Thursday, February 19, 2015

Augustine and Heraclitus on the present moment


On the subject of time and our awareness of it, Augustine says the following in The Confessions:

But how does this future, which does not yet exist, diminish or become consumed?  Or how does the past, which now has no being, grow, unless there are three processes in the mind which in this is the active agent?  For the mind expects and attends and remembers, so that what it expects passes through what has its attention to what it remembers…

Suppose I am about to recite a psalm which I know.  Before I begin, my expectation is directed towards the whole.  But when I have begun, the verses from it which I take into the past become the object of my memory.  The life of this act of mine is stretched two ways, into my memory because of the words I have already said and into my expectation because of those which I am about to say.  But my attention is on what is present: by that the future is transferred to become the past. (Confessions 11.28.37-38, Chadwick translation; an older translation is available online here)

So, it seems that for Augustine, for conscious awareness to “attend” to the present moment presupposes also both its “remembering” the immediate past and its “expectation” of the immediate future.  For example, when reciting the twenty third Psalm, my present awareness of speaking the words “…my shepherd…” has the significance and phenomenal feel that it does only because I simultaneously remember just having said “The Lord is…” and also simultaneously expect to follow the words I am speaking with “…I shall not want.”  Awareness of the present moment has intentionality in two directions: it “points” or is “directed” backwards toward the moment that preceded it, and forwards toward the moment that will succeed it. 

Augustine makes a similar point elsewhere, when he says that we cannot hear even a single syllable

unless memory helps us so that, at the moment when not the beginning but the end of the syllable sounds, that motion remains in the mind which was produced when the beginning sounded (De musica 6.5.10, quoted in Roland Teske, “Augustine’s Philosophy of Memory” in Stump and Kretzmann, The Cambridge Companion to Augustine, First edition)

This two-directional intentionality appears to be the key to our sense of the unity of the self over time.  Note that I say, not that it is the key to the self’s unity, but that it is the key to our sense of the self’s unity.  As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the self would in fact persist even if its memory of its past were obliterated.  What would be lost in that case is not its identity, but merely its knowledge of its identity.  The Lockean idea that “who I am” is defined by my memories of the past and plans for the future is bad metaphysics, but it is good epistemology.  Such memories and expectations don’t constitute the self’s identity, but in normal cases (i.e. when one is not suffering from brain damage, mental illness, or the like) they will follow from and manifest its identity.  (They are, to use the Scholastic metaphysical jargon a little loosely, something like “proper accidents” of identity.)  The self’s remembrance of its distant past history and expectation of the carrying out of its long-range future plans is an extension of the memory of the immediate past and expectation of the immediate future of which Augustine speaks.

This two-directional intentionality in the subjective realm of the mind has a parallel in the objective world.  For the Scholastic metaphysician, the natural world is governed by the principle of finality and the principle of proportionate causality.  According to the principle of finality, efficient causes are “directed toward” or “point” forward to their characteristic effects, as toward a final cause.  And according to the principle of proportionate causality, effects “point” backwards, toward their efficient causes.  These principles are, to use Hume’s language (though not his principles), the “cement of the universe” that keeps things and events from being “loose and separate.” 

As I have argued many times, it was the early moderns’ abandonment of immanent final causality -- final causality as an inherent feature (as opposed to an observer-relative feature) of natural phenomena -- that paved the way for Humean skepticism about efficient causality.  As Aquinas argued, if efficient causes were not “pointed” or “directed toward” their characteristic effects, there would be no way to explain why those effects are in fact the ones which characteristically follow.  Things really would objectively be “loose and separate.”  (As usual, see Scholastic Metaphysics for detailed defense of all this Scholastic metaphysics.) 

If “directedness” did not exist even in the mind -- that is to say, if intentionality were an illusion, as eliminative materialism holds -- then the self’s sense of its own unity over time would also be undermined.  Just as the objective world breaks apart into innumerable disconnected distinct existences in the absence of final causality, so too does the subjective world break apart into innumerable disconnected distinct moments of awareness in the absence of intentionality.  Present awareness would not “point” backward to the immediate past or forward to the immediate future.  Its entire content would be limited to the present instant, and there would be no sense of a self that extended beyond that instant.

These implications of Humeanism and eliminativism are, of course, foreshadowed in Heraclitus’s philosophy, at least as traditionally interpreted.  For the Heraclitean, all is flux, and there are no abiding entities.  That includes the self.  There is no “I” that persists over time; there is only an awareness of the present instant followed by an awareness of the next instant followed by an awareness of the next, with no one abiding thing that has all of these awarenesses. 

Now, part of the significance of Augustine’s observation is that it indicates how the Heraclitean account is not true to the phenomenology of the sense of self.  We simply don’t perceive ourselves as existing merely in the present instant, for as Augustine points out, awareness of the present instant also involves in the normal case a remembrance of the past and an expectation of the future.  This two-directional intentionality is built into awareness of the present, and can be absent only when our cognitive faculties are malfunctioning. 

