• YusufPonders
    1.3k
    When we talk about ideas, should we refer to them as existent? And if so in what sense do we mean existent?

    Or should they be referred to as non-existent? And then what do we mean by that exactly?

    Or is it a flexible thing? changing from existent to non-existent depending on the assumptions one adopts with regards to what it means for something to have existence?

    Are ideas images? Or concepts? What is a bloody idea? The more I think about it the further away from the word I get.

    Help.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.8k
    When we talk about ideas, should we refer to them as existent?Mr Phil O'Sophy

    We should, we do, and it works. Of course, "idea" is an empty box. If we put a specific idea in the box, say... "the idea of the good" then we have an 'object' to which we can refer.

    Per Banno: "Is Pegasus real?" Pegasus is a horse with wings. Such creatures do not exist. But Pegasus is a real character, just not a real horse, and he exists. Alice and her rabbit hole are real too, though no person ever fell down a rabbit hole.

    Some care needs to be exercised when referencing things that do not exist as material objects--the same care that we have to take when referencing real, concrete objects. "Conservative" is a box holding a large crowd, but just because we have used the term "conservative" (as a noun) doesn't mean that we know what exactly this idea means. We may not know what exactly a conservative is even if we are in that real crowd at a conservative party convention.
  • YusufPonders
    1.3k
    We should, we do, and it works. Of course, "idea" is an empty box. If we put a specific idea in the box, say... "the idea of the good" then we have an 'object' to which we can refer.Bitter Crank

    Interesting. So what do you think we should make of abstract/general ideas?

    Plato described them as universals. Saying that tree in the park participated in the form of ‘treeness’. The form it participated in is not the tree itself nor any other tree, but it helps us to recognise a tree when we see it.

    Locke on the other hand seems to want to dismiss this and say that general ideas are particular, which seems contradictory at first I guess, but can be saved to some degree if we say that each person forms a general idea which is particular to them.

    But there’s a problem with that also, because we share ideas with others. For example, my wife has the idea of Phillip, the husband and father to her daughter. My mother has the idea of me as her son, father of her granddaughter. Each person I know has a particular idea of me shaped by their experiences with me and their beliefs about me contrasted to their ideas of themselves. But they also have a shared idea of me as Phillip, so that when one mentions me the other knows. And this shared idea belongs to no individual nor is it me in itself.

    So it has existence but it isn’t material, but then what is it to not be material yet still be something?
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    Alice and her rabbit hole are real too, though no person ever fell down a rabbit hole.Bitter Crank

    If Alice and her rabbit hole are real, then someone has fallen down a rabbit hole, Alice did. We can't say that Alice is real but she didn't really fall down a rabbit hole can we? It doesn't sound right.
  • YusufPonders
    1.3k


    Good point.

    But then what do we mean by real?

    It feels like we can describe something as both real and not real at the same time.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    I think with objects we have plenty of good theories of reference which can help us define the 'object' we're referencing when we use the word 'Alice' and 'rabbit hole'. What intrigues me is how we use the verb 'to fall'. Alice is just a character in a story, the rabbit hole is just an idea, but was the falling real falling?
  • Moliere
    1.8k
    I'd say that you neither should nor should not refer to ideas as existent -- rather, you should just be careful about what you mean by what terms in reference to a particular conversation or philosophical project or problematic at hand.

    There's no general answer that will be satisfactory for all possible situations. But I'd agree with you in that you've tripped across something of interest. I would say it like this -- some entities which are not concrete can, nevertheless, seem to be existent. You use the idea of yourself having the quality of being both partially determined by you and by others, so it seemingly doesn't belong just to yourself, at least. I'd stick to something a little easier since identity is a topic unto itself with a lot of complexity -- like mathematics.

    Mathematics has this sort of queer quality to it as well. It seems about as objective as objective gets, yet is not concrete. It is not something you can sit in or eat or in any way, seemingly at least, material.

    Of course that's me interpreting you a bit. I don't know if mathematics really qualifes as an idea, either. So maybe I'm a bit off course. I'll try to give a more general answer:

    For ideas I'd say that they are existent -- there is a name for some of them when some predicate is attached to make a statement that statement is true -- but I wouldn't say they are real. They cannot be held by my hand, and are not concrete.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    When we talk about ideas, should we refer to them as existent? And if so in what sense do we mean existent?

