Today I begin reading articles on ontology (existence) so I thought I’d throw out this simple question so you can help me think on this matter: What does it mean to exist?
If you need some “things” to ponder then consider your own existence, the existence of God/gods, the existence of ideas, or the existence of flying unicorns. What makes one or the other exist or not exist? Is there different ways to exist?
To exist is to exemplify at least one property in reality.
To exist is to know Jesus.
Forget the philosophical mumbo/jumbo. Ontology is grounded in God’s life, our ontology is grounded in our relation to God’s life through the economy of God’s life in Christ for us as we are brought into mystical union with Him by the Holy Spirit. That’s existence, that, at least is how Christians should start their thinking about existence and ontology.
My 2 cents.
Here’s how Torrance says what I just alluded to:
Brian, I realize your current reading right now is a result of assigned reading — I’m assuming — and I’m not asserting that we shouldn’t understand philosophical thinking. But, what I would like to challenge or alert us to is the fact that if in fact we assume that this kind of thinking has some sort of independent or inherit merit, in uncritical ways, that when we try to think out who God is through this lens we end up doing damage to our theological and biblical endeavors. Because we start thinking out of a center in ourselves, instead of a center in God in Christ (so we need to think soteriologically vs. logically when it comes to questions of “existence” — hypostatic union provides the center from which we can think from a God-centred point).
Sorry about the mumbo/jumbo point above, but that’s — in love of course 😉 — what I think of naked philosophical thinking. It’s a dead end.
Thanks for the input. So if one property is based in reality then someone/thing is real. Could you give some examples using say a human, God/gods, and an idea?
Torrence and others may provide a deeper, theological meaning but I think there is a more normalized way to think of existence. For instance, my Dad is an atheist so in the paradigm presented he doesn’t really experience “existence”. That is fine and dandy but on a lesser level our language becomes meaningless if I stop there. My Dad still “exist” even if it is not in the life of the Trinity. In what sense would we speak of his normal existence?
The issue is whether the entity whose existence is in question exemplifies any properties. If some X exemplifies the property of sphericity, then it exists, even if that is its only property. Something that does not exist, however, lacks all properties. If someone claims Y exists, but cannot ascribe a single property to Y, then there is no difference between Y and -Y. Since we can ascribe properties to God, then God exists.
The idea that existence differs from non-existence in that the former exemplifies at least one property is not original to me. I first learned it from William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland. And when I read it, it made sense. After all, the alternative definitions I (and many others) often propose fail:
1. If something must be located in space and time to “exist,” then God does not exist. In fact, space and time themselves could not be said to exist because space is not located in space, and time is not located in time!
2. If something must be physical to “exist,” then a host of things we would all agree exist would have to be eliminated from our ontology: God, acts of knowing, intentions, and motives.
3. If existence is defined as whatever God creates, then again God cannot be said to exist since God did not create himself. Logic and morality would also be excluded on this definition since they are not created entities either.
Moreland and Craig’s (and I’m sure other philosophers would agree as well) understanding of existence as the entering into a exemplification relationship with at least one property avoids these problems.
Of course, now that I think about it, one could ask how we know properties exist. After all, if “to exist” is to exemplify at least one property, then for a property to “exist” it would have to exemplify at least one property. But it makes no sense to speak of properties exemplifying properties. So should we conclude that properties do not exist? I personally lean in that direction. Craig argues this as well. He holds to nominalism–the idea that abstract objects (which would include properties) do not exist in any objective sense, but are mind-dependent realities that serve as useful fictions for understanding the world. But then, if propterties are just useful fictions, how can they define what it means to exist? Wouldn’t that be saying that non-existent entities are useful for determining what existing entities are? My head is spinning!
Thanks, that helps clarify a bit. I will be reading a Moreland article tonight so I will keep your final paragraph in mind as I read it.
Moreland is a Platonist, so keep that in mind. The person I would really like to ask the question about properties is Craig since he is the nominalist. BTW, the source from which I gleaned this information about the definition of existence is from Craig and Moreland’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Excellent resource!
Existence is a interesting topic Brian.
I think existence has more of a foundation of our mindset more than it does a physical existence, though it is interlinked. For your dad, his existence is based around his philosophical belief system. For us as Christians, our existence is likewise based on our belief system.
Our belief system is our theology of life. Every one has a theology of life which has a direct bearing on how we exist, live, breathe and react.
So for an mentally ill patient who is delusional, to use flying unicorns as an example. For that person they are sane and others are not for not participating in the reality of their experience and vice versa.
The real question then needs to be asked, in how one establishes existential truth?
I don’t know what you mean by “normal existence.” Do you mean an existence that is autonomous from God’s life? Are you simply wondering about issues of epistemology relative to ontology?
