Metaphysics and contingent existents

Val asked:

“If X might exist but we have no reason to suppose that it actually does exist, then as metaphysicians we should not concern ourselves with X.” — Is this true? Why or why not?

Answer by Hubertus Fremerey

As in so many similar cases, the problem here is not “is it true?” but “what does it mean?”

Insert for X not only the worn out item “God”, but as well “liberty”, “justice”, “human dignity”, “progress” etc.. In all those cases it is not even clear what we say when we say “X does exist”.

This is a general problem. of semantics and ontology. We are using “concepts” or “labels” as if they were “things”, but they aren’t. This is the core problem of nominalism that was already known to Aristotle when he asked whether Platos “ideas” were “real” or just “concepts”.

Even when applied to “objects” it is not clear what we mean. While “a human” seems very much more “real” than, say, “justice”, we would be confused by the statement “a human is a bunch of molecules”. While true in a sense, almost a banality, this is not the answer we had in mind when we put the question.

Instead of seing a human as “a bunch of molecules” we attach to it a whole “aura” of other concomitant concepts as are “the character”, “the biography”, “the culture”, “the opinions”, “the hopes and fears” etc.etc.. They all together “constitute” what a certain human is — which is even much more than what the biologist or the medic sees.

So once more: What does it even mean to say that “X might exist”?

Among the few cases where the question look simple and straight forward is in math: “Does a solution of this equation exist?” In the case of Fermat’s Problem the answer to m3 + n3 = X3 would be “X does not exist”. But X here is a logical variable, while reality does not consist of logical variables in this sense.

In common and philosophical language, even “a human” is a logical variable, but from a different sort of logics, a different sort of language. This point should not be missed. It is a common cause of meaningless debates.

2 thoughts on “Metaphysics and contingent existents

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