Friday, March 20, 2020

Craig contra the truthmaker objection to presentism


Presentism holds that, in the temporal realm (that is to say, apart from eternal and aeviternal entities), only present objects and events exist.  Now, if statements about past events and objects are true, then there must be something that makes them true.  But in that case, the “truthmaker objection” to presentism holds, past objects and events must exist.  I’ve argued in previous posts that this objection is greatly overrated.  Indeed, for the reasons I gave there, I can’t myself fathom what all the fuss is about.  William Lane Craig seems to agree.  In his book God Over All (which I reviewed recently in First Things), he has occasion briefly to address the issue.  Craig writes:

[I]t seems indisputably true that ‘There have been forty-four US presidents’.  The non-existence of most of them is no impediment to our quantifying over past US presidents.  To infer from the truth of such statements that time is, in fact, tenseless and that past and future individuals are on an ontological par with present individuals would be to draw a breathtaking metaphysical inference on the basis of the slim reed of the neo-Quinean criterion of ontological commitment.

It is noteworthy that in debates over presentism, tenseless time theorists tend simply to presuppose without argument that quantification is ontologically committing, and so our ability to quantify over past/future individuals in true sentences is taken to commit us to their existence… It never seems to occur to tenseless time theorists that our ability to quantify over purely past/future individuals in true sentences might be a good reason to reject the criterion of ontological commitment which they unquestioningly presuppose… [I]t is far more obvious that, for example, the [past-tensed] statement ‘Some medieval theologians wrote in Latin’ is true than that the neo-Quinean criterion of ontological commitment is true.  (pp. 117-18)

End quote.  Here Craig frames the issue in terms of “ontological commitment” rather than “truthmaking,” but in this context the basic issue is the same.  The writers he is responding to hold that if we take statements about past objects and events to be true, then we are thereby “ontologically committed” to the existence of past objects and events.  Similarly, the truthmaker objection holds that if we take statements about past objects and events to be true, then we are thereby committed to the existence of past objects and events as “truthmakers” of those statements. 

The last sentence in the passage quoted from Craig is directed at philosophers who suggest that presentists, to be consistent, should give up the assumption that past-tensed statements are true, in favor of a “fictionalist” thesis that we should regard such statements merely as if they were true.  As Craig rightly says, what should be given up instead are the tendentious metaphysical assumptions that inspire such bizarre proposals!  In fact it is perfectly possible consistently to take statements about past objects and events to be true while at the same time denying that past objects and events exist.  As Craig says, it isn’t the truth of these statements that entails otherwise, but rather the neo-Quinean assumptions that are read into the statements that entail otherwise. 

That has been my point in my earlier remarks about the truthmaker objection.  I am happy to agree with the claim that true statements require truthmakers.  Indeed, it’s just common sense, and the truthmaker objection trades on the commonsense appeal of the claim.  But by itself the claim is in fact not terribly informative, because “truthmaking” is a vague notion.  Take the statements “Robert Downey, Jr. is an actor” and “Tony Stark is Iron Man.”  Both statements are true, and both have truthmakers.  But the respective truthmakers are very different.  The first statement is true because Robert Downey, Jr. really exists and really is an actor.  The second statement is true because the Marvel comics and movies were written a certain way, but not because Tony Stark exists, since he doesn’t. 

If you wanted to justify some dramatic metaphysical conclusion to the effect that fictional characters like Tony Stark exist, you aren’t going to get it from the (trivial) fact that true statements require “truthmakers.”  Rather, you’re going to have to come up with some metaphysical theory that restricts what can count as a “truthmaker,” and then justify reading this theory into the commonsense (and indeed by itself pretty banal) thesis that true statements require truthmakers.  Trying to pull the dramatic metaphysical conclusion out of the banal commonsense premise that truths require truthmakers is just sleight of hand.

Craig makes the same point about all the heavy-going talk among analytic philosophers about “ontological commitment.”  Common sense would agree that when we make a true statement, the things that the statement is about in some sense “exist.”  But terms like “exist” are in ordinary usage very elastic, covering not only tables, chairs, and the like, but things as diverse as the way that you smile, a lack of compassion in the world, the chance that something will not happen, the way things might have been, and so on (to cite several examples of the sort Craig gives on pp. 111-12).  And there is nothing in common sense that entails that the way things might have been is an entity in the way that a table is an entity.  You can argue that it is, on the basis of some metaphysical theory, but it would in that case be the theory – and not common sense – that is doing the work.

