In post #1 I began with a basic introduction and the context for the work. This is where I begin the actual work itself. I started my OTI work at "Chapter one" (of course!), but it is also within "Part One." Part one is all of metaphysics of relevance to me, with chapter one focussing specifically on the three axioms. I can't and wont commit to a set schedule of posting, though.
Chapter 1 has 5 sections so far (I've completed 4): intro, existence exists, consciousness is consciousness, a thing is itself, and these three as axioms. This post here contains the first two sections.
Ayn Rand formulated three axioms: “Existence exists,” “Consciousness is Conscious,” and “A is A”. I will put a lot of work into examining these, far more so than I imagine I will put in for later content. I have a couple of reasons for this.
The first is that I agree, for reasons I will explain later, that they are the most basic foundations of knowledge, and the nature of one’s understanding of them colours one’s understanding of everything. Get them wrong and one is highly likely to go wrong everywhere.
The second is that I want to focus on the method by which I determine what they actually mean and validate them. I’ve already been over some of this material, and over the course of that examination I found and corrected errors in my method. An example of that is having initially let the mind-body dichotomy get established when discussing consciousness, committed by neglecting the discovery of control over one’s body as an essential element of discovery of self, of goal-directed behaviour, and hence pursuit of value.
These are more than enough reason to make an enormous effort in establishing the three axioms. I am writing all this down, including the polishing of the text, entirely for my own benefit. If you are reading this (I don’t mind if you are, and indeed will publish bits and pieces as I judge fit), be aware that it is exclusively a privilege I have granted you and that no part of this was written with your needs in mind.
Why begin here?
But why begin with them? And why start with “existence” first? She noted in ItOE that the concept of existence was both at the base of knowledge and was the highest abstraction (not that this means it takes the highest intelligence to figure out, only that it is not subsumable into an even wider abstraction). The fullest answer must of course take considerable explanation, but the simplest answer is as both she and Dr Peikoff gave: it is implicit from the very first observation that someone makes in life (which can technically mean before even being born). Observation of this for myself indicates that it is indeed foundational, and so I’ll accept it for now for that reason and take up the issue again later after exploring the fact and the statement of the fact in some detail.
Of course, I do know in advance that it is to do with the axiomatic nature of the concept, but that’s for later because how does one know what an axiom is and what the importance of axioms is? Thus it is necessary to see the evidence of the foundational nature of the statement before moving on with it, and then necessary to come back and then address the issue of the nature of foundations in general. This is proper inductive method at work: analyse the concretes, then draw the abstraction from the concretes via differentiation and integration / method of difference & method of agreement.
1.2 Existence exists
Ayn Rand noted “existence exists.” There are two separate lines of question from this. The first is: is that statement true? The second is: how did she come to arrive at it? I’ll deal with the second some other time.
Before I can work out whether it is true, first I have to find out what it means. What does “Existence exists” mean? Simply put, that “All that...” - indicated by swinging one’s arms around - “... is there.” The term ‘existence’ covers both the contents and the place. The term ‘exists’ covers the fact of being a constituent of those contents and being in that place. That is, in terms of expression, existence means “that which exists”, where the ‘that’ is a pointing word indicating the world around oneself and every single bit of its contents, the ‘which’ is a conceptual act of linking ‘exist’ with the ‘that,’ and ‘to exist’ mean reference to being qua being rather than some definite form or mode of being.
The two concepts, however, are highly abstract. The fact that existence exists is directly perceivable and implicit in all thought and action, but the two concepts explicitly expressing this fact are high-level: these concepts are not formed directly from perceptual-level observations. They are definitely not part one’s express knowledge until well into life. How do we arrive at them? How would a child be taught them explicitly?
Reduction of the concepts
I am trying to show how to mentally isolate the fact of being qua being, as abstracted from the identification of something being something in particular or of some specific aspect of being, and then showing that this being qua being is the meaning of “existence” and “exist”. We know enough to state that we must use differentiation and integration, and also the method of difference and the method of agreement, to achieve that isolation, so that is what I’ll do. Someone somewhere must have expressly identified existence for the first time by himself, but I’ll leave that issue alone for now.
