Defining "Existence"

Komodo

Active member
In the course of a very silly thread (you know the one I mean), it was demanded that all productive and intelligent posters provide their definition of "existence." So I thought I'd give it a try; or maybe more precisely, my definition of what it means to say that something exists.

Something exists if, and only if, it can affect, or be affected by, other things. Thus objects in time and space exist (the rock I tripped over affected my course, and I affected its position, etc.); forces exist (they can cause acceleration, for example); thoughts and feelings exist (they can cause people to do things, and the things they do can in turn create and alter those thoughts and feelings). And thoughts or concepts or representations of imaginary beings exist, though the beings themselves do not. (The 'unicorns' in the Unicorn Tapestry exist, unicorns do not.)

So far, so obvious. I think it gets at least mildly interesting, however, when we see that, by this definition, numbers do not exist, and the laws of logic do not exist: they do not cause anything to happen, nor do they prevent anything from happening. Apples don't remain apples because they are struggling to become non-apples but are prevented from doing so by the power of A=A, the way protons and neutrons might be said to be 'trying' to get away from each other but are prevented from doing so by the strong nuclear force. Therefore, the Transcendental Argument for God is based on a fallacy, namely that such laws are things which exist, and whose existence needs to be accounted for.

This does not imply that, because the law of identity does not exist, an apple can be a non-apple; of course it can't. But the reason it can't is because "the apple is not an apple" is a nonsensical sentence, not because a Strong Force of Identity exists which compels the apple to remain an apple.

I would be a bit disappointed, but hardly surprised, to find that this is not at all original with me.
 
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Ontos

Active member
So far, so obvious. I think it gets at least mildly interesting, however, when we see that, by this definition, numbers do not exist, and the laws of logic do not exist: they do not cause anything to happen, nor do they prevent anything from happening
If what you're saying is true, then wouldn't truth also not exist?
 

Komodo

Active member
If what you're saying is true, then wouldn't truth also not exist?
Yes. Abstract nouns generally would not designate "things" which existed. But just as we could say "there are three oranges in this bag" even if "the number three" is not something with objective existence, we could say "your claim is true" even if "truth" was not something with objective existence.

(In case it wasn't clear, this is not a hill I'm prepared to die on, just mostly a way of accentuating the difference between "things" like planets and earthquakes and "things" like numbers and logic and truth. But don't let that stop you from pressing, if you see a contradiction or absurdity which follows from my definition.)
 

Komodo

Active member
If what you're saying is true, then wouldn't truth also not exist?
Just as an added caveat, I wouldn't want to be taken as saying "there is no such thing as truth" or "there is no such thing as morality" in the spirit of Lord Voldemort saying "there is no such thing as right or wrong, only power." I think it's very important to pursue truth and morality; I'm just saying people sometimes reify them, as "things," in a misleading way.
 

Ontos

Active member
Yes. Abstract nouns generally would not designate "things" which existed. But just as we could say "there are three oranges in this bag" even if "the number three" is not something with objective existence, we could say "your claim is true" even if "truth" was not something with objective existence.
Ok

Is there a difference between existence and "objective existence"?

(In case it wasn't clear, this is not a hill I'm prepared to die on, just mostly a way of accentuating the difference between "things" like planets and earthquakes and "things" like numbers and logic and truth. But don't let that stop you from pressing, if you see a contradiction or absurdity which follows from my definition.)

Seems like it's just a difference between the material vs the immaterial, not existence vs non-existence....
 

The Pixie

Well-known member
In the course of a very silly thread (you know the one I mean), it was demanded that all productive and intelligent posters provide their definition of "existence." So I thought I'd give it a try; or maybe more precisely, my definition of what it means to say that something exists.

Something exists if, and only if, it can affect, or be affected by, other things. Thus objects in time and space exist (the rock I tripped over affected my course, and I affected its position, etc.); forces exist (they can cause acceleration, for example); thoughts and feelings exist (they can cause people to do things, and the things they do can in turn create and alter those thoughts and feelings). And thoughts or concepts or representations of imaginary beings exist, though the beings themselves do not. (The 'unicorns' in the Unicorn Tapestry exist, unicorns do not.)

So far, so obvious. I think it gets at least mildly interesting, however, when we see that, by this definition, numbers do not exist, and the laws of logic do not exist: they do not cause anything to happen, nor do they prevent anything from happening. Apples don't remain apples because they are struggling to become non-apples but are prevented from doing so by the power of A=A, the way protons and neutrons might be said to be 'trying' to get away from each other but are prevented from doing so by the strong nuclear force. Therefore, the Transcendental Argument for God is based on a fallacy, namely that such laws are things which exist, and whose existence needs to be accounted for.