But there is a deeper lesson.  Augustine’s observation also helps us to see why the Heraclitean position cannot really be coherently formulated.  For suppose I try to think the thought that there is no abiding self.  As Augustine would point out, the words “…no abiding…,” as uttered inwardly to oneself, have their significance only insofar as I remember that they were preceded by an utterance of “There is…” and expect that they will be followed by an utterance of “…self.”  Now, these different utterances occur at different times, and are thus the objects of distinct acts of awareness.  But if the Heraclitean position is correct, there is no single abiding self that underlies these acts of awareness.  Thus there would be no one self that could have the thought that there is no abiding self.  The self that begins the thought would not be the same as the self which continues the thought, and neither would be the same as the self that completes the thought.  There would be nothing that actually has that particular thought.  Hence if Heraclitus’s position were correct, no one could so much as formulate it, for no one could last long enough to do so.  And yet we do formulate the position, as is evidenced by the fact that we can entertain it, argue about it, accept or reject it.  The very act of formulating Heraclitus’s position thereby refutes it.

So, Heraclitus was wrong.  How appropriate, then, that in the little montage above, Augustine seems to be hearing Heraclitus’s confession!

68 comments:

Glenn said...

Nice. No, not nice. Excellent.

Tom said...

This topic was touched on in the beginning of Scholastic Metaphysics, along with Parmenides. When first reading the book, I found the argument against Parmenides more convincing, but this post fleshes out the argument against Heraclitus' position excellently. Many thanks.

OFF-TOPIC ALERT: I posted this in the other thread, but I'd like to direct the denizens of this blog (and its author) to this cosmic irony in Sam Harris's "End of Faith".

Thursday said...

The arguments against Heraclitus' position would also apply against Buddhism.

Might as well take the opportunity to recommend Rupert Gethin's book on that religion.

Anonymous said...

Hello Tom,
The point can be found fleshed out by Plato himself (who we must remember belonged to the Heraclitean school of thought in his youth) in the Theaetetus and the Sophist. In the first dialogue Plato argues against the notion of pure phenomena and in the second that there are real subjects of knowledge. These are my favorite of the dialogues.

seanrobsville said...

@ Thursday

Buddhism is a process philosophy. Phenomena have continuity but no underlying stability. Thus my body is not the same now as it was when I was six years old, and neither is my mind. In fact, the atoms of my body have probably been replaced several times since then.

The basis of reality consists of processes rather than static ‘things’. If any ‘thing’ is analysed in enough depth, and observed over a long enough timescale, it can be seen to be part of a dynamic process rather than a static, stable thing-in-itself. This becomes obvious when we remember that the universe is itself a process (a continuing expansion from the Big Bang), and so all that it contains are subprocesses of the whole.

Daniel said...

FIW: I would be inclined to see Heraclitus cryptic remarks about the Logos underpinning everything as expression of a rudimentary Process Theology.

Daniel said...

@seanrobsville

Thanks for the links to your post on Turing and Process Ontology.

One question: you write:

Processes can be divided into two categories - mental processes and physical/mechanistic processes.

I thought on at least some Buddhist philosophies held there was in fact only the one kind of processes which would be the 'mental', though one might perhaps prefer the term 'awareness' since one of the core contentions is that awareness does not entail a mind/subject? The ultimate reality or state is just to be aware but not aware of anything

John West said...

Sean Robsville,

Buddhism is a process philosophy. Phenomena have continuity but no underlying stability. Thus my body is not the same now as it was when I was six years old, and neither is my mind. In fact, the atoms of my body have probably been replaced several times since then [...]

Out of curiosity, how does Buddhism respond to arguments like the one against Heraclitus in the Dr. Feser's post?

Ronald said...

"These implications of Humeanism and eliminativism are, of course, foreshadowed in Heraclitus’s philosophy, at least as traditionally interpreted."

Professor, or someone else who is able: Would you, please, give an example of a non-traditional interpretation of Heraclitus?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Tom DePietro said...

Not directly related to your post, but a question that has been on my mind:

Is this passage indicative of Augustine as a presentist with regards to time? (of course a modern term like presentism wont be found in Augustine, but the concept probably could be.)

Can the same be said of Aquinas and the rest of the tradition? Is it central to the tradition?

Thanks,
TD

Daniel Joachim said...

I cannot help wonder though, whether this is too harsh on Heraclitus.

Speaking of. I'm following Peter Adamson's podcast on the History of Philosophy Without Gaps, and suddenly he invites M.M. McCabe to discuss Heraclitus.

McCabe thinks Heraclitus is often misunderstood. That Heraclitus really is just engaging his audiance, and providing some tools to unravel seemingly contractions, by showing that it's a matter of considering the same things, but from different perspectives. That "everything is flux" doesn't really represent the view of Heraclitus.

I'm certainly no Heraclitus scholar, so I'm not qualified to defend this interpretation, but I'm wondering if she could be onto something?

seanrobsville said...

@ John West,
I'm not even sure there's a problem here. I'm somewhat wary of the computational model of mind , but in this case there's probably a reasonable analogy. Consider a weather forecasting program. The program operates on datastructures derived from past and present weather patterns, and produces datastructures corresponding to future weather.

The transformation of past and present into future data is carried out by a series of momentary low-level instructions governed by the process of flow of control.

