Thursday, September 4, 2008

Metaphysically light existence

In the previous post, I argued that artefacts do not exist in a "metaphysically serious way". The notion of metaphysically serious existence is a foggy one. But I think I can give two sufficient conditions for it. The trivial one is that Fs don't exist in a metaphysically serious way if there just are no Fs. The non-trivial one is that Fs don't exist in a metaphysically serious way provided that whenever "x" is the name of an existent F, the proposition that x exists is a proposition that holds in virtue of the truth of some proposition that does not make reference to the x.

For instance, if x is a particular hole in a wall, the claim "x exists" holds in virtue of a proposition reporting a certain area's being surrounded by the wall but not itself containing any parts of the wall. Likewise, if x is a waltz that George and Sally are dancing, then the claim "x exists" holds in virtue of George and Sally waltzing at a certain time in a certain way (the "certain" encode the amount of precision to ensure that we're talking of this waltz rather than another waltz). Thus, holes and waltzes don't exist in a metaphysically serious way.

Note that the "in virtue of" relation here is more than just "being entailed by."

On my view claims like "This table exists" may be true in virtue of facts about arrangements of particles and/or fields as well as the intentions and/or practices of agents and/or communities. Or, alternately, such claims are false as they stand, but they are close approximations to true claims which hold in virtue of facts about arrangements of particles and/or fields as well as the intentions and/or practices of agents and/or communities.

8 comments:

Mike L said...

Fs don't exist in a metaphysically serious way provided that whenever "x" is the name of an existent F, the proposition that x exists is a proposition that holds in virtue of the truth of some proposition that does not make reference to the x.

Again, Alex, I have two questions:

(1) Is that criterion for picking out "entities lite" intended to be exhaustive, in the sense that it is meant to enable us to pick out all and only entities lite?

(2) If so, are you sure that such can actually be done without an ontological "cost" you're unwilling to pay?

Best,
Mike

Alexander R Pruss said...

I have given a sufficient condition for being an entity lite. Whether it is a necessary condition is a question I haven't addressed.

I should add that "in virtue of" here means "just in virtue of", and is probably best understood as a reductive claim.

Enigman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Enigman said...

I can see that a hole exists in a wall in virtue of how the wall is disposed. (Although once we have identified a hole as a hole, I think that we might have imposed new persistence conditions.) But surely tables are very different? Not only can a table survive changes in the composition and arrangement of its underlying material, the latter might stay the same and the table cease to exist...

Consider a sandstone table. There was originally a block of sandstone, from which our table was carved - did the table exist prior to that carving, within the original block? I would say that the table did not then exist. Intuitively there was then just a block of sandstone. (Maybe there is a power-set of the set of sand grains within the block:)

Suppose that a UFO flies over, and the aliens stick the discarded grains of sand back onto the finished table, in such a way that a block of sandstone just like the original one results. It seems to me that all we have now is a block of sandstone, lacking - as the original block did - any table within it. I would say that the aliens have destroyed our table, by undoing its creation. After all, even if, when we refer to a particular table, we refer to that stuff, we are surely not including, in that stuff, any of the space around the table.

I imagine that whether or not the table exists (after the aliens have finished playing with it) is a matter of convention - as is whether or not it existed within the original block (along with so many other possible artifacts) - but still, that feels to me like a problem for at least the importance of metaphysical seriousness.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think that if something is a matter of convention, it's not metaphysically serious. :-)

Enigman said...

Fair enough... I'm out of my depth here, and still wondering what is metaphysically serious? Is it electrons and such? But what if we do not have a complete description of what it is to be the metaphysically serious entity - say, the E - that we refer to (by hypothesis imperfectly) when we refer to an electron? Electrons will exist whenever an E exists, and although I cannot say what an E is without using "electron" (although God could) there would have been that problem with "chair" too, before we discovered such particles as electrons. And suppose that an electron does exist (e.g. it moved through a TV and hit the screen, producing light there that I then saw). Is it not a matter of convention that we do not say that an anti-electron moved backwards in time from the screen?

Enigman said...

...also wondering, what would block Humean Supervenience? Just as chairs existing might amount to some conventionally determined particles and fields existing, why not electrons existing amounting to some conventionally determined space-time points having electronic properties? (It would be counter-intuitive, but then it's counter-intuitive that chairs don't really exist.)

Speed Limit Forty said...

"Note that the "in virtue of" relation here is more than just "being entailed by."

Dr. Pruss,

I was curious if you could provide an analysis of the 'in virtue of relation' as you use it here in this post. I often see people use expressions and claim that it means something more than entailment, but don't explain what more it could mean. What more exactly is it other than entailment?

Thanks