Let's consider a chair in a room. We make it separate from the whole room because it has different properties. But at a fundamental level, there are only atoms which make up the air, chair, walls of room etc and we may still separate the chair because it has a pattern of atoms which has different properties. Since the pattern we specialize out of the whole room of atoms depends on our usability, it is arbitrary. Therefore

  1. the chair doesn't exist as a separate thing fundamentally

  2. But still, we know that the chair exists as a part of the whole collection of atoms.

My question is that what aspects of chair fundamentally exist?

My crude analysis is that the distinctness property of chair is not fundamental but the physical properties such as mass, size of chair exist fundamentally. So the chair exists fundamentally with those surviving properties. Correct me if I am wrong.

  • 1
    I'm not fully following your question, but it sounds like you're trying to understand how particular objects exist? under the assumption that since their constituents are no different than the universe in which they exist that this means they don't have any separability (or something to this effect). But then what is the question about philosophy you have that you want our help with?
    – virmaior
    Nov 18, 2017 at 3:00
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    Probably depends on what you mean by 'fundamentally exist'. I mean, what is the difference between existing and fundamentally existing?
    – M. le Fou
    Nov 18, 2017 at 3:36
  • Fundamentally the chair is over 99% empty space. Fundamentally it is the electromagnetic forces between the atoms and molecules that give it the illusion of solidarity. Your sensual perceptions are unable to perceive the electromagnetic forces but perceive them as solid matter and define matter in terms that you perceive. Nov 18, 2017 at 7:00
  • @virmaior is on the point. I cant make perfect sense of an object existing without having separability. Can you provide a better metaphor or some additional resources where I can make sense of the issue?
    – user29084
    Nov 18, 2017 at 9:37
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    The only what exists fundamentally is this local, concrete opening of the chair, the occurence of it, aka the phenomenon. It is not true that we discern the chair from its background because it has properties. The other way around: the chair has properties because of its breakaway from the surrounding. This incident is due to the consciousness' negation of the Being (dense, undifferentiated facticity of the "here givenness"). Atoms and other material stuff are just our hypothetical knowledge, i.e. just another sort of facticity.
    – ttnphns
    Nov 20, 2017 at 11:30

3 Answers 3


This has a startling similarity to the question about the Argo (in the story of Jason and the Argonauts); if a ship on a long journey eventually has every single part of it replaced along the way, is it still the same ship?

The cells in your body are not the same set of cells that were in it 7 years ago. Are you a different person now?

I'd put to you that the question is one of categorisation; what you refer to as a chair, you do so because the common conceptual framework you share with those around you (language) has a concept for this object that can be condensed down to a single syllable and word.

Separating or combining objects at the molecular level (while and engaging intellectual exercise) is fundamentally flawed because we don't see molecules. What we see and interact with is objects. In some ways, a chair is a chair because we all agree it is. Is it indivisible from the rest of the room in which it is placed? on some levels the answer is no but I can pick it up, take it out of the room, place it on the top of a rocket and launch it out into space. It's still a chair, but it's no longer in the room, or even on the Earth.

You could replace each of the legs in sequence. You could re-stuff it. You could irradiate it, changing some of the molecules inside it, but it's still a chair. You could smash it, then it's a broken chair.

Language, when you get right down to it, is about classification of perception. That we have better understanding and tools than we had in the past doesn't change what we can see with the naked eye, and what we can build and touch with our hands.

There is a theory in science called the Boltzmann Brain. This says that it's statistically more likely that we're just brains created with the memories of the past linked to a stream of inputs for the duration of our existence than we are real flesh and blood people. Why? Because that would be a simpler construct than an Earth that has allowed us to evolve on it over 4.5 Bn years of existence.

Let's assume that's the case; does the chair still exist? It does in our minds, and that's all we can claim in the real world as well.

The chair may well exist objectively. It may well (through wave theory or the holographic paradigm) be an indivisible part of the complete universe. It may also exist as nothing more than a memory in our minds with ongoing stimulus convincing us of its reality. Regardless of which of these is true, the only awareness we have of the chair is as an object that our senses have told us exists, and as such it's real for us. That's all we're ever likely to be able to prove. It's persistence of reality (the fact that it's still there when we get home from work for instance) may lead us to be able to infer that it's objectively more than an object in our memory, but can you be sure?

  • Okay, one last attempt to pin this down. Cant the object exist as a part of the whole. Consider a meter scale for example, we would like to say that the part of scale from 20cm to 50cm exists even though it is not objectively separable right?
    – user29084
    Nov 20, 2017 at 22:15
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    Sure; it can and from some frames of reference probably does. But, we see it as separate because that's how our current frame of reference and perceptive abilities work. The difference between a chair and the part of the scale on a ruler is that you can move the chair about; the part of the ruler is always fixed according to the frame of reference of the ruler
    – Tim B II
    Nov 20, 2017 at 22:21
  • I agree. Separability only depends on our perceptive abilities. But does the lack of separability rule out the existence of the object? (in this case part of ruler from 20cm to 50cm)
    – user29084
    Nov 21, 2017 at 8:39
  • No, because we can always expand our perceptions to allow for a new paradigm within objective reality...
    – Tim B II
    Nov 21, 2017 at 8:53
  • Can you provide an example on how we develop a new paradigm?
    – user29084
    Nov 21, 2017 at 8:58

For Middle Way Buddhism no aspect of the chair would fundamentally exists. There would be no such thing as 'fundamental existence'. What is fundamental would transcend the existence/non-existence distinction. If this were not so then existence would be inexplicable without the use of an infinity of turtles. The trick would be not to reify objects.

