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Existence is an abstraction like Love or Happiness, and thus not a concrete object, but a property we ascribe mentally to concrete objects, so how can it exist completely onto itself, when it depends completely on concrete objects? Might as well say "only concrete objects exist", which is obvious. Your thoughts? Am I wrong? If so, let me know.

You exist, I exist but does Existence exist?

More examples:

There are circular concrete objects, but does the circle abstraction have independent existence? Or is it only in the mind and only ascribed by mind onto various circular concrete objects?

So, circle is a generalisation but does it exist outside the mind? Similarly, is Existence a generalisation, does it exist outside the mind? Do concrete objects have merely the property we call existence, but is existence independent of mind and of those concrete objects?

I saw this objection on a website, and wanted to know what the response is or workaround. Here is the relevant piece:

What is so terribly wrong with Objectivism? To begin, it's so-called "axiom of existence" which says that existence exists is  outright false. That's right: "existence" doesn't exist anymore than "life" lives. You live, I live, the birds in the trees all live, but life doesn't.  Why doesn't it? for the simple reason that Life is a creation of the human mind, and exists only in the human mind. An abstraction, in other words? Not even that. It is, to be precise, what Aristotle called a topic  (the Greek word having been topos, which literally means place).  Thus in the sense meant here, a topos or a topic is a place in which we humans might put things we wish to categorize as "living."   Therefore, the particular things, (birds, trees, rabbits, virus,  and so on) which we put into the topos or place we call "life" are all living, that place itself, in which we put them, is not.  That is to say, again, living things live, but life does not. The same can be said about existence. Living things, and inanimate things now as well, exist. We prove this by pointing to them, and describing their properties (e.g., John is tall).  But we can do no such thing with existence because existence has no properties. It has no properties because it has no existence of its own, save as a topic or topos or place in human discourse.  That is to say, existence most definitely does not exist. What is more, Aristotle never said  it did---  for the simple reason that he was too intelligent to ever say anything so ridiculous. Why is it ridiculous? Because if you think about it, you'll realize it's flat out wrong. That is to say, you exist, I exist, the universe exists--- but existence doesn't exist. This is because as even Rand herself admits elsewhere in her writings, only concretes exist. And existence is clearly not a concrete, because you cannot ascribe any specific properties to it.  As I've already indicated, it's merely a kind of floating abstraction--- more precisely, a topos or topic or place) that outside of a specific context, quite literally means nothing. Thus, since "existence" out of context means nothing, to say out of any specific context that  "existence exists" is to efectively say that nothing exists--- a most extreme form  of a view generally known as nihilism. [Source: Link]

asked Dec 18 '11 at 14:23

Adeikov's gravatar image


edited Dec 18 '11 at 18:41

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Language is a tool of cognition. A rock has no need for cognition in order to be a rock - it simply is. For men it is beneficial understand the nature of rocks and to move quickly when a friend yells, "rocks falling!"

(Dec 19 '11 at 03:07) garret seinen garret%20seinen's gravatar image

Existence is an abstraction. Like the abstractions of "love" or "happiness", the validity of the concept relies on the referents to which the concept referes.

What does the concept of "existence" refer to. If we start with a simple Merriam-Webster dictionary definition we find that existence is the totality of existent things. Furthermore, existence refers to the state or fact of having being especially independently of human consciousness and as contrasted with nonexistence. As a property, existence is the manner of being that is common to every mode of being.

In her book "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" she writes:

The units of the concepts "existence" and "identity" are every entity, attribute, action, event or phenomenon (including consciousness) that exists, has ever existed or will ever exist.

This is not to say that "existence" is a concrete, tangible entity to which you can point to directly.

Since axiomatic concepts are identifications of irreducible primaries, the only way to define one is by means of an ostensive definition e.g., to define "existence," one would have to sweep one's arm around and say: "I mean this."