An atheist is just someone blind to the fact that their existence is contingent upon their Creator.
I guess I just don’t understand what you mean by “normal” existence.
Jason Dulle’s view flows from an Aristotelian/Thomist substance view of existence. I don’t find that to be a satisfactory definition at all, at least from a Christian ‘Christ-centered’ perspective.
No, for example, I can affirm the Pauline assertion that Christ holds the cosmos together by the power of his word while still asking how things like gravity contribute to preventing everything we know from imploding. We know God is the source of life but we still want to ask questions like what is life, what is living, and so forth. Theological claims don’t necessitate the negation of any philosophical or scientific talk. So when I ask how we know the book on my desk “exist” I know the power of God is involved but I want to know what it means for the cup to exist.
Moreland says that existence has it’s own existence counted for “because the belonging-to relation is itself exemplified and the belonging-to relation exemplifies other features.” Or because something exists the property of existence is proven true. Thoughts?
Thanks for clarifying.
So you’re asking for questions that have to do with telos or purpose. I’m assuming that you’re not simply concerned with “cupness” or “blueness,” etc.
Your question presupposes a certain metaphysical construct through which a “cup” finds its purpose within that broader framework. To me, to ask a question about existence (normal or otherwise) cannot be abstracted from said value system (or metaphysical frame). Even Moreland assumes a certain metaphysical system (thus my point on Dulles); he assumes an Aristotelian/Thomistic substance “system.” That’s why I assumed another “metaphysic” in order to deal with your question (Torrance’s).
So my question to you, in light of the question you just posed relative to Moreland’s definition is: “what does justifying personal existence (“normal”) per se allow for?” In other words, what is it that is driving that question? Is there a desire to establish some sort of rational certitude (like Cartesian) about personal existence before we feel that we can proceed to speak about God existing, for example?
I don’t think existence has to be proven, I think it’s an “ultimate” or a “given” that does not need justification — viz. if you’re a “realist” of some sort.
Nothing makes God exist and God makes all else [that exists] exist. But in agreement with Bobby’s last statement I’d say that existence itself is an axiom. It requires no proof, in fact, isn’t “existence” one of the first principles of Aristotelian logic?
Not only does God create present and past existence,is it true to say that existentially what doesn’t appear to exist now, and will only exist in the future has already existed in the past and therefore does exist in the now?
And that’s the point that I would want to call attention to, and this is something I think you can appreciate given your passion for Trinitarian theology. We don’t want to conceive of God through an Aristotelian lens. If we do, and we think of Him as Creator before Father/Son (by the Holy Spirit) we end up collapsing God’s being into creation (and end up with all kinds of theological problems like: Arianism, Pantheism, Panentheism, etc.).
That’s why I wanted to qualify the question Brian was after. To try and ask questions about “existence” or “being” as if we live in a philosophical or bare existence can potentially lead to an uncritical approach to understanding God (i.e. on issues of ontology). Which then, as I just noted above, leads to theological problems.
Then again I do understand the work of philosophy, yet it all too quickly becomes the Queen and not the handmaiden that it ought to be. ‘Western theology’, for example, exemplifies this all too well.
Not that this is that important, but just to be accurate, J.P. Moreland is a neo-Thomist — philosophically.
And then another point of clarification, and this does have relevance to issues on existence and being (from my perspective), are you an advocate for Oneness modalism (e.g. you are unitarian [non-Trinitarian])?
I am being really cheeky here. But a question for the Calvinist… or not.
How do you /we / I know that what we perceive to be our reality, doesn’t yet exist in actuality. Instead what we think is our reality, in reality it exists only in Gods mind as he contemplates creating creation.
It seems that many of the answers given here address a question I didn’t ask (or at least intend to ask). I am not looking for a way to “prove” existence. I agree that the Cartesian project is exhausting and probably misguided. I want to know what defines “existence”. One can argue that defining existence depends on knowing that we can prove something’s existence-and I’m open to hearing that argument-but the two are not necessarily one and the same.
So let us move from God and man for a moment to then concept of a thought in my mind. Is there any legitimate way to speak of it actually “existing”. Assuming my own existence what makes my existence different from a thought or an idea?
Brian: Your existence is in part material whereas a thought or idea’s existence is not. Your existence can be proven empirically whereas a thought or idea’s existence cannot. That’s at least one major difference. There is a legitimate way to speak of thoughts and ideas existing and that’s by simply referring to a common human experience of having thoughts and ideas. The thing thought of (e.g., flying unicorns) may not have existence (i.e., a corresponding reality) but the thought itself does (i.e., it’s floating around in my mind and I can articulate it in any number of ways [like through speech, drawing, hand signs, etc.]).
