Avicenna on empty intentionality: a case study in analytical Avicennianism

British Journal for the History of Philosophy:1-20 (forthcoming)
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Appealing to some analytic tools developed by contemporary analytic philosophers, I discuss Avicenna’s views regarding the problem(s) of linguistic and mental reference to non-existents, also known as the problem(s) of ‘empty intentionality’. I argue that, according to Avicenna, being in an intentional state directed towards an existing thing involves three elements: (1) an indirect relation to that thing, (2) a direct relation to a mental representation of that thing, and (3) a direct relation to the essence of that thing. Empty intentionality does not involve the first element. Moreover, depending on the nature of the non-existent we are thinking about, the third element may not be involved either. Thus, the necessary element of being in an intentional state towards something is to be related to a mental representation of that thing. The nature of this representation may vary depending on the nature of the non-existent towards which our thought is directed.



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