Further Thoughts on Non-existence
Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 2, 2007
Few posts ago, I wrote that we always name the content of our intentional acts. We can’t name something that doesn’t first appear as a content of intentional acts. Depending of the type of the intentional act, we can name something we perceive, something we assume, something we imagine, something we wish, need, and so on.
Connected to this, we can talk about the issue of names of non-existents…
- Perceptual content, e.g. a circle may be an illusion.
- Assumed content might be a part of some theory that doesn’t correspond with the truth. For example I assume there was burglar in my house, and call him Jack, the theory might turn out to be wrong.
- Someone can tell or write a story, in which there is some fictional thing (imaginary intentional content).
- Something that exists eventually disappears (e.g. dinosaurs).
- There might not be a thing as we describe in the world (a pink unicorn)
Those are some of the cases where we usually use “X doesn’t exist”, so we say that e.g. “the circle you see doesn’t really exist” (illusion), “Jack doesn’t exist” (wrong theory), “Sherlock Holmes doesn’t exist” (fictional/imaginary content), “Dinosaurs don’t exist now” (disappeared), “Pink unicorns don’t exist” (there is no x, such that Fx).
Are those different and contingent cases which end up with a fact that some intentional content named “X” doesn’t exist, or so to say, is there a single criterion which defines what makes something named “X” to be non-existent?
In one sense, existence (or being) is sublated in any higher notion. So any intentional content will have the moment of existence in itself in any case (check this previous post). So to say, imaginary content has imaginary existence, assumed content has assumed existence, illusion has illusionary existence, etc… So what we mean by “doesn’t exist” can’t be negating the existence in general, as intentional content will necessarily have it as part of its determined existence (e.g. an imaginary unicorn will be an imaginary animal, will be an imaginary thing, will be an imaginary being), but it will be negating a specific type of existence.
If we accept that, and we accept that what we mean by “X” is inter-subjectively transcendent (by using “X” people think and talk about same thing), seems to me that we can say that in those cases saying “doesn’t exist” is negating the specific way of existence of that particular inter-subjective intentional content, and not the existence in general. As it was said, as much as something is transcendental content, it will have some form of existence, so it would be negating the reality, actuality, or some more specific type of existence of the content.
So because of this, it seems that specifying single criterion for “non-existence” would not just be oversimplification, but also unnecessary, as in order to talk about “non-existence” of X, the specifying of the intentional content – X would have to include more precise information about the content than some binary existence predicate. For example in order to specify meaning of God, one would have to answer questions which would include the issue of what is usually named as an issue of existence of God,.