A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Existence and Transcendence

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on June 12, 2006

This post was inspired by the post over at Philosophy, et cetera discussing the question of what is that “fundamental existence” of which philosophers speak when they are arguing if chairs fundamentally exist or not. Thinking of what that existence might be, I ended up writing my thoughts on existence, which I think might clear up the issue, while I’m not sure if it has any value in the discussion opened there.

First, to raise the issue of existence, we necesseraly need to talk about some thing to start with. We always talk about existence of something.
When we say that “Santa doesn’t exist”, that doesn’t mean that there is such thing as Santa just because we mention Santa, and because we talk about Santa. But it is also true that Santa has to have objective meaning, it has to refer to something objective, as if it doesn’t the proposition “Santa doesn’t exist” can’t have truth value. So “objectivity” and “existence” should be distinguished. By objectivity I mean the kind of objectivity of the terms which is established through critiques of psychologism by Frege and Husserl. (In short the issue of objectivity, is issue of transcendence, and even intersubjective transcendence… i.e. – how come it is possible to think about same thing in different times, and even multiple people to think and talk about same thing?)

So, we can agree for example that numbers are objective/transcendental (and not psychological events of some kind) entities. Because numbers are objective, there are objective truths about numbers. “1+1=2″ is objective truth, “there is no biggest integer” is objective truth, and so on…

But if we are raising the issue of existence, or non existence of the objective thing, it means that the existence doesn’t belong to that objective something of which we talk. Or, to say it differently, if there was some property of existence which would belong to those things, then their existence wouldn’t be issue. This is what I think Kant’s “existence isn’t predicate” refers to.

So, the objective/transcendental can’t exist qua objective. What exist is concrete, and when wondering about the existence of the objective, that is the issue at hand, if there is concrete such that it can be further determined as that objective.
So we could say that numbers don’t exist qua numbers, 9 don’t exist as 9, there is no concrete 9 qua 9, but there exist concrete number of planets in the Solar system, which can be determined to be 9. Blue doesn’t exist as blue, there is no concrete blue out there, but there exist concrete color of my shirt, which can be determined to be blue, etc…
So, while we can agree that numbers don’t exist as numbers (e.g. there is no number 9 that exists as number 9), that colors don’t exist qua colors (there is no blue color that exists as blue color); we can ask if there is such things which can be determined as certain number (number of planets in Solar system), and if there exist things which are blue.

This of course is more problematic to accept in case of names. Isn’t it weird to accept that “Nothing exist qua Earth, but there might be a concrete thing which can be determined as Earth”?. Doesn’t “Earth” mean that concrete thing? It does… it means that concrete thing which is determined as “Earth” ,and which we happen to believe that exist. But doesn’t mean the concrete thing exists qua Earth.
It is possible to say “Earth doesn’t exist”, and even imagine it to be true. Example would be the case in which Vogon spaceship destroyed the Earth to build a hyper-space bypass. Earth wouldn’t exist in such case, but proposition “Earth doesn’t exist” will be true. For the proposition to have truth value, “Earth” would still need to have objective meaning, and it is for sure the same meaning it had while the Earth existed. So meaning of “Earth” is not at all changed by the fact that some concrete object is destroyed.
If you think that this is merely temporal issue, we could imagine The Matrix scenario, placed on the planet Kagiroino-Oka. Within the Matrix we might live on planet Earth, however it would be true that Earth doesn’t exist. There is just virtual-Earth in the matrix. But if that scenario is the case, “Earth” would mean same thing that it means now. “Earth doesn’t exist” would refer to same Earth. So meaning of Earth is “untouched” by the issue of existence of thing which can be determined as Earth.

Additional argument that the concrete thing doesn’t exist qua Earth, even if we put aside the argument that existence doesn’t enter the meaning of Earth, is that there are much more truth about whatever is concrete thing which is Earth, then its being Earth. We can investigate Earth, we can measure it, and in general we can learn facts about it – about the concrete thing which is determined as Earth. If we learn new things, we can’t say that the meaning of Earth changes. So again, we see that the concrete thing, and what Earth means are separate.

To give proper account, we need to analyze this distinction of objective and existing, we need to see what constitutes objectivity (transcendence), and what is its relation to concrete, i.e. how is it possible for concrete to be objective – because while objective can’t exist qua objective, concrete can exist as being something objective (as rabbit, chair, Earth and so on).  Threads of posts in which I try to discuss those issues on this blog can be found here.

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