[FOM] Fwd: invitation to comment

Robert Rynasiewicz ryno at lorentz.phl.jhu.edu
Mon Oct 10 12:54:19 EDT 2011

On Sun 09.10.11, at 11:39 PM, charlie wrote:

> 	   As a hint toward the direction I'm heading: even persons are abstract entities in the sense of their being assumptions about "sense data" (as Russell called them).  We do not encounter *people* in immediate experience, we encounter their noises, looks, smells, etc.   From this evidence, we postulate people (Russell again).  So, if one were trying to be strict about this, almost nothing would count as existing.  

Not everything we infer exists qualifies as an abstract entity.  The noises, looks, and smells of people are *caused* by people.  People exist in space and time.  That, presumably, makes them concrete.  In contrast,
it is standardly held that abstract entities have no causal powers and do not exist in space and time.  This is the basis of Benaceraff's epistemological puzzle, viz., according to the causal theory of knowledge, we are at a loss to say how we have knowledge of numbers.   Perhaps so much the worse for the causal theory of knowledge, but still there should be good reason to collapse or revise standard distinctions (abstract vs. concrete).  Perhaps what Charlie means is that even people are hypothetical entities.  But this also appears to do violence to a useful distinction.  For example, the Higg's boson is hypothetical, electrons are not.

This is not to dispute Charlie's main point:

> To me, the question of whether numbers exist is really a question about whether abstract entities exist

As for the "story" story of numbers, when we say that Holmes and Watson do not exist, we deny that they are flesh and blood existents.  We do not deny they are fictional characters.  There is a fictional character (Holmes) who is more famous than any living detective.  Fictional characters are abstract entities.  Presumably, a theory of abstract entities would tell us whether abstract entities exist on a par with concrete entities, or exist in a fashion derivative on concrete entities, or exist in some other fashion entirely.
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