Being in receipt of the following detailed comments on a central argument in a forthcoming paper, "Existence: Two Dogmas of Analysis," I am now deeply in London Ed's debt. In each numbered item, Ed more or less quotes me and then comments. My responses are in blue.
1. On the thin theory existence is a property of concepts only and cannot be sensibly predicated of individuals. The theory says that existence is the property of being instantiated, the property of having one or more instances.
This leaves out other versions of the thin theory, which do not mention concepts.
I thought I had made it clear that 'concepts' is short for 'concepts, properties, propositional functions, and cognate items,' a phrase I used earlier in the paper. To save words, I did not use the longer phrase.
2. An affirmative general existential such as 'Horses exist' does not predicate existence of individual horses; it predicates instantiation of the concept horse.
Other versions would translate 'horses exist' as 'some things are horses'.
It does not make any difference for my purpose, which is to present a 'master argument' against every version of the Fressellian theory. If the concept horse is instantiated, then of course something is a horse. And if something is a horse, then either the concept horse is instantiated, or the property of being a horse is exemplified, or the propositional function 'x is a horse is "sometimes true" (in Russell's phrase), or the word 'horse' applies to something, and so on for every cognate item you can think of.
3. Equivalently, it says that the number of horses is one or more.
'the number of horses is one' = 'for some x, horse(x) and for all y, horse (y) implies y=x'
Which is equivalent, except that quantification is clearly prior.
Clearly (logically) prior? Why? The following are logically equivalent: 'The number of horses is one or more,' 'Some things are horses.' Ed needs to explain why he thinks that the latter is "clearly prior" to the former. Prior in what sense?
4. And a negative general existential such as 'Mermaids do not exist' does not predicate anything of individual mermaids -- after all, there aren't any -- it denies that the concept mermaid has any instances. Equivalently, it says that the number of mermaids is zero.
And see my response!
5. The theory handles the semantics of general existentials very nicely, and this is a point in its favor.
We agree on something. Excellent!
6. But our main concern is with the ontology of the thin theory. It is important to distinguish between the instantiation theory as a semantic theory about existential sentences and an ontological theory about existence.
I don't understand this, because I don't understand 'ontological'.
Just as I suspected, here is where the problem is located. Forget the word 'ontological.' I want to know what existence is. I am concerned with the the semantics of existential sentences only insofar as they are an indispensable point of departure for posing questions about existence in a rigorous and tractable manner.
I suspect that Ed is feigning incomprehension in a manner not exactly uncommon among British analytic philosophers. It is a certain dialectical ploy or tactic. We can dub it the tactic of feigning incomprehension. One who employs this tactic understands tolerably well what is being said, but does not find it quite as clear as he would like. So he pretends not to understand. 'I don't know what you are talking about.' 'I don't understand what that means.' 'I have no idea what you are driving at.'
Ed tells us that he doesn't understand 'ontological.' But of course he does. He know that it means 'pertaining to being or existence.' He also knows that it contrasts with 'epistemological,' with 'semantic,' and in some contexts with 'logical.'
Rather than feigning incomprehension, Ed should tell us what he finds unclear about the question, What is existence? If he understands the answer, Existence is instantiation, then presumably he understands the question.
Or is it rather the case that Ed really does not understand the question about existence? If so, then he makes me suspect something something that I and Peter Lupu have long suspected, namely, that he is some sort of linguistic idealist, i.e., one who holds that there is nothing outside of language. If he is a linguistic idealist, then it becomes understandable why he cannot fathom that the account of existence in terms of instantiation is circular.
7. Let us suppose for the moment that every general existential can be expressed salva significatione as an instantiation claim. This is false as I will show later. But even if it were true it would not follow that the thin theory is adequate ontologically.
8. To see what is wrong with the ontology of the theory, note first that instantiation is a relation, a dyadic asymmetrical relation.
I understand the last bit.
Well, that's something!
9. We can of course speak of the property of being instantiated but only so long as it is understood that this is a relational property, one parasitic upon the relation of instantiation.
Yes. I don't know how this argument translates to the Brentano version, which doesn't mention concepts at all.
