Is existence a quality

Is Existence a Predicate?

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Is existence a logical predicate?
2.1 Kant's analysis of the concept of existence
2.2 Existence as a second level concept

3. Summary


1 Introduction

One of the central questions in philosophy is the question of whether existence is a predicate. Here it should first be taken into account that with 'predicate' no grammatical s predicate is meant; It is therefore not up to the debate whether the main verb 'exist' in the case of attributes such as 'is a student' or 'is diligent' fulfills the grammatical function of the copula verb and thus represents a grammatical category (cf. also Reicher 2005, p. 193 ). Instead, what is meant is the question of whether existence is a property or characteristic that can be ascribed or written off to individual objects. For if it were so, then a sentence of the form 'a exists' would correspond to the logical form 'Fa', where 'F' represents a general term to denote a predicate concept and 'a' a singular term to denote a specific individual. Thus the question of whether existence is a predicate is about whether existence is reasonable as logical Predicate can be considered. - In other words: what is the appropriate logical interpretation of the concept of existence? (see ibid.)

The answer to this question requires a (logical) analysis of the concept of existence, which is to be undertaken in the present work on the basis of texts by Immanuel Kant or a text by Gottlob Frege. The focus of interest will be on the following research question: How do Kant and Frege interpret the concept of existence from a logical point of view, and how can their respective positions be philosophically assessed?

Kant's analysis of the concept of existence forms the beginning (cf. 2.1.). In this context, the text is based on the section About the impossibility of an ontological proof of the existence of God from the third main part of the second division of the first part of the Critique of Pure Reason (first edition: 1781; second edition: 1787) as well as the first section Dasein is not at all a predicate or a determination of anything from the pre-critical treatise The only possible evidence for a demonstration of the existence of God (first edition: 1763; third edition: 1783). Then Gottlob Frege uses the text to explain the concept of existence Function and concept (1891) (cf. 2.2.) Examined. The respective results of both analyzes are considered in the corresponding sections with regard to their philosophical relevance and accordingly assessed critically. The investigation ends with a summary, which summarizes the generated results with reference to the central question (cf. 3.).

2. Is existence a logical predicate?

In this chapter, the question of whether existence is not only a grammatical but also a logical predicate should be discussed on the basis of Kant and Frege's analysis of the concept of existence. It starts with Kant.

2.1. Kant's Analysis of the Concept of Existence

With Kant, the question of whether existence is a logical predicate becomes implicit in connection with his criticism of the so-called ontological proof of God from the Critique of Pure Reason discussed. In doing so, Kant tacitly refers to the ontological proof of God[1] by René Descartes from his Fifth Meditation (cf. e.g. Gölz 2008, p. 149). Since Kant does not explicitly present Descartes ’version of this proof, the corresponding passage from Descartes’ Fifth Meditation should first be cited:

“Although it is not necessary that I should ever fall for a thought of God, it is nevertheless necessary, as often as I like to think of a first and highest being and, as it were, to get his idea out of the treasure trove of my thinking to ascribe to him all the perfections, even if I do not enumerate them all or pay attention to them individually. And this necessity is completely sufficient to later, when I notice that Dasein [existence] is a perfection, to correctly infer that a first and highest being exists ”(Descartes 1993, p. 61).

In other words, if God as the first and highest being by definition necessarily all predicates are assigned that the concept of perfection implies, and existence is counted among those predicates that contain perfection, then it follows that God necessarily exists as the highest being. Conversely, this means that God would not be perfect if he did not exist, since existence is a predicate by which perfection is conceptually determined. - And since the concept of God is defined by all perfections, it must also contain the quality of existence. On this basis, the ontological argument can be reconstructed as follows:

1. The concept of God implies all predicates that include perfection.
2. Existence is a predicate that implies perfection.
3. So: The concept of God contains the predicate of existence (1, 2) (cf. on the reconstruction of the ontological argument also Tetens 2006, pp. 280–281).

What Kant criticizes in this argument is that the absolutely necessary existence of God is inferred from the concept of God - in his opinion “dared at the mere chance and finally quite common” (KrV, B 621). He justifies this first with the fact that the definition of the necessity of judgments or statements, such as, for example, that a triangle has three angles, does not force the actual existence of triangles. Analogously, it follows from the fact that God is thought, posited or defined as existing, does not follow with logical necessity his real Existence:

“[T] he absolute necessity of the judgment is only a conditional necessity of the thing or of the predicate in the judgment. The previous sentence did not say that three angles are absolutely necessary, but, on the condition that there is a triangle, three angles are also necessarily there (in it). Nonetheless, this logical necessity has shown such great power that, having made up an a priori concept of something which was so posited that, in his opinion, one also understood existence in its scope, one believed from it with certainty to be able to know that because the object of this concept necessarily has existence, d. i. on the condition that I posit this thing as given (existing), its existence is also necessarily posited (according to the rule of identity), and that this being is therefore itself absolutely necessary because its existence is in a freely accepted concept and under the Condition that I set the object of the same, that it is also considered ”(KrV, B 621–622).

