Twardowski’s ontology

“1. One of the characteristic features of modern ontology relates to the distinction between a Dasein and a Sosein of objects — that is, between the existence of objects and their properties. Most of modern ontology is Daseinsfrei: it is an ontology of the nature of objects in general as they are given to thought. And it is this feature that distinguishes modern ontology from traditional metaphysics, since this ontology concerns objects as things (res) and not their existence. (1) This was already to be seen in the school of Brentano, but its origins are in effect even older and can be traced back to the Middle Ages and to the Stoic interpretation of Aristotle, which passed on to Wolff. Starting from Kant the role played by the acts of consciousness has become a fundamental component of ontology.

2. As regards Twardowski’s ontology, I shall try to specify its Kantian commitment. Since this analysis is somewhat pioneering, I shall present it in the form of a proposal. Moreover, I shall confine myself to his book of 1894, Zur Lehre vom Inhalt und Gegenstand der Vorstellungen.

The following features will be of service to my proposal:

a) Its descriptive basis stemming from Brentanian psychology. Twardowski’s ontology, like Brentano’s, is grounded in inner perception: it is concerned not with the genesis but with the description of the elements of consciousness. (2)

b) The distinction between act, content and object in presentation (Vorstellung). (3)

c) The primacy of the act over the contents of consciousness. In fact every presentation is an act which possesses an intentional object. In the case of Twardowski the intentional object is the content of the act, which pictures an image (Bild) the external object of presentation. (4)

d) The consequent distinction concerning the act of presentation of two different directions:1. towards the object, which is presented in a modified way by consciousness, and 2. towards the content, which is presented in a determinate way. (5)

e) The presence of Kantianism, as Twardowski points out on several occasions in his text, especially at the outset of his ontological analysis (i.e. the description of the object of presentation), in the concept of characteristic, and in its conclusion, concerning the nature of general objects. (6)” pp. 26-27.

(1) According to this ontology, existence is a mode or an attribute, not an essential property of all objects. The objects of ontology, therefore, are possible objects.

(2) As we shall see, certain basic concepts in Twardowski’ ontology like the object in general, a the outcome of genetic research in the phenomenological sense.

(3) We translate the German word Vorstellung as presentation rather than representation, pointing out the Brentanian meaning of this term: presentation, in fact, refers to the intentional character of the consciousness, directed towards an intentional object. It is worth noting that the term Vorstellung has Kantian origin. Also in the case of Kant, then, we shall adopt presentation instead of representation, even if we are conscious that also in Kant the term is not univocal. Put briefly, we could speak of the representation only at the level of concepts.

(4) The intentional object is the secondary object of presentation and coincides with the content, by means of which the object is presented. On this see Husserl’s criticism: Twardowski, according to Husserl, does not distinguish between the mental picture (Bild) proper of content, which has a psychological root, and ideal meaning (Bedeutung). SeeLogische Untersuchungen (Hua XVII), E. Holestein ed., 1975, First Investigation. Content may vary in relation to different presentations of an object, says Husserl, however meaning remains identical. Meaning is not a constitutive part of the act, it is not psychological but logical. Moreover picture is only a special case of intentional consciousness, related to imagination: in literature or science, in fact, presentations do not occur by means of pictures. What matters, according to Husserl, is the individual capacity to refer to the object on the basis of mental picture. On this see K. Schuhmann, “Husserl and Twardowski”, forthcoming. [published in: Coniglione, Francesco, Poli, Roberto, Wolenski, Jan (eds.) – Polish Scientific Philosophy: The Lvov-Warsaw School – Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1993, pp. 41-58]

(5)There is still a way in which aldso the object is given in a determinate way, which is opposed to all others, as etwas überhaupt in presentation.

(6) K. Twardowski, Zur Lehre vom Inhalt und Gegenstand der Vorstellungen. Eine psychologische Untersuschung, 7 and 15.

Liliana Albertazzi – Is there a transcendental Object? In Theories of Objects: Meinong and Twardowski. Edited by Pasniczek Jacek. Lublin: Wydawnictvo Uniwersytetu Marii Curie-Sklodoskiej 1992. pp. 26-44


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