Sachverhalt and Proposition

Meinong, too, in his On Assumptions, defends an opposition between two sorts of entity: objects and objectives, distinguishing not only between positive and negative objectives of being (that A is, that A is not), but also between positive and negative objectives of so-being (that A is B, that A is not B), as also between objectives constituted by objects and ‘objectives of higher order’ constituted by further objectives of lower order. Truth, possibility and also probability are, according to Meinong, attributes not of objects but of objectives,(31) and as already intimated, it is objectives which provide the subject matter for the science of logic as Meinong conceives it.(32) As Reinach remarks, however, there is a fundamental objection which must be raised against Meinong, namely ‘that his concept of objective runs together the two completely different concepts of proposition (in the logical sense) and state of affairs.’(33)

Clarity in respect of the distinctions between Sachverhalt and proposition, as also between both of these and the immanent contents of judgment was first attained by Husserl in his Logical Investigations of 1900/01.(34) Here Sachverhalt and proposition are squeezed apart, and a conception of Sachverhalte as objectual truth-makers explicitly defended.(35) Husserl argued for a view of Sachverhalte as objectual judgment-correlates analogous to objects as the transcendent targets of presentations. Moreover, he saw that Sachverhalte can serve as correlates not only of acts of judging but also of special kinds of nominal acts (for example when we say that S is p ‘is welcome’, ‘is probable’, ‘has as consequence that …’, etc.).(36)

In the second volume of the Logical Investigations, Husserl distinguishes further between the immanent content of a judging act and the Sachverhalt as transcendent target.(37) On the side of the act itself he distinguishes not only the immanent content but also what he calls the quality of the act – what makes it an act of judgment, doubt, assumption, etc. – a moment of the act which may vary even though its immanent content remains fixed.(38) This immanent content, now, is understood not in terms of ‘images’ or ‘pictures’ but rather as a more basic sort of component of the act in virtue of which the latter is experienced by the subject as directed to an object or state of affairs. The immanent content is  

that element in an act which first gives it a relation to something objectual, and this relation in such complete determinateness that it does not merely precisely define the object meant, but also the precise way in which it is meant.

The content of the act

not only determines that it grasps the relevant object but also as what it grasps it, the features, relations, categorial forms, that it itself attributes to it.(39)

Husserl now goes further still. He utilises the Aristotelian idea of a universal species becoming instantiated in its individual instances as a means of drawing a distinction between this immanent content of an act on the one hand and what he calls its ‘ideal content’ on the other. This ideal content is the immanent content taken in specie (as the objects treated by the geometer are the ideal species of the lines and shapes given in reality). And where an immanent content can be brought to expression linguistically, then the corresponding ideal content is called by Husserl the meaning of the given expression.(40)

Husserl’s theory of linguistic meaning and of the structures of meanings is thus part and parcel of his theory of acts and of the structures of acts, and his handling of the relations between language, act and meaning manifests a sophistication of a sort previously unknown among the Brentanists. Broadly speaking, we can say that the orthodox Brentanians had insufficient appreciation of the dimension of logical syntax – a price they paid, in part, for their radical rejection of the combinatorial aspects of the old ‘combination theory’ of judgment and truth. Thus they lacked any recognition of the fact that acts of judgment are distinguished from acts of presentation not only by the presence of a moment of assertion or belief, but also – on the level of what we might call ‘mental grammar’ – by a special (‘propositional’) form. A judgment must, in other words, have a certain special sort of inner complexity, which expresses itself linguistically in the form of the sentence and is reflected ontologically in the form of the Sachverhalt. The expression of a judgment must for example admit of tense and aspect modifications and also of modification by logical operators such as negation, conjunction, etc., as well as by operators such as ‘it is the case that’, ‘it is possible that’, ‘it is necessary that’, ‘I think that’, and so on.

Certainly Frege is responsible for some of the most important advances in our understanding of logico-grammatical form. It is ironical, however, that in his conception of sentences as special sorts of names, Frege is, as far as his treatment of the logico-grammatical peculiarities of judgment and sentence is concerned, no further advanced than was Brentano. Here, again, one has to look to Bolzano in order to find truly coherent anticipations of the idea of propositional form.(41) But the idea of a science of ‘logical grammar’, of a formal theory of the categories of linguistic units (and of their mental counterparts) and of the categorial laws governing the combination of such units, was first conceived by Husserl in his IVth Logical Investigation. This work influenced in turn the development of the theory of grammatical categories by Leniewski and his successors in Poland.(42)

Husserl’s theory has built into its very foundations the idea of a parallelism of structure between (1) immanent contents on the level of our empirically executed acts and (2) ideal contents on the level of logic. He is thereby able to account in a very natural way for the fact that the laws of logic apply to actual thinkings, speakings and inferrings, while at the same time doing justice to the necessity which accrues to such laws by virtue of the fact that they relate primarily to certain ideal or universal species and only secondarily to the immanent contents by which these species may come to be instantiated. Frege and his successors in the analytic tradition, in contrast, because they turned aside from questions of what Brentano and Husserl called ‘descriptive psychology’, thereby left themselves in a position where they were unable to do justice to the relations between ideal contents and the cognitive activities through which these become actualised or instantiated. The applicability of logic to empirical thinkings and inferrings is thus rendered in their work all but inexplicable – an outcome which further reinforced the initial aversion to psychology on the part of philosophers of the analytic sort, and thereby also lent encouragement to those mathematical logicians who have wanted to conceive propositions as little more than nodes of abstract formal theories. Brentano, on the other hand, and the more orthodox Brentanians, tended to the opposite, psychological extreme: because they feared the ‘Platonism’ of ideal contents, their treatment of logic was less than successful, and therefore so also was their treatment of the specifically logical properties of our judging acts.

Husserl goes beyond his Brentanist predecessors also in his treatment of ontology. Setting out from Meinong’s idea of a ‘theory of objects’, Husserl initiates a new discipline of ‘formal ontology’, within which the formal concept of Sachverhalt – ‘formal’ because it can be applied to all matters without restriction – comes to be ranked alongside the formal concept of object. It is more than anything else this Husserlian discipline of formal ontology, as developed by Husserl’s disciples in Munich, which led to Reinach’s conception of logic as a science of states of affairs.

Barry Smith, Logic and the Sachverhalt


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