This is an essay by Andrew Turner, a guest contributor to the Dead Philosophers Society, please read more about Andrew at the end of this article.
What is existence? What does it mean to say “I am” or to claim something else “is”—or to say the exact opposite? How does perception, individual and collective, affect the nature of existence? Does a thing exist whether or not it is known or observed? If even one thing that should exist is proved to not exist, doesn’t that necessarily call into question absolutely everything else?
Many of our greatest thinkers have explored the limits of exterior existence as defined by Kant and more recently examined as Husserl’s die Welt notion of ‘the World,” which is to say all things external to the internal processes occurring in each individual, manifested insubstantially as thought and ideation and not merely as object-qua-object (i.e., those things which should exist in reality whether or not they are observed).
A thing is what it is by virtue of its inherent properties.
The general consensus amongst modern philosophers of physicalism, materialism, and mind is that all of existence is composed; that, in true Aristotelian fashion, existence is atomizable because it is, in the final analysis, things (and this is, as it happens, a nice amalgamation of analytical and continental thought). This means, very simply, that the world is a thing. A thing is what it is by virtue of its inherent properties. Again, this is to say, a thing is made of other things, and wherein the reducibility of a thing reaches conclusion, that conclusion is temporary to our understanding at the time of analysis. A recent way to think of this is in terms of particle physics: prior to 2013 there was no proof of the Higgs boson save mathematics, which merely predicted the sub-quantum particle. How much farther might science reduce quantum electro dynamics in another twenty or fifty years is anyone’s guess, but ultimate irreducibility seems unlikely.
Nothing greater than itself can possibly exist
Necessary to the existence of any given thing is that thing’s properties. Properties must be countable in order to be associable properties describing that thing; therefore, properties cannot have other properties, except that such a property itself is a thing requiring inherent properties—this is the basic premise of set theory. Very simply, this means that nothing greater than itself can possibly exist. Put another way, two of a thing in concert necessarily reify in a novel way by virtue of the Law of Multiple Proportions. Yet, the two individual components are not less than the combinatorial result. Likewise, the result is distinct. No two identical things are possible, meaning that only one thing can possibly exist: that which is its own self-contained property.
In answering, logically, does the world exist one must first ask, “what is the world?” Thus, to clarify what it is to exist, and logically understand that existence, an individual perforce must analyze and recognize a world-pervasive object-identity. The only conceivable way to answer each instance of object-identity relies on answering further whether a logically extant thing might have awareness of its existence and enjoy a physical phenomenology? Assuming this is so, then that would allow for (and require) a sentient object individuation. The epiphenomenon of existence is then a requisite and logical consciousness.
The answer is of great importance
What if world does not exist? If it does not, then this ultimately means that nothing is bigger than everything; and if we know this (the second half of the question), then individual existence is finally the only quantifiable and distinguished set of singular unrepeated properties. The answer is of great importance not only to philosophers, but to everyone: this is the set of all possible sets, and ultimately irreducible; it is what, in another word, one might call God.
Andrew Turner is pursuing an MA in Philosophy with a concentration in Ethics. He is a graduate of East Carolina University with a BA in English Literature. Particularly interested in epiphenomenal qualia, his current research is focused on defining the objective values of Being otherwise unexplained by physicalist theories in the philosophy of mind. Other areas of research include explorations of the value of Kantian deontology in the 21st century (specifically, duty in politics, military, and civil service); Aristotelian-Thomistic Synthesis; philosophical antipositivism and metaphysics; and traditional hermeneutics. Andrew is a retired military officer and currently teaches in Central Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children.
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