Saturday, May 11, 2019

More on presentism and truthmakers


The esteemed Bill Vallicella continues to press the truthmaker objection against presentism.  I remain unimpressed by it.  Can we break this impasse?  Let me try by, first, proposing a diagnosis of the dialectical situation.  Then I will respond to the points Bill makes in his latest post.

Truthmaking and common sense

Bill, Alex Pruss, and others who are impressed by the truthmaker objection seem to think that they are merely appealing to a commonsense assumption that it would be metaphysically costly to give up, and that the trouble with presentism is that it can be reconciled with this commonsense truthmaker assumption only with considerable effort.  But I think that that is not at all what is going on.  I would say that what the critics are appealing to is not in fact a commonsense assumption, but rather a tendentious metaphysical interpretation of a commonsense assumption.  Presentism in no way conflicts with the commonsense truthmaker assumption itself.  At most, it conflicts only with the tendentious metaphysics that the critics are reading into it.

Note, before I proceed, that neither side in this dispute is saying that whatever the commonsense view turns out to be must ipso facto be the correct view.  Common sense can be wrong.  But I think both sides would agree that common sense is innocent until proven guilty, so that, all things being equal, it is better for a view to be consistent with common sense.  And what I am arguing is that, though Bill and others seem to think that presentism is at odds with common sense vis-à-vis truthmaking, they are mistaken about that.

Now, what common sense does indeed suppose is, I submit, something like this: Thoughts and sentences are, at least in most cases, made true by some reality beyond the mind and beyond language.  For example, if I have the thought that the cat is on the mat or I utter the sentence “The cat is on the mat,” then that will be true only by virtue of something distinct from my thoughts and distinct from the sentence, namely the presence of some cat on some mat.  In other words, common sense presupposes some kind of realism, as opposed to idealism or linguistic idealism. 

Naturally, common sense allows that there are some thoughts and utterances that are made true by facts about mind or language.  For example, the thought that I am now thinking about the cat on the mat is made true by something going on in my mind, and the sentence “The word ‘cat’ has three letters” is made true by some fact about language.  But when I am thinking or speaking about the cat on the mat itself, the “truthmaker,” if you want to call it that, is something extra-mental and extra-linguistic.

Now, this commonsense assumption is applied to facts about the past no less than to facts about the present.  The thought that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, and the sentence “Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March,” are true because, as a matter of extra-linguistic and mind-independent fact, Caesar really was assassinated on the Ides of March.  Caesar, his murder, and the Ides of March aren’t things I made up or hallucinated, they aren’t mere collections of ideas in my mind or in some collection of minds, and they aren’t mere byproducts of how we use words or the like. 

In no way is this at odds with presentism.  Presentism holds that, where temporal things are concerned (as opposed to eternal or aeviternal things) only present things exist.  Hence, the cat on the mat exists, but Caesar and his assassination no longer do.  But this in no way conflicts with the commonsense assumption I’ve been describing, because it doesn’t somehow make Caesar and his assassination mind-dependent or language-dependent.  It is still the case that the thought that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March and the sentence “Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March” are true only because of something extra-mental and extra-linguistic, namely Caesar’s really having been assassinated on the Ides of March.

So far so good.  The trouble begins only when contemporary analytic philosophers come along, take the innocuous commonsense assumption I’ve been describing, and transform it into something they call The Truthmaker Principle ©, which is the centerpiece of something called Truthmaker Theory (patent pending).  It is proposed that what common sense is committed to is the assumption that thoughts and sentences are made true by what exists.  Then it is suggested that this must be understand to mean what exists simpliciter or full stop.  And then it is pointed out that in that case, whatever it is that makes thoughts and sentences about Caesar and the Ides of March true must be the same sort of thing that makes thoughts and sentences about the cat on the mat true.  The next thing you know, we are seriously entertaining the strange thesis that Caesar’s assassination must exist despite this event’s having ended over two millennia ago.  The sequel is that many dissertations, journal articles, and blog posts are written, many chins are earnestly pulled and brows furrowed, and (in my case, at least) some eyes are rolled. 

Whatever we want to say about this, it has nothing to do with common sense, and thus inherits none of the presumed innocence of common sense.  I would imagine that, if asked, common sense would say that truthmakers need not exist.  After all, common sense would say, the sentence that “Unicorns don’t exist” is true, but that’s not because of anything that exists.  Rather, the sentence is true precisely because unicorns don’t exist.  All common sense wants to say is that it is something about extra-mental and extra-linguistic reality that makes the sentence true, namely that there aren’t any unicorns in extra-mental or extra-linguistic reality.  That’s all the “truthmaking” we need.  We don’t need something to exist in order for the sentence to be true.  Perhaps common sense needs to be modified here.  We might say that the fact that unicorns exist is in some sense real, even if unicorns themselves are not.  But the point is that common sense itself doesn’t say this – it doesn’t ask or answer the sort of questions that truthmaker theorists might ask and answer.

Similarly, I imagine that common sense would say that there’s nothing in its assumption that thoughts and sentences are made true by extra-mental and extra-linguistic reality that requires that even existent “truthmakers” must exist full stop.  After all, the cat still exists and Caesar doesn’t, and yet neither depends on mind or language for the reality it has or had.  The Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher (the ally of common sense) would add that it is odd to insist on talking about existence simpliciter or full stop.  After all, he says, we need to distinguish time, eternity, and aeviternity.  There is a clear sense in which what is eternal exists simpliciter or full stop, since it never comes into being or passes away.  But where temporal things are concerned, talk of what exists simpliciter or full stop is misleading, precisely because temporal things do come into being and pass away.  We can say that Caesar’s assassination existed simpliciter or full stop, since of course it did in fact occur.  But what does it mean to say that his assassination exists simpliciter or full stop, if this is not meant as the assertion that it exists now?  Does it mean that that it exists in an eternal way (as God does)?  That would be false, and in any case it isn’t what Bill or other critics of presentism are saying.  Does it mean that it exists in the way that past events are claimed to exist by presentism’s rival eternalism (which holds that past, present, and future things and events are equally real)?  That is certainly not an assumption that common sense would make, nor would Bill or other critics of presentism claim that eternalism is presupposed by common sense.  Into the bargain, this interpretation would beg the question against presentism. 

But what, then, does it mean to say that Caesar’s assassination exists simpliciter?  However we answer this question, we are, again, going well beyond anything assumed by common sense.  And thus we are going well beyond anything that would put the presentist at odds with common sense.

Notice that there is nothing special about presentism here.  Go back to the unicorn example.  It so happens that in the truthmaker literature, there is a lot of heavy going not only about presentism, but also about “negative existentials,” as they are called.  A thought or sentence to the effect that there are no unicorns would be an example of a negative existential.  How can our affirmation of such a thought or sentence be reconciled with the “truthmaker principle” as it is construed by many truthmaker theorists?  Do we have to give up the principle?  Do we have to modify it and allow that at least some truths lack truthmakers?  Do we have to say that the fact that there are no unicorns is among the things that exist, and that this existent is what makes true the sentence “There are no unicorns”?  Is it metaphysically extravagant to affirm the existence of such facts?

You might think this a weighty metaphysical conundrum, or you might think it much ado about very little.  Either way, it is hardly a serious reason to stop affirming negative existentials like “There are no unicorns,” “There are no mermaids,” etc.  If we have to give up either negative existentials or “truthmaker theory,” then we should give up the latter.  But again, this does not mean giving up what common sense supposes vis-à-vis “truthmaking.”  It merely means giving up some metaphysical construct that philosophers have come up with. 

Same with presentism.  If presentism conflicts with anything, it conflicts only with some tendentious theses of “truthmaker theory,” not with anything common sense supposes about what makes thoughts and sentences true. 

