In trying to understand the meaning of the word 'exist', I'm asking if there is anything exists that doesn't cause effects. Or is there anything that causes effects that doesn't exist?

If not then it seems to me that existing is the same state as the state of causing effects. Existence is conventionally defined as the state of having objective reality. Perhaps having objective reality is synonymous with having an effect on something?

  • 2
    The answer as now posed is hardly answerable. You are basically asking "What is the ontological realm?" or "What is the essence of ontology?" The history of metaphysics is full of schools/theories/positions that give different answers to these questions. The idea of "everything that is, is causally effective" hints a positions of scientific reductivism : plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-reduction
    – user14511
    Nov 2, 2022 at 8:40
  • @Mr.White So is there a more fundamental essence to existing than causing effects and if so what is it? Also curious to know why you think my position is in alignment with scientific reductivism?
    – WokeBloke
    Nov 2, 2022 at 9:29
  • When you suggest having objective reality is synonymous with having an effect, do you mean these two scenarios happen to have the same referents, or that they necessarily have the same referents, i.e. are the same concepts?
    – J.G.
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:42
  • @J.G. I don't think I understand the difference between happen and necessarily in this context. I am suggesting that the state of having objective reality and the state of causing effects is the same state.
    – WokeBloke
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:54
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    Does the number 5 exist? It doesn't have any causal effects, but the sentence "there exists an odd number between 4 and 6" is true, and the number that exists is 5. Nov 2, 2022 at 16:09

4 Answers 4


A common view is to see Exists as a logical verb, rather than a theoretical one. When we say something like “snow exists”, it’s logically equivalent to the statement “something is snow”.

Whether this statement is true or not is thus a statement about the things that there are in the world, and it being true only implies a commitment to one thing being snow.

Another common view is Occam’s Razor - that we shouldn’t propose that the world contains more than it needs to than we need to understand it. This keeps things both functional and also helps guide a model of the world towards simplicity and ease of learning and empowering.

This is clearly related to the concept of existing things - we want to talk about the stuff that there is in such a way that helps makes sense of the available evidence - but it also makes sense to pull the logical terminology of existing apart from this programme of effective model building using the logic! Less successful models which talk about the stuff that exist can still be logical, and their associated pictures of the things that exist can still be coherent, even if there is disagreement and dispute about what we think the stuff of the world is. In fact, the ability to model the ontologies (the stuff that “exists”) of others is a huge step towards mutual understanding!

  • I'm not convinced "snow exists" and "something is snow" are equivalent statements. "Something is snow" is a claim of equivalence like 1 = 1. Is existing just about being equivalent to something? If so then don't circular squares exist because a circular square is a circular square? As far as I can tell though circular squares don't exist.
    – WokeBloke
    Nov 2, 2022 at 9:06
  • @WokeBloke "A circular square is a circular square" is ambiguous, meaning either "nothing that's a circular square isn't a circular square" or "at least one circular square is a circular square"; the former is vacuously true, the latter false. The latter meaning is equivalent to "a circular square exists". So "X exists" is equivalent to "something is X" as long as the latter is short for "at least one thing is X".
    – J.G.
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:04
  • @J.G. When we say one thing is X we are equating two things. Just because one thing is a circular square (specifically a circular square) doesn't mean it exists right?
    – WokeBloke
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:29
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    @WokeBloke At the risk of this turning into a debate over whether "things" have to exist, those are the things I had in mind, as when we determine the truth-values of statements of the form https://latex.codecogs.com/svg.image?\exists%20x(P(x)) Edit: sorry, that URL breaks. I don't care what people say, this SE needs MathJax.
    – J.G.
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:34
  • @J.G. Not sure what you are trying to show with that link.
    – WokeBloke
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:42

I think given our common understanding of the word "exists", what you said is possible.

Though the thing that has no causal effects would be completely unknowable. Think of an invisible, untouchable dragon floating in your room.

David Lewis talked about such a thing in his discussion of Rae Langton's scholarship on Kant (Ramseyan Humility). He calls them "Idlers", which are

those fundamental properties, if any, that are instantiated within the actual world, but play no active role in the workings of nature.


Take a soul after the person dies: It has no effect that we notice. It may have no effect that the souls of other dead people notice. We don’t know whether it exists or not, there is no evidence, but because of its nature no evidence isn’t evidence of non-existence.

I’ll rearrange your question: If something has no effect, does it exist? Since it has no effect, whether it exists or not makes no difference to anybody. Except it might exist in itself and be quite annoyed that we don’t acknowledge it’s existence (but we would never know).

Now take an alien spy drone created by some vastly superior technology. It has no effect. It just exists and spies on us. At some point it flies home, turns a switch so that it has an effect again by reporting everything it saw. Did it exist while it was spying?


Only events can cause effects. Existing is not an event.

An event occurs at one point in time. Existing occurs over a longer period.

In an event something changes from one state to another. Nothing changes during existence.

  • So since you are causing effects do you consider yourself to be an event? Don't things that exist change from one form to another?
    – WokeBloke
    Nov 2, 2022 at 9:24
  • My decisions are mental events that cause my actions. Existing things do change, but the change is the event, not the existence. Nov 2, 2022 at 11:29
  • What is your definition of exist and existence?
    – WokeBloke
    Nov 2, 2022 at 11:53
  • Just the normal dictionary definitions. Nothing special. Existence is being, not doing. Nov 2, 2022 at 13:06
  • I don't think existing is the same as doing, but I do want to know what you think is the difference between existing and not existing.
    – WokeBloke
    Nov 2, 2022 at 13:15

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