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Thursday, January 07, 2021

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Mr Bill, could you expand a bit why you think existence couldn't be an essential property?

Also, what can you said about Scotus formal distinction here?

Hi Dr. Vallicella,

Here are some tentative thoughts:

First, given this aporia, why not take the contingent existence of things to be a brute, necessary fact, for which there is no deeper explanation? This account seems to amount to a sort of ostrich nominalism applied to existence. I'm not attracted to ostrich nominalism in general, so I would prefer to avoid accepting this account.

Second, perhaps we can account for the contingent existence of things in terms of causal powers. That is, a table contingently exists because some things have the causal power to create and destroy tables. On this account, there's no need to posit essences and existences. All we need are causal powers.

Third, if we still want to accept the essence-existence distinction, we might distinguish between bare existence and existence-in-a-substance. Bare existence doesn't exist, except as an abstraction, while existence-in-a-substance does exist, and has a nature, namely, the nature of that substance it is in. (This seems analogous to the distinction between prime matter and matter in hylomorphic substance.)

M.L.,

A brute fact is a contingent fact. A brute fact is a state of affairs that (i) obtains; (ii) obtains contingently; and (iii)has no reason or cause for its obtaining. It therefore makes no sense to speak of a brute fact as necessary.

Charitably interpreted, what you are suggesting is that there is no explanation of the contingency of contingent beings. But we do have a sort of explanation in the very definition of 'contingent existent.' A contingent existent is one that exists but is possibly such that it does not exist. There you have the distinction between essence and existence.

M. L. writes, >>Second, perhaps we can account for the contingent existence of things in terms of causal powers. That is, a table contingently exists because some things have the causal power to create and destroy tables. On this account, there's no need to posit essences and existences. All we need are causal powers.<<

This puts the cart before the horse -- hysteron proteron. It is because tables are contingent beings that I can exercise my causal powers to either build one or destroy one.

More later. Thanks for the comments.

Mariel, if existence were an essential property, the entity would be necessary, since essential properties can't be lost. Hence if we are talking about contingent beings, they can't possess existence as an essential property.

As to the formal distinction, I'm by no means a Scotus expert, but the formal distinction is is intended for the divine attributes and it doesn't seem that it illuminates anything in particular about God's mode of existence. We only have a comment by Scotus on the real distinction, that he "doesn't know the fiction". Like I said, we'd need a Scotus expert. What I want to mention though is Timothy O'Connors account in "Theism and Ultimate Explanation" since he sees himself as writing in that tradition, and what he proposes is that necessary existence entails the rest of the divine attributes while forming a "tight unity".

Anyway back on the topic, I'd tentatively suggest that the individual existence has to be act of sustaining a particular object. It can't be nothing and it has to be exclusive to a specific essence. I think it can best be described as a dependence relation which "connects" the essence with existence itself. However I couldn't go further in analysis. I broadly imagine it analogocally like participation within a universal. I hope there is at least some sense that can be made out of that.

I'll take a stab at this from a Platonic perspective, and in an almost inexcusably condensed way. But, to maybe get a ball rolling:

Suppose that the most fundamental respect of anything whatsoever is as it is in itself: its self-identity, its individuality or haecceity. Call this way of being 'Unity'. In this idea's favor, consider that it is true even of 'existence', 'being' or 'reality' that it is itself. Even existence or being, then, could be thought to partake of Unity.

Unity is the first principle and would not be a category because category is not identity as such, but rather a particular identity. So category -- and the like -- would instead partake of Unity. We might think that from the primary sense of Unity which is incommunicable, unrepeatable, or unique, there is an additional, perhaps derivative sense of Unity which is communicable, repeatable, or general and whereby one who already is herself can be further said to be something else.

Let's call the primary sense of Unity 'who' and the category of Unity 'what', or, as Steven Nemes has said; 'this' and 'such'.

Consider the most general sense of 'what' or 'such', or suchness itself, as that repeatable thing which all things multiply realize in common. Say the one thing commonly had by all things is that they *are*, so that suchness itself is Being. Being is a combination of its this -- the identity *as* Being -- and its such -- suchness itself: its this *is* suchness.

Now, colloquially, I don't think this is what people mean by existence: I think they mean presentness, or extra-mental substantivity. Existence is a way of saying that something is *not* made up, imaginary or merely conceptual.

To apply this model to the problem at hand, consider that every contingent thing will, like Being, be a mixture of 'who' and 'what', or of 'this' and 'such': it will in Steven Nemes' terms be a 'this-such'. The difference is, and the reason why they are contingent, is that their this is not identical to suchness.

To ask of a thing qua itself whether it *exists* is, I believe, to inquire whether its self is present or, say, extra-mentally substantive. As said above, it is as if to ask whether something is *not* just imaginary, made up or conceptual, etc.

For a contingent thing, this inquiry is perfectly coherent: precisely because its identity is not just suchness, it is an open question whether the 'who' of a contingent thing is mixed with a such -- like extra-mental substantivity -- and if so, which one.