It seems to me that if Bill is going to insist that the truthmaker objection is a major challenge to presentism, then he ought also to start writing blog posts about what a grave challenge the truthmaker principle is to negative existentials, so that anyone who ever denies that something exists (unicorns, mermaids, the Easter Bunny, etc.) – which would, of course, include Bill himself – owes us an explanation of how he can reconcile this denial with the principle.  But if he does not think that our practice of denying the existence of things is problematic (and I am sure he does not), despite its apparent conflict with the truthmaker principle, then it seems to me that, to be consistent, he should conclude that the truthmaker objection to presentism is not after all as worrisome as he has taken it to be.

Presentism and truthmaking

Let’s turn to the points Bill makes in his latest post.  Bill writes: “I will take [Feser] to be saying that the truth-maker of 'Caesar was assassinated' is the fact of Caesar's having been assassinated.”  That’s correct.  That is indeed the view I expressed in earlier posts replying to him.  However, Bill goes on to object:

This is a concrete state of affairs, the subject constituent of which is Caesar himself. This state of affairs cannot exist unless Caesar himself exists.  Now Feser grants the obvious point that Caesar no longer exists.  That is is a datum that no reasonable person can deny. It follows that the truth-making state of affairs no longer exists either. 

On presentism, however, what no longer exists does not exist at all. 

End quote.  But the objection fails.  For it is, I would say, simply not true that “the fact of Caesar's having been assassinated… cannot exist unless Caesar himself exists.”  The correct thing to say is that the fact of Caesar’s having been assassinated cannot exist unless Caesar himself existed.  And Caesar did indeed once exist.  Hence it is false to conclude that “the truth-making state of affairs no longer exists either.”  The state of affairs of Caesar’s having been assassinated does exist, even though Caesar himself doesn’t.   (To be sure, the state of affairs of Caesar’s being assassinated – present tense – will exist only if Caesar does, but that is not what we are talking about.  Again, what we are talking about is the state of affairs of Caesar’s having been assassinated.)

Bill says that unless Caesar exists, “there is nothing to ground the truth that Caesar was assassinated.”  But of course there is.  What grounds it is the fact that he did indeed exist and was in fact assassinated.  That’s the difference between sentences like “Caesar was assassinated” and sentences like “The Easter Bunny was assassinated.”  The Easter Bunny never did exist and thus never was assassinated.  Hence there is nothing to ground the truth of the latter sentence.

Bill is unhappy with this, apparently because he assumes that we should be able to describe all truthmakers in a tenseless way.  But there is nothing in what common sense says about truthmaking that requires that assumption, and it is an assumption that simply begs the question against presentism. 

Bill might object that the fact that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March is a weird sort of fact if Caesar does not exist.  I don’t think it is weird at all.  What would be weird is to say that Caesar exists despite having been assassinated, and that his assassination exists despite being an event that ended over two millennia ago!  Be that as it may, there are, as I noted in a previous post in this exchange with Bill, various kinds of fact and various kinds of truths.  It is a mistake to suppose that all facts and all truths must be of the same kind, and thus a mistake to suppose that all truthmakers must be of the same kind.  It is also important to note that “exists” is what Thomists would call an analogical term.  When we apply it to things as diverse as substances, accidents, relations, facts, temporal things, aeviternal things, eternal things, etc., we are not using it in a univocal way, even if we are not using it in an equivocal way either.  Hence we should not expect that what is true of some existents is going to be true of others. 

Naturally, all of this raises a host of questions, but the point is that what Bill seems to think is a clear and straightforward difficulty for presentism is in fact not clear or straightforward at all.  One has to make tendentious metaphysical assumptions, and arguably question-begging ones at that, in order to generate the tension Bill thinks exists between presentism and the truthmaker principle. 

Presentism, common sense, and begging the question

As I’ve said, I would not claim that whatever view is the commonsense view must ipso facto be true.  Still, that presentism is the commonsense view cannot plausibly be denied.  Yet Bill denies it.  He writes:

Presentism… is not common sense, nor is it 'fallout' from ordinary language.  Speaking with the vulgar I say things like, 'The Berlin Wall no longer exists.' I am using ordinary English to record a well-known historical fact. Saying this, however, I do not thereby commit myself to the controversial metaphysical claim that wholly past items are nothing at all and that present items alone exist, are real, or have being. The Berlin sentence and its innumerable colleagues are neutral with respect to the issues that divide presentists and eternalists.

End quote.  I have to say that I find this claim very strange.  Take the following two propositions:

(1) The Berlin Wall does not exist.

(2) The Berlin Wall exists.

Bill seems to be claiming that on a natural, commonsense reading of the sentence “The Berlin Wall no longer exists,” that sentence does not plausibly entail (1) rather than (2).  Rather, the sentence, as far as commonsense is concerned, is neutral between (1) and (2).  Seriously?  Surely, “The Berlin Wall no longer exists” is, on a natural or commonsense reading, equivalent to “The Berlin Wall does not exist anymore.”   And surely, on a natural or commonsense reading, the statement that the Berlin Wall does not exist anymore entails that the Berlin wall does not exist.  Whether or not you think presentism is true, then, it seems quite a stretch to say that it “is not common sense, nor is it 'fallout' from ordinary language.”

In response to the charge that he is begging the question, Bill writes:

I do not assume that only presently existing items can serve as truth-makers.  What I assume is that only existing items can serve as truth-makers.  To appreciate this, consider timeless entities.  God, classically conceived, is an example… Or consider so-called 'abstract' objects such as the number 7. It is true that 7 exists.  What makes this truth true? The number 7! So again a truth-maker needn't be temporally present, or in time at all, to serve as a truth-maker. But it must exist. 

End quote.  Well, OK, fine.  But I think Bill is missing the point I was making.  He says that the truth of “Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March” presupposes that Caesar exists.  I would say: If that is meant as a roundabout way of saying that Caesar existed, then that is true.  Of course, Bill doesn’t mean it that way.  So how does he mean it?  Does he mean that Caesar exists eternally, or perhaps aeviternally?  Surely not, since Caesar was not God or an angel or a Platonic Form.  Does he mean that Caesar exists in time?  Naturally, Bill would say that Caesar existed in time, but he also agrees that Caesar does not exist now.  But in what way does Caesar exist, then, if it is not eternally, or aeviternally, or in time now?  I imagine that Bill would respond by saying: “Caesar exists in time, but not now – rather, he exists at some earlier point in time.”  But that would beg the question against the presentist, who denies that there exist any points in time other than now. 

Perhaps Bill would say that there is some further sense in which Caesar might be said to exist – not eternally, not aeviternally, not now, and not (on pain of begging the question) at some earlier point in time.  But if so, then we are owed an explanation of exactly what sense that is.  And whatever the answer is, it too would beg the question, at least against me, since I would deny that there are any further alternatives, and I would certainly deny that we need to posit any further ones in order to respect commonsense qualms about truthmaking.

Facts and truthmaking

Bill says that my position faces a dilemma.  The truthmaker for the thought that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March would, he says, have to be either a “fact that” or a “fact of.”  The fact that would be the proposition that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March.  The fact of would be a concrete state of affairs.  But it cannot be the first, because no proposition can be its own truthmaker.  And it cannot be the second, he says, because Caesar and his assassination do not exist, according to presentism.  Hence the concrete state of affairs that would be the fact of does not exist, and thus cannot serve as a truthmaker.

In response, I would say that Bill is simply describing the second horn of this purported dilemma in a tendentious way.  Yes, Caesar and his assassination do not exist, and hence the fact of Caesar’s being assassinated does not exist.  But it doesn’t follow that the fact of Caesar’s having been assassinated does not exist.  And that can serve as the truthmaker.  The fact of needn’t be what Bill supposes.  Bill will not like this since, again, he seems to assume that we must describe all truthmakers tenselessly.  But that assumption is, as I have said, question-begging.

In the comments section of Bill’s post, a reader points out that what I am talking about are facts that are neither propositions nor states of affairs with existing constituents, and that Bill “seemed to assume that such a thing is impossible rather than directly addressing the possibility” and “didn't address this other than to deny it.”  That is exactly right.  When I talk about the fact that Caesar was assassinated, I am not talking about a proposition; rather, I am talking about what the proposition that Caesar was assassinated is about or represents.  Nor am I talking about states of affairs with existing constituents, since Caesar and his assassination no longer exist.  Bill’s reader correctly notes that I am talking about a third possibility that Bill ignores.

