Friday, May 8, 2020

Presentism and analogical language

Terms are used univocally when they are used in the same sense, as the word “bat” is in both “The baseball player swung the bat” and “The cricket player swung the bat.”  Terms are used equivocally when why are used in completely unrelated senses, as the term “bat” is in “The baseball player swung the bat” and “A bat flew in through Bruce Wayne’s window.”  The analogical use of terms is a middle ground kind of usage.  I gave an example when discussing Aristotelian realism in my recent First Things review of William Lane Craig’s book God Over All:

[There is] a common objection to the effect that it is mysterious what the Aristotelian means by saying that a pattern like triangularity is “in” particular things. But this usage is no more mysterious than other common usages of “in.” The way a person is in a club is very different from the way a spoon is in a drawer, and both are different still from the way a person might be in danger or the way World War II occurred in the twentieth century. Why is it any more mysterious to say that triangularity is in a billiards rack or a pyramid? As Aquinas would point out, the word “in” is one that is used analogically. There is something in the way a person is in a club or the way triangularity is in a pyramid that is analogous to the way a spoon is in a drawer, even if it is not exactly the same way. There is no reason to think that the spoon-in-a-drawer sort of case is the only one in which the word “in” has a legitimate use.

Notice that “in” is used literally in each case.  To say that a term is used analogically is not necessarily to say that it is being used metaphorically.  Note also that the usages in each case are not entirely unrelated, as the usages of “bat” in the case of baseball and in the case of Bruce Wayne’s window are entirely unrelated.  But neither are they univocal, since there is no common genus to which being located inside a drawer, having occurred during the twentieth century, belonging to a club, etc. all belong.  The first is a spatial relationship, the second a temporal one, the third a matter of certain conventions being observed, and so on.  (For a more detailed introduction to analogical language, see Scholastic Metaphysics, pp. 256-63.)

Presentism is the view that where time is concerned, only present things exist and past and future things do not.  A presentist could also hold (as I do) that in addition to what exists in time, there is also what exists in a strictly eternal way (God, and on some views Platonic Forms and other abstract objects) and what exists in an aeviternal way that is a middle ground between time and eternity (angels).  I defend presentism in Aristotle’s Revenge, and here at the blog I have said more in defense of presentism against the “truthmaker” objection and against objections grounded in the physics of relativity. 

The truthmaker objection holds that, since for every true statement there must be something that makes it true, it follows that there must be something that makes (for example) “Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March” true.  But what makes this true is Caesar’s having been assassinated on the Ides of March.  And if this past event is to serve as a truthmaker, it must exist, no less than present objects and events exist.  As my regular readers know, I consider this objection overrated and indeed extremely weak, for reasons spelled out in the earlier posts just linked to.  But many philosophers are impressed by it, including the esteemed Bill Vallicella, who periodically posts about this topic at Maverick Philosopher. 

Now, the analogical use of terms is in my view crucial to understanding where the truthmaker objection goes wrong.  Thomists famously take “real,” “being,” and related terms to give us the paradigm cases of analogical usage.  Actuality and potentiality, substances and attributes, parts and wholes, etc. all have being or reality, but not in a univocal sense, and philosophical problems and paradoxes can arise when we overlook this. 

For example, if we think that “real” always has the sense it does when we apply it to what is actual, then we are liable to overlook the real distinction between actuality and potentiality, and be tempted to endorse Parmenides’ denial of change.  If we think that the parts of a thing are real in the same sense that the whole is, we are liable to be tempted by Zeno’s paradox of parts.  The Thomist argues that while potentiality is real and not nothing, it is not real in the same sense in which actuality is real, but rather has reality in an analogical sense.  Similarly, the parts of a whole are in it virtually (to use the Scholastic jargon), and while virtual parts are not nothing, neither do they have the same kind of reality that the whole does.  (See Scholastic Metaphysics for more on these particular issues.)

What I want to suggest is that past events are like this too.  There is a sense in which Caesar’s assassination is part of reality.  After all, it happened; it is not a fictional event.  But that does not entail that it is real in the same sense that your current reading of this sentence is real.  To suppose otherwise is simply to assume that the past and the present are “real” in a univocal way.  It is like assuming that triangularity must be in a billiards rack, or a club member must be in a club, in the same sense in which a spoon is in a drawer.  It simply overlooks the point that “real” is an analogical term.

Bill seems to me consistently to make this mistake in his discussions of this issue.  For example, in one recent post he points out that a person can be in a state of regretting some past event.  But you can’t regret something that never happened, so that “every such state has as its accusative an event that exists.”  Hence such past events exist.  This, he suggests, “blow[s] presentism clean out of the water.”

I’m amazed at Bill’s confidence in this argument, because the fallacy seems to me obvious.  Presentists simply would not (or at least should not) accept the premise that the past events in question exist in the same sense that present events do.  Yes, you can say if you like that some past event that you regret “exists” if all you mean by that is that it really did happen and wasn’t something you hallucinated, or part of a fictional story, or whatever.  But it simply doesn’t follow that it is real in the same sense that present events are real.  The critic of presentism is free to argue otherwise, but the argument Bill gives doesn’t make that case.  It simply assumes a univocal sense of “exists” and thus begs the question.

To be sure, Bill realizes that a critic might raise such a charge against him.  He imagines an exchange with such a critic going as follows:

"You're begging the question! You are using 'exist(s)' tenselessly.  But on presentism, the only legitimate uses of 'exist(s)' are present-tensed."

