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Friday, October 14, 2005

Contingent Beings, Essence, and Existence

Hi all-- I am interested in getting some feedback on the following issues. I am really not that good at reasoning through certain issues, and it would help to see what everyone thinks of the following. So the issue is about contingent beings and the essential properties that contingent beings have. Furthermore, I am interested in writing a paper on this issue. So, if you guys think that this is not a philosophically interesting issue let me know. So, I don't waste my time. Here are some basic definitions:

(C) A being x is a contingent being if x exists at least one possible world and not in all possible worlds.

(E1) A property P is an essential property of x just in case x has P in every possible world.

(E2) A property P is an essential property of x just in case x has P in every world in which x exists.

I think (E2) is the better definition of an essential property. Primarily becuase there are many properties that an object has in every possible world that have nothing to do with the kind of thing it is . In addition, I don't know how to square (C) and (E1). If (E1) holds then there are no contingent beings with essential properties, but that seems false. In addition, there is another issue here floating around. There are certain semantical tricks one can use to make it true that an entitiy has a property in a world in which it does not exist. However, this does not square with the ontological notion of exemplfying a property. For an object to exemplify a property in a world it would have to exist in the world. That is different from a proposition or sentence being true in a world, even when the object does not exist in the world. Okay last bit--

I am worried that certain views of of possible worlds lead to the following odd result:

If any contingent being has an essential property, then there are no contingent beings that exist in just one possible world, and so it is necessary that nothing exists in just one possible world. Quasi-proof: If you are a contingent being and have an essential property, then you have to exist in more than one possible world in order to distinguish the accidental properties from the essential properties, but you cannot exist in all possible worlds, for then you would be a necessary being. But then it seems to follow that it is necessary that nothing exists in just one possible world, since necessary being exist in all worlds, and contingent beings have essential properties. This is odd because prima facie it is possible that something exists in just one possible world. Furthermore, if it is true that nothing can exist in just one possible world, and that this is necessary truth, is this truth a synthetic a priori truth.

Okay please don't make fun of me if I made an obvious mistake. Any comments would be helpful

6 Comments:

  • At 11:03 PM, Blogger Luke Manning said…

    Hi Anand. Thanks for posting. You raise a lot of issues in modal logic and metaphysics. I'll see if I can say something interesting about one of them.
    You give a "quasi-proof" that if contingent beings can have essential properties, then nothing exists in only one possible world. There are some logical holes in the argument, and also some broad metaphysical/logical questions that it brings up. First, you say concerning contingent beings, "you have to exist in more than one possible world in order to distinguish the accidental properties from the essential properties..." This is the conclusion right here, buried though it is in the middle of the argument. And the motivation for it is unclear; is this "distinction" metaphysical or logical or epistemological?

    Thinking about that premise, it seems to me a little odd to talk about whether something could exist in only one possible world. I'm no modal realist, so my intuitions about possible worlds seem to stem from my experience with its use in rationalizing certain types of modal discourse. In other words, I don't have intuitions about worlds, but about plausible ways to read modal arguments and to work out the formal systems. As such, I tend to take the question of whether there are single-world entities as either a question about whether that makes sense in one of the formal systems, or whether there's a modal argument that makes use of such a concept. If we're doing Kripke semantics, then obviously there are frames (systems of worlds) with single-world individuals, for probably all of the promulent modal systems. If we decide to start with the "set of all possible worlds" first, then whether we have single-world individuals depends on how we read 'possible world'. I'm too tired right now to think of all the semi-plausible readings, but for one that came to mind, your question seems to yield contradictory results.
    Let's say a possible world is individuated by the set of propositions true about it, such that to each distinct set of propositions, there corresponds a (perhaps non-unique) possible world. Let's say Jones exists in W1, and P is the conjunction of all propositions true in W1. Then does "Necessarily, Jones exists IFF P" express a proposition? If so and it is true in W1, then Jones exists only in W1.
    On the other hand, does "Jones exists in W1 and W2" express a proposition? If so, then there is a world in which this is true, and so Jones does not exist only in W1.
    We seem to have come upon a paradox, or at least an unexpected inconsistency. If there is for each set of (consistent) propositions a world, and if the above quoted sentences express propositions, then Jones both is and is not a single-world individual. You seem to have the intuition that both of those propositions are possible; but they can't both be possible on this interpretation of possible worlds, at least without gross inconsistency.
    What are we to do? I'm sort of inclined to take possible worlds as stipulated entities, a la Kripke, in which case there are frames with single-world individuals, but there are also frames with none. I don't have the brain power to flesh that out right now, and I suspect it may be unsatisfying to you, considering the questions you're asking.
    Also I suspect, though I haven't gathered evidence, that you may be confounding object-language modality with something like meta-language modality, which could involve something like derivability. "Is it possible that something exists in only one world?" What is the possibility in question here? If we're asking whether it's possible that something is necessary, then are those iterated operators all of the same type (so we're in some system weaker than S5) or do some of them concern the modal system and some the frame of worlds?
    Alright, I'm logicked out for the night. I may post more later.

