What better topic of meditation for New Year's Eve than the 'passage' of time. May the Reaper grant us all another year!
If presentism is to be a defensible thesis, a 'presentable' one if you will, then it must avoid both the Scylla of tautology and the Charybdis of absurdity. Having survived these hazards, it must not perish of unclarity or inexpressibility.
1. Only what exists exists.
If 'exists' is used in the same way in both occurrences, then (1) is a miserable tautology and not possibly a bone of contention as between presentists and anti-presentists. Note that (1) is a tautology whether 'exists' is present-tensed in both occurrences or temporally unqualified (untensed) in both. To have a substantive thesis, the presentist must distinguish the present-tensed use of 'exist' from some other use and say something along the lines of
P. Only what exists (present tense) exists simpliciter.
This implies that what no longer exists does not exist simpliciter, and that what will exist does not exist simpliciter. It is trivial to say that what no longer exists does not presently exist, but this is not what the presentist is saying: he is is saying that what no longer exists does not exist period (full stop, simpliciter, at all, sans phrase, absolutely, pure and simple, etc.)
But the presentist must also, in his formulation of his thesis, avoid giving aid and comfort to the absurdity that could be called 'solipsism of the present moment.' (I borrow the phrase from Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, Simon and Schuster 1948, p. 181.)
SPM. Only what exists (present tense) exists simpliciter; nothing existed and nothing will exist.
The idea behind (SPM) is decidedly counterintuitive but cannot be ruled out by logic alone. To illustrate, consider James Dean who died on September 30th, 1955. Presentist and anti-presentist agree that Dean existed and no longer exists. (Alter the example to Dean's car if you hold to the immortality of the soul.) That is, both presentist and anti-presentist maintain that there actually was this actor, that he was not a mere possibility or a fictional being. The presentist, however, thinks that Dean does not exist at all (does not exist simpliciter) while the anti-presentist maintains that Dean does exist simpliciter, but in the past. In contrast to both,the present-moment solipsist holds that Dean never existed and for this reason does not exist at all. Thus there are three positions on past individuals. The presentist says that they do not exist at all or simpliciter. The anti-presentist says that they do exist simpliciter. The PM-solispist says that they never existed.
Clearly, the presentist must navigate between the Scylla of tautology and the Charybdis of present-moment solipsism. So what is the presentist saying? He seems to be operating with a metaphysical picture according to which there is a Dynamic Now which is the source and locus of a ceaseless annihilation and creation: some things are ever passing out of being and other things are ever coming into being. He is not saying that all that is in being is all there ever was in being or all there ever will be in being. That is the lunatic thesis of the present-moment solipsist.
The presentist can be characterized as an annihilationist-creationist in the following sense. He is annihilationist about the past, creationist about the future. He maintains that an item that becomes past does not lose merely the merely temporal property of presentness, but loses both presentness and existence. And an item that becomes present does not gain merely the merely temporal property of presentness, but gains both presentness and existence. Becoming past is a passing away, an annihilation, and becoming present is a coming into being, a creation out of nothing.
To many, the presentist picture seem intuitively correct, though I would not go so far as Alan Rhoda who, quoting John Bigelow, maintains that presentism is "arguably the commonsense position." I would suggest that common sense, assuming we can agree on some non-tendentious characterization of same, takes no position on arcane metaphysical disputes such as this one. (This is a fascinating metaphilosophical topic that cannot be addressed now. How does the man on the street think about time? Answer: he doesn't think about it, although he is quite adept at telling time, getting to work on time and using correctly the tenses of his mother tongue.)
So far, so good. But there is still, to me at least, something deeply puzzling about the presentist thesis. Consider the following two tensed sentences about the actor James Dean. 'Dean does not exist.' 'Dean did exist.' Both tensed sentences are unproblematically true, assuming that death is annihilation. (We can avoid this assumption by changing the example to Dean's silver Porsche.) Because both sentences are plainly true, recording as they do Moorean facts, they are plainly logically consistent.
The presentist, however, maintains that what did exist, but no longer exists, does not exist at all. That is the annihilationist half of his characteristic thesis. It is not obviously true in the way the data sentences are obviously true. Indeed, it is not clear, to me at least, what exactly the presentist thesis MEANS. (Evaluation of a proposition as either true or false presupposes a grasp of its sense or meaning.) When the presentist says, in the present using a present-tensed sentence, that
1. Dean does not presently exist at all
he does not intend this to hold only at the present moment, else (1) would collapse into the trivially true present-tensed 'Dean does not exist.' He intends something more, namely:
2. Dean does not presently exist at any time, past, present, or future.
Now what bothers me is the apparent present reference in (2) to past and future times. How can a present-tensed sentence be used to refer to the past? That's one problem. A second is that (2) implies
3. It is presently the case that there are past times at which Dean does not exist.
But (3) is inconsistent with the presentist thesis according to which only the present time and items at the present time exist.
My underlying question is whether presentism has the resources to express its own thesis. Does it make it between the Scylla of tautology and the Charybdis of PM-solipsism only to founder on the reef of inexpressibility?
We can divide the following seven propositions into two groups, a datanic triad and a theoretical tetrad. The members of the datanic triad are just given -- hence 'datanic' -- and so are not up for grabs, whence it follows that to relieve ourselves of the ensuing contradiction we must reject one of the members of the theoretical tetrad. The funs starts when we ponder which one to reject. But first you must appreciate that the septad is indeed inconsistent.
D1. Sam believes that Cicero is a philosopher. D2. Cicero is Tully. D3. It is not the case that Sam believes that Tully is a philosopher.
T1. 'Cicero' and 'Tully' have the same denotation (are coreferential) in all of their occurrences in the datanic sentences, both in the direct speech and indirect speech positions. T2. 'Is' in (D2) expresses strict, numerical identity where this has the usual properties of reflexivity, symmetry, transitivity, and the necessity of identity (if x = y, then necessarily, x = y). T3. Cicero has the property of being believed by Sam to be a philosopher. T4. If x = y, then whatever is true of x is true of y, and vice versa. (Indiscernibility of Identicals)
Now, do you see that this septad is pregnant with contradiction? By (T3), Cicero has a certain property, the property of being believed by Sam to be a philosopher. Therefore, given the truth of (T1) and (T4), Tully has that same property. But this implies the negation of (D3).
To remove the contradiction, we must reject one of the T-propositions. The D-propositions express the data of the problem. Obviously, they can't be rejected. Of course, nothing hinges on the particular example. There are countless examples of the same form. Someone could believe that 3 is one of the square roots of 9 without believing that one of the square roots of 9 is a prime number, even though 3 is a prime number.
The Fregean solution is to reject (T1). In (D1), 'Cicero' refers to its customary sense, not its customary referent, while in (D2), 'Cicero' refers to its customary referent. This implies that the antecedent of (T4) remains unsatisfied so that one cannot conclude that Tully has the property of being believed by Sam to be a philosopher.
A different solution, one proposed by Hector-Neri Castaneda, is achieved by rejecting (T2) while upholding the rest of the T-propositions. The rough idea is that 'Cicero' in all its occurrences refers to a 'thin' object, an ontological guise, a sort of ontological part of ordinary infinitely-propertied particulars. This ontological guise is not strictly identical to the ontological guise denoted by 'Tully,' but the two are "consubstantiated" in Castaneda's jargon.
This consubstantiation is a type of contingent sameness. Since Cicero and Tully are not strictly identical, but merely consubstantiated, the fact that Cicero has the property of being believed by Sam to be a philosopher does not entail that Tully has this property. So the contradiction does not arise. (Cf. The Phenomeno-Logic of the I, pp. 183-186)
Both solutions invoke what our friend 'Ockham' calls 'queer entities' using 'queer' in the good old-fashioned way. The Fregean solution requires those abstract entities called senses and the Castanedan solution posits ontological guises. Can 'Ockham' solve the problem while satisfying all his nominalistic scruples?
What is time? Don't ask me, and I know. Ask me, and I don't know. (Augustine). The same goes, in my case at least, for presentism, as Peter Lupu made clear to me Christmas night. Don't ask me what it is, and I know. Ask me, and I don't know.
The rough idea, of course, is that the temporally present -- the present time and its contents -- alone exists. The only items (events, individuals, properties, etc.) that exist are the items that presently exist. Past and future items do not exist. But surely it is trivial and not disputed by any anti-presentist that the present alone now exists. (Obviously, the past does not now exist, else it would not be past, and similarly with the future.) If the presentist is forwarding a substantive metaphysical thesis then it cannot be this triviality that he is hawking. So what does the thesis of presentism amount to?
