Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

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Justintruth
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Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Justintruth » Sun Aug 21, 2016 6:04 pm

Quine famously declared that the problem of ontology was an answer to a simple question "What is there?"

I believe that this is exactly wrong and has had disastrous consequences for analytic philosophy.

It is possible to consider "what" something is and when you do, you consider its "nature". You study nature when you ask "What is there?" and the answer is a form of knowing called "natural science". "Science" because it is knowing and "natural" because it is about "what" is i.e. about "nature".

But it is possible at any time to turn your attention from "what is" and consider instead "that it is". When you do this you are turning your attention from "what" it is to "that" it is, or, in other words, you are turning your attention from its nature to its being. This is because "being" means just "that it is". When I say "that it is" I am referring not to "what" it is but to the fact "that" it is. You are turning from the nature of what something is to a consideration of its being.

That consideration is in fact ontology and is therefore much better defined the old way as the study of being as being. In fact Quine is not only wrong but almost opposite the truth as the study of ontology is defined by distinguishing it from the study of what is. It is the opposite (in a sense) to "what is". Opposite in the sense that it is studying "that it is" instead of "what it is".

The statement that ontology can be reduced to a question of "what there is" is a simple confusion of ontology with natural science. Ontology cannot be the question "what there is" because questions about what there is are questions about nature. Instead ontology is a consideration of being and therefore is not natural science.

From this we get a host of confusions: for example, confusion over the reality of qualia or the antimony between genuine religion and science or the confusion that fundamentalism (the earth was formed 5000 years ago and did not evolve etc) is religion at all.

As an example consider that fundamentalism is not religious at all but a form of natural science because it proposes to describe a knowledge of what is. It should not be taught in religion class except to illustrate its fallacy and to show why it is not religious. It also should also should not be taught in a science class except as a baseless fallacy - not because it is "not science" - but rather because it is exactly science and therefore subject to the standards of science and therefore a very bad science and completely wrong and scientifically discredited given the abundant scientific evidence against it and lack of evidence for it.

But there is no way to parse all of this and a lot more without rejecting Quine's definition and going back to a study of being as being and then understanding the relationship between ontology and religion.

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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Wyman » Mon Aug 22, 2016 2:42 am

When Quine asked 'What is there?' he was asking 'What exists' or perhaps 'What are we justified in believing exists?'. So I cannot see how he differs from you. He is speaking of the old question of 'being' and 'existence' when he speaks of ontology. The quote comes from 'On What there Is' where the discussion is just that, what objects or entities ought we admit to exist. He creates several characters in the essay who maintain differing ontological commitments and theories, which he argues against. One of them is named 'Wyman.'

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Immanuel Can
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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Immanuel Can » Mon Aug 22, 2016 9:47 am

I've long believed that "fundamentalism," at least the way it gets thrown around today, is a silly and misleading word. It begs the question, "Fundamentally WHAT?" since any belief can be held "fundamentally."

Islam has "fundamentalists" who kill people. But Mennonite "fundamentalists," or Quaker "fundamentalists" are pacifists absolutely, and kill nobody. Jewish "fundamentalists" come in different varieties, and they take different stands on questions like the status of Israel, so there's no monolithic oneness even within that tradition. And I once attended a keynote lecture, at a secular conference, the topic of which was "Atheist fundamentalism." It made quite a good case, really.

A fair assessment is that any belief can be a kind of "fundamentalism." It depends only on whether it has a core of "basics" to which people hold. And "fundamentalism" isn't all bad, if the "fundamentals" to which one is committed happen to be good. That remains to be shown, of course, but it reveals that the word isn't telling us enough.

So it's an adjective with no noun, really: a descriptor with no referent.

When speaking of "fundamentalism" we would perhaps be more wise not to do so as a merely general term, but rather nuance it with an appropriate noun, as in "Fundamental __________-ism." Or we should just not bother with it.

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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Justintruth » Mon Aug 22, 2016 7:46 pm

[quote="Wyman"]When Quine asked 'What is there?' he was asking 'What exists' or perhaps 'What are we justified in believing exists?'. So I cannot see how he differs from you.

