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Thursday, May 07, 2020


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Bill, you write:

“To exist is to be something. More precisely, it is to be identical to something or other:

Q. Necessarily, for any x, x exists iff for some y, y = x.

For example,

a. Quine exists iff Quine = Quine.

Now is (a) true at all times, or only at some times? At all times. For at no time is Quine self-diverse.”

But in defining existence as identity-with-something-or-other, are you not committing yourself to the thin theory of existence that you have (in my view persuasively) attacked in countless earlier posts? To pose another question, does the validity of your argument for permanentism hinge upon the truth of the thin theory of existence? If it does, I would say all the worse for permanentism. If, rather than Quine’s desiccated definition of existence, we substituted Maritain’s thick definition that I quote below, it is not obvious that transientism can be dismissed as easily as you attempt. (Maritain: “To exist is to maintain oneself and to be maintained outside nothingness; esse is an act, a perfection, indeed the final perfection, a splendid flower in which objects affirm themselves.”) While it is clear that the late Quine is self-identical, and that this truth is a necessary truth, and true at all times, it does not follow from this alone that Quine is “maintained outside of nothingness” and exhibits the “final perfection,” the actuality of esse, at this very moment. More intermediate premises would seem to be required.


Excellent comment. I'm glad you caught the apparent contradiction. I don't have time now to respond fully; I hope to be back later in the day. But three quick points.

First, I am responding to the Ostrich who accepts the thin theory. So I am engaged in an ad hominem, in the good sense, the ad hominem tu quoque.

Second, I accept (Q)--but I don't think it sanctions a reduction of existence to identity-with-something.

Third, I suspect that one can be a thick theorist and reject presentism.

More later. Thanks for the comment.

I should explain my second point immediately above. The following is true:

1. Necessarily, for any x, x is triangular iff x is trilateral.

Does it follow from (1) that

2. Triangularity = Trilaterality?

I say No. They are different properties despite having all the same instances across all possible worlds.

Similarly with (Q). Its truth does not entail

3. Existence = identity-with-something-or-other.


I basically agree with Maritain's intuition, flowery language aside, and always have. “To exist is to maintain oneself and to be maintained outside nothingness; esse is an act, a perfection, indeed the final perfection, a splendid flower in which objects affirm themselves.”

The point I have made again and again is that one moves in an explanatory circle if one tries to account for existence in terms of quantification. If for Quine to exist is for Quine to be identical to some x, then that x must exist, in which case existence is presupposed rather than accounted for. If, on the other hand, x is a nonexistent item, then the account is false.

Things must first exist if we are to quantify over them. Therefore, one cannot get an account of existence using only the resources of first-order predicate logic with identity.

Whether existence is a perfection is a further question. Sartre would certainly disagree with that, while agreeing that there is more to existence than can be accounted for by logic alone.

Can one be a thick theorist and reject transientism?

On transientism, sometimes something begins to exist and sometimes something ceases to exist.

Suppose I reject that. Then I am saying that everything in time exists at every time. So Quine, who is in time, exists at every time. Of course, he is not temp. present at every time.

Now someone who thinks that God is the continuing cause of the existence of contingent existents is a thick theorist. For he holds that the existence of cont. beings = divine createdness. Why then can't a thick theorist be a permanentist?

"To exist is to maintain oneself..."

Suppose the material world is constantly maintained by the active will of God, and that if God were to simply stop maintaining any material object, the object would cease to be. Would this mean that material objects do not exist because they do not maintain themselves?


There are possible worlds in which Quine doesn't exist. Are there any possible worlds in which Quine≠Quine?

I am quite satisfied by your response, Bill, but I would like to clarify that my challenge was not so much whether a thick theorist could be a permanentist, full stop, but rather, whether this specific argument for permanentism - your move from (a) to P - is valid only if one has already presupposed the thin theory.

I also worry about the way in which you have engaged in Existential Instantiation on Q to derive (a).

If, from

Q. □∀x(x exists iff ∃y, y = x)

one can move directly to

a. Quine exists iff Quine = Quine

then what would block a move to

b(#). Zeus exists iff Zeus = Zeus ?

The response would seem to be that the existential quantifier in the second half of the biconditional in Q is restricting the domain of discourse to existent items, so that one cannot licitly instantiate the variable y as Zeus, or as any non-existent item.