Commonsense usage, Craig says, is “metaphysically lightweight” (p. 112).  The neo-Quinean metaphysician reads his heavyweight metaphysics into ordinary usage and pretends that he is simply drawing out the implications of common sense.

I have argued that the truthmaker objection to presentism does exactly the same thing.  “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.

Now, the proponent of the truthmaker objection comes along and says that this entails that Caesar, his assassination, etc. exist, no less than present objects and events do.  But this doesn’t follow from common sense.  Rather, it follows only from some metaphysical theory about what can count as a “truthmaker.”  Hence for anyone who does not accept that theory – as, of course, presentists would not – the objection amounts to just a question-begging assertion.  It seems more than that only if we read the metaphysical theory into the commonsense and banal “truthmaking” assumption shared by presentist and non-presentist alike.

I noted in an earlier post on this subject that we have ample independent reason to reject the anti-presentist’s assumptions about “truthmaking.”  Consider “negative existentials” like the statement “There are no unicorns.”  This statement is true, and thus needs a truthmaker.  But it can’t be that there is some entity that makes it true, since the statement is denying the reality of some entity rather than affirming it.  So what is it that makes the statement true?  Common sense would say: “The fact that there are no unicorns, the absence of unicorns from reality, is what makes it true.  What’s the big deal?”  Some metaphysicians respond: “But then what is a fact?  What is an absence?  Aren’t these entities of some kind?”

Now, you might think this a major metaphysical conundrum.  Or, stifling a yawn, you might think it much ado about nothing.  Either way, it certainly doesn’t entail that people who deny the existence of unicorns need to go into crisis mode, and to reject or at least remain agnostic about the statement “There are no unicorns” until the metaphysicians have solved the alleged problem.  If anything, it is the metaphysicians who need to conform their theorizing to the truth of the statement “There are no unicorns.”  It isn’t those who affirm this obvious truth who need to conform their opinions to some tendentious metaphysics.

Similarly, if the proponent of the “truthmaker objection” thinks it a real chin-puller to understand how statements about past objects and events can be true if past objects and events don’t exist, he is welcome to pull his chin.  It’s a free country.  But he can’t reasonably expect the rest of us to agree that this a deep metaphysical problem for presentism, any more than there is a deep metaphysical problem for people who affirm that there are no unicorns.  Or at least, he can’t expect us to think that the banal thesis that truths require truthmakers shows that there is any deep metaphysical problem.  He’s first got to justify his tendentious metaphysical assumptions about what can count as truthmaking if he’s going to convince us that we need to pull our chins too.

Craig offers several important further parallel examples.  There is, first of all (pp. 113-17), the case of quantification into intentional contexts, which is standardly taken to involve quantification into intensional contexts.  (Note the difference here between intentionality-with-a-t and intensionality-with-an-s, which are related but distinct technical notions.)  Take the statement “Ponce de Leon was searching for the Fountain of Youth.”  This is an “intentional” context (to use the jargon of philosophy of mind) in the sense that it concerns the contents of a person’s thoughts, which have the feature of intentionality or “aboutness.”  Ponce de Leon’s thought was about the Fountain of Youth.  It is said also to be an “intensional” context (to use the jargon of logic and philosophy of language) insofar as we cannot quantify into it, i.e. affirm the existence of all the things its terms refer to.  Though the statement is true, there is no Fountain of Youth.

Now, as Craig points out, the statement in question nevertheless seems obviously to entail the further statement “There is something that Ponce de Leon was searching for.”  After all, Ponce de Leon was not wandering around aimlessly.  There was a specific thing he was trying to find.  But it might seem problematic to affirm this further statement, insofar as it might seem to entail the existence of the thing (namely the Fountain of Youth) that Ponce de Leon was looking for.  But this would follow, Craig says, only if we assume a neo-Quinean criterion of ontological commitment, on which the use of quantificational phrases like “There is” necessarily commits the user to the existence of something.  The “problem” disappears if we don’t make this assumption.  It arises only given a tendentious metaphysical interpretation of ordinary usage, not from ordinary usage itself.

