How is 'existence' defined?



How would you define 'existence'?

Is it a requisite for an entity to be able to interact with other entities to be considered as 'existent'?

What if there are real objects in the universe which cannot interact with other objects? If interaction does not occur, then we would be unable to detect the presence of such objects with our senses and technological instruments.

Is it a requisite for an entity to have the potential of being described to be considered 'existent'?

What if there are a class of objects (such as mental objects, ideas, mathematical objects, etc) that can be described and defined, even when they are not physical objects made from matter and which follow the laws of physics? After all, I can describe 'triangles' and 'unicorns', even when by scientific consensus we don't consider them as "real" objects.

Is 'existence' a phenomenom which necessarily point to a real event, or is it just a useful concept to differenciate between physical and non-physical objects?

Is the problem of defining 'existence' just a linguistic/conceptual problem, or does it have a metaphysical/ontological grounding (which might allow us to differenciate between existent and non-existent entities/phenomena)?

Thanks in advance for your time and patience!

Brian Díaz Flores

Posted 2019-05-30T06:35:09.100

Reputation: 161

Question was closed 2019-05-31T02:43:16.737


See Existence

– Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2019-05-30T06:58:17.797

The issue is thorny... If "existence" is intrinsecally related to physical, then ideas and math objects do not exist. If "existence" is defined in terms of interactions, things are difffrent: many wars have been caused by "ideas"; this means that humans and societies interact with ideas. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2019-05-30T07:17:04.900

@MauroALLEGRANZA You say, if existence is defined so and so, then so and so. And who will define 'existence' for us? We only. Because we coined the word 'existence'. The word was coined for use in a specific context, but now we are employing it in a drastically different context. So what's the point of all this if WE can define existence, and then, from our definition, classification simply follows? How is it even helpful if I am allowed to choose to be a platonist or nominalist? If I can define things as I feel fit, or choose my philosophy, are we really making any progress? – Ajax – 2019-05-30T10:39:26.830

@Ajax Hi! Doesn't apply to every word, concept and category defined arbitrarily? I would suggest that a definition X is useful and meaningful as long as it is coherent with the other predefined concepts, especially the ones used to define X. If 'existence' if used to everything that can be conceptualized, then the term seems to become useless, because it does not differentiate between classes/species of phenomena. 'Existence' and 'being' seem to be the most general classification. – Brian Díaz Flores – 2019-05-30T14:42:57.277

1@BrianDíazFlores I agree.But who decides when 'existence' can be used, & when not? We don't have any criteria for it. Traditionally, I believe, we have used 'existence' in cases where verification is possible. Is it even correct to define its scope (properties), and still call it 'existence'? We might try to formalise, and define 'existence'. Now when I define 'existence', am I not limiting its scope? What we are trying to talk about, I would say, we cannot think. Words, by themselves, have limitations. And that is because we cannot think the transcendental. Don't know if it makes sense. – Ajax – 2019-05-30T15:17:46.667

1@BrianDíazFlores A better reasoning: If we take 'existence' to mean physical verifiability, then any other property, even if appended to above definition, should be treated as a different concept altogether. There is no reason to call the new concept 'existence'. Call it 'abcd'. Numbers therefore 'abcd' (and not exist). The problem here is just this. We don't coin new terms, but argue on definition of a word used in everyday usage. This causes confusion because it doesn't fit with our everyday notions of 'existence', and makes us think something very important is at play. – Ajax – 2019-05-30T16:35:41.107

@Ajax Good points! If we define "abcd" as concept that doesn't overlap the definition of 'existence', then (I think) we should create a new concept, even more general, that groups both phenomena/predicates. Some may argue that there's no need to create this new "superconcept", because 'existence' may be enough to group everything that can be conceptually defined. Maybe we should talk of different levels of existence instead of creating the duality between existence/non-existence. What do you think about this? – Brian Díaz Flores – 2019-05-30T17:50:00.797

1@BrianDíazFlores I think it might be helpful. Whenever we think of existence, we can only relate the word with our contextual experience, and only that constitutes the objective idea of existence. Anything else, which we haven't experienced, but merely conjecturize, is out of our conventional notion of existence, and hence should not be labeled as 'existence'. The highest order of existence philosophers are trying to wrap their head around cannot be captured in words. – Ajax – 2019-05-30T19:05:50.957

@Ajax Thank you so much! I like this position and I'll take as the start point for my investigation on the definition the concept of 'existence'. Kind regards! – Brian Díaz Flores – 2019-05-30T22:59:19.263



I am sure you'll be able to find academic ressources on the subject, I'll try to provide the conversation.

How would you define 'existence'?

Any definition boils down to some form of description, featuring, contrast. When you define, you delimit, you separate, you distinguish. Existence is primordial, hence, you could hardly sketch it with words. Nothing should stop you from trying, I believe all of Heidegger's attempt is on that line, he felt the question was never addressed, however, I lean to the Wittgenstanian mystical view on the matter.

Is it a requisite for an entity to be able to interact with other entities to be considered as 'existent'?

You'll have to take your pick between schools of philosophy. An observation however: Interaction is a concept that assumes separation. A interacts with B is assuming a relation (linguistic and otherwise) which seems to imply Existence. If you cannot speaks of A, you cannot speak of its relationships (conceptual or otherwise). If we drop that assumption - by stipulating that existence of A is not a prerequisite to it's relationship - then you're loading the relationship with the existential weight, in a way, you're admiting existence of a relationship without the related "objects", at which rate you'll be assuming a conceptual stance of the univers. If so, you're then probably inclined to state Existence as a concept, something that grant you the ability to define "objects" outside of their reality. In a way, all you need for an "object" to be existing is for it to be present in your mind. Interestingly, it should probably mean your "definition" of Existence is by what can exist, potency equates act ; example : if a unicorn is imaginable -without contradiction-, a unicorm exists.

I feel your other questions find more or less an answer, however indirectly, in the above developement. It's probable my answer would be entirely different if I've written it a few minutes later, simply because you could reason in all sort of directions when it comes to such fundamental subjects.

Thank you for the question and good day to you :) !


Posted 2019-05-30T06:35:09.100

Reputation: 255

Thank you so much for your insightful and kind answer. So, your position on this is that when talking about the definition of existence, we should remain in silence, since -apparently- no definitive argument can be given for solving this riddle? – Brian Díaz Flores – 2019-05-30T07:39:55.263

1Existence is sort of a "background" to all else. A bad analogy is this one : in mathematics you can speak of an element as belonging or not to a set, but you'll never argue the existence of the set itself (if it could be defined in coherence with the general framework of your mathematics). That's only a layer of the question, since Reason and Logic speak of how you'd organize "things" rather than if, how and why they exists. It seems then that most of the language we can use is limited in that fashion. It seems then that Existence is experienced than thought of. – Gloserio – 2019-05-30T08:12:04.990

1I'd still encourage you to persue the question, but you'd probably want to note how language might play you. Nietzsche was also aware of this issue, he noted for example (though he was not alone to do so) that Descartes's "Je" (I, self) is probably induced by indo-european linguistic use of the pronoun. A chinese person would be less prone to speak of Existence since his language is not endowed with such peculiarity - take my example with a grain of salt -. – Gloserio – 2019-05-30T08:16:02.047