Existence elicited nausea from Sartre's Roquentin, but wonder from Bryan Magee:
. . . no matter what it was that existed, it seemed to me extraordinary beyond all wonderment that it should. It was astounding that anything existed at all. Why wasn't there nothing? By all the normal rules of expectation — the least unlikely state of affairs, the most economical solution to all possible problems, the simplest explanation — nothing is what you would have expected there to be. But such was not the case, self-evidently. (Confessions of a Philosopher, p. 13)
We find something similar in Wittgenstein: Wie erstaunlich, dass ueberhaupt etwas existiert. "How astonishing that anything at all exists." (Geheime Tagebuecher 1914-1916, p. 82.)
What elicited Magee's and Wittgenstein's wonderment was the self-evident sheer existence of things in general: their being as opposed to their nonbeing. How strange that anything at all exists! Now what could a partisan of the thin conception of Being or existence make of this wonderment at existence? Or at Sartre's/Roquentin's nausea at existence? I will try to show that no thin theorist qua thin theorist can accommodate wonderment/nausea at existence, and that this fact tells against the thin theory.
I have already exposited the thin theory ad nauseam, if you will forgive the pun. So let's simply consider what the head honcho of the thin theorists, Peter van Inwagen, has to say about wonder at existence in "Being, Existence, and Ontological Commitment" (in Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology, eds. Chalmers et al., Oxford 2009, pp. 472-506) He begins by pointing out (478) that everything we say using 'exists' and its cognates can be said without using 'exists'and its cognates. 'Dragons do not exist' can be put by saying 'Nothing is a dragon,' or 'Everything is not a dragon.' 'God exists' can be put in terms of the equivalent 'It is not the case that everything is not (a) God.' 'I think, therefore I am' is equivalent to 'I think, therefore not everything is not I.' Here are some further examples of my own. 'An honest politican does not exist' is equivalent to 'No politician is honest.' 'A sober Irishman does exist' is equivalent to 'Some Irishman is sober.' 'An impolite New Yorker does not exist' is equivalent to 'Every New Yorker is polite.'
From examples like these it appears that every sentence containing 'exists' or 'is' (used existentially) or cognates, can be be replaced by an equivalent sentence in which 'exists' or 'is' (used existentially), or cognates does not appear.
Now let's see how this works when it comes to the sentences we use to express our wonder at our own existence or at the existence of things in general.
Suppose I am struck by a sudden sense of my contingency. I exclaim, 'I might never have existed.' That is equivalent to 'I might never have been identical to anything' or, as van Inwagen has it, 'it might have been the case that everything was always not I.' (479)
To wonder why there is anything at all is to wonder "why it is not the case that everything is not (identical with) anything." (479)
Now I could mock these amazing contortions whereby van Inwagen tries to hold onto his thin theory, but I won't. Mockery and derision have a place in polemical writing, as when I am battling the lunkheads of the Left, but they have no place in philosophy proper. But really, has anyone ever expressed his wonder at the sheer existence of the world using the sentence I just quoted from PvI? But of course I need a more substantial objection that this, and I have one.
When I wonder at the sheer existence of things I am not wondering at the fact that everything is identical to something, or wondering at its not being the case that everything is not identical with anything.
Why not? Well, the truth of 'Everything is identical to something' presupposes a domain of quantification the members of which are existing items. Surely what I find wonder-inducing is not the fact that every item x in that presupposed domain is identical to some item y in that very same presupposed domain! That miserable triviality is not what I am wondering at. I am wondering at the existence of anything at all including the domain and everything in it.
What I am wondering at is that there is something and not nothing. How can a Quinean such as PvI express that something exists? Is 'Something exists' equivalent to 'For some x, x = x'? No. Existence is not self-identity. For x to exist is not for x to be self-identical. Otherwise, for x not to exist would be for x to be self-diverse -- which is absurd. My possible nonexistence is not my possible self-diversity.
Suppose there is only only one thing, a, and that I am wondering at the existence of a. Why is there a and not rather nothing? Am I wondering at a's self-identity? Obviously not. I am wondering at a's sheer existence, that it is 'there,' that it is not nothing, that is it, that it has Being.
And so I conclude that a thin theorist qua thin theorist cannot experience wonder at the sheer existence of things. All he can experience wonder at -- if you want to call it wonder -- is that things presupposed as existing are self-identical -- which is surely not all that marvellous. Of course they are self-identical! Necessarily if a thing exists, it is self-identical. But existence is not self-identity. If existence were self-identity, then nonexistence would be self-diversity and possble existence would be possible self-diversity.
Some of us experience wonder at the sheer existence of things. As old Ludwig puts it, Ich staune dass die Welt existiert! When I experience this wonder I am not experiencing wonder at the trivial fact that each of the things presupposed as existing is identical to something or other. I am wondering at the existence of everything including the presupposed domain of existents. This then is yet another argument against the thin theory. The thin theory cannot accommodate wonder at existence, or Sartrean nausea at existence either.