Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tinkerbell Exists!

This is odd:

"Everything exists. Trees exist. Rocks exist. Unicorns exist. Minds exist. Dreams exist. Atheists exist. God exists. Hallucinations exist. A term that is predicable of everything, however means nothing. ...[E]xistence is indistinguishable from nothing." - John Robbins, Without a Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System, 1997, p.87

"Being and reality are so universal as to be meaningless. A word that is applicable to everything is applicable to nothing. if trees exist and are real, so do dreams exist and are real. Hallucinations are real hallucinations" - G.H. Clark, The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark, 410

If you were to ask either of them, "How does a unicorn exist, I thought they didn't?", they would reply, "No, they do exist, they exist as concepts in your mind."

Well, not quite so fast.

Isn't there a distinction between a unicorn existing and a concept of a unicorn existing? Those are not the same claims, the same proposition.

In fact, a unicorn is a winged horse with a single horn protruding out of the head.

Now, to say that "A unicorn does not exist" is to say "there is no thing that is a horse and instantiates the property of being winged and horned.

My concept of a unicorn does not instantiate the properties wingedness and hornedness.

So, it seems plainly false to me that "unicorns exist." A concept, drawing, or image of a unicorn may certainly exist, but that is not the same thing as saying that a unicorn exists.

If they're right, the good news is that fairies, like Tink, will not have to worry about dropping dead. Fairies are "real," they "exist." Remember when Pan said,

"Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead."?

And how did they bring Tink back?

"She's going to die unless we do something. Clap your hands! Clap your hands and say, 'I believe in fairies!'" [The children shout] "I do believe in fairies, I do! I do! I do believe in fairies, I do! I do!"

And so at best, Clark and Robbins have found a way to keep the fairy population from shrinking.


  1. That's pretty bizarre. I've read several books by Clark, and I've never come across any weird thing like that. I'm surprised.

  2. I don't get it. It seems to me that only Robbins made a mistake here. Clark seems right, unless I am not getting it right about dreams and hallucinations.

  3. Anonymous,

    Robbins in many other places, and some of G.H. Clark's followers too, say that Clark taught that "everything exists" and "exists" can be "attached" to "any concept."

    Robbins says to have got his above idea from Clark, and, he wrote it when Clark was still alive (and Clark gave it a positive review, indicating he read it), and he even footnotes that Clark quote in support of his claim.

    So, it appears to me, that although Clark's statement doesn't state the absurdities that Robbins does, he meant what Robbins meant. But, if the Clarkians who have made this claim about existence in debates with me are willing to say that Clark didn't teach what they say he did, then if I can't find further independant evidence of Clark meaning what Robbins meant, I'll drop his name from this post. At this point, I'll assume the Clarkians know more about Clark than I do. :-)

  4. Clark says of "existence:"

    "The point is that a predicate, such as existence, that can be attached to everything indiscriminately tells us nothing about anything."

    So, if I could discriminate, say, attaching "exists" to a tree from, say, Tinkerbell, then "existence" is not meaningless.

    Can you discriminate attaching "existence" to a tree over against Santa Claus?

  5. Think of it this way: when I say "God exists", then what am I saying? Did I say something you agree with? I could be a Muslim, or a new-ager, and say God exists. I could be referring to a "God" in some fairly tail. Before you can agree God exists, you need to know what God, or what definition of God I am referring to.

    The problem is "God exists" is an incomplete thought. It is like saying "God is". And you would need to know the rest of the thought to know if you agree with it - God is *what*?

    Now take unicorns. Do unicorns exist? You say no. But you have already defined a unicorn that you say is true. So unicorns do exist, just as you defined them. All you are denying is that they exist in a physical instance. There are many other instances that produce true unicorns. They are found in many fairy tails - some even have names. And there are instances in most dictionaries. But there are no physical instances of unicorns.

    So when you deny unicorns exist, you are really denying more than mere existence, you are denying a particle kind of existence, a particular definition, a physical form or instance. There are particular instances in stories.

    So whenever you hear "X exists", think "X is...what?"

  6. The first pasrt depends on who you're talking to.

    Unicorns do not exist, just as I have defined them. I am denying that they exist in any instance. A concept OF a unicorn, or a definition OF a unicorn does not mean that A UNICORN exists. That's just silly.

    A unicorn in a Fairy Tale doesn't mean a unicorn exists.

