Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Meaningfulness of "Existence"

In Gordon Clark's article Atheism (1983), he wrote, under a subsection entitled The Meaninglessness of Existence, the following:
The idea existence is an idea without content. Stars exist-but this tells us nothing about the stars; mathematics exists-but this teaches us no mathematics; hallucinations also exist. The point is that a predicate, such as existence, that can be attached to everything indiscriminately tells us nothing about anything. A word, to mean something, must also not mean something. For example, if I say that some cats are black, the sentence has meaning only because some cats are white. If the adjective were attached to every possible subject-so all cats were black, all stars were black, and all politicians were black, as well as all the numbers in arithmetic, and God too-then the word black would have no meaning. It would not distinguish anything from something else. Since everything exists, exists is devoid of information. That is why the Catechism asks, What is God? Not, Does God exist? 
This idea is found elsewhere in Clark's writings, especially later in his life:
The verb to be must always be a copula, and never the unintelligible verb exist… Ousia means being (a participial noun), reality, or definition... Ousia doubtless means “reality.” But not only are trees and rocks “real,” dreams are “real” too. They are real dreams. The number three is real. Everything is real, and thus the term has no meaning. (The Trinity, 2010, pgs. 70, 79, 86-87)
The earliest precedent for this that I could find is found in Three Types of Religious Philosophy (1973), although Clark had not by this point - as he does later, per the preceding quote - equated that which exists with that which is real, since he here contrasted the latter with the imaginary:
If a predicate can be attached to everything without exception, it has no distinct meaning, and this is to say that it has no meaning at all…Here then in the conclusion: The predicate existence can be attached to everything real or imaginary without exception. Dreams exist, mirages exist, the square root of minus one exists. These statements, however, are meaningless; they tell us nothing about dreams and the square root of minus one…Anything exists, so far as the term has any faint meaning at all. But it makes a great difference whether God is a dream, a mirage, or the square root of minus one. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 41)
There could be other instances where Clark says something along these lines. I think these suffice for the following comments.

If "existence" were an idea without content - or if "[x] exists" is a statement in which the intended verb is without content - then the use of these words (or their equivalent parts of speech) wouldn't signify anything. They would be conceptually bankrupt, and any statement in which they are found would be unintelligible. It would be no idea at all.

But is "existence" meaningless? I don't think so, and it appears "late Clark" didn't either, as he used the word "existing" and "exists" to describe his own positions:
The possible views are these: There are three independent gods; there is only one God who appears and operates in three ways; there is but one Person who is God and Christ was his first creation; and finally there is one Godhead existing in three Persons. (The Trinity, 2010, pg. 20) 
We reply that God’s act of will is eternal. Thus the begetting of the Son occurs, and the Son as a Person exists, by a necessity of the divine nature – the nature of the divine will. Later this theme may become complicated, or simplified, by the identification of the Father’s will, the Son’s will, and the Spirit’s will as one will. 
John Gill, otherwise so excellent, falls into this temporal trap at one place. “God exists necessarily,” he says, and this is true… (The Trinity, 2010, pgs. 135-136)
One could argue he was only being inconsistent here, but there are dozens of previous instances in which Clark used some grammatical variant of "existence" in describing his own views. Further, in some of these places, Clark argues that people must presuppose the existence of certain things and further does so while referencing "meaning":
When now the theist speaks of theism as a practical postulate, he is not indulging in any “as-if” philosophy. He means that God exists and that one should conduct his daily life by that belief. It is called a postulate because it is an indemonstrable first principle and not a theorem derived from more ultimate premises. (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pgs. 42-43) 
Certainly, the burden of proof lies on those who deny the propositional construction of truth. Their burden is twofold. Not only must they give evidence for the existence of such truth, but first of all they must make clear what they mean by their words. It may be that the phrase non-propositional truth is a phrase without meaning. (God's Hammer, 1995, pg. 35)
And this is only for Clark's uses of the variants of "existence." As "late Clark" equated "existence" with "reality" and "reality" with "being" and "definition," one could easily cite hundreds of cases in which Clark had previously (or even concurrently) argued for his own views using these words, suggesting he must have thought they had meaning. If Clark did indeed change his mind from one position to another later in his life, it was strange that he did not mention how such affected his own prior or concurrent use of said words.

Rather than view Clark as being inconsistent, I think it makes more sense to suppose that in the first trio of quotes in this post, he was just imprecise. The point Clark intends to drive at is that merely stating some subject "exists" gives us no idea as to the individuality of that subject. But this doesn't imply that "existence," "exists," etc. are meaningless terms, for what it does do is qualify the subject as capable of functioning as a subject. Such a capability or potential is necessary for there to be any discussion of what something actually is.

In a past post (link), following a quote by Clark in which he differentiated between denotative and connotative definitions, I argued:
Denotatively, the upper limit of classification can be said to be existence, reality, or being. These words are simply meant to encompass what “is,” viz. everything. Clark’s dislike of using these words as predicates stems from the fact that they can, in some sense, be applied to every subject. Because they cannot distinguish any one subject from another, they don’t really serve a useful connotative function: can anything fail “to be [real or existent]”? No. Everything qualifies ipso facto. This is why Clark considered himself to be a Realist. On the other hand, an exhaustive denotative list of everything is useful because knowledge requires distinctions and distinctions imply multiple subjects or material from which a hierarchy of classifications can be demonstrated, the total sum of which is just existence, reality, or being that an omniscience would know.
What the proposition "[x] exists" means, then, is just that it is possible for us to refer to x. Refer to x as what? Well, the answer to that question depends on what meaning x can bear or to what x corresponds in addition to its, at the very least, being a word, i.e. something we can say or see. But more importantly, the question misses the point, which is that if x means something concrete and can be individuated at all, it has to be possible for us to refer to x at all. x has to be classifiable in principle in order to be classified in particular.

