Saturday, April 13, 2019

Vallicella on the truthmaker objection against presentism


Among the many ideas defended in Aristotle’s Revenge is the A-theory of time, and presentism in particular.  Relativity, time travel, the experience of time, and other issues in the philosophy of time are treated along the way, and what I say about those topics is crucial to my defense of presentism.  (See pp. 233-303.)  My buddy Bill Vallicella objects to my response in the book to the “truthmaker objection” against presentism.  Let’s consider Bill’s misgivings.

Presentism is the thesis that only the present exists, and that past and future events and objects do not.  To be more precise, it is the thesis that in the temporal realm, only present objects and events exist.  (For one could also hold – as I do, though other presentists might not – that in addition to what exists in time, there is what exists in an eternal or timeless way and what exists in an aeviternal way.) 

Among the rivals of presentism is the “eternalist” view that past and future objects and events are as real as present ones.  There is also the “growing block” view, according to which past objects and events are as real as present ones, though future objects and events are not.

The truthmaker objection essentially goes like this.  If a statement is true, then there must be something that makes it true. For example, if it is true that the cat is on the mat, that must be because there really exists some cat on some particular mat.  Now, consider the statement that Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March.  This is true, so there must be some truthmaker that makes it true.  But it makes reference to a past event, and presentism holds that past events no longer exist.  So how can there be a truthmaker for this statement?

There has been a lot of heavy going about this objection in the literature, but I don’t think it is at all impressive.  That is not because I would deny the “truthmaker principle.”  On the contrary, I think it is not only true, but trivially so – so trivial that I don’t know that we really need a momentous label like “truthmaker principle,” which makes it sound more substantive and interesting than it really is.

Yes, a statement is true only if there is something that makes it true.  But that doesn’t tell us very much, because there are so many kinds of thing that might make a statement true.  The statement that the cat is on the mat is true because of facts about the existence of and relationship between two spatiotemporal objects.  But different sorts of statements will have very different sorts of “truthmakers.”  For example, the statement that Iron Man is really Tony Stark is true.  But that is not because of facts similar to those that make it true that the cat is on the mat, because unlike cats and mats, Tony Stark is a fictional character.  So, what makes that sort of statement true has to do with the way certain people happened to write certain works of fiction.

Or take the statement that you can apologize to someone by sincerely uttering the words “I apologize.”  What makes that statement true is not any sort of spatial relationship between physical objects and not any sorts of facts about how certain fictional stories were written, but rather facts about certain human social conventions.  That’s a very different sort of “truthmaker.”

Or take the statement that 2 + 2 = 4.  What makes that sort of statement true has to do, not with spatiotemporal relations between physical objects, or with how a certain work of fiction was written, or with human conventions, but rather with the necessary connections between certain concepts.  (And what does that involve exactly?  Good question, but however we answer it, it will not be like the other examples, and the “truthmaker principle” by itself will be pretty useless for helping us to answer it.)

There are other possible examples, such as statements about God, statements about angels, statements about possible but non-actual states of affairs, and statements about impossible objects (e.g. “There are no round squares”).  Each will have a “truthmaker,” but not the same kind of truthmaker as in the other examples. 

So, the “truthmaker principle” doesn’t really tell us much.  In particular, it doesn’t tell us what sorts of things would have to make statements about the past true.  It certainly doesn’t tell us that the truthmakers for statements about the past have to be like the truthmakers for statements about the present, any more than it tells us that the truthmakers for statements about Tony Stark, or about the conditions for an apology, or about arithmetic, or about the impossibility of round squares, have to be like the truthmakers for statements about cats and mats.

Hence, for all the truthmaker principle tells us, it may be that what makes it true that Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March is simply the fact that Caesar really was assassinated on the Ides of March.  It doesn’t tell us that the truthmaker has to be a fact about something that exists, as opposed to being a fact about something that used to exist.  The presentist can say that as long as it is the case that Caesar etc. are things that used to exist even though they don’t exist anymore, then we have a “truthmaker” for the statement.

Of course, the critic of presentism might object to this on various grounds.  For example, he might insist that past events do in fact exist no less than present ones do, and that the existence of these past events is a more plausible candidate for being a truthmaker for the statement that Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March than the presentist’s proposed candidate is.  But if that is how he develops the “truthmaker” objection, then he is simply begging the question against the presentist.  For of course, the presentist would deny that past events exist.

Alternatively, the critic of presentism might avoid begging the question, and try to develop some other sort of response.  He will no doubt say that there is something fishy about the idea of a fact that something used to exist.  How can there now be a fact about something that is no longer real?  If he is going to do that, though, then he might as well also say that there is something fishy about the idea of facts about fictional stories, or human conventions, or abstract entities, or possibilities, or round squares, or what have you.