Am I talking about a state of affairs of some other kind?  That depends on what you mean by “state of affairs,” an expression that is used by philosophers in different ways.  What I would say is that there are simply various ways that things are and various ways that things were, independently of thought and language, and that those are the sorts of thing I am talking about when I say that the fact that the cat is on the mat, the fact that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, etc. are what make true the corresponding thoughts and sentences.  Since there are these ways that things are and ways that things were, you can say that they have a kind of being and thus, if you want, that they exist (even if, in the case of ways that things were, they concern things do not themselves exist anymore).

Does this raise metaphysical issues?  Of course.  What matters for present purposes, though, is this.  First, what I’m saying doesn’t in any way conflict with what common sense supposes vis-à-vis truthmaking.  Common sense simply doesn’t get remotely close to considering recherché ontological questions about the difference between propositions and facts, the nature of facts whose constituents no longer exist, etc.  Hence, whatever qualms Bill has about my position, he cannot reasonably say that it is somehow in tension with commonsense or intuitive assumptions about truthmaking.

Second, the issues raised are not unique to presentism.  Again, that there are no unicorns is also among the ways that things are.  Now, how can there exist facts about what does not exist?  Fair question, but no one thinks the fact that we can ask it poses some urgent, earthshaking problem for our practice of saying things like “There are no unicorns.”  Similarly, that we can raise metaphysical questions about the nature of facts about things that no longer exist does not constitute some urgent, earthshaking problem for the presentist thesis that Caesar’s assassination does not exist.

I would say: Unicorns don’t exist and never did, and Caesar’s assassination does not exist even though it once did.  Truthmaker theory has to accommodate itself to these data rather than the other way around.  Bill’s problem, it seems to me, is that he is letting the tail of tendentious contemporary truthmaker theory wag the dog of (what I claim is) the presentism that common sense takes for granted.  To be sure, if he wants to present some argument for favoring the tendentious metaphysics over common sense, that’s fine.  Again, what I object to is the suggestion that the burden of proof is on the presentist rather than on the tendentious metaphysician.

Some loose ends

Bill rejects the claim I made in an earlier post to the effect that the truthmaker objection to presentism can succeed only if the critic has a plausible alternative to presentism (and the alternatives, I argue in Aristotle’s Revenge, all fail).  Bill notes that, despite his criticisms of presentism, he does not embrace the standard eternalist alternative, and in fact he is willing to allow that it might turn out that all the extant theories of time are untenable.

This might be true of Bill as a matter of biographical fact, but it is irrelevant to the point I was making.  The truthmaker objection to presentism holds that a sentence like “Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March” can be true only if Caesar exists, and the objection concedes that Caesar does not exist now.  But then the person raising the objection owes us an explanation of exactly how Caesar can intelligibly be said to exist if he doesn’t exist now (and also doesn’t exist eternally or aeviternally).  And as I noted above, the only answer on offer is the claim that he exists at some past point in time, as theories like eternalism and the growing block theory would hold.  But in that case, the truthmaker objection, to be intelligible, at least implicitly presupposes that some such alternative theory is correct.  It will not do, then, to say that one can coherently press the truthmaker objection against presentism and at the same time hold that none of the alternative theories are any good.  The objection will not work unless some alternative theory also works. 

Finally, Bill comments in passing on a brief remark I made in Aristotle’s Revenge (at p. 239) to the effect that there is a sense in which past events exist now insofar as their effects remain.  Bill says:

[I]t is not clear to me how this notion (causal trace theory) is supposed to cohere with what Feser says elsewhere in his section on time. How does it cohere with what we discussed above?  It is one thing to say that the truth-maker of 'Caesar was assassinated' is the fact that C. was assassinated, and quite another to say that the truth-maker exists in the present in the form of present effects of C.'s past existence.  

End quote.  I don’t think Bill read what I wrote with sufficient care.  What I actually wrote in Aristotle’s Revenge is that “past and future exist now only in the loose sense that they are, as it were, causally contained in what exists now” but that “what actually exists in the strict sense is what exists now” (p. 239, emphasis added).  The qualifiers “loose” and “strict” should have made it clear what I meant, and why there is no conflict between what I said about causal traces and the presentist thesis that past events do not exist.  And I never said (nor would I say) that Caesar’s effect on the present is the truthmaker for the sentence “Caesar was assassinated.” 

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64 comments:

  1. Again this is really important and enjoyable discussion, I guess I would like to see you two discuss almost any topic of disagreement haha..

    I find philosophy of time the most muddled branch of philosophy ( a discipline itself notoriously muddled).

    So just to be clear here, On your view something need not really exist to make a proposition true, that is you accept what I have seen go by the name of Non-Serious Presentism?

    what I am talking about are facts that are neither propositions nor states of affairs with existing constituents, and that Bill “seemed to assume that such a thing is impossible rather than directly addressing the possibility” and “didn't address this other than to deny it.

    ....Since there are these ways that things are and ways that things were, you can say that they have a kind of being and thus, if you want, that they exist (even if, in the case of ways that things were, they concern things do not themselves exist anymore).

    I think the thought behind denying such a thing again is that nothing could really be about or concern things that don't exist. Non-existent things can't stand in relations, unless we accept that they do this proposal seems odd.

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    1. Hi Red,

      What I would say is that among the things that there are are the following:

      (1) Robert Downey, Jr.

      (2) Robert Downey, Jr.’s height

      (3) The fact that Robert Downey, Jr. plays Iron Man

      (4) The fact that Iron Man is Tony Stark

      (5) The fact that Iron Man does not exist

      (6) The fact that Caesar was assassinated

      (7) The number 3

      (8) The fact that 3 is an odd number

      Etc.

      Since all these things are among the things that there are, they can all be said to have a kind of being, and thus can all be said to exist. But they obviously don’t all exist in the same way. The being of a substance is very different from the being of an accident, the being of an abstract object is very different from the being of a physical substance, the being of a fact is very different from the being of a substance or an accident, the being of facts about fictional entities is very different from the being of facts about real ones, the being of facts about things that no longer exist is very different from the being of facts about things that do still exist, and so on.

      So, I am not saying that the truthmaker of a proposition need not exist. I am saying that there are many ways in which a thing might be said to have being or to exist, and that this is clearly so whatever we think about presentism, time, etc. Consequently, even if we agree that a truthmaker must be something that exists, it is clear, whatever we think about presentism, time, etc., that there might be many different kinds of truthmakers corresponding to the many ways in which a thing might be said to have being or to exist.

      So, when Bill or Alex or anyone else comes along and says “Oh my goodness, how can a proposition about Caesar’s assassination be true if Caesar doesn’t exist? What a conundrum for presentism!” my inclination is to say: “What’s the big deal? Why on earth would you think that a truthmaker for a proposition about the past must exist in the same way that, say, Robert Downey, Jr. exists? Any more than you’d suppose that the truthmaker for a claim about Downey, Jr.’s height, or about Iron Man’s secret identity, or about the number 3, or about something’s not existing, must exist in the same way that Robert Downey, Jr. exists?”

      If there’s a problem here at all, it’s not a problem for presentism, but a problem for truthmaker theory – the problem of construing “exists” and “truthmaking” broadly enough that they can include all the very different kinds of thing that there are, and in particular so that they can include all the different kinds of facts that there are.

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    2. Right, so your view is that things that truth-makers for the past fact are about do exist but in a different way from present existents. But wouldn't this mean that we have reified the past? This would seem to be contrary to presentism.

      Or maybe on your presentism there are certain class of things which only exist at present like the events, other things like non-present facts do exist?