The concept of “exist” as preceding both variants of the concept of “existence”
The two concepts in the statement are obviously related, but which, if either, has priority? I think the concept of the verb “exist” precedes the concept of the noun “existence”, because it is identification of the fact of existing, of recognition that things are there (not in the sense of specific location, but being there as opposed to not being anywhere), that allows the final integration of all the great variety of things and all the great variety of instances of being qua being into the grand abstraction of existence. It is the fact of existing that is the CCD for the straight-noun concept of existence, and must be identified first. Besides, a child will have occasion to use the verb “exist” far sooner than occasion to use the simple-noun “existence,” and everyone will use the concept of existing far more often than the straight-noun concept of existence, where most of the time when the word “existence” is used by people it will refer to the noun-form of the verb instead.
I hasten to add that this does not mean that existence is an attribute. The only reason why any of this works is precisely because it is not, that the existence of what is perceived has always been taken for granted. The point is to get at that root as an explicitly recognised abstraction, whose referents have always been there. The fact that existence is identity, that to be something is to be something, is always there, which issue will be addressed later.
Recognising existence through recognising identity: using “is”
The prelude to gaining express conception of being qua being originates in specific concrete identifications of instances of being - being is, after all, the ultimate abstraction and so must be worked towards by beginning at the perceptual level and first-level abstractions.
I remember from grammar studies I did way back (particularly from studying “Rex barks” by Phyllis Davenport) that “be” is the root for the related word “is.” I also remember that Dr Peikoff notes that an older way of saying “existence exists” is Parmenides’ way: there is the what-is. And, since we must reduce to the perceptual level and first-level abstractions, and that I remember that even very young children can use the word “is,” that means the start of growing towards express conceptualisation of being qua being is in children’s very first propositions using that word. That is, the start consists of learning proper use of the word ‘is.’ In particular, this would be learned use of “is” as a linking verb in conjunction with either nouns or adjectives as the linked objective-complements. This is where one uses sentences that identify some characteristic of an entity or its relationship with another entity, ie of expressing in concepts particular instances of being. These are the kind of simple sentences that a parent can regularly utter to a normal two or three year old child and expect to have comprehended, with the child using them back to that parent:
The apple is red.
The book is on the table.
The pillow is under the sheet.
The sun is in the sky.
This is also supplemented by learning other verbs (concepts for actions) and adverbs (concepts for characteristics of actions) in a manner in which “is” is also applicable (ie verbal objective complement, rather than the verb being the heart of the predicate), which also would be part of learning the concept of causality (but more on that later).
The sun is shining brightly.
The sky is darkening quickly.
The moon is rising slowly.
The dog is barking loudly.
But isness is still not a first-level concept - it is a less abstract way of saying existence, but still not a first-level abstraction. Taking those kinds of sentences back further still, ie before one can use the verbs of is and be, one must first have the concepts of entities that are or in relation to which some characteristic is, and likewise concepts of the characteristics of entities and concepts of position (ie prepositions in grammar). Before one can link, one must have the elements to be linked. This means the actual first-level concepts themselves.
Nouns, ie words denoting concepts of things: apple, book, table, pillow, sheet, sun, moon, sky
Adjectives, ie words denoting concepts of characteristics of things: red, sweet (and all the other sensory concepts), heavy, light, big, small, sharp
Verbs, ie words denoting concepts of actions: shining, darkening, rising, barking
Adverbs, ie words denoting concepts of characteristics of actions: brightly, quickly, slowly, loudly
Prepositions, ie words denoting concepts of relationships between things: in, on, under, between, next to, beside, inside, outside
With that we’ve gone back to direct perception, where parents begin teaching the words for first-level concepts to their infant and toddler children. At this point in the reduction we just see the ability to identify whole entities. Prior to that is the first few months of life spent integrating sense-data, which processes I must take for granted because, as I can see for myself, entities abound. It takes a tremendous amount of arbitrary what-iffing and maybeing to get around what is patently obvious: there are lots and lots of entities about the place.
When the ability to recognise discrete entities is achieved, the notion of entity quickly becomes implicit in all action and is taken entirely for granted thereafter, which makes possible all else that follows (including eventual integration of all actual entities into the concepts of entity, existent, and then existence.) It is from here - the ability to perceive entities and the ability to recognise similarities and differences among entities - that we can go back up, just as parents take children on those children’s first time up. There is a complication, however, in that “is” is rarely used to indicate being qua being, but I’ll get to that in due time. The point of the moment is that “is” is a word in its own right that is a child’s introduction to the fact of being, by means of sentences that specify particulars of being.
We’re now down at the level of the first-level concepts. First, concepts of entities are learned, then concepts of characteristics and of actions.