It seems obvious that the presentist must invoke a use of 'exist(s)' that is not tensed in order to formulate his thesis. For this is a rank tautology: The only items that exist (present tense) are the items that exist (present tense). It is also tautologous to affirm that the only items that exist (present tense) are the items that presently exist. So it seems that if presentism is to be a substantive thesis of metaphysics, then it must be formulated using a temporally unqualified use of 'exist(s).' So I introduce 'exist(s) simpliciter.' Accordingly:
P. The only items that exist simpliciter are items that presently exist.
(P) is a substantive thesis. The presentist will affirm it, the antipresentist will deny it. Both, of course, will agree about such Moorean facts as that James Dean existed. But they will disagree about whether Dean exists simpliciter. The presentist will say that he does not, while the anti-presentist will say that he does. Again, both will agree that Dean does not exist now. But whereas the presentist will say that he does not exist at all, the anti-presentist will say that he does exist, though not at present. The anti-presentist can go on to say that, because Dean exists simpliciter, there is no problem about how he can stand in relations to things that presently exist. The presentist, however, faces the problem of how the existent can stand in relation to the nonexistent.
My mother is dead. But I am her son. So I stand in the son of relation to my mother. If the dead are nonexistent, then I, who exist, stand in relation to a nonexistent object. But how the devil can a relation obtain between two items when one of them ain't there? This is a problem for the presentist, is it not? But it is not a problem for the anti-presentist who maintains that present and past individuals both exist simpliciter. For then the relation connects two existents.
The antipresentist, however, needs to tell us what exactly existence simpliciter is, and whether it is the same or different than tenseless existence (whatever that is).
But nota bene: the presentist must also tell us what existence simpliciter is since he needs it to get his thesis (P) off the ground.
In my experience, the problems associated with time are the most difficult in all of philosophy.
When the young James Dean crashed his low slung silver Porsche Spyder on a lonely California highway on September 30, 1955, he catapulted a couple of unknowns into the national spotlight. One of them was Ernie Tripke, one of two California Highway Patrol officers who arrived at the scene. He has died at the age of 88. But what ever happened to Donald Turnupseed, the driver who turned in front of the speeding Dean, having failed to see him coming? His story is here.
Is dying young a bad thing for the one who dies? What if it makes you 'immortal' as in the case of James Dean? More grist for the Epicurean mill.
I suggest we approach the problem, or one of the problems, of intentionality via the following aporetic triad:
1. We sometimes intend the nonexistent. 2. Intentionality is a relation. 3. Every relation R is such that, if R obtains,then all its relata exist.
This is a nice neat way of formulating the problem because, on the one hand, each limb is extremely plausible while, on the other hand, the limbs appear collectively inconsistent. To solve the problem, one must either reject one of the limbs or show that the inconsistency is merely apparent.
Enter Peter Lupu's solution. He described it to me last night after Christmas dinner. He thinks we can uphold all three propositions. Thus his claim is that the triad is only apparently inconsistent.
Suppose Shaky Jake seeks the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine (LDM). Now seeking things like lost gold mines typically involves all sorts of physical actions; but at the root of, and animating, these actions are various mental states many of which are intentional or objected-directed. Believing, hoping, desiring, fearing, planning -- these are all intentional states. Among them is the state of wanting. To want is to want something. Thus Jake wants, or wants to find, the LDM. But a subject's wanting of x does not entail the existence of x in the way that a subject's owning of x does entail the existence of x. You can't own, beat, eat, etc. what does not exist; but you can desire, imagine, think about, etc. what does not exist. This is a crucial fact about intentionality. Peter of course is well aware of it.
Now either the LDM exists or it does not. If it exists, then Jake's wanting relates him (or his mind) to the LDM in a way that is consistent with the truth of both (2) and (3). If the LDM does not exist, then Jake's wanting relates him (or his mind) to the CONTENT of Jake's mental act. But this too is consistent with the truth of both (2) and (3). For the content exists whether or not the object exists.
In this way, Peter thinks he can uphold each of (1)-(3). Supposing, as is overwhelmingly likely, that the LDM does not exist, (1) is true: Jake intends (in the mode of wanting) something nonexistent. This instance of intentionality is relational: it connects Jake's mind to a content. (2) is thus maintained. But so is (3): Jake's mind and the content both exist.
I will call this a 'surrogate object' solution. It works by substituting the content for the external object when the external object does not exist. This guarantees that there will always be an existent object, either the external object, or the surrogate object to serve as the object relatum of the intentional relation.
But isn't there an obvious objection to the 'surrogate object' solution? Jake wants a gold mine. He doesn't want a content. A gold mine is a physical thing. But whatever a content is, it is not a physical thing. A content is either mental as a part of the intentional mental state, or it is an abstract item of some sort. To appreciate this, let us consider more carefully what a content is. A content is an intermediary entity, roughly analogous to a Fregean sense (Sinn), which mediates between mind and external concrete reality. And like Fregean senses, contents do not reside in external concrete reality. They are either immanent to consciousness like Twardowski's contents, or abstracta like Frege's senses. And just as linguistic reference to the planet Venus is achieved via the sense of 'morning star' or via the sense of 'evening star,' mental reference to an object is achieved via a content. To employ the old Brentano terminology of presentations (Vorstellungen), the object is that which is presented in a presentation whereas the content is that through which it is presented.
Now my point against Peter is that when I want something that doesn't exist, my wanting cannot be said to relate me to a content. My wanting involves a content no doubt, but the content is not the object. Why not? Well, if I want a flying horse, I want a physical thing, an animal; but no content is a physical thing, let alone an animal. When Bobby Darin pined after his Dream Lover, it was something lusciously concrete and physical that he was pining after.
Suppose I am imagining Pegasus and thinking: Pegasus does not exist. The imagining is an intentional state that involves a content, the mental image. But this mental image exists. So it cannot be the mental image that I am thinking does not exist. It is Pegasus himself that I am thinking does not exist. And therein lies the puzzle.
Suppose Peter responds as follows. "I grant you that it is not the mental image that I am thinking does not exist. For, as you point out, the image does exist. What I am doing is thinking that the mental image is not a mental image of anything. So when I imagine Pegasus and think: Pegasus does not exist, the object relatum is an existent item, the Pegasus image, and what I am thinking about it is that it is not an image of anything."
But this too is problematic. For the nonexistence of Pegasus cannot be identified with the Pegasus-images's not being an image of anything. And this for the simple reason that an objective fact such as the nonexistence of Pegasus cannot depend on the existence of mental images. There are times and possible worlds in which there are no mental images and yet at those times and worlds Pegasus does not exist.
But Peter persists: "Well, I can say that when I am thinking about Pegasus I am thinking about a necessarily existent conjunctive property the conjuncts of which are being a horse, having wings, etc., and when I think that Pegasus does not exist I am thinking that this conjunctive property is not instantiated. And when I think that Pegasus is winged, I am thinking that the conjunctive property has being winged as one of its conjuncts."
This is better, but still problematic. If Peter wants Pegasus, then presumably what he wants on his analysis is not the conjunctive property in question, but the being instantiated of this property. Being instantiated, however, is relational not monadic: if the conjunctive property is instantiated it is instantiated by an individual. And which individual must it be? Why, Pegasus! The analysis, it appears, is viciously circular. Let's review.
Peter wants to say that intentionality is a relation and that the holding of a relation entails the existence of all its relata. But Pegasus does not exist. To want Pegasus, then, cannot be to stand in relation to Pegasus, but to a surrogate object. If you say that the surrogate object is a necessarily existent property, then the problem is that wanting Peagsus, an animal, is not wanting a causally inert abstract object. If. on the other hand, you say that to want Pegasus is to want the being instantiated of that abstract object, then you want the being instantiated of that abstract object by existing Pegasus -- in which case we have made no progress since Pegasus does not exist!
One commonly hears it said that the difference between deductive and inductive inference is that the former moves from the universal to the singular, while the latter proceeds from the singular to the universal. (For a recent and somewhat surprising example, see David Bloor, "Wittgenstein as a Conservative Thinker" in The Sociology of Philosophical Knowledge, ed. Kusch (Kluwer, 2000), p. 4.) No doubt, some deductive inferences fit the universal-to-singular pattern, while some inductive inferences fit the singular-to-universal pattern.
But it does not require a lot of thought to see that this cannot be what the difference between deduction and induction consists in. An argument of the form, All As are Bs; All Bs are Cs; ergo, All As are Cs is clearly deductive, but is composed of three universal propositions. The argument does not move from the universal to the singular. So the first half of the widely-bruited claim is false.
Indeed, some deductive arguments proceed from singular premises to a universal conclusion. Consider this (admittedly artificial) example: John is a fat chess player; John is not a fat chess player; ergo, All chess players are fat. This is a deductive argument, indeed it is a valid deductive argument: it is impossible to find an argument of this form that has true premises and a false conclusion. Paradoxically, any proposition follows deductively from a contradiction. So here we have a deductive argument that takes us from singular premises to a universal conclusion.