But in that case, it is clear that it isn’t really the “truthmaker principle” per se that is doing the work in the so-called “truthmaker objection” to presentism.  Rather, it is some other sort of ontological concern, such as a concern about the nature of facts.  “Truthmaking” by itself is simply too vague a notion to do any serious metaphysical work.

So, as I say, I don’t think the “truthmaker objection” is very impressive or interesting.  Bill disagrees.  He asks us to consider the following propositions:

(1) There are contingent past-tensed truths.

(2) Past-tensed truths are true at present.

(3) Truth-Maker Principle: contingent truths need truth-makers.

(4) Presentism: Only (temporally) present items exist.

The problem, Bill says, is that “the limbs of this aporetic tetrad, although individually plausible, appear to be collectively inconsistent.”

But I would deny that there is any inconsistency.  There is a presently existing fact that serves as the truthmaker for past-tensed truths such as the truth that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March – namely, the fact that Caesar really was assassinated on the Ides of March.  To be sure, Caesar no longer exists and his assassination is no longer taking place.  But the fact that he was assassinated on the Ides of March still exists.  

To get an inconsistency, Bill would have to add to the list some further claim like:

(5) Only facts about what does exist (as opposed to facts about what used to exist) can serve as truthmakers.

But that would simply beg the question against the presentist.  And of course the presentist would say: “There will be no inconsistency if you get rid of (5).  ‘Problem’ solved!”

Bill also objects:

Feser seems to be proposing the following. In the case of the present-tensed 'BV exists,' the truth-maker is BV. But when BV is no more and it is true that BV existed, the truth-maker of the past-tensed truth will be the fact that BV existed and will not involve BV himself.

As it seems to me, this proposal betrays a failure to appreciate the difference between a fact construed as a true proposition, and a truth-maker, which cannot be a (Fregean or abstract) proposition. A truth-bearer cannot serve as a truth-maker. On one common use of 'fact,' a fact is just a true (abstract) proposition. We may refer to such facts as facts that. A fact that cannot serve as a truth-maker. Facts that need truth-makers.

End quote.  In response, I would say that it is a mistake to identify facts with propositions.  There is the fact that I am sitting in front of my computer, and there is the proposition that I am sitting in front of my computer.  The first makes the second true, but it is not identical with the second.  So there is no question here of the truth-bearer (namely the proposition) serving as a truth-maker (it is the fact, not the proposition, that is serving as a truth-maker).  

Similarly, it is the fact that Caesar used to exist and was assassinated on the Ides of March that makes true the proposition that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March.  The fact is not the truth-bearer; the proposition is.  The fact is precisely the truth-maker.  

Bill also criticizes a remark in my book to the effect that “the past and future don't have the same kind of reality that the present does” (p. 301).  He objects that:

[O]n standard presentism, there is no distinction between kinds of reality. The claim is not that the wholly past and the wholly future have a different kind of reality or existence than the present, but that the past and future are not real or existent at all. On presentism, what no longer exists, does not exist at all. It passes out existence entirely; it does not retain a lesser kind of existence or exist in a looser sense of 'exist.'  

End quote.  This is true, and I will concede that my remark was phrased in a way that is potentially misleading if read out of context.  But strictly speaking, what I wrote is correct.  The past and future indeed don’t have the same kind of reality that the present does, precisely because they don’t have reality at all.  (I think Bill is here making too much of an awkwardly worded phrase.  As Bill himself acknowledges, I do make it clear elsewhere in my discussion that presentism denies that past and future objects and events exist at all.)

The point I was trying to make, in any event, is that past objects and events were real (unlike fictional objects and events, which never were).  That fact is what serves as the truthmaker for statements about past objects and events.  Statements about present objects and events have as their truthmakers a different sort of fact, viz. facts about objects and events that are real.  

Bill also writes:

I conclude that Feser hasn't appreciated the depth of the grounding problem. 'Caesar was assassinated' needs an existing truth-maker. But on presentism, neither Caesar nor his being assassinated exists. It is not just that these two items don't exist now; on presentism, they don't exist at all. What then makes the past-tensed sentence true?  This is the question that Feser hasn't satisfactorily answered.

End quote.  In fact I have answered it.  Yes, “Caesar was assassinated” needs an existing truthmaker.  And that truthmaker is not Caesar or his assassination (neither of which exist anymore) but the fact that he was assassinated (which does still exist – after all, it is as much a fact now as it was yesterday, and will remain a fact tomorrow).  To this Bill objects that “obviously this won't do [because] the past-tensed truth cannot serve as [its] own truth-maker.”  But again, this conflates facts with propositions, and these should not be conflated. 

