What ‘X Does Not Exist’ Says About We Who Do Exist
Yablo (Stephen)
Source: Retrieved from Academia.edu 23/12/18
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction1

  1. Imagine an empty world w. Dogs exist is obviously going to be false in a world like that. What is less obvious is why the sentence is false in w. We are pulled in two directions, I think. One reason Dogs exist is false there is the lack of dogs in w. Another, though, seemingly just as good, is the lack of anything in w. Unless the two reasons are somehow in competition, the falsity of Dogs exist is (very slightly) overdetermined.
  2. Is this something that ought to puzzle us? Compare the way a doorbell ringing might be explained either by someone’s pushing the button or something’s pushing it. If the button is pushed by you yesterday and a snowball today, does the bell ring for “the same reason” both days?
  3. Yes, since something pushed the button both days (counting you as a thing for these purposes). No, since it was only yesterday that someone pushed it. It is hard to see how these judgments can be reconciled without allowing that there were two reasons at work yesterday: someone’s pushing the button and something’s pushing it.
  4. One might ask in a similar vein whether Cats exists is false for “the same reason” in w as Dogs exist. Thinking of the world’s absolute emptiness, we want to say yes. Thinking of the lack of cats, we want to say no. It is hard to see how these judgments can both be credited without allowing that Dogs exist is false in w both because w is empty and because it is free of dogs.
  5. Now, if the falsity of an existence-claim can be overdetermined in this way, then the question arises whether one falsemaker could be in play without the other. Certainly we can imagine a nonempty world which is lacking in dogs, but I am wondering about our same old empty world w. Could there be an existence-claim Fs exist that is false there solely because w has nothing in it whatsoever — not because of any fact about the Fs in particular.
  6. This may seem hard to make sense of. If the world is empty, then a second fact obtaining in it is that it is free of Fs. And the second fact is surely another falsemaker for Fs exist. There is a gap in this argument, however. That w is empty ensures there is a fact obtaining in it about the number of Fs, only if facts about Fs are possible in the first place.



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Somewhat arbitrarily truncated!


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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
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