In this context it becomes clear to what extent the question of whether existence is a predicate is relevant for Kant in the context of the ontological proof of God: Kant's assertion that the absolute necessity of the judgment is only a conditional necessity of the predicate in the judgment can be related to this Apply the ontological argument of Descartes reconstructed above, so that the following results: The absolute necessity of the conclusion “The concept of God contains the predicate of existence” is only a conditional necessity of its analogous predicate “Existence is a predicate”. More precisely: Formally, the conclusion that God exists is valid (3. follows logically from premises 1. and 2.), but the necessity arises only under the given definition conditions of God or perfection; and one of these conditions is existence as one of those predicates which contains perfection; hence it is assumed here that existence is a predicate.

Thus with Kant the question arises whether existence is a predicate from the fact that he investigates whether one is from God a priori can say that he necessarily exists as a being that transcends consciousness. Because this presupposes that existence is a logical predicate and thus the second premise of the ontological argument is correct. But Kant denies that.

For Kant there is existence no logical predicate. In his own words: " Be [Existence] is obviously not a real predicate; i. a concept of anything that can be added to the concept of a thing. It is just the position [that is, the positing] of a thing, or certain determinations in itself ”(KrV, B 626, emphasis in the original). Here it should be taken into account that Kant differentiates between real and logical predicates:

“Anything one wants can serve as a logical predicate, even the subject can be predicted by itself; for logic abstracts content from everything. But the determination is a predicate that is added to the concept of the subject and enlarges it. So it does not have to [necessarily] already be contained in it ”(KrV, B 626).

Kant thus characterizes the logical predicates in that they do not expand the concept of a subject, while the real predicates do so and therefore contribute to the further definition of a subject concept. In this respect, Kant's distinction between logical and real predicates corresponds to the distinction between grammatical and logical predicates. When real predicates in the Kantian context are mentioned in the following, reference is made to logical predicates in the sense of predicate concepts.

According to the quoted passage, existence is not a real or logical predicate for Kant because it does not expand the concept of an object, but is something that is posited or determined in a definition; in the same way as in the ontological argument existence is set to the definition conditions of perfection and thus God.

Kant's thesis can be represented by three main arguments. Each of these arguments can be used as a reductio ad absurdum (see Tetens 2006, p. 281), more precisely: Kant (implicitly) initially accepts the opposing thesis for the sake of his argument and shows that this leads to a contradiction. So for all arguments it is initially assumed that existence is a logical predicate.

The first argument is as follows:

“If I cancel the predicate in an identical judgment and keep the subject, a contradiction arises, and therefore I say: that necessarily belongs to this. But if I cancel the subject together with the predicate, no contradiction arises; because there is nothing morewhich could be contradicted. To set a triangle and yet cancel its three angles is contradicting itself; but canceling the triangle and its three angles is not a contradiction in terms. Just as it is with the concept of an absolutely necessary being [God]. When you abolish its existence, you abolish the thing itself with all its predicates; then where is the contradiction supposed to come from? Outwardly there is nothing that would be contradicted, for the thing should not be outwardly necessary; Nothing inwardly either, because you have, through the abolition of the thing itself, abolished all interior at the same time. God is almighty; that is a necessary judgment. Omnipotence cannot be abolished if you have a deity, i.e. i. a infinite Essence, posits, with whose concept that one is identical. But if you say: God is not, then neither omnipotence nor any other of its predicates is given; because they are all abolished together with the subject, and there is not the slightest contradiction in this thought ”(KrV, B 622–623, emphasis in the original).

On this basis, the following reconstruction of his argument can be formulated:

1. Assumption: Existence is a logical predicate.
2. There is a logical (conceptual) contradiction if one negates the logical predicate of a subject (“God is not omnipotent”).
3. So there would also be a logical contradiction to say: “The being that one by definition thinks as existing, actually does not exist ”(1, 2).
4. However, there is no contradiction in saying: "The being that one thinks to be omnipotent etc. as well as necessarily existing does not actually exist".
5. So: Existence is not a logical predicate (1, 2, 3, 4) (cf. also Tetens 2006, p. 283).

Why the fourth premise applies to Kant is made clear by the next argument:

“I ask you, is the sentence this or that thing […] exists, is, I say, this sentence is an analytical or synthetic sentence[2] ? If it is the former, you add nothing of the thing to your thought through the existence of the thing, but then either the thought that is in you would have to be the thing itself, or you have an existence as belonging to the possibility , presupposed, and then existence according to the pretend closed from the inner possibility, which is nothing but a wretched tautology. The word: Reality, which sounds different in the concept of the thing than existence in the concept of the predicate, does not matter. Because if you also call all positing (indefinite what you pose) reality, you have already posited the thing with all its predicates in the concept of the subject and accepted it as real, and in the predicate you only repeat it. If, on the other hand, you confess, as every reasonable person must fairly admit, that every existential proposition is synthetic, how are you going to assert that the predicate of existence cannot be canceled without contradiction? since this advantage is only peculiar to the analytical, as the character of which is based on it ”(KrV, B 625–626, emphasis in the original).

