Canyon Country, CA
Like many philosophically interesting notions, existence is at once familiar and rather elusive. Although we have no more trouble with using the verb ‘exists’ than with the two-times tables, there is more than a little difficulty in saying just what existence is. Existing seems to be at least as mundane as walking or being hungry. Yet, when we say ‘Tom is hungry’ or ‘Tom is walking’, it may be news to those not in Tom’s vicinity, whereas ‘Tom exists’ would be news to no one who knew Tom, and merely puzzling to anyone who did not. Again, we know what it is like to be hungry or to walk, but what is it like to exist, what kind of experience is that? Is it perhaps the experience of being oneself, of being identical with oneself? Yet again, we can readily indicate what is meant by Tom’s walking, but surely Tom’s existing is not something we can indicate to anyone. On the face of it, there would seem to be no way at all in which we can explain what existing is. It may be tempting to think that ‘Tom exists’ means merely ‘Tom is real’. In fact, this could be distinctly appealing, for ‘real’ is what has been called an ‘excluder’ predicate, meaning thereby that it attributes nothing positive to Tom, but operates in a purely negative fashion simply to exclude Tom from being imaginary, mythical, fictional, and the like. To say that ‘exists’ meant ‘is real’ would be to say inter alia that it attributed nothing positive to Tom; and that would do much to relieve our frustration at being so fluent in our use of ‘exists’ despite having no idea of its attributing anything positive to Tom. It would be a relief to discover that ‘exists’ attributes nothing positive to him at all. Unfortunately, this won’t do; for among all the negatives that ‘is real’ might be applying to Tom would be not only ‘not imaginary’, ‘not mythical’, etc., but also ‘not nonexistent’. Now, suppose a seer predicted that in two years that a son would be born to Bill and Mary, and that he would be called ‘Tom’. When the prediction was finally fulfilled, we might imagine the seer announcing triumphantly ‘At last Tom exists, exactly as I predicted he would’. If ‘exists’ were an excluder like ‘is real’, then the seer could only be understood as excluding something from Tom; and in this case it would be non-existence. As said by the seer, therefore, ‘At last Tom exists’ could only mean ‘At last Tom is not-nonexistent’. And if he really were to mean that, we should be entitled to ask him just when Tom could ever have been said to be nonexistent, i.e. never to have existed. In fact, before he existed Tom could never even have been referred to, and hence at that time nothing at all could have been attributed to him, not even the property of being nonexistent. Promising as it may have seemed, therefore, ‘Tom exists’ is not to be understood simply as ‘Tom is real’. Of course, the failure of attempts to understand ‘exists’ as ‘is real’ leaves plenty of room for other suggestions, each proposing to substitute one or more terms for ‘exists’, and thereby to show why our original disquiet about it and existence has been sadly misplaced. If one thinks that ‘exists’ is readily dispensable in favour of some other (less troublesome) expression, then there will be no difficulty in dismissing the thought of there being some such property or attribute as existence. Alternatively, if one thinks that ‘exists’ is not to be dispensed with in this way, then one might be inclined to continue pursuing the puzzle of just what existence is. It is probably now reasonably clear that the question of existence is inextricably intertwined with the question of ‘exists’. In some languages, the predicate ‘is’ does duty for ‘exists’, and even in English there are archaic uses of ‘is’ in that role. In discussing existence, therefore, we shall be much concerned also with the predicates ‘is’ and ‘exists’. In this regard, the predominant view on existence among contemporary philosophers of an analytic persuasion might be summarized in two theses, the first of which is the Frege-Russell distinction between four different meanings of ‘is’ - the ‘is’ of existence, of identity, of predication, and of generic implication (inclusion), as illustrated below.
‘Socrates is’, rendered in regimented language as ‘(x)(Socrates = x)’.
‘Cicero is Tully’, rendered as ‘Cicero = Tully’.
‘Socrates is wise’, rendered as ‘Wise(Socrates)’.
‘Man is an animal’, rendered as ‘(x)(Man(x) Animal(x))’.
On this view, the different uses of ‘is’ entail correspondingly different meanings, so different in fact as to have nothing whatever in common. That is to say, they are casually ambiguous rather than being merely systematically ambigous or analogical, which would have been the case had their meanings been inter-related though without being univocal in any way - not even partially.
The second thesis commonly, though not universally, held by analytic philosophers might be summed up in the familiar dictum, ‘Existence is not a predicate’. More accurately, it should be written either as ‘Existence is not a (first-level) property’ or as ‘"Exists" is not a (first-level) predicate’. Before discussing current views on this and the earlier thesis, it will therefore be useful to be reminded of what some earlier philosophers have had to say about existence and, correlatively, about ‘is’ and ‘exists’ as verbs of being.
The general philosophy of this work may be called 'perfect integration'. It is the belief that all fundamental principles fit together in a faultless, seamless, logical structure. And that there is only one such structure. Because man is in the universe, mind is congruent with the physical universe (as interaction). Therefore, existence is, as a whole, an entity possessed of mind.
It cannot be a discreet entity in the manner of its parts (man) but is rather a holistic entity and the context in which discreet entities exist. God is to universe as mind is to brain. Logic and God are therefore congruent aspects of existence. Logic being the quantitive, analyzable aspect and God being that which is qualitive and unanalyzable. One analyzes quantities.
One contemplates qualities. Analysis produces understanding and the means of physical existence. Contemplation produces contentment and gives meaning to life.
Now that may be more than what you wanted to know, and I bounced around a lot with different peoples opinions, and some of it might not have made sense, but here you go!
We're called to stand out, not blend in!
[This message has been edited by Echo Rhayne (edited 12-22-2000).]