Non-existence: Scarlet Leviathan

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The question of existence and non-existence is a colossal red herring.

Many metaphysicists, both in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and in the recent analytic tradition, have used sorites arguments to convince themselves that ordinary objects, such as pots and people, do not exist. This is a dire confusion.

Framing the problem as “whether and how objects exist” leaves the objects unchallenged and problematizes a property they may possess (viz. existence). But it is objectness that is problematic, not existence!

This page will review the history of the confusion. I’ll cover particularly the Madhyamaka arguments of Nagarjuna, which were actually the starting point for Meaningness; and the analytic mereological tradition that begins with Peter Unger, who wrote a paper titled “I do not exist.”

Part of the problem is a common pattern in metaphysics, of mistaking physical intuitions as metaphysical intuitions. Another problem is a consistent failure to ask what “exists” even means—if anything. I will give a sketch of an answer to that.

Then I’ll explain that the sorites arguments have nothing to do with existence; correctly understood, they problematize boundaries, and therefore the concept “object” instead.