The critic might respond: “But facts don’t ‘exist’ in the same way that tables, chairs, etc. do!”  To which I would reply that that is perfectly true, but that there are also lots of other things that don’t exist in the same way that tables, chairs, etc. do – numbers, propositions, possibilities, God, and so on.  So what?  “Exists” is not a univocal term but an analogical one.  If the critic thinks that every truthmaker must exist in exactly the same way, then, once again, his objection does not really rest on the “truthmaker principle” per se but on some other ontological concern.

One further point.  Even if the defender of the “truthmaker objection” could get around the criticisms I have been raising, the objection nevertheless will succeed only if some alternative to presentism is correct.  And as I argue in Aristotle’s Revenge, none of the alternatives is correct.  So it will not suffice for the critic merely to try to raise problems for the presentist’s understanding of truth-making.  He will also have to defend some non-presentist understanding of truth-making, which will require responding to the objections I’ve raised against the rivals to presentism.

In particular, the critic presupposes that we have a clear idea of what it would be for past objects and events and future objects and events to be no less real than the present is, and thus a clear idea of what it would be for such things to be truthmakers.  But I claim that that is an illusion.  The eternalist view is in fact not well-defined.  It is a tissue of confusions that presupposes errors such as a tendency to characterize time in terms that intelligibly apply only to space, and to mistake mathematical abstractions for concrete realities.  Indeed, on the Aristotelian view of time that I defend in the book, the approaches to the subject commonly taken by various contemporary writers are in several respects wrongheaded.  Again, what I say about the truthmaker objection must be read in light of the larger discussion of time in Aristotle’s Revenge.

57 comments:

  1. In your discussions about time travel in the book, do you also discuss Novikov's self-consistency principle and closed timelike curves?

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  2. Well, let's take the question of legal precedents or textual authorities. We rely on these, certainly, in a way not too different from how we rely on the existence of a traffic light in the present -- we enforce contracts, for instance, or build careers that generate paychecks, on these past events. Yet they seem to exist in some way that is more contingent than 2+2=4. In what way is presentism anything but trivial?

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  3. I would object to conceding to Bill V the thesis that the past doesn't exist "at all", in any sense.

    Granted that if a person asks
    (1) Does the present exist? and
    (2) Does the past exist?
    the answer to (1) is yes and the answer to (2) is no. But this just means that the present exists, simply; whereas the past does not exist, simply. Fine. But saying "the past does not exist at all" conveys more, i.e. that there is no sense at all in which the past exists, and this is more difficult.

    Let's take the distinction between real relations and rational relations. Real relations exist "in actuality" in a way that means that they exist whether any mind ever would or could attend to them or not. Rational relations are "creatures of the mind", they do not exist independently of the mind, they belong to the cognitive / analytic workings of the mind alone. But the fact that we say they are "creatures of the mind" implies that they exist in a sense, i.e. in the mind. Their existence is not univocal with the existence of a chair, nor that of Caesar being stabbed on the Ides of March, but it is still not nothing.

    Let me offer a (failed) reductio that might illustrate my point. One could imagine a New Atheist disposing of Aristotle's concept of final cause in the following manner: what is in the future does not exist. What does not exist cannot be a cause. When a man acts by reason of a final cause, though, he acts for what will exist but does not exist now. But since it does not exist now, it cannot be a cause of his action.

    Of course this reductio is false. The end DOES exist in intention before it comes to exist in actuality. This is why it has exactly the kind of causality suited to intentions, that of final cause. And it IS in intention (i.e. it "exists" in the kind of existence belonging to intentions) when it is the (present tense) cause of the present tense action. It is not true to say that the final cause "has no existence" because it does not exist in the same way the thing itself will have when the action successfully bring its existence into full reality.

    So, presentists can concede that "the past does not exist, simply", and still claim that "the past exists, in a sense". After all, we DO think that statements of contingent past facts can be TRUE in a different way than statements of similar future facts. That difference has a basis in there being a different relation between the present and past, and the present and future. Thus it makes sense to urge that there is a a rational relation at play here, I think.

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  4. Reading from the post it seems what you are proposing is some kind of fundamentally tensed approach to truthmaking. Criticism of this approach that I have read is that it requires the existence of cross-temporal supervenience relations which can't be endorsed by serious presentism.

    See this paper:

    https://philarchive.org/archive/BARTSA-6v1

    The main concern is

    " On this view, past-directed propositions supervene for their truth on things that existed in the past, along with the fundamental properties those things instantiated.........To grasp the problem notice first that tensed supervenience is still supervenience, and supervenience is a relation: if a supervenes on b then that is in virtue of some supervenience relation R such that aRb. Consequently, if the truth of propositions concerning the past
    supervenes on the past itself, then there must exist cross-temporal supervenience relations that have as their relata past things. However, most presentists deny the existence of relations of this kind"


    So it would end up that past things which do not exist still end up standing in some sort of relation to present thing, i.e some sort of Meinongianism.