Once the first individual concepts are in place (note that the acquisition of concepts never stops), the next step in learning to think and hence speak consists of properly integrating existents with what those existents are or what they’re doing. This means the ability to integrate individual words together to form propositions, with the critical type being propositions where the verb is one of the linking verbs regarding being: be, is, am, are, was, were, being, been.
Later, in conjunction with learning about time, was and were and will be can be learned:
“The cat was on the mat, but now he is on the grass.”
“The dog is happy, but if we take his food he will be upset.”
Sentences using “being”, indicating an action that is presently on-going, can be a bit more complex, but still well within the range capable of a preschooler:
“That boy is being naughty.”
“The car is being washed.”
Initially these will all be concrete level (as per “The apple is red” etc as above). Parents do this, too, and soon enough the children are able to speak in whole sentences, albeit simple ones at the start. In some cases the parents would be talking in simple sentences to infants right from the start (I am in no position to say forthrightly whether a parent should or shouldn’t do that, though I do recall reading that they should, and if I become a parent I will), but the initial focus is just on getting individual words right. First “apple” and “red” have priority and are given the most emphasis, and then, when the child is a toddler, sentences such as “this apple is red!” are given priority and emphasis. Here, the use of “is” shows the connection of what had previously been mentally separate. These sentences bring something to attention and then note something specific about that something. In time, as the fund of experiences and concepts grows, so too does the complexity of propositions and integrations grow:
“Mum, Rex was running after the ball and knocked over the flower box and now there is dirt everywhere!”
As this shows, there is also the temporal fact of the connection existing now, but, as with sentences of that complexity, temporal relations come a bit later (both in fact and in how I’ll develop this).
The need for mental separation of existence and identity
But isness is somewhat distinct from existing - although existence and identity are one (see later) they are each different aspects of the fact of being. “Is” points to something being, whereas to “to exist” points to something being. Thus the word “is” is mostly not first used to identify being qua being - going straight to “exists” is, because “is” predominantly implies the specifics attached by means of that word. That is, the use of the word “is” implies the identification of attributes, whereas existence (noun form of verb) is not an attribute. Using “is” without predicate-verbs or predicate-adjectives is a considerable abstraction, and in calm situations is only used in philosophical or religious contexts. For the most part, then, the predicates are actually implied and are just omitted in sentences responding to other sentences, which latter contain the particulars omitted in the responses because they’d be redundant (and also weird-sounding) if stated:
“The cake isn’t ready yet.” “Yes it is!”
Yet there are cases where sentences in the manner of “such and such is” are said to a child, and an observant child can begin to glean being qua being from them. However, the context in which these sentences are uttered actually works against this. This is because the point of a parent saying things like that is precisely to shut down a child’s mental processes on the issues at hand, not activate them - these situations are not calm! This is where the parent wants the child to accept that something is so or must be done without that parent explaining why (assuming the parent even can, such as when the point being imposed is of a dogmatic nature) and the child is questioning it to the point of intransigence. For instance, the parent could be trying to get the child to believe that something is the right thing to think or the right thing to do. The child, looking for an explanation, particularly when the thing being taught has no basis or is silly as far as he can see or the thing he’s expected to do is contrary to his values (eg a demand that he give away some of his favourite toys or clothes to strangers), becomes recalcitrant and demands to know why this is so. The exasperated parent trying to impose this belief then retorts “IT JUST IS!” or similar, and acts to extract submission and obedience from the child. It would take an intelligent and unusually heroic kind of child to go on thinking privately in the face of such tactics and to use forcefully-made pronouncements like these as data included in the whole set from being qua being can be isolated and comprehended. It can be done but it isn’t likely in the vast majority of cases, where, in most cases, the highly emotive nature of the circumstances means the child is more likely to be quite upset (especially when he is deprived of his values) and momentarily not capable of thinking in much depth at all.
So, getting well-versed in use of the word “is” only sets the groundwork for the meaning of “exists,” by means of learning a great variety of specific modes of being (it’s also groundwork for other related concepts, but I’ll get to them in due time, too). One cannot expressly identify in conceptual terms the fact of something being without abstracting from a wide variety of things being something, somewhere, somehow, and at some time, because those are the concrete facts directly perceivable and easily identified by means of differentiation and integration. Only with comprehension of a great variety of concepts of existents and attributes of existents, and some relations within and between existents, can one begin to expressly comprehend the meaning of being qua being by means of eventually finding the ultimate integration of expressly identifying being qua being. But this is still some time off yet, both because of its abstractness and that there are other points to cover.
