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Saturday, April 11, 2020

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Brian by e-mail:

It seems to me that the presentist would be forced to reject premise (2) of your argument. You start your post with, “One cannot regret present or future actions or omissions.” If the presentist accepts this (and I cannot see why he would not), then he would conclude (note: I will omit ‘omissions’ from ‘actions or omissions’ in what follows)…

(A) If one is in a state of regret for action A, then action A is not a present or future action.

Now, we assume the presentist position to be represented as follows…

(P) All actions that are not present or future actions are non-existent actions.

From (A) and (P) it follows that…

(B) If one is in a state of regret for action A, then action A is a non-existent action.

If one accepts (B), as it seems the presentist must, then a contradiction would arise between it and premise (2) of your argument. Since (B) follows deductively from (A) and (P), and since (A) is acceptable to both positions, then (P) is the issue. But, (P) is just the position of presentism. So, your premise (2) is not consistent with presentism (as I have presented it here), and this is why I think they are forced to reject it.

Brian,

Your logic is impeccable.

But (1), (2), and (3) are inconsistent. Together they imply that some event both exists and no longer exists.

Not so, David. In each of the three premises, 'exist(s)' is tenseless. The three premises are (collectively) consistent. They are inconsistent only if 'exist(s)' is in the present tense.

Your move.

Presentists need the distinction between doesn't exist and no longer exists. Then they can reject (2) for the claim that such states have as accusatives events that used to exist (whether or not those events still exist). Whether or not they can uphold that distinction seems like a separate issue. (I can't defeat your argument, but perhaps I can collapse it into a distinct problem and at least show that you haven't added to presentists' worries with it.)

=What's more, I cannot regret a non-existent action=
=Every such state has as its accusative an event that exists=

Why not? It seems your argument might be falsified by an imaginary fault. I can feel guilt about the crime I did not really commit. It happens. So, I experience the present remorse over an event that never happened.

I agree with Brian that a presentist must reject (2). But it is not clear to me why a presentist should be hesitant to do so. The presentist simply does not agree with your assertion that "I cannot regret a non-existent action." The presentist would re-formulate this as, "I cannot regret an action that never existed." The presentist could also turn this argument around; substitute "miss" for "regret." I miss [x] that once existed but no longer existed. [x] could be a dead relative or friend, for example. But you can't miss something if it still exists. If presentism is false, my dead relative still exists. So why do I miss him/her?

Michael,

Suppose Tom has a dream in which he commits adultery. It makes no sense for him to regret having committed adultery for the simple reason that he did not commit adultery.

Is there anything here that he might regret? Suppose it is a lucid dream: he knows he's dreaming and he decides to enjoy the show. He might upon awakening regret that decision in the way a Christian might regret his entertaining (with considerable hospitality) of the thought of sexually seducing his neighbors wife.

The difference: Tom did not commit adultery; he did decide to 'enjoy the show' thereby giving nocturnal PERMISSION to a nocturnal EMISSION.

Necessarily, if S regrets having done such-and-such, then such-and-such occurred.

On presentism, only what occurs now, occurs. So presentism rules out regret. So presentism is false.

Bradley comments:

>>The presentist simply does not agree with your assertion that "I cannot regret a non-existent action." The presentist would re-formulate this as, "I cannot regret an action that never existed."<<

But he has to agree with that because it is obviously true. One cannot regret an action that is nothing at all. Yesterday, Tom kicked his cat. Today he regrets having kicked his cat. On presentism, what does not exist now, does not exist, period. It is nothing at all, and cannot be regretted.

'Tom kicked his cat' is a past-tensed contingent truth that is true now. On presentism, there is nothing that exists now to make it true. Some presentists will say that it is a brute truth unlike the present-tensed 'Tom is kicking his cat' which is obviously not a brute truth. But if the past-tensed truth is brute, then there is nothing for Tom to regret. Surely Tom does not regret the proposition the past-tensed sentence expresses or the sentence that expresses it!

It is true that one cannot regret an action that never existed. But that's irrelevant. The point is that one cannot regret an action that is now nothing at all. But on presentism, all past items in time are nothing at all. Presentism restricts temporal items to all and only those that exist at present. It cannot accommodate the reality of the past.

More later. Time now for Easter dinner. Happy Easter to everyone. After I eat my excellent dinner, I will enjoy a number of veridical memories of it, The veridicality of such memories fuels a further argument for the reality of the past.

=Suppose Tom has a dream= and so on...
No, not that simple. Suppose, I'm a sniper and shoot a militant from a distance. He falls and I understand that he is only a civilian I mistook to be a militant. I'm devastated, for real, for there is no doubt in me at the moment that I have just killed an innocent human being. But I'm wrong, I missed and tomorrow I will see through my scope the same civilian live and kicking. Or maybe I won't, because I myself will be killed ten minutes later by the enemy sniper. So, I will die with the full-blown feeling of guilt and never know that I am wrong on that matter - the event I regret so much never happened in reality.

