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Saturday, March 23, 2013

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Hi Bill,

Regarding the alleged common-sense nature of presentism, as I'm sure you know, I don't insist on that. In the paper you cite I say it's "arguably" the common-sense position and then promptly footnote Bigelow who lays out a very brief, and far from conclusive, case for the claim. That said, "What no longer exists, does not exist at all" does strike me as a platitude, at least at first hearing, and I strongly suspect that to persons untutored in metaphysics that it would be perceived similarly. Whether that has any meta-philosophical weight to it, I don't know.

When I said that existence simpliciter is the "unrestricted quantifier" sense of "exists", I meant that it refers in a generic way to the entire inventory of reality, whatever that happens to be. So it only ranges over, e.g., past items, if there happen to be past items. Likewise, it only ranges over atemporal and merely possible items if there happen to be such things. Thus, to say that X exists simpliciter is to say that the inventory of reality includes X. Similarly, to say that, necessarily, something exists simpliciter iff it exists now is to say that the entire inventory of reality is exhausted by present things. Or, to put it another way, that nothing in the inventory of reality is at a temporal distance from anything else.

Regarding your ES and P, I wouldn't put the "df" where you put it. Rather, I would say something like

Presentism =df. Necessarily, (∀x)[(∃y)(y=x) iff NOW(y)]

That is, necessarily, everything in the inventory of reality is identical to something present.

Alan,

I should think that 'What no longer exists does not exist at all' does not follow immediately from 'What no longer exists does not exist now' unless the former sentence is but a stylistic variant of the former. Would you buy that?

Thank you for your definition of 'presentism.'

Two questions. Your defn. includes the temporal indexical 'now.' But you don't want to say that an item exists iff it exists at the time of the tokening (in thought or speech) of the quantified formula. How do we formulate presentism so as to rule out SPM?

If you say that 'NOW' names the irreducible A-property, presentness, the problem remains because 'present' is also indexical is it not?

Second, how are '=' and the 'is' in 'y is NOW' to be read? Not as present-tensed, presumably.

Thank you for your patience.

Bill,

I agree with what you say regarding 'What no longer exists does not exist at all'.

Regarding the indexicality of 'now', I think of indexicals as linguistic devices for singling out one item from among a field of other possible referents. 'Now' functions as an indexical when we have something like a "timeline" in mind and want to single out one point on that line as our primary reference point. But since I reject the literal applicability of the timeline metaphor (i.e., I don't think reality is stretched out, as it were, along a temporal dimension), I want to say that when 'now' denotes the irreducible A-property of presentness then it is not an indexical. In other words, it's not being used to single out 'this' time from among a bunch of other times, as though there was a possible confusion on the matter and we wanted to clear that up. Rather, presentness is as immediate as the qualitative 'feel' of conscious experience. Just as my immediate self-awareness is a prerequisite for my indexical use of 'I', so presentness (which we encounter in our immediate awareness of Being, if you will) is a prerequisite for the indexical use of 'now'. To use 'now' indexically we have to first reify the already present contents of memory and anticipation into a timeline. We can then imaginatively extend the timeline and indexically locate other thing on it (like Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon).

My position is not temporally solipsistic because I affirm the present reality of memory and anticipation, or their objective analogues, trace and propensity. Past events do not exist simpliciter, but it is a present fact that they did exist when they were present.

The '=' and 'is' are to be understood absolutely, the same way that 'existence simpliciter' is. That is, we aren't to consider it from a temporally or spatially situated standpoint, but from the standpoint of the whole. So you're right, they aren't present-tensed.

I've been teaching the Presentism/eternalism debate this semester and I was very surprised to discover that not one of my students (7 total) found Presentism to be common sense. In fact, I had a hard time just trying to get them to see its plausibility. They all leaned towards some version of non-Presentism. It was only after explaining some of the difficulties with eternalism that they began to consider Presentism to be a live option.

And like Bill, I can honestly say that I don't have a firm position either way.

