be evident, especially if it is supported by other memory judgments, by perceptual judgments, or by inductive inferences from such judgments; analogously, this holds for any particular perceptual judgment or any particular inductive conclusion. Such items of a posteriori knowledge may be compared with the cards in a pack, "no one of which is capable of standing up by itself, but several of which placed together can serve to hold each other up. Or, for something more solid, consider a stack of weapons in the field." A consequence of this theory of evident presumptions is that a false judgment may yet be evident, a consequence that Brentano took to be absurd. Evidence does not guarantee truth; but, according to Meinong, evidence resembles truth in that if a judgment is evident, then its being evidentits Evidentsein as well as the Evidentsein of this Evidentsein, and so on ad infinitum, is also evident.

An essential part of Meinong's epistemology is his theory of "emotional presentation" There is an analogy between the way in which we come to know, say, that the temperature is high and the way in which we come to know that the temperature is agreeable. Meinong proposed, as a "heuristic principle," that we try to carry the analogy as far as possible. If it is by means of a subjective feeling that we perceive the temperature to be agreeable, it is also by means of a subjective sensation that we perceive the temperature to be high. In neither case is the subjective experience the object of the presentation; in neither case is our apprehension a matter of inference or of reasoning from effect to cause. "The sense in which the sky is said to be 'beautiful,' for example, is precisely that in which it is said to be 'blue.' But the experience by means of which the first property is presented plays an important role in our psychical life in addition to that of enabling us to grasp something else. This fact is reflected in our language; we refer to the one experience directly, but in the other case we must go round about, by way of the object that is presented, and use some such expression as 'experience of blue.'" Meinong noted that the traditional arguments against a "subjectivistic" or "psychologistic" interpretation of ordinary sense perception apply equally to any such interpretation of emotional presentation.

Theory of Value

In the final version of his theory of value, Meinong made use of the theory of emotional presentation considered above, as well as of Brentano's doctrine of correct and incorrect emotionthat is, the doctrine according to which emotions, like judgments, may be said to be correct or incorrect, justified or unjustified, and according to which certain things may thus be said to merit or be worthy of certain emotions.

The basic concept of value theory is not that of desire, interest, or utility, but that of value feeling (Wertgefühle ). Value feelings take objectives as their objects, more particularly, objectives consisting of the being or nonbeing of certain objects. One type of value feeling is Seinsfreude, pleasure or joy in the existence or being of a certain object; another type is Seinsleid, displeasure or sorrow with respect to the existence or being of a certain object. But the feelings of joy and sorrow may also be directed toward nonexistence and nonbeing; hence there are four fundamental types of value feeling, which may be illustrated by reference to the nature of good and evil. The good is that which merits Seinsfreude if it exists and Nichtseinsleid (sorrow with respect to its nonexistence) if it does not exist; evil, on the other hand, merits Seinsleid if it exists and Nichtseinsfreude (joy with respect to its nonexistence) if it does not exist. Meinong noted that human beings are not consistent in their emotional reactions. For example, as far as our health and ordinary comforts are concerned, we experience considerable Nichtseinsleid when they are absent, but not the appropriate amount of Seinsfreude when they are present.

Our actions have moral qualities other than those of being good, bad, or indifferent. Meinong introduced four moral categories, which he explicated by reference to good and bad. Actions that are good may be either meritorious or simply required; those that are bad may be either excusable or inexcusable. (Meinong's terms are, respectively, verdienstlich, correct, zulässig, and verwerflich.) One may say of any act that performance is meritorious if and only if nonperformance is bad but excusable; nonperformance is meritorious if and only if performance is bad but excusable; performance is required if and only if nonperformance is inexcusable; and nonperformance is required if and only if performance is inexcusable. Given this "law of omission" (Unterlassungsgesetz ), Meinong's concepts of meritorious, required, excusable, and inexcusable, respectively, approximate what are sometimes called the supererogatory, the obligatory, misdeeds that are venial, and misdeeds that are not venial. According to one of Meinong's followers (Ernst Schwarz), these four moral concepts are related to the concept of justified or correct emotion in the following way: The meritorious is that which it is incorrect to blame and incorrect not to praise; the required is that which it is incorrect to blame, correct to praise, but not incorrect not to praise; the merely excusable is that which it is incorrect to praise, correct to blame, and not incorrect not to blame; and the inexcusable is that which it is incorrect to praise and incorrect not to blame.