There are also deductive arguments that move from a singular premise to an existentially general, or particular, conclusion. ‘Someone is sitting’ is a particular proposition: it is neither universal nor singular. ‘I am sitting’ is singular. The first follows deductively from the second.
As for the second half of the claim, suppose that every F I have encountered thus far is a G, and that I conclude that the next F I will encounter will also be a G. That is clearly an inductive inference, but it is one that moves from a universal statement to a statement about an individual. So it is simply not the case that every inductive inference proceeds from singular cases to a universal conclusion.
What then is the difference between deduction and induction if it does not depend on the logical quantity (whether universal, particular, or singular) of premises and conclusions? The difference consists in the nature of the inferential connection asserted to obtain between premises and conclusion. Roughly speaking, a deductive argument is one in which the premises are supposed to ‘necessitate’ the conclusion, making it rationally inescapable for anyone who accepts the premises, while an inductive argument is one in which the premises are supposed merely to ‘probabilify’ the conclusion.
To be a bit more precise, a deductive argument is one that embodies the following claim: Necessarily, if all the premises are true, then the conclusion is true. The claim is that the premises ‘necessitate’ the conclusion, as opposed to rendering the conclusion probable, where the necessity attaches to the inferential link between premises and conclusion, and not to the conclusion itself. (A valid deductive argument can, but need not, have a necessary conclusion: ‘I am sitting’ necessitates ‘Someone is sitting,’ even though the latter proposition is only contingently true.)
Equivalently, a deductive argument embodies the claim that it is impossible for all the premises to be true and the conclusion false. I say ‘embodies the claim’ because the claim might not be correct. If the claim is correct, then the argument is valid, and invalid otherwise. Since validity pertains to the form of deductive arguments as opposed to their content, we can define a valid (invalid) deductive argument as one whose form is such that it is impossible (possible) for any (some) argument of that form to have true premises and a false conclusion. Since the purport of inductive arguments is merely to probabilify, not necessitate, their conclusions, they are not rightly described as valid or invalid, but as more or less strong or weak, depending on the degree to which they render their conclusions probable.
It is annoying when a senator says that such-and-such is a 'no-no.' Baby talk! Closely related is the phenomenon of what might be called 'first grade English.' George Bush and others have spoken of 'growing the economy.' One grows tomatoes, not economies. But perhaps I am being peevish and pedantic.
What about the current overuse of 'broken'? Are you as sick of it as I am? The El Lay Times (20 December 2010) opines that California Isn't Broken. No? One hears that the Social Security admininstration and the Immigration and Nauralization Service are 'broken.' One breaks things like guitar strings, bicycle chains, and glasses. That which is broken no longer functions as it was intended to. A broken X is not a suboptimally functioning X but a nonfunctioning X. Social Security checks are mailed to millions of recipients reliably month after month.Clearly, neither the SSA nor the INS are 'broken' strictly speaking. They just don't function very well and are in dire need of reform.
So why call them 'broken'? Is your vocabulary so impoverished that no better word comes to mind?
"President Obama has said plainly that America's health care system is broken." That from Peter Singer in "Why We Must Ration Health Care" (NYT Magazine, July 19, 2009, p. 40.) I guess that is why Canadians and others come to the USA for medical treatment they cannot get under a socialized system.
Why are people such linguistic lemmings? If some clown uses 'broken' inappropriately, why ape him? One has to be quite a lemming to ape a clown. (How's that for a triple mixed metaphor?)
People who employ baby talk and first grade English in contexts that demand careful thought demonstrate their thoughtlessness and unseriousness. Precision in the use of language may not be sufficient for clear and productive thinking, but it is necessary.
He now calls himself 'Edward Ockham.' I was pleased to receive an e-mail from him this morning in which he directs me to his latest post, Is There a Problem of Intentionality?, and suggests a crossblogging effort. So I perused his post. He opens:
Is there a problem of intentionality? That depends what intentionality is. Let's accept the following definition, for the sake of argument.
(1) Intentionality: the existence of some thoughts depends on the existence of external objects
Is that a problem? Yes, and for two reasons.
As far as I can see, the definition on offer bears little resemblance to anything called 'intentionality' in the discussions of this topic since the time of Brentano. So before discussion of any problem of intentionality, we need to come to some agreement as to what intentionality is. Here is how I characterized it in an earlier post:
The influential Austrian philosopher Franz Brentano took intentionality to be the mark of the mental, the criterion whereby physical and mental phenomena are distinguished. For Brentano, (i) all mental phenomena are intentional, (ii) all intentional phenomena are mental, and (iii) no mental phenomenon is physical. (Franz Brentano, Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt (1874), Bk. II, Ch. 1.)
What is intentionality? ‘Intentionality’ is Brentano's term of art (borrowed from the Medievals) for that property of (some) mental states whereby they are (non-derivatively) of, or about, or directed to, an object. Such states are intrinsically such that they 'take an accusative.' The state of perceiving, for example, is necessarily object-directed. One cannot just perceive; if one perceives, then one perceives something. The idea is not merely that when one perceives one perceives something or other; the idea is that when one perceives, one perceives some specific object, the very object of that very act. The same goes for intending (in the narrow sense), believing, imagining, recollecting, wishing, willing, desiring, loving, hating, judging, knowing, etc. Such mental states -- thoughts or thinkings, cogitationes, in the broad Cartesian sense of the term -- refer beyond themselves to objects that may or may not exist, or may or may not be true in the case of propositional objects. Reference to an object is thus an intrinsic feature of mental states and not a feature they have in virtue of a relation to an existing object. This is why Brentano speaks of the "intentional in-existence of an object." It is also why Husserl can 'bracket' the existence of the object for phenomenological purposes. Intentionality is not a relation, strictly speaking, though it is relation-like. This is an important point that many contemporaries seem incapable of wrapping their heads around.
This is nearly the opposite of what 'Ockham' is saying above. He seems to be saying that intentional thoughts are all and only those thoughts whose existence depends on the existence of an external object. Accordingly, the intentionality of a thought is its existential dependence on an existing external object.
But this misses the crucial point that the directedness of a cogitatio to a cogitatum qua cogitatum -- which is the essence of intentionality standardly understood -- does not at all depend on the external existence of the cogitatum. So I find the above definition of 'Ockham' wildly idiosyncratic. He goes on to argue against it, but that's like rolling a drunk or beating up a cripple. Too easy, a 'slap job.'
My posts on intentionality are collected here (Intentionality category) and here (Brentano category).
Here. Marathon starts New Year's Eve morning and runs for two days. My eyes glued to the set, my wife invariably asks, "Haven't you seen that episode before?" She doesn't get it. I've seen 'em all numerous times each. Hell, I've been watching 'em since 1959 when the series first aired. But the best are inexhaustibly rich in content, delightful in execution, studded with young actors and actresses who went on to become famous alongside the now forgotten actors of yesteryear, period costumes and lingo, allusions to the politics of the day. Timeless and yet a nostalgia trip. A fine way to end one year and begin another.
To see how much philosophical juice can be squeezed out of one of these episodes, see here.
Looking for some high-quality conservative culture critique anent the antics of the late Captain Beefheart who died last week, I typed 'New Criterion Captain Beefheart' into the Google engine. I was forthwith conducted to the stoa of Professor Mondo, presumably because he links to New Criterion and recently posted about Beefheart. Noting that he also links to me, I thought it would be nice to direct some traffic his way.
I’m a medievalist at a small college in a small college town. I like reading, writing, music, and thinking — practicing any of these individually or in combination. Turnoffs include Brussels sprouts, bad music, and creeping totalitarianism.
As for the Brussels sprouts, de gustibus non est disputandum; but steaming the hell out of them and drenching them in a good Hollandaise sauce laced with Tabasco works wonders for me. Ditto for broccoli and other stinkweeds.
UPDATE 12/21: Apparently my linkage caused a 'Mav-alanche' at Mondo's site. My pleasure.
1. Death is annihilation. (Materialist assumption) 2. A harm is a harm to someone or something: for there to be a harm, there must be a subject of harm. (Conceptual truth) 3. Nothing is a subject of a harm at a time at which it does not exist. (Plausible principle) Therefore 4. No dead person is a subject of harm. Therefore 5. Death (being dead) cannot be a harm to one who is dead.
Assuming that (1) is accepted, the only way of resisting this argument is by rejecting (3). And it must be admitted that (3), though plausible, can be reasonably rejected. Suppose I promise a dying man that I will take good care of his young and healthy dog. But I renege on my promise in order to save myself the hassle by having the dog euthanized. Epicurus in hand, I reason, "There is no harm to my friend since he doesn't exist, and there is no harm to the dog because its transition to nonexistence will be quick and painless. Caring for the dog, however, is a harm to me. Sure, I will break my promise, but on consequentialist grounds, what's wrong with that?"