David

>>I am having trouble understanding what what this tense-neutral use of 'instantiate' amounts to. But this may only be a problem for me and not for Rhoda's theory.
<<

I think this is similar to the problem I suggested a few posts back. We can introduce talk about 'being in the domain', or 'falling within the range of a variable' or 'instantiating'. But there is still the problem of whether a verb-phrase like 'is in the domain', or 'falls within etc.' is tensed or not. If it is tensed, there is the problem of triviality. If not, then what is this tense-neutral sense.

David Alexander,

Thank you for that observation. I don't think any of the main positions in the philosophy of time are supported, or refuted, by common sense. Only the 'crazy' positions are ruled out by common sense, e.g., 'pastism': the past alone is real. To exist is to be temporally past.

>>ES. X exists simpliciter =df (Ey)(x = y).

I don't think this is going to work. Note that an existentially quantified state Ex Fx is only true if we can substitute a referring term e.g. 'a' as an argument, and if 'Fa' is true. But if so, 'a' must refer to something in the domain. Then you have the problem of whether 'is in the domain' is tensed or not. If it is tensed, then 'exists simpliciter' = 'exists now'. If not, then your definition is circular. You need to define the notion of being in the domain simpliciter as opposed to being in the domain now, yet that was what you set out to define.

Alan,

What you say at 8:18 is fascinating.

>>To use 'now' indexically we have to first reify the already present contents of memory and anticipation into a timeline. We can then imaginatively extend the timeline and indexically locate other thing on it (like Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon).<<

This seems to imply that 'now' can be considered an indexical on a par with 'here' and 'I' (the first-person singular pronoun)only if we make a mistake, namely, the mistake of spatializing time and thinking of time as a line the ponts of which are all equally real. Hence the common calssification of now' as a emporal indexical presupposes a false theory of time.

Suppose I say 'I am hungry now.' You are denying that this occurrence of 'now' picks out a position in the B-series. What 'now' designates is a property (temp. presentness) irreducible to a B-relation.

I am hungry now = My being hungry now is temporally present.

But then there is that pesky 'is' on the RHS, which cannot be present-tensed.

You have given me something to think about.

>>Rather, presentness is as immediate as the qualitative 'feel' of conscious experience. Just as my immediate self-awareness is a prerequisite for my indexical use of 'I', so presentness (which we encounter in our immediate awareness of Being, if you will) is a prerequisite for the indexical use of 'now'.<<

You are of course not confusing temporal presentness with phenomenological presentness, but is it really the case that we encounter temp presentness in our immediate awareness of Being?

I am immediately aware of my lamp: the lamp is phen. present to me. The lamp is also given as now present to me. But couldn't the nowness just be the simultaneity of the lamp and my seeing of it?

In other words, is it phenomenologically evident that the irreducible A-property of temp presentness appears? Or can what is given be just as well be construed as a property reducible to a B-relation?

Regarding the distinction between temporal and phenomenological presentness, they are closely related, even though not identical.

In the first place, whatever is phenomenologically present to me is, ipso facto, temporally present to me. Indeed, the basic notion of temporal presentness is an abstraction from phenomenological presentness in which we bracket the "feel" and conceive of just the immediate relatedness of two things, their presentness to each other. This is in Peirce's category of Secondness. The phenomenological "feel", which we're bracketing, is in his category of Firstness. If then add a dynamic component, conceiving of the present as reflecting the past and pregnant with the future, then Peirce's category of Thirdness enters the picture. In fact, to speak of "adding" a dynamic component is misleading. Peirce would insist that the initial experience of phenomenological presentness is already laden with Thirdness. Because phenomenological experience is persistent, even if only for a fleeting moment, it too contains aspects of memory and anticipation. James, you may recall, famously tried to capture this in his notion of the "specious present".