Another example would be modal contexts, such as statements about possibilities (pp. 119-21).  Consider that there are uncountably many stars that could have existed even if they don’t.  Hence the statement “There are uncountably many possible stars” is true.  Should we conclude that these possible stars must really exist after all?  Some metaphysicians would draw precisely such conclusions.  Now, like me and like Craig, you might think this an utterly ridiculous non-starter.  Or, instead, you might think that the question whether such a result follows is, however bizarre, another real chin-puller that we need to take seriously.  Either way, as Craig notes, the truth of the statement “There are uncountably many possible stars” by itself does not entail any such recherché metaphysics.  You have to read the metaphysics into the statement before you can read it out again.

Or consider mereological statements, i.e. those concerning parts and wholes (pp. 121-24).  For example, consider a statement like “There is an entity consisting of my left hand and the coffee cup sitting next to it.”  We can come up with innumerably many such statements about all kinds of similarly bizarre objects (or “mereological fusions,” as philosophers like to call them) – the object consisting of your eyeglasses, the moon, and a certain ham sandwich; the object consisting of the center of the earth, the square root of 2, and the temperature in Phoenix; and so on. 

We can talk about these entities and (to go along with the gag for the sake of argument) even make true statements about them.  So should we conclude that the object consisting of my left hand and the coffee cup sitting next to it is a real entity on all fours with you and the table you are sitting at?  Does this follow from the truth of the statement?

You might think this is really serious, cutting-edge metaphysics.  Or you might think it is too stupid for words.  Either way, Craig’s point is that affirming statements like the one in question does not by itself commit you to the existence of such bizarre entities.  It can do so only if conjoined with some tendentious metaphysical theory, such as a neo-Quinean criterion of ontological commitment, or some metaphysically loaded “truthmaker theory.”

Now, I would say that what we have in these various cases is essentially just a set of logico-linguistic puzzles.  They are not without interest, and ultimately they may even have metaphysical implications of some sort or other.  What they do not do is by themselves have any obvious metaphysical implications, and they certainly do not by themselves pose any grave challenge to any commonsense metaphysical assumption. 

The same thing is true of the puzzle raised by the “truthmaker objection” to presentism.  By itself it doesn’t raise a metaphysical problem that is any more grave or pressing or dramatic than these other puzzles.  It’s a logico-linguistic puzzle alongside other logico-linguistic puzzles, that’s all.  To ask:

“How can statements about the past be true if past objects and events don’t exist?”

is like asking:

“How can statements about fictional characters be true if fictional characters don’t exist?”

or:

“How can negative existential statements be true if the things they talk about don’t exist?”

or:

“How can statements about what people believe in, desire, search for, etc. be true when the things they believe in, desire, search for, etc. don’t exist?”

or:

“How can statements about merely possible things be true when those things don’t exist?”

or:

“How can a statement about the object consisting of my left hand and a coffee cup be true if that object doesn’t seem to have the kind of reality that a table does?”

You can puzzle over these things if you like, and it can be worthwhile doing so as long as one keeps in mind the precise nature and scope of the inquiry.  But in my opinion, to suppose that the first of these questions poses a grave threat to presentism is ridiculous.  It is like supposing that these other questions entail that there is grave pressure on us to believe in the existence of fictional characters, non-existent things, every single object of belief or desire, merely possible objects, all mereological fusions, etc.

Craig alludes to the assumption, made by many philosophers who write on these topics, that “exists” is a univocal term, though he does not pursue the issue.  But in my view, that is a major part of the problem, and one that any Scholastic is bound to be sensitive to.  “Exists” and related terms are analogical rather than either univocal or equivocal, and we are bound to be led into trouble when we ignore this.  There are also the Scholastic distinctions between real being, beings of reason, intentional being, and (for some Scholastics) an intermediate category between real beings and beings of reason.  Too much contemporary discussion of the issues rides roughshod over such distinctions, wrongly treating terms like “exist” as if they have the same force in all contexts.

41 comments:

  1. I would like to thank all the neo-Quinean meta-physicians for occasioning such a deluge of wisdom and clarity from the Professor.

    Thank you all very much.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very interesting stuff. A lot of disagreements on philosophy boils down to different metaphysical presupositions, this case is a perfect example.

    But what Dr. Craig does here he would do if you use the Indispensability Argument for the existence of universals. He is a scientific realist, so the No Miracles Argument would not help much.

    To these that use the IA(like Dr. Feser do), how would you respond? Not that Nominalism can't be attacked with others arguments, but be capable of using this one would be pretty cool.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Could you clarify what the "Indispensability Argument" and the "No Miracles Argument" are. I don't mean give the arguments, just the gist of what they are.

