I Do Not Exist

  • Peter Unger


It seems utterly obvious that the question ‘Do I exist?’ may be correctly answered only in the affirmative; of course the answer must be ‘Yes.’ Descartes, it may be said, made this idea the keystone of his philosophy, he found it so compelling. Hume, however, in his characteristically sceptical style, at least at times questioned the propriety of an affirmative reply. My teacher, Professor Sir Alfred Jules Ayer, to whom this essay is dedicated, customarily expressed himself in a conditional manner, which I find quite congenial:

The sentence ‘I exist’, in this usage, may be allowed to express a statement which like other statements is capable of being either true or false. It differs, however, from most other statements in that if it is false it can not actually be made. Consequently, no one who uses these words intelligently and correctly can use them to make a statement which he knows to be false. If he succeeds in making the statement, it must be true.1


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  1. 1.
    A. J. Ayer, The Problem of Knowledge ( London: Macmillan, 1956 ) p. 50.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Samuel C. Wheeler in, ‘Reference and Vagueness’, Synthèse, XXX (1967) no. 3–4 367–79.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Graham Macdonald, Michael Dummett, P. F. Strawson, David Pears, D. M. Armstrong, Charles Taylor, J. L. Mackie, David Wiggins, John Foster, Richard Wollheim, Peter Unger, Bernard Williams, Stephan Körner and A. J. Ayer 1979

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  • Peter Unger

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