What follows is largely a summary and restatement of points I make in "The Moreland-Willard-Lotze Thesis on Being," Philosophia Christi, vol. 6, no. 1, 2004, pp. 27-58. It is a 'popular' or 'bloggity-blog' version of a part of that lengthy technical article. First I summarize my agreements with J. P. Moreland. Then I explain and raise two objections to this theory. I post the following on account of hearing from a student of Moreland who is himself now a professor of philosophy. He has some criticisms to make. I should like to hear them in the ComBox. Another student of Moreland says he agrees with me. He may wish to chime in as well. The other day a third student of Moreland surfaced. The Moreland text I have under my logical microscope is pp. 134-139 of his 2001 Universals (McGill-Queen's University Press).
Common Ground with Moreland on Existence
We agree on the following five points (which is not to say that Moreland will agree with every detail of my explanation of these five points):
Existence is attributable to individuals. The cat that just jumped into my lap exists. This very cat, Manny, exists. Existence belongs to it and is meaningfully attributable to it. Pace Frege and Russell, 'Manny exists' is a meaningful sentence, and it is meaningful as it stands, as predicating existence of an individual. It is nothing like 'Manny is numerous.' To argue that since cats are numerous, and Manny is a cat, that therefore Manny is numerous is to commit the fallacy of division. Russell held that the same fallacy is committed by someone who thinks that since cats exist, and Manny is a cat, that therefore Manny exists. But Russell was mistaken: there is no fallacy of division; there is an equivocation on 'exists.' It has a general or second-level use and a singular or first-level use.
There are admissible first-level uses of '. . .exist(s).' It is not the case that only second-level uses are admissible. And it is only because Manny, or some other individual cat, exists that the concept cat is instantiated. The existence of an individual cannot be reduced to the being-instantiated of a property or concept. If you like, you can say that the existence of a concept is its being instantiated. We sometimes speak like that. A typical utterance of 'Beauty exists,' say, is not intended to convey that Beauty itself exists, but is intended to convey that Beauty is exemplified, that there are beautiful things. But then one is speaking of general existence, not of singular existence.
Clearly, general existence presupposes singular existence in the following sense: if a first-level concept or property is instantiated, then it is instantiated by an individual, and this individual must exist in order to stand in the instantiation nexus to a concept or property. From here on out, by 'existence' I mean 'singular existence.' There is really no need for 'general existence' inasmuch as we can speak of instantiation or of someness, as when we say that cats exist if and only something is a cat. The fundamental error of what Peter van Inwagen calls the 'thin theory' of existence is to imagine that existence can be reduced to the purely logical notion of someness. That would be to suppose, falsely, that singular existence can be dispensed with in favor of general existence. Existence is not a merely logical topic ; existence is a metaphysical topic.
Existence cannot be an ordinary property of individuals. While existence is attributable to individuals, it is no ordinary property of them. There are several reasons for this, but I will mention only one: you cannot add to a thing's description by saying of it that it exists. Nothing is added to the description of a tomato if one adds 'exists' to its descriptors: 'red,' round,' ripe,' etc. As Kant famously observed, "Being is not a real predicate," i.e., being or existence adds nothing to the realitas or whatness of a thing. Contrary to popular scholarly opinion, Kant did not anticipate the Frege-Russell theory. He does not deny that 'exist(s)' is an admissible first-level predicate. (See my "Existence: Two Dogmas of Analysis" in Novotny and Novak, eds. Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, Routledge 2014, pp. 45-75, esp. 48-50.)
Existence is not a classificatory concept or property. The reason is simple: there is no logically prior domain of items classifiable as either existent or nonexistent. Pace Meinong, everything exists. There are no nonexistent items. On Meinong's view, some items actually have properties despite having no Being at all.
Existence makes a real difference to a thing that exists. In one sense existence adds nothing to a thing. It adds nothing quidditative. In another sense it adds everything: if a thing does not exist, it is nothing at all! To be or not to be -- not just a question, but the most 'abysmal' difference conceivable. In this connection, Moreland rightly speaks of a "real difference between existence and non-existence." (137)
Existence itself exists. This is not the trivial claim that existing things exist. It is the momentous claim that that in virtue of which existing things exist itself exists. It is a logical consequence of (4) in conjunction with (3). As Moreland puts it, "[i]f existence itself does not exist, then nothing else could exist in virtue of having existence." (135)
The above five points are criteria of adequacy for a theory of existence: any adequate theory must include or entail each of these points. Most philosophers nowadays will not agree, but I think Moreland will. So he and I stand on common ground. I should think that the only fruitful disputes are those that play out over a large chunk of common ground.
But these criteria of adequacy also pose a problem: How can existence belong to individuals without being a property of them? Existence belongs to individual as it would not belong to them if it were a property of properties or concepts; but it is not a property of individuals.
Moreland's theory gets off to a good start: "existence is not a property which belongs, but is the belonging of a property." (137) This insight nicely accommodates points (1) and (2) above: existence is attributable to individuals without being an ordinary property of them. Indeed, it is not a property at all. I infer from this that existence is not the property of having properties. It is rather the mutual belongingness of a thing and its properties. Moreland continues:
Existence is the entering into the exemplification nexus . . . . In the case of Tony the tiger, the fact [that] the property of being a tiger belongs to something and that something has this property belonging to it is what confers existence. (137)
I take this to mean that existence is the mutual belonging together of individual and property. It is 'between' a thing and its properties as that which unifies them, thereby tying them into a concrete fact or state of affairs. The existence of Tony is not one of his properties; nor is it Tony. And of course the existence of Tony is not the being-exemplified of some such haecceity property as identity-with-Tony. Rather, the existence of Tony, of that very individual, is his exemplifying of his properties. The existence of a (thick) individual in general is then the exemplification relation itself insofar as this relation actually relates (thin) individual and properties.
