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Why Existence is not a Predicate


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#61 George H. Smith

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 12:09 PM

One of Veatch's acquaintances, Reinhard Grossmann, in his 1992 book The Existence of the World thoroughly considers how to properly analyze what he calls "existence facts." He argues that existence does not belong to any of the categories (i.e., it's not an entity, an attribute, a quantity, an action, etc.). He further clarifies that it's not a ~property of a property~ or a "relational property." (I would think that existence and identity ~are~ relational properties, specifically when considering an existent and its characteristics in their reciprocal relations to one another, that's a different issue, for another time.)

Instead, Grossmann says, existence is a "feature" of the world. I.e., it is something about the world. This smells suspiciously like a ~basic fact~ about all of existence...er, um...I mean, the world.

Here is an extended excerpt where his reasoning, latching onto a few bits of modern logic along the way, ends up looking very similar to mine:

[Grossmann]I argued earlier that, contrary to Frege and Russell, it makes perfect sense to say of an individual like Caesar that he exists. But in the sentence 'Caesar exists,' the word 'exists' functions somewhat like a predicate. [OK, "somewhat like." Close enough for the present purpose!] I say 'somewhat,' because there is a difference, a difference which I find revealing: there is no indication of exemplification. 'Caesar exists' is in this regard quite different from 'Caesar is the conqueror of Gaul.' Of course, this fits in well with our contention that existence is not a property and, hence, cannot be exemplified. But the fact remains that in 'Caesar exists' existence is somehow connected with Caesar and we must now ask how this connection appears from our point of view that existence is the variable entity. I think that to say that Caesar exists is to say that he is an existent. Let us be somewhat pedantic and spell this out in detail. The sentence:

(6) 'Caesar exists'

represents the same fact as:

(7) 'Caesar is an existent.'

But here the 'is' does not signify exemplification, but represents identity:

(8) 'Some (at least one) existent is identical with Caesar.'

Or, written with the variable expression 'e':

(9) 'Some e is such that: e = Caesar.'

This is our most perspicuous way of representing the fact that Caesar exists. Let 'A' be the name of any entity whatsoever. The fact that A exists is of the form:

(10) Some e is such that: e = A.

or, for short, in English: A is an existent.


!!!

Now, skipping down a couple of paragraphs:

[Grossmann] Every thing is identical with an entity [he means: with an existent]; its existence consists in its being (identical with) an entity. But this means that every thing has its own existence, that every thing is a little piece of existence...Everything exists. If everything exists, then existence must exist. [He is arguing inductively for Rand's Existence axiom.] I fail to understand how anything could have this 'feature' of existence, whatever it may be, unless there is this 'feature' in the first place.


Translation: I fail to understand how it could be a fact that any existent is an existent, unless it is necessarily universally true of EVERY existent that it is an existent--i.e., that all existents exist, that Existence exists.

One more excerpt:

[Grossmann] To say of a particular thing a that it exists, as we have seen, is to say that a is identical with an existent. Similarly, to say that existence exists is to say that existents are identical with existents:

(11) Some e is such that: e = e.

But (11) states that some entity is self-identical. According to our view, therefore, to say that existence exists is to say nothing more nor less than that an existent is self-identical. Can this really be the meaning of the existence statement? I think that this view is forced upon us by the discovery that existence is the variable entity [i.e., existent], for I do not see how else one could analyze the fact that the variable exists.


Pretty heavy, abstract stuff. But it makes sense to me.


I'm glad that Grossmann's semantical gymnastics make sense to someone. 8-)

None of this stuff is necessary to understand the meaning of "X exists" or "X is an existent," nor does Grossmann's analysis clarify what we mean. Consider these remarks by Grossmann:

"To say of a particular thing a that it exists, as we have seen, is to say that a is identical with an existent." No. To say that X exists is to say that X exists, period. To say that X is identical with an existent is implicitly to compare two different things. X is not somehow identical to itself; it is itself. We need only say that X is an existent, or that X exists.

Grossman: "to say that existence exists is to say nothing more nor less than that an existent is self-identical." This inflation of philosophic verbiage is pointless and misleading. The weird expression "self-identical" is presumably meant to express identity, but this is not what Rand meant by "existence exists."

