This question is tripping me up.

My working definition of exists is "affecting something/someone"

Consider the following frame of reference: My bedroom

I now have two categories.

Things that exist (in my bedroom):

  • Bed
  • Computer
  • Etc.

Things that don't exist (in my bedroom):

  • Zebras

Now my question is are there things that don't exist? My logic is such that I think there are 0 things that don't exist or in other words there are only things that exist. It seems this gives rise to a paradox.

If there are 0 things that don't exist then how can I come up with a list of things that don't exist that has a size greater than 0?

Since I have this list I must claim there are things that don't exist (specifically zebras in this case) which also seems to be a contradiction.

What error am I making? Thank you!

  • 1
    A huge percentage of philosophy is dedicated to answering this question or closely related questions. It's not something that can be answered in a few paragraphs. Commented May 28, 2022 at 20:02
  • @DavidGudeman Can I ask your answer to the following question: how many things do not exist?
    – WokeBloke
    Commented May 28, 2022 at 20:24
  • In other words, what is the truth value of this proposition: "There exists X such that X does not exist."
    – user4894
    Commented May 28, 2022 at 23:01
  • 1
    @RodolfoAP, we do have a language to refer to things that don't exist; we do it all the time: "Bugs Bunny likes carrots", "There is a bullet in Barney Fife's shirt pocket". Some philosophers would say that Bugs Bunny and Barney Fife's bullet do exist since we can reference them. Others would say that you can reference a thing without committing to its existence. Others would say that these are only apparent references and that there is an underlying structure to the sentences that does not refer to Bugs or the Bullet. It's a very complex philosophical issue. Commented May 29, 2022 at 6:48
  • 1
    @RodolfoAP, there are strong philosophical arguments against your position. The simplest can be outlined like this: the concept of Bugs Bunny exists, but the concept of Bugs Bunny is not Bugs Bunny. Bugs eats carrots. The concept of Bugs is an abstract object. Abstract objects don't eat anything. Commented May 29, 2022 at 7:06

2 Answers 2


I consider the question ill-posed, it is a trap of our language.

The error is to misunderstand the role of the expression "the thing X does not exist". The expression serves to negate a sentence, not to characterize an object. The expression means "There is no thing X" or "the word X has no referent".

The solution is due to Bertrand Russell. His example:

X = present king of France.

The expression is a shorthand for the sentence: "There is presently no person who is king of France."

  • This is one of many solutions, though. Commented May 29, 2022 at 3:13

There are an infinite number of things that don't exist. A square with 5 angles, an integer number that squares to 3, etc.

  • Yes, we want to be able to talk and reason about impossibilia. This a very common use of language.
    – J Kusin
    Commented May 29, 2022 at 13:10

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