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If something white doesn't exist, at least one of things that doesn't exist is white?

Is it logically correct?

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  • If something doesn't exist how do you know it's white? Dec 8, 2023 at 19:01
  • @MichaelCarey Because you know people say "you're small like a fairy" "you're white like an unicorn"?
    – user68943
    Dec 8, 2023 at 19:03
  • Yes, makes logically sense to me...also with the implication: "(at least)one thing that doesn't exist" = "all things, that do not exist" ...whereas I try not to use (the word) "exist" in combination with "thing"...since "things persist"
    – xerx593
    Dec 8, 2023 at 19:42
  • If you use Aristotles logic (term logic) you can say "a non existent thing is white", "some non existent things (at least one) is white" Dec 8, 2023 at 22:03
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    "Something wjite does not exist" is simply "there are no white things". Nothing mysterious here... Dec 9, 2023 at 10:36

4 Answers 4

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It is risky to speak about non-existent things and their properties.

Better to make use of the possibility of our language to discriminate between a concept and it referent. And to remember that some concepts do not have referents.

Transforming your sentence accordingly you say:

  • First: Let's assume that the concept of a "white thing" does not have a referent.
  • Secondly: Then at least one referent of a concept without a referent is white. - Obviously this sentence is nonsensical.

The whole statement from your question is a linguistic trap.

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  • If nonexistent objects have no properties, is "something is white like a unicorn" or "someone is small like a fairy" semantically nonsense because unicorns are nonexistent so don't have color?
    – user68943
    Dec 8, 2023 at 19:02
  • @Collins My advice is to avoid speaking about non-existent objects. – Of yourse one say: The concept of an unicorn is the concept of a snow-white animal with a single horn on his head. Subsequently, you can the transform the problematic statement “something is white like a unicorn” into the non-problematic statement “something is snow-white”. – Forget about the unicorn.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 8, 2023 at 19:21
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This is a statement in natural language, so its meaning is ambiguous. If you did translate it to a formal language, that process would force you to remove the ambiguities.

You would probably need a predicate logic to handle this. In the logics I'm familiar with, however, you can't meaningfully talk about the properties of a non-existent object (it's not part of your universe of discourse), so you wouldn't even be able to express this idea.

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The ontologically noncommittal reading is:

  • Nothing is white.

The less noncommittal reading is as you have said: if there are nonexistent objects, or then if quantification and existence come apart in the end, then even if nothing that exists is white, there might be something that doesn't exist that's white, or even if something existent is white, there are also things that don't exist that happen to be white as well. At some point you will have to decide what you are going to use the word "existence" for, quantification or something more esoteric, but if you choose the latter route, your confusion is liable to proceed without bound.

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Note that sentence "something white doesn't exist" is slightly ambiguous. It might mean either "There is something white that doesn't exist" or "There is nothing white that exists".

In most contexts it will probably mean "There is nothing white that exists", or just "There are no white things". And with the context people will probably be able to be sure about your meaning. But there is an ambiguity.

Mathematicians tend to explicitly quantify their propositions with "for all" or "there exists" specifically to avoid this kind of ambiguity. For instance: "There exists a white thing such that some property." or: "For all white things, some property."

Here the ambiguity is even worse because you're talking about things that don't exist, and it's unclear what is meant when we give an information about things that "don't exist". For instance, dragons and unicorns and griffins are mythological animals, so they "don't exist". But they exist in our imagination, so if I say "There are no white dragons" it's unclear whether it's just a vacuous statement (dragons don't exist, so of course white dragons don't exist either) or a statement about the colour of dragons in fiction (there are no white dragons in Harry Potter, nor in the Lord of the Rings, nor in How to train your dragon, etc.).