Here's Colin McGinn wresting with the problem as a teenager. It has no solution in Western thought.

“…[P]icture me sitting on a bench staring at a British mailbox on a blustery spring day in Blackpool. I had just been reading about the questions of substance and qualities, and was suitably transfixed. Is an object the sum of its qualities or does it have an existence that is some way goes beyond its qualities? The mailbox had a variety of qualities - it was red, cylindrical, metal, etc. - but it seemed to be more than just the collection of these; it was a thing, a “substance,” that had these qualities. But what was this substance that had those qualities? Did it lie behind them in some way, supporting them like the foundation of a house? If so, what was this underlying thing like - what qualities did it have? If it had some qualities, wouldn’t there be the same problem again, since it would also have to be distinct from these qualities? But if it had no qualities, what kind of thing could it be? How could these be something that had no qualities? So maybe we should say that there is nothing more to a mailbox than the qualities it manifests. And yet how can an object be just a set of abstract qualities? Isn’t it more solid and concrete than that? … I had a vague mental image of a grey amorphous something that constituted the underlying mailbox, to which its various manifest qualities mysteriously were attached… Yet as soon as I replaced this fuzzy image with the qualities by themselves, trying to think of the mailbox as just a “bundle of qualities,” the object itself seemed to disappear.”

Colin McGinn The Making of a Philosopher

  • I completely agree with Colin McGinn. My worry can be summarized as: Can the separability at the atomic level also be considered as a quality of object? If so, since it has no separability at the atomic level, can it exist as a bundle of remaining properties?
    – user29084
    Nov 19, 2017 at 13:22
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    It has no solution in Western thought is basically mistaken. There are at least three groups of philosophers who have solutions this problem along this line in Western philosophy: (1) Pre-Socratics, (2) Epicureans, and (3) Modern reductionists.
    – virmaior
    Nov 19, 2017 at 13:45
  • @virmaior Can you provide more details please? I'm not able to proceed any further on my own.
    – user29084
    Nov 19, 2017 at 14:59
  • I'd also like to know who in Western thought has solved this problem and how they did it. McGinn still has not solved it decades after he wrote this.
    – user20253
    Nov 20, 2017 at 12:37

Existence has different meanings for different things. There's no trivial test to assess the existence of a rock and an equation. This answer is based on my current writings, you can check profile for references and a draft for a theory of interaction. Check also solipsism and George Berkeley.

Therefore a good approach (the best, although a bit difficult to grasp for most people) is related to the systems theory: systems are subjectively-defined sets of things with inputs and output channels. If you exite an input channel, you get an output content, following a causal mechanism. That is called interaction, being you the subject and the chair the object. The systems theory would glob an equation and a chair as plain systems.

So, if you push the chair (input energy to it), it moves (its atoms distribute such energy, and output kinetic energy). That's a system for you. But if there's a pillow attached to the chair, you will also move it: in such case, your definition of chair includes the pillow. But if you want to sell it perhaps you will remove the pillow. Now, your definition of chair is absolutely different.

Then, it is you that define what is the chair depending on the interaction. In other words, existence is subjective. The subject (you) defines what is the object depending on the interaction. What is a tree? Is water part of it? You define it depending on the interaction. What is a cloud? You the subject defines it. The boundaries of a cloud for you will always be different than those detected by a weather satellite.

Therefore, what you say is completely right: an object system (a thing) has no physical boundaries. It is the subject that defines the object depending on the interaction. It exists for you if you can interact with it (take into account that Einstein exists for you due to he interacted with some people, and some chain of interaction reached you, carrying the information about his existence). But if you discard the information, and since he's not able to interact with you, he doesn't exist.

Then, existence is subjective. There's no such thing as objectivity, except as a communication ideal.

  • So does that imply nothing exists objectively? Cant the object exist as a part of the whole. Consider a meter scale for example, we would like to say that the part of scale from 20cm to 50cm exists even though it is not objectively separable right?
    – user29084
    Nov 20, 2017 at 22:15
  • @Akhil , right. Several philosophers consider objectivity as a shared subjectivity, including relativity: your experience is not really simultaneous to the one of a person talking in front of you. Regarding the scale, that's also correct. You can separate a part of the scale, but the quantum relationships, forces, etc. still exist, but in lower levels. Objects are part of our perception, they don't exist at a quantum level.
    – RodolfoAP
    Nov 22, 2017 at 3:38
  • So what you are saying is that relationships exist at a fundamental level but objects dont exist. Am I right? If so can you suggest where I can get more analysis about this?
    – user29084
    Nov 23, 2017 at 7:14

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