RESPONSE: My opinion : Ontology can be summed up in one question "What do you mean when you say "that" something is"?
Quine's opinion: Ontology can be summed up in one question "What is there?"

Those are very different definitions and very different questions. The latter is a very good definition of natural science. Its an investigation of "what is" i.e. it is an investigation of nature, the resulting knowledge is "natural science". Ontology on the other hand is the study of being and is therefore not strictly speaking the study of nature. It is defined, in fact, by its distinction from a study of nature. To put it simply: When you consider "what is" you are not considering "that it is". You are considering "what it is" not "that it is". The latter is ontology. The subject of ontology is an investigation into what we are referring to when we say *that* something *is*. It is not a consideration of "what is". What is, is almost irrelevant to ontology.

As an example of a study of "what is" consider the question of whether the Higgs Boson exists. Clearly it was trying to clarify what is. And clearly that is natural science not ontology, On the other hand a study of whether being means "that it appears" or is more or other than that is an example of ontology.

Whyman: He is speaking of the old question of 'being' and 'existence' when he speaks of ontology. The quote comes from 'On What there Is' where the discussion is just that, what objects or entities ought we admit to exist.

RESPONSE: I agree with your characterization of what he is saying and where he says it completely. But how is that different than what natural science is doing? Natural science just did this big test to see if we ought to admit that the Higgs particle exists. That investigations is an example of a natural science precisely because it is trying to answer "what is". Is the Higgs particle part of what is? That was the question. Is the large hadron collider a tool to do ontology? Or was the large hadron collider not trying to answer "what is" somehow? I think it was trying to answer, in part, "what is", specifically whether to include the Higgs particle in the set of "What is" and I also think it was not doing ontology it was doing the natural science called physics.

Ontology proceeds by trying to understand being itself, the fact "that" something is, not "what" is. Being not nature = ontology. Look at the word: Onto - ology. Being - ology. That it is - ology.

The translation of the Latin root of our word nature, natura, into ancient Greek is physis, not ontos. Ontology is not physics is what I mean just by using the history of the words (a bad way to demonstrate I know but I use it to show you what I am saying)

Don't know how to make my position clearer with out repeating myself again.

I really think he just got it backward.

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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Terrapin Station » Mon Aug 22, 2016 8:19 pm

Justintruth wrote:You are turning from the nature of what something is to a consideration of its being.
Now, if you could only explain what the heck the difference between the two is supposed to be.

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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Terrapin Station » Mon Aug 22, 2016 8:59 pm

Justintruth wrote:My opinion : Ontology can be summed up in one question "What do you mean when you say "that" something is"?
Quine's opinion: Ontology can be summed up in one question "What is there?"
Stated that way, it at least makes some sense as a distinction, but my problem with it is that it's always befuddled me why "What do you mean when you that 'that' something is" would befuddle anyone so that they'd need to do philosophy about it. I can't quite figure out what they'd be confused or unsure about.
The latter is a very good definition of natural science. Its an investigation of "what is" i.e. it is an investigation of nature, the resulting knowledge is "natural science".
The distinction between natural science and philosophy is the methodology, not the subject matter. In a nutshell, science focuses on experimental methodology. Philosophy focuses on analytical methodology.
Ontology on the other hand is the study of being and is therefore not strictly speaking the study of nature.
Although since there is nothing but nature, we can't really study anything but nature.
On the other hand a study of whether being means "that it appears" or is more or other than that is an example of ontology.
That just seems like you don't know how to write sentences in English, really.
Ontology proceeds by trying to understand being itself,
What the heck is there to understand there, though? It just seems like we're "playing as if we're retarded" or something at that point, or "pretending we're pilly toddlers" (ala endlessly asking "Why?" just to aggravate mom). Just what is the issue there?

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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Justintruth » Tue Aug 23, 2016 8:43 am

I agree that the term as you use it is meaningless. I am using it a different way.