Thanks for weighing-in. I like this answer. I think the difficulty is that “existence” suddenly varies within a given conversation. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that since meaning = use, but Moreland seems to avoid giving ideas “existence” because he seems to want it to maintain an independent “property” which a thought may not have since it is only in one’s mind.
That’s fine. But like I said, when you use language and categories like “property” from Moreland (or Aristotle) or whoever, you’re already presupposing existence in order to talk about it (thus it’s “givenness”). And to use the category of “property” is to assume a certain metaphysic enriched with certain built in implications for how you approach all of reality (even God).
In your original post you asked how is it that God exists, how we exist, etc.? So, when you start appealing to human intuition or experience, and ask such questions out of that situation; then you are bound to end up with answers that are inaccurate relative to understanding your existence and the existence of God (or horses). For Calvin, for example, you can’t have a knowledge of self, before you have a proper knowledge of God.
What is the point of your original question? I guess I don’t understand the premise driving your question. I suppose I’m not all that interested (although I used to be) in pondering these kinds of questions, w/o placing them in a context that makes sense to them. Again, what is motivating this question? How does this tie into theology, for you?
I suppose at the end of the day I am just a theologian and not a philosopher . . . so questions like this throw me into a quandry 🙂 .
Was your question directed at me? As I look around I think I’m the only Calvinist in the combox (although I think Brian claims to be a Calvinist of one stripe or another 😉 ), but to be more correct, I am an “Evangelical Calvinist.”
If your question was directed to me, I don’t understand it. Can you clarify?
I may or may not have a defined system. That is part of why I am trying to ask this question. Let’s say Moreland’s language doesn’t work. That is fine; that is why I am trying to ponder the issue. The problem I have with Torrence’s language is it seems to skip right over the earthiness for which I am looking in favor of the clouds. I simply don’t know what to make of the answer “Jesus” to a question like “Does a thought in my mind ‘exist’?”
It’s “Torrance” 😉 . Once you get passed establishing the idea that you have thought’s in your mind, then what? What have you established, once you’ve established the “thought’s in mind” paradigm? I.e. that you are the standard for establishing what is real, and what isn’t? That seems to be the inevitible outcome of the path you’re on at the moment. I’m not trying to win an argument here, Brian. It’s just that I’ve been on the path you’re on, and it took me way too long to realize what a dead end it was.
And to be fair, you have severely oversimplified Torrance’s epistemology (and his stratified non-dualist Einsteinian inspired structure of thought). And if it’s not just “Jesus,” the who is it?
Unless I am not reading your summary of Moreland’s answer correctly, it doesn’t appear to answer the question I raised. I was asking how it is meaningful for a Platonist like Moreland to say “properties exist,” given the fact that he defines “existence” as being in the exemplification relationship of at least one property. A property cannot itself be in an exemplification relationship to a property, and thus on his definition a property would not qualify as something that exists. And yet, as a Platonist he affirms that properties do exist. So it seems like there must be some more basic definition of what it means to say something exists.
I noticed, and you addressed, the diversity of interpretations of your original question. Is it safe to say that you are seeking a definition of existence; i.e. what it means to say something “exists,” and how that differs from non-existence?
I am not referring to Moreland’s overarching philosophical system, but to which camp he falls in when it comes to the question of whether abstract entities exist. He is in the camp that says they do, which is usually referred to as Platonism.
Yes, I am Oneness in my theology proper. And by the way, Oneness Pentecostals do not like being called “unitarian” due to confusion with Unitarians who deny the deity of Jesus and just about every other Christian doctrine. 🙂
It is hard for me to understand but he seems to be indicating that existence itself is a property. Since the property of existence exists it exists! I had a hard time grasping how that works.
I haven’t oversimplified Torrance. I’ve never read Torrance! 🙂
Also, I don’t perceive you do be arguing. All I am saying is I don’t understand how your answer is an answer. It seems like there are a lot of presuppositions in play that you are not sharing. Those would be helpful to know so I can understand you.
Finally, I don’t really know “where” I am going. I am just asking a question.
I know there is a long-standing philosophical debate whether existence is a property or not. I haven’t tracked much in the debate, but it seems strange for me to think of existence as a property. Even if I agreed that it was, trying to justify the existence of properties by saying “properties exist” sound circular. But Moreland is a brillian man, so I’m sure it’s not circular, even if I wouldn’t agree with him that properties exist.
I wasn’t directing my comment at you. I was making a comment in regards to existence and the Calvinistic theology in that Gods for-knowledge means God brought all he knows into existence. This has to have a bearing on the topic of “existence” and what it is.