Thomas Nagel would disagree and call my reneging "an injury to the dead man." ("Death" in Mortal Questions, Cambridge UP, 1979, p. 6) For Nagel, "There are goods and evils which are irreducibly relational; they are features of the relations between a person, with spatial and temporal boundaries of the usual sort, and circumstances which may not coincide with him either in space or in time." (p. 6) Death is such an evil. Being dead is a circumstance that does not temporally coincide with the decedent. In other words, a thing can have properties at times at which it does not exist provided it once existed. (Few if any would claim that a thing can have properties at times at which it does not exist if it never existed. And so it is not an evil for Schopenhauer's never- existent son 'Will' that he never existed.)
A Nagelian rejection of (3) is respectable and plausible as a means of turning aside the Epicurean argument. But it is scarcely compelling. For the Epicurean can simply insist that there are no relational harms. After all, there is something metaphysically murky about maintaining that a person who is nothing is yet the subject of a harm or injury simply on the strength of his having once existed. If you are now nothing, then you are now nothing: why should your once having been be relevant?
So it looks like a stand-off, an aporetic impasse. The considerations for and against (3) seem to cancel each other.
One consideration in favor of (3) is presentism, the doctrine that the present time and its contents alone exist. If the present alone exists, then past individuals do not exist at all. If so, they cannot be subject to harms. A consideration contrary to (3) is our strong intuition that harms and injuries can indeed be inflicted upon the dead. The dead may not have desires, but we are strongly inclined to say that they have interests, interests subject to violation. (The literary executor who burns the manuscripts entrusted to him; the agent of Stalin who deletes references to Trotsky from historical documents, etc.)
In the preface to his magnum opus, F. H. Bradley observes that "Metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe upon instinct, but to find these reasons is no less an instinct." (Appearance and Reality, Oxford 1893, p. x) The qualifier 'bad' is out of place and curiously off-putting at the outset of a 570 page metaphysical tome, so if, per impossibile, I had had the philosopher's ear I would have suggested 'good but not rationally compelling.' Be that as it may, the point is that our basic sense of things comes first, and only later, if at all, do we take up the task of the orderly discursive articulation of that basic sense.
Thus atheism is bred in the bone before it is born in the brain. The atheist feels it in his bones and guts that the universe is godless and that theistic conceptions are so many fairy tales dreamt up for false consolation. This world is just too horrifying to be a divine creation: meaningless unredeemed suffering; ignorance and delusion; the way nature, its claws dripping with blood, feasts on itself; moral evil and injustice -- all bespeak godlessness. There can't be a God of love behind all this horror! For most atheists, theism is not a Jamesian live option. What point, then, in debating them?
This deep intuition of the godlessness of the world is prior to and the force behind arguments from evil. The arguments merely articulate and rationalize the intuition. The counterarguments of theists don't stand a chance in the face of the fundamental, gut-grounded, atheist attitude. No one who strongly FEELS that things are a certain way is likely to be moved by what he will dismiss as so much verbiage, hairsplitting, and intellectualizing.
But for the theist it is precisely the horror of this world that motivates the quest for a solution, or rather, the horror of this world together with the conviction that we cannot provide the solution for ourselves whether individually or collectively. Evil is taken by the theist, not as a 'proof' of the nonexistence of God, but as a reason, a motive, to seek God. 'Without God, life is horror.'
Addendum 12/21: I should add that it would be pointless to seek God if any of the atheist arguments were compelling. But none are.
Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, has died of complications of multiple sclerosis at age 69. Obituary here. Apparently, hanging out in the Mojave desert can do strange things to your head. Here is a taste from the 1969 Trout Mask Replica album. Far out, man. Here is something rather more accessible from the 1967 debut Safe as Milk album. And I think I remember Abba Zabba from that same album. (Which reminds of the saying, 'If you remember the '60s, you weren't there.')
From Mojave to Bakersfield. I once had a girlfriend, half Italian, half Irish. Volatile combo, not recommended. I had me a Tiger by the Tail. My wife's half Italian, but the phlegmaticity of her Polish half mitigates, moderates, and modulates her latent Italianate volcanicity, which remains blessedly latent.
A London reader, Rob Hoveman, kindly sent me Howard Robinson's "Can We Make Sense of the Idea that God's Existence is Identical to His Essence" (in Reason, Faith and History: Philosophical Essays for Paul Helm, ed. M. W. F. Stone, Ashgate 2008, pp. 127-143). This post will comment on the gist of section 4 of Robinson's article, entitled 'Existence is Not a Property.'
One major implication of the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS) is that in God essence and existence are the same. My Stanford Encyclopedia article on DDS will fill you in on some of the details. A number of objections can be brought against DDS. Here only one will be considered, namely, the objection that existence cannot be a first-level property, a property of individuals.
The objection might go like this. If in God, an individual, essence and existence are identical, then existence must be a first-level property of God. But existence cannot be a first-level property. Therefore, essence and existence cannot be identical in God.
This objection is only as good as the Fregean theory according to which existence is a property of concepts only. Without explaining why distinguished thinkers have been persuaded of its truth, let me give just one reason why it cannot be right. The theory says that existence is the property of being instantiated. An affirmative general existential such as 'Horses exist,' then, does not predicate existence of individual horses; it predicates instantiation of the concept horse. And a negative general existential such as 'Mermaids do not exist' does not predicate anything of individual mermaids -- after all, there aren't any -- it denies that the concept mermaid has any instances.
To see what is wrong with the theory, note first that instantiation is a relation, a dyadic asymmetrical relation. We can of course speak of the property of being instantiated but only so long as it is understood that this is a relational property, one parasitic upon the relation of instantiation. Therefore, if a first-level concept C is instantiated, then there is some individual x such that x instantiates C. It would be nonsense to say that C is instantiated while adding that there is nothing that instantiates it. That would be like saying that Tom is married but there is no one to whom he is married. Just as 'Tom is married' is elliptical for 'Tom is married to someone,' 'C is instantiated' is elliptiucal for 'C is instaniated by some individual.'
Now either x exists or it does not.
Suppose it does not. Then we have instantiation without existence. If so, then existence cannot be instantiation. For example, let C be the concept winged horse and let x be Pegasus. The latter instantiates the former since Pegasus is a winged horse. But Pegasus does not exist. So existence cannot be the second-level property of instantiation if we allow nonexistent objects to serve as instances of concepts.
Now suppose that x exists. Then the theory is circular: it presupposes and does not eliminate first-level existence. The concept blogging philosopher is instantiated by me, but only because I possess first-level existence. One cannot coherently maintain that my existence consists in my instantiating that concept or any concept for the simple reason that (first-level) existence is what makes it possible for me to instantiate any concept in the first place.
If what we are after is a metaphysical theory of what it is for an individual to exist, then Frege's theory in all its variants (the Russellian variant, the Quinean variant, . . .) is wholly untenable. I demonstrate this in painful detail in A Paradigm Theory of Existence, Kluwer, 2002, Chapter 4. Robinson, p. 133, is on to the problem, and makes the following intriguing suggestion: "But there is a way of taking the second order analysis which is not incompatible with regarding 'exists' as a first order predicate, and that can be approached by treating existence as a monadic property of concepts." (133)
The idea is that, rather than being a relational property of concepts, as on the Fregean theory, existence is a nonrelational property of concepts. If this could be made to work, it would defuse the circularity objection I just sketched. For the objection exploits the fact that instantiation is a dyadic relation.
But if existence is to be construed as a monadic (nonrelational) property of concepts, then concepts cannot be understood as Frege understands them. For Frege, concepts are functions and no function is an ontological constituent of its value for a given argument or an ontological constituent of any argument. For example, the propositional function expressed by the the predicate '___is wise' has True as its value for Socrates as argument. But this function is not a constituent of the True. Nor is it a constituent of Socrates. And for Frege there are no truthmaking concrete states of affairs having ontological constituents.
For Robinson's suggestion to have a chance, concepts must be understood as ontological constituents of individuals like Socrates. Accordingly,
Existence is not simply a property of the individual, in the ordinary sense; it is more a metaphysical component of it, along with form or essence. So the monadic property of the concept -- its instantiation -- is the same as the existence of the individual. (134)
Essence and existence are thus ontological constituents or metaphysical components of contingent individuals. This is definitely an improvement over the Fregean view inasmuch as it preserves the strong intuition, or rather datum, that existence belongs to individuals. But this Thomistic view has its own problems. It is difficult to understand how existence could be a proper part of an existing thing as the Thomistic analysis implies. After all, it is the whole of Socrates that exists, Socrates together with all his spatial parts, temporal parts (if any), and ontological 'parts.' As pertaining to the whole of the existing thing, its existence cannot be identified with one part to the exclusion of others. For this reason, in my book I took the line that the existence of an individual is not one of its constituents, but the unity of all its constituents.