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    3. Hi Ed,

      I don't do Analytic Phil, so this question might be dealt with all over the lit, but your last comment raises the question of just how many sorts of things truthmakers are supposed to account for. Is there supposed to a a truthmaker for false propositions too? Impossible ones? Conditional ones? I see Analytic guys speak about "P is true" as "It is the case that P", but if this is the case then I suppose they would have to rule out propositions like "That square circles are impossible" or "That Robert Downey Jr. Played Superman is false". I have no idea what a truthmaker would look like for a conditional.

      All this seems like an attempt to speak of being as the truth of propositions, but then to confuse it with being that traces back to substance (I'm thinking of c. 1 of Thomas's Being and Essence)

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    4. Oops, to give some examples:

      1.) Square circles are impossible
      2.) It is false that Robert Downey Jr. played Superman
      3.) If square circles exist, logical contradictions exist.

      All these are true, so they have a truthmaker, right? But the truthmaker seems to have to be exactly the same as an impossible-maker or false-maker or implication maker.

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    5. Hi James,

      I suppose I'd say that the truthmaker for "Square circles are impossible" is the fact that being square is incompatible with being round. That might sound trivial and obvious, but:

      (a) It's not entirely trivial, since the fact in question is distinct from both the thought that square circles are impossible and the sentence "Square circles are impossible," and

      (b) I tend to suspect that beyond making that sort of point, the "truthmaker principle" is itself pretty trivial anyway.

      I don't myself have strong views about the significance of so-called "truthmaker theory." As some of my remarks indicate, I do suspect that the importance of at least some of what is said in the name of truthmaker theory is overblown. My concern in these recent posts has merely been to maintain that one needn't deny that claims like "Caesar was assassinated" have truthmakers of some sort in order to maintain the presentist view that Caesar's assassination does not exist.

      Something similarly trivial and obvious sounding would be the truthmaker for each of the other examples you give. These are indeed examples of the kind that the literature addresses, with various responses defended (e.g. coming up with candidate truthmakers for them, or allowing that at least some kinds of statement don't have truthmakers).

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    6. Ed,

      I think I'm warming up to your response to the truthmaker objection. It's starting to make sense to me. But I wonder whether someone could use similar considerations as an objection to the "Augustinian proof" for the existence of God. Couldn't an atheist perhaps argue that we don't need a timeless, divine intellect to ground eternal truths about propositions, possibilities, etc., even if nothing existed? It might be going a bit too far, but I was just wondering. If you could reply, I'd appreciate it.

      Other commenters are free to reply as well, of course.

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  2. MILD SPOILER WARNING!

    My question is only tangentially related to the topics discussed in the post but I have to ask, does the time travel in Avengers: Endgame make any sense?

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    1. Time travel is not supposed to be possible under presentism. I have not watched the movie, however.

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    2. I am thinking maybe it is possible given presentism at least on some version of it. Isn't it possible that same state of affairs, including all the events and substances become actual which were present at a past time, would this count as time travel?
      This certainly seems to be the case if there is no irreducible time in our version of presentism, that is, time just is change in existing substances.

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    3. No time travel is possible under which the statement "X happened at Z1 time" and "X did not happen at Z1 time" are both true in the same respect. Any theory of time travel which has something different happen the second time "through" compared to the first time through is thus creating a violation of the principle of non-contradiction.

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  3. Does the past exist for God who is outside time?

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    1. The Thomistic response would be that God has no real relation with creation (although he does have a logical relation with creation) insofar as He is wholly independent of creation. However, creation does have a real relation to God. This is called a “Non-Paradigmatic Relation”. I would read the article “Medieval Theories of Relations” on Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (free online). I would also read De Trinitate by Boethius (also free online and in English, and only about 13 pages). Finally there are relevant sections in the Summa Theologiae (free online at Newadvent.org) and the blog Reading the Summa that would be helpful.

      Basically, this all means that the past, present, and future (of creation) for God do not exist in the way that past, present, and future exists for us. Basically, past, present, and future all exist in God as finite participations of his simple infinite self-conception. This is analogous to the way that the number 6 exists as a “more” finite participation of the number 24 in my mind (insofar as 24 can be produced by the product of 6 and 4, etc.). Of course this is an imperfect representation, but it is impossible to perfectly represent the mind of an omniscient intellect (without being omniscient).

      Therefore, the past does not exist as “past” for God, since He is not in time, but it does exist as a particular way in which God’s infinite intellect can finitely participate. (And God so willed it, for He did not will things that never existed, even if He conceived them).

      But this conception exists eternally as a conception of the Divine Intellect. However, it exists truly in time as it is in itself. And since it is past, and is in time, it no longer exists.

      It is difficult subject. Please read my recommendations, and please forgive me for lacking any rigor on a blog comment.

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    2. @Scott,


      I've always wanted to ask this. What exactly does it mean for us to be a finite participation in God?

      Since God is Existence itself, does it mean our existence is God in a finite mode of essence, like taking a star shaped container and filling it with the ocean?

      Is our existence God's existence, and when we say that something has existence, we are really saying it has God?

      Feser once used an analogy by comparing the existence of creatures to the light the moon gives. But if our existence is just like moonlight, where the moon's light is really just the sun's light but a finite reflection from the surface, this would mean that our existence is really just God's existence but in a different mode and reflection, which is obviously too-close to pantheism for the analogy to be taken too seriously.

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    3. I think you are somewhat on the right track. It would not be pantheism (or even panentheism), however, because any finite participation of God would be a separate entity altogether (a completely different essence). Namely it would be a composite of act and potency whereas God is Pure Act. Pantheism and Panentheism both assume that Creation is part of God (or all of God in the case of Panentheism). The ocean in the container analogy might give the impression that we are “pieces” of God. That would obviously be Panentheism and would be false. The sun/moon analogy is better because the sun does not obviously lose anything (even though it technically does lose photons and other particles) when illuminating the moon. Maybe another (limited) example would be a wildfire when a county wide wildfire spreads to other objects, it does not lose any of its original scope (at least not from the combustion of other smaller objects like houses).

      At the end of the day, The Principle of Proportionate Causality, the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and all cosmological arguments for the existence of God require that our existence is something like God’s existence insofar as it is given to us by God, albeit in a finite mode. The “act” of our form comes from the infinite existence/essence/Pure Act of God, The potency of our matter comes from the fact that we are a finite participation of that essence.

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    4. @Scott,


      " It would not be pantheism (or even panentheism), however, because any finite participation of God would be a separate entity altogether (a completely different essence)."


      But, in my mind at least, that still doesn't remove the problematic aspect of it. If God is existence itself, and we have existence (though in a finite mode), then our existence is God's existence. The creature's existence is in reality God's own existence. Occasionalism doesn't seem far behind in such a view.

      Meister Eckhart was the most famous supporter of such a view of how existence is said of created things and God, and he unsurprisingly got in trouble for it (or at least the vagueness of his construal of it). Many scholars would also say that Aquinas allows for some independent existence in the creature (at least compared to Eckhart's view of it), although the creature's existence still must be sustained by it's Source at every moment.


      " The sun/moon analogy is better because the sun does not obviously lose anything (even though it technically does lose photons and other particles) when illuminating the moon."


      The problem with this analogy is the fact that the moon's light is in reality the sun's light. The moon is merely a surface that reflects a portion of it. If we take this analogy literally, then Creation's existence is merely God's existence reflected from an essence.

      The consequences of this are undesirable: Just as whenever you look at moonlight you are actually really seeing sunlight, so too whenever you enjoy anything in Creation you are really enjoying God.

      I would propose a better analogy to describe the relationship between God and Creation is this: Imagine that the moon gave off a distinctly blue light instead of the white sunlight. Now imagine that the moon can only give off it's unique blue light when the sun shines it's light on the moon. In this case, the moon's blue light would be constantly dependent on the sun's light, but the moon's light is nevertheless distinct from the sun's light and uniquely it's own, and not just the sun's light but reflected differently.


      "and all cosmological arguments for the existence of God require that our existence is something like God’s existence insofar as it is given to us by God, albeit in a finite mode."


