"What is there?" is a simple way to put the ontological (study of being) question. But when two people disagree on the existence of something, we run into an ontological problem, stated by Quine as: "in any ontological dispute the proponent of the negative side suffers the disadvantage of not being able to admit that his opponent disagrees with him". If I say that there is a Pegasus, I can defend that notion by saying, "if there were no Pegasus, why are we able to talk about it?". I may eventaully submit and say that Pegasus is not a flesh and blood creature somewhere in the world, but rather an idea in men's minds." My opponent, however, is not claiming that Pegasus doesn't exist as an idea, but that it doesn't exist in the world as a flesh and blood creature.
The philosopher Wyman (I'm unsure which school he's
criticizing here) comes in and fucks up our common notion of what
existence means. However, if we lose the regular meaning of the term
existence, we can still use the word 'is' to help explain the idea meant
by "Pegasus does not exist". The philosopher allows much more things to
exist, creating an odd ontology.
Quine makes absurd the notion
that Pegasus exists (even though not in flesh and blood) with the mind
experiment given here: "Take, for instance, the possible fat man in that
doorway; and, again, the possible bald man in that doorway. Are they
the same possible man, or two possible men? How do we decide? How many
possible men are there in that doorway?" To admit that each 'idea' of
the man is a separate existing entity is silly.
For what can
method can we use for our ontology? Bertrand Russell had a theory of
singular descriptions - it "showed clearly how we might meaningfully use
seeming names without supposing that there be the entities allegedly
named". The name can be used as a description of the thing named. Names
don't need objective reference to be meaningful as we can use a variable
to fulfill the role of the objective reference. When say Pegasus has
wings, I am in fact saying there is a variable (say x) and that variable
has the quality of being called 'Pegasus' and x also has the quality of
having wings. The x doesn't need to exist in order for that formulation
to be meaningful.
This problem could have been circumvented if
we noticed the difference between 'meaning' and 'naming'. This brings us
to another famous quote in this essay, so I'll just put it here.
phrase ‘Evening Star’ names a certain large physical object of
spherical form, which is hurtling through space some scores of millions
of miles from here. The phrase ‘Morning Star’ names the same thing, as
was probably first established by some observant Babylonian. But the two
phrases cannot be regarded as having the same meaning; otherwise that
Babylonian could have dispensed with his observations and contented
himself with reflecting on the meanings of his words. The meanings,
then, being different from one another, must be other than the named
object, which is one and the same in both cases."
The meaning of
the singular term is different than what its reference (the object that
the term denotes. If I work at the Daily Bugle, and I call out the name
'Peter Parker', I mean a much different thing than if I were to say
'Spider-man' because I don't know that they are the same person.
Therefor meaning is not found in the named object.
to criticise the notion of the existence of Plato's Universals. "we can
view utterances as significant, and as synonymous or heteronymous with
one another, without countenancing a realm of entities called meanings."
Therefor we can have the notion of 'red' and say of multiple objects
that there a red without admitting the existence of a universal 'red'.
are a bunch of different schools of thought concerning this stuff.
Quine goes through a few of them. The three 20th century schools of
though correspond to the three mediaeval points of view.
Realism, now logicism, "Realism, as the word is used in connection with
the mediaeval controversy over universals, is the Platonic doctrine that
universals or abstract entities have being independently of the mind;
the mind may discover them but cannot create them."
2) conceptualism, now intuitionism "Conceptualism holds that there are universals but they are mind-made."
nominalism, now formalism "echoes intuitionism in deploring the
logicist’s unbridled recourse to universals" but wants to not use
abstract entities at all.