Reply:  Please note that you too must use 'exist(s)' tenselessly to formulate your presentist thesis on pain of your thesis collapsing into the miserable tautology, 'Whatever in time exists (present-tense) exists (present-tense).'  That's fake news. To advance a substantive claim you must say, 'Whatever in time exists simpliciter exists at present' where 'simpliciter' is cashed out by 'tenselessly.'

End quote.  There are several problems with this.  First, what does the claim that “the only legitimate uses of 'exist(s)' are present-tensed” amount to?  Is this a grammatical claim about the tenses of the English word “exists”?  Surely not, since no one denies that the past tense “existed” and the future tense “will exist” are grammatically legitimate uses.  Perhaps what Bill has in mind, then, is that the presentist makes a semantic claim to the effect that to say that something exists means that it exists in the present; or a metaphysical claim to the effect that whatever exists in fact exists in the present.

But that is false.  The presentist does not make such claims, or at least presentists need not make them.  Again, I would say that eternal things and aeviternal things exist, but they do not in the relevant sense exist in the present, because they don’t exist in time, but outside of time.  I have also allowed that past events can be said to “exist” if all that that entails is that they really did happen and aren’t fictional.  They just don’t exist in the same sense in which present things do.  How could they?  They’re past – over and done with, no longer around, etc.

Second, for that reason, presentism does not collapse into a tautology, miserable or otherwise.  If a presentist were to claim that “exists” means “exists in the present,” then yes, it would be a tautology to say that only present things exist.  But again, that is not what the presentist says, or at least it is certainly not what he needs to say.

Third, there is no such thing as “’exists’ simpliciter” if “exists” is not a univocal term.  And if Bill thinks that terms like “exists,” “real,” and the like are univocal, he needs to argue for this claim if his criticisms of presentism are to have any force.  It cuts no ice simply to take it for granted.

In another recent post, Bill writes:

On presentism, the present alone exists, and not in the trivial sense that the present alone exists at present, but in the substantive sense that the present alone exists simpliciter.  But if so, then the past is nothing, a realm of sheer nonbeing. But surely the past is not nothing: it happened, and is in some sense 'there' to be investigated by historians and archeologists and paleontologists

End quote.  Now, of course no presentist need deny that “the past is not nothing: it happened.”  That is not what is at issue.  What is at issue is whether that entails that the past is real in the same sense in which the present is real.  The presentist would say that the past is real precisely insofar as it really happened, unlike purely fictional objects and events.  It just isn’t real in any sense beyond that.  Again, if you want, you can even say that past objects and events “exist” if all that means is that it they actually existed and happened, by contrast with fictional objects and events, which never existed or happened.  None of that entails that past objects and events “exist” in the same sense that present ones do.

This tendency to appeal to premises that seem to me to beg the question against presentism (certainly against my form of presentism) is one of the features of Bill’s approach to this subject that I find frustrating.  But perhaps I'm misunderstanding him; I'm happy to be corrected.  Another tendency that I find frustrating is Bill's predilection for assessing presentism independently of any assessment of rival views, such as eternalism and the growing block theory.  I maintain that that cannot fruitfully be done.  In the nature of the case, to claim that the past exists in the same sense in which the present does at least suggests either an eternalist or a growing block position.  Perhaps Bill can accept this and then go on to defend either eternalism or the growing block theory.  Or perhaps he could show that his claim does not in fact imply either eternalism or the growing block theory, which would entail saying at least enough about them to differentiate them from his own view.  Either way, it will not do to attack presentism without taking some stand on those other positions.  Otherwise, any problem you think you are solving by rejecting presentism is bound to give way to a no less serious problem elsewhere.

For example, one of the criticisms I have repeatedly raised against the claim that present events and past events are real in the same sense is that it appears to collapse time into eternity, effectively making the series of events an atemporal series, like a number series.  In a post from the other day, Bill seems to me to let this atemporalist cat leap right out of the bag alongside the univocalist one.  For though he stops short of endorsing it, he proposes for our consideration the following argument:


a) Both temporal and atemporal items exist.

b) Whatever exists exists in the same sense and in the same way: there are no different modes of existence such that timeless items exist in one way and time-bound items in another. 'Exist(s)' is univocal across all applications.

c) Atemporal items exist tenselessly.  Therefore:

d) Temporal items exist tenselessly. Therefore:

e) Julius Caesar and all wholly past items exist tenselessly despite being wholly past.

End quote.  Now, why on earth should any presentist (especially an Aristotelian-Thomist presentist like myself) be impressed by an argument that simply assumes “the univocity of ‘exist(s)’”?  How on earth can this argument avoid the implication that present things and past things (like Julius Caesar) exist atemporally?  And why on earth should any presentist not regard an argument that appears to assimilate the temporal to the atemporal as a reductio ad absurdum? 

I’ve repeatedly urged readers of Aristotle’s Revenge not to read the remarks I make there about the truthmaker objection before reading the nearly 70 pages worth of material on the philosophy of time that lead up to them.  The reason is that, by the time I get to that objection, I have already argued that rivals to presentism like the ones mentioned above cannot be right.  Hence if the truthmaker objection would force us to accept one of those rivals, it needn’t delay us for any more than the couple of pages I devote to it.  Bill’s series of posts on this topic seem to me to illustrate the dangers of trying to press the truthmaker objection in isolation from consideration of these larger issues.  All the same, I thank him for forcing us presentists to articulate our position with greater precision and to defend it in greater depth.  I always enjoy and profit from reading Bill even on those occasions when I find myself disagreeing with him.


