Being Qua Being: Introduction
Butchvarov (Panayot)
Source: Butchvarov - Being Qua Being, 1979, Introduction
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  1. I shall introduce the subject of this book by recalling four puzzles that infect the very foundations of metaphysics. Sometimes we seem to think about, or imagine, or perceive, or, less fundamentally, talk about what does not exist, e.g., Santa Claus or the pink rat a delirious man supposedly hallucinates some morning. How is this possible? Even if there are mental images and sense-data, it is not a mental image a child thinks about when he thinks about Santa Claus and it is not a sense-datum the delirious man fears when he fears the rat he hallucinates.
  2. Sometimes we think about, or imagine, or perceive, or, less fundamentally, talk about a and b (e.g., the Morning Star and the Evening Star) as if a and b were two things, although in fact, a fact perhaps even known to us, they are one thing. How is this possible? How is it possible that what the statement "a is b" says should seem quite different from what the statement "a is a" says? An aspect of this puzzle is that sometimes we seem to think, or imagine, or perceive, or say that a is F (e.g., that the Evening Star is visible tonight), but not think, imagine, perceive, or say that b is F (e.g., that the Morning Star is visible tonight), even though a and b are one and the same thing; and that there also seem2 to be cases in which a is necessarily F while b is not necessarily F, although a is the same thing as b.
  3. We also perceive, or think, or say that things have various properties, e.g., that Socrates has a certain color, and we ordinarily express this with statements of the form "x is F," e.g., "Socrates is white." But how are we to understand this relationship of having that seems to hold between, e.g., Socrates and a certain color? Is it not itself another property, albeit a relational one, which its terms now have to each other, and if so are we not swept along on an infinite regress3?
  4. Even if this third puzzle is resolved, it already contains the seed of a fourth. For Socrates to be white, he must indeed have a certain color, but it is also necessary that this color be white. How are we to understand now this "relationship" between Socrates' color, i.e., that very color one sees when one sees Socrates, and its being white? (A no less traditional, but more complicated, example of supposedly the same relationship is that between Socrates and his being a man.) When one recognizes Socrates' color as white, what does one come to so cognize? Surely not that two distinguishable even if not separable things, as Socrates and his color have often been supposed to be, enter in a certain relation, for Socrates' color is not distinguishable from, and therefore, unlike Socrates, cannot intelligibly be said to have, white color. (Similarly, it has been supposed, Socrates is not distinguishable from his being a man and therefore cannot intelligibly be said to have any such property as being a man.)
  5. These four puzzles concern, respectively, the concepts of existence, identity, accidental predication, and essential predication. The first puzzle has long historical roots, reaching as far back as Parmenides, but was forced upon the attention of twentieth-century philosophy by Meinong. The second puzzle is of recent origin, having first been formulated clearly by Frege. The distinction between accidental and essential predication is due of course to Aristotle.
  6. Several preliminary explanations of my terminology are needed.
    • Some philosophers, including Meinong, restrict the concept of existence to concrete, spatiotemporal individual things, and use the term "subsistence" for the "being" of things that are not concrete, or spatiotemporal, or individual; but I believe it is better to distinguish between kinds of existent things, rather than between kinds of being.
    • I do not use the terms "accidental" and "essential" as synonyms, respectively, for "contingent" and "necessary," as many contemporary philosophers do; my use of them, though not unrelated, is to be understood in terms of the Aristotelian examples I have given.
    • By "predication" I do not mean the relation between the subject term and the predicate of a sentence, or a certain action of a language-user, but the relation, if any, between what the subject term and the predicate stand for.
    • And by "identity" I mean what is usually called "numerical identity." A statement such as "This book is the same color as that book," often described as asserting qualitative identity, is paraphrasable much more perspicuously as "The color of this book is the same as the color of that book." The unwillingness to acknowledge this fact, due mainly to insufficient attention to the metaphysical topic of universals, is one of the reasons for the recent flurry of interest in what has been called relative identity4.
    To understand what we mean, I suggest, we must look at what we talk about and not just at how we talk about it.
  7. We may say that the four puzzles I have described concern four senses of the verb "to be," since all four of the corresponding concepts would often be expressed in English with forms of that verb. If so, then we may also say that an inquiry into those four concepts, insofar as it is inseparable from the inquiry into the features of the world that make their application possible, is an inquiry into being qua being. But my mention here of the verb "to be" and its senses is intended to be merely suggestive and will not serve as a foundation for anything that will follow5.
