If you came here looking for the meaning of existence, you’ll be sorely disappointed. In fact, I plan to discuss the meaning of “existence.” That is, what does “existence” mean? What do we mean when we say something “exists?” Even though most of us have an intuitively clear idea of what we’re saying, the truth is when we try to put it into words our intuition fails and all we’re left with is incoherent mumbling. I will propose several solutions and then see how each one of them fails miserably. Then I will offer my own solution, which will probably also fail miserably when people start commenting on it. We will all end up a little wiser and more confused than ever.
The first thing one comes up with when trying to define “existence” is saying that something exists if something “is” or “is the case.” As promising as that solution may look, the truth is it is circular. That something “is,” “exists” or “is the case” means exactly the same. So we’re right where we started.
Another possible solution is saying something “exists” if it has a position in space (or space-time, depending on how relativistic you’re feeling that day.) Of course, an electron can have several positions at once, so maybe it would be better to define it as having some positions in space-time, which would also account for macroscopic objects. This seems to work for most particles, but how about space-time itself? Does it exist? Not according to this definition. Therefore, we would have a number of particles that exist inside something which does not.
Yet another idea: how about defining “existence” as “something that is allowed by the laws of physics?” This way both space-time and particles would exist and so would we. Since our mental states also seem to be allowed by the laws of physics, “love” would also exist according to the definition. However, how would we find the laws of physics? They would be those that apply to things that exist. And what are those? Things that behave according to the laws of physics. The definition is circular. Oh well.
This raises yet another question. In quantum mechanics, for example, some people argue that electrons don’t really exist: what exists is the Dirac field. Similarly, one can make the argument that space-time and fields do not really exist: that there is only the mathematical framework in which they arise. I think this is a different kind of “existence” which refers to which entity is more fundamental, so I will tackle this elsewhere.
Now my solution. I believe the only way out of this conundrum is modal realism. According to modal realism, every possible world is as real as this one. Therefore, when we say something exists, all we are saying is something “belongs in this world.” Existence, then, becomes as problematic as saying something happened “here” and “now.” It just denotes an element of the set of possible worlds. By allowing the “reality” of everything, we have solved the problem of the existence of the “something.”
Of course, I am convinced there will be a myriad of problems with my view that I haven’t considered and I am more than willing to hear them. Let the bashing begin!