Like "circles", "love" and "happiness",

Existence, identity and consciousness are concepts in that they require identification in conceptual form. Their peculiarity lies in the fact that they are perceived or experienced directly, but grasped conceptually.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Objectivism is the identification of how concepts are formed. Since concretes are the only things that exist, how do we form abstractions which describe things which are clearly not concretes? In essence, this is what her book "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" covers.

Starting with the recognition that consciousness is an active process consisting of two essentials: differentiation and integration, she proceeds to outline the roles that existents (elements of existence) and consciousness contribute to the various stages of forming a concept as well as the identification of different types of concepts.

From the first-level concepts being the identification of the observable concrete objects, to the abstraction of characteristics, attributes, motions, etc., based on perceptually given similarities, to the use of previously formed concepts in forming more extensive and more intensive knowledge, her discoveries in this field are unprecidented.

If this is an area of interest to you, I would encourage you to study the source directly rather than trying to peice the disjointed information you find from various critics or even its advocates together. A forum such as this one, or many others, can suppliment your understanding on the finer points, but are usually not laid out in a general systematic approach to the topic.

answered Dec 18 '11 at 16:34

dream_weaver's gravatar image

dream_weaver ♦

Yes, existence exists.

Unfortunately, the critical website once again completely misunderstands Objectivism and proceeds to knock down straw-men. The concept of existence is an abstraction. Rand rejected the position of the so-called "realists" who believed that abstractions exist out there in the world (whether in the world of forms--Plato--or in the concretes themselves--Aristotle). See Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology ("ITOE"), forward to the first edition. The website is ascribing to Objectivism the "realist" position, which is utterly false. Rand rejected both intrinsicism and subjectivism, basing her philosophy instead on objectivity.

When we say "existence exists" we do not mean that the abstraction "existence" exists out there somewhere. As Rand explains in ITOE (p. 166, 2nd ed.), the meaning of every word is the existents to which it refers. Thus saying "existence exists," quite litterally means that "the existents to which the concept existence refers, exist." Because the existents to which the concept "existence" refers are all existents that exist in the universe, the proposition can be refined to "all existents that exist, exist."

answered Dec 19 '11 at 17:49

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

edited Dec 19 '11 at 17:51

From the forward you refer to in ITOE, yes, Rand rejects two theories which hold that abstractions do exist, but she also rejects two theories which hold that abstractions do not exist.

(Dec 19 '11 at 21:47) anthony anthony's gravatar image

She rejects nominalism and conceptualism, which believe that abstractions HOLD NO RELATION TO REALITY. I am not an expert, but I do not believe that is the same thing as saying abstractions do not exist. They believe, as far as I know, that they do exist in man's mind, they are just made up and bear no relation to facts.

(Dec 20 '11 at 08:20) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Okay, I guess conceptualists hold that concepts do exist in man's mind. But nominalists reject that abstract objects exist. At least, current day nominalists do.

That said, it's not clear from that page of ITOE exactly what it is that Rand is rejecting about each theory.

(Dec 20 '11 at 17:47) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Her rejection of Platonism is obvious to anyone remotely familiar with Objectivism. I don't think it's even worthy of discussion here.

She rejects "modern realists" a la Aristotle, and it is clear from her discussion of definitions that she rejects Aristotle's theory at least in large part because it holds essences as metaphysical, and not epistemological.

(Dec 20 '11 at 17:53) anthony anthony's gravatar image

She rejects "nominalists" because she says they hold that abstractions are names of "arbitrary groupings of concretes on the basis of vague resemblances". I can certainly see this, as Objectivism holds that concretes are grouped objectively, not arbitrarily, on the basis of excluded measurements, not on the basis of vague resemblances.

She rejects "conceptualists" for reasons I'm not knowledgeable enough to offer an explanation for. (And I mean that in all sincerity - I haven't studied enough philosophy to understand her on this.)

(Dec 20 '11 at 17:57) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: Dec 18 '11 at 14:23

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Last updated: Dec 20 '11 at 18:02