Vagueness and Existence
Hawley (Katherine)
Source: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society CII (2001-2), pp. 125-140
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract, Introduction & Conclusion

  1. Abstract: Vague existence can seem like the worst kind of vagueness in the world, or seem to be an entirely unintelligible notion. This bad reputation is based upon the rumour that if there is vague existence then there are non-existent objects. But the rumour is false: the modest brand of vague existence entailed by certain metaphysical theories of composition does not deserve its bad reputation.
  2. Introduction: Could existence be a vague matter? It is common to suppose either that existence could not be vague, or else that it is just not clear what it would be for existence to be vague (the combination of these views is also pretty common). In consequence, if a metaphysical theory entails that there can be vagueness in existence, so much the worse for that theory. I will argue that most objections to vagueness in existence are based on the assumption that if there is vagueness in existence then there are non-existent objects. But, as I will show, this connection holds only for an immodest brand of vague existence. It is possible to accept a more modest kind of vague existence without believing that there are non-existent objects. Moreover, many of the metaphysical theories which entail vague existence entail only this modest kind of vague existence. Vague existence is not the bogeyman it is often supposed to be.
  3. Conclusion: Vague existence seems a peculiar notion, and on the strength of this, philosophers have rejected metaphysical theories which involve restricted composition, like van Inwagen’s view. But what seems objectionable about vague existence is the idea that it requires non-existent objects. Non-existent objects are required only for immodest vague existence, however, according to which there are things which neither determinately exist nor determinately fail to exist. Metaphysical theories involving restricted composition entail at most that there is modest vague existence, which does not require non-existence, does not presuppose that existence is a first-order property of things, and does not entail that there is vague identity1 (if we are willing to loosen Extensionality). Until and unless we see a compelling argument against all ontic vagueness, the prospect of modest vague existence does not give us reason to reject theories involving restricted composition.


See Hawley - Vagueness and Existence (Defunct).

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