But the question of whether existence itself exists is not as philosophically interesting. With respect to Being, it amounts to asking whether suchness itself is such, and that's like asking whether redness is red. With respect to the more colloquial sense, it amounts to asking whether a thing's extra-mental substantivity itself has the integrity or Unity of being extra-mentally substantive.

If I recall, in your book you provided several arguments against the views that existence is a property and that existence is a property of properties. Ditto for the claims that existence is a property of worlds, and for eliminativist and identitarian theories.

Rather, you argued that the existence of a contingent entity is the contingent unity of its ontological parts, a unity which requires an external unifier, i.e., a paradigmatic existent.

Your view seems consistent with Limb One: a contingent thing’s existence exists; a contigent thing's existence is a matter of the unity of its ontological parts.

M. L. writes >>Third, if we still want to accept the essence-existence distinction, we might distinguish between bare existence and existence-in-a-substance. Bare existence doesn't exist, except as an abstraction, while existence-in-a-substance does exist, and has a nature, namely, the nature of that substance it is in. (This seems analogous to the distinction between prime matter and matter in hylomorphic substance.)<<

This is an intriguing suggestion, but I don't think it works. If existence in its difference from essence is a mere abstraction, then it has no reality in itself, but exists only for us. The same would then hold for essence. But then we no longer have a real distinction, but a conceptual distinction. How then do we account for the contingency of the existing substance?

D. K. You are right in your response to Mariel.

Elliot:

>>If I recall, in your book you provided several arguments against the views that existence is a property and that existence is a property of properties. Ditto for the claims that existence is a property of worlds, and for eliminativist and identitarian theories.<<

You have an excellent memory!

>>Rather, you argued that the existence of a contingent entity is the contingent unity of its ontological parts, a unity which requires an external unifier, i.e., a paradigmatic existent.<<

Yes.

>>Your view seems consistent with Limb One: a contingent thing’s existence exists; a contingent thing's existence is a matter of the unity of its ontological parts. <<

Yes. The existing of a contingent individual exists as the unity of its ontological constituents where this unity -- which cannot be a constituent of the thing -- is the product of an external unifier. But if we doe not make the ascent to this external unifier then we have a paradox and indeed a contradiction which I took to motivate the move to an Entity that removes the contradiction. But if you find the ascent problematic, then you are stuck with the paradox.

This is an interesting thread, and I like the comments particularly of DK, SD and Elliot (following BV).

I am not completely clear about BV's statement: "If the existence of a concrete particular a is some property's being instantiated, the only property that could fill the bill is the haecceity property a-ness. But there are no haecceity properties." I think I can make sense of it if there is a distinction between the haecceity of a thing (which exists and is a quality-less property of the thing) and the haecceity of a property, the existence of which (I think) both BV and I would deny.

Now to me existence seems to be very much in the same boat as haecceity: as a property without qualities, because qualities belong to the essence of things and not to their existence. Now the thisness of a thing cannot be, without the thing existing.

I too would take a Platonist line here. If we follow Plato in holding that existence and knowledge are convertible ("to auto estin noiein te kai einai") then we see that the 'being known / knowable' of a thing is equivalent to both its existence and to its haecceity. I am suggesting that a possible way out of the aporia is through an Idealist understanding: the table and its existence are not two things, but one and the same thing, as it is known and willed in the Divine Mind.

JB: My point is that the haecceity of a thing cannot be a property of the thing. See here: https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2010/06/my-difficulty-with-haecceity-properties.html


So what you are saying is that the existence of a contingent being such as a table is identical to its being known (and willed) by the Divine Mind.But this still leaves a distinction between essence and existence in the thing. But I need to say more. Later.

JB,

I too am inclined toward idealism, onto-theological idealism is what I called it in my existence book. The problem with it, however, is that creatures are not merely intentional objects for the Divine Mind: they also exist in themselves. This re-introduces the paradox above.

Bill,

Am I correct that you argued something like this? The Unifying Entity is a necessarily existing mind – necessary because it is required for the possibility of facts (whatever is possible is necessarily possible; hence facts are necessarily possible), a mind because it is a free actualizer of contingent facts.

I’m fine with this ascent. I suppose an ontological naturalist wouldn’t take the climb because the end of the trail (and the fundamental Entity that holds it all together!) is non-physical. But I’m not a naturalist.

As I see it, here are a few benefits of your position: it’s a plausible assay of existence itself and of contingent existence; it doesn’t face the problems faced by the other views you addressed in the book; it’s an answer to the classic question: why is there something rather than nothing?; it appeals to those with theistic inclinations, especially to those with Christian ones: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17)

Two questions: is the Unifier ontologically simple? Does your position require that there are modes of being? Affirmative answers to these questions might raise problems for some.


Hi Dr Vallicella,

Would the following be coherent?

0. To exist means to be present as oppose to being absent (ie being nothing).

1. Every entity that is not a logical contradiction either (a) exists merely as an idea (eg by existing as an idea in The Unconditioned Existent/Entity/Mind which is Existence per se) or (b) exists as both an idea and an extra-mental entity.