      Delete
    2. @Tony

      Edward talks about both in his review of Craig book(linked on the star of the page), i recomend reading him too.

      As i understand, the Indispensability Argument uses Quine ontological commitment to argue that we should believe in the existence of everything we need for making our scientific theories, like numbers. The No Miracles Argument/Objection says that if we don't believe that scientific theories are true them their predictive power is pretty much a miracle, so we should be realists about science.

      Craig would agree with the NMA, being a realist about science, but he disagree with any version of the IA against his nominalism. I would say that arguing for aristotelian realism is not that hard, but some form of the IA seems important to argue for Platonism or Divine Conceptualism.

      Delete
  3. It is not clear how to reason about time because of Bell's inequality. The idea is that things do not have actual classical values of time or position in space until measured. [That was based on the Einstein Rosen thought experiment about polarization of light that shows either one of two things. Either action at a distance or things have no classical values of time until measured. [The experiment was done in the 1960's.] We know there is no action at a distance from GPS which depends on Relativity, so the second is true.]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. things do not have actual classical values of time or position in space until measured

      Avraham, would it be fair to say that you are not suggesting that these "things" of which you refer do have time and motion before being measured, it's just that the AMOUNT of time or distance moved is not specific until measured? (Wouldn't the alternative imply that the thing moves instantaneously from its prior position to the measured position when it is measured? I don't think Einstein's theory implies instantaneous travel for ordinary objects.)

      Delete
    2. Sorry, got my negatives twisted: S.B. "are not suggesting that they DON'T have time and motion before being measured..."

      Delete
    3. Avaraham,
      "The idea is that things do not have actual classical values of time or position in space until measured."
      The Copenhagen interpretation is now generally rejected. It never made realistic sense and is another case of premature reification of an abstraction.

      " Either action at a distance or things have no classical values of time until measured."
      Bell rejected the notion of measurement, and wrote a paper on the subject "Against Measurement".

      Bell was also opposed to what he called impossibility proofs, and characterized his own inequality work as indicating that local determinism is ruled out.

      Of the two, locality versus determinism, Bell suggested it was locality that is what we would have to give up, not determinism.

      Just because a theory proves to be an accurate model in some respects (Doppler shift of light wavelength and time dilation as a function of velocity)does not require all aspects of that theory to be realistic.

      The B theory of time seems to merely be an extraneous solution to an otherwise successful abstract model.

      Delete
    4. With Bell's inequality we would have to give up one of two things. Either locality [local action], or that things have values in time and space before measured. We can not give up the first so it is the second that must be given up. [The reason people think that because of Bell that we must give up the first is based on this ambiguity. Bell did show something but not what he thought nor what people think he showed.] So to answer Tony I should add that with Bell there still is time and space, but things just do not take any values in these things until measured.

      Delete
    5. See lectures by Gell Mann at Caltech and Coleman at Harvard for information about this. On occasion you might find this issue addressed in a QM book. I recall one from the Weitzman Institute in Beer Sheva. But the fact that locality is true is well known in the Physics world. See also the Reference Frame blog on "locality".

      Delete
    6. As a technical matter, it is not true that Bell's theorem puts things in such a stark, binary manner, there are other loopholes. These have been made explicit by some people in some papers that I would cite if I were not such a lazy bastard.

      It is definitely *not* true that locality cannot be given up. It *is* true that hidden variable theories must give up locality (this is one way of putting Bell's theorem); it is also true that if it is given up, it opens up a nasty can of worms as evidenced say, by the notorious difficulties in merging Bohm's interpretation with SR.

      The "things have values in time and space before measured" is also very tricky, since it boils down to the measurement problem. There are definite no-go theorems like the Kochen-Specker theorem that can also be paraphrased as implying that hidden variable theories entail a dependence of the measurement on the context.

      At any rate, I just do not see the cogency of Avraham's OP -- but this could very well be me not understanding him.

      Delete
    7. Let me add a little bit to my beffudlement on Avraham's point. The fundamental *evolution* equation of QM is:

      ih d/dt s = H s

      where s is the state, H the Hamiltonean, t the *time* variable, i the (complex) square root of -1 and h (reduced) Planck's constant. It is "impossible to reason about time" and yet the *fundamental* equation of QM is a first-order differential equation with a time-derivative?