This does not imply that, because the law of identity does not exist, an apple can be a non-apple; of course it can't. But the reason it can't is because "the apple is not an apple" is a nonsensical sentence, not because a Strong Force of Identity exists which compels the apple to remain an apple.

I would be a bit disappointed, but hardly surprised, to find that this is not at all original with me.
An issue here might be that even imaginary things can cause people to do something. The God of Islam, for example, causes Muslims to pray, etc. I guess you might argue it is the religion causing them to do it, but its not that convincing.
 

Komodo

Active member
Ok

Is there a difference between existence and "objective existence"?
Not really. Or maybe I might say that stars and earthquakes and pains would exist even if there was no intelligence capable of hypothesizing them and giving names to them, whereas that wasn't the case with numbers or laws of logic. So the former have objective existence, while the latter, if we prefer to say they still exist, would have subjective existence.

Seems like it's just a difference between the material vs the immaterial, not existence vs non-existence....
I don't think so. I would still say that thoughts and feelings existed, even if it were universally conceded that they could not be reduced to material/physical terms.
 

Komodo

Active member
An issue here might be that even imaginary things can cause people to do something. The God of Islam, for example, causes Muslims to pray, etc. I guess you might argue it is the religion causing them to do it, but its not that convincing.
I would say it isn't the imaginary things which cause people to do things, it's the beliefs they have about those things. Not sure why you find that unconvincing, or think it's a forced kind of distinction. If you say "the voices compelled him to commit those crimes," I understand you, but I just translate that as "his perception that he was hearing commands from space aliens made him commit those crimes." The perceptions, of course, do exist, but the aliens do not, so I don't see how "they" could cause anything to happen.
 
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Ontos

Active member
Not really. Or maybe I might say that stars and earthquakes and pains would exist even if there was no intelligence capable of hypothesizing them and giving names to them, whereas that wasn't the case with numbers or laws of logic. So the former have objective existence, while the latter, if we prefer to say they still exist, would have subjective existence.
Then I don't think your definition of existence works, or atleast some further qualification...

I think what's happening is you're interchanging "existence" with "the mode for which the thing exists".

That is, earthquakes and logic both exist - they just exist in different ways.

What do you think?
 

Komodo

Active member
Then I don't think your definition of existence works, or atleast some further qualification...

I think what's happening is you're interchanging "existence" with "the mode for which the thing exists".

That is, earthquakes and logic both exist - they just exist in different ways.

What do you think?
I'll take the standard position here that definitions are not more or less true, only more or less convenient and useful. So it's certainly possible to say "they both exist, but in different ways." The convenience advantage of defining things that way is that it seems closer to our standard usage, by which nouns designate "things," and "things" are taken by default to exist (unless they are pseudo-things, like imaginary beings). I think the convenience disadvantage is that defining "logic" or "numbers" as existing things leads down the path towards mistaken reification. (Like, "since logic exists, we should be able to inquire about when and how it 'got here'," which is the assumption of TAG.)
 

Torin

Well-known member
@Komodo defines existence as follows: "Something exists if, and only if, it can affect, or be affected by, other things."

One might respond that this definition fails for the same reason that some philosophers think the ontological argument fails. Namely, because existence is not a "real" predicate. Existence does not add any additional property to things beyond the properties that are part of their concept, it just asserts the instantiation of the object with all its properties in reality. But this definition makes existence a predicate, so it fails.

Or can we argue as follows?

1. The magical invisible unicorn that gives me ice cream every day affects something, by definition, namely me.
2. "Something exists if, and only if, it can affect, or be affected by, other things."
3. The magical invisible unicorn that gives me ice cream every day exists.

Unfortunately, I think this argument misses a tiny detail, namely that there is no such unicorn. It affects things other than itself definitionally. Nevertheless, tragically, it isn't real. So affecting other things cannot be the definition of existence.

It is a charming world that Komodo offers us, though!
 

Komodo

Active member
@Komodo defines existence as follows: "Something exists if, and only if, it can affect, or be affected by, other things."

One might respond that this definition fails for the same reason that some philosophers think the ontological argument fails. Namely, because existence is not a "real" predicate. Existence does not add any additional property to things beyond the properties that are part of their concept, it just asserts the instantiation of the object with all its properties in reality. But this definition makes existence a predicate, so it fails.

Or can we argue as follows?

1. The magical invisible unicorn that gives me ice cream every day affects something, by definition, namely me.
2. "Something exists if, and only if, it can affect, or be affected by, other things."
3. The magical invisible unicorn that gives me ice cream every day exists.