So temporal presentness, at least as I (following closely on Peirce) understand it, is a fairly 'thick' notion. Not quite as thick as phenomenological presentness since we're abstracting from the qualitative "feel", but still an immediate, dynamic relatedness of things, a relatedness that we encounter in phenomenological presentness.

I note in closing that the objection to presentism based on the theory of relativity in effect denies that there is any immediate, dynamic relatedness of things because the speed of light, supposedly the upper threshold for all dynamic interactions, is finite. Needless to say, I don't buy the relativity argument for reasons given by, among others, your friend Quentin Smith.

>>In the first place, whatever is phenomenologically present to me is, ipso facto, temporally present to me.<<

I am now remembering a (wholly) past event. The memorial acts are of course transpiring in the present. But the object of the act, the event remembered, is not temporally present. It is temporally past and yet phenomenologically present. Is this not a counterexample to your thesis?

Second, if temp presentness is an irreducible, monadic A-property, then why do you write, "temporally present to me"? Nothing can be phenomenologically present without being present to a subject. Not so if we are talking about temporal presentness. Temporal presentness does not require a 'dative of manifestation,' a subject to whom the temporally present is present.

>> Temporal presentness does not require a 'dative of manifestation,' a subject to whom the temporally present is present. <<

Agreed. Good observation, Bill.

>> I am now remembering a (wholly) past event. The memorial acts are of course transpiring in the present. But the object of the act, the event remembered, is not temporally present. It is temporally past and yet phenomenologically present. Is this not a counterexample to your thesis? <<

Interesting question! I will have to think on this a bit. Offhand, I tentatively propose that what is phenomenologically present in remembering is not some past event E, but an experience of seeming to remember E. If there is (or need be) no phenomenological difference between veridical and false memories, then what makes an apparent memory a genuine memory has got to be something external to the phenomenology.

Edward,

Thanks for pointing out the circularity. I should have dropped the "df" and any pretense of defining existence simpliciter. The concept is (simpliciter!) analytically basic.

>> Offhand, I tentatively propose that what is phenomenologically present in remembering is not some past event E, but an experience of seeming to remember E.<<

I thought you would say that. Would you say that if you were perceiving a present event that what is phenomenologically present is not the event but the seeming to perceive it?

Phenomenologically, perception purports to reveal the thing itself, e.g., the cat or the cat's jumping. When veridical, it does reveal the thing itself. I think it is the same with memory. My memory of meeting you in Las Vegas purports to reveal a past event, not a present apparent memory of a past event. Since my memory of meeting you in Sin City is veridical, it was you and my meeting you that the memory reveals.

Such is the mystery of memory. It seems to bring us back to the past. That, I suspect, is what fuels the notion that past times and events and individuals exist though not presently.

>> Would you say that if you were perceiving a present event that what is phenomenologically present is not the event but the seeming to perceive it? <<

I'm tempted to answer in the affirmative here, for the same reason I gave in the memory case, namely that it seems possible that veridical and false perceptions could be phenomenologically identical, thus the veridicality of genuine perception must consist in something external to the phenomenology.

But I also sympathize with your intuitions regarding memory and perception. I understand where you're coming from and wish I had something more convincing to say in my own defense.

In my "Presentism, Truthmakers, and God" paper I offer an analogy that may or may not be helpful. I'll embellish to make it a bit more interesting. Imagine that some long-forgotten inventor back in 49 BC, or thereabouts, had developed what today we would call a Polaroid camera. He happens to be in the right place at the right time to snap a photo of Caesar's crossing the Rubicon. He snaps a photo. Now imagine that the photo has somehow survived in pristine condition until the present day, when it is discovered in some hitherto unknown vault under the Vatican. Now, I want say that this photo is "of" or "about" the past event that is Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon, even if no one today recognizes it as such. Further, I want to say that it's being veridically "of" or "about" that past event does not require that that event exist (simpliciter). It only requires that the event have existed and that the photo have been appropriately caused to have the features it now does by that event when it occurred. I would like to understand the veridicality of memory in much the same way.

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