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I have been struggling with a question for a while now and I mean to ask if a complete opposite can even exist. This arrived to me thinking that since one thing exists and can be conceived then a complete opposite must be nonexistent and inconceivable.

Please, shed light on the matter if you can.

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    How do you go about analyzing whether two things are, in fact, opposites?
    – Cort Ammon
    Dec 22, 2017 at 20:11
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    The formulation is pretty vague, but the usual argument is that to designate two things as "opposites" they have to be brought under a single concept (say, black and white are colors), which is then their common ground. Something like this is behind the dialectic triad, which ends in Fichte's synthesis, Hegel's sublation or neoplatonic unity of the opposites.
    – Conifold
    Dec 22, 2017 at 21:39
  • I suspect you have a point, As Conifold says, opposites require a triad of terms or categories. (They must be contradictory AND complementary). In everyday life this is not much of a problem but in metaphysics it becomes a major issue since the entire dialectic method depends on identifying true contradictory pairs. In my view most philosophers do this incorrectly, and this would be why metaphysics ends for them in a muddle of dilemmas and paradoxes. I'd direct you to an essay of mine but not sure about the etiquette here. Very important question, though, and a valuable one to investigate.
    – user20253
    Dec 23, 2017 at 10:55
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    A good Q, and thank goes to @Conifold for inviting dialectic stance. I'd like to go a step further with Sartre who said categorization in opposition doesn't suffice because it alone will not make B the negative of A (which is necessary in "opposition"). Rather, first you (the asker) must exist and actively be engaged in a project of seeking a non-A for this A. Under this condition the (positive) being of A is negated into nonbeing (which isn't just a pole with "-" sign, but is "nonexistence"), which gives rise to B as "opposite". Thus, in this sense it is true that B "don't exist".
    – ttnphns
    Dec 23, 2017 at 11:44
  • Can an existent have an opposite ? This is a chair : a spatio/temporal object. What is or could conceivably be its opposite ? Crudely : it exists or it doesn't. Existence of the kind that seems to interest you belongs to ontology; opposition (contrary, contradictory or whatever) belongs to logic. (And no, I haven't forgotten about the existential quantifier. I don't think this is in question precisely here.)
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 23, 2017 at 12:05

1 Answer 1

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It is difficult to analyze existence as a predicate, property or reference. It may or may not be a property, it might be a property of realities whose inverse is only a property of fictions, etc... And an overall theory of opposites requires doing so. So coming at the question from that angle is hard work probably not worth doing.

Instead, before you get to existence, just realize that one or the other properties your object definitely has probably already has the same diseases that 'existing' does, and those flaws are easier to see.

There are many dimensions along which to contrast two things, and many of those dimensions do not have a single sense of opposition.

  • Location in space, for instance: Your opposite should not be here. Could it have its center an infinitessimal distance away? Would that be 'not here'? Do the opposite positions in space at least have to not overlap? Maybe 'here' is two inches to my left. Then is the opposite two inches to my right? Is it the position on the opposite side of the Earth from the point two inches to my left? Is it he opposite position relative to some centerpoint in space?

  • Color: Maybe it is pink. According to what color wheel or radiation composition chart should I choose the opposite color? Is it forest green, or does it predominantly emit some wavelength distribution that is made up of the reciprocal energies to those that make up red light diffused with white?

  • Time: This thing exists now. When is the opposite of now? Can this thing's lifespan and its opposite overlap and still be opposites?

Only concepts have opposites, a single actual referent involves too many conceptual frameworks to avoid having some of those not defining opposition.

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  • I like this answer, but to get my upvote you’d have to reformulate it as “opposites only exist relative to a particular property, and you can’t have a meaningful opposite to some properties” instead of “opposites don’t exist.” I get the impression that that’s what you’re after anyways, but I feel like it’s unclear. Dec 23, 2017 at 12:43
  • @StellaBiderman If you get what I mean, but want to control how I express it, I think that is your problem. I also did not anywhere in this say exactly the phrase you put in my mouth. Having you criticize me for something I didn't even say is kind of offensive.
    – user9166
    Jan 3, 2018 at 18:40
  • I’m sorry for causing you so much offense. I’m not trying to control you or your speech. I just felt like you could have phrased it better. I see now that I misread your post a bit (you don’t use my quoted phrase) but I still feel like you’re implying that opposites don’t exist. Jan 3, 2018 at 18:57
  • @StellaBiderman I am not implying anything beyond what I said. I agreed that some opposites exist or I would not bother to say 'Only concepts have opposites'. I do not think there is any object in reality for which a complete opposite exists, in the sense that every property of that object is the opposite of the same property of the original object. I think I have proven the point on the question actually asked.
    – user9166
    Jan 3, 2018 at 19:03

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