If a deductive argument is valid, that does not say much about it: it might still be probatively worthless. Nevertheless, validity is a necessary condition of a deductive argument's being probative. So it is important to have a clear understanding of the notion of validity. An argument is valid if and only if one of its logical forms is such that no argument of that form has true premises and a false conclusion.
This is silly. "Not Right. Not Left. Forward." There are are real differences between Right and Left that cannot be ignored. The positions must be carefully defined -- and appropriately labeled. 'No labels' is itself a label -- an inept one. Label we must. So we ought to do it carefully and thoughtfully.
It is a simple point of logic that if propositions p and q are both true, then they are logically consistent, though not conversely. So if God exists and Evil exists are both true, then they are logically consistent, whence it follows that it is possible that they be consistent. This is so whether or not anyone is in a position to explain how it is possible that they be consistent. If something is the case, then, by the time-honored principle ab esse ad posse valet illatio, it is possible that it be the case, and one's inability to explain how it is possible that it be the case cannot count as a good reason for thinking that it is not the case.
Example. No one has successfully answered Zeno's Paradoxes of motion. (No, kiddies, Wesley Salmon did not successfully rebut them; the 'calculus solution' is a joke.) But from the fact, if it is a fact, that no one has ever shown HOW motion is possible, it does not follow that motion is not possible.
So if it is the case that God exists and Evil exists are logically consistent, then this is possibly the case, and a theist's inability to explain how God and evil can coexist is not a good reason for him to abandon his theism -- or his belief in the existence of objective evil.
The theist is rationally entitled to stand pat in the face of the 'problem of evil' and point to his array of arguments for the existence of God whose cumulative force renders rational his belief that God exists. Of course, he should try to answer the atheist who urges the inconsistency of God exists and Evil exists; but his failure to provide a satisfactory answer is not a reason for him to abandon his theism. A defensible attitude would be: "This is something we theists need to work on."
Atheists and naturalists ought not object to this standing pat since they do the same. What materialist about the mind abandons his materialism in the face of the various arguments (from intentionality, from qualia, from the unity of consciousness, from the psychological relevance of logical laws, etc.) that we anti-materialists marshall?
Does the materialist give in? Hell no, he stands pat, pointing to his array of arguments and considerations in favor of materialism, and when you try to budge him with the irreconcilability of intentionality and materialism, or qualia and materialism, or reason and materialism, or whatever, he replies, "This is something we materialists need to work on." He is liable to start talking, pompously, of his 'research program.' He may even wax quasi-religious with talk of "pinning his hopes on future science" as if -- quite absurdly -- knowing more and more about the meat within our skulls will finally resolve the outstanding questions. And what does science have to do with hope? There is also something exceedingly curious about hoping that one turns out to be just a material system, a bit of dust in the wind.
"I was so hoping to be proved to be nothing more than a clever land mammal slated for destruction, but, dammit all, there are reasons to think that we are more than animals and have a higher destiny. That sucks!"
This post adds nuance to what I said earlier. I continue to uphold the Potentiality Principle. I have never seen a good argument against it. But there is a question about when the principle first finds purchase. Certainly not before conception. At conception? Later on? Considerations of 'moral safety' suggest we say 'at conception.' But consider the following argument:
Consider a spatiotemporal (S/T) particular such as an amoeba, or a star, or to take a 'meso-particular,' a drop of water. The drop D, existing at time t1, divides at time t2 (t2 > t1) into two discrete nontouching droplets, E and F. Suppose E and F are 'identical twins.' That is to say, E and F, though numerically distinct, are indiscernible with respect to all monadic properties. The question arises: Does D cease to exist when it divides into E and F? Or does D continue to exist after the division or fission? There are exactly four possibilities.
P1. D ceases to exist at the moment of division. Where there was (at t1) one S/T particular, there are now (at t2) two, but neither of the two is diachronically identical to D.
P2. D does not cease to exist at the moment of division, but survives the division as E. What we have at t2 are two particulars, D = E and a copy or replica F.
P3. D does not cease to exist at the moment of division, but survives as F. What we have at t2 are two particulars, D = F and a copy or replica E.
P4. D does not cease to exist at the moment of division, but survives as the mereological sum of E and F.
If these are the only possibilities, then it seems the most reasonable course is to opt for (P1): D fails to surivive its splitting at t2. For what non-arbitrary reason could one have to prefer (P2) over (P3) or vice versa? If there were a reason to say that D becomes E, that same reason would also justify saying that D becomes F -- which implies that the 'reason' is no reason at all. (Bear in mind the stipulation that E and F are indiscernible.) Both (P2) and (P3), then, are nonstarters. This leaves (P4). But (P4) amounts to saying that D survives as both E and F. And that is absurd. How could one thing become two things? This leaves us with (P1): D ceases to exist at the moment of division.
This is a general result applicable to any S/T particular, no matter how small, no matter how large.
I was once an adolescent, and I was once an infant. But was I once a unicellular zygote? If zygotic division is like the water drop division described above, then, although I once had a zygote as a precursor, that zygote was not me. For that zygote ceased to exist, whereas I still exist.
And if the right to life is grounded -- as I would like to ground it -- in the potentiality of some one biological individual to develop into what is clearly a rights-possessor, then that biological individual came into existence sometime after conception. This implies that the right to life cannot be ascribed to the conceptus, i.e., the product of the union of the sperm and egg cells at fertilization.
Some write because they like the idea of being a writer. It's romantic or 'cool' or something. Others write to say something that they need to express. Most combine these motivations. The better the writer, the stronger the need to express something that not just needs expression for the psychic health of the writer, but that is worthy of expression.
Charles Bukowski wrote from genuine need. (See so you want to be a writer?) It was his therapy. He could not have believed in the early days of his scribbling that he would ever be able to make a living from it. But from what I have read of him so far, what he wrote is not worth reading except in the way that his writing was worth doing for him. What do I mean?
His writing was self-therapeutic; our reading is motivated by something like the pathologist's interest. We read him to learn about diseases of the mind and spirit.
Clarity will be served if we distinguish the specifically Epicurean reason for thinking death not an evil from another reason which is actually anti-Epicurean. I'll start with the second reason.
A. Death is not an evil because it removes us from a condition which on balance is not good, a condition which on balance is worse than nonexistence. This is the wisdom of Silenus, reported by Sophocles (Oedipus at Colonus, ll. 1244 ff.) and quoted by Nietzsche in The Birth ofTragedy, section 3:
There is an ancient story that King Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When Silenus at last fell into his hands, the king asked what was the best and most desirable of all things for man. Fixed and immovable, the demigod said not a word, till at last, urged by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words: "O wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is -- to die soon."
B. Death is not an evil for the one who dies because when death is, one is not, and when one is, death is not. My being dead is not an evil state of affairs because there is no such state of affairs (STOA) as my being dead. Since there is no such STOA, there is no bearer of the property of being evil. If this property has a bearer it cannot be an individual or a property but must be a STOA.
And so the Epicurean line is consistent with life affirmation. The Epicurean is not saying that being dead is good and being alive evil; he is saying that being dead is not evil because axiologically neutral. The Epicurean is therefore also committed to saying that being dead is not a good.
The first reason is axiological, the second ontological. The Silenian pessimist renders a negative value verdict on life as a whole: it's no good, better never to have been born, with second best being to die young. By contrast, the Epicurean's point is that the ontology of the situation makes it impossible for death to be an evil for the one who has died.
This reinforces my earlier conclusion that there is nothing nihilistic about the Epicurean position.
Are there nonexistent objects in the sense in which Meinong thought there are? One reason to think so derives from the problem of reference to the dead. The problem can be displayed as an aporetic tetrad:
1. A dead person no longer exists. 2. What no longer exists does not exist at all. 3. What does not exist at all cannot be referred to or enter as a constituent into a state of affairs. 4. Some dead persons can be referred to and can enter as constituents into states of affairs. (For example, 'John Lennon' in 'John Lennon is dead' refers to John Lennon, who is a constituent of the state of affairs, John Lennon's being dead.)
Despite the plausibility of each member, the above quartet is logically inconsistent. The first three propositions entail the negation of the fourth. Indeed, any three entail the negation of the remaining one. Now (1) and (4) count as data due to their obviousness. They are 'datanic' as opposed to 'theoretical' like the other two. Therefore, to relieve the logical tension we must either reject (2) or reject (3).
To reject (2) is to reject Presentism according to which only temporally present items exist. One could hold that both past and present items (tenselessly) exist, or that past, present, and future items (tenselessly) exist. Such anti-presentist theories break the two-way link between existence and temporal presentness: what is temporally present exists, but what exists need not be temporally present.