  1. Perhaps our minds are attracted to (or rather tempted by?) univocal ideas because admitting to analogies admits more complexity than our minds are happy with. But the truth is that reality is complex and distinctions must be made.

  2. People love different things and Ideas.

    When they love them, they believe in them and disbelieve in the contrary.

    That's why Faith in God is meritorious: because we choose to believe in all possible good.

    Bill loves the truth-maker idea and he won't let go of it till someone makes Presentism look more beautiful than his favorite.

    This reminds me of St. Paul.
    I get the idea that there was no one who could have made an impression on him, or that he would listed to anyway, in presenting the Gospel in all it's glory; so God had to do it Himself. Once the impression had been made, he was almost without equal in upholding the Faith.

    You'll have to keep trying to convince Bill till you make an impression; or maybe till someone he trusts implicitly does.

  3. Could one say that the past exists virtually in the present in the form of efficient causes of the present? I would not want to say that this is necessary in order to make the past “real”. If God annihilated the universe and created a new one, that previous universe would still have a “real” past existence (although it would no longer exist). God could still say that the universe existed at one time. Granted such a universe would not be considered as existing in the new universe’s past but as wholly other.

    However virtual reality could be one good avenue for making the way in which the past is analogically real more intelligible.

    What I really want to know is why people are so dead set on rejecting presentism? What is the payout when presentism is so much more common sensical?

  4. It took time (!) for me to wrap my head around eternity. Dialectically it's really a negative approach to something temporal. That's helpful.

    Aeviternity on the other hand, boggles my mind.

  5. Dr. Feser,

    It seems to me that this problem is particularly problematic for the Thomist when considering the future. Even if you are right in defending presentism against the truthmaker objection when it comes to the past, I don't see how this response can be applied to future truths.

    And of course, for those who believe in foreknowledge, future contingents can be known by God,so they must have truth value just like the past. I understand that the standard Thomist response is that God knows the future by knowing his own will. The problem is that if the Thomist also insists that God willing the universe is a cambridge property, which is what I take Aquinas to mean when he denies that God is really related to creatures, then there is nothing within God by which he could know the future. In other words, which contingent things God wills is grounded in part in those contingent things themselves. (If I remember correctly, W Matthews Grant does accept that his position regarding God's relation to the world does commit him to eternalism about time. I could be misremembering his view).

    How would you respond to this?

    1. And of course, for those who believe in foreknowledge, future contingents can be known by God,so they must have truth value just like the past.

      I don't quite think that works. Yes, future contingencies can be known by God. Yes, a statement of a future event must have some sort of truth value. But no, it need not have a truth value just like present and past events. Nothing requires us to impose upon "truth value" univocity, just as Feser was pointing out that Thomists certainly don't assert "real" and "exists" are used univocally. There is nothing forbidding us to say of a proposition asserting a future contingent event that it does not have a truth value in the same way a present tense or past tense proposition has, precisely because the kind of reality of the future contingent is certainly not the kind of reality applicable to the present or the past. But it may still have a truth value of some OTHER sort, because God knows it and (as in the case of a divine prophecy) has foretold it to us.

    2. Tony,

      Even if I concede that it does not have a truth value in the same way the present tense proposition does, I think the problem remains uniquely for the future.

      Feser has said in a previous post "“Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March” is true, and common sense would agree that this truth needs a truthmaker. And it has one. Caesar’s really having been assassinated on the Ides of March (rather than this being a fictional story, say) is what makes the statement true." And I take it that this post is clarifying how analogical predication bolsters this response, which I do not agree with but I am willing to accept for the sake of the argument. My problem is that this same kind of response cannot be given for future contingents because there is no parallel (in particular on presentism) between what "really happened" and what "really will happen." This is why presentists, like Aristotle, have had to contend with the problem of future contingents. And it is why Aquinas's answer amounts to saying that God knows the future by knowing what he wills to happen in the future. But I am saying that this is problematic due to God having no real relations to the world.

    3. I've heard no one better than Eleonore stump at defending an eternal God interacting with a temporal world without either God colllasing into the temporal or the temporal collapsing into the eternal.

      I'd track her work down.

    4. Tom,

      God has no real relations to the world, but the world does have a real relation to God (as effect to cause). So if the world is really related to God, then why can’t God’s will be the truth maker for contingent future events? Again it is true analogically insofar as it will happen, not insofar as it is actual.

    5. Scott,

      Because for God's will to serve as a truth maker for contingent future events it would have to be really related to them.

    6. But doesn’t that prove too much? God being the cause of the universe is the truth maker for the claim “God created the universe”. But God does not have a real relation to the universe.

    7. I really think that the idea of "a truthmaker" for truths is a terrible pathway for understanding truth. For any given present-tense real thing (say, the oak tree outside my window), there are any number of things that could possibly belong in the category of "truthmaker" for it, depending on how you want to consider it: there is the matter of which it is made, the form which informs the matter, the end toward which it is directed, and an enormous number of prior agents acting in such a way as to bring the things together so as to be present to it: the earlier oak tree from which its acorn was grown, the wind, the soil, the water, the bees, the squirrel, and then all the prior truthmakers of THOSE items as well. And let's not forget the "truthmakers" that don't act on the acorn qua acornn, but that "act on" as principles: the law of gravity, the law of conservation of matter and energy, the electrical laws and the chemical laws and biological laws and so on. And then, in an entirely DIFFERENT way, there are the laws of logic such as the principle of non-contradiction and the principle of the excluded middle, and then the principles of grammar, that also go into "making the proposition true".

      As we say in math and logic: the concept is not well-defined, since it is not clear for any X whether X is in the set of "truthmaker" for the tree, or is not.

