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Monday, October 28, 2019


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I just noticed this post, appearing out of the ether.

So it's an argument about the meaning of 'something'. The Grazer argues it (or the corresponding German) means something else than what Londoners think it means.

But the burden of proof is to establish firmly what the non-standard meaning is. What does the Austrian mean by the word 'some things' in 'some things do not exist'?

Just reading Mark Sainsbury (In Thinking about Things) on the very subject.

Where does the burden of proof (BOP) lie? I don't think BOP considerations have any place in philosophy, unlike in courts of law. I have several posts on BOP.

I grant that in the analytic mainstream it is standardly assumed that that the quantifiers are thought to range over a domain of items that have existence. The particular quantifier is thus linked to existence. Accordingly, 'Something is F' is equivalent to 'An F exists.'

But there is an analytic SIDESTREAM of distinguished thinkers who question the standard assumption.

My question is whether you can refute the sidestreamers without begging the question against them, as you do when you simply assume that the particular quantifier is an existential quantifier.

I think (being a child of the ordinary language movement) that you would look at how terms are used.

So, for example, are there any bridges across the Thames?


Do you have any days in Phoenix where the temperature falls below 32F? And so on.

Or put it another way. We are discussing the meaning of the word 'something' and its relation to the meaning of the word 'exists'. So our discussion is about semantics. That's all.

If you argue it is not about semantics, then it must be the case that we have a pre-agreed conception of the meaning of those words. But then the question would be easily settled.

One of the papers on Ed Zalta's 'computational metaphysics' site says that set-theoretic models have been constructed for Zalta's neo-Meinongian theory of objects. So Zalta's system is as consistent as set theory is. As Zalta decouples existence, thought of as spatio-temporality, from quantification it would therefore seem that there is no logical necessity to tie them together. Consequently Ed will not be able to refute Meinongianism.

But if Zalta's system is a consistent extension of ordinary predicate logic, what are we to make of those 'objects' within it that don't satisfy the E! predicate, ie, are not spatio-temporal? The obvious interpretation is to think of them as ideas of objects. This would be a return to Meinong's original problem of objects of intentionality. That 'objects' that merely encode finitely many properties are incomplete strongly suggests that they are ideas. Quantification is then over a union of spatio-temporal objects that have being and ideas of objects that do not, at least not in the same sense. This relieves some of the discomfort we feel towards talk of 'non-existent' objects.

Good comments, David. I agree with the first paragraph.

As for the second, the following objection arises: Ideas exist; incomplete objects do not exist; ergo, incomplete objects cannot correctly be thought of as ideas. My idea of the golden mountain exists; the golden mountain, being incomplete, does not exist; ergo, the golden mountain cannot be identified with anyone's idea of the golden mountain. But it all depends on what exactly you mean by 'idea.'

A counter argument to your objection, Bill: Ideas exist (but are not spatio-temporal). Ideas are individuated and can be seen as objects. Ideas are incomplete---my idea of the golden mountain encodes just two properties, golden and mountain. Ergo, incomplete objects do exist (but are not spatio-temporal).

This is where I side with Ed on this. I'm not identifying the golden mountain with an idea. There is no such thing as the golden mountain, neither a spatio-temporal thing nor an idea. Just as I don't identify you with my idea of you. You and my idea of you are two distinct things that naturally correspond even though just one is spatio-temporal. I do have an idea of the golden mountain but it has no correspondent.

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