Here is my personal favorite: "(9) 'Some e is such that: e = Caesar.' This is our most perspicuous way of representing the fact that Caesar exists."

According to my dictionary, "perspicuous" means "Clearly expressed or presented; easy to understand." I therefore humbly suggest that "Caesar exists" is the most perspicuous way of representing the fact that Caesar exists. 8-)

Ghs

#62 Xray

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 01:20 PM

Personally, I think she was in too much of a rush to publish her theory of concepts, and she didn't get it all worked out correctly.

I had the the same impression when going through ITOE.
Imo the current controversial discussion about her inconsistent use of certain terms points in that direction too.

I called the statement "All that exists, exists" facile because it does not positively affirm that anything exists. It merely says that if something exists, then it exists -- and this is not at all what Rand meant by "Existence exists." To my knowledge, Rand never used the expression "All that exists, exists," and I cannot imagine that she ever would have seriously considered it. She was far too careful in her use of words.

George, you're correct that Rand never used just that formulation. But she ~did~ say that "existence" means "all that which exists." (ITOE, p. 241) It follows that "existence exists" means: "all that which exists exists." As for this being a non-affirmation of existence, a mere "if-then," statement, I disagree.

Indeed, the point Rand tried to make was not about an "if-then" relationship here.
For to her, the proposition "Existence exists" was about "the primary fact which is existence". (ITOE, p. 3).
Tautological statements are not about 'if- then' relationships.
If I say e. g. "Ba'al Chatzaf is who he is", I'm not pointing out that "if" there is a Ba'al Chatzaf, "then" he is who he is - instead I'm using the tautological expression as an emphasis.

#63 Xray

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 02:55 PM

Rand describes "existence exists" as a "special underscoring" of man's need to make explicit the axiomatic conceptual status of "existence," which might otherwise remain implicit. What wording would you have suggested? "Existence is existence" would not do the trick, since, like "A is A," this would indicate identity.

But in ITOE (p. 59) Rand explicitly uses "A is A" together with the examples "Existence exists" and "Consciousness is conscious", pointing out that:
"[axiomatic concepts] can be translated into statements only in the form of a repetition (as a base and reminder):
"Existence exists - Consciousness is conscious - A is A". (Rand)

Rand might have said, over and over again, "Existence is an axiomatic concept," but this would not have suited her flair for the dramatic.

Sounds a bit dry, yes. :smile:

I think "Existence exists" serves Rand's purpose very well. People who understand what she meant by the phrase are unlikely ever to read it again without thinking about "existence" as an axiomatic concept. Rand wanted the phrase to serve as a "reminder," and so it does.

I think the "reminder" is both epistemological and metaphysical.

#64 Xray

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 06:27 AM


In the chapter "Axiomatic Concepts," Rand says that the concept "existence" subsumes "every entity, attribute, action, event or phenomenon (including consciousness) that exists, has ever existed or will ever exist." This is the metaphysical aspect that I acknowledged previously. But this is not the primary focus of her discussion of axiomatic concepts. She is not merely affirming that the universe exists; if this were her primary point, precious few philosophers would disagree with her, and she would not have included her discussion of "Existence exists" in a chapter on axiomatic concepts. Here is just one passage among many that makes her point:

I think that in the axiom "Existence exists", the affirmation you mentioned above was actually Rand's primary point.
It is an axiom because one cannot prove existence as such. (see ITOE, p. 55)
The Objectivist philosophy rests on this axiom, and as to your remark that "precious few philosophers would disagree" with Rand here - this is correct, but don't forget how vehemently Rand attacked all skepticism re the reality of existence, so this was of essential importance to her.

Example from AS, p. 498:
"There are no absolutes", said Dr. Pritchett. "Reality is only an illusion: How does the woman know that her son is dead? How does she know he ever existed?"
Rand's 'Existence exists' attack on such fundamental skepticism is an attack on Subjectivism.

#65 Brant Gaede

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 10:30 AM

According to my dictionary, "perspicuous" means "Clearly expressed or presented; easy to understand." I therefore humbly suggest that "Caesar exists" is the most perspicuous way of representing the fact that Caesar exists. 8-)

Ghs

Perspicacious: "having keen mental perception and understanding . . . ."