This would be very similar to how "early Clark" himself seemed to implicitly define "existence" at one point:
…demonstration is knowledge, and there can be no known of the non-existent. The premises, therefore, must be statements of what exists or what is so, i.e., they must be true. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pg. 102) 
In sum: reality, existence, and being - these nouns refer, in the broadest sense, to everything and anything (more words Clark had no problem using). To define or explain what these are, we would have to list out every possible subject, taking note of the fact these subjects have certain meanings (propositional) and refer to certain things (propositional or non-propositional). To call something real, to say it exists, for it to be - these verbs refer, in the broadest sense, to the principle according to which we could even formulate a list of everything and anything.

So the next time someone says "existence" is meaningless because it is applicable to anything and everything, just ask what anything and everything mean or refer to.

[Or come up with your own definitions of these terms.]

35 comments:

Max said...

Hey Ryan I made my own Scripturalist blog:

scripturalism1.blogspot.com

Are you gonna follow it? Can I add a link to your blog? Thanks!

Ryan said...

Sure.

Max said...

I forgot to say, I no longer believe in the Trinity or deity of Christ; I hope this doesn't sever our relations.

Ryan said...

Well, I think rejection of those doctrines entails a rejection of the gospel.

Max said...

What is your definition of the gospel? I just define it as the life of Jesus; this seems to be Paul's leaning in 1st Cor. 15:1-8. I lean more towards a moral influence Atonement theory rather than the Substitution theory.

Try to debunk this website: http://www.angelfire.com/space/thegospeltruth/trinity.html

He does a pretty good job with it, as well as Anthony Buzzard.

Ryan said...

That's a fine rough definition, but the point is that "Jesus" refers to a certain person with certain characteristics.

I don't have time to refute a whole website. I did read he thinks that the Word in John 1:1 refers to the Father. That was enough for me.

Max said...

Well, I think he's wrong! I just interpret John 1:1 to say the word is divine. I find it funny that there are over 8000 words on that "John 1:1 page" and he also makes a number of false statements about the ancient Greek language, but overall his website is pretty good for getting someone to rethink the Trinity.

Luke Miner said...

Just in case you didn't already know, Clark gets his denial of the meaning of existence from Kant. I think his arguments for it's meaninglessness come straight out of CPR.

On another note, you said: "What the proposition "[x] exists" means, then, is just that it is possible for us to refer to x." Doesn't this definition fall under the exact same criticism? It is possible to refer to anything so that definition too would mean nothing right? Maybe I missed your point. Are you saying that it is impossible to refer to something that is indifferentiable from other things?

In addition to "being", "reality", "definition", what about the term "subject"? Isn't everything a "subject" in the same sense? Is "subject" a meaningless word?

I don't think Clark was being inconsistent to use the word "exists" colloquially. Sometimes the word means that it isn't what people claim it is or it isn't what it seems to be. We say that dreams aren't real because we don't think we are actually (supposedly) sitting in bed when our mind is telling us that we are running from the Boogieman.

Also, I think many of your quotations betray a misunderstanding of the issue. This error occurs many times throughout your post. You quoted some sentences where Clark uses the term exist, assuming that he should reject these sentences as meaningless on his principles. In actuality, Clark used the word as a copula and supplied the predicate; clearing himself of any inconsistency. For example, you quoted this: "there is one Godhead existing in three Persons." Clark takes this to mean the same thing as: "There is one Godhead and this Godhead is three persons." The term "exist" is only thought to be meaningless when no predicate is supplied. "God exists" is meaningless. "God exists as a Spirit" is not meaningless. For Clark, it is the same as saying "God is a Spirit." At least that's how I interpret Clark.

Ryan said...

"Just in case you didn't already know, Clark gets his denial of the meaning of existence from Kant. I think his arguments for it's meaninglessness come straight out of CPR."

Do you have a source which leads you to believe this?

"On another note, you said: "What the proposition "[x] exists" means, then, is just that it is possible for us to refer to x." Doesn't this definition fall under the exact same criticism? It is possible to refer to anything so that definition too would mean nothing right? Maybe I missed your point. Are you saying that it is impossible to refer to something that is indifferentiable from other things?"

The point is you cannot talk about "anything" or "everything" unless there is a highest class of "things" (or "existents," "realities," "beings," "subjects," etc.) under which "anything" or "everything" is classifiable. But the admission of this just is the admission that every- [individual] -thing has something in common with every- [other individual] -thing. The criticism is, therefore, self-defeating.

"In addition to "being", "reality", "definition", what about the term "subject"? Isn't everything a "subject" in the same sense? Is "subject" a meaningless word?"

If Clark's criticism in the post is true, the criticism itself is self-defeating. Again, refer to the challenge at the end of the post: "the next time someone says "existence" is meaningless because it is applicable to anything and everything, just ask what anything and everything mean or refer to." In your next reply, if you decide to reply, please define "anything" and "everything."

"I don't think Clark was being inconsistent to use the word "exists" colloquially."

In his later criticisms of the meaninglessness of existence, he never offers an alternative, "colloquial" definition of it in those contexts, and given his preference for assigning one meaning per word, in my opinion, your attempted solution doesn't appear correct. Follow the link from the first paragraph for an example. If Clark thought "existence" could be intelligible in a colloquial sense, why didn't he just say we should only be interested in God's existence in that sense? Why make a blanket condemnation? It's no good either way: he was either simplistic or inconsistent - or both.

And regardless of whether he was inconsistent - what do you make of the quote from A Christian Philosophy of Education? - the above paragraphs stand on their own ground, whether or not Clark was simply inconsistent.

"The term "exist" is only thought to be meaningless when no predicate is supplied. "God exists" is meaningless."

No, it means that "God is classifiable or capable of being referred to." That is quite intelligible. Does it answer what "God" is further or more specifically able to be classified as? No. But that does miss the point, you're right, as the above, meaningful proposition must be true in order for "God" to even be able to be further or more specifically defined.

