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Resemblance and Representation

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Ben Blumson

8. Intentionality and Inexistence

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1The intentionality of depiction is often cited as a reason for denying the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance. This chapter argues that the apparent problem posed by the intentionality of depiction for the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance is really a manifestation of the more general problem of intentionality. The best solution to the problem is to analyse representation in general and depiction in particular as primarily relations towards states of affairs, rather than objects. This solution, it’s argued, supports both the analogy between depiction and other kinds of representation and the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance.

2Three features of depiction are symptomatic of its intentionality. The first symptom is the apparent possibility of depicting non-existents. The second symptom is the possibility of depicting something without depicting anything in particular. The third symptom is the possibility of depictive misrepresentation: it is possible to depict Tolstoy as a child, for example, even if Tolstoy is not a child. All three symptoms of the intentionality of depiction are problematic for the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance, but the difficulties are raised most strikingly by the problem of the depiction of non-existents.

3The problem of the depiction of non-existents can be appreciated by considering the following trilemma, which consists of three theses which are individually plausible, but jointly inconsistent:

(1) All depictions resemble what they represent
(2) Resemblance is a relation between existents
(3) Some depictions represent non-existents

4The first two theses imply that depictions only represent existents, but this is incompatible with the third thesis, that some depictions represent non-existents.

5The first thesis, that all depictions resemble what they represent, is plausible because it’s suggested by the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance. Since the Mona Lisa’s representation of Lisa, for example, is mediated by resemblance, it seems to follow that the Mona Lisa must resemble Lisa. Similarly, if Holmes’ portrait’s representation of Holmes is mediated by resemblance, it seems to follow that Holmes’ portrait must resemble Holmes. (Abstract painting, which may seem like an obvious counterexample, is not classified as depiction because it is intuitively not the same kind of representation as figurative painting.) The second thesis, that resemblance is a relation between existents, is plausible because it follows from the analysis of resemblance as a relation obtaining between things if and only if they share properties. Peas in a pod, for example, resemble each other because they share the properties of greenness, roundness and yuckiness. Since non-existents do not have properties, it follows that resemblance is a relation between existents. Peas, for example, cannot be green without existing, so only existent peas can resemble each other in respect of greenness. Similarly, since Santa cannot be red without existing, Santa’s portrait cannot resemble Santa in respect of being red unless Santa exists.

6The third thesis, that some depictions represent non-existents, is supported by intuitive examples. The most obvious example is depiction of fiction: Holmes does not exist, but The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes contains illustrations which depict Holmes. But examples are not confined to depiction of fiction: it’s possible to depict things which are thought to exist, but in fact do not. For example, Vulcan, the planet hypothesised to be the cause of perturbations in the orbit of Mercury, does not exist, but there are depictions of Vulcan. Those that were produced when Vulcan was really thought to exist are no more fiction than depictions of the other nine planets, since the mere discovery that a depiction is not veridical is not sufficient to make it fictional.

7Two other problems arise from the intentionality of depiction. The first is the problem of depicting non-particulars. It arises from the fact that it seems possible to depict something without depicting something in particular, but impossible to resemble something without resembling something in particular. A picture may depict a horse, for example, without depicting Phar Lap, Bucephalus, Incitatus or any other particular horse. But a picture cannot resemble a horse without resembling a particular horse, since a picture cannot share a property with horses in general, but only with particular horses such as Phar Lap, Bucephalus and Incitatus. Correctly resolving the trilemma concerning the depiction of non-existents should resolve this problem too.

8The second is the problem of depictive misrepresentation. Suppose, for example, that the police are completely misinformed about the appearance of a dangerous criminal. The police believe that the criminal is brunette, but he is blonde; the police believe he is bearded, but he is shaved; the police believe that he is tall, but in fact he is short; and so on. If the police draw a wanted poster of this man, then it would resemble someone who is brunette, bearded, tall, and so on, and so would not resemble the criminal in the relevant respects. But despite failing to resemble the criminal, the drawing would still succeed in representing him (Kaplan, 1968, 198). Resolving the trilemma concerning the depiction of non-existents should resolve this problem too.

9The first section considers Robert Hopkins’ proposal to deny that all depictions resemble what they represent by analysing depiction in terms of experienced rather than genuine resemblance. The second considers Nelson Goodman’s proposal to reject the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance on the grounds that depiction, unlike resemblance, is not unequivocally relational. The third section considers the possibility of denying the thesis that resemblance is a relation between existents by postulating non-existent objects. The fourth argues for denying the thesis that some depictions represent non-existent objects by arguing that depiction is a relation towards states of affairs.