  8. The inquiry into being qua being has been identified with metaphysics. But it would be better to use the term "metaphysics" more broadly, namely, for the branch of philosophy that has as its subject matter the nature of the world, or of reality, rather than the nature of our knowledge, or of our language, or of our sciences about the world. We may then distinguish several levels of metaphysical inquiry. On the least fundamental level metaphysics is concerned with the most general description of the actual world, with the most general kinds of things there are and with the way they fit together. It asks such questions as whether God exists, whether there are both minds and bodies or only minds or only bodies, and if there are both minds and bodies, how they are related. On this level it is closely connected with epistemology, since the main philosophical difficulties such questions pose for us are epistemological in character.
  9. On a more fundamental level, presupposed by the first, metaphysics enquires into the nature of all possible, or at least all conceivable, comprehensible worlds, and thus only indirectly into the nature of the actual world. Can there be a world that consists only of individuals and not also of properties and relations? Or a world that consists only of properties and relations? Can there be nonidentical but indiscernible things? Questions related to those on the previous level can now be asked in complete independence from the usual epistemological considerations. Can there be a world unless there is God? Can there be a world without bodies? Without minds? On this level metaphysics is closely connected with logic. (Immediately following his introduction of the notion of a science of being qua being Aristotle offers a defense of the laws of noncontradiction and excluded middle.) But this connection is no more limited to formal logic than the notion of necessary truth is limited to the truths of formal logic. The criterion of possibility on which it would rely can hardly be mere formal consistency; it must be conceivability or comprehensibility (not of propositions, but of what propositions purport to describe), for, whether we like it or not, we have no other general and ultimate criterion of possibility. This is why, on this level, metaphysics is also connected with phenomenology, i.e., with the philosophical description of the most general character of the objects of consciousness qua objects of consciousness.
  10. On the third and most fundamental level metaphysics is concerned with the concepts and principles on the basis of which the questions belonging to the other two levels, i.e., the questions about what things there are or at least there can be, must be answered. Instead of these questions, it asks, what is it for something to be in a world, or for something to be a world? It is on this level, I suggest, that metaphysics is best described as the inquiry into being qua being, or, we might also say, as protometaphysics. Any conception of a world presupposes the conception of what it is for something to exist in that world. Any conception of a thing presupposes the conception of what it is for it to be the subject of predication, both accidental and essential. Any conception of a thing presupposes the conception of what it is for it to be identifiable, not in the sense of being merely singled out but also in the sense of being singled out again or in a different way, of being recognized, of being the subject of a true informative identity judgment.
  11. It follows that the concepts of existence, identity, essential predication, and accidental predication cannot be understood as standing for constituents of the world, presumably for certain properties or relations. They are the concepts in terms of which we must understand what it is for something to be in the world, what it is for something to have a property or be related to another thing, and what it is for something to be a property or a relation. Yet they apply to any possible world; indeed nothing would be a world were it not for their applicability to it. We may call such concepts, which apply without standing for anything, transcendental. The inquiry into being qua being, or protometaphysics, may then be called a transcendental inquiry.
  12. Now the central thesis of this book is that the concepts of existence, identity, accidental predication, and essential predication are intimately related, and moreover that the concept of identity is basic and the other three are to be understood in terms of it. I shall argue that the four puzzles with which we began admit of a common solution, the key to which is to be found in a careful study of the second puzzle, that regarding identity. It is a solution based on a distinction between what I shall call objects and entities. A similar, but not the same, distinction has often been made, most notably by Meinong but also by recent possible-worlds semanticists, in treatments of the first puzzle, that regarding existence. But there it rests on the proposition that there are things of which it is true that there are no such things, a proposition that, I suggest, cannot be made coherent6, let alone plausible, except on the basis of considerations external to the topic of existence. A similar, but