Properties and existence

If something does not exist, can it still have properties?

Can something be adequately defined without making reference to it’s properties?

Is non-existence a property?

Yes…God has properties and the Archangel and Satan >:D

Are the properties of imaginary objects not imaginary in themselves? Take the good old square circle for instance. Since it does not exist, does it really have the properties of roundness and squareness? Still, we need to specify these very properties before we can conclude that it cannot exist. So the non-existence of the square circle seems to depend heavily on its properties, even though it arguably cannot have any.


I think you need to read this and this first.


Thanks … its quite a mouthful, so I’ll only get around to reading it properly during the summer break. Still, I’d like to stick my neck out anyway and state what seems reasonable to me at this stage.

It is probably worthwhile to distinguish between the properties of existing objects, and the (perceived?) properties of non-existing objects. So we have two cases:

Existing objects have a finite number if real properties.

Non-existent objects have a infinite number of imaginary properties.


There was an interesting discussion on St Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God on the BBC In Our Time podcast. I can’t get the exact link now on account of being at work and my nanny says ‘no,’ but if you search the link I could provide, you should discover it. Proving the existence of a non-existent entity by appeal to its properties is ingenious to say the least.

Indetectability, does that count as a property?

It can be described as mythical, which sounds like a property.

Imaginary is a property, perhaps?

The big problem is that if you describe it at all, or name it, then it already exists, AS A CONCEPT.

also check out platonism…

Some flipping interesting topics there in general … thanks for the link!

That’s another thing: how much stock should one put into concepts? There are obviously very important and essential concepts, like the numbers 1,2,3 and the letters a,b,c, but then there are pretty useless and arbitrary ones too. The properties assigned to these concepts are entirely imaginary - rigorous and logical in some cases, sure - but still imaginary. Or am I confusing imaginary and abstract (again)?

Indetectability, does that count as a property?
Maybe one should restrict the notion of properties to [i]what is[/i], and not to [i]what is not[/i].


I find it fascinating that implicitly contrast a non-existing entity to another non-existing entity.

A square circle vs what, a round circle?

A circle is just a concept. REAL circles do not exist. They’re a fictional mathematical construct. Moreover they are based on other fictional entities, like points.

BUT they do have properties, properties that prove useful in approximating the real world.

Mmm quite right … the square circle is indeed every bit as imaginary as the “normal” circle! Maybe a female tomcat would have been a better example?

How did they obtain these properties? Are the properties inherent or were they simply assigned via some definition?


Some of them are inherent in the definition: All points on a circle lie equidistant to the point which forms the centre.

Some are derived via proofs later: A line grazing (intersecting at only one point) the circle forms a right angle to a radial of the circle at the same point.

There is a distinction between objects that we observe not to exist (unicorns, Sherlock Holmes, etc.) and objects that cannot exist because their existence would be a self contradiction (square circles, married bachelors, etc.) In the first case we can still imagine such objects and attribute properties to them. The nonexistence of the latter is a logically necessary truth and the existence of such objects cannot even be imagined. Attributing properties to objects in the latter case would therefore be farcical.