      Delete
    8. We can reason about time. But not to say that things have classical values in time and space before measurement. The basic idea of QM is that you put your system in some state. Then you have something that operates on that state. The you get the probability that something will result.

      Delete
    9. @Avraham:

      "We can reason about time. But not to say that things have classical values in time and space before measurement. The basic idea of QM is that you put your system in some state. Then you have something that operates on that state. The you get the probability that something will result."

      The second sentence, in its more natural reading to me, is false as I already said (*). What can be, and has been, proven is (minus some loopholes) that hidden variable theories have constraints like non-locality and contextuality. Either of these is problematic for a number of reasons, but they have not been ruled out.

      But this is a problem about any observable (or more precisely, any algebra of observables) in any quantum system, so once again, it is puzzling what exactly is the point you are trying to make as it relates specifically to time.

      (*) the possible values of an observable T are its spectrum, necessarily a set of real numbers. Any given state, will in general not be a proper state of T so all you can compute is the probability that when T is measured you will get value t (in its spectrum) according to the Born rule. What exactly are "classical values in time and space" is somewhat misteryous.

      Delete
  4. Great post.

    Thank you for keeping things going during this time in which you are having to adjust to teaching online and deal with all the unexpected extra work that entails.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dr Feser,

    What do you think of Josh Rasmussen's recent theory of "tenseless presentism", as advocated in, "Presentists may say goodbye to A-properties", and "Tenseless Times" by Tom Crisp?

    It seems to me to be a very interesting hypothesis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also, what do you think of J. J. C. Smart's argument for eternalism in "River of Time"?

      Delete
    2. It's a pretty Smart argument ;) jk I have no idea

      Delete
    3. We may say goodbye to something if there is a problem with that something, but there is no problem with "A-properties" then we may not say goodbye to "A-properties"

      Delete
    4. Rasmussen never says that there is in the essay- he's merely offering a possible presentist perspective for those who are sceptical of A-theory of time.

      Delete
  6. Presentism is incompatible with General Relativity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That has been my issue with it, as well. Moving spotlight or growing block theories do help with staying away from full on eternalism and being able to better reconcile relativity theory.

      Delete
    2. Mary, Juán,
      Even something as simple as algebra can yield extraneous solutions.
      http://tutorial.math.lamar.edu/Classes/CalcI/Optimization.aspx
      As children we are taught that when our mathematical problem solving yields more than one mathematically correct answer we must verify that those answers are realistically possible. In the linked example both a positive and a negative width were mathematically correct, but a real piece of paper cannot have a negative width, so that solution is simply discarded as an extraneous solution.

      Those who adhere to the B theory of time because of GR seem to have forgotten this important childhood lesson.

      Just because a thing is logically possible does not mean that thing is existentially possible. Abstractions are not necessarily realizable.

      Even a highly successful theory, such as GR, can still be an abstraction that might ultimately turn out to only be a limiting case of some deeper underlying reality (as GR reduces in part to Newtonian mechanics under certain limits).

      It can also be the case that a highly successful theory, such as GR, can have certain aspects that are not realistic at all, rather, wholly extraneous, such as B theory of time implications of GR.

      Delete
    3. Re: "Presentism is incompatible with General Relativity."

      No, it's not. Some philosophically thick interpretations of relativity are incompatible with presentism. See Aristotle's Revenge for the details.

      Delete
    4. Science before Science by Anthony Rizzi, a Thomistic physicist, is also a good resource for understanding relativity. You can also check out his essay here: https://maritain.nd.edu/ama/Reading/Reading104.pdf

      Delete
    5. John DeRosa is correct. Read Aristotle's Revenge.

      Delete
  7. James,
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276844847_Tenseless_times

    "But suppose we distinguish between existence and obtaining: for example, an abstract state of affairs may exist without obtaining"

    OP
    "Too much contemporary discussion of the issues rides roughshod over such distinctions, wrongly treating terms like “exist” as if they have the same force in all contexts."

    An abstraction can refer to an object that really existed in the past but does not now exist, an object that really exists in the present, an object that really will exist in the future but does not exist in the present, or a concept that has never and will never really exist.

    It seems to me that the notion of tenseless time with its use of abstractions that somehow exist merely adds complication to what is obvious and irrefutable, for example, it is true now that Caesar really existed in the past and that Caesar does not exist now...simple, done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't feed the trollsMarch 21, 2020 at 4:30 PM

      Remember Folks, SP is a banned troll. Please don't feed him. We have all been doing really well. Keep it up!