Similarly with language translation programs. They don't input/output a word at a time, but parse entire sentences and output entire sentences in (hopefully) correct grammatical form for the target language. If a machine can do this kind of 'holistic' operation by a series of distinct acts of computation, then I see no reason why a brain can't.

seanrobsville said...

@ Daniel,
Yes there are some schools of Buddhist philosophy such as the Cittamatra, which state that all phenomena exist solely in dependence upon mind. This is a kind of Berkeleyan Idealism.

The more orthodox Mahamudra belief is that all phenomena exist in a threefold dependence on causes, composition and intentionality.

The 'root' mind is indeed pure awareness. Under normal circumstance this mind is so disturbed by a constant barrage of real and imagined objects of attachment and aversion that we never experience it. One of the objectives of the 'mindfulness meditation' so popular with stressed out celebs is to calm the mind sufficiently for it to become aware of itself. It is claimed that mindfulness is a higher than normal level of consciousness that seeks to observe, understand, and control thought processes. It does this by various techniques of standing back, and partially dissociating itself from normal everyday chaotic thought processes in order to see the wood from the trees.

Matt Sheean said...

"I'm certainly no Heraclitus scholar, so I'm not qualified to defend this interpretation, but I'm wondering if she could be onto something?"

I'm puzzled by his talk of the Logos, that all things come to pass in accordance with it, that it is common to all.

And I just noticed as I was writing this that Daniel has already suggested an answer to that, viz. Process Theology. I was thinking of Hegel, too.

Matt Sheean said...

@Daniel,

I'm listening to the podcast now, I should have mentioned in my last comment that I did not yet listen to it.

thanks for the link!

Daniel said...

Quick message folks,

@Daniel

A friend of mine is quite interested in Heraclitus and Parmenides. In conversations we've often said that Heraclitus as presented as the philosopher of Becoming verses Parmenides is really a text-book oversimplification used to set the stage for Plato; it might be better to call that first individual the philosopher of Dynamic Being as.

For interesting interpretations I would recommend the second volume of Karl Jaspers' The Great Philosophers and Eric Voegelin's Order and History volume II, The World of the Polis

@Matt,

Yes, well Hegel takes his dialectic of opposites from Heraclitus description of the movement of the Logos through opposition doesn't he?

Matt Sheean said...

@Daniel

My Hegel knowledge is pretty limited - I only remember all that about being and nothing in the beginning of the Science of Logic sounding Heraclitus-like.

DNW said...

I wonder if Feser has studied phenomenology either formally or on the side during his analytic philosophy training days.

It would not be strange. Ryle, apparently had an interest in it.

DNW said...



Reflexivity, of a sort; self-consciousness; time ...

Semi off-topic, but enlightening.


http://www.waggish.org/2012/gilbert-ryle-on-heideggers-being-and-time/

Daniel said...

Husserl derived much inspiration for his account of Time-Consciousness, that of the Now with its 'moments' (Phenomenological term for non-independent properties) of Retention, pointing back to that Now just been, and Protention, looking forward to the Now about to be, from Augustine's account of temporal awareness.

@Tom,

That's a difficult question, at least when we move from our experience of Time to the nature of Time itself. In one way the Scholastics from Boethius and Augustine onwards were Presentists, since they held only the Now truly had being, yet bizarrely enough they were in another way Eternalist, since that Now, at least for God, is bigger than people think.

@Seanrobsville

Thanks for the explanation. I confess to know very little about the varying forms of Eastern thought, Buddhist and otherwise. Interestingly enough I once discussed a phenomenological interpretation of 'therapeutic' Mindfulness with a psychotherapist who'd done work on Heidegger and Gadamer - I ventured an account of it in terms of a reduction to the lowest levels of Passive Synthesis.

James said...

at least as traditionally interpreted

Is this your way of saying ‘for all I know’? Because you clearly have no idea how Heraclitus is ‘traditionally interpreted’. Are you even aware that the principle of the unity of opposites is inferred from flux? Are you able to distinguish the Cratylan and Heraclitean positions? Have you read Sextus adv. Math. 7, 132 or did ‘tradition’ tell you that reading the actual sources was unnecessary because, well, flux, right?

John West said...

Sean Robsville,

Similarly with language translation programs. They don't input/output a word at a time, but parse entire sentences and output entire sentences in (hopefully) correct grammatical form for the target language. If a machine can do this kind of 'holistic' operation by a series of distinct acts of computation, then I see no reason why a brain can't.

Thank you for explaining this. Since I don't know much about Buddhist philosophy, I apologize in advance for any inaccurate conflations of the Buddhist position with Heraclitus's.

Suppose you can get the argument out this way even though, if Augustine's right, this wouldn't fully account for a person's experience of stating the argument (or any one person having a unified field of experience at all, unless there's more).

I think this would lead to a weird philosophy of language. For example, if someone lines up six (or any number of) separate people and they each speak a word of a statement, is it really possible for whatever they have formed to count as a statement? The Heraclitean seems to have to reply: "Yes -- and even when each ceases to exist after speaking."

Also, in that vein, what about statements like “I exist.”?

Edward Feser said...