8.1 Analysing depiction in intentional terms

10It’s possible to resolve the trilemma of depicting non-existents by denying the first thesis, that all depictions resemble what they represent, without denying the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance. To see how this is possible, recall that resemblance is obviously insufficient for depiction. Everything resembles itself, for example, but not everything is a depiction of itself. To provide for sufficiency, analyses of depiction usually combine resemblance with various intentional attitudes such as beliefs, intentions or experiences. Given that resemblance is not a sufficient condition for depiction, it’s not implausible to suggest that resemblance need not be a necessary condition for depiction either.

11Hopkins (1994; 1998, 94-121), for example, proposes exploiting this gap by analysing depiction in terms of experienced resemblance, in order to deny the first thesis of the trilemma without denying the platitude. This suggests the analysis:

(22) Something depicts another if and only if the former is intended to induce the former to be experienced as resembling the latter by means of recognition of this intention.

12So the Mona Lisa, for example, is supposed to depict Lisa because Leo intended it to be experienced as resembling Lisa, by means of recognition of his intention.

13By embedding resemblance within the context of experience, this analysis retains the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance but avoids the consequence that resemblance is a necessary condition of depiction. Just as, for example, having an experience of Santa does not entail that Santa exists, having an experience which represents a picture as resembling Santa in some respect does not entail that the picture genuinely resembles Santa in that respect. More generally, although it is impossible for a picture to resemble something that doesn’t exist, it is possible for a picture to be experienced as resembling something which doesn’t exist.

14As well as the depiction of non-existents, Hopkins’ proposal appears to resolve the problems of depicting non-particulars and of depictive misrepresentation. Although, for example, it is not possible to resemble a horse without resembling Phar Lap, Bucephalus, Incitatus or some horse in particular, it is possible to experience a picture as resembling a horse without experiencing it as resembling any particular horse. In general, although it is not possible to resemble something without resembling something in particular, it is possible to experience a picture as resembling something without experiencing it as resembling anything in particular, since it is possible in general to experience something without experiencing something in particular.

15Similarly, the proposal appears to resolve the problem of depictive misrepresentation. Even if the police, for example, produced a wanted poster of a criminal which, due to misinformation, failed to resemble the criminal in the relevant respects, the wanted poster may still be experienced as resembling the criminal in those respects. Since, in general, experiences are capable of misrepresentation, it is possible to experience pictures as resembling what they represent even when they in fact fail to do so. So analysing depiction in terms of experienced resemblance and dropping the thesis that all depictions resemble what they represent appears to reconcile the intentionality of depiction with the platitude that it is mediated by resemblance.

16But there are two problems with the proposal. The first is that analysing depiction in terms of experienced resemblance only accommodates the possibility of depicting non-existents at the cost of entailing that experiences of these depictions are not veridical, even under optimal conditions. Take, for example, Santa’s portrait. According to the analysis, Santa’s portrait is experienced as having the property of resembling Santa. But since Santa does not exist, Santa’s portrait cannot genuinely have the property of resembling Santa. It follows that experiences of Santa’s portrait as resembling Santa are not veridical, even when they are accompanied by perfect lighting, clear eyesight and full knowledge that Santa does not exist.

17The second problem is that by analysing depiction in terms of experience the analysis trades one kind of intentionality for another equally problematic kind. Experiences of non-existents, or hallucinations, are just as puzzling as depictions of non-existents, since it is plausible both that experiences are relations towards what is experienced and that relations cannot obtain towards non-existents. My seeing an apple, for example, seems to be a relation between me and the apple, but my hallucinating an apple cannot be such a relation, since in the case of hallucination there is no real apple for me to be related to. By trading the problem of depicting non-existents for the problem of hallucination, the proposal merely shifts the bump in the rug.

18The force of this objection may be brought out by considering the proposal’s mirror image. One solution to the problem of hallucination is to analyse experiences as relations to inner pictures or mental images. My hallucination of an apple, for example, could be construed as an unproblematic relation between me and an inner picture of an apple, instead of being construed as a problematic relation between myself and a non-existent apple. The problem of the experience of non-existents would then be replaced by the problem of the depiction of non-existents. But this replacement would produce no progress, because the problem of the depiction of non-existents is just as puzzling as the problem of hallucination. Trading the problem of depicting non-existents with the problem of hallucination is equally unilluminating.

19The moral of this objection is that the problems of depicting non-existents, depicting non-particulars and depictive misrepresentation are really manifestations of the more general problem of intentionality. This means that an adequate solution to the problems cannot presuppose a solution to the problem of intentionality. Instead, an adequate solution to the specific problems concerning depiction should be part of a broader solution to the problem of intentionality in general. Resolving the problem in the specific case of depiction involves showing how the solution to the problem of intentionality in the general case is consistent with the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance.