I don't discuss Brentano in this paper. Brentano's theory is psychologistic and ought not be lumped in with the anti-psychologistic theory of Frege despite some similarities. I am concerned with the Frege-Russell-Quine theory only in the paper under discussion. I discuss Brentano on existence in the aptly titled "Brentano on Existence," History of Philosophy Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 3 (July 2001), pp. 311-327.
I concede, however, that Brentano is a thin theorist in a broad sense of the term, and I want to thank Ed for reminding me of that.
10. Therefore, if a first-level concept C is instantiated, then there is some individual x such that x instantiates C.
OK the rest was preamble. Now we have something that looks like the start of an argument. 'C is instantiated' begs a correlative. It's like 'N is a master', or 'N is a brother'. There must be a servant of N, or a brother of N. This is clear. Thus 'C is instantiated' implies 'something instantiates C'. Or, equivalently 'there is something that instantiates C'. But, if CJFW is right, 'there is' is simply the Anglo Saxon way of putting the copula at the beginning of the sentence. In Latin you can turn 'someone is white' into 'is someone white'. English doesn't like the 'is' at the front, because it makes the sentence look like a question, having no particle to express questions. So English puts 'there' in front.
Ed is understanding me, but also misunderstanding me while displaying his linguistic idealism or linguistic immanentism. He doesn't seem to want to grant the obvious, namely, that if C is instantiated, then it is instantiated by an individual that extralinguistically exists. For some reason, Ed wants to remain within the circle of linguistic representations. He fights shy of granting that there is something extralinguistic that these sentences are about.
'Cats exist' is true only if at least one individual extramentally and extralinguistically exists and is a cat. Will Ed deny that?
11. It would be nonsense to say that C is instantiated while adding that there is nothing that instantiates it.
That is because 'something instantiates C' is the contradictory of 'nothing instantiates C', at least for Aristotle and the scholastics.
Not just for Aristotle and the scholastics.
12. That would be like saying that Tom is married but there is no one to whom he is married.
Agreed. Aristotle again.
Surely there is nothing specifically Aristotelian about this point.
13. Just as Tom is married is elliptical for Tom is married to someone, C is instantiated is elliptical for C is instantiated by some individual x.
This repeats 10 above.
14. Now either x exists or it does not.
On the thin conception, we cannot even express negative existentials, and that is a long-recognised weakness of the theory. Even to presume it makes sense requires a stronger theory. Perhaps this is your point? The best we can get is 'for some x, x = a'. I don't like your use of the variable in 14, by the way. Why not use the conventional constant 'a'? 'x' is a variable.
I am deeply puzzled by Ed's lack of understanding of the blindingly obvious point I am making here. 'X' is the bound variable in the consequent of #10 above. The point is simply that an an individual that instantates C either exists or it does not. That is simply an instance of the Law of Excluded Middle. What's not to understand? Why does Ed strain at a gnat?
15. Suppose it does not.
First leg of the argument. This is looking similar to the one from your blog which I quote in my blog.
16. Then we have instantiation without existence. If so, existence cannot be instantiation.
That is crystal clear.
Bravo! It is indeed crystal clear.
17. For example, let C be the concept winged horse and let x be Pegasus. Assuming for the moment that there are nonexistent objects, the latter instantiates the former since Pegasus is a winged horse. But Pegasus does not exist. So existence cannot be the second-level property of instantiation if we allow nonexistent objects to serve as instances of concepts. The instantiation theory of existence is false if there are nonexistent objects.
That is self-evident.
Indeed it is!
18 Now suppose that x exists as we must suppose if we deny that there are nonexistent objects.
This is something we cannot suppose if we accept the Direct Reference version of the thin theory. Given that 'a' names something, 'a does not exist' is false in virtue of its meaning. Alternatively, we can suppose that proper names have both a sense and a referent. In which case we have singular concepts: the sense of the name is something that, as it were, is not instantiated, i.e. doesn't have a referent. You deal with this objection a long way below.
I have no idea what Ed means by the Direct Reference version of the thin theory. And I am not feigning incomprehension. The thin theory is a theory of existence, not a theory of reference. The point I am making here is so simple and luminous that I am astonished that Ed stumbles over it. There are no existent individuals. Therefore, if first-level C is instantiated, then it is instantiated by an existing individual.
What's not to understand?