James,

No, it’s my way of acknowledging that the standard Phil 101 textbook characterization of Heraclitus’s views is regarded by some commentators as simplistic. And that that is irrelevant to the purposes of the post, since the point of the post was not to do Heraclitus exegesis (important as that is for other purposes) but rather to pit what Augustine says against what is commonly regarded as the “Heraclitean” position.

The reason for making that acknowledgement was that, as I know from experience, whenever you say anything even in passing about some thinker X, there’s at least a 50-50 chance that some pedantic schmuck whose pet interest is in X will show up in your combox in high dudgeon to insist that you got X all wrong, don’t know what you’re talking about, etc. Even when you make it clear (as I did) that you are aware that there are controversies over interpretation.

James, it seems that in this case, you are that schmuck. Guess you win a No-Prize or something!

Anonymous said...

@ Ronald:

Professor, or someone else who is able: Would you, please, give an example of a non-traditional interpretation of Heraclitus?

PDF:

http://goo.gl/XhxFJD

Book:

http://goo.gl/82YAxF

Anonymous said...

The Logos is nothing more than the rational/discursive connection between all things. In the Platonic schema this would correspond to the anima mundi/world-soul which is the third hypostasis from the First. The Stoics hold the Logos to be the highest principle. For the Christian theologian it would correspond to the action of the Holy Spirit under the aspect of natural providence even though 'Logos' is the name granted to the Second Person of the Trinity. There is obviously a significance to raising the Logos' position in the doctrine of the Trinity. In the stoical conception the Logos is identified with the divine will/anima mundi which should hint at their deterministic and immanentistic perspective.

Many modern thinkers probably reject the ancient exegesis (by Platonists, Stoics, Christians, etc.) of the Heraclitean Logos to indulge in their own speculations, I'm sure. I myself may have not relayed what I've just remembered off hand with the best accuracy.

Kiel said...

If I was a betting man, I'd say this post is inspired by the work Ed is doing on his upcoming philosophy of nature book.

If this is true, I'm unnaturally excited.

seanrobsville said...

@ John West

For example, if someone lines up six (or any number of) separate people and they each speak a word of a statement, is it really possible for whatever they have formed to count as a statement? The Heraclitean seems to have to reply: "Yes -- and even when each ceases to exist after speaking."

A well-formed intelligible statement is a well-formed intelligible statement, no matter what its origins or the motivations of its speakers. I don't see why multiple speakers shouldn't be able to form a coherent statement.

By analogy we can think of multiple actors each speaking a few lines and forming a coherent play. If it's a whodunnit their characters may cease to exist after speaking. "I know the identity of the murderer. It was... Aaaargh!!!"

As for the statement "I exist.”, there are two particularly problematic parts to this - the words "I" and "exist" .

DNW said...

Daniel said...

Husserl derived much inspiration for his account of Time-Consciousness, that of the Now with its 'moments' (Phenomenological term for non-independent properties) of Retention, pointing back to that Now just been, and Protention, looking forward to the Now about to be, from Augustine's account of temporal awareness."


Hmmm ... vague recollections.

I'm going to wind up rummaging through 30 year old classroom notes, if I am not careful.


On another matter, poor Feser: damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

One of the most "irritating" things about the guy, is how well he covers the bases and how anticipatory, he is.

On the other hand if he so much as tries to set the stage for a question, with nods at the provisionality of the premise he presents, he's effen jumped on.

It's like there's a horde of dweebs laying in wait for anything they can plausibly, or implausibly for that matter, fasten on to.

Is this what men have degenerated to?

For the honest schoolkids who I have seen visiting here, and who might have an actual if generalist interest the Presocratics for themselves, rather than as a hobby horse upon which they can seat their petulance, here are a couple of links to traditional sources in English.

Amazing what's online now. To think that even getting ahold of a tattered stack copy of Burnet was once an achievement.

Yeah, and I know that some of Burnet's interpretations are now considered ... blah ... blah ...

http://www.classicpersuasion.org/pw/burnet/egp.htm?chapter=3

And Kirk and Raven too. I suspect that this one might not last online as it is not 250 years old and the Sonny Bono Law's grandchildren of my grandchildren clause may not have run out yet ...

https://archive.org/details/presocraticphilo033229mbp

John West said...

Sean Robsville,

As for the statement "I exist.”, there are two particularly problematic parts to this - the words "I" and "exist" .

Man, Buddhism is hardcore. Obviously I disagree with both anti-essentialism and extreme mereological nihilism, but arguing against either of those positions would take me off the thread topic. So, thank you for the replies.

PhiGuy110 said...

If I held Heraclitus' opinions I'd be weeping too. Except there'd be no "I" to do the weeping, of course.

Don Jindra said...

"As Aquinas argued, if efficient causes were not 'pointed' or 'directed toward' their characteristic effects, there would be no way to explain why those effects are in fact the ones which characteristically follow."

This means that explaining something can be a mere recognition that things have always occurred in a particular way. The past explains the future. That's all intentionality appears to be -- a way of hiding the fact that it's based entirely on past observation. In my reading of Hume, that's what he says. Final cause, or intentionality, doesn't explain. We don't know cause. We know only consistency -- conjoined events as he phrases it.

