Since existence is logically or conceptually prior to necessity, it would seem that "necessary existence" is an incoherent assertion. Therefore, what is the status of "necessity" as a modal claim? In particular, does it entail the subordination of existence to essence? Is a discussion of existence as actus essendi possible in the context of modality?

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    Where is the assertion existence is logically prior to necessity coming from? This is not true in modal logic or contemporary philosophy more generally. – virmaior Apr 19 '15 at 16:07

How is existence logically prior to necessity?

Mathematicians often identify something that must obey specific rules, if it exists, only to later find out that such a thing either does or does not exist, or, in the worst case, with something like cardinals between the first two orders of infinity, that it cannot be determined whether or not it exists.

This is then a case where we have modal existence independent of existence, and clearly we can have existence independent of modal existence (I need not have been born, it might have been prevented.) So I do not see where it is clear that either is logically prior to the other.

  • Only what exists can be said to be necessary. Mathematical "existence" is not an independent act of existing. What is the relevance, then, of something like the continuum hypothesis? My question is whether the existence adumbrated by necessity, is indeed existence at all. Contingency is directly related to necessity as it tends to imply artifactual existence, existence reducible to a rationally communicable intention. Your inability to see the priority of one to the other depends upon your ability to translate one in terms of the other. That wasn't my question. – Nightspore Mar 17 '15 at 9:06
  • Look at it from a point of view like Liebniz, where this is the best of all possible worlds, a perfect world limited by the capacity of each element of it to exist. In that case, reality is a compromise between necessities, and necessity is logically prior. Would you say possiblity is logically prior to existence? But necessity and possibility are logically dual -- the necessary is that which is impossible to be impossible -- so unless negation has relatively low logical priority, possiblity and necessity should have the same logical priority. – user9166 Mar 17 '15 at 14:08
  • Also, consider quantum mechanical 'existence'. The referent of a Schrodinger equation, in some sense, exists when it is required to allow a transaction to occur, and otherwise it only potentially exists. In that case, again, necessity drives existence, and things do not have to already exist in order to be necessary. I do not think you can order modes such as 'reality', 'potential' and 'necessity' logically in a sequence of entailment. – user9166 Mar 17 '15 at 16:00
  • At a truly kindergarten level humans often say 'This is necessary and does not exist, let us make it." – user9166 Mar 17 '15 at 16:02
  • Thank you for your answer and clarifications, however I must respectfully repeat that mathematical "existence", including the mathematics of quantum theory, is not what I am concerned with. As for Leibniz,his monads function as something akin to psychic atoms, themselves metaphysically basic and quite inexplicable in terms of necessity or contingency. Nevertheless I do not regard them as robustly existential either but idealized reflections of existence. You are free to translate "existence" into essentially artifactual terms, but, again, that was not my question. – Nightspore Mar 17 '15 at 20:46

Let me give a more direct answer:

Although absolute 'necessary existence' is problematic, we face 'necessary potential existence' in every financial transaction, and it makes perfect sense to us: I can buy something worth n Euros if I have (n * r) Dollars somewhere (for some r we all negotiate later). So your question is broader than your example. I don't think you can frame the question reasonable about modality in general, since potentiality is also a mode.

Lacan adopts a convention of "the alchemists' loop" which orders the modes as Image -> Reality -> Symbol -> Image, and sees necessities as symbolic (variables in equations, and therefore really equivalent to linguistic constructs) and potentials as imaginary. So we cannot directly have necessary existence because the symbol of our need only creates a reality via an image -- the needed thing might have many forms, and only some of them can be real, we need to choose which become candidates, which is an act of imagination.

As pointed out in the comment above, however, this model may apply to rational psychology, but is short-circuited by things like quantum physics, mathematics, and various cultural institutions like religious faith.

You can also make the dodge of presuming layers of reality, an essence behind existence. But I think this is just circularity in disguise. That essence has its own existential problems, with parallel solutions. So you end up with either an infinite regress, or the loop.

The 'actus essendi' is reduced to one transition along this circle. A chair is a chair because it fits a definition, until then, it has not started being a chair (the physical exists for us by being symbolized). A rule means something only when we can imagine breaking it, until then it is not yet a rule (the symbol exists for us in an imaginary example). We take actions with effects in pursuit of an idea (our chosen images become real by production.)

  • Thank you. The objection I have to the answer and comments above applies here. The "existence" of a financial transaction is not an independent act of existing. I am not familiar with Lacan's contention, but as you express it the sequence of derivations begins with the "image" which vitiates the question of existential act prima facie. Anything, any "model", that may be "short circuited" by mathematics or physics is not relevant to my question. I'm not sure what your general point is however but some of your statements are certainly intriguing, such as about "circularity in disguise". – Nightspore Mar 17 '15 at 21:02
  • A loop starts nowhere, so I am not sure that where this starts can vitiate anything... Idealists since Plato always happen to start with an image, to claim that undercuts their ability to discuss existence is just prejudicial. – user9166 Mar 18 '15 at 0:36
  • So forget finance, and consider a chair. If I do not have the idea of a chair, then there is no chair, just a collection of atoms or an oddly shaped supply of kindling. If I do have that idea, then in that chair there must be a seat, or it is not a chair. So I have a need for something to exist, but only due to an idea I have already accepted. There only must be a seat because I have the prejudice that the chair has a purpose, and is not just strange way of storing wood. Lacan's contention is that it is always this way, that modalities have to work together for meaning to adhere. – user9166 Mar 18 '15 at 0:59
  • So if I am not a Platonic idealist the only thing I can be is prejudiced? Well one of us is. As for the example of a chair, I am not discussing artifactual "existence" but the act of existing. If you do not understand the difference, then you do not understand the question. – Nightspore Mar 18 '15 at 2:11
  • Give me an example -- a real one -- of 'independent' and not 'artifictual' existence. If elementary particles at a quantum level, social conventions like money and macroscopic physical tools all totally fail to be 'the right sort of thing' to be able to really exist, then what can be? – user9166 Mar 18 '15 at 15:37

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