20The force of the objection may also be brought out by analogy with the analysis of meaning. The analysis of meaning is part of a reduction of all intentionality – mental and linguistic – to the purely physical. That reduction can be undertaken in two steps: the first step is to reduce linguistic representation to mental representation via the analyses of speaker and sentence meaning and the second step is to reduce mental representation to the physical via some other analysis, in terms of indication or causation. The reduction is successful only if the second stage – analysing mental representation in terms of the physical – makes no use of intentional notions.

21The difficulty that arises for the analysis of meaning from this requirement may be appreciated by considering the following analysis of assertion, which introduces the variable ‘p’ to make the quantification in the analysis explicit: a person asserts that p by an utterance if and only if the person intends the utterance to produce the belief that p in the audience by means of recognition of that intention. So, for example, I assert that it’s raining by uttering the sentence ‘it’s raining’ if and only if I intend someone to believe that it’s raining by means of recognition of my intention (Schiffer, 1987, 13).

22The difficulty for the reductive project involves specifying the domain which the variable ‘p’ ranges over, and this involves specifying what belief is a relation towards. One not implausible candidate is that belief is a relation towards internal sentences and that ‘p’ in the analysis of assertion ranges over these sentences. But if that is the correct proposal then the analysis of assertion, and the analysis of meaning of which it is an instance, cannot do the work required for it to be a part of a reduction of all intentionality to the purely physical (Schiffer, 1987, 13-17).

23So for the reductive project to succeed, some other account of what ‘p’ ranges over has to be given. As I argue below, for example, belief and intentionality in general may have to be construed as relations towards propositions or states of affairs, rather than towards inner sentences. But if this is the correct solution in the case of belief, then the analysis indicates that it is also the correct solution in the case of meaning, since the left hand side of the analysis must now be understood as expressing a three-place relation between people, utterances and propositions.

24Analogous points apply to exploiting the analysis of depiction in terms of intentions and resemblance or experienced resemblance in order to resolve the trilemma by denying its first thesis. This would amount to an attempt to reduce the depictive representation of non-existents to the mental representation of non-existents. But this reduction can only be successful if it can be shown that mental representation of non-existents does not tacitly involve depictive representation. If the mental representation of non-existents doesn’t tacitly involve depictive representation, whatever the correct solution is in the case of mental representation should apply to depiction directly.

8.2 Denying depiction is relational

25Another way to motivate resolving the trilemma by denying its first thesis is to deny the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance on the grounds that depiction, unlike resemblance, is not unequivocally relational. Nelson Goodman, for example, writes “What tends to mislead us is that such locutions as ‘picture of’ and ‘represents’ have the appearance of mannerly two-place predicates and can sometimes be so interpreted. But ‘picture of Pickwick’ and ‘represents a unicorn’ are better considered unbreakable one-place predicates…” (Goodman, 1968, 21-22). Depiction, according to Goodman, is not always a relation between existents, because it is not always a relation at all.

26One clarification. A one-place predicate is a sentence with one name removed, a two-place predicate is a sentence with two names removed… and so on. So the predicate ‘depicts Lisa’, for example, is a one-place predicate, because it results from removing ‘the Mona Lisa’ from ‘the Mona Lisa depicts Lisa’, whereas ‘depicts’ is a two-place predicate, since it results from removing both ‘the Mona Lisa’ and ‘Lisa’ from the sentence ‘the Mona Lisa depicts Lisa’. So Goodman doesn’t deny there is a sense of ‘depicts’ in which it’s a two-place predicate which expresses the relation of depiction. He just denies that every occurrence of ‘depicts’ expresses this relation.

27In particular, the predicate ‘depicts Pegasus’, according to Goodman, is unbreakable – one cannot, according to Goodman, remove the name ‘Pegasus’ from the one-place predicate ‘depicts Pegasus’ to form the two-place predicate ‘depicts’. This is because, according to Goodman, ‘Pegasus’ is not a genuine name in this context – the grammar of the predicate ‘depicts Pegasus’, according to Goodman, is in fact like the grammar of the predicate ‘is weather beaten’, which does not express a relation of being beaten towards the weather, but rather expresses the property of having suffered a particular kind of beating – namely, a weather beating.

28So Goodman tries to resolve the problem of depicting non-existents by denying that the apparent depiction of non-existents is a relation towards anything at all. Predicates like ‘depicts Santa’, ‘depicts Pegasus’ and ‘depicts a dragon’, according to Goodman, do not express relations towards Santa, Pegasus or dragons. Rather, according to Goodman, predicates such as ‘depicts Santa’, ‘depicts Pegasus’ and ‘depicts a dragon’ merely classify depictions into various categories – the categories of Santa depiction, Pegasus depiction and dragon depiction. The appearance that there must be a relation towards what is depicted, according to Goodman, is merely a grammatical illusion.

