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Friday, March 08, 2013


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Bill says,

We seem to have agreed that Disjunctive Presentism is a nonstarter:

DP. Only the present existed or exists now or will exist.

That is equivalent to saying that if x existed or exists or will exist, then x presently exists. And that is plainly false.

Let's not abandon disjunctivism just yet. My suggestion is that the construction existed or exists or will exist isn't a proper verb and doesn't form a proper predicate. Rather it's a predicate schema in which the 'or' has sentence-wide scope. We should expand the schema as
if x existed then x presently exists, or if x exists then x presently exists, or if x will exist then x presently exists,
which is true.

Compare with the quasi-colour 'green and black' in 'I like green and black olives'.

If this is right then the tenseless '(exists)' which expands to the above construction has to be seen as a quasi-verb.

Perhaps presentism really is trivially true but this clarity is muddied by the notion of tenselessness.

More here.

>>are the atemporal and amodal notions of existence free of difficulty? This is what we need to examine.

This is the part I would like to fix on. I think Peter Lupu's argument for tenselessness is as follows. He starts with the idea of compositionality. In the expressions 'white cat', 'black cat', 'grey cat' we see the common word 'cat'. Since there is something common to the language, there must be something in the meaning, namely the meaning of the word 'cat'. Likewise, he argues, there is a common linguistic component to the expressions 'existed', 'exists', 'will exist'. Just as the notion of colour modifes the notion of a cat, so (he argues) the notion of tense modifies the notion that is common to the three tenses of 'exist-'.

As I have already pointed out, there is actually no word common to 'existed', 'exists', 'will exist', only a sequence of letter e-x-i-s-t. But let's grant his point about the meaning. Let's grant that there is a meaning or notion common to the three tenses of the verb 'to exist', and let's, following Peter, invent a verb to express it, by putting brackets around the present tense of the ordinary tensed verb, i.e. '(exists)'.

Also, if I understand him right, we can express any tensed sentence in terms of an untensed verb plus what he calls a 'temporal modifier'. Thus:

Socrates existed = Socrates (exists) in the past,
Socrates exists = Socrates (exists) in the present,
Socrates will exist = Socrates (exists) in the future.

He also claims that we can formulate a sentence without a temporal modifier. Just as we can use the word 'cat' without modifying it with a colour word, so we can use a verb without any temporal modification. Thus we can say 'Socrates (exists)'.

He then gives a version of Presentism (Thursday, March 07, 2013 at 04:22 PM), which I formulate as follows

Presentism: if x (exists) then x (exists) in the present

I've not made any claims here, except about what I think Peter is saying. If he is right, then we have defined the notion of tenselessness (namely as a notion common to all three tenses of a verb) and we have demonstrated the existence of untensed sentences.

This has the interesting implication that if it is not the case that x (exists) in the present, then x never existed nor will exist. I'm assuming that just as 'x is a white cat' implies 'x is a cat', so 'x (exists) in the past' implies 'x (exists)'. Thus, Socrates never existed, and the Antichrist never will exist.

I note that he gives different definitions of 'wide' and 'narrow' presentism in a later comment.

Bill: "So the presentist has to say that only the present tenselessly exists. "

Right, which seems to be Peter's definition that I commented on above.

(1) if x (exists) then x (exists) in the present

But then we have by ab inferiori ad superius, i.e. what is true of the species is true of the genus:

(2) if x (exists) in the past then x (exists)

which leads to all sorts of bad things. For example, from 2 and 1, a primo ad ultimum:

(3) if x (exists) in the past then x (exists) in the present

so that, denying the consequent:

(4) if not x (exists) in the present then not x (exists) in the past

Thus, given that Socrates does not exist now, Socrates never existed! Yet surely he did. Is premiss (2) correct? Well if Peter is right, and tensed verbs are in effect the combination of an untensed verb and an adverbial temporal modifier, surely it is correct. If Socrates runs quickly, then Socrates runs, and if Socrates (exists) pastly, then Socrates (exists).