again not the same, distinction has also been made, e.g., by Camap7 and Sellars, in treatments of an aspect of the second puzzle, namely, the seeming failure of the principle of the indiscemibility of identicals in intentional and modal contexts; I have in mind the distinction between individuals and individual concepts. But if an individual concept is indeed a concept, or at all like a concept, then it is not the object of the propositional attitude, or the subject of the modal property, with respect to which the principle seems to fail, and therefore its relevance is obscure. If it is not really a concept, then how does it differ from the individual with which it is associated? Again, I believe that these questions can be answered only on the basis of considerations both far more general and much deeper than the seeming discemibility of identicals in intentional and modal contexts.
  13. It is with respect to the second puzzle itself, in the context of an inquiry into the general topic of identity, that the distinction needed for the common solution of all four puzzles can be made both clear and plausible. This will be attempted in chapters one, two, and three, where the application of the distinction to the first puzzle, that regarding existence, will also be outlined. The topic of existence will be accorded further, detailed treatment in chapter four. The distinction will be applied to the topic of essential predication in chapter five. Its application to accidental predication, however, is more complex and will occupy us in chapters six, seven, and eight. It requires that we consider the questions whether the notion of a material substance is intelligible and whether properties are universals; the reason is that the problem of accidental predication concerns a relationship of which no definite conception can be formed unless it is determined what its relata can be. And in the appendixes I shall consider briefly two issues that are closely related to the main theses of this book but cannot be fully discussed within its bounds. The fact that all four puzzles admit of a common solution constitutes, in itself, a major argument in favor of that solution. But in philosophy such an argument is never sufficient; the methods of philosophy are quite unlike those of science. The distinction between objects and entities on which the solution rests must have independent and deeper support. I shall argue, especially in chapter two, that it is grounded in the very nature of conceptual cognition, and that the four puzzles are symptoms of the extraordinary nature of the application to the world of our conceptual apparatus, and, in particular, of the application of the concept of identity. They cannot be solved by ingenious reformulation or mild theoretical innovation. They concern the very foundations of thought and reflect a certain instability, unsettledness in them. The solution must go to those foundations; it can hardly be found in the structure that rests upon them. It must be a radical solution. I shall therefore be compelled to introduce notions and propose theses of unusual difficulty. That they be explained as adequately as their nature allows is the responsibility of the author. That they are unusually difficult, however, is an unavoidable consequence of the nature of the problems they are designed to solve.
  14. It is for this reason that in the earlier chapters I shall often appeal to familiar examples, especially of individual identity (e.g., the Evening Star and the Morning Star) and of nonexistent things (e.g., Santa Claus), which eventually I shall argue are inappropriate. I shall also require notions (e.g., that of singling out) that I believe can be made clear only by the uses to which they are put throughout the book, not by explicit initial explanation. And even though an entire chapter is devoted to it, the foundation of almost all the views I shall defend, namely, the distinction between objects and entities, cannot be fully understood in abstraction from its applications to the topics discussed in the later chapters. On the other hand, these discussions might appear sketchy, perhaps even high-handed, unless regarded as intended to derive whatever substance they possess mainly from that distinction.


Photocopy of complete book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 03 (B2: Bi+)".

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: But presumably are not …

Footnote 3: Is this puzzle (related to) Plato’s Third Man?

Footnote 4: A recent example of this unwillingness is provided by "Griffin (Nicholas) - Relative Identity" (1977); see especially pp. 161, 204-12. I consider the issue of relative identity in chapter 3 ("Butchvarov (Panayot) - Indiscernibility").

Footnote 5: It is often supposed that the verb "to be" has a fifth sense, that of class-membership. But, I suggest, to say that a is (an) F in the "sense" that a is a member of the class of F's is to say either that a is (an) F in the sense of essential predication or in the sense of accidential predication, or, if the class of F's is defined by enumerating m, n, o. . . . as its members, that a is identical either with m, or with n, or with o. . . .

Footnote 6: Well, surely all this means is that there are things in some possible world that don’t exist in our world.

Footnote 7: See "Carnap (Rudolf) - Meaning and Necessity - A Study in Semantics and Modal Logic".

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