29Likewise, the depiction of non-particulars, according to Goodman, is not depiction in the relational sense. Predicates such as ‘depicts a horse’, according to Goodman, are ambiguous. In one sense ‘depicts a horse’ expresses a relation towards a horse, and in this sense there is a particular horse which the relation is towards. But there is another sense, according to Goodman, in which ‘depicts a horse’ does not express a relation towards a horse, but merely classifies something as a horse depiction. In this sense, according to Goodman, there need not be any particular horse it is a depiction of – the appearance that there must be is merely a grammatical illusion.

30Similarly, the proposal appears to resolve the problem of depictive misrepresentation. According to Goodman, predicates such as ‘depicts a bearded criminal’, for example, are ambiguous. In one sense, ‘depicts a bearded criminal’ expresses a relation towards a bearded criminal, and in this sense what is depicted must be as it is represented. But in another sense, ‘depicts a bearded criminal’ is an unbreakable one-place predicate, and in this sense it does not imply that what is depicted must be as it is represented, since if a picture satisfies ‘depicts a bearded criminal’ in the non-relational sense, it does not follow that there is a bearded criminal which the picture depicts.

31Misrepresentation, according to Goodman, occurs when there is a mismatch between the relational two-place and the non-relational one-place predicates which apply to a picture. A wanted poster produced by misinformed police, for example, misrepresents a blonde clean-shaven criminal as bearded and brunette since it satisfies the predicate ‘depicts a blonde clean-shaven criminal’ in the two-place relational sense but satisfies the predicate ‘depicts a bearded brunette criminal’ in a non-relational one-place sense. But the Mona Lisa depicts Lisa accurately, according to Goodman, because it satisfies ‘depicts a smiling woman’ both in its relational and non-relational senses.

32As well as appearing to resolve these problems, the proposal is an improvement on analysing depiction in terms of experienced resemblance, because it does not merely shift the bump in the rug, but instead appears to form part of a solution to the general problem of intentionality. In the case of experience, for example, it may be argued that ‘is an experience of an apple’ is ambiguous between a relational and a non-relational sense. When I see a real apple, I would have an experience in the relational sense, whereas when I hallucinate an apple, my experience is of an apple merely because it falls under the unbreakable predicate ‘is an experience of an apple’.

33So far, Goodman’s proposal hasn’t provided a resolution to the trilemma, because he hasn’t said which of its theses must be rejected. But it’s clear that Goodman takes his account to motivate rejecting the first thesis. For example, he writes that “… the copy theory of representation takes a further beating here; for where a representation does not represent anything there can be no question of resemblance to what it represents” (Goodman, 1968, 25). Since, according to Goodman, depiction is unlike resemblance because resemblance but not depiction is always relational, depictions cannot always resemble what they represent. By denying that depiction is unequivocally relational, Goodman appears able to motivate resolving the trilemma by denying its first thesis.

34But although Goodman appears to offer a compelling motivation for denying the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance, the proposal with which he replaces it is highly unsatisfactory. While it is obvious that certain pictures and representations fall under certain predicates, it seems that the reason pictures and representations fall under these predicates is because of the things they represent. Pegasus’ portrait and ‘Pegasus’, for example, both fall under the predicate ‘is a Pegasus representation’, but the explanation of this ought to be that there is something which both Pegasus’ portrait and Pegasus represent. The observation that different predicates apply to different representations is unilluminating.

35This objection is a general objection to predicate nominalism, the doctrine according to which a particular instantiates a property in virtue of satisfying a predicate (I will return to the discussion of predicate nominalism in section 10.2). But even if predicate nominalism is accepted, there is a more specific problem with Goodman’s proposal, which is that it relies on an ad hoc and controversial claim about the semantics of the word ‘depicts’(see Forbes, 2006, 130-147) for detailed discussion of the syntax and semantics of ‘depicts’). A better solution to the problem would concern itself not with the word ‘depicts’, but with the nature of depiction itself.

8.3 Denying relations are between existents

36Just as it’s possible to depict unicorns, although no unicorns exist, it’s intuitively possible to resemble a unicorn, although no unicorns exist. And just as it’s possible to depict a horse without depicting any horse in particular, it’s intuitively possible to resemble a horse without resembling a particular horse. This suggests that exactly the same reasons for denying that depiction is unequivocally relational may be brought forward in favour of denying that resemblance is unequivocally relational. The same motivation that Goodman gives for denying the thesis that all depictions resemble what they represent may be more naturally given in order to deny that resemblance is a relation between existents instead (Hyman, 2006, 65).