Separation of existence and identity through differentiation
All concepts require some form of contrast to differentiate and isolate what it is to be focused upon from other things and features, which instances can then be integrated into an abstraction. One cannot form the concept of apple except by observing two or more apples, contrasting them against non-apples and seeing that they deserve to be mentally grouped. I don’t think “is” and “exists” are any different, though the precise mechanism is different because existence is not an attribute.
I think there are at least two classes of contrasts here: metaphysical and epistemological. The metaphysical contrast is being versus non-being. The epistemological contrast is recognition of being versus non-recognition of being. The express identification of being qua being lies in identifying both of these kinds of contras, that each throws the various distinctions into sharp relief and so makes possible the focus on the elements being contrasted against each other. This also leads into discussions of recognition of consciousness, but more on that later. (As a side note, observe also that this is wrapped up with Dr Peikoff’s statement that metaphysics and epistemology are simultaneous).
The instances of being are as far above, whereas the instances of non-being are more problematic. Being is an implicit fact that has been taken for granted from the moment of the first sensation in life, but non-being is a significant abstraction that cannot be grasped except by some form of contrast against being. But the explicit identification of existence itself requires some form of contrast against non-being. So, the problem, I think, is to achieve that express awareness of non-being, because at this stage it is too easy to get non-being as such confused with something being somewhere else. I think this is precisely because being qua being had already been implicit in every perception of both everything and also everything about everything: being is perceptually identifiable directly, whereas non-being is most definitely an abstraction that must be grasped conceptually.
Looking at this in practice, when people - and also some of the higher animals (eg dogs, monkeys etc) - expect something to be somewhere and don’t find it there the first thing they do is go looking for it. “Where did it go?” is the first question, be it either wordless in the case of animals and pre-verbal children or expressed in worded thoughts by those able to do so. In event of failure to find what is sought people will stop looking mostly because of thinking it lost rather than thinking it ceasing to exist, and animals will stop looking because other stimuli grab their attention and they eventually forget about what they were looking for (timing on forgetting, as far as I can see, depends on the prior-attained value-status and hence memorability of what they sought and couldn’t find.)
I can see three ways in which a child can come to identify non-being as such and hence be able to mentally isolate being qua being from instances of something being something in particular. These are observation of creation and destruction, observation of one’s own recognition of presence, and the recognition of make-believe and lies for what they are. These three can develop contemporaneously, each contributing its part to ultimate recognition of “to exist” by means of some sort of contrast.
Witnessing creation and destruction
The first is through the child’s identification of the creation and destruction of something. Here is where a child can recognise that something has come into existence when before it didn’t exist, and that something has gone out of existence when before it did exist. Do this enough times and over a variety of circumstances and what we have is instances of method of difference and method of agreement.
The beginnings would be teaching the concept of making, eg producing foods that involve very substantial processing resulting in foods that are vastly perceptually different from their ingredients (baking, for instance), playing with construction toys such as Lego, in making snowmen and sandcastles, and so on. At the same time, though beginning second, what would also be taught is the concepts of consuming or destroying or any other form of unmaking. This can be identified in eating something up (eg the cake that was baked), or using something up (the flour and eggs etc), or breaking up a construction (pulling a Lego building apart into its constituent blocks), of watching snowmen melt and sandcastles being washed away. This suggests that spending time with children actively making things is not just fun and instructive in the concrete sense but also capable of being tied in with cognitive development all the way to the highest abstraction possible, ie express knowledge of the fact that things exist.
Other occasions for teaching about creation and destruction, this time without active participation, would be in talking about events observed in daily life. This can be as simple as watching seeds germinate over the course of days and weeks, watching how a fire makes a piece of firewood or a whole building cease to exist, or looking at construction and demolition sites, and so on. These events would of course be expressed in sentences that a child can understand, but with the groundwork laid by proper use of “is” in place the elder can use the word “exist” and expect to have the child understand with enough exposure to instances of coming to be and ceasing to be.
A key here, I think, is that what is so made must be completely new and not identifiable in the elements that went into the construction, eg how flour and eggs and lego bricks do not already look like cakes or biscuits or spaceships right from the start, so that what clearly did not exist before clearly does exist now. With that, the child can identify the fact of something brought into being, then of something ceasing to be (eg eating the food or breaking the Lego spaceship apart to make something else with the bricks) and so can begin to identify the state of being qua being. The topic of the eternity of existence comes later, as the present point is simply on isolating and focussing on being.