I agree that there are secular as well as religious fundamentalists. Some secular fundamentalists hold beliefs that are generated in the same way that religious fundamentalists generate their beliefs. Like the UFO community, or the flat earth people, or the conspiracy theorists. They are very similar to religious fundamentalism but they are not religious. But there are also some genuine scientists who are secular fundamentalists. They have a different creation story but some of them still hold it fundamentally. It seems to me that science has the evidence on its side and is accurately describing what is - to the extent that it is successful.

But my point is simply that this has nothing to do with ontology. The investigation of what is, is natural science. There are religious fundamentalists and secular fundamentalists that hold beliefs that are not generated in the same way as scientists do. But both kinds of beliefs can be held fundamentally. And neither is doing ontology. I am not saying they don't have an ontology but they are not actively doing it. They are scientific theorists studying what is and not trying to analyze the meaning of its being.

When Einstein said "God does not play dice" he was illustrating his point tongue in cheek by adopting a fundamentalist attitude. The joke was that it was him. No one really believed he held that statement up as evidence. He was just illustrating his point and making a joke because his scientific credibility was so high that it was actually a little funny to hear him say that. Still, his actual belief that quantum mechanics was wrong may have been fundamentalist in nature. It certainly wasn't evidence based.

You wrote: Islam has "fundamentalists" who kill people. But Mennonite "fundamentalists," or Quaker "fundamentalists" are pacifists absolutely, and kill nobody.

Some Moslems are pacifists and some Mennonites and some Quakers murder.

You Wrote: "....there's no monolithic oneness even within that tradition."

Yea, but there is no common monolithic oneness in the fears of all paranoids either. That does not mean that paranoia does not exist.

I think that there is a common ground in all of these fundamentalists systems. It is a way of understanding the result of a natural investigation either well done, as in genuine science, or possessed of the epistemic malfunction that is also a common ground for most of fundamentalism. In fact, one needs to do ontology to define fundamentalism this way and that was not my intent here.

My intent was simply to state that investigating "what is" is not ontology. It is natural science.

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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Justintruth » Tue Aug 23, 2016 8:47 am

Terrapin Station wrote:
Justintruth wrote:You are turning from the nature of what something is to a consideration of its being.
Now, if you could only explain what the heck the difference between the two is supposed to be.
In front of me is my computer case. It is black with a grey boundary. It has a strap and several compartments. It is made out of a fabric and is not a hard case. All of these describe what my computer case is. Now I tell you that my computer case is. That last statement is the consideration of its being the former are natural descriptions.

Do you get that? One considers "what is" the other "that it is".

Does that help?

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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Justintruth » Tue Aug 23, 2016 9:20 am

You Wrote: ".... it's always befuddled me why "What do you mean when you that 'that' something is" would befuddle anyone so that they'd need to do philosophy about it."

Yea, my wife says that to do philosophy you have to be capable of thinking about things way more than you should.

You wrote: I can't quite figure out what they'd be confused or unsure about.

Heidegger, in Being and Time I think, has a good description of how that happens. In a way you need to study the subject of ontology to even see that there is a problem there. You just start asking yourself, "OK, I am saying its simple so what do I mean by it?" It then turns out not to be so simple. Take "red" for example. Its easy to imagine what you are saying about something. Ok, there are issues but what are you saying when you say something "is""? You are not saying it just "appears". No you are saying it "actually is". So what do you mean?

You wrote: The distinction between natural science and philosophy is the methodology, not the subject matter.

I am talking specifically about ontology. Not all philosophy. Still, I think that ontology, as you say, does not have the same methods as science. But also the subject matter is different - at least on some readings of the phrase "subject matter". There is good work done at MIT in philosophy in possible worlds and ways of reference. Surely that says nothing about what actually is. When you describe "what is" you are over in the science department.

You wrote: In a nutshell, science focuses on experimental methodology.

That is wrong. There is the whole area of theoretical physics. Its not just experimental.

You wrote: We can't really study anything but nature.

