My article on “Brentano and the Theory of Signs” has been published in Paradigmi. Rivista di Critica Filosofica, in a special edition on phenomenology and semiotics, edited by Claudio Majolino and Giuliano Bacigalupo.
In this article I discuss Franz Brentano’s theory of intentionality and the ontological status of the intentional object specifically with respect to symbolic presentations. I compare the role and function of intentionality to the process of semeiosis, pointing out several interesting parallels between fundamental problems in the interpretation of the Brentanian notion of intentionality and issues in semiotics as the “general theory of signs”. I concentrate mostly on semantics, understood as the relationship between signs and their objects, which involves two of the central components in semeiosis: that which acts as a sign and that which the signs refers to. In particular, I focus on the theory of Charles W. Morris, trying to apply core notions of his semiotics to clarify Brentano’s ambiguous account of intentional reference, the role of signs in symbolic presentations and how this relates to outer perception.
What do symbolic presentations, i.e. presentations through signs, “stand for”? A symbolic or improper presentation “stands for” a proper presentation, not is the sense that it represents it, but surrogates for it, “stands in for” it. A proper presentation would be immediate, direct and make no use of surrogating signs, it would “give” the object as it is: it would be an Anschauung, an intuition. A symbolic presentation occurs when this is (temporarily or absolutely) impossible or impractical.
At this point we face a critical difficulty, namely the paradox that all presentations must have an intentional object, yet not to all presentations corresponds an object in reality. What happens when we indeed cannot form a proper presentation due to the non-existence of its object?