The Concept of Existence: History and Definitions by Leading Philosophers

Abstract
"Philosophical discussion of the notion of existence, or being, has centered on two main problems which have not always been very clearly distinguished. First, there is the problem of what we are to say about the existence of fictitious objects, such as centaurs, dragons, and Pegasus; second, there is the problem of what we are t o say about the existence of abstract objects, such as qualities, relations, and numbers. Both problems have tempted philosophers to say that there are inferior sorts of existence a s well as the ordinary straightforward sort, and they therefore often suggest that we use the word "being" to cover both kinds but restrict "existence" to "being" of the common, non-fictitious, non-abstract sort. (Sometimes the term "reality" is proposed for "existence" or for "being.") T he problems of fiction and abstraction are different, how ever, for there are both real and fictitious abstractions. For example, the integer between two and four is real, but the integer between two and three is fictitious. On the other hand, there are both concrete and abstract fictions; for example, the winged horse of Bellerophon and the integer between two and three. Accordingly, philosophers have often dealt with the two problems in quite different ways and perhaps ought to do so. While these are the two main problems, there are others, f or example, that of what we are to say of the being of objects which have not yet begun, or have now ceased, to exist. The history of this subject, moreover, has been tangled with theological issues, to which it will be necessary to refer at certain points."
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