Existence

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Existence

 

a synonym for being—the being of matter and of consciousness—in dialectical materialist philosophy. Throughout the history of philosophy, the concept of existence has usually been applied to a thing’s external being, which, in contrast to a thing’s essence, is comprehended by experience rather than by thought. Scholasticism perceived the duality of essence and existence as reflecting a fundamental dichotomy in the natural, or created, universe—a dichotomy sublated only in god: the existence of a thing is not deducible from its essence but is ultimately determined by the creative will of god.

The British empiricists of the 17th and 18th centuries, such as Locke and Hume, recognized the reality of isolated facts, whose existence cannot be deduced in any way and which are determined by sense experience, the source of all knowledge. Modern rationalism, as taught by Descartes, Spinoza, Fichte, and Hegel, bases its interpretation of existence on the unity of thought and being. Essentially, these philosophers regard existence as something reasonable, or rational. Leibniz and Kant attempted to reconcile these two viewpoints.

Leibniz recognizes two kinds of truth: the eternal truths of reason and the truths of fact. According to Leibniz, however, the distinction between the two exists only within human reason, which is finite; in divine reason the distinction is sublated. Kant recognizes the ontological significance of the existence of the unknowable “thing-in-itself”: such existence, in principle, is not logically deducible, since it is impossible logically to deduce the existence of any sense phenomenon. Reason provides formal connections only, while the senses furnish the material for reason.

With Kierkegaard, the category of existence acquires a basically new meaning. In contraposition to rationalism—Hegel’s, in particular—Kierkegaard proposes that existence be understood as that human reality which is apprehended directly. Existence, according to Kierkegaard, is unique, personal, and finite. Finite existence has its own destiny and is historical in nature, for in Kierkegaard’s view history is inseparable from the finiteness of existence, from its nonrepeatability—that is, from destiny.

In the 20th century, Kierkegaard’s concept of existence has been revived and plays a central role in the existentialism of K. Jaspers, M. Heidegger, J.-P. Sartre, and G. Marcel. In this school of thought, existence (from which the term “existentialism” derives) is correlated, as it were, with transcendence—that is, with man’s extension beyond his own limits. According to existentialism, both the link between existence and transcendence, which is inaccessible to thought, and the finiteness of existence are revealed by the very fact of existence. On the other hand, the finiteness of existence, or mortality, is not merely the empirical fact of the end of life; rather, it is a principle determining the structure of existence and permeating all human life. Hence the existentialists’ characteristic interest in “borderline” situations, such as suffering, dread, guilt, or anxiety, which throw light on the nature of existence.

Marxist philosophy, opposing all forms of idealism, regards existence as the objective reality of matter in its diverse forms and as that being—in the sociohistorical sense—which determines man’s position in society.

P. P. GAIDENKO

References in classic literature ?
Indeed this is self-evident: for if a man knows that some particular thing is relative, assuming that we call that a relative in the case of which relation to something is a necessary condition of existence, he knows that also to which it is related.
Here we see that cattle absolutely determine the existence of the Scotch fir; but in several parts of the world insects determine the existence of cattle.
In the case of every species, many different checks, acting at different periods of life, and during different seasons or years, probably come into play; some one check or some few being generally the most potent, but all concurring in determining the average number or even the existence of the species.
This is often the case with those which may strictly be said to struggle with each other for existence, as in the case of locusts and grass-feeding quadrupeds.
But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois.
The essential condition for the existence, and for the sway of the bourgeois class, is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour.
I had been used to the pleasures of variety, to the luxury and stir of life in Paris; it was only when I had overcome my first repugnance that I saw the advantages of this existence; how it lent itself to continuity of thought and to involuntary meditation; how a life in which the heart has undisturbed sway seems to widen and grow vast as the sea.
"One of their friends, without my knowledge, gave them the whole history of my youth, blackening my errors, laying stress upon the existence of my child, which (said they) I intended to conceal.
I thought of the promise of virtues which he had displayed on the opening of his existence and the subsequent blight of all kindly feeling by the loathing and scorn which his protectors had manifested towards him.
The prospect of such an occupation made every other circumstance of existence pass before me like a dream, and that thought only had to me the reality of life.
We have argued that there are existences of five types, only one of which--real existence--is absolute, that is, context-independent, in particular subject-free.
Hence, in this case, both the object of descent and the origin of descent have concrete existences independent of the actual act of descent.