## Is Existence a Property of Objects, or are Objects Properties of Existence?

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If we formulate existence as a property of objects, then we must either admit that all objects exist, including fairies and square triangles, or we must allow non-existent objects into our ontology. Both of these options are counter-intuitive, and they both lead to problems. Russel's solution was to formulate existence as a second-order property, a property of statements rather than of individual nouns. So instead of phrasing the existence of tables as "tables have existence," he would have said "There exists at least one thing that is a table." In fact it might be better to say "There exists at least one thing that instantiates the properties of tableness." That way, nouns aren't seen as independent entities. Tableness is simply a value which the variable "at least one thing" can have. So, as Quine put it, to be is to be the value of a variable.

One of the problems I see with this view is that we have to admit an arbitrarily large number variables into our ontology. Whatever I can identify as a distinct entity would have to consist of properties and a variable underlying those properties. And all that seems to differentiate these variables is their respective values. Independent of values, the variables are all the same. So what if there were only one variable: existence, or perhaps it would better to call it Being. Under this view, all things that exist are merely clusters of properties which Being instantiates. A particular table is just the properties Being instantiates at a certain set of spatial and temporal locations. This also simplifies our ontology. Instead of having variables with first order properties and complete statements with second order properties, we just have Being and first order properties.
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I agree. I think existence has a set typed property: all material objects. We then separately have non-material objects, concepts like 'fairies and square triangles' which cannot be said to be directly part of existence (they exist in our minds so they have indirect existence).
• 2.7k
If we formulate existence as a property of objects, then we must either admit that all objects exist, including fairies and square triangles, or we must allow non-existent objects into our ontology. Both of these options are counter-intuitive, and they both lead to problems.
What exists is what causal power. Fairies exist as ideas and ideas have causal power. Square trianges are impossible to even imagine and therefore only exist as a string of visual symbols, or words. Contradictions are ideas that exist and have causal power too.
• 45
What exists is what causal power. Fairies exist as ideas and ideas have causal power. Square trianges are impossible to even imagine and therefore only exist as a string of visual symbols, or words. Contradictions are ideas that exist and have causal power too.

So is existence a property with the same definition as causal power? And does causal power mean the potential to cause events or actual interaction in causal phenomena? If an effect is caused but is not itself capable of causing anything, does that effect exist? If it doesn't, then how do you deal with the problem on non-existent entities?
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So is existence a property with the same definition as causal power? And does causal power mean the potential to cause events or actual interaction in causal phenomena? If an effect is caused but is not itself capable of causing anything, does that effect exist? If it doesn't, then how do you deal with the problem on non-existent entities?
There are no such things as non-existent entities. Is that not what it means to be non-existent? Non-existent entities cannot form causal relationships. Non-existent entities is an idea and has causal power. Remember that I said that contradictions exist and have causal power.

I can't think of any effect that isn't also a cause. The effect exists and therefore is capable of forming new causal relationships. Everything that exists has the potential to interact causally.
• 45
I can't think of any effect that isn't also a cause. The effect exists and therefore is capable of forming new causal relationships. Everything that exists has the potential to interact causally.

My main problem the idea that existence is causal power is that causal power can't be observed. So different philosophers have different approaches to explaining what it is and how it works. For instance, some think causal power resides in particular entities, whereas others (including Russel, I think) believe it comes from universal laws which govern the behavior of entities.

But I think we can directly observe that things exist. For instance, if I hear a noise, I can conclude that the noise exists. I don't need to know what causal power is behind the noise appearing in my experience.
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My main problem the idea that existence is causal power is that causal power can't be observed. So different philosophers have different approaches to explaining what it is and how it works. For instance, some think causal power resides in particular entities, whereas others (including Russel, I think) believe it comes from universal laws which govern the behavior of entities.

But I think we can directly observe that things exist. For instance, if I hear a noise, I can conclude that the noise exists. I don't need to know what causal power is behind the noise appearing in my experience.
This is the same thing that someone else said in another thread. We observe causation all the time - even participate in it ourselves. How do you explain communication without causation?

If no one has ever observed causation, then what is it that we're missing? What would proof of causation look like?

Causation is essentially a transfer of energy or a type of information flow.
• 45
If no one has ever observed causation, then what is it that we're missing? What would proof of causation look like?

