1. Existent objects don't exist.
  2. There are no existent object.

It seems 1 is inconsistent and 2 consistent. Both propositions seem to declare something exists, but is there a difference in these claims? Are both of the claims meaningful?

  • (1) isn't inconsistent (it's just one sentence), nor is it necessarily a violation of the law of identity (it's not a case of A = ~A). Dec 5, 2023 at 16:38
  • @KristianBerry You mean (1) is not contradictory?
    – user68943
    Dec 5, 2023 at 16:39
  • If you split it into two sentences/a conjunction, it might be: "There are objects that exist and these objects don't exist." OTOH it might be too schematic to support a stable/determinate truth value... Dec 5, 2023 at 16:40
  • @KristianBerry It must be contradictory. Are inconsistency and contradictoriness different?
    – user68943
    Dec 5, 2023 at 16:42
  • It's not contradictory, to my knowledge anyway. Or it turns on the vagaries of existence-vs.-quantification, etc. It looks like a violation of the law of identity, but even that appearance can be controverted. Dec 5, 2023 at 16:43

4 Answers 4


This is definitely a question about existential quantification which very much is a subject of ontology. Is there a difference in these sentences?

First, note that there are two meanings of 'THERE_ARE': one declares something exists and therefore metaphysically necessitates something exists, and the other goes beyond and above and claims the object in question in present. In English, that's not so clear, but in German, there is a distinction in language between 'Es gibt' and 'Es ist'.For example:

  1. There are children. (Es gibt Kindern.) This is THERE_ARE1
  2. There are children here with us. (Es sind Kindern hier mit uns.) This is THERE_ARE2

Notice that the first refers to existential quantification in a very broad sense, perhaps directly implying metaphyiscal necessity of being. The second statement is making a very narrow claim about the existence of children who have a nearness or presence. In English, we don't express the distinction with verbs, but would require predicate adjectives instead (OK "Children exist." NOT OK "Children present".)

Now, let's reflect on your sentences:

  1. Existent objects don't exist.
  2. There are no existent object[s].

Obviously, 1 embodies a contradiction because an 'existent objects' and 'objects don't exist' have contradictory deep structure. But 2 makes sense if one recognizes that this sentence uses THERE_ARE2 and not THERE_ARE1. If one says, the box is empty, then one is saying that objects which are exist are NOT PRESENT. This difference between THERE_ARE1 and THERE_ARE2 is called polysemy, and such differences are often the source of deepities. For an entertaining explanation of deepities, watch Daniel Dennett here on YT.


The verbs "to be" and "to do" are semantically overloaded with assumptions about existence.

Verbs turned into adjectives are semantically unclear: does "an X Y" mean "a Y with character X" or "a Y which does the verb associated with X"?

Write what you mean without using either and most language confusion will disappear immediately. It is helpful to invent negated forms of words when doing this, since in standard English, one must use is not and do not as complementary verbs to negate.

The phrasing "There be / be not" is unclear. It generally means "One or more entities exist / not-exist which instantiate the set of:"

Write what you mean using the latter phrasing if that is what you mean. If you mean something else, figure out how to write it so that it clearly doesn't mean the latter phrasing.

The question of whether existence can be a characteristic at all, whether expressed as "existent X" or "X which exists" will remain. I personally agree that it cannot. The argument that it can (Meinongianism) just defines a whole new idea mostly unrelated to the common use of existence, then unhelpfully attaches the same symbol "existence" to this mostly unrelated idea. Avoid the problem by either eschewing existence as a characteristic or inventing a new verb "Meinong-exists" or verb/adjective phrase "exists/existent in the Meinongian sense" if you mean the latter.

  • "There be" as distinct from "There is" is an expression of the subjunctive.
    – J D
    Dec 5, 2023 at 18:25
  • @JD I meant it as a catch-all for conjugations thereof.
    – g s
    Dec 5, 2023 at 18:27
  • Ah. I see. Thanks.
    – J D
    Dec 5, 2023 at 18:27

Inasmuch as (1) can be paraphrased as (2), and if (2) is determinately meaningful enough (the bare nod towards "objects" makes it seem like a pre-interpreted sentence, though see about worlds empty of concrete, if not abstract, objects), then (1) is acceptable, too.

If you get hung up on the use of the concept of existence in predicate position, it will seem as though "everything exists," anything from round colors to loud numbers or what-have-you, and moreover that all these things have their incompatible properties according to the law of identity, no less ("the loud square is loud and square," for example). However, then we should have something like "the unself-identical identity is unself-identical," etc., which is pointless. Though there are some reasons (e.g. theorizing about intentional objects) to want to have existence squarely(!) in predicate position nevertheless, at least sometimes or to some extent, by and large the replacement of the theory of existence-as-a-property by the theory of existence-via-quantification is sound.

Further reading from the SEP (highly recommended in advance of any further questions about the subject(s)):

  1. Existence
  2. Nonexistent Objects
  3. Possible Objects
  4. Impossible Worlds
  5. Fictional Entities
  6. The Paradox of Fiction
  7. Dialetheism
  8. Negation
  9. Contradiction

Existent objects don't exist = If x exists then x does not exist (leads to a contradiction but itself isn't a contradiction).

We must define a essential property that all existent things have, let's call it B (for being) without B nothing can exist

So the claim nothing exists can be written as:

Ax(~Bx), which, since minus B nothing can exist, nothing exists.