      Not necessarily. The eastern orthodox view of God views His essence as being utterly unknowable in itself, and that the eternal ideas upon which creation is based on are logoi which exist outside the essence of God in His energies. This means that creation is not viewed as merely "a pale reflection or bad copy" of God (to paraphrase Vladimir Lossky), but as something truly unique and original, distinct from God even though it's constantly dependent on Him for it's existence.

      Creation then might be a finite participation in God's energies (though I'm not sure if that's what the orthodox would actually say), but their existence isn't just God's existence in a finite mode.

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    5. Well we are getting pretty off-topic now.

      But if you want to be reeeeeally technical, the moon DOES produce its own light. The surface of the moon absorbs some of the photons from the sun which knocks the electrons in the atoms on the surface of the moon to a higher energy level. Then the electron jumps back down and emits its own photon in the process.

      I would not get too hung up on examples. Sometimes (typically at a sufficiently advanced level) they cause more problems than they solve. But yes, you are right; creation has its own distinct existence. But that existence depends on God at every moment.

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    6. @Scott,


      Funnily enough, the idea that the moon absorbs the sun's light to make it's own is exactly the explanation I had in mind when creating my blue moon scenario in the beginning! I just left out that specific mechanism when explaining it here.

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    7. Yes I was thinking that as well.

      The only difference of course (in the Thomistic account) is that God does not begin with a substrate since he creates the matter as well as the form simultaneously. But if we start talking about that, we will get way into the weeds.

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  4. “this must be understand” should rather be “this must be understood”

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  5. By “the fact that unicorns exist”, you surely meant rather “the fact that unicorns do not exist” (?)

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  6. Excellent article!

    Re: Since there are these ways that things are and ways that things were, you can say that they have a kind of being and thus, if you want, that they exist (even if, in the case of ways that things were, they concern things do not themselves exist anymore).

    I think Bill will press on this point and ask: how can "ways that were" have a "kind of being"?

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  7. Note, quotes are of Bill Vallicella, not Ed Feser.

    “I say that Ed is confusing a truth-bearer with a truth-maker. But I hesitate to tax him with such an elementary blunder”
    https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2019/05/feser-on-vallicella-on-the-truth-maker-objection-to-presentism.html

    I think the blunder is Bill’s in not using his own maker/bearer distinction to come to terms with the shortcomings of his analysis.

    "So I will take him to be saying that the truth-maker of 'Caesar was assassinated' is the fact of Caesar's having been assassinated. This is a concrete state of affairs, the subject constituent of which is Caesar himself. This state of affairs cannot exist unless Caesar himself exists."
    No, the "state of affairs" is that Ceasar did exist in the past, therefore Ceasar is not required to exist now for this "state of affairs" to be the case.

    “Furthermore, a given proposition that is contingently true is possibly such as not to be true, whence it follows that its being and its being true cannot be identical.”
    https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/11/the-difference-between-a-truth-bearer-and-a-truth-maker.html
    Indeed, the being of Ceasar is not identical to the truth of his being. The present being of Ceasar is not necessary to the truth of his prior being.

    “Truth-bearers are representations; truth-makers are not.”
    (from the same post)
    Indeed, the truth bearers of the prior existence of Ceasar are the thoughts in the brains of those who observed him and made symbolic representations of him in material substances, which were subsequently recognized in the thoughts of brains over millennia and are at this moment borne as processes in my brain.

    “And if Caesar does not exist, then there is nothing that could serve as the truth-maker of 'Caesar existed.'
    Caesar’s existence was made true by the fact of his being when he existed. That truth has been borne by a succession of brain processes, the making of symbolic objects, the interpretation of those symbols, and ongoing processes in brains in the present.

    “It is true that 7 exists. What makes this truth true? The number 7!”
    It is true that unicorns exist because…unicorns.

    The number 7 does not exist any more than a triangle exists or any fanciful imaginary object exists. These are abstractions, thoughts, brain processes with no external existential realizations.

    Caesar of ancient Rome exists now only as an abstraction, which is to say he does not exist now. It is true presently that Caesar did exist in the past. That truth is borne by a sequence of symbols and abstractions beginning during the time of Caesar’s existence and continuing to this day.

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    Replies
    1. Are you a psychopath? Psychopaths don't have empathy and so they need to constantly test the limits of their superiors (Ed in this case) in order to learn what's acceptable.

      Also treating someone with a Ph. D. as an inferior. "Screw authority and my superiors are not worth acknowledging." -- every psychopath ever.

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    2. Stardusty does exhibit some concerning traits, such as extreme narcissism, unwarranted arrogance (those two do kind of go hand in hand), close-mindedness, and complete and total inability to accept correction or concede fault/error. For some strange reason, he thinks he is an expert in fields in which he clearly has no formal academic / advanced education.

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    3. Tritium May 12, 2019 at 6:01 PM
      “Stardusty does exhibit some concerning traits, … close-mindedness, and complete and total inability to accept correction or concede fault/error.”
      Au contraire mon ami. I was rather hoping you could identify some error or omission in my above introduction to my use of the maker/bearer distinction in demonstrating the validity of presentism.

      Bill clearly has discussed the maker/bearer distinction in the past and even faults Ed, for some reason, in this regard, yet Bill neglects, it seems to me, to appropriately employ this distinction in his analysis, instead insisting that:
      “And if Caesar does not exist, then there is nothing that could serve as the truth-maker of 'Caesar existed.'”

      Do you see an error in my above reasoning?

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    4. @Tritium:

      "Stardusty does exhibit some concerning traits, such as extreme narcissism, unwarranted arrogance (those two do kind of go hand in hand), close-mindedness, and complete and total inability to accept correction or concede fault/error."

      He was also explicitly banned from this blog, and many other blogs as well by the way, so engagging with him is, in the very least, disrespectful towards Prof. Feser. But please do continue, do not me let me stop anyone.

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    5. StardustyPsychopath,

      Here are your options:

      1. Serve God
      2. Become a liquid clown or monster or both

      The choice is yours.

      Delete
    6. Au contraire mon ami. I was rather hoping you could identify some error or omission in my above introduction to my use of the maker/bearer distinction in demonstrating the validity of presentism.

      Can anybody sort the gold from the trash in this paragraph? Because I can't.

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    7. Sure, Ero, I can do the sorting you cannot.

      The "gold" is found above, marked May 12, 2019 at 9:51 AM. There I introduced my use of the maker/bearer distinction Bill had discussed in prior posts, which I cited.

      Bill asserted Ed blundered in this regard, but I say the opposite is the case. Truth of Caesar's existence and assassination was made in the ancient past and borne over millennia by a sequence of abstractions and symbolic representations.

      Further "gold" would be found if any error or omission from May 12, 2019 at 9:51 AM could be identified and rationally explained.

      Thus far no such errors or omissions have been shown by the exemplary posters here.

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    8. Caesar’s existence was made true by the fact of his being when he existed. That truth has been borne by a succession of brain processes, the making of symbolic objects, the interpretation of those symbols, and ongoing processes in brains in the present.

      The issue isn't regarding what bears the truth it is about what truth makers are their. I don't get the point of your posts here.

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    9. Hi Red
      " I don't get the point of your posts here."
      Fair enough. Allow me to summarize in part.

      Bill said Ed had committed a "blunder" (see link provided by the OP) with respect to a truth maker as opposed to a truth bearer. For myself, I would not have chosen this vocabulary, but it is one way of expressing the concepts involved in presentism, the core topic at issue recently.

      Bill’s position boils down to “Caesar must exist now to make true the assertion that Cesar existed in the ancient past”. Bill just does not seem to comprehend that it can be true now that Caesar existed in the past without Cesar existing now, I mean, how is this at all controversial or even slightly difficult to grasp?

      To compound the shortcomings of Bill’s position he stated himself
      “Truth-bearers are representations; truth-makers are not.”
      https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/11/the-difference-between-a-truth-bearer-and-a-truth-maker.html

      So, using Bill’s own choice of terminology it is very easy to express that the truth of Caesar’s existence was made at the time Caesar existed, and representations of that truth have been borne by bearers over millennia to this day, such that we have the truth of Caesar’s past existence borne to us, making the statement “Caesar existed in the ancient past” a true statement now.