So I went on a tangent and was asking a philosophical question in regards to “Existence” how do we now what we are experiencing is “Reality” and that what be think is reality is in effect pre-creation being worked out within Gods for-knowledge.
I thought I did share my supposition: i.e. that “being” is a ‘given’ (something that we have received). You brought up the issue of a “thought in your mind existing,” I would ask, “what is does the fact that your thought exists presuppose?” The answer is that you exist. This means that ontology precedes epistemology. Typically in the analytic tradition folks will say (theists) that, “God precedes us ontologically, and that ‘we’ precede God epistemologically,” and I want to say “”hogwash””. You’re asking about “how that we know that we exist?” an epistemological question about your ontology. I want to avoid the dualism that your question precedes from. Which means, by way of “order of knowledge” (as I just noted) that we need to see ontology preceding epistemology (so your approach is backwards, you have epistemology preceding ontology . . . even though you’re assuming ontology to do so). The only remedy to this apparent dilemma is to ground both the object and subject of knowledge in the person of Jesus Christ (God’s ontology and our humanity in Jesus Christ).
Anyway, you’ll just need to read Torrance someday 🙂 (sooner than later).
I’m just going to have to bite my tongue (or this thread is going to get wild 😉 ). Btw, Moreland is Aristotelian, not Platonic (no matter which way). He, like Aristotle and Thomas, sees the particular in the universal (contra someone like Augustine a neo-Platonist). He thinks in terms of substance dualism (‘essences’ and ‘accidents’). I don’t think this is even disputable.
Woops, sorry. Let me just say, that the way you’re speaking about God’s foreknowledge and its relation to creation sounds much like “process” thought; even though I’m sure that’s not what you’re intending 🙂 .
Maybe I am wrong in this, but I was not trying to label Moreland’s overall philosophical approach. I am specifically referring to his view on the ontological status of universals like properties. It is my understanding that there are two broad camps on this issue: those who affirm they do exist, and those who don’t. The former position is referred to as “Platonism” and the latter is referred to as “Nominalism.” Am I missing something here, or are we just miscommunicating?
Plato said that the particulars were but shadows of the universals (like a chair and then “chairness”). Aristotle collapsed the particulars into the universals (so you have essence and accidents). Nominalists said there was no necessary relation between universals and particulars. They related such things through words which were intended to bring an ad hoc relation (for Christian theology it was the “covenant” that did this work).
I have many friends who have studied at Talbot (one is actually the head of their philosophical magazine now) with J.P. — I’m positive that he’s an Aristotelian/Thomist. I’ve never heard anyone describe Moreland as a Platonist.
Again, I don’t think I asked how I know I exist. I asked what does it mean to exist. I assume my own existence but I wonder what I mean by this. I assume the “existence” of a thought in my mind but I want to know if I am even using the word “existence” correctly to describe “thought”.
When you say the “subject and object” are grounded “in Christ” this is where I get lost. So I know what it means to exist because I know Christ? I know a thought exist because I know Christ? This is where I am referring to unshared presuppositions. This means something to you and I am sure it is sensible but it sounds to me like a quote with no context.
Either I’m not getting you, or you are not getting me. I’m saying that as I understand it, there are two broad positions on the question of the ontology of abstract objects: those who say they have a positive ontology, and those who say they don’t. The name given to the position that that they have a positive ontology is Platonism, while the name given to the position that they do not have a positive ontology is Nominalism. This is not to say that someone who is a Platonist with regards to this issue is necessarily a Platonist in their overall philosophy. I am merely referring to the label attached to the specific issue of the ontology of abstract objects like properties, etc.
I’m not even sure what you’re after. You want to know what it means “to exist?” So your looking for answers relative to ‘telos’? Are you simply looking for something like “to exist means you have ensouled physical extension into space?”
I’m trying to tie questions like yours into — which I guess I don’t even understand what’s motivating your question — an ontological framework. To know what it means “to exist” would have to be answered, I think, by looking to the One who gives existence. I cannot conceive of an answer to your question w/o assuming some sort of broader metaphysical framework from whence your question could make sense.
Why are you asking this question? Is it just to be philosophical, and ponder the mysteries of life? Or are you trying to understand what it means to exist relative to theological questions or issues. I suppose we both need to provide more context for what we’re saying; which in my experience often doesn’t work so well in comboxes on a blog (not enough space, and I don’t have that kind of time, really).
Okay, lets no quibble. We’re talking about realist vs. non-realist approaches. I’m a realist and so are you, obviously. I’d rather talk to you about why you need to be a Trinitarian, but this blog thread isn’t the place for that; maybe another time 🙂 .
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