    When we say something does not exist, we are saying that no thing (immaterial or material) instantiates those properties said entity has.

    So, that Allah does not exist means that there is no being that instantiates the all attributes Allah is said to posses. Sure, people may *think* he exists, may write about him *as if* he existed, but he doesn't exist. To say, "Sure he does, he exists in the Koran, is to play language games.

  7. Paul, it's good to see you posting frequently again. :)

  8. Unless I misunderstand Robbins, he sounds inconsistent here with his Scripturalism. How would he deduce from Scripture that "everything exists"?

  9. Some unicorns have wings, some don't. But certainly not all do!!!

    Although I link to Robbins from my blog, I disagree with him on a lot of points. This one's just... odd.

  10. Hmmm... I use Clark's Logic in my Scientific Reasoning class, but I haven't read any of his other works. This little oddity might explain his defense of some Aristotelian syllogisms that are rejected by modern philosophy because they assume existence.

    The strange thing for me is that the first part of his statement seems perfectly sound...and it seems to contradict his "everything exists" conclusions. I'd have to agree that a term that can be applied to everything indiscriminately is ultimately meaningless. It doesn't convey information.

    As a little parlor game, we could come up with all kinds of interesting applications of this in different fields: in cryptography (and therefore, I would assume, information theory), if you have more symbols availably for your code, you can convey information more compactly. The more cases a given symbol is used in, the less information it carries. If it were used in every word in the code, it would be mathematically meaningless.

    It would be like if we added the letter "x" to the end of every word in the English language (not pronounced, but only there in spelling). Would it help us identify the meanings of the words any better? No.

    A real-life example is homonyms--we're re-using a sequence of symbols in two different meanings, so that symbol sequence is less meaningful. We need to add context to distinguish the meanings.

    Another example is in my field, physics. We have a rule of thumb in evaluating a theory. If it can be made to explain too many situations, it might be less meaningful and a bad theory. Hmmm...I've got to word that differently, because it doesn't apply to theories that are more fundamental, which we actually expect to apply to more situations.

    But as for Clark, I don't see how he could go from getting this part right to concluding that everything exists. "Existence" would be a meaningless term, by his own premise! If "existence" has any meaning, it cannot be applied to everything and anything, indiscriminately.

  11. I have a slightly-better-worded explanation of the physics example I just gave:

    If a new theory seems to be used to explain any situation and predict any outcome, then it might be a bad (false) theory--if it can be used to predict both the actual outcome and nonexistent outcomes of an experiment, then the theory is meaningless. It is infinitely malleable and can't discriminate between true and false results.

    I also remember a little more about Clark's comments on modern philosophy in Logic. I think he even uses the unicorn example. I think it was a debate over the validity of an AAA-1 syllogism:

    All unicorns are mammals. All mammals have hair. Therefore, all unicorns have hair.

    Aristotlean logic says this is a valid conclusion. (though you don't know if the conclusion is true or not, unless you know whether or not unicorns exist).

    Modern logic would say that it is not even a valid conclusion, because unicorns don't exist.

    Clark says it is logically valid, because we know the concept of a unicorn, and if any existed (fitting the description in our concept, in being mammals), they would indeed have hair.

    Now, all I know of this particular debate is what Clark's book has to say on it, but it's interesting in the light of what Paul quoted.

  12. Vaughn Smith and Highland Host,

    You are correct. I had just been reading something that was using Pegasus as an example, and so I think I combined the two together! :-) The point of the post still stands, though.

  13. Tim said:
    Modern logic would say that it is not even a valid conclusion, because unicorns don't exist.

    I'm not sure if this is accurate. Most logicians do (or at least should) define validity as the conclusions following from the premises. Or to put it negatively, an argument is valid if, and only if, it is impossible for the conclusion to be false if the premises are true.

    Validity isn't concerned with truth-value at all. That's where soundness comes in.

    The syllogism you gave (All unicorns are mammals; All mammals have hair; therefore all unicorns have hair) is valid.

    It isn't sound though, as soundness is where we determine truth-value of the premises. To determine validity, the premises are assumed true and we only look to see if the conclusion follows based on the truthfulness of the premises. So, if modern logicians would claim this is invalid, they're incorrect. It's valid, but unsound.

  14. To be more accurate, a sound argument has to be a valid argument too. That is, just because two premises are true doesn't make the argument valid (example: "All Athenians are mortal; I am mortal; therefore I am an Athenian" is an unsound argument, even though both premises are true, because it is an invalid conclusion).