    Of course further thing to consider is as you say that simply presence of this problem for presentism doesn't make rival views more attractive. I even remember seeing an article indicating eternalism faces a grounding problem of its own.

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    1. Red, I have this feeling that the whole approach falls apart if we answer the question "is a truth something whose existence is a temporal being?" in the negative, or as "in one sense yes and another sense no". Note Ed's qualifying comment about his version of presentism only regards things whose existence is temporal. Material substances are temporal beings. Are TRUTHS temporal? Clearly truths like "2+2=4" is not. According to Aristotle, time is the measure of motion, and clearly we have a difficulty if we propose that motion applies to truths. It sounds like a category mistake. And if truths are not temporal beings to begin with, then the assertion that "tensed supervenience" is involved would seem to beg the question.

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    2. I think to answer whether particular truth is temporal we need to look at its truth maker. If its a temporal being then that truth is temporal.
      Clearly some truths are temporal even if others are not e.g Plato existed is clearly a temporal truth, its truth-maker was a temporal being.

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    3. But here is another thing to consider, how does truth-makers or truth-making really work? Sure truth-makers make propositions true but how or in virtue of what? Should it necessarily be some sort of supervenience relation in the first place?
      I ask this and I think its important point but I can't really think of an alternative right now either.

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    4. I think to answer whether particular truth is temporal we need to look at its truth maker. If its a temporal being then that truth is temporal.

      Yet a truth can have several truth-makers. As I indicated below, the principle of non-contradiction is a truth-maker for EVERY trugh. I suppose one could qualify your suggestion by adding: "a truth is temporal if at least one of its truth-makers is a temporal being. This seems plausible, even though it appears to preference the temporal over the non-temporal on no obvious basis. I guess maybe calling something temporal amounts to implying that it is limited, and it seems right to say that something that is limited in one respect is limited even if it is not limited in every respect.

      Sure truth-makers make propositions true but how or in virtue of what? Should it necessarily be some sort of supervenience relation in the first place?

      But I suspect that "supervenience" is merely another way of saying "we know not what", because (as one of Ed's main points) things that are truth-makers of truths do so in many different senses, that the term is either equivocal, or at the least analogical, and it seems that "supervenience" would also perforce be the same. In other words, the supervenience comprises DIFFERENT relations for different instances of truth-making.

      I suspect that examined closely, it will be found that the "truth-maker" idea is merely the truth - fact relation in other terms: a (temporal) truth is true in virtue of something that was, is, or will be, and to "be true" is merely to say "the proposition corresponds to what was, is, or will be." There is no possibility of fencing in that "corresponds" to one sense, because truths can be true under ANY sort of correspondence. (Like that of Iron Man and Tony Stark).

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    5. The paper I linked to above offers following principle of supervenence that it uses in the objection.

      "The Supervenience Principle (SP): For any proposition P and any worlds W and V,
      if P is true in W but not in V, then either something exists in one of the worlds but not
      in the other, or else some n-tuple of things stands in some fundamental relation in one
      of the worlds but not in the other. (Lewis 2001, p. 612)"


      This might to relevant to what we should think.Maybe some alternative way to thinking about truth makers would prove more helpful.

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    6. I always resist definitions or arguments that rely on things like "worlds W and V", because distinct "worlds" are not well-defined concepts. The easiest way to see this, I think, is to note that when we speak of "possible" world X, it is impossible to say whether X is "possible" only by making a, b, c, ...n assumptions (some of which may turn out to be inherently incompatible), or fewer assumptions, or more, or other ones, or whatnot. To suppose "W is just like V except in W, P is true, and in V, P is not true" would be a fail, because such a "just like" of course would entail that the "truthmaker" is present in both. To suppose "W is just like V except that in W, P is not true and its truthmaker(s) are not present, and THEIR truthmaker(s) are not present...; whereas in V, P is true, and P's truthmaker(s) are present, and THEIR truthmaker(s) are present..." is hardly a way of saying something helpful: by the time you are done, W might not exist at all without all those chains of truthmakers.

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    7. Not to mention that we have no idea what work the qualifier "fundamental" is doing in "fundamental relation". The kind of relation where the n-tuple N causes P to be true? Does that really say anything?

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  5. Why couldn't truth-bearers be truth-makers, anyway? Some workers at Chinese phone factories also carry phones of their own, so phone-bearers can be phone-makers. Why would something that works for phones not work also for truth?

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    1. Thiago, I think that a truth-bearer could be a kind of a truth-maker, but it would be purely incidental. As I understand it, truth-bearers must be propositions, for that's what we mean by "a truth". Let's say that we think of and write down 10 true propositions, and then say "The set K consists of the 10 truths we just considered". Each of the 10 propositions would be "truth-makers" to the proposition P that "K has 10 elements". But they would not be the "truth-makers" of P per se: since removing any one of them from K would make the statement false, it is per se the aggregation of them that is "the" truth-maker of P.

