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Thursday, March 26, 2015


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Dr. Vallicella,

Thanks for sharing this clear and powerfully argued piece. I sincerely hope that PVI chooses to respond to this in some way. A quick question:

Does PVI ever explicitly address the singular existential problem in the "thin theory"? You mention haecciety as a "way out", but I can't tell whether this is your attempt to offer a potential solution on PVI's behalf or PVI's own solution to this specific problem.


Thanks for the comment, Josh.

I rather doubt that PvI sees any problem at all with his thin theory of existence.

You make a good point, and I should amend my article to make it clear that the 'way out' I propose is my way out of a difficulty that is obvious to me but is probably not recognized by PvI at all.

In any case, haecceities are metaphysical posits no more palatable than Bergmannian bare particulars and Meinongian nonentities.

"I should amend my article to make it clear that the 'way out' I propose is my way out of a difficulty that is obvious to me but is probably not recognized by PvI at all."

Right, this is exactly what I was going to suggest.

And while of course I agree with your conclusion that you have not "refuted" PVI's position, it strikes me that the singular existential issue is indeed a problem on PVI's own terms if we take him at his word when he implies multiple times in the Metametaphysics volume that one of the TT's strengths is its ability to account for instances of is/exists in "ordinary English" (pgs. 492, 496 and 497 in my Oxford 2009 copy). But of course you're exactly right to say that the sentence "I exist" is perfectly meaningful in ordinary English; hence the problem.

Perhaps it's not worth the precious space you have in this short review article, but the ordinary language route strikes me as a relatively powerful way of adjudicating the debate here--especially since PVI seems to grant ordinary language as a constraint on his theory of existence (unlike Russell, for example).


Like you, I read PvI as saying that all ordinary language uses of 'exist(s)' are univocal and adequately captured by the existential quantifier of formal logic. That seems quite clear from p. 492 of the MM volume *et passim.* See his Thesis 4.

Now I will put a question to you. Suppose PvI says that he can easily handle singular existentials like 'Socrates exists.' That goes into QuineSpeak as 'For some x, x = Socrates' or 'Something is identical to Socrates' or 'It is not the case that everything is not Socrates.'

Are you not satisfied with these translations, and if not, why not?

Another question for you. What do you think of his Thesis 1, p. 476 of your book? Do you think that van Inwagen hasn't, you know, ACTUALLY READ, any Heidegger or Sartre, or if he has read a snippet or two, actually tried to understand their problematics?

I put this question to you because I glanced at your paper on Heidegger and Frege, and see that you know something about Heidegger.


There is another wrinkle here which of course I could not bring up in my review article, namely, PvI's half-way Fregeanism about existence, as I call it.

See here: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/10/still-trying-to-understand-van-inwagen-on-existence.html

This references the same article you've been poring over.

If you could help me understand what PvI is driving at, I'd be much obliged.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but I don't really have much to add beyond what you and others have written on the topic in many places. Still, in order:

1. RE: the (∃x)(x=a) formulation, perhaps I don't fully understand but it seems that we're just back to the haecceity issue. This formulation seems to say that a's existence is just the instantiation of a concept called "that which is identical to a" (is this correct?). Perhaps at least it evades the brunt of the problem suggested by my earlier comment about ordinary language as a theoretical constraint. Although I might be able to argue that even this formulation is still a mutilation of ordinary language.

2. RE: whether PVI has read Heidegger, it seems clear that he has not (by his own admission, even; see MM vol., pg. 475n4). I've learned to accept that most "analysts" are not going to take the time to read Heidegger (you being an obvious exception to this rule, happily), but it would help the discussion a lot to see how he would respond to particular passages. I find H's Marburg lectures to be helpful in this regard. They are often much clearer than his other written works, in my experience--especially Logik: Die Frage nach der Wahrheit and Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Logik. But of course you've already written lots on Heidegger, so perhaps this isn't news.

3. RE: exist(s) being a "variably polyadic" predicate, I am also intrigued but confused. You ask, "But what is the relation between or among horses that this supposedly polyadic predicate [namely, exist(s)] expresses?" This would be precisely my question, and I don't see any elaboration on it in the essay. How is Philly's existence oriented in any way to Long-Nose-Ed's?

A question for you, if you have the interest: Are you suggesting that thick-theorists ought to consider exist(s) to be a monadic predicate? It strikes me that an Avicennian or Thomist line of thought is committed to the position that exist(s) is identical with something like "being created". But if this is true, then exist(s) is a polyadic predicate after all.

Thanks for engaging.

Let me try to answer your question. For a classical theist (Thomas being perhaps the prime example) it is true that with respect to all and only creatures

1. Necessarily, x exists iff x is created by God.

A relation is not the same as a relational property. 'X is created by y' picks out a relation, a dyadic relation. 'X is created by God' picks out a relational property. We predicate such a property using a relational predicate. Now 'relational predicate' is synonymous with 'polyadic predicate' assuming that the relation involved is 2-place or more. So 'is created by God' on the RHS of (1) is a polyadic predicate, while 'exists' on the LHS of (1) is a monadic or one-place predicate.

But a polyadic predicate need not be variably polyadic. PvI gives 'have an interesting evolutionary history' as an example of a variably polyadic predicate (p. 484 of MM) as in the sentence 'Horses have an interesting evolutionary history.' It makes no sense to say that each horse has such a history. It also makes no sense to say that the set of horses has such a history. Abstract objects don't evolve. Generalizing, it makes no sense to say of any collective item that is a one-over-many that it has an evolutionary history interesting or not. For example, the mereological sum of all horses, past, present, and future, if it is not identical to its membership, cannot have an evolutionary history.

Another example, I should think, is 'have the building surrounded' as in 'The cops have the building surrounded.' That is not to say that each cop has the building surrounded, nor of course is it to say that the (mathematical) set of cops has the building surrounded. (An abstract object cannot surround anything.)

The predicates in these two examples are not just polyadic, but variably polyadic in that, to revert to the second example, that a number of different cops, say 25, stand in the relation of surrounding to the building.

What I am suggesting is that your question to me may involve a confusion of polyadic with variably polyadic predicates.

But there are some tricky issues here!

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