Luke Miner said...

If my understanding of the issue is correct, Kant makes the same argument in the Chapter 3 Section 4 titled: The Impossibility of an Ontological Proof. This is also one of the places to which Clark refers in some of his discussions of this topic. Starting with: I answer: “You have already committed a contradiction when you have brought the concept of its existence…into the concept of a thing which you would think merely in terms of its possibility. If one allows you to do that, then you have won the illusion of a victory, but in fact you have said nothing; for you have committed a mere tautology...” and following. If the concept of the existence of a subject is an analytic judgement, as you, Clark, and I, think it is (if I understand you correctly), Kant argues that this makes it meaningless and Clark merely repeats his argument.

I understand you to be arguing that in order to make the criticism – a predicate that can attach to everything is meaningless – one must define “everything”. Since we cannot define “everything”, the criticism refutes itself. I think that’s an interesting way to put it, but I think you have confused the burden of proof. If definition consists in differentiating a subject from another by predication, it follows that you would need to provide a definition of “everything” or “existence” which differentiates some subjects from others. Your definition of existence (is classifiable) does not seem meet this challenge. Kant’s definition in the paragraphs following, does meet this challenge. But I assume that you see this, and expect you to charge me with begging the question in my definition of definition. Maybe you could provide an alternate definition of definition so “is classifiable” would be a meaningful statement?

I don’t know why you would say that Clark assigns only one meaning per word. This strikes me as a misreading. Occasionally, Clark defines terms for a specific philosophical context so that he himself may use them unambiguously. To fault him for using the same terms differently in a separate context is straw manning. I think a fair reading of Clark would see him as holding that “exist” without a direct object is meaningless in a discussion of metaphysics but perfectly meaningful in a discussion of botany.

This "early Clark" "late Clark" verbiage also seems very odd to me. Clark answers some of Nash's speculation about "late Clark" in Clark and His Critics. In the same response, He references Kant's refutation of "existence" and suggests that Nash must refute it in order to make his argument. If you have not read this interaction, I highly recommend it.

Ryan said...

In the context of the ontological argument, attributing the predicate "existent" to God in the sense I have defined it in the original post would indeed be irrelevant. It still wouldn't be meaningless, however. Tautologies aren't meaningless either - they also are necessarily true. These just don't have any bearing on whether the greatest conceivable being is one who must be correspondingly exemplified by certain necessary truths, which is what roughly what the demonstration of God's "existence" would mean in that context.

"If definition consists in differentiating a subject from another by predication, it follows that you would need to provide a definition of “everything” or “existence” which differentiates some subjects from others."

Definition clearly cannot consist in this on Clark's view because you are using the word "subject," which you have just said must be meaningless since predicable of everything. You might as well have just said "thing" or "being" or existent" or "reality."

"I assume that you see this, and expect you to charge me with begging the question in my definition of definition. Maybe you could provide an alternate definition of definition so “is classifiable” would be a meaningful statement?"

Correct. I think you are conflating definition with individuation. Here's what Clark has to say about kinds of definition:

"A good enough beginning for the problem of definition, but only a beginning, is the distinction between connotative and denotative definitions. In fact we may say that the term definition is itself equivocal. Suppose now we wish to define the term eligible voters in such and such a locality. This may be done by saying, A person eligible to vote must be an American citizen, above a certain age, a resident of the State for one year (or whatever the State specifies), and a resident of the precinct for sixty days before the election, and registered. This is call connotative definition, because it lists the necessary and sufficient qualifications. The qualifications are necessary: That is, if any one of them is lacking, the person is ineligible to vote. The qualifications are also sufficient: No further qualification can be required. There is, however, another way to define eligible voters. This is called a denotative definition. A denotative definition explicitly mentions every individual – person, place, or thing – in the class." (Logic, pg. 21)

To this, I would add that an exhaustive definition is a specific kind of connotative definition, i.e. the sum total of truths of which the thing in question is the subject. The complete definition of God would then be "God is God, God exists, God is eternal," etc.

"I don’t know why you would say that Clark assigns only one meaning per word."

I didn't.

"I think a fair reading of Clark would see him as holding that “exist” without a direct object is meaningless in a discussion of metaphysics but perfectly meaningful in a discussion of botany."

So be it. Consider my criticism to apply to the former discussion.

"This "early Clark" "late Clark" verbiage also seems very odd to me."

There are clear differences between beliefs Clark held early in his life and beliefs he held later in his life: his acceptance of necessitarianism and a two-person theory of the incarnation, his rejection of self-knowledge and infinity, etc,

Luke Miner said...

I think that Kant’s point is that if “existence” is understood as an analytic predicate, it adds nothing to the subject. If a predicate adds nothing (attributes nothing) to a subject, it is meaningless…and this is Clark’s point as well.

Your quotation of Clark on connotative and denotative hardly seems relevant. Those are simply two different forms of predication. A given definition, whether denotative or connotative, will be judged meaningless if it does not differentiate the subject (A) from it’s opposite (!A). This is simply a restatement of the law of contradiction. A != !A. If you define A so that !A is meaningless, it follows that A is meaningless by substitution.

Let me get away with using the term “subject” while we work out the issue above. Then we’ll go there. Moreover, you are right that “everything”, “object”, “being”, etc. are only pragmatically meaningful on these principles.

On “late Clark,” I think I may be able to agree with you on “infinite” but I would probably reject your assertions of his development in the other areas for the same reasons I rejected such assertions about existence. But I would have to hear your reasons and that’s best left for another time. I probably shouldn’t have dragged that into this conversation.

Ryan said...

"If a predicate adds nothing (attributes nothing) to a subject, it is meaningless…and this is Clark’s point as well."

But it does attribute something to the subject: that it is classifiable or, if you prefer, definable. That being classifiable or definable is attributable to every other subject does not mean they are meaningless. That's an assertion in search of an argument.