Moreland implies as much. In answer to the question how existence itself exists, he explains that "The belonging-to (exemplification, predication) relation is itself exemplified . . ." (137) Thus the asymmetrical exemplification relation x exemplifies P is exemplified by Tony and the property of being a tiger (in that order). Existence itself exists because existence itself is the universal exemplification relation which is itself exemplified. It exists in that it is exemplified by a and F-ness, a and G-ness, a and H-ness, b and F-ness, b and G-ness, b and H-ness, and so on. An individual existent exists in that its ontological constituents (thin particular and properties) exemplify the exemplification relation which is existence itself.
The basic idea is this. The existence of a thick particular such as Tony, that is, a particular taken together with all its monadic properties, is the unity of its ontological constituents. (This is not just any old kind of unity, of course, but a type of unity that ties items that are not facts into a fact.) This unity is brought about by the exemplification relation within the thick particular. The terms of this relation are the thin particular on the one hand and the properties on the other.
Moreland's theory accommodates all five of the desiderata listed above which in my book is a strong point in its favor.
A Bradleyan Difficulty
A sentence such as 'Al is fat' is not a list of its constituent words. The sentence is either true or false, but neither the corresponding list, nor any item on the list, is either true or false. So there is something more to a declarative sentence than its constituent words. Something very similar holds for the fact that makes the sentence true, if it is true. I mean the extralinguistic fact of Al's being fat. The primary constituents of this fact, Al and fatness, can exist without the fact existing. The fact, therefore, cannot be identified with its primary constituents, taken either singly, or collectively. A fact is more than its primary constituents. But how are we to account for this 'more'?
On Moreland's theory, as I understand it, this problem is solved by adding a secondary constituent, the exemplification relation, call it EX, whose task is to connect the primary constituents. This relation ties the primary constituents into a fact. It is what makes a fact more than its primary constituents. Unfortunately, this proposal leads to Bradley's Regress. For if Al + fatness do not add up to the fact of Al's being fat, then Al + fatness + EX won't either. If Al and fatness can exist without forming the fact of Al's being fat, then Al and fatness and EX can all exist without forming the fact in question. How can adding a constituent to the primary constituents bring about the fact-constituting unity of all constituents? EX has not only to connect a and F-ness, but also to connect itself to a and to F-ness. How can it do the latter? The answer to this, presumably, will be that EX is a relation and the business of a relation is to relate. EX, relating itself to a and to F-ness, relates them to each other. EX is an active ingredient in the fact, not an inert ingredient. It is a relating relation, and not just one more constituent that needs relating to the others by something distinct from itself. For this reason, Bradley's regress can't get started.
The problem, however, is that EX can exist without relating the relata that it happens to relate in a given case. This is because EX is a universal. If it were a relation-instance as on D. W. Mertz's theory, then it would be a particular, an unrepeatable, and could not exist apart from the very items it relates. Bradley's regress could not then arise. But if EX is a universal, then it can exist without relating any specific relata that it does relate, even though, as an immanent universal, it must relate some relata or other. This implies that a relation's relating what it relates is contingent to its being the relation it is. For example, x loves y contingently relates Al and Barbara, which implies that the relation is distinct from its relating. The same goes for EX: it is distinct from its relating. It is more than just a constituent of any fact into which it enters; it is a constituent that does something to the other constituents, and in so doing does something to itself, namely, connect itself to the other constituents. Relating relations are active ingredients in facts, not inert ingredients. Or we could say that a relating relation is ontologically participial in addition to its being ontologically substantival. And since the relating is contingent in any given case, the relating in any given case requires a ground. What could this ground be?
My claim is that it cannot be any relation, including the relation, Exemplification. More generally, no constituent of a fact can serve as ontological ground of the unity of a fact's constituents. For any such putatively unifying constituent will either need a further really unifying constituent to connect it to what it connects, in which case Bradley's regress is up and running, or the unifying constituent will have to be ascribed a 'magical' power, a power no abstract object could possess, namely, the power to unify itself with what it unifies. Such an item would be a self-grounding ground: a ground of unity that grounds its unity with that which it unifies. The synthetic unity at the heart of each contingent fact needs to be grounded in an act of synthesis that cannot be brought about by any constituent of a fact, or by the fact itself.
My first objection to Moreland's theory may be put as follows. The existence of a thick particular (which we are assaying as a concrete fact along the lines of Gustav Bergmann and David Armstrong) cannot be the fact's constituents' standing in the exemplification relation. And existence itself, existence in its difference from existents, cannot be identified with the exemplification relation.
Can Existence Exist Without Being Uniquely Self-Existent?
I agree with Moreland that existence itself exists. One reason was supplied by Reinhardt Grossmann: "If existence did not exist, then nothing would exist." (Categorial Structure of the World, 405) But I have trouble with the notion that existence itself is the exemplification relation. Existence as that which is common to all that exists, and as that in virtue of which everything exists cannot be just one more thing that exists. Existence cannot be a member of an extant category that admits of multiple membership, such as the category of relations. For reasons like these such penetrating minds as Martin Heidegger, Roman Ingarden, and Panayot Butchvarov have denied that existence itself exists.
In my 2002 existence book I proposed a synthesis of these competing theses: Existence exists as a paradigm existent, one whose mode of existence is radically different from the mode of existence of the beings ontologically dependent on it. From this point of view, Moreland has a genuine insight, but he has not taken it far enough: he stops short at the dubious view that existence is the relation of exemplification. But if you drive all the way down the road with me you end up at Divine Simplicity, which Moreland has good reasons for rejecting.