What does it mean to say that X exists, or does not exist?

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Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 06:47 am
I might have put this question into the language section, but since possibly the most central question in metaphysics is that of existence, I decided to put it there. So, when we assert that X (whatever it may be) exists (or that X does not exist) what are we asserting? (Example: elephants exist, but mermaids do not).
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 06:58 am
@kennethamy,
I don't know how broadly you wish to use the term "exist". The term "exist" need not be used solely to entail physical manifestation. I could say "My relationship with my mother exists", or "This idea exists in my mind". And, in the case of mermaids, we could say the concept or notion of the mermaid exists. I think our assertion would depend upon the sentence in question.

Or did you solely want to focus on existence with physical properties, like the elephant example?
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 07:10 am
@Zetherin,
As Zetherin says, it's all context.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 07:10 am
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;99807 wrote:
I don't know how broadly you wish to use the term "exist". The term "exist" need not be used solely to entail physical manifestation. I could say "My relationship with my mother exists", or "This idea exists in my mind". And, in the case of mermaids, we could say the concept or notion of the mermaid exists. I think our assertion would depend upon the sentence in question.

Or did you solely want to focus on existence with physical properties, like the elephant example?


The question, do mermaids exist, and does the concept of mermaid exist, are obviously two very different question. As different as the questions, "Do mermaids exist, is from the question, does the word "mermaid" exist. But I mean to ask what the adjective "exist" means whatever it is we are asking about? In my example above, I think we are asking the same thing whether it is about the word "mermaid", or about the object, "mermaid". In either case we are asking whether something exists. (Just as if whether we are asking whether an apple is red, or whether the concept of an apple is red, we are still asking whether something is red).
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 07:13 am
@kennethamy,
And just what that adjective means depends entirely upon what that adjective modifies. To go further would require some context or qualification of our particular meaning.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 08:06 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas;99812 wrote:
And just what that adjective means depends entirely upon what that adjective modifies. To go further would require some context or qualification of our particular meaning.



You would not say that what "red" means depends on what "red" modifies. So why would you say that about "exists"? Would, for example, asking whether mermaids exist be any different from asking whether centaurs exist, or whether pears exist, or whether mountains exist? Why?
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 08:09 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;99811 wrote:
The question, do mermaids exist, and does the concept of mermaid exist, are obviously two very different question. As different as the questions, "Do mermaids exist, is from the question, does the word "mermaid" exist. But I mean to ask what the adjective "exist" means whatever it is we are asking about? In my example above, I think we are asking the same thing whether it is about the word "mermaid", or about the object, "mermaid". In either case we are asking whether something exists. (Just as if whether we are asking whether an apple is red, or whether the concept of an apple is red, we are still asking whether something is red).


But we would be asserting different things if we said "Mermaids exist" and "The concept of the mermaid exists". With the former we would be asserting that there is some physical manifestation of the mermaid, in the latter we would just be acknowledging the notion exists. You asked what we would be asserting, so I was just noting that it depends upon on the sentence in question.

Quote:

But I mean to ask what the adjective "exist" means whatever it is we are asking about?


The common denominator is that we are saying X is (or is not), in some form. The form evaluated depends upon the sentence in question.

Quote:

You would not say that what "red" means depends on what "red" modifies. So why would you say that about "exists"?


We would say that what "cool" means depends on what "cool" modifies. What you just said doesn't logically follow. Just because, in the case of "red", it usually doesn't depend on what the adjective modifies, doesn't mean there aren't cases where it does depend.
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 08:10 am
@Didymos Thomas,
To say that X exists means:

To use language to express the idea that X is.

To "use language" presumes that there is a speaker, and language is a tool.

But obviously this is wrong, because if there was no language, there could be no speaker.

So language is a form... a pattern. The engagement of the pattern results in sounds that have meaning.

But this isn't true, because a parrot, sitting outside of the earshot of a human, can spout obscenities that don't mean anything to the parrot.

So is the parrot using language? Do we require a listener in order to say something?

To me, these matters are basic to your question. And we haven't even gotten to issues such as: what is a question... what is meaning?

If we don't address these issues, we're building a structure on top of an uninvestigated heap of assumptions. So we could look at these assumptions to see if they'll support our structure before we keep building.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 08:15 am
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;99823 wrote:
But we would be asserting different things if we said "Mermaids exist" and "The concept of the mermaid exists". With the former we would be asserting that there is some physical manifestation of the mermaid, in the latter we would just be acknowledging the notion exists. You asked what we would be asserting, so I was just noting that it depends upon on the sentence in question.



The common denominator is that we are saying X is (or is not), in some form. The form evaluated depends upon the sentence in question.