      Ed has used a number of ways to show how presentism is a clearly rational position, and how Bill has got things back to front, but I have not noticed much emphasis on what Bill calls truth bearers, and since Bill asserted a blunder in this regard I thought a little expansion on the maker/bearer distinction would be interesting.

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    10. I mean, how is this at all controversial or even slightly difficult to grasp?

      Because it apparently follows from Truth-maker theory and the motivation behind it itself that a truth-maker be an existing entity. Unless of course, one accepts that there are some non-existent things. But this is not what Dr.Feser wants to accept. Though personally, I think that might be better than accepting Eternalism.

      So, using Bill’s own choice of terminology it is very easy to express that the truth of Caesar’s existence was made at the time Caesar existed, and representations of that truth have been borne by bearers over millennia to this day, such that we have the truth of Caesar’s past existence borne to us, making the statement “Caesar existed in the ancient past” a true statement now.

      This doesn't make sense. Truth bearers don't make themselves true. Not when like everyone here, the truth maker theory is accepted.

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    11. @Red
      "Because it apparently follows from Truth-maker theory and the motivation behind it itself that a truth-maker be an existing entity."
      Ok, but then why have the notion of a truth bearer? According to Bill, a truth bearer is a representation of truth.

      If a truth can be borne (represented) by a bearer than there is no need for a truth to remain in the present. A past truth can be borne to the present by representations, making the statement "X was true in the past" true now.

      "Truth bearers don't make themselves true."
      Right, the original truth of the existence of X is made true by the truth maker of X at the time X exists.

      The truth bearers (representations) in some sense, carry or transmit or communicate that truth through time.

      For myself, I find the language of maker/bearer rather awkward.

      Requiring X to exist now to make the statement "X existed in the past" is to say "X must exist now if X existed in the past". Yet the truthmaker theory advocate readily admits Caesar does not exist now, so round and round we go.

      Ed has said clearly "X existed in the past" and "X does not exist now" are both perfectly compatible as true statements, which seems obvious. The surprising thing to me is that these simple statements are considered to be somehow controversial.

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    12. Ok, but then why have the notion of a truth bearer? According to Bill, a truth bearer is a representation of truth.

      If a truth can be borne (represented) by a bearer than there is no need for a truth to remain in the present. A past truth can be borne to the present by representations, making the statement "X was true in the past" true now.

      "Truth bearers don't make themselves true."
      Right, the original truth of the existence of X is made true by the truth maker of X at the time X exists.

      The truth bearers (representations) in some sense, carry or transmit or communicate that truth through time
      .


      This makes little sense, what exactly is the point you're trying to make ? That truth bearers can make themselves true in absence of Truth makers sometimes? Like I said this only makes sense if you accept that there are some non-existent being or in other sense that non-existence objects can properly be taken to stand in relation, explain or represent things.
      Representing a truth is not the same as making it true. Representations don't make something true.

      Ed has said clearly "X existed in the past" and "X does not exist now" are both perfectly compatible as true statements, which seems obvious. The surprising thing to me is that these simple statements are considered to be somehow controversial.

      Problem is, in making them compatible in that way it appears either we are accepting non-present beings in some way or we are accepting that there are non-existent beings.

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    13. SP
      “Ed has said clearly "X existed in the past" and "X does not exist now" are both perfectly compatible as true statements, which seems obvious. The surprising thing to me is that these simple statements are considered to be somehow controversial.”

      Red
      “Problem is, in making them compatible in that way it appears either we are accepting non-present beings in some way or we are accepting that there are non-existent beings.”

      We accept non-present beings in the way of having been existent in the past but not existent now.

      We do not need to accept that there are now non-existent beings in order to accept that previously existent beings do not exist now.

      We know of beings that existed in the past but do not exist now by the evidence of that past existence we observe today, which are representations, apparently called truth bearers by Bill.

      At one point Ed used the somewhat incredulous exclamation “really?” as a response, and I confess I have thought much the same here. I mean, we all (or at least I do) experience the passage of time, including the existence of objects when were younger that are not real any longer, they have passed from existence as identifiable objects.

      Somehow, making the statements “Caesar existed in the past” in conjunction with “Caesar does not exist now” has become controversial. Really?

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    14. We accept non-present beings in the way of having been existent in the past but not existent now.

      We do not need to accept that there are now non-existent beings in order to accept that previously existent beings do not exist now.

      We know of beings that existed in the past but do not exist now by the evidence of that past existence we observe today, which are representations, apparently called truth bearers by Bill.


      The problem isn't about what we can accept about the past (at least not directly)

      The problem isn't about how we know about past.

      It is about what makes singular propositions about past true if notion of truth is taken to be as some proposition's supervenence on ontology.

      Somehow, making the statements “Caesar existed in the past” in conjunction with “Caesar does not exist now” has become controversial. Really?

      Controversy isn't whether what ordinary language users mean by these statements is false. Its about these certain metaphysical thesis of time and truth.

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    15. @Red
      "It is about what makes singular propositions about past true if notion of truth is taken to be as some proposition's supervenence on ontology."
      There is nothing in the present that makes, ontologically, a past existence of a particular being true today.

      If we say that observations of the likeness of Caeser on coins, busts of him, and writings about him "make" his past existence true then we are speaking in common language about about what convinces us, or leads us to accept, or gain some likelihood of knowledge of Caesar's past existence.

      We have no need of an ontological truth maker in the present of Caesar's past existence, which is a good thing because all we have access to are representations of the thing, not the thing itself or the maker of the thing itself.

      If one insists on seeking out present ontological makers of past truths one is on a fool's errand because such makers are in the past, not in the present. All we have in the present are representations passed along materially and temporally.

      If one, instead of accepting the absence of present truth makers for past existent beings, constructs a system of thought assuming these makers must somehow exist in the present, the result will be a fanciful and ultimately incoherent set of notions, such as the assertions Bill has made on this subject and Ed has spent a number of posts examining.

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    16. If we say that observations of the likeness of Caeser on coins, busts of him, and writings about him "make" his past existence true then we are speaking in common language about about what convinces us, or leads us to accept, or gain some likelihood of knowledge of Caesar's past existence.

      Right, but this only makes sense if truth is taken to be an epistemic notion.Here in this discussion all parties are assuming that truth relates to something's being real or its correspondence to reality.
      That is where the need for a truth maker comes.
      You can of course deny that but that is taken to be a huge cost of presentism because of prima facie plausibility of correspondence theory of truth.

      If one insists on seeking out present ontological makers of past truths one is on a fool's errand because such makers are in the past, not in the present. All we have in the present are representations passed along materially and temporally.

      Thing is, given standard presentism only present exists. So if presentist accept the need of truth makers then he most probably has only present in his temporal ontology to meet such demand. Unless of course if such need could be met by some timeless entities.

      And to your last point, well I do think that presentism is the more plausible view but it isn't any less fanciful, all things considered.

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    17. SP: If one, instead of accepting the absence of present truth makers for past existent beings, constructs a system of thought assuming these makers must somehow exist in the present, the result will be a fanciful and ultimately incoherent set of notions, such as the assertions Bill has made on this subject and Ed has spent a number of posts examining.

      But isn't Bill the one saying that Ed, qua presentist, is the one who must be committed to the bogus journey of constructing a system of thought that assumes these truth-makers must somehow exist in the excellent adventure of the present? For Ed these excellent presently existing truth-makers do exist, they are just facts about the past, while Bill find this defence bogus/incomprehensible/untenable and rejects presentism.

      Delete
    18. @Red May 18, 2019 at 5:21 PM

      “Right, but this only makes sense if truth is taken to be an epistemic notion.Here in this discussion all parties are assuming that truth relates to something's being real or its correspondence to reality.
      That is where the need for a truth maker comes.”
      Ok, let’s remove the epistemic aspect temporarily.
      Suppose it simply is true as a matter of real existential fact that X did exist in the past.

