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Monday, July 09, 2018

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I shall rescue this post from its hitherto commentless existence.

“Only temporally present items exist.”

If this is a definition of ‘exist’, then it is not trivial: we have explained the meaning of ‘exists’. If it is not a definition, then it is either an empirical or a metaphysical thesis. But not empirical, for how would we scientifically establish that some existing things are not temporally present? Archeology is not enough, for that would prove only that some non-temporally present item used to exist, i.e. in the past, not that it exists now.

If a metaphysical thesis, I am challenged how you would prove it. I didn’t follow the assumption d above. SS is impossible, having perished. I suppose you could reproduce it, if it is possible to reproduce it, then it is possible but not actual.

Thanks for rousing yourself from the torpor of summer's humidity.

It is not a definition of 'exists,' nor is it an empirical claim. It is a metaphysical claim about what exists: the ontological inventory includes only present items. It is an answer to Quine's question, "What is there?"

It has the same status as the nominalist's claim that only particulars exist.

You contest (d) above: It is not the case that Scollay Square is either merely possible or impossible: what passes away does not become merely possible or impossible.

You say that SS is impossible, having perished. I concede that there is a sense in which SS, that very item, is now impossible: it cannot be restored to existence. (A reproduction of it would not be that very item.)

But I think the following are consistent:

1. It is impossible that a contingent being that no longer exists be restored to existence.

2. A contingent being that exists in the sense that it existed, exists, or will exist retains its modal status when it passes away. Socrates exists in this disjunctive sense unlike Pegasus. When Socrates ceased to exist (assuming no immortal soul) he retained his modal status: actual but not necessary.

Socrates is (in the disjunctive sense) an actual being.

Consider a past event: Tina lost her virginity last night. It is lost forever, and not even God can restore it. (Aquinas, without mentioning Tina, says this somewhere.)

Now Tina's loss of her virginity did not occur of metaphysical necessity: it is a contingent event. It is contingent then and contingent now even though one could say that, now, it possesses necessitas per accidens inasmuch as not even God can restore Tina to her intact state.

Medieval philosophers, with the exception of Peter Damian who thought God could restore virginity, thought that the past is necessary.

But suppose it isn't. Then why, according to you, is it not 'merely possible'?

'Merely possible', I take it, is possible but not actual.


Yes, 'merely possible' means possible but not actual.

'The past' refers to past items, whether individuals, events, or times. An example of a past event is Socrates' drinking of the hemlock.

That event actually occurred. So it can't be merely possible. It can't be necessary either since it might not have occurred.

>>That event actually occurred. So it can't be merely possible.

Well it was actual, but it doesn’t follow it is actual now.

>> It can't be necessary either since it might not have occurred.

That one is trickier. I shall a medieval philosophy friend, but my impression is that once it has occurred, it changes from being contingent to being necessary. I.e. it wasn’t necessary before it was going to happen, but it is necessary that it did happen, once it happened.

Can God Undo the Done?

Damian's main approach to the second question is to argue that the past cannot be undone because what God has made cannot lose its status of having been.

>> Well it was actual, but it doesn’t follow it is actual now.<<

It sounds as if you are a presentist about actuality. Are you saying that only (temporally) present items are actual?

Perhaps your view is that x exists iff x is actual; only present items exist; ergo, only present items are actual.

Tell me if that is your view.

I agree that x exists iff x is actual. (They are not the same 'property' but they are necessarily coextensive.) But I doubt that only present items exist; ergo, I doubt that only present items are actual.

Churchill is a past individual. Are you comfortable with saying that he now does not exist at all in any sense? Would it not be saner to say that he both exists and is actual now but lacks the A-property of presentness and instead instantiates the A-property of pastness?

Now think about this: Kierkegaard and Regine Olsen were engaged, but never married. The engagement is actual although past; the marriage is a past mere possibility.

Damian appears to be a man of good sense. There is no need to drag God into it.

What has come to be cannot lose its status of having been. If Trump meets the Queen, and then departs for Helsinki, his having met her majesty remains forevermore: an event no longer present but nonetheless part of the actual world.

To quote myself: "An historian is neither a fiction writer nor a speculator about the merely possible."

Is it bad form to quote oneself?

On your first point, I think that what is no longer actual, is not actual. I.e. from 'X was actual' it does not logically follow 'X is actual'.

>>Churchill is a past individual. Are you comfortable with saying that he now does not exist at all in any sense? Would it not be saner to say that he both exists and is actual now but lacks the A-property of presentness and instead instantiates the A-property of pastness?