37The cost of this solution is that it is committed to denying not only the thesis that resemblance is a relation between existents but also the analysis of resemblance as sharing properties. Even though it is intuitively possible to resemble a horse without resembling any particular horse, it is impossible to share properties without sharing properties with at least one particular horse. Similarly, even though it is intuitively possible to resemble Santa, it is not possible to share properties with Santa, since Santa does not have properties. Sharing properties is a relation, so if resemblance is sharing properties, then resemblance is also a relation. One cannot deny that resemblance is a relation without denying that resemblance is sharing properties.

38But there is another way to deny the thesis that resemblance is a relation between existents, which does not incur the cost of denying that resemblance is sharing properties. Instead of denying that resemblance is a relation, it is possible to deny that resemblance is between existents. In order to do this it is necessary to posit that there are objects which don’t exist, called Meinongian objects, and that depictions can be related to these objects. According to this proposal, Santa, although he does not exist, is a non-existent object who is capable of being resembled by Santa’s portrait. In general, depictions that don’t depict existents are still supposed by this proposal to bear the relations of resemblance and depiction to non-existent objects.

39Postulating Meinongian objects – unlike analysing depiction in terms of other intentional notions – has the advantage that it provides a general solution to the problem of intentionality. In the case of experience, for example, hallucinatory experiences can be construed as relations towards non-existent objects. If, for example, I hallucinate an apple, then the relation that usually obtains between me and the existent apples I normally perceive instead obtains between me and the non-existent apple which I hallucinate. In general, intentional states that are not about objects which exist can be construed as states that are about objects which don’t exist.

40It might be objected that postulating non-existent objects does not genuinely resolve the trilemma, on the grounds that, since non-existent objects do not have properties, it is not possible to share properties with them and thus not possible to resemble them. For example, it might be argued that since Santa cannot be red without existing, a picture of Santa cannot resemble Santa in respect of being red without Santa existing. According to this objection, postulating non-existent objects is of no help in resolving the problem of the depiction of non-existents, since it is still impossible to resemble those non-existent objects.

41But it is standardly argued that Meinongian objects do have properties. Meinong’s view holds that sentences such as ‘the round square is round’, for example, are true, even though no round square exists. In order to do this it’s claimed that the round square is a non-existent object which nevertheless has the properties of being round and being square. Similarly, a proponent of this position can argue that although Santa doesn’t exist, he still has properties such as wearing a red coat, having a beard, being jolly and so forth. The postulation of non-existent objects to solve problems in other areas is already committed to postulating that non-existent objects have properties.

42The proposal is also able to resolve the problem of the depiction of non-particulars by postulating that there are indeterminate non-existent objects. Depicting a horse but no particular horse, for example, can be analysed as a relation towards a non-existent object which has the property of being a horse, but lacks the properties of being Phar Lap, being Bucephalus, being Incitatus or being any other particular horse. In general, a depiction of something but not of anything particular can be analysed as a depiction of a non-existent object which has only the properties which the picture represents it as having. This treatment of the depiction of non-particulars exactly parallels the Meinongian treatment of thoughts and sentences about non-particulars.

43The problem of depictive misrepresentation is more difficult to resolve by postulating non-existent objects. Suppose, for example, that my portrait depicts me with three heads, when I in fact have only one head. This cannot be analysed as a relation between my portrait and a non-existent object with three heads, because my portrait is a depiction of me, and I am not a non-existent object. Though this problem is a difficult one for resolving the problem of depictive misrepresentation by postulating non-existents, it is also a problem for Meinongianism in general: if I am thinking of myself with three heads, for example, this cannot simultaneously be a thought about myself and a relation towards a non-existent three headed object (Parsons, 1995).

44Furthermore, though the postulation of non-existent objects is an attractive solution to the trilemma, it is less attractive as a general metaphysical position. The thesis that there are non-existent objects seems to be equivalent to the thesis that non-existent objects exist, but this is a contradiction. To avoid this contradiction a distinction has to be drawn between what there is and what exists, so that the claim that there are non-existent objects does not imply the claim that non-existent objects exist. But the Meinongian distinction between what exists and what there is is a distinction without a difference, because the most compelling way to characterise what exists is as everything there is.

45(A Meinongian may respond to this objection by agreeing that what exists is the same as what there is, but continuing to argue not that there are things that do not exist, but merely that some things do not exist (Priest, 2005). So although dragons do not exist, and moreover although there are no dragons, some dragons are nevertheless green, so, according to this version of Meinongianism, a depiction may resemble some dragon in respect of being green. In any case, the solution I offer below can be reconstrued as either kind of Meinongianism, by reconstruing possibilia and possible worlds as non-existent Meinongian objects instead of existent non-actual objects.)