Or is the temporal modifier alienans? So it would be a contradiction to say that x (exists) in the past? But then Peter's argument for tenselessness would not get off the ground. He is arguing that there is something common to 'existed' and 'exists'. But if the temporal modifier is alienans, that could not be so. There is nothing in common to gold and false gold.

Excellent comments, Ed. You're on a roll. Your argument @4:13 appears to be correct and appears to be a reductio of Peter's definition of presentism or rather of his definition of tenseless existence.

I like your example about the green and black olives. We have to be attentive to the difference between wide and narrow scope construals of such logical connectives as 'and' and 'or.'

And I agree that the notion of tenseless existence is extremely murky.

But I would insist that a condition of adequacy for any definition of presentism is that it not be trivial/tautological. Your wide scope disjunctivism doesn't satisfy this condition.


I thank you for an excellent and balanced description as well as a penetrating critique of my proposal. I think you have exposed a serious difficulty. It will take me some time to see whether there is a way around it. I am counting on taking advantage of the scope distinction I proposed in my recent post to Bill and will post something when it is ready or admit failure. In any case, thanks for an excellent and stimulating couple of posts.

Reply to Ed's objection:

On 3/9/13: 4:13 Ed posted the following objection.

I "defined" Presentism as follows:

(1) if x (exists) then x (exists) in the present.

Ed then justifies positing (2) based on "we have by ab inferiori ad superius, i.e. what is true of the species is true of the genus":

(2) if x (exists) in the past then x (exists).

(1) and (2) entail:

(3) if x (exists) in the past then x (exists) in the present.

which in turn entails the disastrous:

(4) if not x (exists) in the present then not x (exists) in the past.

Hence, Socrates never existed.

This argument is mired in confusion. Neither the Presentist nor the Non-presentist accept BOTH (1) and (2). The Presentist certainly embraces (1), either as part of the definition of their position or as a true statement that follows from such a definition. But quite obviously the Presentist would reject (2). For (2) says that what existed presently exists and this is exactly what they deny. Therefore, neither (3) nor (4) follow within the Presentist's perspective.

What about the Non-presentist? The later would embrace (2), but quite obviously would reject (1). For (1) restricts what exists to those entities that presently exist and that is exactly what the Non-presentist denies. Therefore, neither (3) nor (4) follow within the Non-presentist's perspective.

What about Ed's alleged justification to posit (2): i.e., "what is true of the species is true of the genus"?
Same as above. For the Presentist, past existence is not a genuine species of the genus (exist); that is precisely what they deny. On the other hand, for the Non-presentist past, present, and perhaps even future existence are all species of the genus (exist).Hence, they embrace (2), but reject (1).
So Ed's justification simply begs the question against the Presentist's position.


I don't think your response to Ed is successful. You are right that no presentist will endorse both (1) and (2). But I don't see how anyone could accept (1) without accepting (2). If I exist here, then I exist. If Socrates (exists) in the past, then Socrates (exists).


" But I don't see how anyone could accept (1) without accepting (2)."

The Presentist accepts (1) and obviously rejects (2). What reason do you have to say that no one "could accept (1) without accepting (2)"? What is the "could"? Is it logically impossible? i.e., (1) logically entails (2)? Surely not: for (1) does not logically entail (2). So what compels anyone, including the Presentist, to accept (2), given that they already accepts (1)?

"If I exist here, then I exist. If Socrates (exists) in the past, then Socrates (exists)."

The Presentist accepts the first sentence and rejects the second. Once again, what should compel the Presentist to also accept (2)? Are you saying that (2) is a logical truth? Surely you are not saying that, for it is not! Is it a Moorean fact? I certainly don't think so and the Presentism would deny that it is, for his very position depends on the opposite. So, again, what should compel a Presentist to accept something like (2)? So far I have not seen a good argument that would compel a Presentist to accept (2).

And may I add: I do not think I am a Presentist. I am only defending the intelligibility of the metaphysical dispute between Presentists and their opponents. And such intelligibility depends on having a neutral concept of (exist), which I think we must have anyway, if any metaphysical dispute is going to be intelligible. Once we are granted such a concept, then it is a matter of figuring out how to formulate the opposing positions so as to yield a genuine debate. Such a debate, I might add, may not ultimately require abandoning for good the intuitions behind the respective positions. But this later point requires a bit more explanation which I hope to post later.