    Or should they be referred to as non-existent? And then what do we mean by that exactly?

    Or is it a flexible thing? changing from existent to non-existent depending on the assumptions one adopts with regards to what it means for something to have existence?

    Are ideas images? Or concepts? What is a bloody idea? The more I think about it the further away from the word I get.

    Help.

    If everything must be 1st thought, then what is it that separates 'ideas' from 'entities'. There is a sense of reality, of coherence, of context, of actuality when we see, touch, smell, sense a tree, which is just not there when we think about Pegasus. The idea of Pegasus does not have the same presence as a tree, Pegasus's 'existence' is not temporal, spacial, or experienced in the same manner as a tree, yet its existence is possible, conceivable, it is just not actual.

    I can say the tree is green, or gray, white or ... Pegasus is not limited in the same manner, it can be almost whatever I can imagine or what fits the narrative, except that I cannot imagine it to be and not be at the same time in the same respect, it is logically or formally limited in a way that separates it from what we sense, which is simply they way it is sensed.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.8k
    I don't believe Plato's forms exist. We see objects, we generalize. If you grew up in one place, trees would have leaves only at the top, with long branchless trunks (palm trees). Some place else, trees would be cone shaped and green all year round. In a third place, trees would lose their leaves every autumn, and in a fourth place, "Trees? What are trees?"

    A pine tree person might not recognize a palm tree as a tree. I've only seen them a few times; very odd.

    So it has existence but it isn’t material, but then what is it to not be material yet still be something?Mr Phil O'Sophy

    Well, not every 'thing' is material--I don't know that I can explain that further. Your brain is material, but the ideas you have in your brain are not physical objects. They are... "conceptual objects". "Middle Earth was a conceptual object in J. R. R. Tolkien's brain. I suppose Middle Earth existed as altered conditions in various neurons of his brain, but we can't observe that yet.
  • YusufPonders
    1.3k
    Alice is just a character in a story, the rabbit hole is just an idea, but was the falling real falling?Pseudonym

    That raises a very interesting point. The strange thing about these stories is that they are usually very symbolic, and carry with them something much more substantial than simply a scientific empirical description of things.

    Sometimes we say things things that have duel meanings, for example, if I say the word 'hear', I can mean it in terms of sound waves beating my ear drums from an external source and me perceiving a noise as a result of action beyond me. But I can also say that I hear my thoughts, which are certainly not the same thing as external noises, but I hear them non the less, and I am as fully aware of their presence as I am with any noise from the 'outside' world.

    The same is with feeling. I can feel something touch my skin, and I can also feel depressed, sad, happy.

    Now when we zoom our scope back towards Alice and her 'falling', are we simply to take this as an empirical description of her movement from a higher place to a lower place? If it isn't a description of a material reality, then the only thing left to assume is that it is a description of some sort of meta-material reality. Alice 'falling' can be looked at in regards to this shift in mindset as something carrying with it meaning, not just an empirical description. She is falling from sanity, from the real world, into madness.

    So then with this in mind, we have what is 'real' broken into two categories. we have:
    1. that which is an empirical description void of meaning.
    2. that which is a subjective description of the position of the character, made more alive, and more 'real' with the very fact that it has meaning oozing from it.

    Sorry that was a bit of a rant. What do you guys think of what i've just said?
  • YusufPonders
    1.3k
    some entities which are not concrete can, nevertheless, seem to be existentMoliere

    seeming to exist is still existing in some regard is it not? At least from a phenomenological perspective.
    If I see a mirage of an oasis, it may not exist as a material thing, but it certainly still exists as an experience of something. Although the nature of that something may be deceiving, it would be wrong to say it only seemed to exist. It exists, just in a peculiar way.

    Mathematics has this sort of queer quality to it as well.Moliere

    mathematics is a great example. It seems that it does have existence. The problem seems to lie somewhere in trying to underpin what we mean by existence with the concept of the 'material'. I think its clear that things can have existence without having to have a material existence, so maybe this suggests something? A problem with our apparent, material-centric way of approaching things.