      Although, I think this example shows up another facet of the very idea of "a truth-maker" to a proposition. P would not be true without the aggregation, and the aggregation would not be without each one of the proposition elements, and each one of them would not be without the truth-maker that made THEM true... where does it end? Is "truth-maker" well-defined? It would appear not, since it is not definitive whether A belongs to the class "truth-maker of P" or not.

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    2. I was reading an essay today that caused me to consider my point above in another light - let's say to extend my thesis. The essay was pointing out that the principle of non-contradiction (PNC) is an underlying principle that is a sub-foundation for EVERY truth. Hence, it can be called a "truth-maker" of a sort, for every truth. But it is not a truth-maker in the sense of making things BE, (it does not cause anything's existence) but in the sense of providing the necessary framework in which propositions can be true.

      Perhaps less obvious than PNC, there are undoubtedly many principles that stand as required foundations within sub-disciplines of truths. But principles would be "truth-makers" in a different sense than physical or spiritual beings are. And, indeed, the more you examine it, the less sure you are (at least, the less sure I am) that "truth-maker" is a coherent and well-defined concept. In order to be well-defined, it would be necessary for any A and B, there is a definite answer for whether A is a truth-maker for B, and because there are different senses of truth-maker, it is not clear that this always has a definite answer. (Just as "better" is not a well-defined term, because a thing can be "better in one sense" and not in another, or better for one purpose and not for another, etc. Same with "most valuable player" as a concept.)

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  6. Dr. Feser,

    I don't see how presentism is compatible with classical theism -- God exists, but He doesn't exist *now*, as He is not in time. Therefore the presentist thesis, that only those things which exist now are real, seems to be false.

    That said, I wonder if we might "use" God (with all due respect to Him) to do the metaphysical work of grounding the truth of past-tensed propositions. The truth of "Caesar was assassinated" is thus grounded in the Divine act of actualizing this event, and since said act is timeless, it can serve as the truthmaker of the proposition.


    I don't think any of this entails eternalism, but neither is this position presentist. I guess I'm proposing a chimera, then.

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    1. Pretty sure Ed addressed this by pointing out that his version of presentism provides merely that only temporal things exist in the present.

      To the extent that the "truth-maker" notion is sound (which I have a lot of qualms about), I find resorting to God as, let's say, the carrier or medium of "supervenience" (as Red referenced above) a nice alternative. It does seem a way out of the problem that can't be directly defeated. However, not only does it feel slightly odd to put God to work for us in this way, I also think that this is probably cheating philosophically or metaphysically. We don't need to rely on God's eternity to explain how it is that the thing that is a final cause can be a cause even though it does not exist right now in the same way that it will exist when the action has been successful. I don't think we should have to rely on God's eternity explain how it is that the past is "real enough" to be true even though not real enough to say "it exists", simply.

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    2. @Tony, yes, Dr. Feser did qualify his presentist stance, but it seems to me that this is a rather ersatz version of presentism. In fact, I wonder if we need presentism at all -- A-relations between events can obtain even without a universal present. Consider C. S. Lewis' world of Narnia. There is no objective answer to the question "What time is it in Narnia now?", if that question is asked in our world. For any given event in Narnia, we cannot say if it is before, simultaneous, or after some event in our world. But time does pass in Narnia, even as it passes in our world. Couldn't a similar situation be the case in our universe as well? Perhaps there is no universal *now*, but there are many local *nows*, and how quickly or slowly these nows transpire depends on the speed and acceleration of the objects for which these nows pass.


      I don't know what else other than God's acts can qualify as truthmakers of past-tensed propositions. Dr. Feser distinguishes facts from propositions, but what are these facts if not propositions? They seem to be very mysterious entities. They're not mental entities, unlike propositions, but neither are they substances or relations or accidents. It seems to me that in proposing these queer (in sensu J. L. Mackie) facts which serve as truthmakers, Dr. Feser has solved one mystery by introducing an even more profound one.

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    3. @Sri,


      It seems that the distinction between facts and propositions are that propositions are in a sense abstract possibilities, while facts are objective truths that aren't mere possibilities.


      For example, we can have the proposition "The Sun will turn blue and zig-zag across the sky tomorrow", but that proposition need not be actually true tomorrow. But if the sun really does do that, then we have a fact and not merely a proposition.


      In short, propositions are purely descriptive and are divorced from objective events conditionally, while facts are statements about the world that strictly obtain only if they become actual.

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    4. @JoeD,

      In your example, the sun turning blue and zig-zagging across the sky is an *event*. Are facts events then? I still don't understand what they are. But this fact is a temporal one, in that it now doesn't obtain but had once obtained. How, then, can it serve as the truthmaker of the proposition describing that fact?