--Brant
get thee a decent dictionary

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#66 George H. Smith

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 10:48 AM

According to my dictionary, "perspicuous" means "Clearly expressed or presented; easy to understand." I therefore humbly suggest that "Caesar exists" is the most perspicuous way of representing the fact that Caesar exists. 8-) Ghs

Perspicacious: "having keen mental perception and understanding . . . ." --Brant get thee a decent dictionary


You lost me. The word is perspicuous, not perspicacious.

Or is this another one of those subtle bits of humor that passed me by?

Ghs

#67 Brant Gaede

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 10:59 AM

According to my dictionary, "perspicuous" means "Clearly expressed or presented; easy to understand." I therefore humbly suggest that "Caesar exists" is the most perspicuous way of representing the fact that Caesar exists. 8-) Ghs

Perspicacious: "having keen mental perception and understanding . . . ." --Brant get thee a decent dictionary


You lost me. The word is perspicuous, not perspicacious.

Or is this another one of those subtle bits of humor that passed me by?

Ghs

Oops.

--Brant
blush

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#68 George H. Smith

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 11:26 AM

According to my dictionary, "perspicuous" means "Clearly expressed or presented; easy to understand." I therefore humbly suggest that "Caesar exists" is the most perspicuous way of representing the fact that Caesar exists. 8-) Ghs

Perspicacious: "having keen mental perception and understanding . . . ." --Brant get thee a decent dictionary

You lost me. The word is perspicuous, not perspicacious. Or is this another one of those subtle bits of humor that passed me by? Ghs

Oops. --Brant blush


Your reply is both perspicuous and perspicacious. 8-)

Ghs

#69 Brant Gaede

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 04:16 PM

According to my dictionary, "perspicuous" means "Clearly expressed or presented; easy to understand." I therefore humbly suggest that "Caesar exists" is the most perspicuous way of representing the fact that Caesar exists. 8-) Ghs

Perspicacious: "having keen mental perception and understanding . . . ." --Brant get thee a decent dictionary

You lost me. The word is perspicuous, not perspicacious. Or is this another one of those subtle bits of humor that passed me by? Ghs

Oops. --Brant blush


Your reply is both perspicuous and perspicacious. 8-)

Ghs

It's amazing how good I am at harvesting compliments from a practically barren field.

--Brant
must be genius

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#70 Roger Bissell

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 01:03 AM




Roger,

Do you have a copy of Logic as a Human Instrument (Harper, 1959), by Francis Parker and Henry Veatch? If so, read their discussion, beginning on page 100, of "The Metaphysical Distinction of Existence from Essence."

Parker and Veatch, both of whom were solid Aristotelians, agree with my earlier argument that existence is not a predicate.


...On p. 110 of their book, Parker and Veatch say: "After all, existence propositions, quite as much as subject-predicate propositions, have predicates; ..." Are you saying that "exist" is a predicate, while "are existents" are not a copula and predicate?

They look like a copula and predicate, they quack like a copula and predicate, they waddle like a copula and predicate....so?

So...I think it's clear that even though existence is not a property, it is ~something~ that can be predicated of things, even of itself.


Parker and Veatch distinguish between "existence propositions" and "subject-predicate propositions." They note (p. 110) that these terms are not "too felicitous," but they conclude nonetheless that these two types of propositions have fundamentally different meanings (or "intentions"):


After all, existence propositions, quite as much as subject-predicate propositions, have predicates; and subject-predicate propositions, quite as much as existence propositions, intend existence. Nevertheless, inasmuch as in the so-called existence propositions one is concerned with intending merely the fact that something is, whereas in subject-predicate propositions one intends not merely that something is but also what it is, the expression "subject-predicate proposition" is designed to point up the fact that here one has the further concern of knowing what an existent thing is.

To sum up, then, we may say that logical propositions...may be of either of two main types: (1) existence propositions, in which our concern is with knowing that a certain "what" (essence) is; (2) subject-predicate propositions, in which our concern is with knowing what a certain "that" (existing entity or thing) is.


George, you surely know how much I respect and admire Parker and Veatch. Veatch has been one of my epistemology/logic gods since about 1971, when Douglas Rasmussen first turned me on to him. I have learned a great deal from them about the nature of propositions, and I have gotten a lot of good clues as to how to deal with propositions about non-existent subjects and the like.