    8. What "makes a proposition true" is that it corresponds to the thing which it is about. And since there are many analogical senses to "corresponds to" as well as many analogical senses to "the thing" to which it corresponds (e.g. true statements about Frodo or Gandalf), there will necessarily be many analogical senses to a proposition being true. The truth of a proposition about the past is one sort, determined by the actuality of the thing at some time. The kind of truth that applies to a proposition of a future event is not the same kind of truth-ness.

      To illustrate: one of the mistakes in studying logic is to assume that all statements have a (simple) truth value: it is a mistake because statements in the subjunctive mood do not have that simple sort of truth value. "John may run a mile in 4 minutes" does not necessarily have a simple true or false quality: John may be a speed runner who is closing in on a 4-minute mile, but hasn't gotten there yet - and he may NEVER get there because it is simply beyond his capacity. Or, he may run a 4-minute mile downhill, but not on a level surface. Or, he is not in shape and he may run faster if he just gets off the couch and trains. Or, John may be a quadriplegic who will never run 2 steps again. Or, he may run again, if a miracle happens. Or... There is no clear set of parameters within which the "may" is definitively constrained, and within certain boundaries maybe he can't, but within larger spheres maybe he can.

      While statements in the indicative mood do not have quite the same problem with having a truth value, statements of the FUTURE in the indicative mood stand somewhat analogically to subjunctive mood statements in that the kind of truth that they have is attenuated, or diverse from that of present or past indicative mood statements. So, a statement in the indicative mood of the future isn't true in virtue of its present tense correspondence to the thing which it is about, but in virtue of something else. I see no problem with suggesting that the correspondence is that of God's knowledge of the thing. Even if you insist that because God is not really related to the world, this cannot be a real correspondence, I would answer this: it is ALREADY a given that the proposition is not true in the same sense that a proposition of the past is true, all you are doing is helping to nail down the limits of the truth-ness: it can ONLY have the kind of truth that applies to propositions of future events known by God. To deny that it has even THIS sort of truth means God cannot know it.

    9. Tony,

      So in a sense, you are in fact arguing that Tom’s argument proves too much, because by failing to consider the analogical nature of being, you can render almost anything without a certain type of cherry-picked truth maker and thus make everything turn out to be false.

    10. @Scott,

      You say "God being the cause of the universe is the truth maker for the claim “God created the universe”. But God does not have a real relation to the universe."

      I agree but God being the cause of the universe is not something intrinsic to God since he is not really related to creation. God being the cause of the universe amounts to the universe's real dependence on God.

      An analogous move for the future would entail that the future exists extrinsic to the mind of God. The most obvious way of making sense of that claim is by rejecting presentism.

    11. @Tony,

      You say "What "makes a proposition true" is that it corresponds to the thing which it is about. And since there are many analogical senses to "corresponds to" as well as many analogical senses to "the thing" to which it corresponds (e.g. true statements about Frodo or Gandalf), there will necessarily be many analogical senses to a proposition being true. The truth of a proposition about the past is one sort, determined by the actuality of the thing at some time. The kind of truth that applies to a proposition of a future event is not the same kind of truth-ness."

      My point is that even if you are correct in thinking the doctrine of analogy helps with truthmakers in general, or for past events in particular, it does not help for the future events.

      You also say "it can ONLY have the kind of truth that applies to propositions of future events known by God" But this is a good argument for what William Hasker defends, namely, Open Theism.

    12. Tom,
      " God since he is not really related to creation"
      A one-way relation is incoherent.

      Relations are necessarily reciprocal between 2 or more beings. If there is no reciprocity of any sort then there is no relation of any sort in either direction.

      Either there has never been any association between god and the rest of reality, or god and the rest of reality are related to each other. To claim otherwise is incoherent.

    13. Tom, I don't think my comment is an argument for Open Theism, any more than (say) a proof for the existence of God is an argument for Open Theism. What I said would typically be challenged and (at a minimum) closely qualified and constrained by Open Theists to drain it of most of my intention: I intended that God knows future contingent events that hinge on our free choice, and Open Theists usually would resist such a thesis.

      And (again) my position is not, primarily, that we can satisfy the truthmaker requirements through analogy, it is that "truthmaker" is a very likely hopeless theory of truth that should be abandoned. The difficulties (that are worth considering) of presentism probably can be stated without relying on the "truthmaker" idea getting things all muddled. Certainly St. Thomas considered God's knowledge of the future as an objection to omniscience without referring to any "truthmaker" theory.

  6. Dr. Feser,

    If this is not too far off topic, I am genuinely curious how the A theory of time generally, and presentism specifically, reconciles time dilation. For the B theory, it's as simple as saying when you depart from the geodesic, you move through less in the time dimension while moving through more in the space dimension.

    I look in the SEP on-line and a couple of other resources, but none addressed time dilation in terms of A theory or B theory. If you address this in Aristotle's Revenge or some other book, I will track that down and read it, or if you know of any other source, that would also be good. If not, what do you think is happening during time dilation?

    1. Time dilation is treated only briefly in Aristotle's Revenge, and within the context of a larger argument against the possiblity of time travel.

    2. What is the issue? Time is still change with respect to succession, the sequence of events is not affected by SR, only the relative rate at which events occur. So it seems that velocity affects the tendency of things to change. But that is like one accident affecting another, which happens regularly in Aristotelian philosophy of nature.

    3. Scott,

      My question would be about the cause of time dilation. Under the A theory of time, why should it occur?