Cyrus writes,

>> Presentists need the distinction between doesn't exist and no longer exists.Then they can reject (2) for the claim that such states have as accusatives events that used to exist (whether or not those events still exist).<<

But everyone needs, and makes, that distinction. If x no longer exists, then x existed but does not now exist. If x still exists, then x existed and exists now. If x does not exist, and we are restricting ourselves to temporal items, then either x never existed or x does not exist now. All I have done is explicate some ordinary English expressions. We all agree with these explications, right? So far ordinary language and platitudes, but no metaphysics. The presentist, however, is making a substantive metaphysical claim. He is saying, with respect to items in time, that only present items exist simpliciter. But then regret never has an object -- which is absurd. Suppose I regret having lost my temper a week ago. That event, on presentism, is now nothing. So my present regret has no object -- which is absurd. For my present regret is of an event that actually happened. That event does not have the property of being temporally present, but it does have the property of existing. Therefore, not everything that exists is temporally present. This is not a contradiction for the simple reason that 'exists' in not in the present tense.

Okay, let me try a more direct approach. Consider A*, which is a mnemonic parallel to your original, A:

1*) There exist veridical memories.
2*) Every veridical memory has as its accusative an event that exists.
3*) Every such memory has as its accusative an event that is wholly past.
Therefore
4) There exist wholly past events.
5) If presentism is true, then there exist no wholly past events.
Therefore
6) Presentism is false.

I say that I don't need an event that exists simpliciter. Memories are modifications of perceptions, which have slipped backwards in the stream of consciousness. I only need that the original perception was veridical.

Similarly, if regrets are regretful memories, then I only need that the perceptions on which those regretful memories depend were veridical. I'm not sure that regrets are regretful memories; prima facie, I can regret things which I've only heard about from others. But here is Patrick Eldridge arguing that they are. Perhaps there is some way to salvage his analysis. Perhaps, even though I feel bad about events I hear about from others, this lacks the full character of regretting. Or perhaps even reported events I wasn't present for are something "you accept . . . as something you ought to be able to recall, that under [some set of] ideal circumstances you could recall, but due to empirical circumstances [can't]", and Eldridge's reply to his "first problem" can be modified (e.g. to talk about possible memories instead of missing ones) and account for these as well. Even though I'm not sold on Eldridge's analysis, it seems like it might be a fruitful direction to look in for a reply to your argument.

Thanks, Bill, I thought as much. Let me write exist(s)* for tenseless exist(s). Then, from (1), choose a state of regret R. (2) and (3) together imply

4'. Some event E both exists* and is wholly past relative to R.
The exists* conjunct can be absorbed into the some quantifier---we are not quantifying over non-existent* events, events that never, ever happen. This leaves us with
4''. Some event E is wholly past relative to R.
Let the present moment be contemporaneous with R. The presentist claim, as I understand it, is
5'. E does not exist.
Is this inconsistent with 4''? I don't think so. If this analysis is right the presentist need deny none of the premisses.

Cyrus comments,

>>I say that I don't need an event that exists simpliciter. Memories are modifications of perceptions, which have slipped backwards in the stream of consciousness. I only need that the original perception was veridical.<<

Well, some memories are founded on (Husserlian jargon) perceptions. My memories of the Grand Canyon are founded on my visual perceptions of the Grand Canyon. You could say that these memories are causal traces in the present of past perceptions (perceivings) that, on presentism, do not exist at all now. So if a present memory is true, what makes it true is its having been caused by a past perception that WAS true.


But my memory that I was born by Caesarean section is not founded on any perceptions of mine. My mother told me I was born by C-section. She does not exist now, and the same goes for her perceptions and memories. So there is no causal chain that leads from her perceptions or those of the attending physician and nurses to my veridical memory of having been born by C-section. I suppose you could say that my present memories of my mother's telling me about the C-section are founded upon past aural perceptions of my mother's speaking to me about the C-section. But would this secure the veridicality of my present memory of having been born by C-section?

This is murky, but I see where you are going with this. I'll have t think about it some more.

Cyrus,

Can the presentist do justice to the reality of the past? It seems obvious that plenty of things happened that no one remembers and that have left no causal traces in the present. On presentism, those events are nothing at all. I conclude that presentism is false.

Example. My grandfather Alfonso either drank a glass of dago red on Jan 1, 1940 or he did not. But no one remembers, and there are no causal traces in the present either way. What happened wine-wise on that day re: Big Al is not preserved in the present. So on presentism, nothing happened. This violates the determinacy of the past.

Bill,

I don't think so, though I'm tempted to say that the ease with which we allow that no one remembers whether Alf drank dago red reveals how subconsciously naturalistic we've become. A medieval might have said that angels (with their near omniscience) remember.* Hence, if we're in evidential equipoise over the existence of angels, we should also be in evidential equipoise over whether presentists can account for the determinacy of the past in our world. (I see a possible worlds reply coming.)

(I'm defending presentism for the purpose of these threads, but I've never been a presentist. D. M. Armstrong and Peter Simons influenced me early on.)

*God is too simple to serve as truthmaker, but the angels aren't.

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