Existence is presence. Primarily, in space and time, whether physical or mental (because there is such a thing as “mental space”). In modern configuration, we say, spatio-temporal presence. In this sense, existence is thus both perceptually and conceptually determined. This is the basic foundation of Kant’s notion in his Critique of Pure Reason that existence may not be a predicate to come up with a meaningful statement; only a tautology which technically functions for logical purposes in the formal sense. As such, “existence” is not a property that may be added to expound the concept of a subject. In other words, the statement “Madrid, Spain exists” is a tautology and hence meaningless in the Kantian signification because “existence” in relation to Madrid, Spain is an inherent and therefore a presupposed condition of the latter. So that, when we say “Madrid, Spain,” it automatically imposes in consciousness the idea of Madrid, Spain’s existence.
Ages before Kant, this framework had already been established and assumed in the ontological formulations of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas:
. . . It is deemed significant at this point to consider the meanings of certain key concepts like “something” and “existence” which are actually constituents of classical philosophical problematizations that go back to the pre-modern periods and more critically analyzed particularly by Aristotle (during the ancient period) and Thomas Aquinas (during the medieval period) and their disciples as well who unanimously held that existence is a condition and NOT a property of something´s—i.e., an object´s—being. (1)
Being a condition and not a property, existence cannot, therefore, be a predicate.
This epistemological layout–without considering the ontological backdrop in the Kantian approach–was however questioned by two prominent philosophers: the British Wittgensteinian philosopher David Pears (8 August 1921 – 1 July 2009) and the American Philosophy professor William Payne Alston (November 29, 1921 – September 13, 2009):
According to Kant, existence is not a real predicate, that is, ‘a predicate which is added to the concept of a subject and enlarges it’; and modern philosophical analysis would seem to support Kant’s view. One argument to show that existence is not a predicate is the following. In order to predicate something of X, it must be presupposed that X exists. So, if ‘exists’ is a predicate, then for example, ‘Tame tigers exist’ will be tautologous and ‘No tame tigers exist’ will be self-contradictory, but since neither of these is the case, ‘exists’ cannot be a predicate.
It has been suggested that there are cases where ‘exists’ does function as a predicate. Mr David Pears, for example, thinks that ‘exists’ is a predicate when the subject (which is presupposed to exist at one time) is said to exist at another time (for example ‘Euston Arch no longer exists’) or when existence is presupposed in one world and asserted in another (for example, ‘The house I dreamt about really exists’). Professor W. P. Alston also argues for different kinds of existence: existence in the real world, existence in fiction, existence in imagination, and so on. Although it might be said that other modes of existence depend on real existence, I am inclined to think, although I do not want to argue for it here, that there is some point in distinguishing various modes of existence and certainly, as Alston says, ordinary language does. (2)
II. “Existence” in Epistemology and Ontology
Taking the epistemological sensibility of the points raised by Pears and Alston in the above examination, existence may syntactically and semantically function as a predicate in a meaningful way, not just tautologically–and hence, meaningless–within the sphere of logical analysis. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the issues raised by both Pears and Alston are of a special character being epistemological. In the process, Alston, in particular, presupposes a multiplicity of modes of existence where existence in the real world is just one of them. In this sense, contexts are, therefore, necessarily pre-established to reckon the assumed existence of certain entities. But even then, existence is not taken as a predicate because in considering a particular context, say a fiction, the existence of a fictional character is presupposed as inherent in such a character. It is, therefore, tautological to say “Batman exists” when the assumed context is the fictional story about the “caped crusader”. In other words, it is a given that in that context, Batman exists. The statement “Batman exists” may only gain meaningfulness in a meta-inquiry called “second-order category” analysis whose contextual location is the real world or to put it in a stronger and more solid designation, the paramount reality. Standing on the platform of paramount reality, raising the issue of Batman’s existence through the statement, “Batman exists” becomes meaningful as a matter of confirmation respective of the context as in “Batman exists in the fictional story about the ‘cape crusader’.” and “Batman does not exist in paramount reality.”
At this point when the issue of context is given a preeminent role, epistemology should not be the only single factor to consider. Ontology is likewise deemed equally important for knowledge (which is epistemology’s concern and whose aim is to achieve truth/truthfulness) has to be ontologically grounded, i.e., founded or established on a reality whose existence is a condition and not a property.
The general concept of reality–considering both the matters of “paramount reality” and “the multiplicity of realities”–has to be elaborated at this juncture to give more credence to the significance of the philosophical meaningfulness of the issue of existence. In this connection, we focus more our attention on the issue of the connection of existence and reality and raise the question, Is existence a matter of reality–i.e., existence is in reality and we cannot assume existence outside the frontiers of reality–or, is reality defined by existence, i.e., if something is real, it must exist? In the first part of the complex question, reality is presupposed by existence whereas in the second part, existence is presupposed by reality. Simply put, the first establishes reality as the ground of existence while the second establishes existence as the ground of reality.
