My professor asked us to think about this question as we go through the unit but I am not sure what the question means. I would greatly appreciate if you could help me understand the question or give me a few examples about it.

Thank you in advance

  • 2
    I think the question could be interpreted differently depending on which word is emphasized. Is everything that exists an actual entity (as opposed to possible entities, or entities that have Meinongian subsistence)? Or: Is everything that exists an actual entity (as opposed to events, or perhaps entity as in mind independent substance as opposed to bundles of conventionally grouped properties)? Mar 24, 2019 at 0:06
  • I would guess yes, but it might help if you would share the titles of the textbook and chapter.
    – Bread
    Mar 24, 2019 at 1:10
  • 'you could' added.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Aug 27, 2020 at 9:14
  • Related question: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/54745/…
    – D. Halsey
    Sep 28, 2020 at 20:54
  • Entity coming from a prof indicates something which exists necessarily or is part of the 'real'. As opposed to something which exists contingently. Entity indicates metaphysical reality whereas contingency indicates something which only exists determinately. The 'necessary' entity is uncreated being. The contingent comes to be and passes away, like all humans.
    – user37981
    Sep 29, 2020 at 16:34

6 Answers 6


My first impression is that your professor is referring to the actualist/possibilist debate (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/actualism/). In other words, they are asking if "exists" and "actual" are different, and then if we might say that possibilia exist without being actual.

I don't think the word "entity" is a technical term, here. It might just sound better (to the professor) than "thing" or "object." I know I get "queasy" when referring to God as a thing or object, so I usually advert to "entity," though even that too seems a little off to me (in that context).


Often an entity is defined as including causality or anything which can be considered 'necessary' as opposed to humans who are 'contingent' meaning not to include causality. People are determined to exist by a 'cause' of which we are completely unaware. Contingency is marked by 'coming into existence and, at some point, passing away'. CS


Bit unclear out of context, but I would take this to mean: are "actual entities" all that exists?

As in, what sort of existence do we accord "the present King of France" or perhaps even imaginary numbers, such as the infamous square root of -2?

The logical positivists would simply say that the king does not exist and any statement about him implies the unstated falsehood "there is a present King of France such that..."

This may be helpful in logic, but not so much in ontology. I would focus on the term "actual" as opposed to "possible." I would simply take that as anything that can be "acted" upon or "acts upon" a subject. And anything "possible" can be reduced to actuality.

This would include acting upon the delusional belief that you must convey a sealed envelope to the Queen of England from the King of France. In the case of imaginary numbers, not only do we act upon them, such actions have very tangible outcomes.

Importantly, the term "actual" opens up ontology to conventions and institutions, such as a property line or "the value of money." But this is a pragmatic perspective, and I'm not sure if "actual" is a term used and well-defined in contemporary philosophy.

  • Re "imaginary" numbers: The vast majority of Real Numbers are ghostly nonentities which have never appeared in any mathematical proof or other writing, cannot be described in terms of any existing notation that has ever been formally defined, and cannot be numerically computed by any computer program that you could write. I don't think the problem of "existing" is exclusive to the complex plane.
    – Kevin
    Aug 31, 2020 at 17:33

Not sure, but I believe that your main question is an explanation of another one. If I can take your teacher's words literally, he didn't ask you to find an answer to that particular question. He asked only to think about that question. So I believe he might be asking, "Is the world we see around us real?" This might be the main question.

Now let us put these ideas together:

"Is the world we see around us real? Is everything that exists an actual entity? Think about this question."

If the second part were the main question he would have asked you to find an answer to that question. But he didn't.

From the word order of that question, it might not be about existence. That might be the reason why he put those two words (actual entity) at the end.

So I think your teacher was implying nothing else but the reality regarding this material world. That might be the reason he used the term 'everything'.

Since mind cannot apprehend reality we can't think of for an answer to that question. Just think of that question. That is the only thing we can do. If so I would say your teacher is brilliant.


The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy entry for 'entity' says:

A real thing. Entity realism is the term associated with the contemporary Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking, whereby the the issue of scientific realism is not one of the truth or falsity of scientific theories, but of the real existence of the things which scientist manipulate.

The ascii characters below have been manipulated, so the frog is an entity.

     ( >__< )
     ^^ ~~ ^^

If the arrangement was accidental, but you noticed the frog then your mind would have manipulated the arrangement into an image. So again, you could say the frog is a entity. As long as you are a scientist. ;-)

If the arrangement was accidental, and you didn't notice anything, the frog would not be an entity, for you. Someone else might notice it though. In these cases entity is the same as existence.

Ordinarily one would not think of an abstract phenomenon such as confusion as an entity. However, if confusion is the subject of an enquiry or experiment -- manipulable and manipulated -- then even it can be an entity.

But in general, no, existence does not imply entity.


The question can be rephrased as

Is there anything to which we would grant the attribute "existence" but which we would not class as an "actual entity"

and the intention of the question is to prompt you to think about what "existence" and "actual entity" mean (and do they mean the same to philosophers as to the man in the street ?).

To get you started, here is list of things. For each item or category on the list ask yourself "do I think this has existence ?" and "would I call this an actual entity ?":

  1. Emotions such as love, happiness, anger, fear
  2. My specific emotions which I am feeling right now
  3. Bodily sensations such as warmth, cold, hunger, thirst, pain
  4. My headache or my toothache (think about the last time you had either)
  5. My dreams and the objects in my dreams
  6. The street on which I live, the town where I live, the country in which I live
  7. The characters and places in my favourite work of fiction
  8. My favourite piece of music
  9. Abstract concepts such as freedom, democracy, justice
  10. The number seventeen, the square root of two, and the square root of minus two
  11. Time and space
  12. The time right now, the time one hour ago, and the time when I will wake up tomorrow
  13. The weather where I am today, the weather where I was yesterday, and the weather where I might be tomorrow
  14. My children, my grandchildren, and my great-great-great-grandchildren
  15. A square with three sides, or a blue ball that is red all over
  16. Philosophy Stack Exchange

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