ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Does a concept exist?

Updated on March 27, 2013

There is nothing wrong with using the same word to apply to different contexts. We don't have enough of them in our grasp, so that's what we do. Many languages are all about nuance and context. The English language tries to be more precise then most, but it is difficult to be absolutely precise because of the nature of truth and fact.

Perhaps we need to invent more words. But the way we do things generally turns out fine, as long as we explain context.  While it would be nice to have every word symbolize a single specific meaning, I’m not in favour of reducing words to a point that they no longer reflect the nuance of reality.

Evolution takes care of this sort of thing over time. Being in a rush to get it all done now is a fool’s game. I offer a case in point:

There is a growing trend in philosophy these days to reduce the universe to two categories:

1: Only physical objects exist.

2: Everything else is a concept, and concepts do not exist.

What I am arguing is that existence is not just a physical presence but anything that affects the physical world. Effects have cause and cause/effect is physical. I'm a materialist so I am not postulating anything non-material in the origin of phenomena or effects.

Running is not an object but it is the behaviour of a physical object. Behaviour is not a concept, it is observable physical phenomenon. The behaviour of an object is an inseparable part of what the object is.  The study of the physical world is the study of physical behaviour. To say that behaviour does not exist is indefensible.  

The idea that only physical "objects" exist, and that everything else is concept, is too simplistic and deletes at least this one entire category; probably more.  To say something does not exist renders it ‘nothing.’

All existing things are real by definition. But not all real things, or phenomenon, exist as objects.

To exist is to be actual, or to be real. Those are standard definitions of the word exist. Anything material is, of course, actual. But behaviour is actual as well. It can be observed, and it affects the material world. Therefore there is nothing wrong with saying it exists.

That’s where context comes in.  

We can formulate it this way: Cause (behaviour, for example) is real but does not exist on its own as a physical object. Rather as part of it.  That way, we are separating the word real from the word exist; noting that nothing which is unreal can exist. I think that is accurate, and a sensible way of dealing with the situation.

I think it is clumsy, lazy, and inaccurate to say cause does not exist, or even that a concept does not exist.  A concept does exist as a physical pattern in the brain. But it may not exist outside that reality, and it is obviously not the physical reality it is a concept of.

What is so hard about explaining context? It is reductionist and illogical to want simplistic categories that do not fully explain the situation.

A concept can reflect real or imagined phenomena. The imagined phenomena do not affect the material world directly. An animal with the head of a lion and the body of a horse is not a real or existing thing. So the thought alone does not reflect reality, and such imagined animals have no effect on the material world. If you want to make an animal with the head of a lion and the body of a horse, you have to take concept to genetics and create one. You have to "do" something. Action is real, not just a concept.  You can argue that it does not exist "as a physical object" and then you have defined your context, which is fine. Just saying it does not exist leaves the context up in the air and "non-existent."

Truth is relative. That is another reductionist phrase. But if you understand the context, it makes sense. Relative truth means that truth can only be arrived at through relative means. The context is: Truth is relative to a set of specific variables being true, for as long as they remain true. An example would be: If today I turn on my bathroom tap and get water, I will get water the next time I turn it on, and every time I turn it on, as long as nothing in the system has changed. If a change has occurred in the system it may no longer be true that I will get water until the problem is fixed.

Most people think water boils at 212 F. It does, but only under specific conditions. Those conditions are that you boil the water at a specific altitude, and that the water is of a specific purity.  Were you to boil water at high altitude or add impurities, that number may no longer be valid. But at that point, water will boil at another absolute value for as long as you do not change one of the two variables again.

The way you can get to absolute truth through relative truth, is context. Context is that sets of specific variables you use to get at truth. There are no simplistic short cuts that make things easier; you always need to account for the specific variables.

In conclusion, it seems to me that it is time young materialists and philosophers start understanding and using context again, and not worry so much about dissecting every word we use in an attempt to find single hard and fast meanings for each. Words have nuance for a reason.  The reason being: truth is a very real but complex thing.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)