8.4 Depiction of states of affairs

46The first thesis of the trilemma, that all depictions resemble what they represent, together with the second thesis, that resemblance is a relation between existents, together imply that depiction is a relation between existents. It is this implication that produces the inconsistency with the third thesis, that not all depiction is between existents. But that implication is plausible independently of whether or not all depictions resemble what they represent or whether resemblance is a relation between existents. For this reason, it seems that the most plausible resolution of the trilemma is to deny the third thesis, that some depictions represent non-existents. This section argues for doing so by construing depiction as a relation towards states of affairs.

47Depictions represent particulars, properties and states of affairs. The Mona Lisa, for example, represents Lisa herself, the property of smiling and the state of affairs of Lisa’s smiling. I will argue for denying the thesis that some depictions represent non-existents by arguing that apparent depiction of non-existent particulars is really the depiction of existent states of affairs. I will also argue for denying the first thesis as applied to particulars: not all depictions resemble the particulars they represent. But the first thesis is true as applied to states of affairs: all depictive states of affairs resemble the states of affairs they represent. Thus, the apparent depiction of non-existents is compatible with the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance.

48A natural way to deny the thesis that some depictions represent non-existents is to deny that apparent depictions of non-existents depict particulars at all. It may be argued that Santa’s portrait, for example, does not really depict any particular, on the grounds that Santa, the particular which Santa’s portrait is purported to depict, does not exist. The same can be said of pictures of Pegasus and diagrams of Phlogiston: since the particulars these pictures are purported to represent do not in fact exist, it is reasonable to argue that portraits of Pegasus and diagrams of Phlogiston do not in fact depict particulars. Since, in general, non-existent particulars do not exist, it seems that the apparent depiction of non-existents cannot be the depiction of particulars.

49But denying that apparent depictions of non-existents depict particulars has the disadvantage that it does not capture the obvious differences between depictions which are apparently of different non-existents. Depictions of Pegasus appear to be different from depictions of Santa because they depict different particulars: depictions of Pegasus depict Pegasus, whereas depictions of Santa depict Santa. If depictions of Santa and depictions of Pegasus do not depict particulars at all, then the difference between what they represent must not reside in the different particulars they represent. Instead, different depictions of non-existents differ primarily by representing different states of affairs.

50Holmes does not exist, but in other states of affairs he might have existed (Kripke, 1963). So although depicting Holmes cannot be analysed as a relation towards Holmes himself it can, for example, be analysed as a relation towards the state of affairs of Holmes’ smoking a pipe. And although the difference between depictions of Santa and depictions of Pegasus cannot be construed as a difference between which particulars they represent, it can be construed as a difference between the states of affairs which they represent: depictions of Santa depict states of affairs in which Santa exists, whereas depictions of Pegasus depict states of affairs in which Pegasus exists. So analysing depiction as a relation between states of affairs is able to resolve the problem of the depiction of non-existents.

51No difficulty for the depiction of states of affairs is posed by inexistence because, unlike particulars which may simply exist or not, states of affairs may fail to obtain without ceasing to exist. Just as there is a fact of the Eiffel Tower’s being in Paris, for example, there is a state of affairs of the Eiffel Tower’s being in New York, although that state of affairs does not obtain. So since all states of affairs are existents, construing depiction as primarily a relation towards states of affairs – including states of affairs which do not obtain – provides a way to deny the thesis that some depictions represent non-existents, while still accommodating the intentionality of depictive representation and thus resolving the trilemma.

52It might be objected that analysing depiction as a relation between states of affairs is still incompatible with the thesis that depictions resemble what they represent, because states of affairs do not resemble each other in the relevant respects. Depictions are supposed to resemble what they represent in ordinary respects such as colour and shape, but states of affairs do not have ordinary properties such as colour and shape. There are, for example, red particulars, but red states of affairs are no more possible than green numbers. If this objection is right, then arguing that depictions represent states of affairs does not solve the trilemma, because it is incompatible with the thesis that all depictions resemble what they represent.

53This objection can be answered by invoking resemblances between states of affairs which mirror the more ordinary resemblances which obtain between particulars. Two states of affairs resemble each other – in the relevant sense – if they share the property of being states of affairs of something’s having a property. The state of affairs of Santa’s portrait’s being partly red, for example, resembles the state of affairs of Santa’s wearing a red coat, because both states of affairs have the property of being states of affairs of something’s having the property of being partly red. The relevant respects of resemblance are not the ordinary properties of having certain colours and shapes, but the closely related properties of being states of affairs of thing’s having those colours and shapes.

54One clarification. Depictive and depicted states of affairs often differ in some of the properties – sometimes including shape and colour properties – which they are states of affairs of something’s having. The state of affairs of a photograph’s being black and white, for example, does not resemble the state of affairs of the photograph’s subject’s being coloured. Nevertheless, there are other properties – such as properties of shape and relative shading – such that the state of affairs of the photograph’s having those properties still resembles the state of affairs of the photograph’s subject’s having those same properties. So as long as it’s possible to specify the respects in which depictions usually resemble objects, it’s also possible to specify the respects in which depictive resemble depicted states of affairs.