      Delete
    2. Hi (blank), do you ever post on topic?

      Remember folks, it is against the rules of this site to post off topic, which is the only sort of posting (blank) does, so clearly he is a violator.

      Or perhaps, (blank), you have an on topic opinion to share after all?

      I strongly agree with Dr. Feser on the subjects of the A theory of time versus the B theory of time, do you?

      Do you consider the implication of the B theory of time in General Relativity to be a demonstration of the existential reality of past, present, and future, or do you agree with me and Dr. Feser that the B theory of time is an extraneous solution to an otherwise successful theory?

      Delete
  8. FESER: Time is something that blossoms for an instant before withering away. Time is the flow of a river that lasts for just a moment. To me, the essence of time is - AN EXPLOSION!

    EINSTEIN: Nah, we all know time's really eternal after all.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Once again I think the main pressing issue here is that whatever "something" makes statements about past true, it turns out that past is standing in certain sort of relation with the present. The problem with this is the intuition that nothing non-existent can presently stand in relation.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Suppose we rephrase the truthmaker principle as: "A proposition about nonexistent entities can only be true, if its truth can be grounded by one or more entities that do exist".  This intuitively seems like a worthy metaphysical axiom (indeed it follows from the scholastic principle of the convertability of `truth' and `being').

    I am perplexed by Feser's attempt to discredit this axiom (or to reduce it to the level of a purely "logico-linguistic puzzle") by means of supposely parallel silly questions, since each question on his list seems to me to be not only meaningful to ask, but to have a compelling answer.  Specifically:

    1. “How can statements about fictional characters be true if fictional characters don’t exist?”

    The truth values of such statements are grounded in the existence of books, movies, etc. which are physical artifacts that really (and non-fictitiously) exist.

    2. "How can negative existential statements be true if the things they talk about don’t exist?"

    E.g. `unicorns don't exist' is true, because there is a collection of things which do exist, and none of them are unicorns.  In other words, everything that exists is a non-unicorn.

    3. "How can statements about what people believe in, desire, search for, etc. be true when the things they believe in, desire, search for, etc. don’t exist?"

    Because the people in question do exist; and their minds contain ideas, which really exist as ideas even when they do not exist in reality.

    4. "How can statements about merely possible things be true when those things don’t exist?"

    Because of the act/potency distinction!

    To say that something is `merely possible', implies that it has potential existence, and hence might have been actualized (though in fact it wasn't).  But as any good scholastic would agree, that which is in potency cannot be brought to actuality except by another being which actually exists. Hence, all statements about counterfactual entities, are grounded by the causal powers of those things which actually exist.

    5. "How can a statement about the object consisting of my left hand and a coffee cup be true if that object doesn’t seem to have the kind of reality that a table does?"

    Assuming, arguendo, the mereological nihilist premise of the question; any propositions which are true about the mereological fusion, are true because they logically follow from various features of the hand or about the coffee cup, considered either separately, or in their relations to one another.

    What is common in all these proposed groundings, is that propositions about things that do't exist (or if you prefer, exist but in a lesser, analogous sense) are explained non-circularly, by reference to things which really do exist (or at least, have a greater degree of existence in the respect being considered).

    Compare this to Feser's proposed answer to the main grounding objection:

    0. "How can statements about the past be true if past objects and events don’t exist?"

    " `Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March' is true"
    because
    " Caesar’s really having been assassinated on the Ides of March [...] is what makes the statement true."

    If we stipulate presentism, then the first statement describes a nonexistent event that happened to a nonexistent person.  On the other hand, the second statement is also about things that don't exist.  In fact, apart from emphasis and a shift in grammatical aspect from the `simple past' to the `perfect' tense (which tantalyzingly suggests some continued relevance to the present moment, without actually saying what that relevance is) it expresses the exact same proposition!  Such a proposed grounding of past existence is completely circular, and fails to explain why such statements have definite truth values at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aron,
      “Suppose we rephrase the truthmaker principle as: "A proposition about nonexistent entities can only be true, if its truth can be grounded by one or more entities that do exist".”
      No, that is not a reasonable principle to suppose, unless one denies that physical objects have their own independent existence and that time is a real progression process.

      If a tree falls in the woods while nobody is around does it make a crashing sound when it hits the ground? If that tree fell a century ago did it make a crashing sound at that time? Is it true now that the tree existed a century ago, fell, and made a crashing sound even though no human being was ever aware of any of those facts?