      Then, in that case, the statement now “X existed in the past” is also a true statement irrespective of our capacity to know the truthfulness of that statement.

      Since the statement “X existed in the past” refers to a thing made true in the past then the thing that made the existence of X true in the past is also in the past. Both the existence of X and the truth maker of the existence of X are in the past.

      Once a thing does in fact exist in the present all future statements asserting that that thing existed at that time will always be, in point of realistic fact, true. That is just how time and truth work. Most of us understand this intuitively without breaking this arrangement of words down so expansively.

      The truth maker of the statement “X existed in the past” can be past existent because the statement is past referential.


      “Thing is, given standard presentism only present exists.”
      Yes, in the statement “X existed in the past” both X and the truth maker of X no longer exist.

      “ So if presentist accept the need of truth makers then he most probably has only present in his temporal ontology to meet such demand. “
      I don’t see why that would be the case. The truth makers of the past existed in the past, the truth makers of the present exist in the present. I don’t need a truth maker of the past to exist in the present to make a statement about the past true.


      Allow me to substitute place for time, just as a consideration.

      Say, it is a true existential real fact that X exists over there. The truth maker of X existing over there is also over there. Over here I say X exists over there. Does the truth maker of X being there have to also be here for me to truthfully say X exists there? If so, then the truth maker of X would have to exist everywhere such that the statement of X existing at any particular spatial location could be truthfully made from all spatial locations in the universe.

      So, every truth maker would have to be spatially located throughout the entire universe. This seems to me to be a cumbersome way of thinking that has no analytical value.

      Coming back to a realistic manner of description there is no need for truth makers to exist throughout all locations in both space and time, rather, the truth maker can exist only at one particular point in space and time with statements about that point in space and time being existentially realistic truths irrespective of our knowledge owing to their reference to a real truth at a real place and a real time.

      I really don’t see why Bill, or anybody else, would have such difficulty understanding theses ideas of place and time and truth given that what I have described is intuitively apparent in our own life experiences.

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    19. David McPike May 18, 2019 at 9:34 PM

      “But isn't Bill the one saying that Ed, qua presentist, is the one who must be committed to the bogus journey of constructing a system of thought that assumes these truth-makers must somehow exist in the excellent adventure of the present?”
      I didn’t notice that viewpoint but I could have missed it. Ed has about 4 posts recently on this subject and so does Bill so you might be right on that point.

      I think the term “somehow exist” might be an issue here. “Exist” in what sense? As an abstraction? Yes, to the extent that abstractions exist then past truth makers still exist. I say abstractions do not exist in a real existential sense, and are only identifiable processes of material, the brain.

      So there might be some mixing of what is meant by “exists” at play here.

      “ For Ed these excellent presently existing truth-makers do exist, they are just facts about the past, while Bill find this defence bogus/incomprehensible/untenable”
      To the extent that a “fact” “exists” then yes, we could say that the fact of past truth makers exists in the present. It is a fact now that the things that existed in the past did in fact exist in the past.

      One poster seemed to be complaining about Ed speaking Clintonese in splitting hairs over what the definition of “is” is. Actually, “is” can be used in more than one sense, and means very different things in each case.

      It is the case now that certain things existed in the past. Thus, it is true that some historical sequence of existent things acted in particular ways over time. If the opposite were the case, that things did not exist in the past then that would be an incoherent denial of reality itself.

      “ and rejects presentism.”
      Bill can reject presentism if he wishes, but he has made no coherent arguments against it that I have noticed. For example, Bill asserted the number 7 exists because of the number 7. To which I replied that unicorns exist because of unicorns.

      What is meant by “exists”? I think Bill confuses the abstraction of a thing with an existentially real thing, an abstraction being an analog of a perceived thing, not the thing itself, and there might not even be a real existent thing corresponding to the abstraction as is clearly the case in asserting unicorns.

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    20. @Stardusty

      Since the statement “X existed in the past” refers to a thing made true in the past then the thing that made the existence of X true in the past is also in the past. Both the existence of X and the truth maker of the existence of X are in the past.

      Once a thing does in fact exist in the present all future statements asserting that that thing existed at that time will always be, in point of realistic fact, true.


      Right, but again given standard presentism, the past don't exist at all hence things in the past that made something true don't exist either.Yet, according to this proposal they somehow stand in some cross-temporal relations through which they do their truth making work.
      This proposal would only make sense if you accepted that there are some non-existent things which can stand in relations.

      Allow me to substitute place for time, just as a consideration.

      Say, it is a true existential real fact that X exists over there. The truth maker of X existing over there is also over there. Over here I say X exists over there. Does the truth maker of X being there have to also be here for me to truthfully say X exists there? If so, then the truth maker of X would have to exist everywhere such that the statement of X existing at any particular spatial location could be truthfully made from all spatial locations in the universe.

      So, every truth maker would have to be spatially located throughout the entire universe. This seems to me to be a cumbersome way of thinking that has no analytical value.


      The difference is, wherever the truth-maker is located, it exists,both the location and the object. Time given presentism is not like that. only one of time, the present exists.

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    21. @Red
      “This proposal would only make sense if you accepted that there are some non-existent things which can stand in relations.”
      Allow me to reword your statement in my terms and remove your words by placing them in parentheses.
      This proposal would only make sense if you accepted that there were (are) some non-existent things that (which) did (can) stand in relations.

      The relation in question is temporal. A present thing is temporally related to a past thing. Past things were temporally prior to present things. Past things are not required to exist in the present to have been temporally prior to present things.

      “The difference is, wherever the truth-maker is located, it exists,both the location and the object. Time given presentism is not like that. only one of time, the present exists.”
      The truth maker exists at one spatial location, say, idealized as a single point in 3 space, an x,y,z coordinate.

      I can truthfully say Tm1 exists at x1,y1,z1 even though I am at at x2,y2,z2. In fact, the alternative, the requirement that Tm1 exist at every 3 space point in order to make true the statement Tm1 exists at x1,y1,z1 leads to the absurdity that every Tm exists everywhere for all z,y,z in the entire universe.

      All I ask is that we add one more coordinate such that Tm1 exists at x1,y1,z1,t1 while the time is t1. When I am at x2,y2,z2,t1 I say Tm1 exists (present tense) at x1,y1,z1,t1. When I move through space and time, say to x3,y3,z3,t3 I can still say truthfully that Tm1 existed (past tense) at x1,y1,z1,t1.

      Suppose one insists that Tm1 must now exist to make my past tense statement true. If that were the case then Tm1 would have to exist at x1,y1,z1, tn for all n simultaneously. It seems to me that x1,y1,z1 is going to get rather overcrowded with an infinity of copies of Tm1 all presently existing at the same location since n is the number of divisions between t1 and t3.

      I do not pretend to be an expert on the subjects of time and existence, although I do find the subjects engaging and worthwhile, so I appreciate those who have taken the time to engage me seriously here.

      I think the problems encountered with insisting on a sort of pan presence for a truth maker in 3 space illustrate the even greater problems with insisting on a pan presence for a truth maker in 4 space.

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    22. The relation in question is temporal. A present thing is temporally related to a past thing. Past things were temporally prior to present things. Past things are not required to exist in the present to have been temporally prior to present things.

      Regardless of what the nature of those relations is. It would still require us to accept that non-existent things can be plausibly said to stand in relations.
      Which is what appears to be problematic in this account.

      See this criticism of this sort of strategy, similar concerns are raised here.

      https://philarchive.org/archive/BARTSA-6v1
      (Check sec 3)

      I can truthfully say Tm1 exists at x1,y1,z1 even though I am at at x2,y2,z2. In fact, the alternative, the requirement that Tm1 exist at every 3 space point in order to make true the statement Tm1 exists at x1,y1,z1 leads to the absurdity that every Tm exists everywhere for all z,y,z in the entire universe.

      hmm..reading rest of your comment from here it appears you are conflating or maybe misconstruing terms exists at and located at. Otherwise it isn't actually absurd to say that tm1 exist at every point(that is infact true here). Absurd would be to say that it is located at every point.