19. Then the theory is circular: it presupposes first-level existence.
Not at all. On the direct reference version of the theory, you cannot even express the fact that 'a' names nothing. For if it names nothing, it has no meaning. On the indirect reference theory, we can express this fact. But it is second-level. The apparently first-level 'Pegasus does not exist' is really the second-level ''Pegasus' has a sense but no referent', i.e. existence is the property of a sense. Or, if you like, it is the property of instantiating a singular concept. You may object to 'senses' or 'singular concepts'. But you need to address that objection.
Again, the theory I am discussing is a theory in metaphysics, not a theory in philosophy of language. I am asking a straightforwardly ontological question, What is existence? and I am examining the answer according to which existence is instantiation. So I have no idea why Ed balks at my circularity argument.
He also muddies the waters by bring up singular existentials when it is general existentials alone that are at issue in the part of my paper from which Ed is quoting, e.g., 'Cats exist,' 'Dragons do not exist.'
20. If the concept American philosopher is instantiated, then there is at least one individual that instantiates it, an individual that possesses first-level existence.
I agree with the antecedent. But the consequent does not follow, if either the direct reference or indirect reference of the theory is true.
What?? I fail to understand how anyone could disagree with #20. It is blindingly self-evident. All it does is explicate the notion of a first-level concept's being instantiated on the assumption (one that Ed and I share) that there are no nonexistent objects.
21. No first-level concept or property or propositional function or cognate item can be instantiated unless it is instantiated by some individual that exists, where exists obviously cannot have the sense of 'is instantiated.'
This simply repeats 20 above.
Yes, but apparently it was ineffective in helping Ed see the point in all its pellucid luminosity.
21. Due to this circularity, the thin or quantificational theory in all its variants is untenable. It fails as an answer to the question, What is existence?
The circularity needs to be proved, i.e. why first level existence is 'presupposed'.
I have proven it and quite clearly.
22. In sum, the instantiation theory of existence is false whether or not there are nonexistent objects. If there are nonexistent objects, then the link between existence and instantiation is broken.
Agree with the first leg, as above.
23. But if there are no nonexistent objects, then the theory is also false. For if a first-level concept is instantiated, it is instantiated by one or more individuals that exist, but cannot exist by being instantiated. Therefore, existence cannot be identical to instantiation.
This fails to address the weak part of the argument, namely (19).
I simply don't understand what objection Ed is lodging against #19. If the concept cat is instantiated, then one or more individuals exist that are cats. I don't have to have a name for one of these critters. Some nameless individual can do the honors. Nor do I have to worry about how names pick out their referents, whether directly, or via descriptions, or in some other way. My cat Manny is an instance of cat but he would be one even if he had no name. Most animals pass through this vale of tears without a name. But that does not prejudice their existence one iota.
Ed is hung up on questions in the philosophy of language. This hang up prevents him from seeing that I am asking a straightforwardly ontological question I am not asking semantic or epistemic questions. Mine is the intentio recta, Ed's is the intentio obliqua.
I see a black cat on my writing table. I ask: what is for this individual -- or any individual -- to exist? I am not asking how I know that a black cat is on my desk, or how the name 'Manny' picks out exactly this furry critter.
24. The above argument spells the doom of the instantiation theory. But to appreciate this fully certain evasive maneuvers need to be countered.
OK let's look at the manoeuvres.
25. One might try to evade the circle by arguing that the thin theory is not a theory of singular existence, the existence of individuals, but a theory of general existence only. [...] And so one might try to evade the circularity objection by maintaining that, while there is singular existence, the thin theory is a theory of general existence only, a theory that has nothing to say about singular existence.
I think it should have been spelled out earlier that explaining singular existentials is a potential weakness of the thin conception, particularly as the weakness has already been recognised by many big players (including CJFW) in the analytic tradition. The previous section really doesn't establish anything new, in my view.
Note how Ed conflates singular existence with singular existentials. This is in keeping with his ongoing blurring of the distinction between semantic and ontological questions. Singular existentials are sentences or propositions. Singular existence is non-sentential and non-propositional: it is that factor in an individual that grounds its existence.