No.

This has kicked off a furious discussion on the medieval philosophy group by the way. I am staying out of it.

>>one could say that, now, it possesses necessitas per accidens inasmuch as not even God can restore Tina to her intact state.

One member of the group has said precisely that. Necessity 'ut nunc', i.e. as of now.

It is true that from 'X was actual' it does not logically follow that 'X is actual'. But this does not by itself show that only the present is actual. For it could still be true that a wholly past individual such as Damian is actual, actual but not present.

Are you aware that there are philosophers called 'eternalists' -- something of misnomer but the going term -- who hold that what exists cannot be restricted to present items?

Leaving the future out of it, I am tempted to say that Theresa May and Churchill are both included in what exists. But of course the last occurrence of 'exists' is not present-tensed. You can't refute this view by invoking your simple logical point above.

Please provide the link the the med. phil. group.

More later. Have to watch 'Love Island'.

Can't miss that! But surely you have time to give me the link to the med. phil group.

Hello Bill,

I'm rather confused. Meyer didn't help at all, I'm afraid. It seems we are given the classes Actual, Merely-possible, and Impossible, but what are they populated with? It can't be with things themselves because then the Impossible class would be empty and redundant. I suggest we are talking about ideas of things, with the proviso that such ideas need not be realisable---they may be inconsistent, like the idea of the rational square root of two, for example. We can say an idea falls in the Actual class if it was, is, or will be realised at some moment in time. Thus the idea of Scollay Square falls under Actual and didn't change its classification when Scollay Square itself passed out of existence. In effect, we are answering Quine's question as to what exists by ascending to an atemporal realm of ideas and classifying them according to their realisation.

My guess is that some of the confusion in this topic arises because we readily slide between talking about things themselves (the presentist's modus operandi), and about ideas of things (his opponent's). The presentist prefers to talk about things themselves and when he talks about things of the past he uses the past tense. His opponent is comfortable with tenseless sentences because he is engaged with atemporal ideas. For example, if we want to say of Churchill the man that

he both exists and is actual now but lacks the A-property of presentness and instead instantiates the A-property of pastness,
I suggest this can better be expressed by saying of the idea of Churchill that it falls under Actual, was once realised but is no longer. That may be because I'm uncomfortable with presentness and pastness as properties of things, suspecting that this leads to contradictions. But the idea of a thing might be said have the property of presentness if it is realised now, or the property of pastness if it was once realised but is no longer.

David,

'Ideas' has a subjective flavor that I don't think you intend. So I'll use 'properties.'

And then we can say that the property of being Scollay Square is actual if it is instantiated at some time. One problem is that it is not clear that there is this property prior to SS's coming to be. This is the old business about haecceity properties that I cannot rehearse again now.

But if you are talking about general (multiply instantiable) properties I won't object to classifying them as merely possible, actual, and impossible. For example, the properties of being a unicorn, a horse, and a round square respectively.

But the presentist and his opponent, the eternalist, are not talking about properties but about particulars in time. So I don't think you appreciate the issue here.

>>That may be because I'm uncomfortable with presentness and pastness as properties of things, suspecting that this leads to contradictions.<<

But then you are not buying into one of the assumptions needed to get the problem of presentism off the ground in the first place.

Hi Bill,

You are right that I'm not buying all the assumptions needed to get the puzzle going. To my mind there has to be something mistaken in our thinking in order for us to arrive at such wildly divergent views. I'm guessing that we are misled by ordinary language into taking Impossible, etc, as properties of things.

But I do appreciate that we are talking about particulars. That's why I speak of ideas of things. Perhaps 'intentional object' is closer but this is a term of art that I can't confidently use. Maybe such an idea can be regarded as a unified bundle of properties. This avoids the subjective element inherent in idea. Think of it as a specification for an object. My thought is that such a bundle may itself have properties. I'm influenced here by Ed Zalta's work on encoding/exemplifying. If you tell me 'There is a rational square root of two' then I form the idea of an object that's a number, is rational, and squares to two. That's a bundle that encodes three properties. That's enough to set me searching for such a thing, maybe by working my way through an enumeration of the rationals. A little analysis reveals that such a search would be never-ending. So the property of Impossible attaches to the bundle as an exemplified property, not an encoded one. We have realised that the bundle, the representation, represents nothing.

The distinction I'm making between a thing and its idea accounts nicely for your current debate with Ostrich. Socrates himself is irreproducible after his death and dissolution. The idea of Socrates remains contingent (in my sense).

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