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Monday, July 30, 2012


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Just some quick thoughts: I agree that the quote you give in the beginning is very difficult and I don't really have any idea of what the connection is. Do you think though, contra what you've said, that Aquinas could be said to hold existence as a thing's most general activity? For instance, with his talk of the 'actus essendi' or 'act of being'? So maybe Van Inwagen gets the idea that because Aquinas, who is a paradigmatic thick theorist, holds both the distinction between existence and nature and (apparently) that existence is an activity, it follows there must be some connection between the two. Though he doesn't really explicitly say this I guess since Van Inwagen doesn't even really mention Aquinas. Just a conjecture.

As far as modes of being, it's very interesting you bring up the problem of *this* pain. It appears a thin theorist is by his theory of existence committed to the denial of this premise: "Natures are multiply realizable." Of course, we are taking 'nature' here in the loose sense of the set of 'determiniations' or 'features' or 'properties' of a thing. If we even took 'nature' to mean the more limited set of de re necessary properties they would still deny your premise. For the haecceity of a thing would just be one more property among others, and so if this is included in the nature of *this* pain, then it is false to say that the natures of things are multiply exemplifiable. And since everything's existence consists in the instantiation of that thing's haecceity property, then they all have the same mode of existence. This seems to place a burden on haecceities, but then again their whole theory of existence does, so that's not really a big surprise.

I think there is likely to be at least some sort of connection between modes of being and thin theory's use of haecceities. Those are just some inchoate thoughts, but I will try and see if I can come up with anything better. What do you think?

Thanks for the comments, Alfredo.

I thought someone might make the objection you made, but decided not to head it off lest the post become too long. If Socrates exists, then he is 'in act,' but that simply means that his nature is actually existent as opposed to potentially existent. It does not mean that he is engaging in some special activity of being.

'Act' in English is ambiguous. If it is being used in contrast to 'potency' then it doesn't imply any activity. But 'act' could also mean 'action.' Rocks are actual but do not engage in actions. So it would certainly be bizarre to describe the existence of a rock as an action it performs or an activity in which it engages.

Actus essendi could be translated as 'act of existing.' But not as 'action of existing' or as 'activity of existing.'

If a rock is heated by the sun, then its potential to be hot is actualized and the rock can be said to be 'in act' with respect to the quidditative determination, being hot. That implies no action on the part of the rock. Now existence is not a quidditative determination, but one could nevertheless speak of a rock's being in act with respect to existence. That too implies no action on the part of the rock.

What we could say, within a Thomistic framework, is that the being of a creature is an effect of divine activity. But that is not to say that the being of Socrates is an activity he engages in. Since God might not have created anything, we can't even say that God's being is an activity he engages in.


The rest of your comments are a bit murky, so I'll refrain from responding to them.

Sorry, that was a bit unclear. Let me try to lay it out a little more clearly:

The thin theorist thinks that one's 'thisness' (haecceity) is an essential property of a thing. A thing's nature (in the strictest sense) is defined as the set of all its essential properties. But since only one thing can exemplify a thing's haecceity, it follows only one thing can exemplify a thing's nature. So the thin theorist will likely deny your premise that natures, in the strictest sense as I've defined it, is multiply exemplifiable. They can thus say it is part of the essence or nature of the thing that it belong to this particular person; it's part of its haecceity.

Let me know if that is a little more clear.

Does the thin theorist not make the following assumption: that reducing all existential claims to a statement preceded by the quantifier somehow explains away the issue?

Why couldn't you just reply that all they do is transfer the issue of "existence" and what it means into the notation?


Haecceities don't come into this discussion. The issue is whether the thin theorist can show that the difference in mode of existence as between felt pains and physical states is a difference in nature (as PvI uses 'nature' in his text -- he makes no mention of haecceities.) If yes, then there is no call to distinguish --at least in this example -- between modes of existence.

What I want to hear from you is whether it is intuitively clear to you that there is a difference in mode of existence in this case. I say we need a three-fold distinction: nature-existence-mode of existence, not just a two-fold one: nature-existence.

Dr. Vallicella,

I am reading over the section again a little bit more carefully. Some comments I have which I hope are useful:

I agree completely that PvI's imputing the doctrine that being is a thing's most general activity to everyone who holds to the distinction between being and nature is quite over the top. To use the example one more time, Meinongians don't think existence is an activity, but a property, which some things lack. So I don't think he is really referring to all people who make a distinction between being and nature.

As far as who he is in fact talking about, you're probably right about Aquinas, and so PvI's discussion wouldn't apply to him. As you said, he does mention Heidegger and Sartre, but he also says this at the top of pg. 478: "Sartre and Heidegger *and all other members of the existential-phenomenological tradition* are, if I am right, guilty of ascribing to the being of things features of those things that should properly be ascribed to their natures.

