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Monday, August 17, 2020


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Hi Bill,

Thanks for responding to my question!

I have two rejoinders:

1. The Bible affirms that God preknows His creatures. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer. 1:5).

2. Mere possibles are phenomenologically given as such. The formation of a judgment presupposes the pregivenness of the object to consciousness (cf. Husserl, Experience and Judgment, §12), and (against what Husserl says there) we are able to form true judgments about pregiven objects that are merely possible. We do this when we ask questions for example about whether it will be possible to make a stop on our way to work without being late. We make judgments about things as being possible or impossible all the time, which presupposes the pregivenness of those things. So if you accept the “principle of all principles”, you have a reason to admit merely possible objects with a certain proper unity.

Ad (1). There is also this passage: Luke 2:21 (NIV): "On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived." (emphasis added)

The relevance of these passages depends on how exactly they are interpreted. But suppose they are taken to imply that before God created Socrates, God knew him as a merely possible individual, and that his creation of Socrates was the actualization of a mere possible. It would then follow that creation is not creation out of nothing, but creation out of mere possibles, which are not nothing. This looks like trouble for the classical Xian creation doctrine. This would make a good separate post.

It is also worth noting that the Catholic priest Barry Miller gave essentially the same argument I gave above.

Ad (2). Your original question had to do with merely possible individuals. But now you have shifted to merely possible states of affairs. Suppose you judge that it is possible to stop on your way to work without being late. The content of your judgment is not an individual but a state of affairs. I can easily grant this without granting that there are merely possible individuals.

So far, then, you haven't given me any reason to revise my opinion.

Regarding (2): I can remember my cat long after it has died and is no longer actual. I think this shows that my cat, considered in itself, is a mere possible which was given actuality and then lost it after some time.

True, you can remember your cat long after it has died. In ordinary English we say: the cat no longer exists. What that means is that it existed but does not (now) exist. (The verbs are tensed, not tenseless.) But how does it follow that the cat is no longer actual?

It doesn't follow straightaway. So you must be presupposing some auxiliary premises. What are they?

Your view seems to be this. Before your cat was conceived, it was a merely possible individual. At the moment of conception the merely possible individual became actual. When it died, it ceased being actual, and reverted to mere possibility. So your dead cat is now a merely possible individual.

I find this hard to swallow. The possible is possibly actual as I argued in my book. So if your dead cat is now possible, it is now possibly actual. But is is 'surely' impossible that that very cat have a second beginning of existence. Your dead cat is not coming back.

Palle Yourgrau takes a line similar to yours.

I would follow Sokolowski and Zahavi’s interpretation of intentionality in Husserl and say that the intentional object of the act of consciousness is the thing itself. And I would combine this with Husserl’s point that the precategorial givenness of the object is the precondition of the formation of a categorial judgment. Combining these ideas yields the conclusion that the object of my memory of the cat – for example, my memory that it was white – or of any judgment I can make about it – for example, that it is no longer actual – is precisely the cat itself and not nothing, nor anything else. I take it that this requires that the cat is not nothing. But if it is not nothing, nor is it actual anymore, then it is a mere possible which I remember because it was once also actual. A similar point could be made about things that are presently actual. Suppose I judge that my present cat is actual. This presupposes that the cat is pregiven to me. But the judgment that it is actual is a synthetic judgment. Actuality is not constitutive of the cat as such. This yields the conclusion that the cat considered in itself is a mere possible of which the attribution of actuality is appropriately made.


I will write a long separate post in response. Are you in town now? You may send me your paper and we can discuss it over eats at Joe's BBQ or somewhere. That is my preferred way of commenting.

Sounds like a plan!

Hello Dr. Vallicella, big fan! I recently started reading Paradigm Theory and I quite enjoy it. On this issue, I may not represent it accurately, so please correct me, but it seems to me that existence is deeper than actuality, and I would be wary of identifying existence with act. I would be more comfortable identifying existence with being. Act is a kind of being, but so is potency. God as Pure Act and Prime Matter as Pure Potency both have being, but in different ways, so if we were to say that existence = actuality it would contradict the idea that existence = being. If I say "unicorns do not exist," it seems that I am presupposing that there is something meaningful to talk about, namely a unicorn, and if "unicorn" is a meaningful word then it is at least conceivable, which would mean unicorns at the very least exist as a concept. I do not have a child, but I would say that my child exists in potency, or potentially exists, and if my child potentially exists then he/she is at least a conceivable entity, so would at the very least exist as a concept, and my child would be an individual, hence the disagreement with your view. What do you think about this? Thanks!


Thank you for the comments. Perhaps I will respond more fully later. Right now I am getting ready to go see Nemes and discuss some of these very issues.

But for now I will merely point out that 'Unicorns do not exist,' because it is true, cannot be about anyone's concept of a unicorn, or idea of a unicorn, or thought of a unicorn, or mental image of a unicorn, or any such item since items like these DO exist.

Thank you for the response Dr. I think we may converge at some point, or more likely I'll be persuaded toward your position. However, you said the items you listed DO exist, and I would agree, but from my perspective, if the idea or concept of "x" exists, then the contents of that concept are potentially instantiable. So if the concept of a unicorn is actual like you said, then an actual unicorn possibly exists, and so a unicorn would have being in potentiality but not in act.

I hope you have a good time talking with Steven! I am a fan of his as well.

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