Here, then, is where express identification of temporal relationships would be both taught for the knowledge of them as the initial focus of teaching them and, soon after that, also material for the isolation of being qua being. Again, as with and technically as part of implicitly knowing the fact of things existing, the child will already implicitly be aware of the passage of time, but also again the point is the first express learning of these facts and of specific concepts relating to them. Thus the child learns about time and various concepts relating to timing: the absolutes of second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, etc, and the relatives of yesterday, today, now, soon, later, before, after, last X, next X, etc. Again, the topic of the eternity of existence must wait, now because the child has to understand time before it is possible to understand timelessness.
In the pedagogical setting, all this - ie the teaching of temporal relations as well as building towards express identification of being qua being - would be taught in parallel, building up all these individual concepts by giving various examples of each in a somewhat jumbled fashion and then the child using difference and agreement (and also their derivatives, particularly the method of residues) to nut out a solution, not unlike a conceptual-linguistic equivalent solving of simultaneous equations. At this early stage, then, a parent either accelerates or hinders learning, but I don’t think parents are capable of halting a child figuring things out without making concerted efforts to be irrational and keep the child in experiential poverty. Of course, all parents try to shield children from issues that the children can’t handle properly, but here the parent is doing this irrationally and with definite intent to shut down or hinder intellectual development. All that good parenting in this regard does is accelerate the child’s express identification, not enable it, so long of course as the word “exists” exists in the language of the culture and is used properly in speech heard by the child.
Observation of one’s own recognitions
A second is observation of one’s own processes of recognising presence. These can be gradual or semi-gradual, or thoroughly abrupt, and also either pleasant or unpleasant too.
An example of a gradual or semi-gradual recognition is gathering together enough instances to form the concept of discovery, particular discoveries in locations where the child had been before and prior has not made concrete discoveries but later realising that what had been discovered was always there. For instance, a child can wander through a yard or meadow that he has been in before, then discover something fascinating such as pretty flowers, wild animals’ homes, and so on, and recognise that they have in fact always been there and just haven’t been fully noticed before. An example of an unpleasant gradual recognition is where one say has one of those insect bites that don’t sting straight away but build up in their pain or irritation, such as from mosquitoes. Starting out from the absent-minded scratching of what begins as a mild itch, it slowly dawns on you that you have in fact been bitten, ie it slowly dawns on you that the bite is there, that it exists.
Abrupt recognition arises from a sudden event that brings the existence of something to the child’s attention in a snap. Sometimes this can be very pleasant, such as when the child walks into his bedroom or into the back yard and finds a new present waiting for him. Other times it can be unpleasant, even extremely so, with physiological responses to match. For instance, something inside his wardrobe may slip suddenly and make a thump as it hits something else, making for fuel for the classic monster-in-the-closet fear. Another would be where a child may suddenly realise that there is someone outside the door or window of his bedroom, or wake up in the dark and discover someone (or something, such as the household cat) quietly observing him up close and personal-like. Another still, one very common, is when two people oblivious to each other’s presence almost run into each other as they turn the corner in a dark hall or through a doorway, giving each other a bit of a fright in the process. And what can be a very unpleasant example again is being deliberately sneaked up upon by someone, whose sudden revelation of presence is expressly intended to scare the victim (even if only as a joke).
The above can also happen in the reverse. Things can gradually or abruptly go away, and when this is noticed the absence then throws the prior presence into sharp relief. Scientists have even discovered the mechanisms in the brain by which the cessation of a sound that had been gotten use to triggers awareness both of the change and of the existence of a cause of that previous sound.
The above recognitions can become bases for first understandings of what “here” and “there” mean as distinct from reference to specific locations. For instance, you can point to a child that fact about the flowers or nests having always been there, and use that to identify this meaning of “there,” and go on to indicate what is meant by “see, there are such things as apples and clouds and books and cats and dogs and birds, that they are here, in the world.” By these means one can teach a child “there” as separate from the specific details of any given instance of there-ness. From that, one can eventually get to saying things such as “there’s stuff everywhere,” and in time that develop both “to exist” and “existence,” with much intermediate work on the way there as we will see.