The quote by Clark was just meant to show there are different possible definitions of definition and function as a prelude to my own explanation, as I believe that explanation answers your question as to how "is classifiable" is meaningful.

"A given definition, whether denotative or connotative, will be judged meaningless if it does not differentiate the subject (A) from it’s opposite (!A)."

That assumes there is an contradictory for every subject. On reflection, this can't be. This conclusion doesn't violate the law of non-contradiction, though, it just makes the point that not all subjects can meaningfully have contradictories, for "nothing" (which many take to be the contradictory of "everything") is, after all, "something." It's meaningful, or we couldn't talk about it to begin with. But then it too is a subject, it too is classifiable.

This is an interesting point, thank you for bringing it out explicitly.

"Let me get away with using the term “subject” while we work out the issue above."

I'm not sure I can do that, as it's a crucial issue. For now, I will just reiterate the point in the original post that a subject must be classifiable [in principle] to be classified in particular, i.e. in contradistinction to other subjects. Any comparison or differentiation between two subjects presupposes some ontological overlap - and that overlap is, most basically, that they are both subjects. So with them, so with everything.

Luke Miner said...

I do not take “subject” to be synonymous with “being”, or “everything”. “Dogs” is not a subject. “Dogs” is the subject of the proposition “Dogs are mammals”. In other words, a subject is dependent upon predicates. As I understand Clark, “reality” apart from truth is meaningless. And metaphysics asks meaningless questions. I think this exonerates me from inconsistency in using the term “subject”. You may reply, “but that still makes everything a subject!”, to which I would ask you to define “everything” such that !-everything is meaningful. I think you will admit that am consistent here, but I’ll question your consistency in asserting subjects which have no contradictory.

I said that a definition is meaningless if it does not differentiate a subject A from !A. You have asserted the “existence” of subjects, A, which have no contradictory, !A. Can you expand please? It seems that any predicates you give A could be contradicted to produce !A.

Also, may I substitute the word “predicable” for “classifiable” in your definition of existence? I.e. something that exists is predicable. I just want to make sure I’m understanding your definition here and do away with unnecessary extra terms.

Ryan said...

"In other words, a subject is dependent upon predicates."

Okay, but then to be more precise, is there anything which is incapable of functioning as a subject? "Capable of functioning as a subject" would be the technical formulation which, I think, is also predicable of everything.

"As I understand Clark, “reality” apart from truth is meaningless."

This is true, and yet truth presupposes correspondent, non-propositional realities. The Father, Son, and Spirit can't be sets of propositions.

"And metaphysics asks meaningless questions."

Perhaps sometimes, but obviously not always, e.g. "What is God?"

"It seems that any predicates you give A could be contradicted to produce !A."

I think the above comment was pretty clear. In the highest class, every thing is included as a member. You couldn't truly state that any thing wasn't a member, not even "nothing." Or what do you think it means for some thing to be unable to be classified, even in principle?

"Also, may I substitute the word “predicable” for “classifiable” in your definition of existence?"

No. "Classifiable" is predicable of everything, i.e. "classifiable" is capable of functioning as a predicate for any subject.

"I think you will admit that am consistent here..."

I think you are nevertheless unable to explain how things are classifiable in particular without being classifiable in principle, nor are you able to explain how the two most dissimilar things imaginable could even have a basis for comparison or differentiation apart from classifiability.

Luke Miner said...

If, by “classifiable”, you don’t mean “predicable”, I have no idea what you mean so I cannot continue to critique your view. Assuming, as I guess I shouldn’t, that by “classifiable” you do mean “predicable”, I think that an inpredicable subject is nonsense. Therefore, if A is predicable, !A is nonpredicable which is nonsense. Self-contradiction. If !A is nonsense, A is nonsense. If “existence” means “is predicable”, I think the law of contradiction refutes you. Please clarify the difference between “classifiable” and “predicable” if you mean for me to understand them differently, and let me know if you agree with my line of reasoning above.

On to my view. You have begged the question in asking me “is there anything which is incapable of functioning as a subject?” This is almost identical to the objection I predicted and answered two sentences later in the very same paragraph. What do you mean by anything? As you might expect, I think you mean nothing. To assert that “anything” is a meaningful subject begs the question. On my principles, subject is meaningful. I do literally mean that asking the question: What exists? is to engage in nonsense unless you define existence such that “doesn’t exist” is the predicate in some true proposition.

Truth does not presuppose a correspondent. This begs the same question. On Clark’s view, a subject is it’s definition. There is no “thing-in-itself” to which it corresponds. Things are unknowable. Things are nonsense. Propositions are knowable. You may object: “but propositions are things!” to which I will reply by pressing you to define “thing” to make it meaningful in my view.

Ryan said...

"If, by “classifiable”, you don’t mean “predicable”, I have no idea what you mean so I cannot continue to critique your view."

Saying something is classifiable is not the same thing as saying it is predicable. Something is only predicable when it is a genus or, in the case of an individual, if a proposition is a tautology. Saying something ( subject, existent, reality, being) is classifiable is to say the subject is a member of some class or genus [predicable of it].

"If !A is nonsense, A is nonsense."

There is no ~A in the first place. You're assuming all propositions have contradictories without addressing my argument as to why this can't be the case.

"To assert that “anything” is a meaningful subject begs the question."

You do realize that repeatedly saying "that begs the question" isn't an answer to this criticism, right?

//I think you are nevertheless unable to explain how things are classifiable in particular without being classifiable in principle, nor are you able to explain how the two most dissimilar things imaginable could even have a basis for comparison or differentiation apart from classifiability...

Or what do you think it means for some thing to be unable to be classified, even in principle?//

This is true or applicable for your view as well as mine.

"Truth does not presuppose a correspondent. This begs the same question. On Clark’s view, a subject is it’s definition."