      Meanwhile, even the B theory of time recognizes (or at least, is compatible with) the notion that locally there is a sequence of events. For example, there is the notion of time-like separations of phenomena versus space-like separations.

    4. Well, why should it occur under the B theory? You would have to say that substances are designed by God in such a way that when they increase velocity with respect to an object (by accelerating) that acceleration causes them to slow down their own rate of change about their own composite parts with respect to the rate of change of the other object. It is really not something that A theory or B theory can settle.

    5. Scott,

      Hopefully I got this right, but I think the B theorist would claim that B theory allows a shortcut (so to speak) across time conceived spatially and so dilation is conceivable in the B theory, but not the A theory.

      Aristotle’s Revenge makes a number of arguments against time conceived spatially. As I recall, one was that if time is the measure of change within three-dimensional space, and the B theorist claims that time is merely a fourth spatial dimension, then time becomes change within a four-dimensional space. But this just leads to an infinite regress of additional dimensions continually added to justify the claim that time is a spatial dimension in the previous level.

      As I recall, Aristotle’s Revenge merely says that dilation is not time travel, but merely anti-aging.

    6. T N,

      Your first paragraph is very close to how I would have put the matter.

      For the second, I find it curious, because time is only the measure of change in three-dimensional space when we find it convenient to the be the measure. There is no reason the ratio can't be flipped, or we can't use a ration of one space dimension against another (such as the slope of a line). However, I'm sure the book has better detail.

      Did Aristotle's Revenge have any details on how the anti-aging would work? Without that, there seems to be (to me) a very large void in A-theory that no one seems to be willing to explore.

    7. One Brow,

      The section on time is probably the largest single topic in the book as I recall. There is a lot about tense, Special and General Relativity, A and B theories, spatialization, and more. It's not an area I claim to be well versed in other than the basics. You may want to get the book.

    8. This does pique my interest though. It seems that how to proceed with the question is going to depend on how one defines time. You are saying it's a ratio of dimensions. For Aristotle, it's the sequential gain or loss of attributes. I'm not sure how a ratio of dimensions is "time" other than a mathematical description of motion. While the physicist is concenrned with the mathematical description, it is not an analysis of what it is ontologically, which is what the Aristotelian is concerned with.

    9. T N,

      I apologize for my clumsy wording. I don't think time itself is a ratio. What I meant is that using time in a ratio, which was what I understood by "As I recall, one was that if time is the measure of change within three-dimensional space," did not indicate time was different from any other item we measure. For example, we can measure the change in atmospheric pressure at sea elevation and 1000 feet above sea level, and the measure of change would be feet (of elevation).

      I'm looking for an argument that addresses why acceleration/geodesic deviation/etc. results in time dilation while preserving an A-theory of time. Do you recall that topic being specifically touched upon?

    10. Oh, sorry, the wording “change within a three-dimensional space” is confusing. This is one of those challenges of electronic communication, especially for dense subject matter. Time is just the addition or subtraction of attributes in sequential order, regardless of the number of dimensions. The number of dimensions is just a starting point to show an infinite regress of iterations.

      The section on time is 70 pages and the bibliography is 40 pages. There is a section that discusses four different strategies used to reconcile Special Relativity to the A theory, which is a high-level summary of method, not a detailed discussion of the physics. There is a section on whether Relativity is incompatible with the commonsense perception of time. There is a critique of the spatialization of time, and a defense of presentism. I’d say these sections give you a good idea on how an A theorist approaches the question methodologically, if that’s what you’re after, but they aren’t a blow by blow account of the actual physics.

      I’m struggling to come up with a summary of these sections, but, in general, I think its true to say that the overall mission of the book is to show that the mathematical/empirical descriptions afforded by science—as good as they are—are not exhaustive of reality. And in principle they cannot be.

    11. T N,

      Thank you for those details. You have convinced me Aristotle's Revenge is worth a read for this area, at least.

  7. I think if someone wants to refute presentism, it's necessary to show that past truths can only make sense if they are true in the same sense as present truths, and that other senses of truth such as that things DID happen in the non-existing past, are somehow not sufficient to establish past truths.

    The truthmaker objection otherwise begs the question against presentism in this regard, without showing why a present-existence sense is needed to have past truths.

  8. Dr. Feser:
    If it is not too much trouble, could we get a post sometime where you explain aeviternity clearly? Everything I've been able to find out there just makes the concept more confusing.

    1. Seconded! In fact an angel blog series in general would be immensely helpful. I find that angels are a good stepping stone between natural theology and natural psychology (as in the Summa).

    2. Agreed: aeviternity is a headache to me, too. Would love to have it parsed out, even a little. (more than "well, it's not eternity, and it's not time...")

  9. I finally see the problem. Components of analogy can be "unequivocal" that is literal but that doesn't negate the fact we cannot compare God and creatures unequivocally. If there was no literal component to analogy then analogous comparisons could never be made of anything.

    All that sophistic bullshit dguller used to pull on me over analogy I can finally see what was wrong with it.

    1. "finally..." OK, but you were distinguishing analogical predication from metaphor years ago!

  10. One thing I do not understand with analogy is how proofs are supposed to work.

    For example, in the first way, Thomas prove that there must be an an unmoved mover that actualizes any potential in a substance. But to maintain simplicity (and other reasons) we find out later on this this unmoved mover does so analogically and not in the same way I actualize the potential of this comment. However, if the actualization is only analogically, then I fail to see how this (or any other deduction) goes through since it literally is an exchanging of terms. I think the way to make it work would be to say that analogical powers imply literal powers; something like

    '((A' AND (A' is analogical for A) AND (A -> B)) -> B)'?

