Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Whose Existence? A Deflationist Compromise to the Fregean/Neo-Meinongian Divide

Topics: Philosophical logic, Philosophy of language, Philosophy of mathematics
Keywords: Deflationism, existence, Frege, Meinong


The dispute between the Fregean and the Neo-Meinongian approach to existence has become entrenched: it seems that nothing but intuitions may be relied upon to decide the issue. And since contemporary analytic philosophers clearly are inclined towards the intuitions that support Frege’s approach, it looks as if Fregeanism has won the day. In this paper, however, I try to develop a compromise solution. This compromise consists in abandoning the assumption shared by both Fregeanism and Neo-Meinongianism, namely that the notion of existence adds something to the content of a statement. To the contrary, we should think of existence as a redundant notion. In other words, I will argue that we should be deflationist about existence. Moreover, the kind of deflationism I propose relies on what I call the existence equivalence schema, a schema which follows the blueprint of the well-known truth equivalence schema. From such a perspective, we can say that Fregean philosophers rightly deny the status of a discriminating property to existence; and, conversely, Neo-Meinongians, too, rightly reject the view that existence is captured by quantification or expresses a universal property of objects. Finally, the argument that we should take a deflationist approach to existence builds upon an analysis of natural language (general) existential statements and their intuitive entailment-relations.


There are few problems in philosophy on the solution of which there seems to be an overwhelming consensus. One of these exceptions is the interpretation of the notion of existence: within contemporary (one should perhaps add analytic) philosophy, almost everyone seems to follow Frege’s approach. Existence, according to this view, is essentially captured by particular, so called ‘existential’ quantification. Or, in other words, existence expresses the second-order property of a concept, namely that it has at least one instance. In their statistical survey about what philosophers believe, Bourget & Chalmers (2014) draw attention to other, sometimes surprising, exceptions. Regrettably, however, they have not included in their survey the problem of existence. But they do record a consensus with respect to the truth of classical logic, which, arguably, embeds a given view of existence, i.e. Frege’s.


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