An interesting point. But even if we can't why not say that you can't actually do ontology. All you can do is science. I don't agree with your statement that we can only study nature. We can turn our attention to considering what we mean when we say something is and that reflection can have results. Not scientific results. They won't tell you what is at all.

About my statement "On the other hand a study of whether being means "that it appears" or is more or other than that is an example of ontology." you wrote: "That just seems like you don't know how to write sentences in English, really.

I think it just means you don't understand what I am saying. Problem for me. I will try to say it another way.

Ontology proceeds by trying to understand being itself,

You wrote: What the heck is there to understand there, though? It just seems like we're "playing as if we're retarded" or something at that point, or "pretending we're pilly toddlers" (ala endlessly asking "Why?" just to aggravate mom). Just what is the issue there?[/quote]

Well, I am not going to argue with you on this. Based on my experience you are wrong but I don't want to get into an ontological discussion with you- - at least in this thread. Take a course or read some ontology? I am just making a simple point. Ontology is not natural science. If it can't be done, or there is nothing to it fine, that's your opinion. But why muddy the water. Why not just say ontology doesn't mean anything, or all there is to say of anything is "It just is". But let's just say that then, and not say that ontology is summed up in saying "what is". That confuses ontology with natural science.

I am making a specific point.

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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Terrapin Station » Tue Aug 23, 2016 1:16 pm

Justintruth, just so you know, I have graduate degrees in philosophy and one of my areas of concentration is ontology. That doesn't result in me just playing along with things, however, or not shying away from iconoclasm with respect anything, etc., especially since philosophy hasn't turned out to be my career--it's not as if I need to take a particular attitude towards anything or fear being excommunicated. And one thing I'm not very fond of is continentalism, including Heidegger, whom I've always felt is a bunch of nonsensical crap, really.

At any rate, so I've studied philosophy for decades, with a heavy concentration on ontology (although with a concentration on analytic ontology), and I've read Heidegger and plenty of other continental authors--although I wouldn't say that I necessarily got much out of Heidegger, but I'd say there's not much there to get (rather than attempt to just make up for oneself out of his dadaist balderdash).
Justintruth wrote:You just start asking yourself, "OK, I am saying its simple so what do I mean by it?" It then turns out not to be so simple.
I couldn't disagree more with this. There's nothing complicated about saying that something exists. If someone can't grasp what that amounts to, there's something wrong with them, and it should be inexplicable how they can grasp anything.
Take "red" for example. Its easy to imagine what you are saying about something. Ok, there are issues but what are you saying when you say something "is""? You are not saying it just "appears". No you are saying it "actually is". So what do you mean?
Appearance is an "is," by the way. If something appears to be x, then it exists as an appearance of an x at least. Just what the nature of x is as an existent is part of looking at what there is--what sort of "thing" is it, what is it made of, what are its properties, etc. Hence why the supposed distinction you're making doesn't really amount to anything.
I am talking specifically about ontology. Not all philosophy.
As if some philosophy has a different methodology? Again, the difference between it and the sciences is its methodology. That doesn't somehow only go for the "parent" field and not any subfields (whatever that would amount to--the idea would be nonsense). That means that the methodology of ontology, epistemology, aesthetics, etc. is different than the methodology of physics, chemistry, archaeology, etc., since the former set is philosophy and the latter set is science.
There is good work done at MIT in philosophy in possible worlds and ways of reference. Surely that says nothing about what actually is.
That comment makes no sense in my opinion. First off, if one takes a Lewisian view (a la David Lewis), one is quite literally a realist on possible worlds; one believes those possible worlds exist as real things. (And by the way, a parallel to that in the sciences would be the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.) But even if one isn't a realist on possible worlds (as I certainly am not; I think the many worlds interpretation is nonsense, too, by the way), one would approach possible worlds talk as an examination of possibility and counterfactuals, at least as they obtain via how we think about them, or on the "next level," as one believes they obtain, whatever one takes possibilities to be, exactly, outside of simply how we think about them, but where that's limited to actual-world realism. That is about "what actually is."
When you describe "what is" you are over in the science department.
Your approach to describing it is what makes the difference instead.
That is wrong. There is the whole area of theoretical physics. Its not just experimental.
I didn't say "just experimental." I said that it focuses on experimental methodology. I choose my words carefully. You need to read them carefully. Theoretical work in the sciences also focuses on the experimental, in that both (a) it often incorporates experimental work in its background, and (b) it is oriented towards what we'd at least theoretically look at for at least indirect experimental provisional verification of the theory, even if we don't know at the moment just how we'd be able to carry out those experiments.
An interesting point. But even if we can't why not say that you can't actually do ontology.
Why in the world would we say that doing ontology requires there being something other than nature?