      If not, then perhaps life truly is but a dream.

      Suppose in that century microorganisms and chemical processes have dispersed all the material of that tree such that no human being could ever identify the fact that said tree ever existed at all, does that mean it never existed at all? If you answer yes then I assert you have an unrealistic view of our physical universe that is distorted by a highly anthropocentric egoism.

      “Such a proposed grounding of past existence is completely circular, and fails to explain why such statements have definite truth values at all.”
      Not circular, rather, along a single axis.

      Time progresses. It is true now that all processes that occurred in the past did in fact occur in the past. Pretty simple. Those processes are not occurring now because they occurred in the past, which is what happens with time sequences of processes, they progress. Once a particular sequence occurs at time t0 it will always be true that said sequence occurred at t0 when considered at t1, t2, and all times in perpetuity.

      Most people understand these facts intuitively, hence phrases like “what’s done is done”, “no sense crying over spilled milk”, “you can’t change the past”.

      What exactly is the conundrum of presentism?

      Delete
  11. Aron Wall: ... each question on his list seems to me to be not only meaningful to ask, but to have a compelling answer. […]

    I share a similar reaction, although I guess that whether the metaphysical import of these puzzles is earth-shattering or yawn-inducing depends on whether one is starting from a reasonable metaphysics or not.

    3. "How can statements about what people believe in, desire, search for, etc. be true when the things they believe in, desire, search for, etc. don’t exist?"
    Because the people in question do exist; and their minds contain ideas, which really exist as ideas even when they do not exist in reality.

    Precisely. And fictional characters exist as ideas, and possibilities exist as platonic Ideas, and final causes, and, well everything, real or unreal (excepting prime matter at the one extreme, and God at the other). So if you already accept that reality is full of Forms, then the puzzles are perhaps not remarkable. If you don’t, well, you won’t be able to make sense of ordinary things that do exist in the most common-sensical way.

    So far, so good. Beings of reason, intentional beings, and so on, all have some kind of reality which is can be explained (at least partially) in terms of Formal causes. Of course, if everyone who was thinking about Iron Man suddenly ceased to exist, then so would the fictional character, and there wouldn’t be any truth about him. Fiction is subjective in a way that the past is not. Obviously, the objectivity of the past must be grounded in God and His act of creation.

    But now we run into a more interesting objection to presentism (and to my mind, the only legitimate sort of objection): to God, the past is just as real (or just as unreal?) as our present. That is, since God exists outside of time, the past-ness or future-ness of any point is merely relative. Certainly, as the “author” of our story, God knows that for me right now this moment is “the” present moment, and that Julius Caesar does not exist at this point in the story. But of course, He knew correspondingly that it was “the” present moment for Caesar when he was getting stabbed.

    Perhaps that is all there is to the answer: the riddles about presentism are just a failure to distinguish these two distinct contexts. From within time, the past is just past and does not exist. From outside time, one moment is just as “genuine” as any other, but each moment still exists at a different point in time. In other words, to say that the past is “just as real” as the present is to conflate these two different perspectives: you can say that the present is the only real moment (if you are speaking within time); or you can say that one moment is as real as another (extratemporally). But you must not say the “present” is as real as the past, because the word “present” is meaningful only from the temporal perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Mr. Green,
    "because the word “present” is meaningful only from the temporal perspective."
    So the present has no meaning to god, on the assertion god is somehow "outside of time", whatever that is supposed to mean.

    God, then, can't know that today is today, or that now is now, since he has no temporal perspective, being outside of time.

    Thus, for god, all past and all future worlds are all simultaneously real.

    So, then, how does god distinguish one moment from another? How does god know what order this infinity of indistinguishable temporal moments progresses in? How is the term "god exists outside of time" coherent at all?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dusty, you may have no pride, no shame, or no consideration for Prof. Feser's injunction that you not post here and that we not respond to you, but I intend to respect his wishes. Do not reply to my comments.

      Delete
    2. Mr. Green,
      It is true that I have no consideration for any sort of intellectual safe space.

      A conservative intellectual safe space is particularly laughable.

      You have no more intellectual credibility than a feminist because, like every feminist poster I have yet encountered, you have zero demonstrated capacity to compete openly in the marketplace of ideas with someone who challenges the core tenets of your ideology.