We may say "efficient causes are 'directed toward' or 'point' forward to their characteristic effects, as toward a final cause," but we have to wait to see those 'characteristic effects' (conjoined events) before we can count them as a final cause. "Explaining" is merely predicting the same effect we've already seen. However, the objective world doesn't really break apart into innumerable disconnected distinct existences, to quibble with Hume. It remains whole, not because of final causality or intentionality, but because of its consistency and our memory and expectation of its continuing consistency. A recognition of that consistency doesn't explain why that consistency occurs. Final cause doesn't explain why final cause occurs. As I've said before, suppose a prosecutor turns to a jury and says, "If you want an explanation for why the defendant killed Mr. Jones, you need know only this: The defendant intended to kill Mr. Jones. It was his final cause." No jury would accept that as a satisfactory explanation.

So for me this sort of explanation doesn't say much about our sense of self. But this post got me thinking. How does an "abiding self" transform from an atheistic libertarian into a duty-bound Roman Catholic? It seems to me an abiding self wouldn't do that, though I observe it happens.


Daniel said...

Now if Don Jindra had read on from Hume (who himself considered the Bundle theory insufficient) and actually made it to Kant, let alone Husserl, he would know how to distinguish between the Empirical and Transcendental Ego. But he appears not to have (on the kindest reading) so can't.

In other news:

http://www.amazon.com/Evident-Connexion-Hume-Personal-Identity/dp/0199680604/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1424548663&sr=8-2&keywords=hume+strawson

(A contemporary philosopher Ed will be familer with).

Anonymous said...

"Now, these different utterances occur at different times, and are thus the objects of distinct acts of awareness. [...] Thus there would be no one self that could have the thought that there is no abiding self."

Although I do not agree entirely with the "heraclitean position", I think the argument does not hold.

The premise is true, but the conclusion is false. By remembrance, all utterances are also acts of the same awareness, since the act of remembrance is in the present moment, and thereby the object of remembrance comes to be the object of awareness. The utterances "accumulate", so to speak, in the act(s) of awareness.

Now, I think that the heracleatean position is true to a very large extent, except for one single exception: the act of awareness itself. I think this is the only thing which stays the same. I.e. there is only one active intellect.

Jinzang said...

"The more orthodox Mahamudra belief is that all phenomena exist in a threefold dependence on causes, composition and intentionality."

This sounds interesting, but I don't know how to relate it to what I know of Buddhist philosophy. Perhaps you can tell me what is the Tibetan word you are translating as intentionality. I can't think of any word that corresponds. The usual expression employed is that all phenomena arise from causes and conditions.

I think the Buddhist response to Augustine's / Feser's argument is that memory and anticipation both occur in the present and not in the past or future and so cannot be used to show persistence of the self over time. Or so it was explained to me when explaining the rat bite analogy used in the 9th chapter of Engaging in Bodhisattva Deeds.

Of course, the Buddhist insistence on the absence of a self leads them into many metaphysical difficulties, which their Hindu opponents were not shy about pointing out. One would think there would be a modern work presenting both positions, but I don't know of any. The best I can think of right now is Stcherbatsky's Buddhist Logic, which is very old.

seanrobsville said...

@Jinzang

The Sanskrit term for this aspect of intentionality is Prajñaptir upādāya which is variously translated into English as 'conceptual imputation', 'mental designation', 'conceptual designation' or 'dependent designation' . The Tibetan equivalent is rten ne dag pa .

In any attempt at computer modelling of the mind, causes can be modelled, composition can be modelled, but mental designation can't.

Regarding the Buddhist/Hindu dispute about an abiding self or soul, I've blogged about it here.

seanrobsville said...

@ Jinzang again

"I think the Buddhist response to Augustine's / Feser's argument is that memory and anticipation both occur in the present and not in the past or future and so cannot be used to show persistence of the self over time. Or so it was explained to me when explaining the rat bite analogy used in the 9th chapter of Engaging in Bodhisattva Deeds."

Yes, I agree. Either I'm missing something very profound in Augustine's argument, or this is simply a matter of data presentation - of individual single values versus an array. The analogy that comes to mind is of a meteorologist keying hourly temperature values into a spreadsheet and producing a graph at the end of the day.

Glenn said...

Either I'm missing something very profound in Augustine's argument, or this is simply a matter of data presentation - of individual single values versus an array.

On the contrary, either Augustine's argument is simple, or one byte isn't half of two bytes.

Jinzang said...

"The Sanskrit term for this aspect of intentionality is Prajñaptir upādāya which is variously translated into English as 'conceptual imputation', 'mental designation', 'conceptual designation' or 'dependent designation'"

Oh, okay, I can see how you can translate this as intentionality. And it seems you mistyped Mahamudra instead of Madhyamika, which also threw me off.

seanrobsville said...

@Jinzang
Ooops! My apologies, yes I did mistype Mahamudra instead of Madhyamika.

Tony said...

A well-formed intelligible statement is a well-formed intelligible statement, no matter what its origins or the motivations of its speakers. I don't see why multiple speakers shouldn't be able to form a coherent statement.

Sean, I don't think this works. The "well formed intelligible statement" carries too much presumption.