That said, I think that there are gaps in their treatment of propositions just as (though not to the same extent) as there are in Rand's treatment of propositions. I think that their approach would benefit by a vigorous injection of Rand-think, just as hers would benefit by a similar injection of theirs. Let me sketch out what I mean.

First of all, though Existence propositions are clearly different from Subject-Predicate propositions in many of the ways you and Parker-Veatch indicate, they are NOT fundamentally different from one another. The way I see it, just like the axioms of Existence and Identity, they each refer to or "intend" the same basic facts from two different perspectives.

An Existence proposition is a proposition that ~explicitly~ intends existence and ~implicitly~ intends identity. E.g., "X exists" and "There are such things as horses" explicitly assert the existence of something. But they also implicitly assert that those things also have a specific identity. Here's how the implicit identity rider attaches to Existence propositions:

1. X exists.
2. X is a thing that exists. (Standard form with copula and predicate)
3. A thing that exists is a thing that has a nature. (Law of Identity/Existence is Identity)
4. Therefore, X is a thing that has a nature. (Deduction from 2. and 3.)
5. Therefore, X is a thing that exists and has a nature. (Conjunction of 2. and 4.)
6. Therefore, X exists --> X is a thing that exists (and has a nature). (Summary of 1. and 5.)
7. Or, X _IS_ some_THING_ --> X _IS_ _SOME_thing. (Restatement of implication of 6.)

So, implicit in an Existence proposition is an additional assertion of identity.

Similarly, an Identity ("Subject-Predicate") proposition is a proposition that ~explicitly~ intends identity and ~implicitly~ intends existence. E.g., "X has a nature" and "Horses are four-legged" explicitly assert that something has an identity, that it is what it is. But they also implicitly assert that that thing also exists. Here's how the implicit existence rider attaches to Identity ("Subject-Predicate") propositions:

1. X has a nature.
2. X is a thing that has a nature. (Standard form with copula and predicate)
3. A thing that has a nature is a thing that exists. (Law of Identity/Existence is Identity)
4. Therefore, X is a thing that exists. (Deduction from 2. and 3.)
5. Therefore, X is a thing that has a nature and exists. (Conjunction of 2. and 4.)
6. Therefore, X has a nature --> X is a thing that has a nature (and exists). (Summary of 1. and 5.)
7. Or, X _IS_ _SOME_thing --> X _IS_ some_THING_. (Restatement of implication in 6.)

Thus, implicit in an Identity ("Subject-Predicate") proposition is an additional assertion of existence.

These two basic types of propositions, while both implicitly acknowledging that "to be is to be something" and conversely, fulfill a definite division of labor. Each of them, while leaving implicit one of the two essential intentions of ANY proposition, focuses explicitly on the other.

Parker and Veatch delve into this issue to some extent, when they deal with various problems like the truth-value of "The present king of France is bald." They refer to it as a dual or double "designation" of existence and identity. All I have done is basically to somewhat Randianize their approach and try to show the deep correlation and symmetry between the two kinds of propositions.

I think that the failure of logicians to grasp and apply this correlation is (1) the source of a great deal of the trouble, historically, in dealing with propositions about non-existent subjects, and (2) the most likely factor responsible for the doctrine of Existential Import, by which modern logicians treat universal Identity ("Subject-Predicate") propositions as not asserting the existence of their subjects.

To conclude: I am convinced more than ever that Aristotle was a giant, Aquinas was a giant, Ayn Rand was a giant, Parker and Veatch were giants -- but Boole, Frege, Russell, Whitehead et al...not so much.

REB

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#71 Roger Bissell

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 01:23 AM




So, I can't legitimately say: "Horses are things that exist" or "Horses are existents," equally validly as I might say: "Horses exist" or "There are such things as horses"?? (I take these all to be equivalent expressions.)

In particular, I'm interested in what difference, if any, you see between: "Horses exist" and: "Horses are existents."

If they're both valid expressions of the existent proposition about horses, then exactly how is "are existents" functioning, if not as a copula and predicate?

On p. 110 of their book, Parker and Veatch say: "After all, existence propositions, quite as much as subject-predicate propositions, have predicates; ..." Are you saying that "exist" is a predicate, while "are existents" are not a copula and predicate?

They look like a copula and predicate, they quack like a copula and predicate, they waddle like a copula and predicate....so?

