Quality, Matter and Representative Content

The theory of dependence is important to logic not merely in providing an account of notions such as unity and (in)compatibility, however, but also because it can be used as the basis of an account of the cognitively and logically relevant dimensions of variation in those mental acts of whose ideal structures logic ultimately treats. Husserl distinguishes between three such dimensions of variation: the quality of the act, its matter, and its representative content.

The quality of an act is that moment of the act which stamps it ‘as merely presentative, as judgmental, as emotional, as desiderative, and so on’ (II B411/586). The matter is ‘that which stamps it as presenting this, as judging that, etc.’, in the sense that those acts have the same matter whose intended object (and the way that it is intended) is the same. The matter is ‘that in an act which first gives it directedness to an object, and directedness so wholly definite that it not merely fixes the object meant, but also the way in which it is meant.’ (II A390/589)

Likeness of matter with differing act-quality ‘has its visible grammatical expression’:    

A man who imagines to himself that there are intelligent beings on Mars, presents the same as he who asserts there are intelligent beings on Mars, and the same as the man who asks Are there intelligent beings on Mars? or the man who wishes If only there were intelligent beings on Mars! etc. (II A387/586f.)

And indeed the dimensions of variation in the grammatical expression of the act can point the way for our analysis of variation in the act itself.29 

Act-quality and act-matter are two mutually dependent moments of the act: it is a matter of necessity that each cannot exist without the other. Just as the act-matter is unthinkable without some quality, so each act-quality is unthinkable ‘as cut free from all matter’. Or should we perhaps hold as possible an experience which would be judgment-quality but not judgment of a determinate matter? The judgment would thereby after all lose the character of an intentional experience, which has been evidently ascribed as essential to it. (II A391/589)

Quality and matter are however also associated with a third dimension of variation, the dimension of what Husserl calls representative content. This we can think of as consisting in our act’s being more or less intuitively filled, in its being more or less in touch with the things themselves towards which our acts are directed: it is a matter of that in the act which goes proxy for the object. Alternatively (and from the opposite perspective) we can regard it as consisting in our act’s being more or less linguistically articulated, in its being more or less a matter of mere signs.

Acts which are least in touch with the things themselves and which are entirely a matter of linguistic or signitive directedness have as their content just that which is contributed by the signs themselves, the various marks which the signs leave behind within the acts. To the extent that an act’s directedness is not merely linguistic, however, it will acquire a representative content that is in whole or in part derived from the objects grasped. Where we are dealing with acts of ordinary perception such representative content is of course ultimately just the sensory content of the relevant acts, a matter of those sensory qualities in the acts which more or less (according to circumstances) correspond to sensory qualities in the objects perceived (or to analoguous qualities in internal perception).

Clearly all (used) linguistic expressions yield representative ‘marks’ in the first sense. But only certain determinate parts of our expressions can have something corresponding to them in intuition in the second, ‘fulfilling’ sense.30 Thus if we consider the various simple judgment forms: A is P, An S is P, The S is P, All S are P, etc., then ‘it is easy to see that only at the places indicated by letter- symbols…can meanings stand that are fulfilled in perception itself.’ (II A607/779) Even where the variables in question replace complex contents, we shall eventually  

come down to certain final elements of our terms – we may call them elements of stuff – which find direct fulfilment in intuition (perception, imagination, etc.), while the supplementary forms, which as forms of meaning likewise crave fulfilment, can find nothing that ever could fit them in perception or acts of like order. (II A607f./779)31

Or, as the title of § 43 of Husserl’s Sixth Investigation expresses it: ‘The objective correlates of categorial forms are not real moments.’  

The “a” and the “the”, the “and” and the “or”, the “if” and the “then”, the “all” and the “none”, the “something” and the “nothing”, the forms of quantity and the determinations of number, etc. – all these are meaningful propositional elements, but we should look in vain for their objective correlates (if such may be ascribed to them at all) in the sphere of real objects, which is in fact no other than the sphere of objects of possible sense-perception. (II A610f./782)

Barry Smith, Logic and Formal Ontology

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