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Faculty Colloquium Series: Christopher Menzel (PHIL) 11/15/22

"A Brief History of Nonexistent Objects: Precursors to the Possibilism-Actualism Debate"
We welcome your attendance in GLAS 311 or online via Zoom
Meeting ID: 949 2708 4873
Passcode: Menzel

“A Brief History of Nonexistent Objects: Precursors to the Possibilism-Actualism Debate

Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | 4-5pm

We welcome your attendance in GLAS 311
Or online via Zoom

Zoom Meeting information:
Meeting ID: 949 2708 4873
Password: Menzel

Zoom Link

Dr. Christopher Menzel, Professor | Department of Philosophy


On the face of it, a good bit of our discourse concerns things that don’t exist: chimeras from Greek mythology, characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Pope’s merely possible children, even impossibilia like round squares and Russell’s infamous set of all sets that are not members of themselves. But there is a puzzle here: For in talking about them — even if only to assert or prove that they don’t exist — it appears that we are tacitly affirming their existence! For otherwise, what are we talking about when we do so?

Dr. Menzel’s research at the Glasscock Center this semester has been focused on this problem particularly with regard to so-called merely possible objects, or possibilia, like the Pope’s merely possible children. In contemporary philosophy, an important manifestation of the problem is the possibilism-actualism debate. Possibilists boldly follow the logic of the puzzle of non-existence where it appears to lead and assert that, indeed, there literally are such things as the Pope’s merely possible children — they just exhibit a rather attenuated form of being short of fully-fledged existence. Actualists (like Menzel) find this view untenable. To their chagrin, however, despite holding what seems to be the obvious common sense position, actualists have to admit that the motivations for possibilism are surprisingly strong. Menzel’s purpose in this talk will be to say a bit about the motivations for possibilism and to survey some of the fascinating historical precursors to the modern debate.

PLEASE NOTE: This talk will only concern the non-technical material in the first 12 pages, through §2.1.

The Faculty Colloquium offers faculty an opportunity to discuss a work-in-progress with faculty and graduate students from different disciplines. By long-standing practice, colloquium presenters provide a draft of their current research, which is made available to members of the Glasscock Center listserv. Each colloquium begins with the presenter’s short (10-15 minute) exposition of the project, after which the floor is open for comments and queries. The format is by design informal, conversational, and interdisciplinary.

The paper is available to members of the Center’s listserv, or by contacting the Glasscock Center by phone at (979) 845-8328 or by e-mail at

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