    This doesn't seem to work for simple counterexamples in real life, so this cannot be it, but I can't think of a way to get it to work.

    Perhaps as I think Son of Ya'Kov alludes (sorry if I am misunderstanding), there can be a kernel of univocity in an analogical truth, but I don't think this works for God, because we would still univocity know that 'kernel' and we cannot even know that. And if there is this 'kernel' but it is hidden from us, then I don't see how we can know if a deduction about God works or not.

    I'm just a bit confused on these parts.

    1. Hi Michael,

      I think we can identify things that are similar in the efficient, formal, and final cause. The big difference is in the material cause. There is corresponding way that we can create out of nothing (out of our finite power).

      Of course God's efficient, formal, and final causality are also unlike us in the sense that they have as their source an infinite, all powerful, all intelligent God. But if they were completely different, there would be no way in which we image god (from a theological perspective anyway - if that makes a difference to you). :)


    2. corresponding way.... I wish we had an edit function on this blog. :)

    3. Hello Daniel,

      I think my concern is a bit deeper, and relates to the second point. For the proof to go through, it seems we need to know somehow that the analogy gives a genuine similarity, but this seems to be only possible with a 'theological image' of God already in place that we can make the comparison with.

      You might say that this is fine, since we have other reasons for knowing these things, but I think it is a difficulty at least, and seems to be necessarily a priori in nature, which if true would burden an a seemingly a posteriori proof quite a bit I think.

    4. Agreed. But Aristotle came to this conclusion as well without the benefit of the Judeo-Christian revelation. Still - I think Analogy is appropriate since it preserves the enormous gap between creator and creature. I don't think we can ever properly quantify what percentage of similarity with have with the divine intellect and will. But I think that there is some correspondence is not an unreasonable assumption to make given the evidence we see in creation.

    5. Daniel,

      Aristotle came to the conclusion in a manner that doesn't seem to require analogy. Aristotle thought God univocally actualizes potential, that there was no creation, etc. The need for univocity are related to the additions that Thomas took from scripture, and generally his philosophy I think.

      Thomas's God is necessarily not an univocal unmoved mover whereas Aristotle's God is, so they cannot be identical. Since there is only one God I think the Thomist is implicitly committed to saying that Aristotle's deduction is actually wrong, somehow, for if it weren't then we would know something about God univocally, which we can't.

    6. Michael,
      "Since there is only one God I think the Thomist is implicitly committed to saying that Aristotle's deduction is actually wrong, somehow,"
      That somehow is that Aristotle employed a critically false premise, that motion is in an impeding medium such that, absent an external mover, an object will slow and stop and its motion is thus lost.

      In book IV of his Physics Aristotle correctly described motion in the void as continuing ad-infinitum, and he thus understood that what we now call uniform linear motion is not the actualization of a potential. But Aristotle failed to build on that key insight and instead employed a false premise about motion which led him to the wrong deduction about the necessity of a first mover.

      In the case Aquinas was speaking of motion in the same sense Aristotle spoke of motion then Aquinas failed as Aristotle failed.

      However, if Aquinas was speaking analogically in the midst of a deductive argument then the First Way is logically invalid due to the use by Aquinas, in that case, of the fallacy of equivocation. Yes, I realize there is a distinction between speaking equivocally versus analogically, but the fallacy of equivocation is committed by shifting word meanings in any way, either wholesale (equivocally) or more subtlety by shifting the sense of the word (analogically) in the midst of the argument.

    7. The kernel of univocity seems to be in the created analogue of actualisation - the first way does show there must be an actualiser to reality, but the exact nature of actualisation isn't specified. An analogy always has two elements, and one of the elements in this case is creaturly actualisation which we do know of - all that's required to do next is to affirm that it has to be true of the other element in some way, and specifically in a different way from the first element.

      One way to look at this would be to "start" with a seemingly univocal first cause, and then from further considerations of simplicity conclude it isn't univocal but analogical. But the jump from univocal to analogical doesn't obscure the proof itself.

    8. Good response JoeD. Maybe this follows from the principle of proportionate causality such that the cause must be in the effect either formally, virtually, or eminently.


    9. JoeD,
      "the first way does show there must be an actualiser to reality,"
      The First Way uses the false premise that whatever is in motion is put in motion by another. That would make sense if motion is in an impeding medium, but all motion is in space, a lossless medium.

      Even Aristotle recognized that unimpeded motion does not require an actualizer, rather, continues ad-infinitum.

      The First Way uses the false premise that objects on the scale of a staff cannot move themselves. In fact counterexamples abound, such as the stars, clocks, rockets, you, me, and Aquinas.

      The First way presents a false dichotomy between a linear hierarchical present moment regression that is either infinite or terminates finitely with a first unmoved mover.

      The third choice is what is formulated throughout physics, such as with gravity, electromagnetism, etc. At base beings move each other. The designation of a cause and an effect is arbitrary, therefore meaningless and false, because at base causation is mutual and circular, terminating the regression finitely without an unmoved mover.

      Since the First Way is unsound due to its use of invalid logic and its use of false premises no further conclusions can be soundly derived from it, application of analogical language is pointless, nor can the argument be soundly used for other purposes at all.

  11. OP,
    "Presentism is the view that where time is concerned, only present things exist and past and future things do not."
    Indeed. The truthmaker objection can be seen to be false by another means, that is, by substituting place for time.

    It is true in the US that the Tower Bridge exists in the UK. There simply is no call for a truthmaker to exist in the US to make that statement true in the US, why should there be?