55As well as the depiction of non-existents, analysing depiction as a relation towards states of affairs resolves the problem of depicting non-particulars. The state of affairs which obtains if there is a tall man, for example, is distinct from the state of affairs of some particular man being tall. So if depiction is a relation toward states of affairs, then depicting a man without depicting any man in particular can be construed as a relation towards the state of affairs, for example, of a man’s being tall, but not to a state of affairs of any particular man being tall. In general, a depiction that doesn’t depict something in particular can be analysed as a depiction of a state of affairs of something’s, but not any particular thing’s, having a property.

56Similarly, depictive misrepresentation can be analysed as the depiction of a state of affairs which does not obtain. Although the police’s picture, for example, does not resemble the criminal as he is, the state of affairs of the police’s picture’s having a certain colour resembles the state of affairs of the criminal’s having the colour which the police believe him to have, since they are both states of affairs of something’s having that colour. In general, depictions are accurate when the states of affairs they are of obtain, and inaccurate when the states of affairs they are of fail to obtain. So although the example of misrepresentation shows that not all depictions resemble the particulars they represent, it does not show that depictive states of affairs do not resemble depicted states of affairs.

57One clarification. This solution involves a partial denial of the thesis that all depictions resemble what they represent, since depictions which completely misrepresent particulars, like the police’s wanted poster, do not resemble those particulars in any relevant respect. Nevertheless, the first thesis is preserved as the thesis that depictive states of affairs resemble the state of affairs they represent. The state of affairs of the wanted poster’s being a certain colour and shape, for example, resembles the state of affairs of the criminal’s being similarly coloured and shaped. So as well as denying the third thesis, that some depictions represent non-existents, this solution involves a modification of the first thesis, that all depictions resemble what they represent (in relevant respects).

58As well as being compatible with the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance, analysing depiction as a relation towards states of affairs has the advantage of being part of a general solution to the problem of intentionality. My hallucination of an apple, for example, can be analysed as a relation between me and the existent but non-obtaining state of affairs of an apple’s being in front of me, instead of a relation between me and a non-existent apple. In general, experiences can be analysed as relations towards states of affairs: veridical experiences involve relations towards states of affairs which obtain, whereas hallucinations and illusions involve relations towards existent states of affairs which fail to obtain.

59Three objections. First, it might be argued that analysing depiction in terms of states of affairs merely shifts the bump in the rug. The puzzle of the depiction of non-existents, according to this objection, has merely been replaced with the puzzle of how there can be states of affairs with non-existent constituents. The puzzle of how Santa’s portrait can depict Santa even though Santa does not exist, for example, has merely been replaced by the puzzle of how there can be a state of affairs of Santa’s wearing a red coat if Santa does not exist to be a constituent of that state of affairs. If this is the case, then analysing depiction in terms of states of affairs fails to improve on analysing it in terms of experienced resemblance.

60I accept that non-existents pose a problem for the analysis of states of affairs, but it is a problem that most analyses of states of affairs are able to answer. The next chapter argues, for example, for analysing states of affairs in terms of possible worlds. But the solution is available in principle to other analyses of states of affairs and even to the view that states of affairs are primitive and unanalysable (as long as they do resemble each other in relevant respects). All that is essential to the solution is that depictions apparently of non-existents are really depictions of states of affairs which do in fact exist, but may not obtain. Since the solution is available in principle to any theory of states of affairs which allows that there are states of affairs concerning non-existents, it seems best to remain neutral until the next chapter about what the correct theory of states of affairs is.

61Second, it might be objected that it is not possible to distinguish between general and particular states of affairs concerning non-existents without holding that some states of affairs have non-existent constituents. The particular state of affairs of Bucephalus’ grazing, for example, differs from the general state of affairs of a horse’s grazing because the former contains Bucephalus as a constituent whereas the latter does not. But since Pegasus does not exist, the particular state of affairs of Pegasus’ flying cannot differ from the general state of affairs of a horse’s flying by having Pegasus as a constituent, because Pegasus cannot be the constituent of a state of affairs without existing.

62Some theories of states of affairs may accept this consequence. But if states of affairs are analysed in terms of possibility, as in the theory the next chapter argues for, then the problem may be avoided by holding that some states of affairs have non-actual possibilia as constituents and by holding that non-actual possibilia exist. So the state of affairs of Pegasus’ flying, for example, could differ from the state of affairs of a unique winged horse’s flying because the former contains Pegasus, an existent non-actual possibilia, whereas the latter does not. In general, singular states of affairs apparently concerning non-existents can be reconstrued as singular states of affairs concerning existent but non-actual possibilia.