The following attempt at reconstruction is suggested for the second argument:

1. Assumption: Existence is a logical predicate.
2. Assumption: Logical predicates occur in analytic sentences.
3. So existential sentences are analytic sentences (1, 2).
4. Existential sentences, however, are synthetic because they can be negated without contradiction[3].
5. Contradiction to 3: Existential sentences are analytical sentences.
6. So: Existence is not a logical predicate (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Negative singular existence clauses, that is, sentences of the form 'a does not exist', can therefore never be contradictory because, according to Kant, they are synthetic sentences. “Contradictions are possible if, for example, a subject is incompatible with a predicate” (Perteck 2010, p. 146), as with “God is not omnipotent”. For Kant, logical contradictions can only occur in analytical sentences, never in synthetic ones. Therefore, “God does not exist” does not result in a contradiction.

With this in mind, the third argument is:

“So when I think of a thing through which and how many predicates I want (even in the continuous definition), then because I still add this thing comes this thing is, not the least thing to add to the thing. For otherwise it would not exist exactly the same, but more than I had thought in the concept, and I could not say that the very object of my concept existed. If I even imagine all reality except for one thing in a thing, then by saying that such a defective thing exists, the missing reality does not come in addition, but it just exists with the same deficiency as I thought it would otherwise something other than what I thought existed. If I only think of a being as the highest reality (without defects), the question still remains whether it exists or not ”(KrV, B 628, emphasis in the original).

In reconstructed form, this results in:

1. Assumption: Existence is a logical predicate.
2. Assumption: Any number of logical predicates are assigned to a certain object that one imagines.
3. Assumption: The object so imagined actually exists.
4. So this imaginary object also has the logical predicate of existence (1, 2, 3).
5. However, this imaginary object is not additionally assigned the logical predicate of existence, since it is already thought of as something existing[4] ; otherwise the imaginary object would not be identical to the real object.
6. So the imaginary object is not identical to the actually existing object (3, 4, 5).
7. Contradiction to 3 .: That so imagined object actually exists.
8. So: Existence is not a logical predicate (4, 5, 6, 7) (cf. also Tetens 2006, pp. 281–282).

That means: In this argument, the contradiction arises from the fact that a certain conceptual object cannot be identical with a real existing object insofar as the real object has real, i.e. empty existence, while the conceptual object only exists as something thought becomes.

However, it can be critically noted that a term qua Possibility can never be identical with a concretely existing object; because while a possible object can be instantiated in many ways, the real object requires a unique, consistently determined causal embedding in the world and can therefore only exist in this one way (cf. Schneider 2011, p. 182). For the correctness of the conclusion of the argument, however, it is only decisive that conceptual, non-actualized existence cannot be identical with actual, realized existence.

Thus, taking into account all three arguments, the following can be stated: For Kant, the ontological proof of God fails because existence is understood as a logical predicate of the conceptual object and so the existence of God is analytically inferred from the concept of the same. The statement that God exists would accordingly be an analytically true proposition. Kant denies this, however, since, from his point of view, existential clauses are not analytical but synthetic ones. - And “[s] ynthetically something is added when an object exists that falls under a concept, or when a concept has a (non-empty) scope, but analytically it does not” (Perteck 2010, p. 147). From Kant's analysis it follows that God is a concept with an empty scope, more precisely: "'There is nothing that has the property of being God" "(ibid.).

Kant already comes to the same result in the earlier work The only possible evidence for a demonstration of the existence of God. There the thesis that existence is not a logical predicate is already contained in other words in the heading of the section “Dasein is not a predicate or determination of anything at all”. Elsewhere in the same section, Kant continues:


[1] The ontological proof of God goes back to Anselm von Canterbury, who wrote the ontological argument in the second to fifth chapters of his work Proslogion (Salutation, 1077/78).

[2] Analytical sentences are characterized by the fact that their predicates are contained in the concept of the subject (as is the case with definitions or tautologies: “bachelors are unmarried men”). Predicates in synthetic sentences, on the other hand, are not contained in the subject, but expand it in terms of its content (for example all empirical judgments: “Aristotle is the author of the Nicomachean Ethics “) (Cf. in particular KrV, B 9-14).

[3] It can be noted that this premise applies to contingent individual objects, but not to totality concepts and thus not to all existential sentences. A sentence like “There is reality” is an analytically true existential sentence (cf. Schneider 2011, p. 182). However, this is not relevant for Kant's analysis of the concept of existence, since Kant only refers to synthetic existence sentences.

[4] The thesis that a certain object must always be thought of as existing goes back to David Hume. So Hume represents in his Treatise on human nature (A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739–1740) the following view: “The idea of ​​existence must [...] be exactly the same as the idea of ​​what we visualize as existing. Just thinking of something and thinking of something as existing are not two different things. The idea of ​​existence, when connected with the idea of ​​any object, adds nothing to it. Whatever we envision, we envision ourselves as existing. Every idea we like to have is the idea of ​​something that is; and the idea of ​​something being is nothing other than any imagination we have carried out ”(Hume 1978, pp. 90-91).

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