26. To evade the circle in this way is to change the subject. The subject is being or existence. If we are to talk sensibly of a thin theory and a thick theory of being as van Inwagen does above, then we must assume that there is a common topic that both theories engage. We cannot speak of a thin and a thick theory of being or existence if the thin theory deals only with general existence and the thick theory only with singular existence.
That is correct. But to my knowledge no writer has sidestepped the issue in this way. The distinction between concept and object, and the use of special letters to distinguish concept words from object words, is right there in the shop window of the theory. General existence is *all there is*.
Ed is right that no writer (at least no writer known to me) has sidestepped the issue in this way. But my purpose is to block every escape route, actual or possible. Having all the escape routes clearly labeled will serve clarity and prevent confusion.
27. [...] He has unjustifiably narrowed the topic. This is unjustified because there cannot be general existence without singular existence. If uninhabited planets exist, then either Mars exists or Mercury exists, or . . . .
I'm glad you don't say 'she has unjustifiably narrowed the topic'. On the 'descent to singulars' argument, that should be 'either Mars is unhabited or Jupiter is uninhabited .. etc'.
Why, because I would then be taking a sly sexist slap against females by using 'she' when I am saying something unflattering? Or because you are opposed to the politically correct nonsense according to which 'he' is somehow sexist?
No, I said exactly what I wanted to say. But you are not understanding me. If uninhabited planet is instantiated, then either Mars (which is uninhabited) exists, or Mercury (which is uninhabited) exists, or . . . . Why can't you see that?
28. There is no second-level existence without first-level existence: if a first-level concept or property is instantiated then it is instantiated by an individual that possesses singular or first-level existence.
That is question begging. The thin theorist recognises singular existential *sentences* of course, and is not ignoring them. And again, the consequent has not been conclusively proved yet.
What?? Will it help Ed's incomprehension if I point out the obvious, namely, that on the theory under examination, concepts, properties, and propositional functions are not constituents of the things that instantiate them?
29. This leaves the thin theorist with only two options if he is to avoid circularity. Either he takes an eliminativist line and denies that there is any singular existence, or he takes a reductionist line and attempts to explain singular existence as a special case of general existence. Both are dead-ends.
These are the only valid options, I agree.
30. It might be said that the thin theory neither changes the subject nor is circular or false; it is an eliminativist theory the gist of which is that there is no singular existence. The whole point, I may be told, is that exists is not an admissible first-level predicate in an ideal language, that attaching 'exists' to the name of an individual results in a string of words as meaningless as results from attaching numerous to the name of an individual. [...]
I don't recognise this account, except for one philosopher I corresponded with years ago.
Have you never read Russell on existence? That's exactly what he says. The passage is footnoted in my paper. Frege says the same thing in other words and less dramatically.
31. Furthermore, a general existential such as 'Faithful husbands exist' cannot be true unless it is at least possible that some singular existential of the form 'NN exists' be true, even if, in actual fact, no one can name a faithful husband.[...]
Again, what makes 'Faithful husbands exist' true is that (per the thin theory) we can translate it into 'for some x, x is a husband and x is faithful'. And then if any sentence like 'NN is a husband and NN is faithful' is true, the general existential is true.
Again we find London Ed refusing to move beyond the circle of linguistic representation. He uses the phrase 'makes true.' But his use of the phrase does not get us beyond the linguistic circle. As I use 'makes true,' a truth-maker cannot be a sentence or any linguistic or representational item. There is a sense in which 'Ed is a faithful husband' makes true 'Faithful husbands exist.' The first entails the second. But the entailment holds only if 'Ed' picks out an existing referent. But then it is clear that second-level (general) existence presupposes first-level (singular) existence. Ed, despite his denials, enjoys first-level existence.
32. To put it in material mode, if the concept faithful husband is instantiated then there must be at least one individual who is a faithful husband and who exists. How then could we simply dispense with singular existence and singular existentials (as opposed to providing an analysis of them that does justice to the datum that existence is sometimes attributed to individuals)?
The consequent of the first sentence still has to be proved.
Why? It's blindingly obvious. But perhaps Hilary Putnam was right when he said, "It ain't obvious what's obvious."
33. Let us also note that if there is no singular existence, then the thin theory of existence becomes utterly trivial. It boils down to an instantiation theory of general existence. But general existence is just instantiation. So we end up with the triviality of an instantiation theory of instantiation!