     
  • At 2:53 PM, Blogger Anand Vaidya said…

    Nice work Luke. I think there is a fallacy in the argument. In addition, the argument is clearly about metaphysical possiblity. The formal issues are important, but the central issue is just the following:

    If contingent beings exist, and have essential properties, it seems as if no being can exist in just one possible world, and so it is necessary (metaphysically necessary about the nature of beings) that no being can exist in just one possible world. Stipulated entities, sets of possible worlds, set-theoretic constructs it doesn't matter. On the Lewis view you can't have this problem since nothing can exist in more than one possible world. In fact on his view we are all one world entities. Okay-but good points. The quasi-proof I also gave sort of begs the question as you point out. But proof or not something is really compelling about the fact that it seems as if it is metaphysically necessary that there are not one world entities. Or at least that seems to be the issue.

     
  • At 3:09 PM, Blogger ChrisB said…

    I guess I don't find it troubling that there are no objects that exist in only one metaphysically possible world. What motivation is there to deny it? As Luke noted, we can stipulate various worlds but why think that such worlds are metaphysically possible?

    Regarding the following premise

    If any contingent being has an essential property, then there are no contingent beings that exist in just one possible world, and so it is necessary that nothing exists in just one possible world.

    I think you need to add that every contingent being has at least one contingent property (I take CP to be defined by adding a tilde [in the right place of course] to EP) Without this, can't one just allow that there are one-worlders but that every one-worlder has all of its properties essentially? Perhaps you just typed 'essential' instead of 'contingent'. Or are we using E1 instead of E2? If E2 is accepted, one worlders can exist, but that contingent beings cannot have essential properties is analytic and no argument is required (I think).

    Also regarding

    I think (E2) is the better definition of an essential property. Primarily becuase there are many properties that an object has in every possible world that have nothing to do with the kind of thing it is .

    I'm not sure how E2 addresses this concern. For example, even if we accept E2, doesn't it still follow that I have the property of being such that 2+2=4 essentially since I have this in every possible world in which I exist?

     
  • At 3:11 PM, Blogger ChrisB said…

    I meant 'E1' instead of 'E2' the second time.

     
  • At 9:22 PM, Blogger Anand Vaidya said…

    Chris, Good Point. I didn't mean to suggest that the idea that no being can exist in just one possible world is a problem. I guess I want more feedback on the issue is you think that the following claim is a synthetic a priori claim:

    It is metaphysically necessary that no being exists in just one possible world.

    The result isn't really odd or false. It just seems to be something that is a robust metaphysical truth about the nature of beings. No necessary being can exist in one possible world, unless one is a necessitarian/ fatalist. In addition, contingent being have to be individuated by their accidental vs. essential properties they would seem to have to exist in more than one possible world to differentiate the essential from accidental properties.

    On the second issue about E1 vs E2 I guess I made a mistake my view is in line with Fine's view. I think that several of the properties an object has in every world in which it exists are irrelevant -- because they are not kind individuating. Cambridge properties and set-theoretic properties are good examples. I am necessarily a human, and that is an essential property of me, however for ever world in which I exist it is also true that I am either red or not-red. However, this property does not speak to what I am. So even the view that essential properties are those properties one has in every world in which they exist has the problem that several properties won't fit the intuitive definition of essence or essential property. The consequence of this is that essence or essential property when characterized in terms of quantification over worlds leads to intuitive problems. I just don't know what to say. Finally, I am also concerned by the difference between ontic existence in a world and exemplification of a property in a world by an object vs. some sort of Kaplanesque distinction being used to make a statement true in a world where the object doesn't exist. So, these issues seem to relevant.

    Okay, one other thing do you think that this topic is a worthy philosophical topic or I am barking up an empty road. I kind of think it could be made interesting, but I don't know if the general view is like UGGGh.
    Anyway, thanks for comments.

     
  • At 7:39 AM, Blogger Kevin Schutte said…

    Sure, I'm two months late, but what the hell.

    One thing to consider about the possibility of single-world objects: It seems that if we are to distinguish similar possible worlds at all, then there must be something such that it exists in only that world. That is, if we define a world by, say, the set of all (timeless) facts, or the state of the universe and the laws (for deterministic worlds), or some other criteria X, then it seems that each world must have at least one distinct object (X) that other worlds do not have.

    One potential way to avoid this might be to claim that there is no delimiting of worlds all the way down to one. Maybe picking out a unique possible world is like picking out a unique real number...it's exceedingly difficult (impossible?) to separate it from its nearest neighbors. It seems that if we were to take this route, we'd have to at least modify, if not eliminate, our use of @.

     

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