Take in English the word formed by the letters I N V A L I D. Ask 2 people on which syllable is the stress. Mathematicians say the 2nd, nurses say the 1st. If you use the sounds comprised by the letters "invalid" in the nurses way, but use it in a sentence like "drawing such a conclusion from those premises is invalid" (stress on first syllable), the sentence is not intelligible. In writing the same letters are used, in voice different sounds are used. Is that the "same" word or "2 different words"? The intelligibility depends.

But that's just using two(?) words both from the English language. Suppose a stream of sounds is made of 8 "words". And suppose that the sounds that make up word 1 are the sounds of a word in English, and the sounds of a word in Sumerian. The sounds of word 2 are the sounds of a word in English and a word in Egyptian. The sounds of word 3 are the sounds of a word in English and a word in Cyrenian. And so on: word 4 for Latin, word 5 for Median, word 6 for Cretan, word 7 for Arabian, and word 8 for Phrygian. 8 people, all present in Jerusalem at the time of Acts 2, successively say one word. If an English person had been standing there, he would have been astounded and laughed out loud, because the 8 words would have formed a sentence known only to him an not one of the 8. As it is, since English was not yet to exist for 1000 years, and in fact its coming into existence was entirely contingent, and its harboring all 8 of those words was entirely contingent, at the time the 8 people sprayed out those words there is no obvious sensible validity of it as "well-formed intelligible statement is a well-formed intelligible statement, no matter what its origins or the motivations of its speakers."

The intelligibility rests not in the sounds alone but in the (pre-existing) relations between the sounds and the mind of some actual hearer who has assigned to each of those sounds a concept. If there is even just ONE word-sound such that nobody who hears it assigns it a meaning, then the intelligibility (of the whole) fails. Likewise, if there is no single person who hears all 8 sounds and assigns a meaning to all 8 sounds, the intelligibility fails. (Suppose the next 8 sounds by those same persons 2 seconds later have no relation to English and the 8 sounds do not comprise a "statement" in any language past, present or future.) The intelligibility is not independent of hearers who hold assigned meanings to the sounds. If the first 8 sounds have "intelligibility" purely by an utterly accidental "relation" to a future contingent language, and the "unintelligibility" of the second set of 8 sounds is also purely accidental to NOT having such "relation" to a future contingent language, the intelligibility (such as it is) exists by reason of something outside the sounds themselves. That something is a mind (or minds) who have a language in which they all make sense.

Don Jindra said...

Daniel,

Thanks for posting that link, although, to be honest, all of this talk about self seems kind of self-indulgent. :)

Btw, if I were interested in Kant I might ask how we can get from an unknowable, transcendental ego to an abiding self? How could we be sure the unknowable self is abiding? Or even transcendental for that matter?

Daniel said...

@Don Jindra,

Indeed you might conclude that the self is a necessary condition for all thought and accompanies all thought but is in itself a mystery known only to God if anyone. But I think some old Carthaginian who in his youth had a thing for prostitutes and stolen pears may have already beaten you to it.

Daniel said...

A stray thought:

Maybe Augustine's theory of Time would be better understood as something like Broad's 'Policeman's Bulls-eye' theory variation on the A theory rather than strict Presentism?

Timocrates said...

Science Proves Natural Ends and Assumes Them.

How do I know if 'x' is 'y'?

How might I know if some transparent liquid is actually water? I test it. By what thinking or reasoning? By seeing if the liquid in question does what water characteristically does. Perhaps I place the liquid in a circumstance that water always freezes or evaporates in but not other transparent liquids. Perhaps I subject it to electrolysis and see if the consequences are typical (characteristic or proper) for what water does (end, activity).

Without natural ends things become unintelligible, as Dr. Feser rightly noted and insists. Science becomes -if not simply impossible- them most definitely hopeless/pointless.

It is normal and natural for water to do X, Y or Z in certain circumstances or situations; and this always. Should it fail to do this, then we conclude that it either is not water or there is something going on with or to that water that makes it special or distinct.

Again. If someone claims 'X' is 'Y', and I know something of the nature of 'Y', then what I might do or ask to be sure is seek the characteristic effects of 'Y', especially anything simply necessary for something to be 'Y'. Thus when someone says 'X' is 'Y', then 'Y' points to something; it is naturally directed to certain characteristic effects.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"Maybe Augustine's theory of Time would be better understood as something like Broad's 'Policeman's Bulls-eye' theory variation on the A theory rather than strict Presentism?"

Augustine was quite explicit in his rejection of (what we now call) strict presentism. In Book XI of the Confessions, he expressly argues that e.g. memory and prophecy would be impossible if the past and the future simply failed to exist altogether. His other remarks about time emerging from and then going back to hiding in a "secret refuge" do suggest that he might have signed on to something like the "policeman's bull's-eye" theory* (the more common analogy today is the frames of a motion-picture films lit in succession), but honestly I'm not sure his own thinking about time went that far.

If it had, he'd probably have noticed that it had the tremendous problem of presuming time in trying to explain it. For without time, how do the various frames of the film become lit in succession and then become unlit again?

----

* Which, for the sake of clarity, we should note was not Broad's own although he was the first to describe it in those terms. (I'm sure that's what you had in mind; I'm just bringing it out clearly.)

