Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Van Inwagen on existence

I had a brief correspondence with Van Inwagen earlier this week, but he came up with nothing that resolved some of my other puzzles about his theory.  Here is one. From what he says, Inwagen seems committed to the following:

(1) 'Some x is A' is equivalent to 'some x-that-is-A exists'. 

(2) 'Holmes does not exist' is equivalent to 'no one has all the properties Sherlock Holmes holds'.

(3) Someone, namely Holmes, holds all the properties held by Sherlock Holmes

(4) No one has all the properties held by Holmes.

But this leads to a contradiction, as follows.

(5) Holmes does not exist (from 2, 4).

(6) Someone, namely Holmes, who holds all the properties held by Sherlock Holmes, exists (from 1, 3).

(7)  Holmes exists (from 6, elimination)

(8) Contradiction (5, 7)

Spelling it out.  Van Inwagen is trying to get over the problem of 'someone' having the properties ascribed to Holmes, through his distinction between 'having' and 'holding'.  No one has the properties that Holmes holds, and so Holmes does not exist.  But this does not evade the problem.  By the very same reasoning, someone holds the properties that Holmes does not have.  And there is still 'someone', and so Holmes does exist.  Van Inwagen can evade this by dropping his commitment to the equivalence of 'some thing' with 'some existing thing'.  But that would commit him to the variety of Meinongianism to which he is so fundamentally opposed.

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4 Comments:

Blogger David Brightly said...

Perhaps the 'McGinn on Existence' paper holds a clue. At the end PVI says that sentences like 'the shadow has reached the wall' can be true without there being any shadows. So maybe 'Sherlock holds property P' can be true without there being any Sherlock, unlike 'Sherlock has property P'. But he still has a lot of explaining to do.

8:15 pm  
Blogger David Brightly said...

Having now read 'Creatures of Fiction', I think we can resolve this. PVI would not accept (2). On the contrary, he would say that Holmes indeed exists, but is a creature of fiction, to which PVI is committed. London bobbies sometimes say things like 'Holmes does not exist' as a kind of shorthand for 'no one has all the properties Sherlock Holmes holds'.

10:07 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>London bobbies sometimes say things like 'Holmes does not exist' as a kind of shorthand for 'no one has all the properties Sherlock Holmes holds'.

I think that is right. But then we have the equivocation problem.

8:56 am  
Blogger David Brightly said...

And likewise, 'Alex Medford is a witch' is shorthand for 'Alex Medford holds the property is-a-witch.' One man's equivocating on 'to be' is another man's necessary distinction. Doesn't Russell somewhere say that having five(?) distinct meanings for 'is' in English is a scandal?

11:13 am  

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