Abstract things


I assume there are three separate and different things: features of reality that are or were the case; what we believe and know about them; and what we say about them, which, in classical logic, may be true or false.  

My standing question is this: what and where are so-called abstract things, and in what way do they exist?

(Objects and entities are more up-market than things. But then – what and where are abstract objects? In what way do abstract entities exist?)

Pending an answer that avoids equivocation or question-begging, here are some thoughts.

1  Words can mean only what we use them to mean. And this applies to the words truthknowledgemeaning and definition.

2  To define a thing is to describe it, which we may do in different ways. So, if there are abstract things, to define them is to describe them.

3  We cannot name or describe a thing into or out of existence. Outside language, the existence and nature of things have nothing to do with language.

4  Pending evidence for the existence of abstract things, belief that they exist is irrational. (Abstract things are remarkably like supernatural things.)

5  Belief that abstract things exist may come from the ancient and pervasive delusion that what we call abstract nouns are names of things which, therefore, do or may exist.

6  The claim that abstract things are concepts in minds explains nothing. Concepts and minds are just more abstract things. A dog chasing its tail needs to re-think the premise.

7  Descriptions of abstract things – such as being, truth, knowledge, justice, beauty and identity – in short, the stuff of philosophy – are fictions about fictions.

8  Like metaphors, fictions can both have their uses and lead us astray. Talk about minds, and mental things and events, is an example.

9  Philosophy is talk about abstract things. But all we can do is explain the ways we do or could use signs in general, and certain abstract nouns and their cognates in particular.


Peter Holmes

May 2021

Amended December 2021