This may be slightly illuminating. It may show that the object of his attack is the existential-phenomenological tradition more generally. Moreover, maybe this shows that PvI means by "distinguishing between a thing's being and nature" is ascribing features to the thing's being which are more properly ascribed to their nature.

PvI also appears to beg the question at the bottom of pg 477: "This is a perfectly trivial thing to say: That a vast difference between A and B must consist in a vast difference in their natures." That's actually not trivial at all. In fact, if this is to say the only way things can be vastly different is by having different natures it's not going to be compelling to anyone who doesn't already accept his view.

A point you may find interesting: Van Inwagen appears to concede some sense to the idea of ontological priority on pg. 477: "One cannot engage in this most general activity unless one is [...] if an activity is being engaged in, there has be something to engage in it." That's true. This is why the idea that existence is a property of a thing fails, because something must already exist to have properties. But it's also why a thin theory fails, since a thing must already exist to instantiate a haecceity property, and thus a thing's existence can't *consist* in its instantiating a haecceity property. So PvI's reason for rejecting the being-as-activity theory is the same reason why he should reject the thin theory.

The Martian thought experiment seems to be in essence the same argument as his second argument for the univocity of being; this time it fails even worse though because a failure to have semantic analogy does not imply a failure for there to be modes of being in reality. Or do you think his Martin argument adds something to this?

Now, to go back to your argument, I think you're right about haecceities, and they are not relevant to this discussion. Anyway, it's not clear to me how PvI is using 'nature' in this section of his paper. He doesn't define his use of 'nature' anywhere in the section, unless I was not reading closely enough. But if we take 'nature' to mean the set of an object's essential properties, can't PvI object that it is essential to the particular pain I'm having that it belongs to me? That is to say, the property 'being a pain of Alfredo' is part of the nature of this pain I'm having.

In other words, while you say "The dependence of a particular pain on its being perceived is therefore due to its dependent mode of existence and not due to its nature," PvI will instead say "The dependence of a particular pain on its being perceived is due to the fact that 'being perceived by Alfredo' is an essential property of the pain, and thus part of its nature."

Hope at least some of that was clear!


You are right about Meinong. He distinguishes Sosein from Sein but never to my knowledge speaks of Sein as an activity.

The sentence right after the one you quote from p. 477 reads: "But if a distinction can be made between a thing's being and its nature, this trivial truth is in competition with a certain statable falsehood."

What do you make of this? I have no idea what PvI is saying here. The trivial truth is that a vast difference between A and B is a vast difference in the natures of A and B. But what is the "certain statable falsehood"?

Your suggestion above that he is simply begging the question might explain it. If the ONLY way A and B can differ is by differing in their natures, then of course there cannot be different modes of existence. But what argument did PvI give that the ONLY way A and B can differ is by differing in nature? None that I can see.

Isn't it plausible to maintain that God and Socrates differ not only in their natures -- which they obviously do -- but also in their modes of existence? Whereas Socrates and Plato differ in their natures but not in mode of existence.


I'll get to your other comment tomorrow. Thanks for commenting. Maybe by tomorrow I'll remember how to turn off the italics.

My argument is something like this:

1. The being of this pain (the headache I am now experiencing) is its being-perceived.
2. The being of this brain is not its being-perceived.
3. There are at least two different modes of being.

Let's use 'nature' in a broad way to refer to any quidditative determination or conjunction of such determinations. This covers both essential and accidental properties. Thus it is part of my nature that I am now shirtless.

What the thin theorist must show is that being-perceived is part of the nature of my particular pain, not a mode of its existence. But I fail to see how being-perceived is part of the nature of my pain.

I am assuming that every nature is multiply exemplifiable, and that the being-perceived of my pain is what makes it be this very pain. Hence the thisness of the pain cannot be due to the exemplification of any haecceity property, but must be due to the very existence of the pain.

This needs to be made for clearer, though.

Thanks for your reply. Your comment does help bring clarity to the discussion. I'll push the point a little bit more.

I think the thin theorist will probably deny premise 1. He will say that 'being perceived' is a property, and since being is not a property it follows that a pain's being can't be its being perceived.

Now maybe your definition of 'nature' rules out that 'being perceived' is part of the nature of the pain, since on your definition a nature must be multiply-exemplifiable (I suspect that PvI might be using 'nature' differently, but never mind that). However, even if you have shown 'being perceived' is not a part of a pain's nature per your definition, this still does not show that 'being perceived' is a different mode of being; for it could still be a property of the pain (even if this property isn't a part of the pain's nature as we've defined this term here).

It would have been helpful if PvI had indicated what he meant by 'nature'.

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