    So a sound argument must be both valid and true.

  15. Paul, you wrote, "When we say something does not exist, we are saying that no thing (immaterial or material) instantiates those properties said entity has."

    If one person says that he believes in a Creator who created the world in 7 literal days and another person says he believes in Creator who created the world in 7 day-ages, are you saying that at least one of them is believing in a Creator that does not exist?

  16. Anonymous asked:
    If one person says that he believes in a Creator who created the world in 7 literal days and another person says he believes in Creator who created the world in 7 day-ages, are you saying that at least one of them is believing in a Creator that does not exist?

    I'll give you my take on it (and then wait for Paul's response too) :-)

    Take God out of the picture and replace Him with a different person, say Napoleon. If one person says, "I believe Napoleon won at Waterloo" and another says "I believe Napoleon lost at Waterloo" does one believe in a Napoleon who doesn't exist? Perhaps you can make that claim, but I think it's more reasonable to say that they both believe in the same Napoleon, but one of them is mistaken as to what that Napoleon did.

    In the same way, two people can both believe in the same Creator even while attributing actions to that same Person that are mistaken.

    So I wouldn't say one believes in a non-existent Creator, but rather that he mistakenly believes that the Creator did something He didn't actually do.

  17. Anonymous,

    Things that do not exist have no properties whatsoever. That's what I said. "They don't instantiate those properties said being has."

    I also think both of us believe that we could be mistaken about this matter. If the day-agers are wrong, then they attributed an action to the same God as I believe in, that he did not do. But they still believe that Jehovah as many attributes, like omnipotent, omniscience, holiness, etc., which he does in fact have, and thus they don't believe in a non-existent being.

    Furthermore, the days of creation is an *accidental* property. That is, God could have chosen to create in 10 days. So, say *you* now have brown hair. Say that I talk about a possible world where *you* have blonde hair. The two *persons* are the same *person,* even though accidental characteristics have changed.

    You might say, but you both attribute the time to *this* world. Okay, say I imaging *you* with four arms and legs and also say that in 2 years you will, God forbid, lose one of your limbs. When that time came, would someone be thinking about a non-existent person if they remember you when you have all your limbs?

    Oswald may not have shot Kennedy. Still, *Oswald* exists (or, did). That is because there is/was a person who instantiate s/d certain properties.

  18. to put one of my last points more simpler:

    You can lose properties (this happens all the time, eg., different ages, weight, likes, etc.,) and still exist, you cannot lose *all* your properties and still exist.

  19. Mr. Manata, Thanks for the reply. I'm wondering how it is decided what is an *essential* property versus an *accidental* property, and how many essential properties we have to believe in common to be talking about the same thing. To take Mr. Pike's example, suppose that both he and I believe that Napoleon existed and won at Waterloo but that he believes that Napoleon was a space alien. Are we still talking about the same Napoleon? My apologies in advance if you feel this conversation is veering a bit.

  20. An essential property is a property that substance must have to be what it is, if it loses it, "it" does not exist anymore. An accidental property is a property that can be lost or change or come and go, and the thing (substance) stay the same.

    You can read various into to metaphysics books to see the arguments for the above. As a basic example, you could lose a finger, and still be the same person, the same substantival self (if you buy into that form of dualism). This seems obvious, does it not? Now, say that you lost the property "being human." Would you still be the same person"? Seems not.

    Likewise, I don't think it was essential or necessary that God created in 6, 26, 106, or 1,000,006 days.

    And so, to answer your example, if Napolean lost his "humanness" then he would not he the same Napolean as a human Napolean. But, it seems to me that he could have failed to win at Waterloo, yet still be the same essential self.

  21. Thanks again for the reply.

  22. I should also make clear that I don't hold that God's attributes stand outside him and he enters into a relationship with them.

  23. Mr. Manata, I know this is veering even further off course from the "existence" of Tinkerbell and unicorns, but I have another question along the lines of "essential" and "accidental" properties.

    In the Reformed faith, is the relationship between justifying faith and works "essential" or "accidental"? If this question is so far afield of the topic of this thread that you would prefer not to respond, I would understand. Thanks.

  24. So then, Paul, you must not believe the ontological argument, since it depends on this same equivocation of the term existence in the context of a definition, and actual existence as a thing 'instantiated' in the world.