But another option is to reject (3). One could adopt the view of Alexius von Meinong according to which there are items that stand jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein, "beyond being and nonbeing." These items have no being whatsoever. Meinong's examples include the golden mountain (a possible object) and the round square (an impossible object). His doctrine was misunderstood by Russell and generations of those influenced by him. The doctrine is not that nonexistent objects have a mode of being weaker than existence, but that they have no being whatsoever. And yet they are not nothing! They are not nothing inasmuch as we can refer to them and predicate properties of them. They are definite items of thought possessing Sosein but no Sein, but are not mere accusatives of thought. A strange view, admittedly, and I do not accept it. (See my A Paradigm Theory of Existence, Kluwer 2002, pp. 38-42.) But distinguished philosophers have and do: Butchvarov, Castaneda, T. Parsons, Routley/Sylvan, et al.)
So Meinongianism is a theoretical option. The Meinongian line gives us a way to answer Epicurus. For Epicurus death is not an evil because when we are, death is not, and when death is, we are not. The point is that at no time is there a subject possessing the property of being dead. When I am alive, I am not dead. And when I am dead, I do not exist. It is not just that when I am dead I no longer presently exist, but that I do not exist at all. (Presentism seems part and parcel of the Epicurean position.) And because I do not exist at all when I am dead, I cannot have properties. (Anti-Meinongianism is also part and parcel of the Epicurean position: existence is a necessary condition of property-possession.) But then I cannot, when dead, have the property of being dead, in which case there is no state of affairs of my being dead. And that gives us a deep ontological reason for denying that death is an evil: if there is no state of affairs of my being dead, then there is nothing to possess the property of being evil. (Note that it is not the property of being dead that is evil, or me the individual, but the putative state of affairs of my being dead.)
As I read Epicurus, his position on death, namely, that being dead is not an evil for the one who is dead, requires both Presentism and Anti-Meinongianism. If that is right, then one can answer Epicurus either by rejecting Presentism or by accepting Meinongianism.
Anti-Presentism breaks the two-way link between existence and temporal presentness, while Meinongianism breaks the two-way link between existence and property-possession. The anti-presentist faces the challenge of giving a coherent account of tenseless existence, while the Meinongian owes us an explanation of how there can be items which actually have properties while having no being whatsoever. Epicureanism maintains both links but flies in the face of the powerful intuition that death is an evil.
A good solution eludes us. And so once again we end up in good old Platonic fashion up against the wall of an aporia.
This interesting missive just over the transom. My responses in blue.
I have been pondering your application of the Potentiality Principle to the question of abortion. It is undoubtedly the case that a one year old child has the potential to become an adult possessing rights-conferring properties. It is also undoubtedly the case, for much the same reasons, that a foetus in the third trimester of pregnancy possesses that same potential. However, as we move back along the chain of causality from childhood to birth to pregnancy and before, at some point we no longer have a potential person.
I agree that at some point we no longer have a potential person. Neither a sperm cell by itself, nor an unfertilized egg cell by itself, nor the unjoined pair of the two is a potential person. See 'Probative Overkill' Objections to the Potentiality Principle. This post refutes the notion that one committed to the Potentiality Principle is also committed to the notion that spermatazoa and unfertilized ova and various set-theoretical constructions of same are also potential persons.
Let us consider a person whose life is going well, and who has a reasonable expectation that it will continue to go well in the near term at least. For such a person
1. A longer being-alive is better than a shorter being-alive.
2. A longer being-dead is not worse than a shorter being-dead. (Equivalently: A shorter being-dead is not better than a longer being-dead.
3. If a longer being F is better than a shorter being F, then a shorter being non-F is better than a longer being non-F.
I claim that each limb of the triad has a strong claim on our acceptance. And yet they cannot all be true: (1) and (3) taken together entail the negation of (2). Indeed, the conjunction of any two limbs entails the negation of the remaining one. To solve the problem, then, one of the limbs must be rejected. But which one? Each is exceedingly plausible.
Consider (1). Surely a longer life is better than a shorter one assuming that (i) one's life is on balance good, and (ii) one has a reasonable expectation that the future will be like the past at least for the near future. Suppose you are young, healthy, and happy. It is obvious that five more years of youth, health, and happiness is better than dying tomorrow. (In these discussions, unless otherwise stated, the assumption is the Epicurean one that that bodily death is annihilation of the self or person -- an assumption that is by no means obvous.)
From discussions with Peter Lupu, I gather that he would grant (1) even without the two assumptions. He digs being alive and consciousness whether or not the contents of his life/consciousness are good or evil: just being alive/conscious is for him a good thing. My life affirmation doesn't go quite that far. Whereas his life affirmation is unconditional, mine is conditional upon the contents of my experience.
Now consider (2). John Lennon has been dead for 30 years. Is it worse for him now than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago? Does it get worse year by year? I mean for him alone, not for Yoko Ono or anyone else. Intuitively, no. Ceteris paribus, the longer we live the better; but it is not the case that the longer we are dead, the worse. (Note that the second independent clause needs no ceteris paribus qualification.)
John F. Kennedy has been dead longer than Richard M. Nixon. But Kennedy is no worse off than Nixon in precise point of being dead. (2), then, seems intuitively evident.
As for (3), it too seems intuitively evident. If being respected (treated fairly, loved, provided with food, etc.) for a longer time is better than being respected (treated fairly, etc.) for a shorter time -- and surely it is -- then being disrespected (treated unfairly, etc.) for a shorter time is better than being disrespected for a longer time. And so if being-alive longer is better than being-alive shorter, then being non-alive shorter is better than being non-alive longer -- in contradiction to (2).
One solution would be to reject (2), not by affirming its negation, but by maintaining that neither it nor its negation are either true or false. If there is no subject of being dead, as presumably there is not assuming that death is anihilation, then one cannot answer the question whether it is worse to be dead for a longer time than for a shorter.
Again we are brought back to the 'problem of the subject.'
In general, being dead and being nonexistent are not the same 'property' for an obvious reason: only that which was once alive can properly be said to be dead, and not everything was once alive. Nevertheless, it might be thought that, for living things, to be is to be alive, and not to be is to be dead. But I think this Aristotelian view can be shown to be mistaken.
1. A human person cannot become dead except by dying.
2. But a human person can become nonexistent without dying in at least four ways.
2a. The first way is by entering into irreversible coma. Given that consciousness is an essential attribute of persons, a person who enters into irreversible coma ceases to exist. But the person's body remains alive. Therefore, a human person can cease to exist without dying.
2b. The second way is by fission. Suppose one human person A enters a Person Splitter and exits two physically and behaviorally and psychologically indiscernible persons, B and C. B is not C. So A is not B and A is not C. What happened to A? A ceased to exist. But A didn't die. Far from the life in A ceasing, the life in A doubled! So human person A became nonexistent without dying.
2c. The third way is by fusion. Two dudes enter the Person Splicer from the east and exit to the west one dude. The entrants have ceased to exist without dying.
2d. The fourth way is theological. Everything other than God depends on God for its very existence at every moment of its existence. If God were to 'pull the plug' ontologically speaking on the entire universe of contingent beings, then at that instant all human persons would cease to exist without dying. They would not suffer the process or the event of dying but would enter nonexistence nonetheless. Because they had not died, they could not be properly said to be dead.
Therefore, pace the Peripatetic,
3. Being dead and being nonexistent are not the same -- not even for living things.
(Time consumed in composing this post: 40 minutes. )
To think clearly about death we need to draw some distinctions, fix some terminology, and catalog the various questions that can arise. Herewith, a modest contribution to that end.
1. Process, event, state. There is first of all the process of dying and that in which it culminates, the event of dying. Both are distinct from the 'state' of being dead. The inverted commas signal that there is a question whether there is such a state. A state is a state of something which is 'in' the state. Call it the subject of the state. But if bodily death is annihilation of the self, then it is arguable (though not self-evident) that there is no subject of the state of being dead, and hence no such state. And if there is no such state, then it cannot be rationally feared.
The process of dying can be so short as to be indistinguishable from the event of dying, but no one can be in the 'state' who has not suffered the event. You cannot become dead except by dying.
2. All three (process, event, state) can be objects of fear. But it does not follow that each is an object of rational fear. It is clearly sometimes rational to fear the process of dying. But it is a further question whether it is ever rational to fear the 'state' of being dead.
3. Fear is an intentional state whose object is a future harm, evil, or 'bad.' Process/event and state are rationally feared only they are indeed evils. So the axiological questions are logically prior to the empirical-psychological question of fear and the normative-psychological question of the rationality of fear.
4. Ontological questions would seem to be logically prior to the axiological questions. Whether death is good, bad, or neutral depends on what it is. For example, the 'state' of being dead cannot be evil unless there is such a state. A state is a state of something. But if death is annihilation, then there is no subject after death which seems to imply that there is no state of being dead. If so, it cannot be an evil state. And if being dead is not an evil state, then it cannot be rationally feared.