2. The essence of an entity would be the idea of that entity.

3. In order for that idea-entity to also exists extra-mentally, it needs to be given a share in Existence by The Unconditioned Existent.

4. If we deny the existence of The Unconditioned Existent which is Existence per se, then it would result in various contradictions (such as the contradiction explained in your post).

5. If reality does not have any contradiction, then it entails that The Unconditioned Existent which is Existence per se exists as an intelligible idea and as an extra-mental entity/existent.

Cheers!
johannes y k hui

Hi Dr Vallicella,

This is to supplement my comment send to you in less than two hours ago, I need to also mention the following:

In your 2010 post on haecceity, you wrote:

“Consider the time before Socrates existed. During that time, Socrateity existed. But what content could that property have during that time (or in those possible worlds) in which Socrates does not exist? Socrateity is identity-with-Socrates. Presumably, then, the property has two constituents: identity, a property had by everything, and Socrates. Now if Socrates is a constituent of identity-with-Socrates, then it seems quite obvious that Socrateity can exist only at those times and in those worlds at which Socrates exists. Socrateity would then be like Socrates' singleton, the set consisting of Socrates and Socrates alone: {Socrates}. Clearly, this set cannot exist unless Socrates exists. It is ontologically dependent on him. The same would be true of identity-with-Socrates if Socrates were a constituent of this property.”

I guess the problem you raised arises only when we think of the issue from the perspective of humans being conditioned/constrained by time or sequential existence. But when “viewed” from the perspective of The Unconditioned Entity/Being who is not conditioned by time, then there is one and only one unique idea of Socrateity that corresponds EXACTLY to the actual Socrates in our actual world while there exists many ideas of Socrateity corresponding to different non-actual logical possibilities. So what content does Socrateity have? It depends on which Socrates we are referring to. When “viewed” by The Unconditioned (who is not conditioned by time or sequential existence), there is one unique idea of Socrateity that correspond exactly to Socrates in our actual human history, and many other different ideas of Socrateity that correspond to different Socrates in different logically possible worlds that diverge from the time a baby was born and given the name Socrates.

Viewed from outside time, all these different Socrates are different ideas of Socrateity. Only one of these ideas has been given a share in Existence in actuality.

Hence, from the perspective of the Eternal Unconditioned Mind, what is necessarily common among different ideas of Socrateity is only one thing: the coming into existence of that particular baby. After that all kinds of possibilities exist to result in different ideas of Socrateity. Only one of these many ideas of Socrateity has a share in Actual Existence. The others exist only as ideas in the Unconditioned Mind.

That means once when the issue is viewed from the perspective outside time, it seems that the real distinction of essence and existence in conditioned entities can be maintained without contradicting the Metaphysical Primacy of Individual Existence mentioned in your 2013 blog post titled Existence and Essence: An Aporetic Dyad.

Not sure if what I just wrote is coherent.

:)

Cheers!
johannes y k hui

To get this out of the way first, I am not denying the distinction between essence and existence.

Now BV says: "the haecceity of a thing cannot be a property of a thing". In the 2010 post he says of haecceities "(ii) they can exist unexemplified" and he illustrates this by saying that Socrateity exists in every possible world: where Socrateity is the haecceity of Socrates and Socrates does not exist in every possible world.

I would see things differently: If there were other possible worlds, it is the essence of Socrates (his "thusness") that would exist in every possible world; his haecceity (his "thisness") would exist only in a world in which Socrates exists.

God's theoretical non-willing of Socrates would mean not only that there was no such thing as Socrates, but also that there was no such thing as Socrateity.

BV,

"A contingent existent is one that exists but is possibly such that it does not exist. There you have the distinction between essence and existence."

Couldn't an ostrich nominalist accept that definition of "contingent existent" without accepting the essence-existence distinction? Rather, the idea is that, while contingent existents can possibly not exist, there's no deeper explanation of this fact. To claim it does begs the question against the ostrich nominalist. At least this is how I think an ostrich nominalist would respond.

"It is because tables are contingent beings that I can exercise my causal powers to either build one or destroy one."

This also seems to beg the question against the causal power theory of contingency. So we have two theories here, one which explains our causal power to make a table in terms of the table's contingency of existence, and another which explains the table's contingency of existence in terms of our power to make a table. One advantage of the second theory is that it provides an explanation of contingent existence without falling into the aporia you discussed in the post.

ML,

There are serious problems with ostrich nominalism. Consider 'Tom is red.' The O.N. will say that there is nothing in or about Tom in virtue of which the predicate 'red' is true of him. That is preposterous. It implies that Tom has no properties, which is plainly false, and the denial of a datum. Go down this road and you end up with linguistic idealism.

Same goes for 'Tom is contingent.' The predicate is true of Tom in virtue of something about Tom. And what might that be? His being a compound of essence and existence. Deny this and you deny that Tom has any intrinsic modality. He would then be a-modal.Same with God: neither necessary nor impossible nor contingent.

Elliot,

Yes to both of your questions@3:38.

You understand me very well!

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