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    5. The category "facts" is certainly larger than that of "events", because the mere being of a thing is a "fact" and not an event.

      It seems that the distinction between facts and propositions are that propositions are in a sense abstract possibilities, while facts are objective truths that aren't mere possibilities.

      The language is so hard to tie down here. In this context, I believe that Ed did not mean to use "fact" in the way we use it to distinguish between, say, a proposition that is an opinion and a proposition that is true and is known definitively to be so. He was using it to distinguish between the proposition under consideration in the mind and known to be true, and the reality distinct from the mind which the proposition is about. The proposition is TRUE because it corresponds to the reality that is distinct from the mind. But it is not itself the reality that the proposition is about. So in this context, "facts" are not statements, they are the things that statements are about. The problem is that the FACT of a sun zig-zagging may be temporal, without that making the proposition's truth to be temporal, or at least not necessarily in the same sense. Certainly the truth-ness of it does not seem to be subject to motion, like the sun is.

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    6. @Tony, but if facts are temporal, then how can they serve as the truthmakers of propositions which, as you rightly point out, are not subject to motion?

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    7. Because the relation between a fact and a proposition is not that of, say, agent cause, or formal cause, to effect. A true proposition is about a fact. Nothing requires "aboutness" to be temporally on one plane: a true statement can be about the present, and a true statement can be about the past. The eternalist doesn't want this to be valid without some special connection that spans the time frames other than the aboutness, but I fail to see why that must be so.

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  7. Presentism doesn't say that everything that exists exists in the present, but just things that exist temporally:
    "To be more precise, it is the thesis that in the temporal realm, only present objects and events exist. (For one could also hold – as I do, though other presentists might not – that in addition to what exists in time, there is what exists in an eternal or timeless way and what exists in an aeviternal way.)"
    So since God exists eternally and not temporally, presentism doesn't say He must exist in the present - presentism just doesn't apply to God.

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    1. On what basis do you presume that God is a He?

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    2. @Anonymous, to use the language of today's social justice climate, God is not a he, but he "self-identifies" and "presents" as male and his "preferred pronouns" are he/him/his. Please don't make a microaggression by misgendering!

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    3. Thank you, Cogniblog, I have made a fool out of myself for laughing at your comment at the train station. May God bless you! (A different anon)

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  8. Hey Dr. Feser, a question about Aristotle's Revenge: do you want notified if we find any typos in the text? Will they be corrected for future printings?

    I've noticed two, and while they won't cause any substantive misunderstandings, they did at least trip me up: 1) "theology will have brought back into the mechanical picture" -> "theology will have been brought back into the mechanical picture" (p. 51), and 2) "we think of it has having been designed" -> "we think of it as having been designed" (p. 59).

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    1. @Nick are you the Nick from Tektonics.org?

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    2. No, sorry. I've never heard of tektonics.org.

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  9. On further thought, maybe Thomists shouldn't be serious presentists in the first place because very notion of potentiality sounds Meinongian. A sort of middle ground between existence and non-existence.
    Maybe some sort of past-directed potentiality could also be postulated. Not sure this would solve any problem though, there would still be a difference between future and past, the actuality of past, that would need to be accounted for.

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    1. very notion of potentiality sounds Meinongian. A sort of middle ground between existence and non-existence.Otherwise known as a boundary.

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  10. Hi Ed,

    I have a question for you. You believe in the A-theory: past, present and future are objectively real. But God's perspective is eternal and atemporal. Time, then, is not real to God. So my question is: how do you construe God's knowledge of the past as past, given that He is timeless?

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    1. Would not God's knowledge of the past also include God's knowledge of how the past is understood to those who are temporal beings in the present? In this way he would encompass the past with respect to its aspect of being prior to the present.

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  11. The question I have is this: what are facts? You say that facts are not propositions, but are the truthmakers of propositions; there is one fact per true proposition. (So far, that sounds like Plantinga's account of "facts" in Nature of Necessity).

    Plantinga says that facts are, like propositions, abstract objects. Is that your view? In that case, what makes it true that I am typing on the computer right now is an abstract object, the fact that I am typing on my computer right now. But then my body and my computer, and the concrete relation between them, are no part of what makes it true that I am typing on my computer right now. That seems absurd; whatever it is that is making it true that I am typing on my computer right now has to include the computer and my hands.

    If, on the other hand, facts are concrete objects (like Armstrong's states of affairs), made up of particulars and relations, then past facts turn out to be basically the same thing as past events, don't they?

    Basically, you need to say a lot more about what a "fact" is before an appeal to "facts" can be seen to be an adequate solution to the truthmaker objection to presentism.

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    1. How about this definition? A fact is an obtaining, or previously obtaining, state of affairs.