5. This raises the question whether bodily death is indeed annihilation of the self.
6. And what exactly is it for an animal to die? One will be tempted to say that x dies at time t iff x ceases being alive at t. But an animal that enters suspended animation at t ceases to be alive at t without dying! Or suppose a living thing A splits into two living things B and C. Since B and C are numerically distinct, neither can be identical to A. So A ceases to exist at the time of fission. Ceasing to exist, A ceases to be alive. But one hesitates to say that A is dead. Similarly with fusion.
Defining 'dies' is not easy. See Fred Feldman, Confrontations with the Reaper (Oxford 1992, ch. 4).
7. Mortality. In addition to the question whether being dead is evil and the question whether dying (process or event) is evil, there is also the question whether it is evil to be subject to death. This is a question about the axiological status of mortality: is being mortal good, bad, or neutral? If mortality is evil, then, given that we are mortal, we cannot fear it, fear being future-oriented, but we can, for want of a better word, bemoan it. And so the question arises whether it it rational to bemoan our mortality. Is mortality perhaps a punishment for something, for Original Sin perhaps?
But we need to think more carefully about what it is to be mortal. First of all, only things that are alive or once were alive can be properly said to be mortal. My car is not mortal even if it 'dies.' It is also worth noting that being mortal is consistent both with being alive and with being dead. My dead ancestors have realized their mortality; I have yet to realize mine. But my mother did not cease being mortal by dying. (Or did she? If she is now nothing, how can she have any property including the property of being mortal?) For a living thing to be mortal is for it to be subject to death. But this phrase has at least two senses, one weak the other strong.
WEAK sense: X is mortal =df x is able to die, liable to die, has the potential to die. Mortality as posse mori.
STRONG sense: X is mortal =df X has to die, is subject to the necessity of dying, cannot evade death by any action of its own, is going to die, will die in the normal course of events. Mortality as necessitas moriendi.
Correspondingly, there are strong and weak senses of 'immortal':
STRONG sense: X is immortal =df x is not able to die.
WEAK sense: X is immortal =df x is able to die, but is kept alive forever by a factor distinct from x.
For example, in Christian theology God is strongly immortal: he cannot die, so 'deicide' is not an option for him. The immortal souls of humans, however, are weakly immortal, not immortal by 'own-power' but by 'other-power.' Prelapsarian Adam was weakly, not strongly, mortal whereas postlapsarian Adam and his descendants are strongly, not weakly, mortal.
Christian theology aside, we are strongly mortal: we are subject to the necessity of dying whether this necessity be nomological or a metaphysical. Is our mortal condition evil? Or is mortality perhaps a condition of life's having meaning and value?
8. Mortality and Brevity. Related question: Is the brevity of life a condition of its meaningfulness, as many maintain? Mortality is not the same as brevity because (i) one could be mortal in the weak sense even if one lived forever and (ii) a short life is consistent with the necessity of dying.
9. Why is sooner worse than later? So far we have distinguished the following questions: Is dying (whether process or event) evil? Is being dead evil? Is being subject to death evil? Is the brevity of life evil? But there is also the question why, if dying is evil, dying sooner is worse than dying later. Intuitively, dying at 20 is worse than dying at 60 ceteris paribus. But why? Because the one who dies at 20 'misses out on more' than the one who dies at 60? But how can the one who dies at 20 miss out on anything if death is annihilation? The dead cannot be deprived of their future because they are not there to be deprived of anything.
A reader suggests that the "Epicurean argument leads to nihilism. Why live if death is not an evil to you? (assuming there is no one to grieve you)."
In Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus makes the point that death is ". . . of no concern to us; for while we exist death is not present, and when death is present we no longer exist. It is therefore nothing either to the living or the dead since it is not present to the living, and the dead no longer are." (125)
If this is the Epicurean argument, then I do not see how it leads to nihilism, if 'leads to' means 'entails' and if nihilism is the view that life is not worth the trouble. The Epicurean point is not that death is good but that it is axiologically neutral: neither good nor bad. This follows from his assumption that ". . . all good and evil lie in sensation and sensation ends with death." If being dead were good, then I think one could reasonably infer nihilism. For if being dead were good, then being alive would be either bad or neutral, both of which are forms of nihilism.
But the Epicurean view is that being dead is value-neutral whence it follows that being alive is either good or bad, and only one of these is nihilism. Therefore, the Epicurean position does not entail nihilism.
It is worth noting that the historical Epicurus had a therapeutic end in view: he wanted to relieve us of our fear of death. This soteriological motive is at the back of his claim that death is nothing to us. Because it is nothing to us, we have nothing to fear from it. So if you accused him of nihilism he would probably respond with au contraire or rather the Greek equivalent. He would probably say that his purpose is a life-affirming one. His aim is to make men happy by removing from them the fear of death.
To clear Epicurus of the charge of nihilism is of course not to pronounce his position probative.
Is death an evil? Even if it is an evil to the people other than me who love me, or in some way profit from my life, is it an evil to me? A few days ago, defying Philip Larkin, I took the Epicurean position that death cannot be an evil for me and so it cannot be rational for me to fear my being dead: any fear of death is a result of muddled thinking, something the philosopher cannot tolerate, however things may stand with the poet. But I was a bit quick in that post and none of this is all that clear. A re-think is in order. Death remains, after millenia, the muse of philosophy.
My earlier reasoning was along the following Epicurean-Lucretian lines. (Obviously, I am not engaged in a project of exegesis; what exactly these gentlemen meant is not my concern. I'll leave scholarship to the scholars and history to the historians.)
1. Either bodily death is the annihilation of the self or it is not. 2. If death is annihilation, then after the moment of dying there is no self in existence, either conscious or unconscious, to have or lack anything. 3. If there is no self after death, then no evil can befall the self post mortem. 4. If no evil can befall the self post mortem, then it is not rational to fear post mortem evils. 5. If, on the other hand, death is not annihilation, then one cannot rationally fear the state of nonbeing for the simple reason that one will not be in that 'state.' Therefore 6. It is not rational to fear being dead.
The argument is valid, but are the premises true? (1) is an instance of the the Law of Excluded Middle. (2) seems obviously true: if bodily death is annihilation of the self, then (i) the self ceases to exist at the moment of death, and (ii) what does not exist cannot have or lack anything, whether properties or relations or experiences or parts or possessions. (ii) is not perfectly obvious because I have heard it argued that after death one continues as a Meinongian nonexistent object -- a bizarre notion that I reject, but that deserves a separate post for its exfoliation and critique.
Premise (3), however, seems vulnerable to counterexample. Suppose the executor of a will ignores the decedent's wishes. He wanted his loot to go to Catholic Charities, but the executor, just having read Bukowski, plays it on the horses at Santa Anita. Intuitively, that amounts to a wrong to the decedent. The decedent suffers (in the sense of undergoes) an evil despite not suffering (in the sense of experiencing) an evil. And this despite the fact, assuming it to be one, that the decedent no longer exists. But if so, then (3) is false. It seems that a person who no longer exists can be the subject of wrongs and harms no less than a person who now exists. Additional examples like this are easily constructed.
But not only can dead persons have bad things done to them, they can also be deprived of good things. Suppose a 20 year old with a bright future dies suddenly in a car crash. In most though not all cases of this sort the decedent is deprived of a great deal of positive intrinsic value he would have enjoyed had he not met an untimely end. Or at least that is what we are strongly inclined to say. Few would argue that in cases like this there is no loss to the person who dies. Being dead at a young age is an evil, and indeed an evil for the person who dies, even though the person who dies cannot experience the evil of being dead because he no longer exists.
So we need to make a distinction between evils that befall a person and are experienceable by the person they befall, and evils that befall a person that are not experienceable by the person they befall. This distinction gives us the resources to resist the Epicurean-Lucretian thesis that death is not an evil for the one who dies. We can grant to Epicurus & Co. that the evil of being dead cannot be experienced as evil without granting that being dead is not an evil. We can grant to Epicurus et al. that, on the assumption that death is annihilation, being dead cannot be experienced and so cannot be rationally feared; but refuse to grant to them that dying and being dead are not great evils.
In this way, premise (3) of the above argument can be resisted. Unfortunately, what I have just said in support of the rejection of (3) introduces its own puzzles. Here is one.
My death at time t is supposed to deprive me of the positive intrinsic value that I would have enjoyed had I lived beyond t. Thus I am a subject of an evil at times at which I do not exist. This is puzzling. When I exist I am of course not subject to the evil of death. But when I do not exist I am not anything, and so how can I be subject to goods or evils? How can my being dead be an evil for me if I don't exist at the times at which I am supposed to be the subject of the evil?