Following this discussion has been like living on a Möbius band: you go round a circle and fetch up where you started but the world is now upside down.

Here is Markosian's opening paragraph.

Presentism is the view that only present objects exist. According to Presentism, if we were to make an accurate list of all the things that exist – i.e., a list of all the things that our most unrestricted quantifiers range over – there would be not a single non-present object on the list. Thus, you and I and the Taj Mahal would be on the list, but neither Socrates nor any future grandchildren of mine would be included. And it’s not just Socrates and my future grandchildren, either – the same goes for any other putative object that lacks the property of being present. All such objects are unreal, according to Presentism. According to Non-presentism, on the other hand, non-present objects like Socrates and my future grandchildren exist right now, even though they are not currently present. We may not be able to see them at the moment, on this view, and they may not be in the same space-time vicinity that we find ourselves in right now, but they should nevertheless be on the list of all existing things.
Although he hands over a hostage in his talk of 'unrestricted quantifiers' it's clear enough what he means by Presentism and Non-presentism and the contrast between the two, especially if we restrict ourselves to concreta.

The census form asks us to give the names of the people who live in our house. Not the names of those who used to live here (difficult), nor of those who will live here (impossible). If 'exist' functions as a bona fide tensed verb then we know by analogy with the census instruction what Markosian is asking us to do. So much is obvious, commonsense, Moorean. So why is the non-presentist unhappy that the presentist has not included Socrates on his list? (This shows there is a disagreement before either party has tried to define his position in some mutually agreeable language) The answer, according to Markosian, is that NP has theoretical reasons for including Socrates. One, apparently, is that if Socrates didn't exist then propositions about him couldn't exist either, and this, according to NP, rules out our saying true things about Socrates, which we Mooreanly do. So NP has argued himself into a tricky corner. His way out is not to abandon his theory but to elaborate it further with the notion of 'tenseless verb'. To cap this he convinces himself that the whole discussion must be couched within his own theoretical terms and insists that the P must play on the NP's ground. The P will at this point refuse the invitation and concentrate on exposing the problems with the NP's theory.

Consider this analogy to the present discussion. Rutherford tells us that the Mooreanly solid hand before our eyes is mostly empty space. How is this seeming impasse resolved? R explains that matter will be seen as solid (continuous) when viewed under visible light but discrete when viewed under much shorter wavelength radiation. This allows us to retain the meaning of our commonsense term 'solid' for our ordinary dealings with macroscopic objects in daylight. Likewise, if we are to take the NP seriously, then he has to explain how we are to live with his new tenseless verbs, eg, '(exist)', whilst keeping our old ones, eg, 'exist'. My own view is that NP faces formidable problems. Here's one: It seems that 'I (am) alive' and 'I (am) dead' are both true. So the law of non-contradiction seems not to apply to sentences using (is), and I, for one, will sorely miss it.

Sorry I missed these replies.

Peter objects to

(2) if x (exists) in the past then x (exists).

The problem for Peter is that his whole argument for the existence of the tenseless (exists) depends on compositionality. In the expressions 'white cat', 'black cat', 'grey cat' we see the common word 'cat'. Since there is something common to the language, there must be something in the meaning, namely the meaning of the word 'cat'. Likewise, he argues, there is a common linguistic component to the expressions 'existed', 'exists', 'will exist'. Just as the notion of colour modifes the notion of a cat, so (he argues) the notion of tense modifies the notion that is common to the three tenses of 'exist-'.

So I do not have to assume that (2) above is correct. Rather, my point is that Peter's defence of tenselesssness appears to require it.

If Peter is now suggesting that the temporal modifiers are really alienans, i.e. they qualify the putative tenseless 'exists' just as 'fake' qualifies 'fur' or 'dead' qualifies 'man', then he needs to explain in another way what the tenseless sense actually is. Saying that it is what is common to the past, present and future tenses of the verb will no longer do.

David: good points.

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