[lit-ideas] Re: Movies without Guns, deliaf@netvision.net.il

  • From: Michael Chase <goya@xxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 16 Sep 2005 18:18:11 -0700

Le 16 sept. 05, à 15:48, Robert Paul a écrit :

Michael Chase wrote:
Le 16 sept. 05, à 14:27, Eric Yost a écrit :
M.C. Was ist ein Ding?

[Eric's quip snipped.]

Thing, Ding—ils sont la même chose, n'est-ce pas?


Seriously, though, folks. When R. Paul says "When I say that I don't believe (and surely, on reflection, neither do you) that every noun has as its referent something that subsists by itself as a separate and distinct thing, I'm trying to point out that just because we can talk of knowledge, love, hope, and anger, these are not independently existing 'things,'"

Instead of trying to define the English word 'thing' (which Mike knows perfectly well how to use)

M.C. Implied here is the idea that to know what a word means just is to know how to use it. This strikes me as rather reductionist, but I'll let that pass, because I'm such a nice guy.

I'll suggest that instead of saying what
I did, I might have just said, 'these do not exist independently (of the doings, feelings, and states of affairs which illustrate what we mean by, e.g. 'fairness'). But this won't satisfy Mike, who then wants next to ask what I mean by 'existence.'

M.C. It would have been a start, because then you would have answered in the affirmative my question as to whether being a thing is the same thing as being an existent, rather than merely dismissing the question (see below)

Then I don't know what he means, because I don't know what he means by "thing". Is a thing equivalent to an existent? If so, is there only one kind of existence ? I notice R. Paul uses the word "subsist" on at least one occasion : is this different than "exist"? Are non-existent things "things"? If not, why not? What about ideas? Do they exist? Are they things? If not, why not?

I've said a bit about the Mike's first worry, above. 'Is a thing equivalent to an existent?' I don't even know what this question means, so maybe I could be let off trying to answer it.

M.C. 'Fraid not. I suspect Robert knows perfectly well what this question means, phrased as it is in reasonable simply English. here's a paraphrase : is "being-a-thing" coextensive with "existing" ? Here's another version : Is it possible, yes or no, for something to be non-existent and still be a thing?

'Subsist' means a number of things (see Webster) but I'll take it to mean something like 'to continue to exist,' which one can take or leave or dismiss as question-begging. It's usually thought that the items in the list of examples hang around for awhile, even to the extent that love (Love), and not just the word or concept 'love' would be there even if no one were now or ever had been in love (and so with Fairness, Anger, etc.)
This I deny.

M.C. Now we're getting somewhere. If a tree falls in the forest, according to Robert, makes no noise if there is no one around.

If Mike likes, I'll give him the word 'existence,' with the understanding that when I use it, I use it this way: To say that ourang-outangs exist is to say that there are ourang-outangs; to say that ideas exist is to say that there are ideas; and so on.

M.C. In other words, far from failing to understand the question, you now affirm that "being a thing" *is just* "existing" : thingness and existence are coextensive ; all things exist and all existents are things; there are no non-existent things. Are any of these illegitilmate inferences from what you've said ?

The last quarrelsome question, 'Do [ideas] exist? Are they things? If not, why not?' is just silly.

M.C. Indeed? Well, so much for the history of philosophy, I suppose, most of which, at least for the past 2300 years or so, has been primarily about the debate between Plato, who, as Robert knows, claimed that ideas exist, and Aristotle, who claimed they do not.

There are ideas. Are they things? Well, do you understand the sentences 'There are, after all, such things as ideas,' and 'Ideas are things which are implanted in us by hypnosis,' or do you only understand them when the word 'things' is removed, as in 'There are ideas'? ('And what sort of thing is an idea?')

M.C. Although I'm not terribly sure of my ground here (whatever happened to answers like "yes" or "no"?) I'm going to assume Robert is saying "yes, ideas are things" here. From what we've seen above, that means ideas exist. And since Robert has not say anything different, despite my request that he clarify whether or not there are different types of existence, one has no choice but to conclude that, for Robert, ideas exist in precisely the same ways as rocks, chairs, and the current President of the U.S..

But now I'm confused. Let's return to the original comments that inspired this conversation : "When I say that I don't believe ...that every noun has as its referent something that subsists by itself as a separate and distinct thing, I'm trying to point out that just because we can talk of knowledge, love, hope, and anger, these are not independently existing 'things,'"

M.C. : I took this to mean that Robert holds it is (fairly obviously) the case that it is *not* the case that "knowledge, love, hope and anger" are things. As we have now established - since existence is coextensive with thingness - this surely must mean that knowledge, love, hope and anger do not exist. Either that, or "knowledge, love, hope and anger" *do* exist, but they have a different mode of existence from rocks, chairs, and the current President of the U.S. Oddly, Robert seems reluctant to embrace this conclusion, which seems painfully obvious to this amateur *philosophailleur*.

When the child says, 'Something frightened me,' does the child have to have an essentialist (or any other) kind of definition of the word 'something' before we understand what he or she is saying? Is this a theory (of meaning, of existence, of reference)?

M.C. I suspect the child has no such theory, but I fail see how that's relevant to the isues at hand. It was not a child, but Robert Paul who chose to argue that things like love hope and anger are not things : I'm still trying to understand the purpose of that statement, and, yes, its meaning.

I think you owe me at least a few answers, Mike, and not just some scatter-gun responses. I'd like to hear your own thoughts.

M.C. My own thoughts? I would say that there are, like the Greeks thought, probably different types of existence. I would say that rocks, chimaeras, the current King of France, and Justice, all of which the Greeks could have called *pragma*, "thing" - all exist, but they exist in *very* different ways than rocks and the current President. I believe that the relations between thingness, existence and ideas are extremely difficult and philosophically important, as is witnessed by the entire history of philosophy in general and the thought of someone Avicenna in particular. I also believe that Robert has not answered any of my questions.

The questions remain, although they are easily dismissed as silly : what does it mean for something to exist, or to be a thing? What is the ontological status of non-existent and/or physical objects ? If they are simply "no thing", then how can we make true statements about them ? Do universal ideas exist? Why or why not, and in what sense? What precisely *is* the difference between the mode of existence of something like beauty and that of a rock?

I don't claim to have the answers : all I claim is that the answers are neither self-evident nor, at least potentially, uninteresting.

        Best, Mike.

Michael Chase
7, rue Guy Moquet
Villejuif 94801

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