Through Charles Bukowski I discovered John Fante who I am now reading (Ask the Dust, Black Sparrow, 2000, originally published in 1939) and reading about (Stephen Cooper, Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante, North Point Press, 2000). Here is Bukowski's preface to the Black Sparrow edition of Ask the Dust in which Buk recounts the day he stumbled upon Fante in the L. A. Public Library.
Both lived in and wrote about Los Angeles, which explains part of my interest in both. And then there is the Catholic connection, stronger in Fante than in Bukowski, and the Italian resonance in Fante. Ten years before Kerouac broke into print, Fante's writing had that mad, onrushing, intoxicated Kerouac quality as witness the following passage three pages into Ask the Dust:
Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.
A day and another day and the day before, and the library with the big boys in the shelves, old Dreiser, old Mencken, all the boys down there, and I went to see them, Hya Dreiser, Hya Mencken, Hya, hya,; there's a place for me, too and it begins with B., in the B shelf, Arturo Bandini, make way for Arturo Bandini, his slot for his book, and I sat at the table and just looked at the place where my book would be, right there close to Arnold Bennett, but I'd be there to sort of bolster up the B's, old Arturo Bandini, one of the boys, until some girl came along, some scent of perfume through the fiction room, some click of high heels to break up the monotony of my fame. Gala day, gala dream!
George Orwell's humanity is on display in the following passage from "Looking Back on the Spanish War" (1943), reprinted in A Collection of Essays (Harvest, 1981), pp. 193-194:
Early one morning another man and I had gone out to snipe at the Fascists in the trenches outside Huesca. Their line and ours here lay three hundred yards apart, at which range our aged rifles would not shoot accurately, but by sneaking out to a spot about a hundred yards from the Fascist trench you might, if you were lucky, get a shot at someone through a gap in the parapet. Unfortunately the ground between was a flat beet field with no cover except a few ditches, and it was necessary to go out while it was still-dark and return soon after dawn, before the light became too good. This time no Fascists appeared, and we stayed too long and were caught by the dawn. We were in a ditch, but behind us were two hundred yards of flat ground with hardly enough cover for a rabbit. We were still trying to nerve ourselves to make a dash for it when there was an uproar and a blowing of whistles in the Fascist trench. Some of our aeroplanes were coming over. At this moment, a man presumably carrying a message to an officer, jumped out of the trench and ran along the top of the parapet in full view. He was half-dressed and was holding up his trousers with both hands as he ran. I refrained from shooting at him. It is true that I am a poor shot and unlikely to hit a running man at a hundred yards, and also that I was thinking chiefly about getting back to our trench while the Fascists had their attention fixed on the aeroplanes. Still, I did not shoot partly because of that detail about the trousers. I had come here to shoot at âFascistsâ; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn't a Fascist, he is visibly a fellow-creature, similar to yourself, and you don't feel like shooting at him.
Isn't there a scene in Homage to Catalonia in which the same or a similar fascist is caught with his pants down at the latrine when all hell breaks loose? In death and as in defecation, all distinctions dissolve to reveal us as indigent mortals made of dust and about to return to dust.
In an earlier post, Why We Should Accept the Potentiality Principle (24 October 2009), you suggest that we should apply the potentiality principle -- All potential persons have a right to life -- to the unborn to be consistent, as we already apply it to children. What troubles me is this: how do you say that we value children primarily for their potentiality without disenfranchising people who are permanently stuck with childlike capacities? Shall we bite the bullet and say these people are not to be valued or at least valued much, much less? Or will we squirm out of the dilemma by throwing in some ad hoc principle, say membership in the human family, to save our bacon? Maybe the best move for avoiding the repugnant conclusion is to make the unassailable religious retreat to the conclusion that all human beings will not reach their actuality in this life but the next. However, I’m not sure how that could be used to ground a theory of the wrongness of killing. None of these options seems incredibly promising to me. What say you?
Here, in summary, is the argument I gave:
1. We ascribe the right to life to neonates and young children on the basis of their potentialities. 2. There is no morally relevant difference between neonates and young children and fetuses. 3. Principles -- in this case PP -- should be applied consistently to all like cases. Therefore 4. We should ascribe the right to life to fetuses on the basis of their potentialities.
What I was arguing was that we already do accept PP and that we ought to be consistent in its application. To refuse to apply PP to the pre-natal cases is to fail to apply the principle consistently.
I concede to the reader that there are severely damaged fetuses and infants the termination of which would be considered immoral, and that such cases are not covered by the principle (PP) according to which all potential persons have a right to life in virtue of the potential of genetically human individuals to develop in the normal course of events into beings that actually possess such rights-conferring properties as rationality. The severely retarded fetuses and infants (as well as irreversibly comatose adults) lack even the potentiality to function as descriptive persons. But note that if PP is one source of the right to life, it doesn't follow that it is the only source. If all potential persons have the right to life it doesn't follow that only potential persons have the right to life.
So, to improve my earlier argument, I will now substitute for (1)
1*. We ascribe the right to life to neonates and young children on the basis of their potentialities, though not only on that basis.
So we should explore the option that the right to life has multiple sources. Perhaps it has a dual source: in PP but also in the Species Principle (SP) according to which whatever is genetically human has the right to life just in virtue of being genetically human. Equivalently, what SP says is that every member of the species homo sapiens, qua member, has the right to life of any member, and therefore every member falls within the purview of the prohibition against homicide.
Subscription to SP would solve the reader's problem, for then a severely damaged infant would have a right to life just in virtue of being genetically human regardless of its potential for development. Some will object that SP is involved in species chauvinism or 'speciesism,' the abitrary and therefore illicit privileging of the species one happens to belong to over other species. The objection might proceed along the following lines. "It is easy to conceive of an extraterrestrial possessing all of the capacities (for self-awareness, moral choice, rationality, etc) that we regard in ourselves as constituting descriptive personhood. Surely we would not want to exclude them from the prohibition against killing the innocent just because they are not made of human genetic material." To deal with this objection, a Modified Species Principle could be adopted:
MSP: Every member of an intelligent species, just insofar as it is a member of that species, has a right to life and therefore falls within the purview of the prohibition against the killing of innocents.
The two principles working in tandem would seem to explain most of our moral intuitions in this matter. And now it occurs to me that PP and MSP can be wedded in one comprehensive principle, which we can call the Species Potentiality Principle:
SPP: Every member of any biological species whose normal members are actual or potential descriptive persons, just insofar as it is a member of that species, possesses a right to life and therefore falls within the purview of the prohibition against the killing of innocents.
Note that I didn't bring any religious notions into this discussion. It is a bad mistake to suppose that opposition to the moral acceptability of abortion can only be religiously motivated. And if our aim is to persuade secularists, then of course we cannot invoke religious doctrines.
REFERENCE: Philip E. Devine, The Ethics of Homicide (Cornell UP, 1978).
How should we deal with offensive speech? As a first resort, with more speech, better, truer, more responsible speech. Censorship cannot be ruled out, but it must be a last resort. We should respond similarly to the misuse of firearms. Banning firearms is no solution since (i) bans have no effect on criminals who, in virtue of being criminals, have no respect for law, and (ii) bans violate the liberty of the law-abiding. To punish the law-abiding while failing vigorously to pursue scofflaws is the way of the contemporary liberal. The problem is not guns, but guns in criminal hands. Ted Kennedy's car has killed more people than my gun. The solution, or part of it, is guns in law-abiding hands.
Would an armed citizen in the vicinity of the Virginia Polytechnic shooter have been able to reduce his carnage? It is likely. Don't ask me how likely. Of course, there is the chance that an armed citizen in the confusion of the moment would have made things worse. Who knows?
But if you value liberty then you will be willing to take the risk. As I understand it, the Commonwealth of Virginia already has a concealed carry law. Now if you trust a citizen to carry a concelaed weapon off campus, why not trust him to carry it on campus? After all, on campus there is far less likelihood of a situation arising where the weapon would be needed. Conservatives place a high value on self-reliance, individual liberty, and individual responsibility. Valuing self-reliance and liberty, a conservative will oppose any attempt to limit his self-reliance by infringing his right to defend himself, a right from which one may infer the right to own a handgun. (As I argue elsewhere; see the category Alcohol,Tobacco and Firearms.) And appreciating as he does the reality and importance of individual responsibility, he will oppose liberal efforts to blame guns for the crimes committed by people using guns.
Nothing I have written will convince a committed liberal. (As I have argued elsewhere, the differences are rooted in value-differences that cannot be rationally adjudicated.) But my intention is not to try to enlighten the terminally benighted; my intention is to clarify the issue.
Persuasion and agreement are well-nigh impossible to attain; clarification, however, is a goal well within reach.
Reason, though weak, is a god-like power in us, and at the same time a power that makes us normatively human -- which is why calls for the crucifixion of the intellect should give pause if not cause a shudder of disgust.