Well, of course we would be asserting different things. But that need have nothing to do with the term, "exists", need it. No more than the fact that we would be asserting different things when we asserted that apples were red from fire-engines are red, would have anything to do with the meaning of the adjective "red". In both case we would be saying that the object in question has the property of being red. So, what are we saying about the concept of mermaid, and mermaid, when we assert that both exist? Or about the concept of elephant and elephants, when we assert of them that both exist?
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 08:16 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;99827 wrote:
Well, of course we would be asserting different things. But that need have nothing to do with the term, "exists", need it. No more than the fact that we would be asserting different things when we asserted that apples were red from fire-engines are red, would have anything to do with the meaning of the adjective "red". In both case we would be saying that the object in question has the property of being red. So, what are we saying about the concept of mermaid, and mermaid, when we assert that both exist? Or about the concept of elephant and elephants, when we assert of them that both exist?


I edited my post and addressed another line of yours. Please see above.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 08:16 am
@Arjuna,
Arjuna;99824 wrote:
To say that X exists means:

To use language to express the idea that X is.

To "use language" presumes that there is a speaker, and language is a tool.

But obviously this is wrong, because if there was no language, there could be no speaker.

So language is a form... a pattern. The engagement of the pattern results in sounds that have meaning.

But this isn't true, because a parrot, sitting outside of the earshot of a human, can spout obscenities that don't mean anything to the parrot.

So is the parrot using language? Do we require a listener in order to say something?

To me, these matters are basic to your question. And we haven't even gotten to issues such as: what is a question... what is meaning?

If we don't address these issues, we're building a structure on top of an uninvestigated heap of assumptions. So we could look at these assumptions to see if they'll support our structure before we keep building.


All of this may be true. But what has it to do with the question of what the term, "exist" means? I don't see any connection.

You seem to think that unless you ask everything at once, you cannot ask anything at all. Can't I ask, and answer the question, what does the word "cat" mean without asking, and answering, all your other questions.
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 08:42 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;99829 wrote:
All of this may be true. But what has it to do with the question of what the term, "exist" means? I don't see any connection.

You seem to think that unless you ask everything at once, you cannot ask anything at all. Can't I ask, and answer the question, what does the word "cat" mean without asking, and answering, all your other questions.

OK. I understand. Thanks. Smile
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 09:03 am
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;99823 wrote:
But we would be asserting different things if we said "Mermaids exist" and "The concept of the mermaid exists". With the former we would be asserting that there is some physical manifestation of the mermaid, in the latter we would just be acknowledging the notion exists. You asked what we would be asserting, so I was just noting that it depends upon on the sentence in question.



The common denominator is that we are saying X is (or is not), in some form. The form evaluated depends upon the sentence in question.



We would say that what "cool" means depends on what "cool" modifies. What you just said doesn't logically follow. Just because, in the case of "red", it usually doesn't depend on what the adjective modifies, doesn't mean there aren't cases where it does depend.


Yes, "cool" has a number of different meanings. But when we confine it to just temperature, it has just one meaning. And when I talk about "exists" here, I am talking about what it means when "exist" is synonymous with the phrase, "there is (are)". And in "there are elephants" and, "there are mermaids" means the same thing in both cases. There is no reason to think that the difference in meaning in both cases is due to anything but the difference between the nouns. Have you any such reason? (By the way, what other meanings of "exist" have you in minds, anyway? I really cannot think of any at all) . Perhaps we should compare "exist", with "square of". We get different answers to the question, what is the square of X, depending on the number X is. But, the meaning of, "square of" is the same. It means multiplying the number by itself.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 09:19 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
Yes, "cool" has a number of different meanings. But when we confine it to just temperature, it has just one meaning.


Yes, and when we confine "exist" to mean there is physical corroboration, then we confine it to one meaning, such as saying "Elephants exist". When we say something like "The concept of the mermaid exists" we don't mean there is physical corroboration, and we are using a different meaning of the word "exist".

Quote:

And in "there are elephants" and, "there are mermaids" means the same thing in both cases.


I don't see how you're coming to this conclusion. How does it mean the same thing? You just agreed that we would be asserting different things with each of these propositions. With the former we are speaking of a physical manifestation, with the latter we are not. So, clearly, when we say "exist" in the first case it does not mean the same thing as when we say "exist" in the second case. Why do you think it does?

Quote:

Have you any such reason?


Yes, for same reason that if I heard a child shout, "Wow, batman is cool!", I wouldn't think he was referring to batman's body temperature: contextual clues.

Quote:
Perhaps we should compare "exist", with "square of". We get different answers to the question, what is the square of X, depending on the number X is. But, the meaning of, "square of" is the same. It means multiplying the number by itself.


Why would we do this? Should we compare "cool" with "square of"?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 09:37 am
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;99841 wrote:
Yes, and when we confine "exist" to mean there is physical corroboration, then we confine it to one meaning, such as saying "Elephants exist". When we say something like "The concept of the mermaid exists" we don't mean there is physical corroboration, and we are using a different meaning of the word "exist".



I don't see how you're coming to this conclusion. How does it mean the same thing? You just agreed that we would be asserting different things with each of these propositions. With the former we are speaking of a physical manifestation, with the latter we are not. So, clearly, when we say "exist" in the first case it does not mean the same thing as when we say "exist" in the second case. Why do you think it does?



