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I have been developing a sort of foundational basis for not merely philosophy, but all forms of human inquiry. To me it seems obvious that the proposition There is something must be true because of the principal of non-contradiction: “There is nothing” is contradictory because that proposition itself is at least one thing.

What I am more concerned with is this: When any human being starts an inquiry into anything, is it universally true that they all accept this proposition as the necessary starting point for any inquiry, or otherwise assume it subconsciously, or is there any philosopher, system of thought or inquiry which believes that this statement is either false which would mean that they would have to agree that “There is nothing” or which believes that it is true but not a necessary proposition to accept to engage in inquiry about anything, or otherwise believe that is nonsensical? I have been thinking about this for a couple months and I am almost certain that all must accept this as THE FIRST PROPOSITION for any inquiry about anything at all.

Perhaps I am missing something or I am completely abusing or trivializing language. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

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  • Interestingly, “there is something” isn’t a first order logical form sentence by itself, so there is an argument that it’s not a proposition. However, the existential idiom is key to first order logic, so I guess my question is how important the “atomic sentence” part of your question is, or whether discussion about existing things is where you want an answer to go!
    – Paul Ross
    Commented Jun 25 at 6:10
  • welcome to post modern hermeneutics.
    – andrós
    Commented Jun 25 at 6:46
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    @andrós, I do think Christianity poisons the waters of a lot of these discussions. The idea that “something exists” needs to be true in order to ground a metaphysics strikes me as very muddled thinking. But there is some interesting discussion to be had around existence as a philosophical concept - the question is, is this what OP is looking for?
    – Paul Ross
    Commented Jun 25 at 6:52
  • @PaulRoss Why would you say that it is muddled thinking? Commented Jun 25 at 6:55
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    @MattHarper, I’ll start with this: what is “something”? “Things” are the stuff of metaphysics - we aren’t sure what, or even if, any given “things” exist. The reason “something exists” seems to be metaphysically important is its conclusions, but there is a lot of metaphysics smuggled in to “something” already. Do we need to subscribe to a prior view of the logical structure of reality to accept this premise, and if so, what is that view, and do we all agree on it?
    – Paul Ross
    Commented Jun 25 at 7:03

2 Answers 2

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Yes. “There is something “ is a fundamental starting point of all inquiry. It is a more fundamental assertion than “ I think therefore I am” .

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But if, "There is something," is the conclusion of, "If, 'There is something,' weren't true, then the assertion that it's not true would still be something, so since it is self-defeating to make such an assertion, this assertion must, when made, be true," then isn't that conditional also a "starting point" of its own? Or then:

  1. There are assertions.
  2. There is inquiry.
  3. One type of assertion is existential quantification ("there is" statements).
  4. Self-defeating arguments are misguided.
  5. There are types of assertions.
  6. There are types of things (at all).
  7. Etc. ...

So consider that in set theory, it is not possible to proceed very effectively from just, "There is a set." For example, even the building-block axiom of the empty set has to both zone in on a specific set (the empty one), and then via the singleton principle "give rise to" the number 1 (or: the substrate of the number 1, among the pure sets), and "eventually" the infinite-set axiom must be brought in, and so on. Or in category theory, it is not as if everything whatsoever proceeds from one principle, "There are categories." Even general definitions of morphisms and the like would not make for a robust set(!) of category theories.

So there is another issue to address: whether a general background proposition is a substantive initial premise in arguments set against that backdrop, or if it is more a "framing device" ("There is at least one thing, this very sentence," establishes that we are engaged in existential-quantification talk). Notably, predicate functor logic eschews quantified variables so in that language-game, "There are no sentences," is not self-defeating but is not quite even a well-formed sentence of the logic in the first place. So one might reject the claim, "If something X doesn't exist, then nothing is true-of-X." One might claim that nothing whatsoever exists, but that this is so because "exists," when used in such an abstracted manner, has no stable, applicable meaning anyway.

Then, "There is X," is never the (sole) first premise of the language-game of X, whatever X may be; not even definitions of X's are sufficient such premises, but no deepest premise (if such there be) stands so alone.


Incidentally, Ayn Rand is infamous for among other things holding that, "Existence exists," is an important statement of the key identification in her system (under the schematic of, "A is A"). But here we find another subtle presupposition: can existence, as such, really be a subject that is then predicated of itself? Or then is that what it is to exist: for other things to be adequately predicated of existence-as-a-subject? Or is it more about existence being predicated of other things? Even if, "There is something," is a starting-point for this line of inquiry, it is not enough to answer that question, is it? And so don't we need extra premises just as much as we need the generic one (if we need the generic one, here, at all)?

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