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Arnold Heidsieck KAFKA'S NARRATIVE ONTOLOGY Kafka's fictions are intensely philosophical. They are concerned with die problems of acquiring knowledge, the insufficiency of evidence, die gaps between what is believed and what is, die possibility of alternate situations or states of affairs, and die epistemologica! and ontologica ! separation of mind (the internal) from body (the external). This essay relates the epistemic uncertainties frequendy encountered in Kafka's narratives to two distinct versions of epistemology, semantics, and ontology familiar to him: first, Franz Brentano's skepticism based on die philosophy ofDescartes, and second, Alexius Meinong's attempt to defuse skepticism by acknowledging, in addition to die existing world, an infinite realm of nonexistent entities. During his second semester (1902) at the University of Prague, Kafka took a course with die philosopher Anton Marty who expounded the epistemology originally laid down by Brentano's influential Psychologyfrom an Empirical Standpoint (1874). Brentano considered all mental acts to be intentional in mat they are directed toward objects. One thinks about, believes, knows, feels, desires always something. This something exists in the mind as an object of the mental act and is dierefore called die intentional or immanent object. A typical Brentanoan text from Marty reads: "The immanent object exists as often as die respective conscious act exists. . . . The object per se, however . . . may or may not exist. If my representation is the term 'horse,' for instance, die object exists. If it is die term 'centaur,' the object does not exist. . . . To affirm mat I actually represent an object A does not imply that it exists." 1 The notion ofan immanent object explained how mental acts can be directed toward actually nonexisting things like centaurs or unicorns as well as referring to actually existing things. But it failed in die latter exacdy because the object was only immanent, somediing existing in die mind at 242 Arnold Heidsieck243 die time ofits being thought (a representational content) and therefore not die actual diing itself. The ambiguity ofBrentano's notion ofan object and his emphasis on its immanence went togedier widi his ultimately skeptical epistemology which maintained mat only die inner perception of one's mental acts — of which there are three basic types: representations, judgments , and emotions — is immediately evident and certain.2 The external world comes to consciousness as phenomenal reality, and knowledge about it must dierefore remain uncertain. The historical origin of this position — die intentionality of consciousness as well as die uncertain knowledge of external reality — was Cartesian . Descartes's dualist theory presupposes an unbridgeable gap between mind and die physical world, between two self-contained components of reality. The mind appears complete in itself and immaterial; dioughts are logically independent ofdie material world dieir contents purport to represent . The physical world is equally independent from the mind and its representing mat world. Descartes writes in die Meditations: "I never have believed myself to feel anydiing in waking moments which I cannot also sometimes believe myself to feel when I sleep, and as I do not diink mat diese diings which I seem to feel in sleep, proceed from objects outside of me, I do not see any reason why I should have diis beliefregarding objects which I seem to perceive while awake."3 This dualist view is subject to radical skepticism, for the mind cannot ascertain whether physical objects actually exist outside die thoughts it has about them. Like Descartes, Brentano considered die cognition of extra-mental objects and facts to be a part of die faculty ofjudgment. Later twentiethcentury linguistic philosophy considers knowledge ofdie external world to be propositional, that is, obtainable solely dirough existential propositions or propositions of the subject-predicate form. But in his discussions of consciousness Brentano pointed out diat inner perception, in his as well as in Descartes's view the bedrock ofevident knowledge, perceives mental acts as real not by propositionally ascribing a predicate of existence to diem but by immediately (representing and) acknowledging them (pp. 186-88). And he further claimed diat knowledge ofdie outside world is equally directed not to propositions about the states ofaffairs comprising that world but to die (concrete or nominal) representations of individual things which may include all their predicated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 242-257
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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