Moreover, they are all instances of contrast by means of the child’s own observation of the contrast between his own recognition versus his own non-recognition of the existence of something. This is then part metaphysical and part epistemological. The latter element makes this issue wrapped up with his own recognition of his capacity to know, ie his discovery of his own consciousness, which will be discussed later.
Recognition of both artistic and deceitful fantasies
The third means by which a child can gain a contrast for existence is identification of various kinds of unreality for what they are, in that he knows personally of their contrast to what is actually real. These can be innocent or guilty.
Innocent unreality lies in the realm of the make-believe, particularly in art and play. A child can know that a cartoon character is not actually real but is just a character in a story, such as Mickey Mouse or Optimus Prime or Dora the Explorer, that the dolls and action figures played with in the dollhouse or sandpit are just toys and the scenarios are made up by that child for fun, and so on. Added to this is when the child actually gets involved in dress-up, make-believe games, and more organised school plays, and so on, wherein he knows he is playing a character and acting out a role.
Guilty unreality is in deceit and lying. Here the child knows that something is not actually so, but says that it is so to another so as to have that other think that it is so, or had previously believed that something is so because another he trusted said so but he then discovered that it was never so and the other knew it wasn’t when saying that it was.
This is really moving more towards the epistemological side, but it is still an issue of how one identifies explicitly the meaning of to exist. The point is that a child’s direct personal knowledge of there being things spoken of - by others and by himself - that do not actually exist or are not actually so is a source of distinctions that add in to the data-set upon which differentiation and integration lead to express knowledge of being qua being. The fact that this is also very strongly an epistemological (and also ethical) issue goes to show how recognition of existence is part of recognition of consciousness, of which more will be said later.
Express identification of “to exist”
It is once the ability to form sentences is reached, along with having a large amount (but not necessarily all) of the above means of isolating being via contrasts, that the fact of being can be expressly and readily have the child’s attention drawn to it by the parent, even if sometimes the word has already been slipped into conversation validly (doing this for most words is how learning to speak the local language in total is learned by children, not just “exists” and its equivalents in other languages). It is of course not a fully philosophical attention, but it is the first use of the actual word “exist.” It is now that we can say that such and such exists, once existed, or does not yet exist, and also, in regards to make-believe and lying, that such and such does not really exist. The child is perfectly capable of using the word “exist” properly and have arguments accordingly, such as “Unicorns do not exist! Do too! Do not!” and so on. Whether or not unicorns actually exist is not the issue here, the fact that the two children having this argument know what “to exist” means is.
From this point on the child can then successfully live the rest of childhood (or most of it, anyway) without further developing the formal philosophical implications of the fact that things exist. Philosophy-proper can wait until at least the mid to late teens, and in the interim the child has no need of express awareness of the concepts of “existent” and “existence” (other than as the adjectival-noun form of the verb “exist,” which a child isn’t likely to have occasion to use until the teens anyway). This does not mean he can’t or there is an implacable shouldn’t (though formal philosophy for the pre-teens is said to be inadvisable), only that it is not immediately necessary.
For us, though, now we can be formally philosophic and can mark a milestone. Although all the above is material that say a normal ten-year-old can easily handle, it is also all that we need to identify for ourselves to properly validate the meaning of the word “exist.” We - and the child - have always been implicitly aware of the fact of existing, but now we can expressly use the abstraction denoting it. We observed the various states of being (ie various forms of is-ness, observed the processes of coming to be and ceasing to be (ie various forms of was-ness and will-be-ness respectively), observed ourselves recognising the existence of particular things or persons, observed the distinction between that which is actual and that which is a fantasy (that which isn’t really but pretended to be for fun) or a lie (that which actually isn’t though told to another as though actually is), and, through differentiation and integration upon all these observations, drew the timeless abstraction of being qua being. That is, we have fully identified what the concept of “exists” means.
It is only with proper knowledge of what “to exist” means that one can comprehend what existence is, both in the form of the adjectival noun form of the verb and in the form of the simple noun. This is much simpler to describe, because most of the hard yards in isolating being qua being have already been done.
Getting back to the child, then, while he is not yet dealing with formal philosophy he is still building towards the necessity of it, and in due time he will be unable to keep on growing in intellectual prowess without express awareness of philosophy and philosophic methods. Also, if as an adult he is not going to pursue some significantly academic career, particularly one that has a definite philosophic bent (eg economics, law, science), it is not strictly necessary at all to have the concepts of “existence” and “existent” as simple nouns in his common vocabulary. They are apt to be the kind of word he will know the meaning of when he hears or reads it but rarely personally uses.
