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A Fressellian replies

Perhaps prompted by Ed Ockham, Bill Vallicella has a post on Wittgenstein and Rejectionism in his current series on Why is there anything at all (rather than nothing)? which has got me thinking.    I've put Bill's piece on a blue background and interpolated some comments of my own.

I characterized Rejectionism with respect to the question why there is anything at all as follows: "The rejectionist rejects the question as ill-formed, as senseless." London Ed suggests that Wittgenstein may be lumped in with the rejectionists. He has a point, though I do insist on the distinction between taking 'Why is there anything at all?' as an explanation-seeking why-question and taking it as a mere expression of wonder at the sheer existence of things. We know that Wittgenstein was struck with wonder at the sheer existence of things. What is now to be discussed is whether Wittgenstein can be read as making a rejectionist response to the ultimate explanation-seeking why-question.

Ed quotes from Anthony Kenny's book, Wittgenstein:
Logic depends on there being something in existence and there being facts; it is independent of what the facts are, of things being thus and so. That there are facts is not something which can be expressed in a proposition. If one wants to call there being facts a matter of experience, then one can say logic is empirical. But when we say something is empirical we mean that it can be imagined otherwise; in this sense every proposition with sense is a contingent proposition. And in this sense the existence of the world is not an empirical fact, because we cannot think it otherwise.
This passage cries out for commentary.

1. Does logic depend on there being something in existence? Yes, if we are talking about the Frege-Russell logic that young Ludwig cut his teeth on. In 'Fressellian' logic, existence is instantiation. To say that cats exist is to say that something is a cat. (The concept cat is instantiated.) To say that dragons do not exist is to say that nothing is a dragon. (The concept dragon is not instantiated.) This works nicely -- but only on the assumption that individuals exist. So Kenny is surely right that (Frege-Russell) logic requires that something exists, in particular that individuals exist.

The assumption, I think, is not that individuals exist---that there is at least one individual---but that individuality is a possibility.  Our ordinary talk forever runs down the tramlines of Individuals and Concepts.  But that doesn't imply that we cannot say anything useful when there are no individuals.  Of the contents of an empty box we can surely say, There are none.  See below.

2. But can this presupposition be expressed (said) in this logic? Here is a little challenge for you Fressellians: translate 'Something exists' into standard logical notion. You will discover that it cannot be done. Briefly, if existence is instantiation, which property is it whose instantiation is the existence of something? Same problem with 'Nothing exists.' If existence is instantiation, which property is it whose non-instantiation is the nonexistence of anything? Similarly with 'Everthing exists' and 'Something does not exist.'

And as a Fressellian I accept the challenge.  That property is Individual aka Object, the concept at the root of the Porphyrean tree.  We can say 'Something exists' with ∃x.Object(x), ie, there is at least one object.  Likewise ∀x.Object(x) (which is always true, even when the box is empty) says 'Everything exists' and its negation (which is always false) says 'Some thing is not an object'.  But both these last are unenlightening---because always true  and always false, respectively, they convey no information, make no distinction, are powerless to change us.

3. I surmise that this is one of the motivations for Wittgenstein's infamous and paradoxical saying/showing distinction. What can be said can be said clearly. But not everything can be said. It cannot be said that there are beings or that there are objects or that there are individuals. For again, how does one express (say) that there are beings (existents) in Frege-Russell logic? This system of logic rests on presuppositions that cannot be expressed within the system. The presuppositions cannot be said but thay can be shown by the use of variables such as the individual variable 'x.' That is the Tractarian line.

Again, if we avail ourselves of the concept Object, then I think we can say that there is at least one object.  What we can't say is that Individuality makes sense.  That we are not deceiving ourselves that individuals congeal out of stuff.  That is the presumption that underlies our attempts to clarify language through logic.

4. Kenny also says that logic depends on there being facts. That's not clear. Near the beginning of the Tractatus, LW affirms the existence of facts. He tells us that the world is the totality of facts (Tatsachen) not of things (Dinge). But does the Frege-Russell logic require that there be facts? Not as far as I can see. The mature Frege certainly did not posit facts. Be that as it may.

I have never been clear on what LW means by 'facts'.  Be that as it may indeed.

5. Is Wittgenstein a rejectionist? Does he reject the question 'Why is there anything at all?' as senseless or ill-formed? The case can be made that he does or at least could within his framework.

When I raise the question why anything at all exists, I begin with the seemingly empirical fact that things exist: me, my cat, mountains, clouds . . . . I then entertain the thought that there might have been nothing at all. I then demand an explanation as to why there is something given (a) that there is something and (b) that there might not have been anything.

A Wittgensteinian rejection of the question might take the following form. "First of all, your starting point is inexpressible: it cannot be said that things exist. That is a nonsensical pseudo-proposition. You can say, sensibly, that cats exist, but not that things exist. That things exist is an unsayable presupposition of all thinking. As such, we cannot think it away. And so one cannot ask why anything exists."

I agree with Bill that LW is being rejectionist, but I'm not sure LW's justification of his stance holds up.  For surely cats are objects, and if cats exist then objects exist?

6. This form of rejectionism is as dubious as what it rests upon, namely, the Frege-Russell theory of existence and the saying/showing distinction.

Well, that is Bill's long-held view.  I think LW is wrong for other reasons.

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