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    2. I also have that problem with the "facts" response. Presumably, someone could ground facts in divine thoughts. God always knows that Caesar crossed/crosses/will cross the Rubicon. But it would be preferable to not have to appeal to God here.

      Past facts could perhaps be grounded in present objects (for instance, "these are Caesar's bones, the bones of the man who crossed the Rubicon"). Presently existing objects and relations could ground past facts. But it's a bit more tricky if we want to ground some global possibilities (e.g. the whole universe could cease to exist in the next second, but it would still be true that it had existed at one point...).

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  12. Hi, Dr. Feser,

    I noticed a couple of small typo/grammar errors on pg. 66 of Aristotle's Revenge. Hopefully you won't mind my notifying you about them, here. (I'm not sure where else to do it!)

    The first is in Section 2.1, paragraph 5, which begins,
    Second, in Bacon's view the Aristotelians had an insufficient appreciation of the biases that can infect individual observations. These biases were enshrined in what Bacon's Novum Organum characterizes as the "Idols of the Mind," of which there are four. The first are the Idols of the Tribe, by which Bacon means....

    It seems to me that "...of which there are four" ought to be changed to something like, "...of which there are four types" or even "four sub-categories." By saying "...of which there are four" you sound like you are about to list exactly four "Idols," when in reality you go on to list four groups or categories of "Idols."

    The second problem is in paragraph 6, in the sentence which begins, "With this we have one of classic expressions of the idea of...." I believe you've left out the word "the" before "classic," and that this was supposed to read, "With this we have one of the classic expressions of...."

    I hope that's useful to you. I'm enjoying the book very much.

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  13. Guys I´m in a discussion with someone about causality (he really wants to learn) and although I have been reading here for a few months and am reading Feser´s books I could use a little help.

    I have been showing what the act and potency distinction is, why science has to suppose it and why act and potency apply to the universe. He then asks if that applies also to the parts of the universe which haven´t been discovered yet.

    Now I know some responses to that like, if we believe it is intelligible it is the same principle, even if, for some reason, there could be different values of the laws hypothetically. If it wouldn´t apply, then it would resemble Humean causation principles, which give birth to their own skepticism since our cognitive faculties aren´t reliable. Brute facts would be common. Now I came up with something, but I am 100% sure that Ed wrote something about that either here or in his books and commentators here have been tackling this issue several times, but for the love of God, I can´t find it. There have been way better responses, and especially more eloquent ones, so any addition would be appreciated.

    Thanks guys!

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    1. Another question to add: Is it possible to find something that actualizes its own potentials and thus doesn´t need another thing that actualizes its potential?

      Is this different from a brute fact?

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    2. Causality [locality] is an important part of nature. You can see this in GPS which depends on Special Relativity and General Relativity. That is because the satellite goes around the Earth its clock moves slower. But since it is farther from the source of gravity its clock moves faster. So to take both effects into account you have to adjust the clock on the satellite.



      This is not disproved by Bell's inequality. Rather from Bell we know either one of two things. Not locality. Or things do not have classical values until seen. Since the first is wrong -so we know the second.

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    3. "If that applies also to parts of the universe which haven't been discovered yet"

      Of course it does. Why wouldn't it? The principle of causality is a METAphysical principle, it applies to all of reality. Not even God is exempt (God isn't actualized, he just is purely actual, that's the whole point). You either accept it or you don't. Can something potential become actual without any cause? That would be like something coming from nothing, or something existing without any explanation whatsoever, and that is both intuitively absurd and contrary to experience. There can be no exceptions.

      "Is it possible to find something that actualizes its own potentials and thus doesn't need another thing that actualizes its potential?"

      A part of some thing can actualize another part. But it obviously cannot actualize *itself*. If it could, well, it would already be actual (since it is operating, causing), and thus it would be too late for it to actualize anything! Already actual. It makes as much sense as saying a ball can cause itself to exist. That is to say, no sense whatsoever.

      There is a totality of contingent things in existence (that is, things whose existence is a mere potency that happens to be actual). This requires an explanation; the actualization of all things would need a cause. The only possible cause would be a being that is Purely Actual, necessary, and which therefore doesn't need to be caused.

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    4. Thanks Miguel, these points weren´t necessarily new to me, but I couldn´t quite put it into words. This should be sufficient.

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  14. 1. I am inclined to think that the fact approach may betray a fundamental commitment of Aristotelianism, that namely that all truths are grounded in facts about what substances and accidents exist. (As Aristotle puts it, to speak truly is to say of what is that it is and of what is not that it is not.) But the "facts" that one needs to introduce to make sense of the past on presentism are not groundable in facts about what substances and accidents (presently or eternally) exist.

    2. It seems that, barring divine promises to the contrary, God could at any time annihilate every temporal entity other than, say, one chicken. But if God annihilated every temporal entity other than one chicken, then the presentist's facts about the past would also be annihilated (except perhaps facts about the past of that chicken). However, facts about the past cannot be annihilated.