And what would we call looking at nature, focusing on the most general, abstract way we can do that, via the methodology of philosophy? (We already have a name for that, by the way--"ontology.")
I don't agree with your statement that we can only study nature. We can turn our attention to considering what we mean when we say something is and that reflection can have results. Not scientific results. They won't tell you what is at all.
Us, our psychologies, what we mean when we say something, etc. aren't part of nature?? If we exist, if meaning exists, etc., that's not part of what is? Of course we're part of nature and that's part of what is. So part of the answer to "What there is" is "us," and "meaning." It shouldn't befuddle us to say that those things exist. What might be murkier or more controversial at least is just what something like meaning is, but we shouldn't be confused by saying that meaning exists.

So we say "meaning exists" and that should be clear enough. However, we might take a detour to epistemology for a moment and say, "How do we know that meaning exists?" Well, we're aware of thinking about a word like "exists" and we're aware that we assign meaning to that word, so it exists. We might take another detour to semiotics/semantics for a moment and ask, "Just what meaning are we assigning to 'meaning'?" And then we can give definitions (which are different than meanings on my view, but I won't go into that at the moment) of "meaning" such as "the relation of being signified by a signifier". We go back to ontology when we ask, "Just what sort of thing is this meaning that exists?" "Where does it occur?" "What, if anything, is it a property of?" "Just what sort of property?" And again what makes the difference there between philosophy (so that we're doing ontology) and science is the methodology we employ for answering those questions.

Of course, it doesn't help that some papers that do the latter, that is, papers that explore what meaning is ontologically, have titles like Hilary Putnam's "The Meaning of 'Meaning'," as the title suggests that Putnam would be giving a definition or doing semiotics, but he's doing ontology in that paper. That doesn't mean that he's trying to ferret out some mystery to the "being qua being of meaning" or what it amounts to to say that meaning exists. He's rather looking at what sort of thing meaning is naturally. (And not that I agree with his conclusions, by the way. I'm a subjectivist on meaning.)
Ontology proceeds by trying to understand being itself . . . Well, I am not going to argue with you on this. Based on my experience you are wrong but I don't want to get into an ontological discussion with you- - at least in this thread. Take a course or read some ontology? I am just making a simple point.
At this point it seems like you're rather avoiding answering just what there is to understand "about being itself"--just what the issue(s) would be there. I believe that's because there are no issues there; there is nothing to understand (at least given that one can understand anything whatsoever).
Ontology is not natural science. If it can't be done, or there is nothing to it fine, that's your opinion.
So obviously I do not believe that there is nothing to ontology. I rather believe that there is nothing to comments like Heidegger's dadaist-poetic nonsense about "being" (and "Being" and "beyng" and all the other ridiculous permutations he used ("beyng" is in Contributions to Philosophy (or the Event) for example)). Quine has the right approach rather (even if I don't always agree with him--but there are no philosophers I agree with most of the time).

And by the way, since folks do not at all hesitate to be patronizing in forums like this, I'll return the favor: the problem might be that you've learned what you know about ontology from Heidegger, with the upshot that nonsense like that has sorely mislead you. You ran into Quine's paper somehow and the contrast between it and Heidegger lead you to think, "That's not what ontology is! What is this fool even talking about??" A couple good things to read to give you better insight into what ontology is are Metaphysics: An Anthology edited by Jaegwon Kim and Ernest Sosa, for a more modern focus, and Metaphysics: A Guide and Anthology edited by Tim Crane and Katalin Farkas for more of a historical grounding (though also with modern works in the second half).
Last edited by Terrapin Station on Tue Aug 23, 2016 1:45 pm, edited 5 times in total.