So...I think it's clear that even though existence is not a property, it is ~something~ that can be predicated of things, even of itself. But what? ...


As I said before, a grammatical predicate is not the same thing as a metaphysical predicate.

Yes, we can say "X is an existent" to mean "X exists" -- but in affirming that X exists we are not saying anything about what X is, i.e., its nature. An "existent" is not an attribute or characteristic of something; it is the thing itself -- the sum total of its attributes, not an attribute per se.

Why is this distinction important? Well, it is not of great significance any longer, primarily because very few philosophers subscribe any longer to the metaphysical systems, such as Neo-Platonism, that talked about "degrees of being." In this way of thinking, which gave rise to the Ontological Argument, entities can be more or less "real." There exists a "great chain of being," with God at the top of the chain.

Nowadays when someone says "God exists" or "God is a necessary being," we understand that nothing has been said about the nature of God, that no attributes have been given by which we could identify God. But when we say "God is a necessary Being" are we not using "necessary Being" as a predicate? Are we not predicating or attributing "necessary Being" to God, so have we not described him in some fashion?. Nope, not at all. The fact that we can use "necessary Being" as a grammatical predicate does not mean that it is a metaphysical predicate. "Being" (or existence) of any kind is not a characteristic of an entity. It is the entity itself.

Similarly, to say "X is an existent" merely affirms the existence of X. This proposition tells us nothing about the nature of X. "Existent," in other words, in not predicate like red or round or big or small. If you tell me that "X is red and round," then you have told me something about X that would help me to identify it, should I ever happen across X. But if you merely say "X is an existent," you have not described or identified X in any manner. You have merely affirmed that X, whatever it is, exists.


Based on my previous post, I think it will be clear that I view "X is an existent" as doing more than "merely affirm[ing] the existence of X." It is true that it tells us nothing ~specific~ about the nature of X. But by affirming the fact that X exists (whether correctly or not), it is also implicitly affirming that fact that X has a nature. To be is to be something with a specific nature.

Granted, saying something exists and has a specific nature doesn't make it so. Nor does front-loading your concept of a thing with a bogus, arbitrarily inserted attribute of "existence" or "necessary existence" work as an end-run around the need to have evidence for saying something exists and has a specific nature. (That's the gist of what I get from Kant's denial that "existence" is a real predicate or a property.)

Every legitimate proposition about something must be based on information from the "conceptual file folder" that is one's concept of that thing. Otherwise, it's arbitrary. It might correspond to reality, or it might not. But it's arbitrary.

If I haven't observed any gremlins, nor received any other data about them, but yet I form the idea of them and plop in the notion that they are real and are green, that doesn't make the proposition "Green gremlins are real creatures" either true or false. It's null and void, arbitrary, as are any assertions about God.

But if I want to share the fruits of my creativity and say, "Green gremlins are imaginary creatures," that indeed is true -- and "Green gremlins are not imaginary creatures" is false, because it's a denial of the fact that I have imagined them. And I hereby declare myself to be ineligible for elected office in the State of Tennessee by noting that the same applies to God as a creature of the imagination of far too many people. :-)

REB
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#72 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 08:22 AM


To conclude: I am convinced more than ever that Aristotle was a giant, Aquinas was a giant, Ayn Rand was a giant, Parker and Veatch were giants -- but Boole, Frege, Russell, Whitehead et al...not so much.

REB


If not giants themselves, they begat giants. Albert Tarski and Kurt Goedel.

The logical incompleteness of any mathematical system sufficient to support arithmetic, could not have been proven without the formal and algebraic approach of Boole and Frege. Whitehead and Russel failed in their attempt to base mathematics on logic. Poincare punctured their effort.

Modern formal logic, particularly first order logic of n-adic predicates models mathematical reasoning. Term logic cannot. Try defining the limit of a series using term logic. Betcha you can't. Also term logic cannot adequately produce a theory of sets.

Ba'al Chatzaf
אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#73 Roger Bissell

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Posted 23 October 2011 - 10:30 PM

George -- do you have any comments to my replies to you in posts #70 and 71?

I'd be interested in continuing this discussion with you.

REB
Objectivism, properly used, is a tool for living, not a weapon with which to bash those one disagrees with.




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