Keep reading this blog and you will see that I do not "beg the question" but rather point out the internal problems with this view. See here, where I've conversed with CJ (who seems to disagree with you, by the way, at least in his statement that "if it were true that Clark equated the mind ontologically with a proposition, he would have no place to claim a unity of God"):

http://unapologetica.blogspot.com/2013/01/gordon-clark-metaphysics-and-personhood.html

And here, for starters:

http://unapologetica.blogspot.com/2015/04/further-problems-with-clarks.html

Luke Miner said...

I think you are losing me here. What I mean by a subject being "predicable" is that it has predicates. In other words, it can be defined. Your distinction between "classifiable" and "predicable" is not clear to me because, as I understand them, classes and genii are just sets of predicates. Since I've clarified what I mean by "predicable", may I now substitute it for "classifiable"?

You said: "There is no ~A in the first place. You're assuming all propositions have contradictories without addressing my argument as to why this can't be the case."

I take this to be a denial of the law of contradiction. A != !A. If the right side of the equal sign is meaningless or "non-existent" (to use your word), so is the left. Need my criticism proceed any further? The argument that you said I have not addressed seems to rest on the premise that "nothing" is the contradictory of "everything". I think this is false.

You cannot "point out internal problems" by assuming an external metaphysic and then showing that Clark's epistemology is wrong. This is why I continue to charge you with begging the question. You don't seem to appreciate me for this, but what else can I say?

As far as I can see, in this comment string, you have not yet brought a criticism that does not assume a false or meaningless metaphysic on Clark's view. You must start with Clarkian premises and show a contradiction if you wish to "point out internal problems". If you wish to use terms like "thing", "exist", and "everything", you must define them so that their contradictories are meaningful.

I'll try to read those posts soon.

Ryan said...

"What I mean by a subject being "predicable" is that it has predicates."

That's fine then.

"You said: "There is no ~A in the first place. You're assuming all propositions have contradictories without addressing my argument as to why this can't be the case."

"I take this to be a denial of the law of contradiction. A != !A."

No, it's not a denial. A indeed cannot be ~A at the same time or in the same sense. That's irrelevant to the question of whether there has to be a ~A for any A.

"Need my criticism proceed any further?"

Yes, by not begging the question in assuming every proposition has a contradictory.

"You cannot "point out internal problems" by assuming an external metaphysic and then showing that Clark's epistemology is wrong. This is why I continue to charge you with begging the question. You don't seem to appreciate me for this, but what else can I say?"

What external metaphysic am I assuming in making the point that in order for anything to be classifiable in particular, it must be classifiable in principle? Does Clark's metaphysic preclude classification? What external metaphysic am I assuming when I make the point that I don't see how you could even compare or differentiate the two most dissimilar things imaginable apart from classifiability?

Again, please answer this question: "what do you think it means for some thing to be unable to be classified, even in principle?"

"As far as I can see, in this comment string, you have not yet brought a criticism that does not assume a false or meaningless metaphysic on Clark's view."

Then the onus is on you to show how the above points and questions can't function as an internal critique. You can't just say Clark rejects that anything that may be predicated of any subject is meaningless - that's the point at issue with respect to other beliefs Clark held.

"If you wish to use terms like "thing", "exist", and "everything", you must define them so that their contradictories are meaningful."

And Clark must as well. You do admit he at times used these words in the same sense I do, right?

Luke Miner said...

Clark explicitly stated that a predicate which attaches to all subjects is meaningless. I’m assuming that I do not need to prove Clark believed this.

You are the one positing subjects which have no contradictories. You must explain how the left side of the equal sign can be meaningful when the right is meaningless. A != !A. Otherwise the law of contradiction refutes you. I am not begging the question by stating this equation because you have not explicitly abandoned the law of contradiction.

You have asked me multiple times to answer questions similar to: “what do you think it means for some thing to be unable to be classified…?” To which I reply what do you mean by “thing”? If you define it as “a subject which is predicable,” you have assumed the falsity of Clark’s view in the question. Begging the question by the question. If you can define “thing” such that it is meaningful in Clark’s view, I will answer you. Otherwise, your question is meaningless on Clark’s principles. I’m sorry this seems trivial. It took me a long time to feel the weight of Clark’s deconstruction of metaphysics.

You asked what external metaphysic you are assuming. You are consistently assuming that your definitions for “thing”, “anything”, and “exist” are meaningful. You need to provide an internal critique which does not assume that a subject has meaning if it has no contradictory. Until you do so, you can only defend your own view, and cannot criticize Clarks.

You said: “And Clark must as well. You do admit he at times used these words in the same sense I do, right?”
No. The way you have defined them clearly makes them meaningless on Clark’s view. Rather, in addition to colloquial usage, I think Clark uses exists sometimes in place of the copula “is” followed by a predicate. But since I will always opt for a harmonized reading of Clark when possible and you will not, I think we should stick to the issues above and drop this one. If Clark’s deconstruction of metaphysics is consistent with his epistemology, we’ve solved the issue.

Ryan said...

"Clark explicitly stated that a predicate which attaches to all subjects is meaningless."

Right. Now, what isn't a subject? Since you said "a subject is dependent upon predicates," I assume that whatever doesn't have predicates isn't a subject? Can you give me an meaningful example of this?

"You must explain how the left side of the equal sign can be meaningful when the right is meaningless. A != !A."

There is no "right side." There isn't anything "non-predicable" or "non-classifiable." You keep making this mistake.

"Otherwise the law of contradiction refutes you. I am not begging the question by stating this equation because you have not explicitly abandoned the law of contradiction."

Right, just that it only applies to classes which have contradictories.

"You have asked me multiple times to answer questions similar to: “what do you think it means for some thing to be unable to be classified…?” To which I reply what do you mean by “thing”?"

Let's take your definition of subject, an answer to the first question in this post my answer this one.

"You are consistently assuming that your definitions for “thing”, “anything”, and “exist” are meaningful."