III. Is Existence A Matter of Reality?
In this case, we say that if it is real, i.e., a reality, then it has to exist. And then we ask, What is reality? Who determines reality? Is there only one single reality which we call “paramount reality” or there is a multiplicity of realities? What we, of course, cannot deny–because any denial of which is tantamount to absurdity–is the paramount reality. It is right around us. It is basically characterized by its physicochemical, i.e., material components, conditionalities, and concatenations. It is therefore objective and hence being generally perceived as such through the senses yet characterized by divergences that depend on perspectives which do not in any way impair its objective mold.
However, we can neither deny the subjective reality that is characterized by feelings and emotions, hopes and aspirations, dreams and imaginations. A denial of which is equally absurd. Still within the range of the spatio-temporal category being basically a matter of “mental space”, this reality’s apex of capability is in its creative power. It creates impressions and interpretations. This subjective reality is capable of creating a multiplicity of worlds where each world is reckoned as real. Any entity conceived within a particular world of subjective reality is, therefore, real as its existence is conditioned by its reality. Though not necessarily instantiated in paramount reality, entities in subjective reality are potential units that, barring all logical contradictions, may be clearly “seen” with one’s eye of imagination in her/his mental space.
In this light, we can presume the condition of a unicorn’s existence in subjective reality since it can be pictured in one’s mental space without committing logical inconsistency. Theoretically, subjective reality is an open field which has the potential to accommodate any conceptualization so long as it is free from logical contradiction. In this sense, the existence of a “square circle” or a “round square” can never be conditioned by its reality for such a concept can never be real. Fiction has its own reality which is fundamentally subjective but whose circumstances may be projected objectively by way of actual personification in paramount reality such as in the cinema or in the theater. It is our mind’s differentiation capability under normal conditions that recognizes the contexts that distinguish fiction from paramount.
This is mainly the unlimited arena of deity believers where their concatenation power can formulate the reality of god(s) and whose reality spontaneously/automatically conditions such god(s) existence. Using the Kantian epistemological presupposition, “God exists” is, therefore, a tautology and may be construed as a statement of logic since, in the context of the reality of their world, the existence of such a god is not a property but a condition. This explains why there are so many religions on planet Earth whose gods do not necessarily agree with each other even to the point of vehemently contradicting each other.
And a serious problem arises: These passionate god believers have reached a point where the fictional and the paramount are unwittingly blurred, i.e., the demarcating line of distinction is ultimately lost. They have “telescoped” their subjective reality whose magnified terrain has covered and overwhelmed the paramount landscape. In the process, they unwittingly confused the whole scenario and finally decided for themselves that their reality which is originally subjective is paramount after all. From their perspective, the god they believe in becomes paramount. Having this in mind, they interpret every aspect of their religion in physico-material terms, something that can never be empirically verified in paramount reality.
IV. Is Reality A Matter of Existence?
Then, we now get face to face with the question, Is reality a matter of existence, i.e., is reality defined by existence? Then, if existence is not a condition of an entity, it must not be real. This is the topography of paramount reality. This reality is called paramount because it is the foremost and overriding point of reference whose components are conditioned by existence. In other words, if the existence of a circumstance cannot be reckoned in paramount reality, it must not be real because it doesn’t exist in such a reality. Matters of imagination may exist in paramount reality but they bear the category of fictions. Their existence is a condition of their being fictional but they cannot claim such a condition as non-fictional entities. Superman exists in paramount reality as a fictional character. In other words, Superman’s existence cannot be directly conditioned in paramount reality as such since the characteristics Superman fictionally represent defy the regularities subject to certain laws of nature that operate in the paramount reality of planet Earth.
The same conditions apply to the God of Christianity which is not monolithic/homogeneous at all as this God is characterized and interpreted in so many ways (which at worst even contradict each other) by myriad sects and denominations. This God’s existence cannot be directly conditioned in paramount reality since this God has special characteristics that defy the regularities subject to certain laws of nature that control the well-ordered operation of circumstances in our paramount reality. And since this God cannot have the condition of existence in paramount reality, it doesn’t, therefore, exist and cannot be real.
In the final analysis, let us be clear with the notion that deviation from paramount reality is an anomaly. Paramount reality is the anchor of our sanity and it is the reference point of all our sensible and reasonable reckoning. It is the condition of existence that makes paramount reality real. Having this in mind does not mean that we should invalidate in the process the importance of subjective reality. We don’t. Subjective reality is real but to confuse it with paramount reality is a worse anomaly. Pitting subjective reality against objective reality which we call paramount and undermining the latter with all the components of the former and declaring it as superior over the paramount is schizophrenic.
(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 11 September 2019
(2) Vera Peetz, “Is Existence a Predicate?”, in the journal Philosophy, Vol. 57, No. 221 (Jul., 1982), pp. 395-401.