This is not going to be an angst-filled, exisential post. Rather I'm puzzling over the use of the verb 'to be,' or, more precisely, why it puzzled twentieth-century philosophers so much. I've been re-reading Brand Blanchard's Reason & Analysis, and cannot really understand how analytical philosophers got their knickers so in a twist over this issue.
As Blanshard describes the problem, the worry these analytical philosophers had was that, if someone says, "The Loch Ness monster is a sea serpent," they seem to be granting "existence" to the monster, whereas, as they see it, the monster doesn't exist at all. In their view, this is the results of a linguistic confusion, the cure for which is to say things like, "The realm of real things does not contain a living creature such that that creature is reptlian, very long, aquatic, and lives in Loch Ness."
As I see it, when someone says, "The Loch Ness monster is a sea serpent," what they mean is, "I have the idea of a creature having the nature of a sea serpent living in a lake in Scotland." And, when they say, "But the Loch Ness monster doesn't exist," they're saying, "But that idea has no physical counterpart." The Loch ness monster exists in the world of thought, but not in the world of physical reality. Why is this a problem?
Does "Harry Potter" exist? In the sense that "Harry Potter" is taken to correspond to some real, physical, person, no he does not. But to the extent that he has made J.K. Rowling over a billion dollars (of real, "tangible" money) he certainly does exist. Why is this dichotomy a problem?
If I bear a grudge against my neighbor that is purely imaginary, we would seem to have s salient example of the sort of thing to which some anlytical philosophers wish to deny reality. But if that imagined grievance causes me to kill my neighbor, then isn't it, in fact, quite "real."
Or, let us take an example involving no physical entities at all. Imagine I have the idea of finding "the rational square root of two." This root exists now as an idea in my head. But, if I try to bring it into line with the standard rules of arithmetic, etc., I find it does not exist as a consistent idea within the world of mathematics.
(Post edited to be less "Ryle specific," per Sheldon's comment.)
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