I don't follow this.
Seems clear to me!
34. [...] What about 'Stromboli exists'? How should it be construed? There are only three options, and on each of them the thin theory collapses.
OK now we are onto the second leg of the two objections which you are dispatching. Which has three toes.
35. On the first option the sentence is a genuine predication of singular existence. But then the thin theory is circular: its attempted account of existence in terms of instantiation presupposes a sense of 'exist(s)' that cannot mean 'is instantiated.'
Yes that is clear.
36. On the second option, the sentence is dismissed as meaningless in the manner of Frege and Russell. This is the eliminativist line and is plainly untenable: Stromboli exists is true and therefore meaningful.
OK but I still don't follow the eliminativist position. There are two sub-positions. One is that 'Stromboli exists = 'for some x, x = Stromboli', which is necessarily true, given that if 'Stromboli' names anything at all, it must name something. Or we could dispense with 'exist' and just say that the proper name as it were shows the existence of the named individual, in virtue of the name being meaningful.
So you are committed to 'Stromboli exists' being a necessary truth? Surely this is a reductio ad absurdum of the variation you are now presenting. Your second idea sounds pretty mystical for you. Showing versus saying? Shades of Ludwig?
37. This leaves the third option which is to analyze Stromboli exists as an instantiation claim, thereby reducing singular existentials to general existentials, and singular existence to a form of general existence.
This is the 'London Ockham' theory.
38. For this to work there would have to be an individual concept or haecceity property H such that H, if instantiated, is instantiated by Stromboli, by Stromboli alone, and not possibly by anything distinct from Stromboli.
39. This is because the existence of an individual is unique to it and bound up with its very identity. My singular existence is mine, not yours, and yours is yours, not mine. Clearly, my singular existence cannot be identified with the instantiation of any multiply instantiable property; what is needed is a property I alone have and can have.
This is Scotism, rather than London Ockhamism. According to London Ockhamism, there are singular concepts, but no corresponding property.
40. Now I argue that there cannot be such haecceity properties.
Here you refer to a section of your book, which is unavailable.
41. There is not the space to repeat all my arguments here. I will mention just one.
This is unfortunate, as it is for me the most interesting part.
42. Suppose you think that there is a property, identity-with-Stromboli. [...]
I follow the rest of the argument, and it is a good argument that the real Ockham would have appreciated. Clearly there cannot be haecceity properties, for similar reasons that there are no universal properties.
43. [...] Summing up sections (1)-(4), we see that the instantiation account is impaled on the horns of a tetralemma. [...]
I agree with your tetralemma, but only when I have translated it into sentence talk rather than property talk. One of the consistent problems I have with your paper is the way you use the word 'existence' throughout, which kind of presumes it is naming some abstract thing in reality, when I would tend to talk about the language, i.e. about words like 'exist', 'is', even 'existence' the word.
Part of the problem of understanding each other is that we differ in metaphilosophy and methodology. You talk about language, which a fine place to start, but then you never get beyond language, as it seems to me. I go to the things themselves . . . .
Existence is not something abstract, but that in concrete individuals that makes them be and not be nothing.
For all that, it's curious how we have come via quite different routes to a similar conclusion. There is a serious weakness in the Frege-Russell-Quine account of existence, and the problem arises because of singular existential sentences. We are both agreed that the majority of the weaknesses cannot be resolved. Where we disagree is on singular meaning. We even agree that there can be no external property corresponding to singular meaning. However, you infer from this that there can be no singular meaning either.
I am not primarily worried about meaning. I am worried about existence. Existence at bottom is singular existence: the existence of this cat, that rock. One of my points is that the existence of this cat cannot be identified with the being-instantiated of any property and for two reasons. First, it is blatantly circular (to use the phrase that offends you), and second because there are no haecceity properties or haecceity concepts (whether concepts be taken in your way or in Frege's).
Your obsessions are logic and language, meaning and reference. My obsession is existence. One of my central claims is that existence cannot be reduced to any logical notion. Hence it cannot be identified with the logical quantity someness, pace your teacher C. J. F. Williams. (You will have noticed that I quote him) I am light-years away from Williams, but rather close to his friend Barry Miller. Interestingly, they were both Catholic priests.