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Is existence a predicate?
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Author:  regularoldcatholic75 [ Wed Feb 13, 2019 6:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Is existence a predicate?

Sorry if this subject has been addressed, but I'm trying to find what the A-T position is with regard to existence. Specifically, Kant's view that existence isn't a predicate. I realize the ontological argument isn't valid, but I'm wondering how a Thomist would view existence in general.

It's a metaphysical constituent of a thing, together with the thing's essence. But does that mean we can predicate it, or not?

I'm confused (which happens all the time).

Author:  gherkin [ Thu Feb 14, 2019 10:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Is existence a predicate?

It has been a very long time since I studied up a bit on this. So this is rough and probably not perfectly accurate. Kant's position is based on his belief that a predicate is something that, so to speak, makes a difference to the subject. But existence can't make a difference to something. That sounds a bit crazy when you put it that way, but here's where the example of the hundred real dollars versus the hundred imaginary dollars comes in: examine them as you will, you'll find no difference between them. So Kant thinks. Needless to say, one can doubt Kant's story about predicates.

Is existence a predicate for St. Thomas? Sure. Though predication is a linguistic phenomenon, so we shouldn't confuse this question with the metaphysical matter of existence as really distinct from essence. Linguistically, St. Thomas has two notions of existence--the actuality sense and the 'there is' sense. If I say 'Socrates exists', I'm predicating existence of Socrates, in the actuality sense. If I say "horses exist," then I'm speaking in the 'there is' sense, and not predicating existence of anything.

Author:  theJack [ Thu Feb 14, 2019 3:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Is existence a predicate?

To expand a bit on what gherkin is saying, Kant would understand the whole idea of predication differently than a classical philosopher. To get at his view on this, you need to get his distinction between analytic and synthetic statements. For Kant, any and all statements are one of the two, for analytic statements are those in which the predicate is found in the subject itself, whereas synthetic statements are those that add to the subject. So for the former, consider "All triangles have three sides" or "For any circle, all points are equidistant from the center," or "Horses are four legged animals." These things are simply true by definition. For the latter, consider "George Washington was the first POTUS," or "John is overweight," or "That triangle has a red side, a green side, and a blue side."

When you ask, then, if existence is a predicate in Kantian terms, you are asking yourself if the statement, "X exists" is an analytic or synthetic statement. But it can't be an analytic statements, because the existence of something is not true by definition. Yet it also doesn't seem to be a synthetic statement, because nothing is "added" to the subject (which is the essence of a synthetic statement). It is clear enough, I think, that "X exists" is just of a fundamentally different sort of statement than "John has red hair." Moreover, there are reasons within classical philosophy itself that predication so construed would render existence not, in fact, a predicate. For in order to predicate X to Y, you must first presuppose the existence of both X and Y, rendering the statements "X exists" and "Y exists" tautologous, even if potentially false, which is absurd. Moreover, take the statement, "X does not exist." In this case, you still must predicate existence to X--it can be understood as "No X exists"--which is self-contradictory and, again, absurd.

Thus Kant concludes that existence is not a predicate at all. On some level, classical philosophers would agree. The claim has always been that "truth is found in being," meaning that for any statement, "X is Y," it is only true or false in the being now described. That is, if X really is Y, then the statement is true; and if X really is not Y, then the statement is false. So the nature of the existence of X--or, better, how X exists--is the truth-maker for the claim.

All that being said, I think Kant has a deficient view of predication, which isn't surprising given his philosophical method. He rejects metaphysics as a whole, which means that the only thing you know are concepts and not things. Even more radically, he is forced then to reject the idea of natures in and of themselves, since all you really have access to is your concepts of things (whether or not those concept correlate to real things is, ultimately, unknowable -- it's a pragmatic point to regard them as related). He is so radical here that he denies even being a nomialist, which is what you might think his position entails, since nominalism, strictly, holds that there is nothing in things that answers to our concepts. But since Kant just ignores the things, then there is no question at all for him--or at best the question is meaningless--as to whether or not there is anything in said things to answer to our concepts! Now given all that, it seems clear to me that Kant really can't have a proper or functional theory of predication, for he actually predicates nothing whatsoever to anything. All you have are ideas about ideas. So sure, on this view, existence is not a predicate as it does not delineate any concept in any meaningful way. And sure, on this view, red hair would be predicable insofar as red hair is usually not definitionally related to some concept. But so what? Because in neither case you are actually talking about any thing at all. You aren't really saying that John has red hair, much less that he exists. It is a very deep, and I think fatal, flaw in Kantianism as a whole (along with the entire enterprise of the early analytical philosophy of Russell et al). Things are a bit different today, but that problem always creeps in the background.

For more, I'd suggest trying to find a copy of Henry Veatch's Two Logics: the Conflict between Classical and Neo-Analytic Philosophy. Very dense read, but very good!

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