Even so, he is nevertheless building towards the development of the philosophical implications of the fact that things exist, even if he has no need of taking the final step explicitly for himself. However, if he will pursue a life-course that includes sufficiently abstract thoughts, then he must eventually take that final step, which will also be required when that last step becomes possible to him.
Development of conceptual hierarchy
One cannot go straight from apples, books and pillows to the concept of existent directly. As part of the development towards achieving explicit identification of the adjectival-noun meaning of existence - which had always been implicit from the start and which had made growth towards explicit identification possible - the child is also building up a fund of concepts large enough both to admit of and require a definite hierarchical structure. It does not have to be an immense structure, but it does have to be sophisticated enough to allow awareness the idea of structure itself so that the idea of integration and connection can be made aware of.
Once the process of building up a hierarchy goes far enough, this leads toward the final identification of the top-level noun that is the concept subsuming the totality of all concrete entities and groups of entities and groups of groups etc. I think the development is: first, one identifies the concept of to exist, then one takes it back to apply to the instances of things existing from which the abstraction was drawn, and universalising this by expressly and conceptually recognising the entirety of all such instances of things existing as being existents for the first time in one’s life. After that, gaining new knowledge would include the insertion of new layers of abstraction between the perceptual level and what is now known to be the peak abstraction and concept of ‘existent.’ Thus one can at last comprehend that existents exist. The final step in this line of development is converting the plural “existents” into the singular-collective “existence” and there we are.
Existence as a place
But that integration of entities alone is not sufficient, because another path that helps lead to this is the development of a conceptual hierarchy not of entities but of locations of entities. Rather than the part from recognising things being something in particular to being things that are and hence the concept of are-ness, the focus here is on the path from recognising things being somewhere in particular to being things that are here and hence the concept of here-ness. That is, from all the concrete instances of “X is here”, where the all the heres in question are also placable into hierarchies (my room, my house, my street, my suburb, my city, my state, my country, my world, my solar system, etc), to identification of an ‘all of everywhere.’ In conjunction with the noun-development of existent, the concept of everywhere can then be identified.
The fullest conception of “existence”
The identification of existence as a place is not so great a task as identification of existence as a totality of things, but the fullest conception of “existence” is the integration of both identifications. Existence covers both everything that is (including was and will be) and also everywhere that things can be. With that I am satisfied with having identified the full meaning of the concept of “existence.”
Reconstructing “existence exists”
Recognition of the fact that existence exists does not consist of merely slapping the words together. The fact, just as with the constituent concepts themselves, has to be learned from observation and must be identified as an integration of those observations. The identification that existence exists is the culmination of a long process not just of learning those concepts, but of integrating them with their allied concepts as will be discussed later. Most particularly, this relates to the concept of identity.
For existence exists in particular, one part of its identification lies in the reliance upon certain things being just so as part of pursuit of some goal. For example, a child can implicitly take the nature of his Lego blocks to be just so in the process of building his latest creation with them. They exist, and he takes that for granted and counts on it. A part lies also in frustrations and pains. For example, a child may want a particular toy but not have it, try to wish really really hard that we he does have can transform into what he wants, and nothing happens. Another would be accidentally hitting furniture hard, and wishing it weren’t there wont make it disappear. They, too exist, and he eventually realises it is futile to rail against that fact and that if he is to do anything at all about it he has to accept it and deal with things as they are rather than how he wishes them to be.
From countless instances like this, a child begins to realise that what is, is, both in terms of what aids him in pursuit of his goals and hinders him in that pursuit. This is how existence is wrapped up with identity: the fact that things are what they are is an integral part of the fact that what is, is. The grand totality of identity is the grand totality of existence. It is via his recognitions of the fact that certain things are in fact so, that the natures of things are implacable, that he can eventually explicitly recognise for himself that what is, is.
In time, if he is philosophical enough, he can recognise that all that all that (swinging his arms around again) is here, whether he likes it or not. Once he learns the individual words, and then either figures it out for himself or learns from another, and if his focus at all times is upon reality and he uses words to identify reality as can be identified from perception as the root of all knowledge, he can then see the truth of the statement that existence exists, because all this does is formally express his identification that all that is here.
With that, I am satisfied with this full identification of what “existence exists” means.