      Again the issue is that all spatial points exist so do all things contained in them, they are there to do truth-making work properly. Same isn't true of temporal points given standard presentism.

      I do not pretend to be an expert on the subjects of time and existence, although I do find the subjects engaging and worthwhile,

      Same here.

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  8. How about the sentence “this sentence has five words”? If that is not its own truth maker, then what is – the fact it has five words? If I am not missing something, then Bill has to either abandon his idea that “truth carriers cannot be truth makers”, or his views about how facts work.

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    1. The sentence "this sentence has five words" isn't the cause of it having five words. It may describe itself and be correct in it's description, but the sentence itself isn't the reason for it's having 5 words, so no, it's not it's own truth-maker.

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    2. How do you know what "this" refers to in the first place?

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  9. I am basically with Ed on this one, although I think that if one admits "truthmakers" like the fact that Caesar was assassinated (or the fact of Caesar's having been assassinated, I don't think it makes a difference), one is sliding toward disquotation.

    Which is not, I think, a bad thing.

    (This is not an endorsement of the disquotational theory of truth, according to which "'Caesar was assassinated' is true" means "Caesar was assassinated". But saying that the fact of Caesar's having been assassinated makes it true that Caesar was assassinated is like saying "Caesar was assassinated" is true because Caesar was assassinated, and that's a fact. I don't have a grip on what facts are apart from my ability to map them to sentences.)

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  10. I am confused about how presentism (which I accept) accords with divine timelessness (which I haven't been able to accept). It seems like a timeless God must perceive every moment as equally actual. But if presentism is true, then God's perspective must be illusory, right?

    I am working my way through Aristotle's Revenge. This is my first foray into Aristotelian philosophy. I have several questions about space and time, particularly the absolutist views. Can anyone recommend a good forum where I could ask some of these questions?

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    1. Why would God perceive time? He knows all of its contents already, since He made it. I do not think God ever perceives time.

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    2. Dr. Feser defends the A-Theory of time, in which "this moment is the present" is actually true. Although I don't recall reading Feser affirm God's omniscience, I would assume he holds this orthodox view. And if omniscience means knowledge of every true fact, then He will have knowledge of the fact that "this moment is the present". The contradiction arises because if God is truly timeless, then God will "believe" that to be the case about every moment of time simultaneously. He will "believe" that both today and yesterday are the "present", but on the A-theory of time, these are contradictory propositions.

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    3. Jimmy, keep in mind that in theism, the concept is that God is creating everything that exists at every moment of its existence, so he isn't "observing" what happened, but causing it. His "perception" is radically different from ours, precisely because of this. We are "affected" by outside things, because they exist independently of us, whereas the Creator gives them existence, so that he "knows" them prior to their existing. Time is a limitation of material things, given to them by the Creator. One cannot cogently think of Him as though He were receiving information (from His creation, or anywhere else). He's giving all of the information.

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  11. I think the whole Presentism vs Eternalism dicotomy is ill concieved in the first place.

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    1. Why do you think this? I feel like I lean this way as well as times. Though, if I had to "pick" I find the presentist view of time to be the most comprehensive.

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    2. I was persuaded to this view from a combination of reading this paper from an MIT graduate.

      Gale’s Criticism of McTaggart: A-Theory and B-Theory was a big help.

      http://www.arcaneknowledge.org/philtheo/temporal/temporal2.htm#ch10

      and some of the works of Lee Smolin.

      I also think there is a confusion here between philosophy & science.

      Add to that I believe Presentism vs Eternalism is really a proxy debate between moderate realism vs Parmednides.

      For those who claim Enstein's theory of special relativinity disproves "presentism" I would counter all that it proves is that the present as we experience it is a local phenomina.

      One doesn't need a universal frame of referense to believe in presentism.

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  12. The molecules of Caesar may be part of a tree or a dog now. Either the tree exists or Caesar does.

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  13. Hi Ed,

    Would you be able to comment on Alex Pruss's "Three Horsement Problem" for presentism? I would like to see some interaction with it because I'm not sure what a presentist response would look like. It seems that as far as existence is concerned, a being in its inceptive moment has no more in common with one that existed but no longer exists, than it does with a fictional being. How can we maintain that prior existence is different from fictional existence in relation to a being in its first moment?

    -Matt H.

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  14. Quoting Bill Vallicella:
    Presentism… is not common sense, nor is it 'fallout' from ordinary language. Speaking with the vulgar I say things like, 'The Berlin Wall no longer exists.' I am using ordinary English to record a well-known historical fact. Saying this, however, I do not thereby commit myself to the controversial metaphysical claim that wholly past items are nothing at all and that present items alone exist, are real, or have being. The Berlin sentence and its innumerable colleagues are neutral with respect to the issues that divide presentists and eternalists.

    Ed responds:
    End quote. I have to say that I find this claim very strange. Take the following two propositions:
    (1) The Berlin Wall does not exist.
    (2) The Berlin Wall exists.
    Bill seems to be claiming that on a natural, commonsense reading of the sentence “The Berlin Wall no longer exists,” that sentence does not plausibly entail (1) rather than (2). Rather, the sentence, as far as commonsense is concerned, is neutral between (1) and (2). Seriously? Surely, “The Berlin Wall no longer exists” is, on a natural or commonsense reading, equivalent to “The Berlin Wall does not exist anymore.” And surely, on a natural or commonsense reading, the statement that the Berlin Wall does not exist anymore entails that the Berlin wall does not exist. Whether or not you think presentism is true, then, it seems quite a stretch to say that it “is not common sense, nor is it 'fallout' from ordinary language.”

    I respond:
    Ed seems to be distorting Bill's claim. What Ed says is itself not necessarily convincing.
    "BW no longer exists" entails "BW does not exist anymore" - fine (these are just strictly synonymous, aren't they?). But if someone were to say "BW does not exist anymore, therefore BW does not exist," that would hardly strike me as common sense (and synonymy is certainly out the window). Rather it would be an odd, uncommon kind of thing for anyone to say, and one would be inclined to respond, "What do mean by the latter proposition? Do you just mean BW doesn't exist now, in the present? Or are you attempting to illustrate some kind of metaphysical thesis about existence and time?"

    Which brings us to Ed's distortion of Bill's position. Instead of the two propositions he took, he should have taken these:
    (3) The Berlin Wall is nothing at all.
    (4) The Berlin Wall does exist, in some significant sense of the term 'exist'.
    And what Bill seems to be claiming is that on a natural, commonsense reading of the sentence “The Berlin Wall no longer exists,” that sentence does not plausibly entail (3) rather than (4). And Ed himself would seem to have conceded the truth of that claim. E.g.: "Common sense simply doesn’t get remotely close to considering recherché ontological questions about the difference between propositions and facts, the nature of facts whose constituents no longer exist, etc." Instead what common sense does is to just ask "what do you mean?" and thereby avoids getting embroiled in debates about "the strict sense" of a term like 'exists,' which seem to be resolvable only by making a decision about how to speak ("meaning is use").

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  15. As far as negative existentials are concerned, "there are no unicorns" can be re-written "all things are non-unicorns."

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  16. Ed wrote (and I interpolate a suggested correction in [...]):
    "It is still the case that the thought that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March and the sentence 'Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March' are true only because of something [that was, but is no longer] extra-mental and extra-linguistic, namely Caesar’s really having been [rather: Caesar's really being] assassinated on the Ides of March."

    The latter expression denotes just the nature of the event, according to its absolute consideration (secundum suam absolutam considerationem (cf. Aquinas's De ente et essentia, where Aquinas follows Avicenna), neither the particular (temporal) event itself, nor the mind's universal[-ified] (supra-temporal) grasp of it.

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  17. correction/clarification:
    ...(cf. Aquinas's De ente et essentia, where Aquinas follows Avicenna's threefold distinction between nature, particular, and universal)) [close parenthesis]

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