      Yes, you can discuss minutia with the like minded, but when somebody challenges your core propositions your only demonstrated capacity to to whimper ban the bad man.

      The topic of this thread is Craig and the truthmaker objection to presentism. As it turns out, in this case, I very strongly agree with Dr. Feser about presentism and the fact that there is no valid truthmaker objection to presentism, the B theory of time being a mere extraneous solution to an abstraction, GR.

      But, you brought up the incoherent notion that god is somehow "outside of time", whatever that means, and you have not demonstrated any capacity to show how your assertion is coherent.

      "Do not reply to my comments."
      Nope, that is for folks in an intellectual safe space. If you post an incoherent statement it is perfectly OK for me to call you on it.

      If you have a rational argument as to why the assertion that "god is outside of time" is somehow a coherent statement, fine, this is the marketplace of ideas, so let's see what you have on offer in that regard.

      If all you can do is hide in an intellectual safe space then the shame is on you, not me, because I am right here and fully prepared to meet you on the merits of the arguments.

      For me, the fascinating thing, and why I post here, is that Dr. Feser and I share a very fundamental view in common, that of structural realism. To me, it seems incontrovertible that in our universe it must be that case that existence is comprised at base of some fundamental structural reality, with all our "laws" of physics simply being abstractions of a highly accurate but not precise and therefore not true description of the nature of that underling reality.

      I have no common language of communication or base of conceptualization with a bible thumper or a Quaran maniac or a golden plates mark who cites this or that bizarre mythology as supposed reasons for why things are the way they are.

      But how is it that two people such as Dr. Feser and I can begin by what is manifest and evident to our senses, reason that there must be a true underlying structural reality, yet we diverge so much in our further conclusions from that common intellectual starting point?

      In point of fact, you would be doing me a personal favor, not that you particularly care to, but nevertheless, you would be, if you could explain how the statement "god exists outside of time" has a shred of coherency.

      Delete
    3. "Nope, that is for folks in an intellectual safe space. If you post an incoherent statement it is perfectly OK for me to call you on it."

      It's not okay because you're banned. Hopefully when Feser has more time he can delete some of your comments you arrogant SOB.

      Delete
  13. We can talk about these entities and (to go along with the gag for the sake of argument) even make true statements about them. So should we conclude that the object consisting of my left hand and the coffee cup sitting next to it is a real entity on all fours with you and the table you are sitting at? Does this follow from the truth of the statement?

    According to the AT perspective, while a person is a substantial form, isn't it true that a table is a mere accidental form? In this post Dr. Feser seemed to indicate that a table is basically on the same footing metaphysically as a random collection of adjoining stones that we conceptually group together as a "pile", saying:

    For some man-made things (e.g. new breeds of dog, plastic) are “natural” in the sense of having a substantial form, even though the usual examples of man-made things (e.g. tables, chairs, machines) have only accidental forms. And some “natural” things (e.g. a random pile of stones) have merely accidental forms, even though the usual examples of natural objects (e.g. plants, animals, water, gold) have substantial forms.

    So is there any metaphysical sense in which the "object" consisting of my left hand and a coffee cup is less real than a pile of stones, or that either is less real than a table? Or is the statement here about them not being on the same footing just a sort of non-philosophical appeal to common sense, something like the practical utility of treating particular aggregates as "objects" in everyday speech?

    ReplyDelete
  14. It’s true that a table is not a substance, but the common-sense practicality is underlaid by the fact that a table at least has an extrinsic form that was applied by the carpenter in deliberately fashioning the table. And even the pile of rocks has a sort of accidental unity insofar as the pile happens to be all rocks, they are spatially adjacent, they happened there as the result of some natural process, etc. The hand-cup-moon-whatever does not even have a unity that’s accidental — it’s entirely arbitrary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Would you say this notion of accidental unity is at least partially subjective, or do you think there is some objective truth on the metaphysical level about whether some aggregate has accidental unity or not? One could presumably think of a series of intermediate cases between collections that seem more "naturally" unified in perception, like the example of the pile of rocks, and collections that seem more "arbitrary" like a set of rocks that are all far apart from one another. As with the Sorites paradox about how many grains of sand are needed for a "heap", it intuitively seems unlikely to me that there is any "real truth" about precisely where we should locate the dividing line between a "reasonable" collection and a "too arbitrary" collection, I suspect it's just a quasi-aesthetic decision based largely on practical considerations about being easily understood by other people.

      Delete