Again, those aren't assumptions, those are well-argued conclusions. If we reject that these are meaningful, we must also reject that there is a highest class of which any individual is a member. That precludes the concept of classifiability in principle. That precludes the fundamental basis for comparison and differentiation - complete ontological dissimilarity is impossible, or do you disagree?

"But since I will always opt for a harmonized reading of Clark when possible and you will not, I think we should stick to the issues above and drop this one."

I have bent over backwards to harmonize Clark's metaphysics.

By the way, what is a "colloquial" meaning for "everything"?

Luke Miner said...

You asked me to give an example of what isn’t a subject. Recall that I am the one who brought this objection to your attention earlier– not that this is relevant and maybe you already thought of it. Here are 5 examples: “Dog”, “Cat”, “Ryan”, “Woozle”, and “Heffulump”. There are no things. Only propositions. There is no metaphysics. All basic questions are epistemological; they concern truth not ontology. When we use these words (dog, cat…), we can only signify propositions, not things.

The colloquial “thing” is the set of propositions. When we use the term “everything” colloquially, we may mean all the siding and trim on a given house when we say “everything is white”. We may mean the food in the freezer when we say “everything is melted” or even just the meat in the freezer when we say “everything is spoiled”. There are a large number of possible colloquial usages.

We supposedly agree that: for any subject, A, this equation holds: A != !A. You said: “There is no "right side.” It seems to me that in the equation above, there is a right side. Your predicate just fails to make it a meaningful right side. If you assert your A transcends the law of contradiction, I fail to see how this assertion is intelligible. Should we follow this line? If A is classifiable transcends the law, it means A is not classifiable and A is a poached egg at the same time. Perhaps, instead, you should try denying that my formulation of the law of contradiction is accurate.

You said: “Right, just that it [the law of contradiction] only applies to classes which have contradictories.” From where do you derive this exemption? The law of contradiction applies to all subjects and, indeed, asserts !A != A by substitution.

You said: “Again, those aren't assumptions, those are well-argued conclusions [and following]…” Isn’t it easy to see that I’m arguing that “ontological”, “individuals”, etc. are meaningless? How would you go about defining them so that !A is meaningful? I suppose you could oppose “individuals” to “collections” but then you’d be talking about an individual collection. If your arguments that “thing”, “existence” etc. are meaningful presuppose that !A can be meaningless, you’ve only moved the problem back a step. Its question begging. You need to critique Clark’s view without using any terms which do not have a corresponding !A. If you cannot do so, we have made some progress.

Ryan said...

"Here are 5 examples: “Dog”, “Cat”, “Ryan”, “Woozle”, and “Heffulump”."

These examples don't have predicates? Then how are they meaningful? Rather, can't I, without a loss of information, reformulate this reply to read, ""Dog," "Cat," "Ryan," "Woozle," and "Heffelump" are 5 examples which don't have predicates"? Isn't that what your reply means? But then, clearly they do have predicates.

But they are only classifiable in particular because classifiable in principle. They are only capable of comparison or dissimilarity because classifiable in principle.

"There are no things. Only propositions."

Then how are "propositions" meaningful per Clark? If there are only propositions - if being a proposition or propositional is able to be predicated of any subject - it too is meaningless. Right?

I also dispute Clark was [always] a monist. He believed "reality is complex" (http://thegordonhclarkfoundation.com/perspective-on-natural-law-by-gordon-h-clark/). See the final quotes in this post, as well, which explicitly shows Clark to have been a dualist:

http://unapologetica.blogspot.com/2013/04/god-language-and-scripturalism-revisited.html

"There is no metaphysics. All basic questions are epistemological; they concern truth not ontology. When we use these words (dog, cat…), we can only signify propositions, not things."

Again, you need to read the links I sent you. What the corresponding theory of personhood leads to is a view in which we are eternal and change does not occur - since we, as propositions, wouldn't change - or where God metaphysically depends on creation - since if He is what He thinks, His thought of us metaphysically impacts who He is - and the like.

"The colloquial “thing” is the set of propositions. When we use the term “everything” colloquially, we may mean all the siding and trim on a given house when we say “everything is white”. We may mean the food in the freezer when we say “everything is melted” or even just the meat in the freezer when we say “everything is spoiled”. There are a large number of possible colloquial usages."

Right. But this is not the case in the original post, where he argues that "Since everything exists, exists is devoid of information." What does "everything" mean here?

"We supposedly agree that: for any subject, A, this equation holds: A != !A... The law of contradiction applies to all subjects and, indeed, asserts !A != A by substitution."

No, we agree that, per Aristotle's formulation, "The most certain of all basic principles is that contradictory propositions are not true simultaneously" (1011b13-14). Again, this does not imply every proposition or subject has a contradictory, only that those which do cannot mean the same thing as their contradictory.

"It seems to me that in the equation above, there is a right side."

Yes, which makes it irrelevant to cases in which there is no right side, such as this one.

"If A is classifiable transcends the law, it means A is not classifiable and A is a poached egg at the same time. Perhaps, instead, you should try denying that my formulation of the law of contradiction is accurate."

Your above formulation is indeed historically inaccurate. It wasn't before.

"How would you go about defining them so that !A is meaningful? ...You need to critique Clark’s view without using any terms which do not have a corresponding !A."

Why do I need to define anything? Per Clark in the original post, "definition" is synonymous with "reality" and "being," so it also is meaningless.

Luke Miner said...

On “dog” and “heffulump,” Right. As stated, they have no predicates. Once “Heffulumps” is joined to the predicate “are not mammals”, it becomes a subject. “Heffulumps” is not a subject. It is the subject of the proposition “heffulumps are not mammals.” There is no reality. Only true and false propositions. You are piling my reading list high. I will get to them soon. Want to give me your top 3 and reconvene on this after I read them?