63Sympathisers with this objection might reply that if existent non-actual possibilia must be introduced, it would be better to have analysed depiction as a relation towards those possibilia in the first place, rather than as a relation towards states of affairs. The problem with this proposal is that depictions do not straightforwardly resemble existent non-actual possibilia, since non-actual possibilia have no properties in the actual world and different properties in the different possible worlds in which they occur: Santa, for example, wears a red coat in some possible worlds, but a green coat in others (Walton, 1974, 246). For this reason, depiction still has to be analysed in terms of resemblance between states of affairs, even if it is granted that non-actual possibilia exist. The depiction of non-actual possibilia is another counterexample to the thesis that all depictions resemble the particulars they represent.

64Third, it might be objected that analysing the depiction of non-existents, the depiction of non-particulars and depictive misrepresentation in terms of a relation towards non-obtaining states of affairs does not improve upon Meinongianism, because the distinction between obtaining and non-obtaining states of affairs is as controversial as the Meinongian distinction between existent and non-existent particulars. Stipulating that non-obtaining states of affairs merely differ from facts by not obtaining is as uninformative as stipulating that non-existent differ from existent particulars merely by not existing. This suggests that the distinction between facts and non-obtaining states of affairs, like the distinction between what exists and what there is, is a distinction without a difference.

65But the distinction between facts and non-obtaining but existent states of affairs is easier to draw than the distinction between what exists and what there is. The reason is that in the case of Meinongian objects there is a prima facie equivalence between objects that there are and objects that exist. In the case of states of affairs, however, there is no prima facie equivalence between states of affairs that exist and states of affairs that obtain. So there is some reason to expect that the distinction between existent and non-existent objects cannot be drawn, whereas a distinction between obtaining and non-obtaining states of affairs can be – as it is in the next chapter.

66The analysandum of previous chapters was the conditions under which something depicts another. But if the conclusion of this chapter is correct, the analysandum should have been the conditions under which an object depicts a state of affairs. This leads to the following analysis of depiction:

(23) An object depicts a state of affairs if and only if it is intended that if the object reaches an audience of a certain type then:
a. the object’s having a property resembles that state of affairs in respect of both being states of affairs of something’s having a certain property
b. the audience recognises that the object’s having a property resembles that state of affairs in that respect
c. the audience infers at least in part from the fact that the object’s having a property resembles that state of affairs in that respect that it is intended that:
d. the object induce an attitude or an action directed towards that state of affairs in the audience
e. this effect be induced by means of providing a reason
f. and the audience recognise intentions (a)-(f).

67So the Mona Lisa depicts Lisa’s smiling, for example, because Leo intended that the Mona Lisa’s appearing a certain way to resemble Lisa’s being a certain way in respect of both being states of affairs of something’s appearing a certain way and intended his audience to infer his communicative intentions from that resemblance. Once the depiction of states of affairs is defined, the depiction of objects and of properties can be defined as follows:

(24) An object depicts another if and only if the former depicts a state of affairs of the latter’s having a property.

(25) An object depicts a property if and only if the object depicts a state of affairs of something’s having that property.

68So, for example, the Mona Lisa depicts Lisa and the property of smiling because the Mona Lisa depicts the state of affairs of Lisa’s smiling.

8.5 Conclusion

69I have considered four proposals for resolving the problem of depictive intentionality: analysing depiction in intentional terms, denying that depiction is unequivocally relational, postulating non-existent objects and analysing depiction as a relation toward states of affairs. The final proposal – analysing depiction as a relation toward states of affairs – provides a solution to the problem which is consonant with the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance and which also forms part of the most plausible solution to the problem of intentionality. But even for those who believe that a different solution to the problem of intentionality is more plausible, it seems likely that that solution will also be compatible with the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance.

70The most striking moral of this discussion is not the merits of any particular proposal, but the similarity in the shape of the issues with other areas in which the problem of intentionality arises: the various options for resolving the problem of the depiction of non-existents, for example, are the same as the various options which are available for resolving the problem of intentional inexistence in general. The distinctive role of resemblance in depictive representation adds some extra subtleties to the dialectic, but on closer examination the same problems can usually be raised for other kinds of representation. So the intentionality of depictive representation poses no specific difficulties for the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance.

71I want to conclude by emphasising that however the general problem of intentionality should be resolved – whether it be by postulating Meinongian objects, denying that representation is relational, analysing representation in terms of experience or, as I have suggested, by analysing representation as a relation towards states of affairs – the problem in the specific case of depiction should not be resolved by denying the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance. The reason is that because the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance is the only element of the problem which is specific to depictive representation, denying that platitude is the option which is least able to provide a solution to the problem of intentionality in general.

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