Note on the critique of the reality of existence

Kant’s critique of existence, as it filtered through Analytic philosophy, became an argument like this:

Any real predicate (a predicate said of individuals) must be able to be both affirmed and denied of individuals.

Existence cannot be affirmed and denied of individuals.

Therefore existence is not a real predicate.

I see the force of the argument but it seems like it works better as a reductio ad absurdum against the major premise. “Exists” and “real” are more or less equivalent predicates, and it would be very odd to demand that “real” and “unreal” both be real. It would be like demanding that there were no real places on maps because “not a place on the map” does not show up on GPS. In other words, we can just say (with Barry Miller) that existence is a real predicate and non-existence isn’t; or that the whole problem is in assuming that non existence must be a real predicate, not in assuming that existence is one.




  1. D.S. Thorne said,

    April 14, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Or, can’t we deny existence of an individual that is dead? The substance/existence of a fox is passe as soon as form and matter separate. And yet it’s still coherent to refer to the fox that was…

    ~DS Thorne,

  2. pseudonoma said,

    April 16, 2014 at 12:19 am

    “Exists” and “real” are more or less equivalent predicates, and it would be very odd to demand that “real” and “unreal” both be real.

    This is a good point, but if this is how the claim has been analytically filtered, It bears little relation to Kant’s claim regarding the predication of Being. Kant makes the claim “Being is not a real predicate” in two places in his corpus: the pre-critical Beweisgrund and, more famously, in the Transcendental Logic of his first Kritik. In both cases, however, the meaning of reality in “real predication” is contradistinguished from existence. This is clear from the fact that Kant uses the terms “real predicate” and “determination” interchangeably. “Reality” is, in the Analytic, a category of quality, and its appropriate meaning can be gathered from its employment in the “Anticipations of Perception.” But to be brief, reality is the quality of a givenness of content, and appearance, a possible object. A real predicate is thus a “whatness” in the broadest sense, as a content that is determinative of something. He is drawing on the word’s original meaning: the “real” is what pertains to the “res”. When Kant says there is “no more” reality in something possible than in something actual. he means no new content is added. Reality in this sense is precisely distinguished from modality, and does not coincide in meaning with actuality or existence.

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