But if this is the case, then existence has already been smuggled in the back door, rather than explicated. What’s worse, the necessary identity Quine = Quine is no longer doing the heavy lifting it was intended to do, since it was this necessary identity that was meant to lead us to the surprising conclusion that Quine exists at every time. For the transientist can simply dig in his heals and insist that, while (a) is true at times in which Quine is present, at other times in which Quine is not present, Quine is a non-existent entity, so that the attempted Existential Instantiation from the variable y to the proper name Quine is as illicit as instantiating y to the proper name Zeus. For Quine is self-identical only at times in which Quine exists, and it is precisely this matter which is at issue.

Cyrus asks >>There are possible worlds in which Quine doesn't exist. Are there any possible worlds in which Quine≠Quine?<<

No. Quine = Quine in every world in which he exists.


I assume that there are no nonexistent objects in Meinong's sense. So if a name is vacuous, then it has no referent; it is not the case that it has a nonexistent referent. I also assume for present purposes, as I think you are also assuming, that 'Zeus' is a vacuous name. Given these assumptions, one cannot instantiate 'x'/'y' with 'Zeus.' And so one cannot arrive at your (b(#)).

Now we all agree (don't we?) that

a. Quine exists iff Quine = Quine.

For our man cannot exist if he is not self-identical, and if he has the property of self-identity then he exists given the anti-Meinongian and anti-Avicennian assumption. In other words, Quine cannot be a nonexistent self-identical individual essence.

Now the question becomes: Is the property of the existence of items in time identical to the property of temporal presentness? It is clear that Quine is wholly past, and therefore not temporally present, and not future either (assuming time does not move in a circle). The question is whether he now exists tenselessly. I'll use 'EXIST(S)' to mean 'exist(s) tenselessly.' Well, is (a) true at all or only some times. Can't be the latter since there is no time at which Quine is self-diverse. So (a) is true at all times, whence it follows that 'Quine EXISTS' is true at all times. Permanentism would seem to follow.


Now we all agree (don't we?) that

a. Quine exists iff Quine = Quine.

I was privately debating whether the eminent or virtual existence (I assume it's not formal) of Quine's essence in God is sufficient to supply a truthmaker for “Quine=Quine” in every possible world, but, yes, we agree.

(Or whether the truth can be grounded in the logical form of x=x.)


A question of phil. method arises. Is it proper method to call upon God to do a philosophical job? Or is that an illicit deus ex machina?


If you had asked me this two years ago, I would have replied: "I don't believe in ontological welfare. If I have an entity in my ontology, I put him to work." Though I probably would have added that it would be strange for someone who doesn't have God in their ontology to suddenly call him in.

But I increasingly favour very apophatic views of God, which makes all resort to him in ontology muck spreading. So now calling on him makes me very uncomfortable.

I have no in principle objection to bringing God in to answer objections. The goal of philosophy is to cut reality at the joints. If we think and have good reason to believe God does a job, we ought to theorize that he does it; if not, not.

I confess I don't have any good, clear criteria for when calling God in is licit and when not.

May I suggest this: if one already has independent grounds for believing in the existence of God, as well as independent grounds for believing that God has attributes relevant to resolving the problem at hand, then it is not necessarily an ad hoc and illicit “deus ex machina” move to appeal to those attributes to resolve that problem. In this case, I would appeal to an Augustinian argument for the existence of God via realism about universals, which grounds such universals, essences, and abstract objects in the divine intellect (see Edward Feser’s “Five Proofs for the Existence of God”). Then, having posited on independent grounds the existence of God, and having posited on independent grounds the grounding of universals, essences, and abstract objects in the divine intellect, one may reasonably find here a suppository for Quine’s essence, and thus the truthmaker for Quine = Quine across all possible worlds. (Though I have my own suspicions about haecceities, but that is another subject.)

“I am responding to the Ostrich who accepts the thin theory.”

As far as I understand what the thin theory is, see here, I do not accept it. “On the thin theory existence is a property of concepts only and cannot be sensibly predicated of individuals. The theory says that existence is the property of being instantiated, the property of having one or more instances.”

The definition is mangled but I assume it means that ‘exist(s)’ can be predicated of ‘cats’ but not of ‘Fido’. By contrast, I hold that ‘exist(s)’ can be predicated of both.

So I don't subscribe to the thin theory, as defined.


Clever of you to pick up on the Augustinian argument. That is exactly what I had in mind. The reason I avoided saying so clearly was that the idea of an absolutely simple God having distinct essences (e.g. Quine≠Armstrong) in him makes me nervous, and truthmaker theory is deflationary enough that it gives me a way to skirt around explicitly formulating the point in those terms.

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