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Sunday, June 09, 2019

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Bill,

You seem to be saying that there is a common sense intuition that it is better to be Julius Caesar (example of a 'has-been') than to be Sherlock Holmes (example of a 'never-was'), merely on the grounds that JC existed and SH didn't. I'm afraid that's a bit too subtle for my common sense. Rather, I suspect that the widely-held intuition in this vicinity, as your examples suggest, is that it is better to be able to look back on a life of incident and achievement than otherwise. But this is a matter of human psychology and has little to do with our understanding of time.

You say,

...what was has an ontological status superior to that which never was -- which has no ontological status at all.
As an instance of this general claim let's take,
Julius Caesar has an ontological status superior to that of Sherlock Holmes.
How might a presentist interpret this? I don't think we can read it as ascribing a property to objects, or as setting objects in some relation. We must be mentioning the names here rather than using them. We seem to be reminding ourselves that 'Julius Caesar' names a long gone historical personage whereas 'Sherlock Holmes' names a character in a work of mere fiction, and the former outranks the latter in 'ontological status'. What can we find in the present that makes this true? Both names are known only by description and each of us knows a rough biographical account of each man. I suggest that 'ontological status' attaches to these accounts. In the one case we know that there once was a man that matched the account and in the other case we know there never was such a man. Our understanding of time is not independent of wider philosophical considerations.

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