Continental drift

We seem to have taken a  continental turn.  I had forgotten that Bill bestrides not only Athens and Jerusalem but also stands with one foot in London and one in Paris.  He quotes a famous passage from Sartre:
It left me breathless. Never, until these last days, had I understood the meaning of 'existence.' I was like all the others, like the ones walking along the seashore, all dressed in their spring finery. I said, like them, 'The ocean is green; that white speck up there is a seagull,' but I didn't feel that it existed or that the seagull was an 'existing seagull'; usually existence hides itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can't say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it. When I believed I was thinking about it, I must [have] believe[d] that I was thinking nothing, my head was empty, or there was just one word in my head, the word 'to be.' Or else I was thinking . . . how can I explain it? I was thinking of belonging, I was telling myself that the sea belonged to the class of green objects, or that that green was a part of the quality of the sea. Even when I looked at things I was miles from dreaming that they existed; they looked like scenery to me. I picked them up in my hands, they served me as tools, I foresaw their resistance. But that all happened on the surface.

If anyone had asked me what existence was, I would have answered, in good faith, that it was nothing, simply an empty form that was added to external things without changing anything in their nature. And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things, this root was kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder — naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness. (p. 127 tr. Lloyd Alexander, ellipsis in original.)
This he immediately follows with
This marvellous passage records Roquentin's intuition (direct nonsensory perception) of Being or existence.
Well, I worry about this, as does Ed Ockham.  Out with Tilly and Lola in the local woods this morning I paid special attention to the tree roots intruding on the path.  All I could see was stuff in the form of tree roots.  No sign of  'existence' whether by sensory or non-sensory means.  I suppose that if the roots were green then I was aware of greenness, so, by analogous formation of abstract nouns, if the roots existed then perhaps I was aware of existence?  But I don't think Bill means this.  After all, why the emphasis on nonsensory perception?

Roquentin's first paragraph makes a good case for a thin point of view.  He says that the ocean is green and that a white speck up there is a seagull, but he doesn't feel that the ocean exists or that the seagull is an 'existing seagull'.  Well, of course not.  The 'exists' is quite redundant.    He is not talking about an imaginary ocean or seagull, surely?  Don't we simply assume that, unless stated otherwise, talk of oceans and seagulls is about oceans and seagulls, not figments of our imagination.  The second paragraph is more interesting.  Pace Bill (and Sartre?) Roquentin is not reporting a direct encounter with pure existence, whatever that might mean.  Bill earlier refers to this incident as a temporary aphasia, in which 'words and their meanings vanish.'  Possibly.  But Roquentin's description is consistent with a species of agnosia:   he loses the ability to distinguish object from object and know what they are. The 'veneer' of individuality vanishes leaving a perception of mere stuff---he actually uses the bulk term 'masses'.  Stuff which is normally 'clothed' in meaning and individuality now appears 'naked'.  This, I imagine, would be a frightening experience, and it's not surprising Roquentin feels sick.  I describe a possibly related experience here.  Under this reading Roquentin does not gain some deep insight into reality.  Rather, he loses a perfectly normal cognitive function.

Thinking that Roquentin's experience reveals more than is conveyed in ordinary speech Bill concludes:
What the thin theorist does is to substitute logical Being for real Being. Note that I am not endorsing Sartre's theory of real Being: that it is an absurd excrescence, de trop (superfluous), unintelligible, etc. What I am endorsing is his insight that real Being is extralogical, that it is not a thin notion exhausted by the machinery of logic. Thus I am endorsing what is common to Sartre, Maritain, Wittgenstein, and others, namely, that existence is real not merely logical.
I confess I don't grasp what Bill means by saying that 'real Being is extralogical' and not a 'thin notion exhausted by the machinery of logic'.  These assertions seem like category confusions: logic is about sentences, the forms they can take and the inferential relations between them; being is about, well, being, so obviously existence is not 'merely logical', it's not logical at all.  The question is, Can we capture what we ordinarily infer from our use of 'exists' by a few simple rules concerning the logical terms 'some' and 'all'?  Provided we are not required to account for some abstract entity 'existence' that is only accessible in extreme states of consciousness and denied to ordinary experience, then I think the answer is Yes.  This is all that the 'thin' claim amounts to.

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