I'm not denying that causation is real. But I do think it's difficult to observe it directly. Even when we participate in it by making decisions, we can't always trace those decisions back to their ultimate causal source.

Also, are you saying that all existing things have causal power (perhaps even necessarily), or are you saying that causal powers are the only real properties existing things have? I agree with the former point, but not the latter.
• 98
One can formulate existence in the form of Buddhist metaphysics Suchness... that is a formal equivocation that A=A and existence simply is.... Only by imputation does one derive meaning or create distinctions.
• 932

About causation, maybe we can't see it but we can perceive and conceive of it. It's like a disease, all we see are symptoms (effects) and micro-organisms which cause diseases (agents of causation) but the disease itself, the actual influence which is causation, does not produce impact in the senses. However, through the corresponding factors a disease could be monitored. So we know a disease as the resultant of various aspects working in conjunction. Isn't causation alike?
• 45
Isn't causation alike?

Agreed. Almost every event has a multitude of causes, some of which it's unlikely we're even aware of.
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My view is that 'thinghood' is what humans ascribed to some focal aspects of Their perceptual interaction. In other words 'existence' is a word we use for those recurrent interactions we consider to persist in our interaction history. The naming of such functional interactions reinforces such persistence by the abstract persistence of a word or object name. And since words are socially acquired there tends to be agreement i.e. understanding about the expectancies. encasulated by 'object names'.
Simple Reference...quantum theory...'there are no 'things'....only interactions..
• 985
I can't consider existence a property, because that would imply there are objects that don't happen to have the property "existence". But there are no existing objects that lack the property "existence" (that's self-contradictory).

So conceptually, there is a set of all ontic objects (E). Existence = being a member of E.

Of all the objects we can conceive, some belong to E and all the others are fictions.

There are also unconceived objects that belong to E. (knowledge of existence is not a prerequisite for belonging to the set. This is ontology, no epistemology)

There are no unconceived fictions. (i.e. fictions are things that have been or will be conceived).

Dinosaurs do not exist today; are they fictions? No. The set E is cross temporal. Anything that has ever existed and ever will exist belongs to E, but there are tensed facts about them.
• 578
I suggest classical set theory is irrelevant for dealing with 'existence' because 'thinghood' being an aspect of observer\observed interaction is transient and cultural. i.e Things do not 'exist' in their own right , they are functional focal experiences (or potential experiences) which have been labelled. The closest 'logic' gets to this is perhaps 'fuzzy logic' in which the 'thinghood' (functionality) shifts according to observer receptive state and lexicon.
Reference ...Comparative Physiology...what humans call 'dead insects' dont 'exist' for frogs. And are we not merely bigger frogs who have selectively augmented our physiology with transducers ?

Acoording to this 'functionality view of existence', alll labelled 'things' have 'existence' but their functionality differs according to observers. Thus 'god exists' for 'believers' or 'electrons exist' at some levels of scientific theory but not others. Physicality is merely one aspect of 'thinghood'.
• 13.8k
If we formulate existence as a property of objects, then we must either admit that all objects exist, including fairies and square triangles, or we must allow non-existent objects into our ontology.

Would you say that goes for other properties, too? Either we have to admit that all objects are spherical, or we have to say that objects can have a property of "non-sphericalness"?
• 985
Things do not 'exist' in their own right , they are functional focal experiences (or potential experiences) which have been labelled
That sounds like a confusion of ontology and epistemology. Things exist irrespective of whether anyone has experienced, and labelled, them. Things have their intrinsic properties irrespective of whether minds have identified those properties and irrespective of their subjective experiences of those things.
• 578
No. It is generally accepted that ontology and epistemology are inextricable. What you call 'properties' boil down to 'expectancies of nature of interaction' triggered by a socially acquired label.

I assert that 'existence' is relative to observers, never absolute. It is a word used in contexts where 'evidence' is being disputed. Other usage implying 'naive realism' is an example of Wittgenstein's 'language on holiday'.