Unfortunately, I think this argument misses a tiny detail, namely that there is no such unicorn. It affects things other than itself definitionally. Nevertheless, tragically, it isn't real. So affecting other things cannot be the definition of existence.

It is a charming world that Komodo offers us, though!
I'm probably missing something here, but if it is the case that the magical invisible unicorn gives me ice cream every day, then a fortiori the m.i.u exists (for whatever concept or definition you might have of "exists"); if it is not the case that the m.i.u. is giving me ice cream, then Premise 1 is false, and any deduction based on that premise would not follow, nor does the reductio ad absurdum.
 

Torin

Well-known member
I'm probably missing something here, but if it is the case that the magical invisible unicorn gives me ice cream every day, then a fortiori the m.i.u exists (for whatever concept or definition you might have of "exists"); if it is not the case that the m.i.u. is giving me ice cream, then Premise 1 is false, and any deduction based on that premise would not follow, nor does the reductio ad absurdum.
Premise 1 is just a definition. It is a concept I am forming. I am not sure how it could be false.

That is the point I was making with the argument. If existence is just causal efficacy, I should only have to define something as having causal efficacy for it to exist, like a causally efficacious unicorn. More generally, if existence is a predicate, we can define things into existence by giving them that predicate in our conception of them.

Your rebuttal seems to miss the point here. Causal efficacy is indeed part of the concept of the unicorn I imagined. So, why does it not exist? My answer is that your definition of existence is inadequate.

But the argument just illustrates the central point I am making, which is that existence is not a predicate, and your definition makes it one.
 

Komodo

Active member
Premise 1 is just a definition. It is a concept I am forming. I am not sure how it could be false.
"The magical invisible uniform that gives me ice cream every day" seems (to me at least) implicitly to claim that there is such a unicorn, in your dining room (or wherever he offers his gifts), not just that you can conceive of such a being. If you say "the magical invisible uniform is defined as the being that gives me ice cream every day," OK; but definitions don't lift the thing being defined into reality, whatever definition of "existence" we're applying. If a somebody says "something physically exists if it acts according to physical law," and I say "my unicorn acts according to physical law; it has mass, dimensions, etc.," have I thereby shown a flaw in the definition?
That is the point I was making with the argument. If existence is just causal efficacy, I should only have to define something as having causal efficacy for it to exist, like a causally efficacious unicorn. More generally, if existence is a predicate, we can define things into existence by giving them that predicate in our conception of them.

Your rebuttal seems to miss the point here. Causal efficacy is indeed part of the concept of the unicorn I imagined. So, why does it not exist? My answer is that your definition of existence is inadequate.

But the argument just illustrates the central point I am making, which is that existence is not a predicate, and your definition makes it one.
Suppose I argued that this was a necessary, but not a sufficient part of the definition/concept of "existence": i.e., "nothing can be said to exist if it does not causally interact with other things." Still a problem?
 
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Tercon

Well-known member
In the course of a very silly thread (you know the one I mean), it was demanded that all productive and intelligent posters provide their definition of "existence." So I thought I'd give it a try; or maybe more precisely, my definition of what it means to say that something exists.

Something exists if, and only if, it can affect, or be affected by, other things. Thus objects in time and space exist (the rock I tripped over affected my course, and I affected its position, etc.); forces exist (they can cause acceleration, for example); thoughts and feelings exist (they can cause people to do things, and the things they do can in turn create and alter those thoughts and feelings). And thoughts or concepts or representations of imaginary beings exist, though the beings themselves do not. (The 'unicorns' in the Unicorn Tapestry exist, unicorns do not.)

So far, so obvious. I think it gets at least mildly interesting, however, when we see that, by this definition, numbers do not exist, and the laws of logic do not exist: they do not cause anything to happen, nor do they prevent anything from happening. Apples don't remain apples because they are struggling to become non-apples but are prevented from doing so by the power of A=A, the way protons and neutrons might be said to be 'trying' to get away from each other but are prevented from doing so by the strong nuclear force. Therefore, the Transcendental Argument for God is based on a fallacy, namely that such laws are things which exist, and whose existence needs to be accounted for.

This does not imply that, because the law of identity does not exist, an apple can be a non-apple; of course it can't. But the reason it can't is because "the apple is not an apple" is a nonsensical sentence, not because a Strong Force of Identity exists which compels the apple to remain an apple.

I would be a bit disappointed, but hardly surprised, to find that this is not at all original with me.

The only thing that is capable of making you who you are, and everything that exists known, including wave function collapse and entanglement exist is a believing mind. Nothing is realizable outside of a believing mind.
 
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