Sunday, February 24, 2008

My problem with the so-called "existential fallacy"

If we're not actually talking about things, then it's not philosophy, it's just word games.

If something doesn't exist, then nothing can be truly predicated of it. The problem with the following syllogism:

All rational beings are persons.
All Martians are rational.
Therefore, some Martians are persons.

is not that I have assumed existential import, thus committing a formal fallacy. The problem is that the minor premise is false. It is false because Martians do not exist.* Therefore, nothing can truly be predicated of them.

It is not a good idea to mathematize and abstract logic to the point where we forget the primacy of being

*If we ever discover that there are Martians, I will obviously have to change my example.

1 comment:

W. said...

If you do get the chance to read the Commentary, do so. I was fortunate to take a course on Thomistic Metaphysics in the Aristotelian Tradition. The main readings for the class were Arist's work, Joseph Owens's Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, much of Aquinas's commentary, Aqinas's On Being and Essence, and then some Wippel and a few other smaller works/articles. It was a great class with great discussion and an even better Jesuit priest leading us through these grad seminars. The priest was a student of Owens and a big admirer of Gilson. Aside from all of that, he let us experience a little of what the powerful Jesuit education used to be like.