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    1. Alexander Pruss I don't understand your reasoning from a Classic Theist perspective?


      God wills from all eternity to create. God doesn't act then change His mind. God either chooses from all eternity to make a world with the Chicken or God wills from all eternity to create the Chicken alone or God wills from all eternity to make a world whose existence is temporary with a chicken that is forever after.

      God cannot create X and not create X at the same time and in the same relation.

      So what you wrote here is astounding.

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    2. additional: Note What God directly wills He does......

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    3. a fundamental commitment of Aristotelianism, that namely that all truths are grounded in facts about what substances and accidents exist.

      ...or did exist. Aristotle is not Parmenides, after all. We can speak of what was as well as of what is.

      if God annihilated every temporal entity other than one chicken, then the presentist's facts about the past would also be annihilated

      ?? Why? If the temporal world were reduced to one chicken, why would it stop being a fact that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March?

      Or are you saying that the fact that he was assassinated on the Ides of March is among the things annihilated on this scenario? Then I would deny the presupposition of the objection. God can no more annihilate the fact that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March (whatever that would mean) then he can create a round square.

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    4. Sidenote: The example of reducing the entire temporal world to one chicken is hilarious.

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    5. But what would ground these facts? What exacrly are they? I have a hard time understanding what a "fact" is, other than an abstract object (which Aristotelians would presumably reject, unless they turn out to be, say, divine thoughts) or relations of existing objects (such as Caesar's bones) which under presentism should only exist in the present.

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    6. Then of course the problem is that if God annihilates all of temporal reality, we wouldn't even have Caesar's bones or what was left of the particles that formed the knife that assassinated him, etc. What would we have? What would be a fact about the past, in this situation? There would be no presently existing substances, and so, under presentism, no existing substances whatsoever. So either facts are independent abstract objects, divine thoughts, or God cannot annihilate the world.

      If the presentist says facts are divine thoughts, someone could try to press the "How does God know tensed facts then", etc, (though I think it might be possible to have that without denying divine timelessness).

      Otherwise, I don't understand what facts are supposed to be.

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    7. Miguel, that sounds like it's the chicken's problem to figure out at that point.

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  15. Best Scientific/Philosohical Refutation of Presentism ever.

    On the Reality of Temporal Succession
    Past, Present and Future in Light of Relativity
    Daniel J. Castellano (2018)

    http://www.arcaneknowledge.org/philtheo/temporal/temporal.htm

    In short the Present is a local phenomina and asking what is present for me vs someone on Alpha Centuri is a meaningless question.

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    1. Relativity seems to be a non-factor. Alpha Centauri still has a Present, just like we do. We just can't know what's going on at the same time because of the way information travels. If you look through a telescope and see the Sun, you're seeing the Sun as it was seven minutes ago, and not its actual Present. It doesn't mean that it doesn't have a Present, or that it's meaningless to ask. Alpha Centauri at 4.2 light years or your next door neighbor at 42 meters is no different. Maybe I'm missing something.

      I think way too much weight has been given to the way you can chart and plot four-dimensional "spacetime" as being the way the universe actually is.

      Someone 2,063 light years away with a really powerful telescope might be seeing Julius Caesar being assassinated. That doesn't mean that Julius Caesar is actually being assassinated right now.

      Perhaps I'm missing something, but I just don't buy that relativity proves any form of B-theory of time.

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    2. That is the point of the Paper I linked too. Relativity doesn't prove either B-Theory time nor Externalism.

      Cheers.

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    3. Sorry for the confusion. I said "Presentism where I meant to say Eternalism".

      The Paper refutes Eternalisma and presents a view of Presentism in harmony with Relativity.

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  16. So let me see if I have this straight: under the :truth-maker" objection, the statement "Brutus is killing Caesar" would have been true at a time in 42 BC, but "Brutus killed Caesar" is not true now, and would not have been true 5 milliseconds after Brutus was done with successfully killing Caesar, because the latter proposition has no truth-maker? Because the only present tense truth-makers can make a past-tense statement true?

    So, which is more likely: every statement ever made about the past is false because they have no truth-maker, or the truth-maker theory about how past-tense statements are valid is incorrect?

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  17. Oh rats! What I wrote above was inacurrate. (Somebody must have distracted me before I posted).

    It should say:

    Best Scientific/Philosohical Refutation of Eternalism ever.

    On the Reality of Temporal Succession
    Past, Present and Future in Light of Relativity
    Daniel J. Castellano (2018)

    http://www.arcaneknowledge.org/philtheo/temporal/temporal.htm

    In short the Present is a local phenomina and asking what is present for me vs someone on Alpha Centuri is a meaningless question.

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