Yes, for same reason that if I heard a child shout, "Wow, batman is cool!", I wouldn't think he was referring to batman's body temperature: contextual clues.



Why would we do this? Should we compare "cool" with "square of"?


I think there are different ways of discovering or deciding that something exists, but I see no reason to think that those different ways constitute difference in the meaning of "exist". There are different ways of testing whether someone has influenza, but that does not mean that the disease is any different depending on how it is tested. There are different ways of knowing that I am in pain, my feeling pain, and discovering that my c-fibers are firing. But that doesn't mean that what we are knowing is any different. Why should what we know differ with how we know it? In fact, that question implies that there is no difference, and we are asking about the same thing. Just because we can see a dog barking, and hear the dog barking, that does not mean that "barking" means something different, does it? Whether we know the dog exists because we see it, or whether we know the dog exists because someone tell us it exists, or whether we know the dog exists because we hear it barking, or because we have just seen a recent photograph of it, what we mean by "the dog exists" or, "there is a dog" remains the same. So, the question still is, what do we mean by it?
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 09:42 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;99843 wrote:
I think there are different ways of discovering or deciding that something exists, but I see no reason to think that those different ways constitute difference in the meaning of "exist". There are different ways of testing whether someone has influenza, but that does not mean that the disease is any different depending on how it is tested. There are different ways of knowing that I am in pain, my feeling pain, and discovering that my c-fibers are firing. But that doesn't mean that what we are knowing is any different. Why should what we know differ with how we know it? In fact, that question implies that there is no difference, and we are asking about the same thing. Just because we can see a dog barking, and hear the dog barking, that does not mean that "barking" means something different, does it? Whether we know the dog exists because we see it, or whether we know the dog exists because someone tell us it exists, or whether we know the dog exists because we hear it barking, or because we have just seen a recent photograph of it, what we mean by "the dog exists" or, "there is a dog" remains the same. So, the question still is, what do we mean by it?


I've reconsidered my position and I believe you are correct.

"Exist" still means the same thing, it's just the subject which dictactes in which way that thing exists. Mermaids and elephants both exist, but how we come to the conclusion that they exist is different (in the former, we know it's just the notion that exists, and in the latter we know there is physical corroboration - nonetheless, they both exist). They are in some form. Is that what you were going for?
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 09:44 am
@Zetherin,
Just imagine for a second that every statement is the answer to a question:

Does X exist?

The answers could be: yes, no, maybe, probably, probably not...

Just notice that my answer to the question could be either yes or no.

Do mermaids exist (are there humans whose lower body is a fish tail?)

Do mermaids exist (in imagination?)

Just explain why you can get opposing answers to the same question... not to mention any names (PLATO).
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 09:51 am
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;99844 wrote:
I've reconsidered my position and I believe you are correct.

"Exist" still means the same thing, it's just the subject which dictactes in which way that thing exists. Mermaids and elephants both exist, but how we come to the conclusion that they exist is different (in the former, we know it's just the notion that exists, and in the latter we know there is physical corroboration - nonetheless, they both exist). They are in some form. Is that what you were going for?


I am not sure what you mean by "the way" they exist. But, yes. I mean by, "X exists" that there is at least one X. And, by, "X does not exist", that nothing is an X. We should never mix up how we know with what we know. The question, "How do you know so-and-so" with, "What it is you know when you know, so-and-so". Epistemology and metaphysics are different inquiries.

---------- Post added 10-26-2009 at 11:57 AM ----------

Arjuna;99846 wrote:
Just imagine for a second that every statement is the answer to a question:

Does X exist?

The answers could be: yes, no, maybe, probably, probably not...

Just notice that my answer to the question could be either yes or no.

Do mermaids exist (are there humans whose lower body is a fish tail?)

Do mermaids exist (in imagination?)

Just explain why you can get opposing answers to the same question... not to mention any names (PLATO).


I suppose because some people are right, and some people are wrong? Why do we get opposing answers to the question, is Rio the capital of Brazil?

Mermaids do not exist anywhere. But it is true that people have imagined that mermaids existed.
 
step314 phil
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 10:18 am
@kennethamy,
I think it useful to think of "there exists an x such that A" as the least general statement more (or equally) general than each statement [t/x]A (i.e., t replaces x in A), where t is a term. I.e., (if suitable cautions have been taken in defining things so one doesn't need to worry about substitutibility, and if one works in a preorder rather than a partial order) it's the supremum of the set of statements {B: there exists a term t such that B is [t/x]A} . In fact, I like to write "there exists an x such that A" as \x/ A to emphasize this. So everything really comes down to syntax and what the terms are and what it means for something to be more general (or entailed) by everything of form [t/x]A.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Mon 26 Oct, 2009 10:24 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:

I am not sure what you mean by "the way" they exist


By "the way" I meant in what way that we know they exist.

Quote:

We should never mix up how we know with what we know.


This is what I did. Thanks for correcting me.
 
 

 
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