    "The Tower Bridge exists in the UK" is a true statement everywhere it is uttered. How very bizarre it would be if there had to be an unbounded number of copies of the Tower Bridge that actually exist in all the places the true statement "the Tower Bridge exists in the UK" is uttered.

    The truth of the statement is made at the location being referenced, not at every different location the reference is uttered.

    The same holds for a referenced time as a referenced place. There is no need for the referenced object to exist at every location the reference is made, only at the single referenced location, both in time and space.

    Speaking analogically is fine as an introductory pedagogical device, but speaking analogically in a deductive argument leads to the fallacy of equivocation.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Are we sure that the best account of the truth of assertions about the past implies that "exists" is used analogically? I'm sure that some logician/s has/have come up with answers, but how would we regiment a statement like "I don't like Louis XIV"?

      If we are using a logic in which "exists" is a quantifier, then how about:

      ∃(x) (S ∧ ¬M ∧ D), where
      S = the king of France known as the 'Sun King'
      M = liked by [insert definite description of Ficino]
      D = dead


      The problem then becomes, not to divine the sense of "exists" but the kind of thing over which these predicates can be quantified. This get us into the territory, I think, of abstract objects.

      Someone may say, it's obvious that "exists" is true of Louis XIV in a different sense than it is true of, say, Professor Feser. They are alike in that we say things about them. I would think instead that a past personage, or even a fictional character, is a different kind of object from a living philosopher, but that "exists" must do the same work in propositions about either kind of object.

    2. ficino,
      "Are we sure that the best account of the truth of assertions about the past implies that "exists" is used analogically?"
      Speaking analogically is fine for communicating concepts that are difficult to express or comprehend. Teachers and parents and anybody who is attempting to explain anything might well use an analogy to frame the direction of the explanation.

      But speaking analogically in a deductive argument leads to the fallacy of equivocation, because, as you say, for example, " "exists" must do the same work in propositions about either kind of object."

      Translating from a language such as English to a symbolic logic form commonly suffers from inaccurate or incomplete translation. It can be very difficult to capture all the nuances and implications of spoken language in symbolic logic form.

      ""I don't like Louis XIV"" must mean something more like "I don't like the sorts of things Louis XIV did in the past", or "If Louis the XIV were alive today, based on what I have read about his behavior when he was alive in the past, then I don't think I would like his personality". The declaration "I don't like Louis XIV" just does not have enough words or enough detail to communicate the full meaning of the author.

      If a deductive argument employs the word "exists" in more than one implicit sense then the argument is logically invalid, because that commits the fallacy of equivocation. It is not possible to accurately translate a verbal deductive argument that contains the fallacy of equivocation into a valid deductive argument in symbolic logic form.

      I much prefer the post by Dr. Feser on the A theory of time he published here as a response to Cundy, in late 2019 as I recall.

    3. @SDP: Logic isn't my specialty, so I am happy to be corrected by anyone better versed. I don't think the fact that the statement I chose above expresses an attitude is relevant to the question, does "exists" function as a quantifier or as a predicate? If "exists" will have non-univocal (or analogical) senses, it seems to me that "exists" is being used as a predicate, as when "healthy" is used as a predicate non-equivocally (e.g. healthy animal, healthy drink, healthy urine). But if "exists" acts as a quantifier, then IT is not predicated analogically. As far as I know.

      So whether the proposition is "I don't like Louis XIV" or "I don't like Donald Trump" [when we successfully substitute definite descriptions] or "I don't like my neighbor who lives in Apt. 3C," it doesn't seem to matter how much we splinter the object of my dislike in the way you suggest. The issue is, if "exists" is a quantifier, then the problem of how to predicate "exists" analogically seems to disappear, or to be revealed as a pseudo-problem. The differences lie not in the senses of "exists" but in the objects and what's predicated of them. Same with "Hamlet is fat" vs. "Fatty Arbuckle is fat" [under definite descriptions] vs. "the pres of the US is fat." "Is" remains rigid; what differs are the objects "fat" is quantified over.

      I think we agree on how analogical predication will vitiate a demonstrative syllogism.

    4. Why are you feeding trolls? Have some respect for the blog. Everyone has been doing really well, despite his clear desperation for attention, and you ruin if. Well done.

    5. I have no respect for people who hide behind the moniker of Anonymous. Get the courage to maintain an identity, speak in some name, and post under it.

    6. ficino,
      “Logic isn't my specialty, so I am happy to be corrected by anyone better versed.”
      Then you will have to seek correction elsewhere, in general :-) I have studied certain logical arguments in detail, but I am not an expert in formal logic in general.

      “does "exists" function as a quantifier or as a predicate?”
      I have not considered that distinction for the word “exists”, but a quick reference check shows that exists is a verb, so it seems to me thus a predicate, since it describes a state of being. I don’t see that “exists” serves to number or count or numerically designate in any direct way.

      “I think we agree on how analogical predication will vitiate a demonstrative syllogism.”
      Ok, yes, for me at least, that seems to be the key point relevant to Thomistic arguments for the existence and nature of god. The Five Ways of Aquinas are purported to be sound deductive arguments, so there is a tradition of attempts at sound logical argumentation in Thomism, but all too often I find Thomists seek to justify incoherent assertions with the claim they are speaking analogically. But speaking analogically in the midst of a deductive argument makes the argument logically invalid, unless the differences in senses of words are explicitly stated, accounted for, and rationally linked in the argument, at least in principle, as I have never witnessed that sort or rigor from a Thomist in any argument.

