Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Husserlian Intentionality and Contingent Universals [Special Issue]

Topics: Epistemology, History of Analytic Philosophy, Philosophy of language
Keywords: Husserl, imagination, intentionality, Modality, universals.


Can one hold both that universals exist in the strongest sense (i.e., neither in language nor in thought, nor in their instances) and that they exist contingently—and still make sense? Edmund Husserl thought so. In this paper I present a version of his view regimented in terms of modal logic cum possible-world semantics. Crucial to the picture is the distinction between two accessibility relations with different structural properties. These relations are cashed out in terms of two Husserlian notions of imagination: world-bound and free.

After briefly presenting the Husserlian framework—his intentionalism, idealism and how universals figure in them—I set up my modal machinery, model the target view, and show that, depending on the chosen accessibility relation, the necessary or the contingent existence of universals can be derived. Importantly, since for Husserl both relations are bona fide, both derivations are legitimate. In Husserl’s philosophy, then, there is room for both necessary and contingent universals.

Some philosophers believe in universals and some dismiss them as a myth. The former think that, in addition to—say—all red things, there is a further thing: the property of being red. Disbelievers, by contrast, have it that the property of being red is at worst a mere façon de parler, at best a linguistic, conceptual or mathematical construction, but certainly not a genuine ‘thing’. Interestingly, in both camps virtually everyone agrees that if universals exist, they exist as a matter of necessity—or, as disbelievers would put it, that if they existed, they would exist as a matter of necessity.


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