The Logic of Existence (Wilhelmsen Ch 7)

Christopher Anadale

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Epistemology lecture on a chapter from Frederick Wilhelmsen's Man's Knowledge of Reality (1956) Wilhelmsen playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPCGA67J8M2I5PDKji3ParQ6tTHasiog1 0:18 Why are these evident truths not universally recognized? 0:46 Concepts do not contain actual existence 0:58 Errors of rationalism, phenomenology 1:30 Goals for this chapter 1:47 Why the subject does not signify existence 2:47 Why the predicate does not signify existence 3:13 Zombie 3:29 Existence is signified in the copula 4:01 “Existence, therefore, while escaping conceptualization, does not escape knowledge, because knowledge is always *of* being, of that which is in some order.” Wilhelmsen's book: https://youtu.be/mA9rruYwavo Music: Among the Clouds, by Darren Curtis Zombie: https://youtu.be/8MuhFxaT7zo Dolores O'Riordan RIP Thumbnail Image: Library. Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/1H1YrewmzFY Transcript: Hello. This is my brief overview of chapter 7 of Frederick Wilhelmsen’s book, Man’s Knowledge of Reality. This chapter is short, just 7 pages long, and is titled “The Logic of Existence.” We begin by considering the question of why the truths of the first 6 chapters are ignored or denied by so many thinkers. Part of the answer is the mind-body separation, but there is another, deeper root, found in our attitude toward reality. Being is everywhere around us, but when we try to explain it, we lose it. This suggests an error in our thinking and speaking about our experience of being. Classical logic, Wilhelmsen says, treats the subject and predicate of a judgment as though they were concepts. His analysis of this situation leads to two erroneous systems: rationalism and phenomenology. The rationalist places existence in his philosophical system as a concept, but then tries to accomplish the impossible task of deducing existence from a grasp of essences. Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz try this, and fail. The phenomenologist, like Husserl, *brackets* existence, sets it aside, and focuses his philosophy on other issues. Both of these systems follow from the assumption that whatever cannot be conceptualized cannot be understood. Wilhelmsen announces his goals for this chapter at the end of the first section. He will show two things: first, that existence is contained in neither the subject nor the predicate of a judgment, and second, that existence is represented in a judgment by the verb “to be.” If the subject signified existence, it would have to do so in one of three ways, none of which is possible. The subject might signify existence in general. But this is an abstract creation of the mind: real existence is always particular. The subject might signify a thing plus its existence. But in this case “existence” adds nothing to the thing mentioned. “The existence of John” merely refers to John, who exists. I can just as easily talk about “the existence of unicorns,” which refers to something that does not carry a prior judgment of existence. Lastly, the subject might signify a thing precisely in its very existing. But if this were true, then it would be superfluous to say that a thing “exists”—merely naming the subject would be sufficient. But this is not how language works: naming a subject does not convey its real existence. This understanding would also make negative judgments and identity judgments impossible or superfluous. So actual existence is not signified by the subject of a judgment. What about the predicate? If the predicate signified existence, it would have to do so in one of two ways, both of which lead to dead ends. The predicate could signify an existing attribute *as existing.* But then it would be impossible to use a predicate that denies existence to something. Wilhelmsen’s zombie example is instructive here. [song "Zombie" by the Cranberries] The predicate could signify the existence *of the subject.* But in this case the predicate would be superfluous in existential judgments: “John is existing” adds nothing to “John is.” We now face a problem. All judgments contain a judgment of existence. But this judgment of existence is found in neither the subject nor the predicate of the judgment. Where is it then? It is in the copula, in the verb “to be.” This verb acts as the coupling link between subject and predicate. But it can only perform this function because it has the more primordial function of signifying existence. Judgment is an existential knowing, a knowing of actually existing beings (beings-in-act). Wilhelmsen concludes, “Existence, therefore, while escaping conceptualization, does not escape knowledge, because knowledge is always *of* being, of that which is in some order.” That’s the end of my summary of this chapter. Thanks for watching today; goodbye.

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