Wyman
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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Wyman » Tue Aug 23, 2016 1:23 pm

Justintruth wrote:
Terrapin Station wrote:
Justintruth wrote:You are turning from the nature of what something is to a consideration of its being.
Now, if you could only explain what the heck the difference between the two is supposed to be.
In front of me is my computer case. It is black with a grey boundary. It has a strap and several compartments. It is made out of a fabric and is not a hard case. All of these describe what my computer case is. Now I tell you that my computer case is. That last statement is the consideration of its being the former are natural descriptions.

Do you get that? One considers "what is" the other "that it is".

Does that help?
You need to use more examples like the above to show people what you mean. The very general, abstract language of some of your posts is nearly impenetrable by those who are not familiar with you or your positions. Yes, 'that the computer case is' is an ontological claim. And that was what Quine was investigating in 'On What There Is.' Questions such as 'Does Pegasus exist?' If not, then how is it we can speak of pegasus - of a thing which does not exist? It must exist in some form or other, even as, for instance, an idea in the mind. -That is the type of stuff he was talking about - what exists and what does not exist.

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Re: Quine Being Wrong on Ontology Confuses Discusions on Fundamentalism

Post by Wyman » Tue Aug 23, 2016 2:16 pm

Ontology proceeds by trying to understand being itself, the fact "that" something is, not "what" is. Being not nature = ontology. Look at the word: Onto - ology. Being - ology. That it is - ology.
"Being itself.' As you correctly note, there seems to be a distinction between the two uses of the word 'is' - as an assertion of existence as opposed to a means of attaching predicates to an object (saying something about something). But the distinction is not easy to maintain or explain clearly. Take Russell's theory of descriptions, an attempt to clarify the problem. That is, to say 'The present king of France is gay' is to assert: There exists an object x such that x is the present king of France and x is gay. We say that such a statement is false, that there exists no such object x. This is a method for avoiding such 'philosophical problems' as - if we speak of a non-existent object, surely we must be speaking of something, even if that something is merely an idea in the mind or a meaning. Russell says no, we are just making a statement which is either true or false; we need not posit meanings or ideas or other mindstuff or placeholders for non-existent objects.

But this method (Russell's) does not address the ambiguity of the other sense of the word 'is' - the assertion of existence. What does it mean to quantify - 'there exists an x, such that' or E(x)? It means to assert that something ('x') is within the domain of our ontology. This is a meta-theoretical issue. We must have our ontology all worked out and agreed upon to determine whether the mere assertion of 'x exists' is true or false. For instance, in the above example, we agree beforehand that something called a 'human' is an object in our ontology, so that the proposition 'there exists a human such that he/she is the present king of France' is a false statement.

But what if we say 'there exists a jabberwakky such that it is the present king of France'? If I say 'there is no such thing as a jabberwacky' then aren't we right back at the starting point of the problem Russell was trying to solve?

And so Quine concludes that the posits of a theory (the ontology) are relative - there is no objective means for choosing an ontology for a theory or language.

Another way to see it is this. The string of symbols Ea is not a proper sentence in logic - we do not assert 'a exists' or 'pegasus exists' in logic. Existence is not a predicate where we say Ea as we would Fa (a is red, for instance). Quantification and predication are primitive terms in logic and thus separate. Quine pointed out in Word and Object that the 'primitive', necessary conditions of language are: the quantifiers, the atomic form of proposition - Fa (predication) - and the logical connectives. Wittgenstein also made this point in the Tractatus. These necessary conditions involve both senses of the word 'is' and thus both aspects of what you call 'being.' And guesswork about the 'nature' of being and other primitive aspects of language were the subject of Wittgenstein's statement 'whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent.'

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