Jones says “The witch who lives in the house at the end of the street really scares me.” We, not believing in the myth of witches, can have a couple of reactions to this:
- Jones referred to the woman who lives at the end of the street, and the fact he implicitly described her as a witch just betrays some false auxiliary belief he has about witches.
- Jones failed to refer to the woman at the end of the street because she isn’t a witch (since no witches exist).
Even if you’d prefer option 1 or option 2, the other option likely seems pretty reasonable.
Identically we could have used the example of phlogiston:
- not existing
- referring to oxygen but having a lot of false baggage
Causal theories of reference and bottom-up semantic theories (which start with the primitive things that exist and their properties, then builds up the reason relations they stand in) require a sharp line between things that exist and don’t exist, whereas pragmatically we see no such line exists.
Takeaway: existence isn’t the sort of thing for which there is a fact of the matter. Theories that contradict this are wrong. Insofar as we say things exist, it is answering to the top-down, wholistic considerations.