See also Brentano, Franz; Epistemology, History of; Ethical Objectivism; Kotarbiński, Tadeusz; Logical Paradoxes; Nonexistent Object, Nonbeing; Plato; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition; Propositions; Psychology; Realism; Russell, Bertrand Arthur William; Value and Valuation.


works by meinong

Meinong summarized his principal philosophical conclusions in Die deutsche Philosophie der Gegenwart in Selbstdarstellungen, edited by Raymund Schmidt (Leipzig, 1921), Vol. I, pp. 91150. His purely psychological writings can be found in the first volume of Gesammelte Abhandlungen (2 vols.; Leipzig: Barth, 19131914).

Theory of Objects

Meinong's theory of objects is discussed in "Über Gegenstandstheorie" (1904); this article was reprinted in Vol. II of his Gesammelte Abhandlungen and translated as "The Theory of Objects" in Realism and the Background of Phenomenology, edited by Roderick M. Chisholm (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1960). The theory is discussed also in Über die Stellung der Gegenstandstheorie im System der Wissenschaften (Leipzig, 1907) and, indeed, in almost all Meinong's writings after 1904.


His most important epistemological writings are Zur erkenntnistheoretischen Würdigung des Gedächtnisses (1886), reprinted in Vol. II of Gesammelte Abhandlungen; Über die Erfahrungs-grundlagen unseres Wissens (Berlin, 1906); Über Möglichkeit und Wahrscheinlichkeit (Leipzig: Barth, 1915); and Über emotionale Präsentation (Vienna, 1917).

Value Theory

Meinong's principal writings in value theory are Psychologischethische Untersuchungen zur Werththeorie (Graz: Leuschner and Lubensky, 1894) and the posthumously published Zur Grundlegung der allgemeinen Werththeorie (Graz: Leuschner and Lubensky, 1923).

works on meinong

Among the most useful writings on Meinong are Bertrand Russell, "Meinong's Theory of Complexes and Assumptions," three articles in Mind 13 (1904): 204219, 336354, and 509524; J. N. Findlay, Meinong's Theory of Objects and Values (2nd ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963); G. Dawes Hicks, "The Philosophical Researches of Meinong," in Critical Realism (London: Macmillan, 1938); and Konstantin Radakovic et al., Meinong-Gedenkschrift (Graz: "Styria" Steirische Verlagsanstalt, 1952).

Important material on all aspects of Meinong's philosophy can be found in Philosophenbriefe: Aus der wissenschaftlichen Korrespondenz von Alexius Meinong mit Fachgenossen seiner Zeit, edited by Rudolf Kindinger (Graz: Akademischen Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1965).

other recommended works

Barber, Kenneth F. Meinong's Hume Studies: Translation and Commentary. PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1967.

Grossmann, Reinhardt. Meinong. London; Boston: Routledge & K. Paul, 1974.

Lambert, Karel. Meinong and the Principle of Independence: Its Place in Meinong's Theory of Objects and Its Significance in Contemporary Philosophical Logic. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Schubert Kalsi, Marie-Luise. Alexius Meinong's Elements of Ethics: With Translation of the Fragment Ethische Bausteine. Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996

Sylvan, Richard. Exploring Meinong's Jungle and Beyond: An Investigation of Noneism and the Theory of Items. Canberra: Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, 1980.

Works by Meinong

Gesamtausgabe. Herausgeber: Rudolf Haller und Rudolf Kindinger. Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 19681978.

Abhandlungen zur Werttheorie. Rudolf Kindinger. Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1968.

Abhandlungen zur psychologie. Rudolf Kindinger. Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1969.

On Emotional Presentation. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1972.

Über philosophische Wissenschaft und ihre Propädeutik; Über die Stellung der Gegenstandstheorie im System der Wissenschaften; Über die Erfahrungsgrundlagen unseres Wissens; Zum Erweise des allgemeinen Kausalgesetzes. Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1973.

On Assumptions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Meinong Reconstructed versus Early Russell Reconstructed: A Study in the Formal Ontology of Fiction. PhD diss., Indiana University, 1986.

Uber Gegenstandstheorie; Selbstdarstellung. Hamburg: F. Meiner, 1988.

Alexius Meinong und Guido Adler: Eine Freundschaft in Briefen. Amsterdam; Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1995.

Roderick M. Chisholm (1967)

Bibliography updated by Michael J. Farmer (2005)