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If the thought of the thing is not necessarily the thing as such, then the validity of representation of the noetic object is commensurate with the degree of correspondence it has to the ontic object. By “correspondence” we refer to the clarity and precision with which it captures and describes the ontic object and, most importantly, its comprehensiveness thereof relative to the [pre]defined case.
For illustration’s sake, consider the following:
Tree can be a class. Examined as such, tree is an abstraction naming a given set of properties peculiar to certain differentiable objects that otherwise exhibit commonalities between them. It may have further specifications, such as oak, pine, palm, which complement, extend and define in further detail the characteristics of the narrower group of objects they encompass without overriding the properties of tree. Specifications of this sort are abstractions in their own accord, albeit of a lower order compared to tree, for none necessarily names a unique object, but rather the common in the multitude of all those objects that are classifiable in that regard.
Tree can be an ontic object whose proper name is either unknown or unnecessary for the sought end. This tree or the tree in their backyard or those trees on the hilltop are all references to individual objects of sense that might as well exhibit differences between them, such as one bearing apples, the other oranges and the other pines; ‘differences’ that are not evident in their sharing the common name tree. In such a scenario, the objects are named uniformly by virtue of their commonalities, their differences becoming irrelevant. If each and every tree were unique in its material constitution and the context it were found in then, strictly speaking, proper names would have to denote such uniqueness (similar to how serial numbers are used to name each unique product).
Tree can also be treated as a case. The painter who draws a certain figure is effectively isolating an object from its totality, rendering it contextually unique in its arrangement of colour, shape and impression(s) derived therefrom. The depiction of all that is specific is the case, consisting of all those facts/parameters of colour, shape, impression which, in their interoperation, produce the picture of an instantiated object tree.
The constitution of the case of the painter’s tree differs from that of, say, the chemist’s. The latter in their capacity qua chemist would couch their examination in terms of the totality of atoms/molecules whose interoperations engender properties that are characteristic of tree and, most importantly, that would not have existed absent such interoperations. These are emergent properties germane to a higher level of material composition; “emergent” in as much as the chemist’s examined case is concerned, since that notion could add nothing to the painter’s case.
The case is a predetermined noetic scope of comprehension of the ontic presences. The ‘same’ object of sense can provide for varying objects of thought, each of which has its own constraints and peculiarities. The painter’s depiction of tree amounts to a certain comprehension and description of an object of sense. So is the chemist’s, though in a different way. One is art, the other science. Each has drawn delineations between the objects of thought engendered from sensual stimuli, in a manner that separates the essential to each case from the inessential; a reductive exercise in both occasions.
Reduction is a noetic process. The world exists as totality. It can be intelligibly divided and categorised into parts each discernible from one another. However, neither the painter nor the chemist was dealing with tree as such, but a given object whose outward manifestation or internal chemical arrangement would be partaking of that very class; tree qua class in a conceptual taxonomy being an abstraction — the name used to refer to the common in the multitude in that given array of objects and properties.
Correspondence is a noetic state. If it were not, there would be identification between the thought of the thing and the thing as such. The distinction would be meaningless. For the painter, the correspondence of their case is to be determined as per the degree of clarity and precision found in their presentation of all those interoperating factors in their case. The confluence of colour, shape and impression. For the chemist, correspondence would concern the comprehensiveness and sufficiency of all data underlying statements on the material composition of that object named tree and, a fortiriori, it would encompass the very accuracy of the taxonomy of concepts comprising the method in application. Indeed the collection of data proceeds from the specification of categories with quantifiable elements, couched in terms of the given method and the parameters it has factored in.
Correspondence can also concern impressions of noetic objects. Consider a student in a geography class who is presented with photographs of the Tianzi Mountains, the Moraine Lake, the Monument Valley, the Ha Long Bay and the Iguazu Falls. Should they be well versed in geography, they would be confident in naming the location of each of these sites and, perhaps, furnishing some further information about each of them. The correspondence between the depiction of actual locations to the already established discernible objects of thought reveals knowledge of a sort. It is known that the Moraine Lake is not the Iguazu Falls and so on, by virtue of having discerned the properties peculiar to each.
Now assume a scenario where said student is provided with a set of pictures and are asked to identify each of the following: the gargoyle, the unicorn, the cyclops, the dragon and the centaur. Consider further, that said person is in a position to identify each of them by means of their characteristics, such as “a cyclops has one eye”, or “a unicorn looks like a horse with a horn on its forehead” etc. What kind of reference is in operation that provides confirmation to such an exercise in discernment?
Simply put, it would be a situation of having already drawn distinctions between objects of thought based on imaginary entities and the properties germane to them and, moreover, of being acquainted with what one is and is not, so as to be able to unequivocally establish a connection between the depiction(s) and the mythical creature(s). That these may be figments of our imagination, products of a certain myth-making-myth-informed tradition, is secondary to the fact that their conception is characterised by clarity to the degree where one is not conflated with the other, or where they are not confused with other creatures that have an ontic presence.
We may also treat that as knowledge of a sort, albeit not with relation to ontic objects but rather with what is held as valid within the given tradition; ‘tradition’ being the magma of concepts and significations permeating, penetrating and/or underpinning the essential link between the part and the whole in the given community, in light of which rules and [implicit] narratives are bestowed with peculiar kinds of value and meaning. Within the tradition, the criterion used to distinguish one mythical creature from the other can be considered valid and truthful. Outside the tradition’s context, the benchmark is, in essence, arbitrary.
Noetic objects are classifiable into imaginary and representative as per their correspondence to ontic objects. The demarcation of the imaginary from the representative proceeds from the validation of the actual state each object is in with relation to the faculties of sense. It cannot be ruled out that what exists in the realm of imagination can be a possible state of affairs, but is not an actual one after all available information is assessed. It lacks correspondence to an actual ontic presence. Whereas the representation of earth can enjoy correspondence to an actual object, while also being subject to change/refinement, such as our scientific understanding of the earth’s place in the solar system, its shape etc.
Same holds for the properties of objects such as, say, the representation of bird having the capacity of speech. While bird may correspond to an ontic object and speech indeed be a characteristic of human, said property would not enjoy the same status of representation as bird, for it would not correspond to the actuality of bird qua ontic object (without prejudice to birds having their own code of communication). It would thus be imaginary, although perfectly possible within a given case, as in a cartoon show.
Nuance and complexity are added once subtler cases are examined, where the identification of the imaginary aspects is not readily apparent, such as with political norms and social institutions: their quality and characteristics are defined by human and are subject to differentiation — or the lack thereof — by the intellect, while their given formulation has far-reaching material implications for some or many. As an example, what does it really mean, in terms of its underlying metaphysical and political presumptions, for a state qua state to be exercising sovereign authority? Is the state as such an ontic presence?
The comprehension of — and correspondence to — the ontic object’s actuality is a matter of approximation. The thought of and on it must be ever clearer and precise for the approximation to be as accurate as possible. It thus rests on the capacity of the examiner(s) to identify the parameters that both hinder and contribute to the enhancement of such an approach; bloting out the former while making meticulous use of the latter. A rational exercise for [proximate] objectivity.
All the aforementioned rest on the assumption that the thought of the thing is not necessarily the thing as such. What follows is a bifurcation in our reality between ontic and noetic presences. In our inquiry into the world we seek to refine the method with which we approximate and comprehend the actuality of things: to identify the factors contributive to the correspondence between the noetic and the ontic; to be aware of — and alert to — the possible blurring between the imaginary and the representative and, consequently, to adopt a persistently [self-]inquisitive and [self-]dubitative attitude.