    I don't know if mathematics really qualifes as an idea, either.Moliere
    Thats also a good point. When mathematical principles are introduced to humanity, should that be described as an invention or as a discovery?

    but I wouldn't say they are real. They cannot be held by my hand, and are not concrete.Moliere

    Can you not have a solid concrete idea of something? you can't hold the colour yellow, or the milky way galaxy, but you can comprehend its existence. Based on what you've said there, I shouldn't consider the galaxy our planet floats around as a real thing because I can't hold it.
  • YusufPonders
    1.3k
    If everything must be 1st thought, then what is it that separates 'ideas' from 'entities'.Cavacava

    Are you sure? That implies that our thoughts give rise to the things the thoughts are of. But did the tree not exist before you called it that?

    Pegasus's 'existence' is not temporal, spacial, or experienced in the same manner as a tree, yet its existence is possible, conceivable, it is just not actual.Cavacava

    But Pegasus's 'existence' is temporal, in so far as its existence occurs upon you perceiving the idea over a limited period of time. it is spacial, as it has a particular shape and dimension to it upon thinking about it. You can't think of pegasus without thinking of it having dimensions or without beginning to think about it having not thought about it before, which in itself implies some sort of spacial and temporal existence.

    when you say its existence is not actual, it sounds like you're just saying it is not in front of my face and made of atoms.
  • YusufPonders
    1.3k
    I can say the tree is green, or gray, white or ... Pegasus is not limited in the same manner, it can be almost whatever I can imagine or what fits the narrative,Cavacava

    but it is. You can say you imagine a white pegasus, and while doing so it is limited to being white. You may then say, well I can then imagine it as green and it becomes green, it changes according to my will. but then the same can happen with the tree, if I so will, I can get some coloured lighting and change the colour of the tree. Both are limited, but that doesn't mean neither can be subject to change by the will of the observer.
  • YusufPonders
    1.3k
    . If you grew up in one place, trees would have leaves only at the top, with long branchless trunks (palm trees). Some place else, trees would be cone shaped and green all year round.Bitter Crank
    ...

    But that doesn't mean you won't recognise a tree when you see it even if it is different to the tree's you are used to. You may grow up around palm trees and then be introduced to a great oak. You wouldn't necessarily say it wasn't a tree, you'd probably say it was a strange tree. But then you're still recognising it as a tree. It shares in this 'treeness' plato was talking about.

    I suppose Middle Earth existed as altered conditions in various neurons of his brain, but we can't observe that yet.Bitter Crank

    But that seems like an incredible leap to say that this very intricate place/idea, looks like something it doesn't look like. there is a big difference between brain matter, and a fictional place. There is a huge void in between the connection of these two things. How can one be said to resemble the other while at the same time not resembling it?
  • Cavacava
    2.4k


    Are you sure? That implies that our thoughts give rise to the things the thoughts are of. But did the tree not exist before you called it that?

    If we didn't think about what we experience then nothing would exist for us. I am not denying the world, only that it can be known beyond our thoughts.

    But Pegasus's 'existence' is temporal, in so far as its existence occurs upon you perceiving the idea over a limited period of time. it is spacial, as it has a particular shape and dimension to it upon thinking about it. You can't think of pegasus without thinking of it having dimensions or without beginning to think about it having not thought about it before, which in itself implies some sort of spacial and temporal existence.

    when you say its existence is not actual, it sounds like you're just saying it is not in front of my face and made of atoms.

    It is not temporal or spacial in the same way as the tree, it can be whatever I imagine it to be within the limitations I specified. It is simply not actually experienced in the same way I actually experience the tree in front of me.

    but it is. You can say you imagine a white pegasus, and while doing so it is limited to being white. You may then say, well I can then imagine it as green and it becomes green, it changes according to my will. but then the same can happen with the tree, if I so will, I can get some coloured lighting and change the colour of the tree. Both are limited, but that doesn't mean neither can be subject to change by the will of the observer.

    This is what I said:

    Pegasus is not limited in the same manner, it can be almost whatever I can imagine or what fits the narrative, except that I cannot imagine it to be and not be at the same time in the same respect, it is logically or formally limited in a way that separates it from what we sense, which is simply they way it is sensed.

