I notice that people say each object exists physically or mentally, but not both physically and mentally. Can an object exist both physically and mentally?

“he suggests that if the greatest possible being exists in the mind, it must also exist in reality, because if it existed only in the mind, then an even greater being must be possible—one who exists both in mind and in reality. Therefore, this greatest possible being must exist in reality.”

I got a doubt from Anselm’s ontological argument.

  • What do you mean by an object existing mentally ?
    – armand
    Jul 3, 2021 at 8:14
  • @armand an object existing in one’s mind
    – user9383
    Jul 3, 2021 at 8:33
  • Like someone thinking about the object ? But in that case it is totally possible for me to think about an object that exists physically like my cup of coffee.
    – armand
    Jul 3, 2021 at 8:35
  • @armand I mean an object existing both in one’s mind and in reality.
    – user9383
    Jul 3, 2021 at 8:42
  • Hi, in general I'd say no: the physical object has some "reality" to it, but our mental image of it is a completely separate entity (separate enough that we can manipulate it mentally without affecting the "original" physical object). However, in the case of God, Anselm argues that existing both as a mental and physical entity is superior to existing purely as one or the other, and hence that God must have that property. But to be clear, he is only making that argument for a being having "extremal" properties, not for a normal object.
    – Fox Mulder
    Jul 4, 2021 at 17:01

3 Answers 3


If an object exists (= exists physically) then one may create a name which refers to the object. The name exists mentally, it is a mental construction.

If a name exists mentally, then it does not necessarily refer to an existing object. E.g. consider the name "Emma, the unicorn".

Hence it is recommended to distinguish between objects and names. In many cases, but not always, a name refers to an object.

In my opinion Anselm's error is to mix up names and objects.


Any monist* would preemptively reject the phrase that indicates the distinction in "exists both in mind and in reality" because it indicates a mind-body dualism.

So, is a thought an object itself? A thought exists; it is experienced and formed by the mind. Whatever the distinction between physical and non-physical, it simply might be that we currently call non-physical all the things that we don't understand.

Lastly, the very distinction between what is and isn't physical is murky in post-Newtonian physics (See: Noam Chomsky - Physical vs. Non-physical ). Things are not solid objects on a certain abstract level of physics (i.e. point particles lack spatiality).

*- an idealist, or a reductive materialist.


We have sets of interactions. Unifying them into persistent units we call objects, is a process of mental shorthand to make predictions more tractable.

There can be stable co-occurrences of the outcome of repeated interactions, that is all. Like 'chair', our definitions of objects are about use, modes of life, and about how something relates to us, rather than recognising essences.

Edited to add: Money is a good example of something that exists both physically and mentally. See discussion here What determines the value of money?

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