You said: “if being a proposition or propositional is able to be predicated of any subject - it too is meaningless. Right?” If you use the distinction I presented above, this would be incorrect.

You said: “Right. But this is not the case in the original post, where he argues that "Since everything exists, exists is devoid of information." What does "everything" mean here?”

If I’m not mistaken, everything is being used “ad hominem” to refer to what most philosophy has called a “thing” in order to argue against their usage of “exist” on their own principles.

Ok, you have revised my statement of the law of contradiction. I think that’s a good move. With regard to the Four Aristotelian Propositions, Aristotle says that to every affirmation there corresponds exactly one negation, and that every affirmation and its negation are 'opposed' such that always one of them must be true, and the other false (forgive me for quoting Wikipedia, the proof below should redeem me). This is essentially an affirmation that there is a right and left side of the equal sign. Consider: All A is B, therefore No A is !B. You are essentially denying this. Here’s what I mean: Let B be the predicate “are non-predicable” and A be “things” on your view. I realize that this is the precise opposite of what you believe but, for the sake of argument, let it be. We have:

1. All things are non-predicable
2. Therefore No things are predicable.

Here, #2 is a false proposition on your view. #1 is a meaningless proposition on your view because it predicates the non-predicable; making it self-contradictory. Yet #2 follows from #1 and #1 follows from #2. I think this constitutes a reduction ad absurdum?

You said: “Why do I need to define anything? Per Clark in the original post, "definition" is synonymous with "reality" and "being," so it also is meaningless.”

Definition is supplying the propositions required to make “dog” a meaningful subject. That’s why he substituted it. Clark would have been content with “reality” and “being” if they weren’t meaningless or vague.

Ryan said...

"On “dog” and “heffulump,” Right. As stated, they have no predicates."

""Dog" and "heffelump" have no predicates" is self-defeating, as is "“Heffulumps” is not a subject." You can't meaningfully talk about dogs and heffelumps and simultaneously deny they are capable of being subjects.

Also, concepts are implicitly propositional, I think, or else it is meaningless to say, as we have been, that subjects or classes have contradictories. When we say "Mary birthed Jesus," "Jesus" implicitly references at least a set of propositions specific to the Jesus in Scripture, right? The meaning and truth value of the proposition "Mary birthed Jesus" is informed by the utterer's meaning when he states the concept "Jesus." Clark himself makes this point in Today's Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? on pg. 65 or 66, if I recall correctly. The point is that any utterance is capable of functioning as a subject, whether or not it actually is the subject of a given proposition.

It's not that easy to refute the point as you seem to think. Clark's opponents can't just say "exists" once and isolated from a propositional utterance and get away with saying ""exists" is meaningful."

"Want to give me your top 3 and reconvene on this after I read them?"

That's fine. Read the "God, Language, and Scripturalism Revisited" post first, I think, so you can see Clark rejected a monistic metaphysic.

"If you use the distinction I presented above, this would be incorrect."

Wait, can you make explicit why it would be incorrect to say "propositional" is incapable of being predicated of any subject on your view, or, if capable, is nevertheless meaningful?

"If I’m not mistaken, everything is being used “ad hominem” to refer to what most philosophy has called a “thing” in order to argue against their usage of “exist” on their own principles."

Rather, I think he explains what he means in the quote itself: "every possible subject."

"Ok, you have revised my statement of the law of contradiction."

I've just stated its historical formulation so we're no longer talking past each other as we apparently were. Also, I don't have to accept other Aristotelian beliefs to accept this one.

"I think this constitutes a reduction ad absurdum?"

"Meaningless proposition" is a contradiction in terms. Nothing can follow from or yield that which is meaningless. So I contest your claim that "#2 follows from #1 and #1 follows from #2."

"Definition is supplying the propositions required to make “dog” a meaningful subject. That’s why he substituted it. Clark would have been content with “reality” and “being” if they weren’t meaningless or vague."

That doesn't really make sense. He said definition, reality, and being are interchangeable... then only said the latter two are meaningless? There's inconsistency here.

Luke Miner said...

This is getting overly complicated. If No A is non-B follows from All A is B, I win the debate about predicates which apply to all subjects. Do you deny this law? If you won't allow "meaningless proposition", consider #1 a meaningless utterance. Either way, if a false proposition follows from a meaningless utterance, there is something wrong with your view. Rather, I have showed that both #1 and #2 are meaningless utterances; not false ones. Please carefully understand this argument. I really can't see how you can get around it.

If you allow me to define "subject" the way I wish, "Heffulump", by itself, without the predicate, is not a subject. It only becomes a subject when joined with a predicate.

If you allow these distinctions, I think it becomes easy to interpret Clark. If you don't allow them, I can see why your interpretation of Clark is confused and you are forced to reject some of his statements in favor of others. If I held your view that "exists", "everything", etc. were meaningful (as I used to), I would be confused by Clark as well (as indeed I was).

I do not yet think you understand what I'm saying about metaphysics being meaningless. The question: What is a thing? is a meaningless utterance. I realize the conclusion is extremely counterintuitive but I just keep repeating myself. Reality is unknowable; it is a meaningless utterance. Truth is knowable. Understand what I'm saying first, then lets go back to Clark and see if my understanding is consistent.

Ryan said...

"Either way, if a false proposition follows from a meaningless utterance, there is something wrong with your view."

How can any proposition follow from a meaningless utterance? Propositions are meaningful by definition. On that note, can you define "meaningless"? I'm beginning to question whether that is even possible.

"If you allow me to define "subject" the way I wish, "Heffulump", by itself, without the predicate, is not a subject. It only becomes a subject when joined with a predicate."

How are you defining subject? Earlier, you said "a subject is dependent upon predicates." That would seem to be a part, at least, of your definition. But then "Heffulump" only qualifies as a subject when it is joined with predicates.

Luke Miner said...