Daniel said...

@Scott,

For what it's worth I knew Broad didn't himself endorse that theory - I just couldn't (and still can't) remember anyone who did.

Scott said...

Yeah, I knew you weren't saying Broad endorsed it. I'm not offhand thinking of any philosopher-by-trade who has endorsed it, but I distinctly recall astronomer Fred Hoyle's presentation of a version of it (using pigeonholes as his illustration) in his SF novel October the First is Too Later.

Scott said...

Oops, that last word should of course be Late.

Glenn said...

Scott,

...I distinctly recall astronomer Fred Hoyle's presentation of a version of it (using pigeonholes as his illustration) in his SF novel October the First is Too Late.

Oh, "I remembered his argument about consciousness and about rows of pigeon holes, except I
[can't] remember the details."

Scott said...

@Glenn:

It's a strange argument, at least as I recall it. His protagonist's claim was that the pigeonholes didn't have to be lit up in sequence, whatever that could mean for the view under consideration.

I still have the book around somewhere, so I'll have a peep when I get a chance to look for it.

Scott said...

"…whatever that could mean for the view under consideration."

And to be explicit here, the problem is the same as for the version in which the pigeonholes (or whatever) do have to be lit up in succession. If it's time itself we're trying to explain, then we can't invoke temporal succession the explanation itself. And if we don't, what can it mean for the pigeonholes to be lit up "in turn," in any sequence?

Scott said...

in the explanation itself.

Glenn said...

It's probably to be found somewhere in the range of pp 69-74. ;)

Glenn said...

And if we don't, what can it mean for the pigeonholes to be lit up "in turn," in any sequence?

I don't know, maybe it serves as fodder for wild speculation about time travel.

If the moments of time are only sequential accessible, then one moment follows another, and to get to the fifth moment subsequent to the present moment, the first thru fourth moments must be traversed.

But if the moments of time are accessibly randomly, then getting to fifth moment subsequent to the present moment doesn't require first traversing the first thru fourth moments.

Nothing original here, of course.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

That may be part of the motivation, but as an account of time itself it still doesn't work. (Not that you're saying otherwise, of course.) The time traveler going from moment zero to moment five still has to undergo change and succession—a subjective passage, if not of time, then of "metatime"—in order for the process to count as "sequential" at all.

Anonymous said...

Would the same argument apply to Growing Block theory?

Scott said...

I suppose that depends on the precise form of the theory. I'm not absolutely sure it would apply to C.D. Broad's, for example, because he defined temporal ordering in a way that made no overt reference to change or temporal succession: he thought one moment was later than another just in case the grand total of everything that exists (including the past, of course) at the former includes more than the grand total of everything that exists at the latter.

Glenn said...

Scott,

The time traveler going from moment zero to moment five still has to undergo change and succession—a subjective passage, if not of time, then of "metatime"—in order for the process to count as "sequential" at all.

I agree.

I also don't agree with the so-called Buddhist doctrine of "momentariness", at least as explicated by Alexander von Rospatt (here). It does, though, seem like an interesting view, (at least I find Rospatt's presentation of it to be interesting).

From the introduction's first paragraph:

"The object of the Buddhist doctrine of momentariness is not the nature of time but existence within time. Rather than atomizing time into moments, it atomizes phenomena temporally by dissecting them into a succession of discrete momentary entities. Its fundamental proposition is that all phenomena ... pass out of existence as soon as they have originated and in this sense are momentary. As an entity vanishes, it gives rise to a new entity of almost the same nature which originates immediately afterwards."

And from its second paragraph:

"This doctrine of momentariness entails that change is not constituted by the transmutation of persisting entities, but by the qualitative difference between earlier and later entities within a series. Though entities usually generate entities of the same kind, they differ qualitatively if an external agent affects the process of reproduction. If exposed to fire, for instance, a wood-entity does not give rise to an identical wood-entity when it perishes, but to a wood entity which bears the mark of impairment by fire, i.e. is slightly charred."

We Westerners, apparently, are deluded in our belief that all the cells in a person's body are replaced over a period of seven years (or whatever the period's length is currently said to be).

(Hm. Come to think of it, I suppose if I wanted to commit suicide by leaping from the top of the Empire State Building, by the time splash down occurs there probably will have been a succession of some several hundred thousand Glenns winking in and out of existence, so whichever one of them gets scraped off the pavement, well, it won't the one which had done gone and leapt, so that one cannot be said to have committed suicide. And it cannot be said that one-of-the-Glenns-which-winked-into-existence-sometime-after-the-one-who-leapt-winked-out-of-existence committed suicide for the simple reason that that Glenn didn't leap. So, of course, and quite obviously, it is undoubtedly and/or indubitably the case that there was no suicide, just a spontaneously manifesting mess on the sidewalk. So I think. Or one of the gazillions of the non-existent Glenns has thought. Or sumthin' like that.)

John West said...

... I find even the concept of a "moment" troublesome. What is it supposed to be, the smallest possible interval of time? There is no such interval.

But without moments, how do we mark when Glenn(1) is replaced by Glenn(2)?

John West said...

And if there are such moments, what is the fundamental difference between assigning a one-second interval to Glenn and an 82.7 year interval to Glenn?

