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Monday, September 04, 2023


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The posts on existence are always the best ones on this blog.

And well I guess now it's as good of a time as any other to ask this: Bill, in which way do you differ from Barry Miller? If I understand Miller correctly, for him the existence of an individual is a first-order predicate, which you seemingly deny. Is the disagreement any deeper and if so, what does it amount to?

One remark from Gaven Kerr, defending an explicitly Thomistic version of the argument, I always found peculiar was that his argument wouldn't work on a nominalist framework. Sadly I never got an answer as to what exactly was meant by nominalism. Having your argument in mind, it seems like the general idea can still be applied on a nominalism that affirms properties. Aren't tropes in need of unification as well? The real distinction doesn't seem to be too concerned with the status of abstract objects and universals, although I believe prior commitments and arguments about existence will lead us to a realist position, at least when it comes to universals. Nonetheless, it seems unnecessary when we just present the argument in isolation.

I never had the opportunity to read "From Existence to God". Getting my hands even on a library copy is difficult enough here. I reached out to Routledge 2 years ago, together with Editiones Scholasticae, whether we could get the license to put the book back into print, however there seemed to be no interest, there's no other explanation for the outrageous licensing and royalty fees that were demanded. I hope it will be possible at some point though.

Thanks for your comments, Dominik, especially since you and I appear to think along similar lines. One response now, more later.

>>If I understand Miller correctly, for him the existence of an individual is a first-order predicate, which you seemingly deny. Is the disagreement any deeper and if so, what does it amount to?<<

First of all, Miller and I both distinguish between predicates and properties. Here's Miller, From Existence to God, p. 118, n. 6: "Properties are what a predicate stands for, or what are attributable to something by a predicate. The level of a property is the level of its correlative predicate." So it is not the case, as you say, that for Miller existence is a first-order (first-level) predicate.

Kant famously wrote, in the context of his critique of the Cartesian ontological argument, Sein ist offenbar kein reales Praedikat . . . ("Being is obviously not a real predicate . . ." KdrV A598 B626) What Kant means is that Being is not real property of individuals given Miller's distinction between predicates and properties.

As for the difference between Miller and me, it is terminological. In my book I define properties as instantiable entities. (If memory serves, I got this definition from Roderick Chisholm whose NEH seminar I attended at Brown University in the summer of '81.) I probably say in my book (I am too lazy to get out of my chair and check): P is a property =df P is possibly such that it is instantiated.

Max is one of my cats. It is evident that Max exists. I take it to be a datum that the declarative sentence 'Max exists,' when assertively uttered by someone, attributes existence to Max. The same goes for Max's brother Manny. Both of my 'tuxies' (Tuxedo cats) exist. They have something in common, namely existence. Having defined 'property' as just did, I go on to argue that existence cannot be a property of existing individuals. For it cannot be that Max, Manny, the bobcat that just walked by . . . exists by instantiating existence. (See PTE for the arguments.) So existence cannot be a first-order/first-level property, as I define these terms.

And yet Miller and I agree that, in my way of putting it, not his, existence "belongs to individuals" such as Max in a way that it would not belong to individuals if existence were a second-level property of such items as concepts, properties, propositional functions, and some other items I discuss in my book.

This sets up one of the problems my book tackles: What is it for an individual to exist if existence is not a property at any level? (It seems to me that I utterly demolish the still-popular 'thin theory of existence')

Now Dominik, tell me what you agree with and what you disagree with supra, and we will take it from there.

Thank you for your answer, Bill. I don't see us disagreeing on anything actually. Another argument against the thin theory that I like to defend is the incompatibility of it with the PSR, since it's not possible to give an account of how the necessary being can be necessary. I haven't found C. J. F. Williams tackling that issue, and neither Quineans like Peter van Inwagen, despite the latter having an article called "God's Being and Ours". If you have a reference that I have missed, please let me know.

The only difference may be that I'm not comfortable defending any definitive theory of properties. Though I'm inclined towards a constituent ontology, nonetheless I'm interested in how the argument is affected by different views on properties. Prima facie there seems to be no problem with combining the idea of external unification with a trope theory and even a mad dog nominalist like William Lane Craig, who toys with ideas like denial of properties, still has to keep a difference between individual and existence, however he might want to cash that out.

As I've said, I think there's an entailment to be argued for, meaning that the nature of existence of an individual in combination with the existence of the paradigm existent yields an argument for a particular view of properties. Arguably you have done something similar in ch. 3, arguing that a non-constituent ontologist has to deny the existence of individuals. But I'll freely admit that the arguments for the constituent ontology need to get carefully read again by myself at some point. The last time it went over my head.

Thanks for the correction about the distinction of property and predicate. This cleans up a lot.

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