You asked: "How can any proposition follow from a meaningless utterance?" But that is my question to you. I say it cannot, therefore no meaningful predicate can attach to all subjects. If a predicate can attach to all subjects, it is meaningless.

You said: "But then "Heffulump" only qualifies as a subject when it is joined with predicates." I think you understand me now.

Ryan said...

"But that is my question to you. I say it cannot, therefore no meaningful predicate can attach to all subjects. If a predicate can attach to all subjects, it is meaningless."

You said your argument was a reductio ad absurdem. That means assuming my premises in order to refute them. But I never said "All things are non-predicable" or "No things are predicable." So I'm still at a loss as to your point in bringing these utterances up.

"I think you understand me now."

I understood you before, that was the basis of my questioning. Now as I asked before, on your view, what isn't a subject? There has to be an answer, or you're admitting not all classes have contradictories. So recall my original question was: "Can you give me an meaningful example of this?" Apparently not, since you just admitted your examples were "meaningless" ones. Although I'm not even sure what that word means any more - :) - do you not see a problem?

Luke Miner said...

Ok, I gave you non-meaningful examples of what isn’t a subject. Now I will give you a meaningful example of what isn’t a subject. “are mammals” is not a subject in the propositions “all dogs are mammals”. “are mammals” is meaningful within this proposition and is not the subject.

I assert that you would agree that the proposition: “No things are predible” is false. If you would say this, my argument shows that a meaningless utterance follows from a false proposition on your view; which is absurd.

Ryan said...

"Ok, I gave you non-meaningful examples of what isn’t a subject."

I still would like a definition of "meaningless" or "non-meaningful."

"Now I will give you a meaningful example of what isn’t a subject. “are mammals” is not a subject in the propositions “all dogs are mammals”. “are mammals” is meaningful within this proposition and is not the subject.""

Like I said before in response to your definition that "a subject is dependent upon predicates":

//...to be more precise, is there anything which is incapable of functioning as a subject? "Capable of functioning as a subject" would be the technical formulation which, I think, is also predicable of everything.//

"are mammals" is capable of functioning as a subject. You must yourself believe this if you think "are mammals" is meaningful within that proposition, because you are conceding the point I made earlier regarding concepts being implicitly propositional. But then note the last sentence, which shows I've already anticipated all of this:

//...concepts are implicitly propositional, I think, or else it is meaningless to say, as we have been, that subjects or classes have contradictories. When we say "Mary birthed Jesus," "Jesus" implicitly references at least a set of propositions specific to the Jesus in Scripture, right? The meaning and truth value of the proposition "Mary birthed Jesus" is informed by the utterer's meaning when he states the concept "Jesus." Clark himself makes this point in Today's Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? on pg. 65 or 66, if I recall correctly. ******The point is that any utterance is capable of functioning as a subject, whether or not it actually is the subject of a given proposition.******//

You replied that this gets complicated. Well, you're right, but that's the way it goes :)

"I assert that you would agree that the proposition: “No things are predible” is false. If you would say this, my argument shows that a meaningless utterance follows from a false proposition on your view; which is absurd."

Again I will point you to a previous reply addressing this, where I said "I contest your claim that "#2 follows from #1 and #1 follows from #2."" You eventually said:

//But that is my question to you. I say it cannot...//

But if we're both in agreement that #1 doesn't follow from #2 or vice versa, why are either of us in need of explaining something we don't believe? The point is that you can't use, as you put it, "the precise opposite of what [I] believe" to perform a reductio of my beliefs. That's not how a reductio works.

Luke Miner said...

You are missing my point with the reduction argument. Let me restate it differently. You affirm two propositions:

1. “No things are predicable” is false
2. If No A is B, then All A is !B

Starting with these two premises, which I understand you to affirm, I am showing that absurdity results. This is how a reductio argument works.
If you accept #2, #1 implies:

3. “All things are non-predicable” is false

#3 is absurd yet it follows from your premises (1 and 2). Therefore you must reject #1 or #2. This argument works for any predicate which attaches to all subjects and, therefore, proves Clark’s position.

You are equating “is capable of functioning as a subject” with “is a subject”. I don’t equate those. If you allow me to maintain the subject-predicate distinction, the problem evaporates.

I don’t want to respond to the “concept” stuff because it introduces an unnecessary term and we are already struggling to understand each other. Let’s stick to these two issues.

Ryan said...

"Starting with these two premises, which I understand you to affirm..."

I don't affirm #2. As I have stated numerous times, not all classes have contradictories - in particular and most relevantly, the class of "things."

"If you allow me to maintain the subject-predicate distinction, the problem evaporates."

Rather, it just pushes it back one step, for then you have to provide a meaningful example where "is capable of functioning as a subject" isn't predicable.

Luke Miner said...

If you dont affirm that No A is B implies that All A is !B, I suppose there is nothing more I can say. If you are ok denying laws of logic, I won't try to continue arguing logically.

No, of course I would deny that "is capable of functioning as a subject" is meaningful while "is a subject" remains meaningful. If you won't let me define my own terms, you are begging the question.

I think this discussion is coming to a close so I want to make a couple of comments. I think your metaphysical precommitments have caused you to explicitly deny a law of logic, to deny me a subject-predicate distinction, and to deny Clark's consistency. I appreciate the fact that these issues are coming out clearly in this discussion.

Ryan said...

"If you are ok denying laws of logic, I won't try to continue arguing logically."

Once again, the laws of logic have nothing to say about whether all subjects have contradictories. That's your addition.

"No, of course I would deny that "is capable of functioning as a subject" is meaningful while "is a subject" remains meaningful."

Then I don't think you can define "meaningless" and meaningfully apply it to this or any other synonym I've used.

"...to deny me a subject-predicate distinction..."

It's more-so that I'm denying you, following the technical qualification of my criticism, the ability to explain how any concept can be meaningful if incapable of functioning as a subject.

"...and to deny Clark's consistency."

Well, yes :)

Thanks for the discussion.