This assertion is supported from a number of sources:

1 Comparative physiology of perceptual syetems.
2 The QM position stated by Niels Bohr, thwt tere are no 'things' only 'interaction events'.
3 Kant's point that 'noumena' (Dingen-an Sich) are inacessible.
4.Heidegger's point that Existenz is only applicable to Dasein
5 Nietsche's point that, no 'description' is closer to 'reality' than any other. Descriptions are more more or less functional according to context..
6. The subsequent rejection by philosophical pragmatist's like Rorty, of the 'Reality-Non Reality' debate as futile.
7 Autopoietic views of the life process which bypass the concept of 'sense data' (Maturana)
8 State transitional views of cognition (Genetic Epistemology) In which 'observer' and 'world' states are co -extensive and co-existent.
9...and finally the Budrhist concept of Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That) in which 'self' and 'observed' are a holistic single 'reality'.
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• 578
No It is generally accepted that ontology and epistemology are inextricable. What you call 'properties' boil down to 'expectancies of the nature of interaction' triggered by socially acquired 'names'.

There are multiple arguments supporting this rejection of 'naive realism' ranging from Buddhism (Tat Tvam Asi), via Phenomenolgy through to philosophical pragmatism.
• 578
Comment to Terrapin.
All 'things' do have 'existence' if you move away from naive realism. What matters is 'functionality for the thinger'. The functionality of 'Santa Claus' for me as an adult differs from that for my child. Physicality is merely one aspect of expectancies triggered by the words we use to do thinging.
This of course renders debates about 'the existence of God' futile. The functionality of the word 'God' fof me as an atheist is very different to that for a believer. But I cannot deny the 'existence of God' for him since 'evidence' for disputed 'things' lies in the eye of the beholder.
• 578
Comment to Relativist
(Apologies for summary post...the edit function seemed to have deleted the post above but it then reappeared !.)
• 733
Wow, you managed to name just about all of my philosophical heroes in one post. Pretty rare for this forum.
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I do have one question. If pragmatism is about what works, that implies a normative fitting process between pre-existing framework of understanding and what is encountered in the world. But if we look at the work of enactive cognitive theorists, we see that the world we attempt to adapt our constructions to is altered by those very constructions, given that cognition is an embodied self-organizing circuit of interaction with its environment. Thus, from this vantage, what works is at the same time a fitting of organism to world and a creative transformation of world by organism. I think Dewey and James understood this. What do you think?
• 578
I agree. Transitions of 'self' and 'world' is a two way semi-continuous process.
In fact, the constructivist Piaget, who initially applied this to child development with the terms 'assimilation-accommodation', extended the idea using the phrase 'genetic epistemology' to encompass to the progression of 'human knowledge' in general. By extrapolation we might for example compare Piaget's 'developmental stages' in the child to Kuhn's 'paradigm revolutions' in science. I use the term 'semi-continuous' since transitional states tend to have periods of relative stability before shifting.
• 733
Piaget differed from Kuhn in one respect. In his little book 'Structuralism' he contrasted his philosophy of science with Popper, Lakatos and Kuhn. The impetus for Piaget's project was to reconcile the teleological dreams of religion with the real. He thought he found a way to do so by demonstrating that the movement of genetic epistemology was not just an arbitrary becoming(as it is for Nietzsche and the poststructuralists) , but a move from a weaker to a stronger structure, as a spiral-shaped progressive re-equllibration which preserves in re-organized form much of what it transcends.

• 578
Thanks for that. I didn't know Piaget had an interest in religious teleology.

Since we've touched on the topic of 'time' via 'progression' I am also interested in recent views about time from authors like Rovelli. I would be pleased to hear any thoughts you might have on the matter.
• 733
I haven't read Rovelli, although I enjoyed Lee Smolen's book 'Time Reborn'.
I find particularly satisfying Heidegger's account of temporality, his modification of Husserl's concept of time consciousness.
• 578
Yes. I agree on Heidegger. Temporality does indeed appear to be inextricable with Existenz

The Rovelli point of interest to me is that 'order of events' could be 'local' not universal. i.e.'before and after' are no more universal than 'up and down'. Now this in turn seems to have an impact on rationality which is based on 'causality''...in other words both causality and teleology may become parochial.
Rovelli does indeed stress 'observer reference frames' and my own thoughts have involved extension of of that to the very perception of 'order/disorder' itself which underpins 'times arrow' (2nd. Law of Thermodynamics').

If you get the chance, have a look at Rovelli 'Order of Time'.
• 416
existence is not a real predicate (Kant)
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While this is indeed the case, without the Kantian context.....the theoretical background....for such a daring assertorial, you’re not gonna get much positive reaction.
• 416
oh well
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