Scott said...

@John West:

"I find even the concept of a 'moment' troublesome. What is it supposed to be, the smallest possible interval of time? There is no such interval."

Exactly, which is just why giving a logical grounding of differential and integral calculus proved to be such a hassle. Berkeley was exactly right about Newton's "Let the increments vanish": none of the relevant quantities could be defined without reference to some interval of time of nonzero length. The rigorous (ε, δ) approach eventually developed by Weierstrass still makes reference to such intervals.

Dimensionless "instants" are in some way abstractions from time, not vice versa. You can't start with such instants and "build" time out of them; they're dimensionless.

Scott said...

@John West:

"And if there are such moments, what is the fundamental difference between assigning a one-second interval to Glenn and an 82.7 year interval to Glenn?"

I don't see one, which is one of the reasons I generally accept the A-T view that time is a measure of change and not the reverse. If change is real and we're going to understand it, we need to forget about "time" for a (heh) moment and develop an analysis of change. Once we know what change is/involves, we can bring "time" back in.

John West said...

Scott,

I wasn't going to comment on the extreme mereological nihilism, because Buddhism baffles me and I don't want to misrepresent it. But I don't think an mereological nihilism avoids the problem either. Mereological nihilists still need some basic unit of matter to get started, and so instead of talking about Glenns we would be talking about Glenn-atomos.

I don't see one, which is one of the reasons I generally accept the A-T view that time is a measure of change and not the reverse. If change is real and we're going to understand it, we need to forget about "time" for a (heh) moment and develop an analysis of change. Once we know what change is/involves, we can bring "time" back in.

This Thomist view of time seems very plausible. I like it.

Scott said...

@John West:

"I like it."

So do I, and it's why I think Ed is right to insist so strongly in (notably) Scholastic Metaphysics that the act/potency distinction is so fundamental.

Anonymous said...

All time exists simultaneously. Therefore, ALL events are fixed and knowable in advance as well as during and after the fact of their apparent happening.

Even so, the knowledge of any event depends on our ability to enter into the plane or moment of that event. Therefore, knowledge of events outside of conventional memory and perception depends on our ability to transcend the body-mind in its present space-time state, configuration, or definition. And true knowledge of what is not contained in the present space-time limits of our experience depends on self-surrender, deep consciousness, ecstasy or self-transcendence, and resort to Ignorance, or that Condition of Being that transcends all past and present knowledge. In fact,then, the same requirements exist as a condition of perfect memory, foreknowledge, and total knowledge that exist as the Ultimate Condition of Transcendental Ecstasy or God-Realization. Such is the Paradox or Equation of Reality. The same Condition pertains at Zero, Everything, and Anything.



The mind does not exist in space. The mind exists only in time. But the mind arises in the Transcendental Being or consciousness, which is prior to time.

The body does not exist in time. The body exists only in space. But the body arises in Infinite Energy, which is prior to space.

The body-mind, or the individual and apparently independent psycho-physical being, exists only as a temporary and dependent pattern within the space-time continuum, or the Vast and Multi-Dimensional Realm of Cosmic Nature. But the Truth, Condition, or Real Identity of the body-mind and the entire Realm of Cosmic Nature is the infinitely Radiant Transcendental Being.

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymous

"All time exists simultaneously."

Meaning all time exists at the same time, which means 1900 and 2000 existed at the same time. That is certainly problematic for reasons that are obvious.

I think we ought to be careful in distinguishing between the fact that while time always measures the same kind of thing, not each thing measured is identical.

When I count, e.g., 12 men, while each is the same qua man, each man is unique.

At the same time, I do not measure my gas in time; I measure it in litres or gallons. Only then can I measure it in time; e.g., would long X litres or gallons of gas will last me.

In something a foot long there are 12 inches; however, each inch, though the same as inch, measures something different.

Similarly we speak of a length of time. There is something the same and something different; if there was absolutely no difference, then there would be strict identity, and we would then be guilty of double (or indeed even potentially infinite more) counting.

Tony said...

The same Condition pertains at Zero, Everything, and Anything.

You know, of course, what can be proven if 0=5.

Any system that "explains" reality, change, and the good by equating reality with nothing, good with nothing, and change with transcendence, needs a good spanking and being sent to bed without dinner.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Now, part of the significance of Augustine’s observation is that it indicates how the Heraclitean account is not true to the phenomenology of the sense of self. We simply don’t perceive ourselves as existing merely in the present instant, for as Augustine points out, awareness of the present instant also involves in the normal case a remembrance of the past and an expectation of the future. This two-directional intentionality is built into awareness of the present, and can be absent only when our cognitive faculties are malfunctioning.

But there is a deeper lesson. Augustine’s observation also helps us to see why the Heraclitean position cannot really be coherently formulated. For suppose I try to think the thought that there is no abiding self. As Augustine would point out, the words “…no abiding…,” as uttered inwardly to oneself, have their significance only insofar as I remember that they were preceded by an utterance of “There is…” and expect that they will be followed by an utterance of “…self.”


Magisterial!

The arguments against Heraclitus' position would also apply against Buddhism.

Of course they do!