    7. Ficino you are planning to post your full name very soon no doubt?

      Stop feeding the trolls. You certainly have no respect for the blog.

    8. to the Anonymous who is upset about SDP: it should be obvious that there are more than one posters using this moniker on here. So if you respect the blog, you will stop introducing confusion by posting under a handle used also by others Unless you are ALL of them. Perhaps you are the demonic Legion>

      Show some respect for the blog and grow up.

    9. Perhaps you are both right, and should listen to each other.

    10. ^what this guy said. But definitely SP is worse than 10 anonymous posters

  13. I find the use of analogous language to be troubling to understand, at least as a third option. I'm not saying you can't have a term that isn't purely univocal or equivocal, but analogy just seems to be a term that is both univocal and equivocal

    For example the term "in" when considering the spoon in the drawer and man in the club. I seems to me all we have is a univocal term with equivocal elements. It is univocal in the sense that it's something located at the space of something else, but equivocal in that well, a spoon isn't a drawer isn't a club and a man has intentions in a club.

    Is analogous language suppose to be univocal? From my previous readings on this that doesn't seem to be the case

    1. There are two types of analogical predication. One is proportional, where A is to B as C is to D as E is to F. Aristotle gives the example, bone is to land animal as pounce is to cuttlefish as spine is to fish. Aristotle makes a lot of use of proportional analogy in his biological works. This is called "analogy" by Aristotle.

      Then there is what Aristotle calls "pros hen" (= "in relation to one") predication, which specialists since the 1950s generally call "focal meaning." That's when there is one primary sense of a term, and other senses are parasitic on it and can only be understood by reference to the primary. A standard example in Aristotle is with the term, "healthy." The primary analogate is the healthy animal. But "healthy" can also be used of something that is a sign of health, like healthy urine, or something that produces health, like a healthy drink. You can't understand what it means for urine or a drink to be healthy unless you understand the primary analogate, the health in an animal.

      As the tradition developed between Aristotle and Aquinas, theologians made use of both proportional analogical predication and pros hen predication to try to predicate names of creatures and of God. On the doctrine that God's being is radically unlike - because naturally prior to - the being of creatures, theologians struggled to explain how we can assign qualities of God that are possessed by creatures - since God's being is radically different from the creature's being. We can't say that wisdom in God is just the same as in a human, since God's essence is identical with His existence, and in us, it's not. But if wisdom means something totally different when applied to God and applied to creatures, then we won't know what it means to say God is wise. So the doctrine of analogical predication tries to bridge the gap - God is wise in a way somehow like the way we are wise, but in other ways, far beyond us.

      The problems become manifest, as already seen in some of the comments above. Analogical predication is not univocal, and classical theologians say it is not equivocal either, so you can predicate terms analogically in an argument and the argument won't be vitiated by a fallacy of equivocation. Opponents of this view of course say that analogical predication cashes out as equivocal.

    2. ficino,
      "God is wise in a way somehow like the way we are wise, but in other ways, far beyond us. "
      Brittanica provides this definition, perhaps you have another you prefer:
      Verbal fallacies
      Equivocation occurs when a word or phrase is used in one sense in one premise and in another sense in some other needed premise or in the conclusion.

      Suppose then one presents a deductive argument attempting to prove god is wise. In that argument the word "wise" is used in the sense that humans are wise.

      The conclusion of the argument is that, therefore god is wise. Even if the argument is otherwise sound it can only prove that god is wise in the sense that humans are wise. Yet the claim is that the aregument proves god is wise in the analogical extended sense.

      Clearly, that arguemtn fails as as argument that god is wise in the extended analogical sense, since the word "wise" was not used in the extended analogical sense throughout the whole argument.

      In fact, it is impossible, even in principle, to provide any sound deductive argument that god is wise in the extended analogical sense because that sense is necissarily impossible for humans to define. If one is arguing to prove god is wise in the extended analogical sense of "wise" one litterally does not know what one is talking about.

      A sound deductive argument must employ terms that can be defined, and must use those those terms consistently in the senses they are explicity meant, else the argument is logically invalid.

      Thus, arguments that purport to prove an aspect of god in the analogical sense are logically invalid.

  14. What do people think of Craig's response here: you used to exist in the past, you will exist in the future, but you exist now.

    1. I saw that Craig was clarifying the presentism and the perdurantism. He clearly calls the later crazy, but he seemed a lot more sympathetic to the presentist position. Does he have an opinion one way or the other? It isn't clear from the post.


  15. What do you guys think of this atheists rebuttal of the statement "absence of evidence isn't the evidence of absence"?

    1. Well, I think that you can’t “rebut” something that is obviously true from the meaning of the words. I suppose to give him the benefit of the doubt, he might be making the point that if you have reasons to expect evidence for X and you get evidence for Y instead, that might be a reason to think that Y instead of X, but of course nobody thinks otherwise, so it’s still probably not worth going to read the whole thing anyway.

  16. Sorry if this is off-topic, but if anyone can pray for my dad to recover, please do so. He has covid, is in the hospital and his situation worsened. Thanks a lot, sorry if it's off-topic

  17. Atno,
    Best wishes to your father, you, and your family. since he is in hospital chances are they will be able to treat the symptoms until he recovers. They have medicines and cooling techniques to keep a fever under control, plus oxygen or a ventilator to provide breathing assistance.

    You are concerned about posting off topic, so you might wish to post on one of the Covid-19 threads Dr. Feser started.

    Again, my heartfelt best wishes for your father.

  18. I will, Atno.

    I sincerely hope he recovers.