    Note the words, "in the same respect"...that's applies to space, time, and every other respect. Our ideas are limited by logical non-contradiction, but I can't say that about the tree!
  • YusufPonders
    1.3k


    Is the idea not sensed? Are you not sensing the presence of an idea when discussing it with someone?

    like now for example, we are separated by God knows how much distance, yet we are both discussing the idea of 'idea'. We think about it, play around with it. Is that not something that can be described as a sensed presence?
  • Moliere
    1.8k
    seeming to exist is still existing in some regard is it not? At least from a phenomenological perspective.
    If I see a mirage of an oasis, it may not exist as a material thing, but it certainly still exists as an experience of something. Although the nature of that something may be deceiving, it would be wrong to say it only seemed to exist. It exists, just in a peculiar way.
    Mr Phil O'Sophy

    I don't think so. I'd say that "seeming" just means that we are justified in claiming that something exists, but can still be wrong about its existence. So not everything that seems to exist does, in fact, exist. A mirage, for instance, is seeing sand as an oasis. It is a matter of perception. The oasis, all that being said, doesn't exist -- though I'd say perception does.

    So it's not that the oasis exists in this or that way. What we are seeing is an illusion of some sorts, a quirk of perception. We are seeing sand as an oasis. I emphasize "as" because you'll notice that "as" shows up in your description of existence, as well. But I'd say that this confuses existence with perception of existence, and you can spot this by the use of the word "as" -- typically the word we use when talking about perceptions. (which are, when not subject to illusion, stated like "Moliere sees the sand as the sand")

    mathematics is a great example. It seems that it does have existence. The problem seems to lie somewhere in trying to underpin what we mean by existence with the concept of the 'material'. I think its clear that things can have existence without having to have a material existence, so maybe this suggests something? A problem with our apparent, material-centric way of approaching things.Mr Phil O'Sophy

    I don't have a problem with renouncing materialism, at least as an ontology. There are entities which are not material. So, if materialism be the thesis that all things are material, then I'd say that this is a false statement.

    Not by necessity, mind. I think some kinds of materialism could still hold water. But I don't see them as persuasive when talking about ontology.

    Thats also a good point. When mathematical principles are introduced to humanity, should that be described as an invention or as a discovery?Mr Phil O'Sophy

    Kind of both? Or, perhaps, is there really much of a distinction between the two, or are they just two modes which any object can be looked at with?

    But it would just depend on what you mean by "idea", which is mostly what I was trying to get at. As long as you're careful in your delineation in a specific conversation then you should find it sensible to talk about. But I'm not so certain you can attain something general about the notion of "idea" absent some frame -- like a conversation, a philosophical project, or some problem at hand.

    Can you not have a solid concrete idea of something? you can't hold the colour yellow, or the milky way galaxy, but you can comprehend its existence. Based on what you've said there, I shouldn't consider the galaxy our planet floats around as a real thing because I can't hold it.Mr Phil O'Sophy

    :D True.

    Maybe it's not? I certainly don't bear witness to the entirety of the galaxy from my quaint perspective. Though I suppose I do think of it as real, even though it doesn't fall within that quaint perspective.

    To get a bit abstract -- maybe the real is any entity, sets of entities, relations between entities and their qualities which is within space or time. Illusions are real perceptions, but they aren't real oasis (since that seems to be the obvious rejoinder, just thought I'd cover it from the get go)
  • YusufPonders
    1.3k
    Thats also a good point. When mathematical principles are introduced to humanity, should that be described as an invention or as a discovery?
    — Mr Phil O'Sophy

    Kind of both? Or, perhaps, is there really much of a distinction between the two, or are they just two modes which any object can be looked at with?
    Moliere

    Well if i’m An explorer, and I stumble upon land, I am not inventing the land I stumble upon, I discover it. So in the sense that I use it, i’m saying that to discover is to find something that was something without you finding it. To invent is to bring something into being that once was not.
  • YusufPonders
    1.3k
    To get a bit abstract -- maybe the real is any entity, sets of entities, relations between entities and their qualities which is within space or time. Illusions are real perceptions, but they aren't real oasisMoliere

    Something I need to ponder on for a little bit that I think.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    Is the idea not sensed? Are you not sensing the presence of an idea when discussing it with someone?


