I was talking to a friend, and she said: even before the Big Bang and the origin of space and time, still something existed.

That sparked the question: how would you define ‘existence’? What philosopher has found a formal definition?

  • 2
    This is a humongous question in philosophy. (here's an article on it: plato.stanford.edu/entries/existence )
    – virmaior
    Oct 19 '18 at 6:54
  • Very very difficult concept to be defined ... You can comapre two different approaches: that of Parmenides : "What Is is; for it is to be,/ but nothing it is not." In a nuthsell "Parmenides] argues with devastating precision that once one has said that something is, one is debarred from saying that it was or will be, of attributing to it an origin or a dissolution in time, or any alteration or motion whatsoever. " 1/2 Oct 19 '18 at 8:26
  • With Meinong's view about non-existence objects : "Being (or non-being) is not part of an object's nature". 2/2 Oct 19 '18 at 8:27
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    I would like to emphasise the comment of @virmaior - existence has been defined or at least discussed by every philosopher throughout history that did metaphysics/ontology. Regarding those we know of today, this includes virtually every single historical figure and all major contemporary philosophers. It may help to restrict the question to discussions of and positions on existence before the big bang, which would still be quite broad a field
    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 19 '18 at 9:59
  • On the whole I find modern philosophers very vague about existence.and cannot think offhand of any who give a clear definition. But this may be an artefact of the selection I happen to have read. .
    – user20253
    Oct 19 '18 at 11:11

Taking a Kantian view, of "interpreting existence as relation to the cognitive faculty", the nature of the existence of phenomena pre-dating any observer is inferred. That is to say, the existence of a Big Bang singularity is inferred, not a result of contemporaneous perception.

To elaborate on Kant's view, in the following quote Heidegger develops Thomas Aquinas' ontology through to Kant's.

Existere is something other than essence; it has its being on the basis of being caused by another. Omne quodest directe in praedicamento substantiae, compositum est saltem ex esse et quod est; [de Veritate 27 i Ans.8] each ens, therefore as ens creatum is a compositum ex esse et quod est, of existing and of whatness. This compositum is what it is, compositio realis; that is to say, correspondingly: the distinctio between essentia and existentia is a distinctio realis. Esse, or existere, is conceived of also, in distinction from quod est or esse quod, as esse quo or ens quo. The actuality of an actual being is something else of such a sort that it itself amounts to a res on its own account.

If we compare it with the Kantian thesis, the Thomistic thesis says - indeed, in agreement with Kant - that existence, there-being, actuality, is not a real predicate; it does not belong to the res of a thing but is nevertheless a res that is added on to the essentia. By means of his interpretation, on the other hand, Kant wishes to avoid conceiving of actuality, existence, itself as a res; he does this by interpreting existence as relation to the cognitive faculty, hence treating perception as position.

from The Distinction Between Essentia and Existentia in Scholasticism

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