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Tuesday, October 15, 2013


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Dear Bill,

I do not reject the real disticntion, I just do not see sufficient grounds for it.

I agree that existence cannot be identical with the specific nature. All (scholastics) who deny the real distinction claim the identity of existence and the individual nature or essence.

Now to your arguments, insofar as they can be interpreted to apply on this position:

The argument from contingency: I claim that in the very sense in which Socrates can not exist, he can also not be (this individual) man. And vice versa: in the sense in which Socrates cannot not be (this individual) man, he cannot not exist. If "Socrates can not-F" means "Socrates can survive, i.e. keep being there, while not being F", then I say that in this sense it is impossible both that Socrates not exists and that Socrates is not a man. On the other hand, if it means "It is possibly not the case that Socrates is F (whether he be there or not)", then it is both true that Socrates may not-exist and that Socrates may not be a man - at the expense, of course, of ceasing to be there. Essential necessity does not reach further than existence.

Moreover: your argument proves too much. If it really were the case that it was in the same sense possible that Socrates might have not existed but impossible that he might not have been a man, then it would follow that there is no logical equivalence between existing and keeping one's nature. But this you deny.

In other words: since the distinction you want to make is not intensionally traceable (there is necessary equivalence in spite of the distinction), no argument relying on purely intensional concepts (which are modalities like contingency) can prove the distinction.

The Argument from Reference: I say that the proper name "Socrates" refers now, as it ever did, to the Socrates who lived 469-399 BC. So it refers to someone who existed then, and was a man then, but ceased to exist and to be a man and so does not exist now and is not a man now (well, in fact, I believe that Socrates still exists, in purgatory or heaven, but never mind). Where is the problem?

The Third Argument: I deny that the first step of the argument leads to the conclusion that "to exist = to be self-identical". Rather, the outcome is "to exist = to keep one's individual nature" - which I heartily concede. But to keep one's nature is not just to be self-identical. For me, for example, to keep my nature involves also to be a substance, an animal, a rational being. So, existence is not identical to self-identity, but to individual nature.

Furthermore: where is the justification for the claim that "if Max were identical to his own existence, then Max would necessarily exist"? The adjacent argument is a non-sequitur, if it is meant to prove this point ("God is identical to his own existence, Max is not God, ergo Max is not identical to his existence"??? The necessity that can be derived from identity is only a necessity of connexion: if Max is identical to his existence, then necessarily, wherever (in whichever possible world) Max is, there his existence is, and vice versa. But this does not preclude not-being-there of both Max and his existence at all. Again it seems that you want to squeeze out of modality more than it is in fact in there.


Your comments suggest that I need explicitly to distinguish two closely related views, both of which I reject, whereas you seem to reject only the first:

A. The existence of individual Ks just is their K-ness. For example, the existence of the individual man, Socrates, just is his being a man.

But you seem to reject (A) as well. You seem to be putting forth

B. The existence of individual Ks just is their individual K-ness. For example, the existence of the individual man, Socrates, just is his individualized being a man.

You thus affirm "the identity of existence and the individual nature or essence."



Pointing to a man, I say, 'This man might not have existed.' I say something true. Pointing to the same man, I say, 'This man might not have been an individual man.' I say something false.

On your view, however, both sayings are true.

Are you not simply begging the question against the real distinction? You are assuming that, for a man, to be an individual man = to exist. But that is precisely what I am denying.


We agree that Socrates cannot exist without being a man (an individual instance of humanity) and that he cannot be such an instance without existing.

Now do you infer from this that existence and individual essence in Socrates are identical?


Ad 1) - Right

Ad 2) - May I ask you to formalize (in any system you wish) the two sentences? I will then say whether I consider them false or not. (IMO they are both ambiguous).

Ad 3) - No, I do not make this inference. So far I have just criticised inferences to the opposite. But I infer from it that given this assumption, the real distinction cannot be inferred on the basis of different behaviour in modal context - because necessarily equivalent concepts cannot behave differently in different modal contexts.


I do not find either of the following ambiguous:

A. Socrates exists & Socrates is possibly such that he does not exist.

B. Socrates is a man & Socrates is possibly such that he is not a man.

And I say that (A) is true while (B) is false. (B) is false because Socrates is essentially human.

Perhaps you can tell me why you think (A) and (B) are ambiguous.

It is a very subtle problematic.

The real distinction between essence and existence cannot be displayed extensionally. I cannot give you an example of an essence that does not exist. For an essence that does not exist is nothing at all.

But consider an individual essence such as that of Socrates. You will agree that there is no necessity that that individual essence exist. So it might not have existed. But it is not true that it might not have had the very nature that it has. And so it seems to me that there is a distinction between the essence and its existence. And this is the case even though the essence apart from existence is nothing at all. Thus I am not taking an Avicennian or a Meinongian line.

The distinction is real not in the sense that there are two things, rei, as Giles of Rome is said to have thought, but in the sense that the distinction does not depend on our way of looking at the matter.

Dear Bill:

1) First I will use your own weapons against you. The following triad is inconsistent, any two propositions entail the negation of the remaining one. Which limb do you reject?

a) Necessarily, Socrates exists iff Socrates is a man.
b) Possibly, Socrates does not exist.
c) Necessarily, Socrates is a man.

2) When interpreting the modalities in your two sentences, one can interpret the implicit quantifications over possible worlds as comprising either all possible worlds, or just the possible worlds where Socrates exists at all.

I say that in order that A. be true, it must be interpreted so that "possibly" invokes quantification over all possible worlds, not just those where Socrates exists (because there is no possible world among those in which Socrates exists such that Socrates does not exist in that world). On the other hand, in order that B. be false, the quantification implicit in the "possibly" must be restricted to those worlds only where Socrates exists. Because it is not true that Socrates is human in worlds where he does not exist at all. As you yourself concede, essence without existence is just nothing, so in a world where Socrates does not have existence, he neither has his essence, which is humanity. Thus the different modal behaviour of the sentences is merely apparent, it is a result of your tendency to interpret the quantification implicit in modal terms differently when speaking about existence and about essential predicates.

3) Note that I do not say that the above considerations disprove real distinction. They just show that modal considerations are not a sufficient ground for demonstrating it (unless one wanted to argue for the possibilist Avicennian-Meinongian position that essence can actually "be" without eixsting).

Powerful objection, Lukas. I attempt to answer here: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2013/10/more-with-novak-on-the-real-distinction.html

I have been rereading your recent existence posts in an attempt to understand better what you mean by 'essence'. Here you summarise Kenny's rejection of the real distinction as asserting the equivalence (E) that for items of kind K, to exist is to be a K. I think the following point has not appeared in the comments.

The phrase is a K has an intensional sense and an extensional sense. Taking the intensional sense first, (E) is surely false for it makes K-ness subordinate to being. Again, K-ness might be an uninstantiable concept like rational square root of two. On the other hand, thinking extensionally, is a K means is one of the Ks, and now (E) rings true. 'One of' brings us down from the level of concepts to the level of existents.

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