    Well, I don't smell, taste, see, or touch ideas in the same way as trees. There is a common sense :wink: difference between my conception of a tree and and the tree in front of me.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.3k
    Well, I don't smell, taste, see, or touch ideas in the same way as trees. There is a common sense :wink: difference between my conception of a tree and and the tree in front of me.Cavacava
    Then how do you know that you have an idea, or even that an idea of a tree is different than the tree in front of you? There must be a difference that you sense in order for you to make the distinction.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k


    Well a tree is a barrier of a sort isn't it. I can go around it, but not through it, yet I can imagine it cut up, dead, or an many ways other than as it is in front of me. The barrier is thought, and what I imagine about the tree is thought, what separates these if indeed you do think there is a difference?
  • Harry Hindu
    3.3k
    The answer to the OP is that ideas are both real and existent (existent and real are both synonyms). They are real and existent because they have causal influence over other things (like other ideas and non-ideas) and are in turn, influenced by others things (like other ideas and non-ideas).

    The example of Alice in Wonderland is a good example. The problem is the way the questions are asked (typical of many philosophical problems).

    "Is Alice real?" "Does Alice exist?" The answer to both of these questions depends upon what you mean by "Alice", not what you mean by "real" or "exist". YES, Alice exists and is real - as an idea or concept. NO, Alice does not exist as a person and is not a real person. The problem is that you have to be clear about what it is you are asking.

    There are ideas, and there are non-ideas. Whether or not something is an idea or not has no effect on it's existence or realness. Ideas and non-ideas establish causal relationships with each other. This is why I'm not a dualist. Assuming that there is a distinction between realness and existence for ideas and non-ideas is a result of faulty dualistic reasoning.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.3k
    Well a tree is a barrier of a sort isn't it. I can go around it, but not through it, yet I can imagine it cut up, dead, or an many ways other than as it is in front of me. The barrier is thought, and what I imagine about the tree is thought, what separates these if indeed you do think there is a difference?Cavacava
    You still haven't explain the difference. I can imagine no being able to go through a tree. I can see it cut up, dead, etc.

    I'll help you out. Isn't the difference in the way the tree is presented? Natural trees are brute, vivid and detailed. Imagined trees are much less vivid and detailed. You can only tell the difference by the way it appears, or the way it looks. In other words, you still use senses to tell the difference.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k


    What you sense, has to be thought, so no there is no direct experience without thought.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.3k
    Your post doesnt explain the difference between an imagined tree an a non-imagined tree. Sensing and thinking are two different mental activities. Again, how do you tell the difference between sensing a tree and imagining one?
  • Cavacava
    2.4k


    You seem to want to disconnect sensing from thinking which I think is a mistake, both are thought, but what I sense when I see a tree, what is manifest in front of me, is just that... it is manifest and I don't ordinarily experience very much control over how it is manifest, unlike Pegasus.
  • charleton
    1.2k

    The idea that an idea exists is problematic for obvious reasons. One is the fallacy that 'an idea' can exist means that it is a bounded and ultimately definable entity and can be shared one with another. Passing on an idea to another person is not like giving someone a football. An idea that is given has to undergo a series of transformations. e.g, Speech to sound waves, to the ear to an electrical impulse to the brain where is has to be interpreted in the realm of the individual that receives it. Mutations can occur at any point. An idea thus taken, even when apparently 'understood' has to share a range of connotations of that individual and for each the words used to convey the idea also may denote diverse other ideas that the originator does not share.
    So an 'idea', as a object cannot exist in any sense. It can only exist as a subject.
  • Rich
    3.2k
    Are ideas images? Or concepts? What is a bloody idea? The more I think about it the further away from the word I get.Mr Phil O'Sophy

    Ideas are memory conceived of by your creative mind. These ideas are created as a result of perception and sharing of perceptions between other creative minds. The mind had the fundamental ability to create within its memory. These are ideas. That is what the creative mind does - create new ideas and then act upon them with will.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.3k
    ok, now we're getting somewhere. You can tell the difference by being aware of the cause of the thought, where imaginings are preceded by your will to bring them to mind. In other words, you are still using your senses to make distinctions.
    There's a problem in thinking that senses and thinking are one in the same. Those that cannot make the distinction are the ones that can't tell reality from imagination.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.3k
    and when you look at a tree you are not really experiencing the tree as it really is. Light is reflecting off of the tree and entering your eye which then transforms into nerve signals which the brain that interprets.

    So you still have not made it clear distinction between ideas and not ideas. As I have said things are real and exist because they have a causal relationship.
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