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Monday, April 20, 2020

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An alternative way of viewing the issue is that the presentist denies that there is any such thing as tenseless existence but has no way to say it. In other words, "all and only what exists now exists" should be cashed out as something like "if something does not exist now, there is no sense in which it exists".

This seems like an instance of the problem Quine discusses in "On What There Is":


Suppose now that two philosophers, McX and I, differ over ontology. Suppose McX
maintains there is something which I maintain there is not. McX can, quite consistently with
his own point of view, describe our difference of opinion by saying that I refuse to recognize
certain entities.... When I try to formulate our difference of opinion, on the other hand, I seem to be in a
predicament. I cannot admit that there are some things which McX countenances and I do not,
for in admitting that there are such things I should be contradicting my own rejection of them.
It would appear, if this reasoning were sound, that in any ontological dispute the proponent of
the negative side suffers the disadvantage of not being able to admit that his opponent
disagrees with him.

DGs point is subtle.

Where does this leave the anti-realist? Can't he (or she) just insist that the presentist thesis is analytically true, and leave it at that. Leave the burden of the argument on the Realist. If there is any sense in the idea of 'tenseless existence', explain coherently what that sense is.

>>In other words, "all and only what exists now exists" should be cashed out as something like "if something does not exist now, there is no sense in which it exists".<<

You seem to be advocating presentism about existence, as opposed to presentism about what exists. You seem to be saying that to exist just is to be (temporally) present. You might mean this as a semantic thesis: the sense of 'exist(s)' is identical to the sense of 'present.'

One obvious objection to this is that it rules out by semantic fiat the existence of atemporal items, whether concrete (God, e.g.) or abstract (numbers, mathematical sets, etc.)

Don't numbers and God exist now? If you asked a Christian "Does God exist right now?" Surely he would say "yes".

Or put it another way. A presentist could take this position:

I agree that

(1) all and only what exists now exists

is a tautology, but that is not the definition of my position. The definition of my position is that

(2) present objects exist, past objects don't exist, and future objects don't exist.

(1) can be a tautology and (2) not be a tautology because (1) does not logically imply (2) since (2) references objects that are not referenced in (1)--or so I claim.

I don't think I was clear in my previous comment. I was not suggesting that God is temporal, I was suggesting that objects that exist timelessly exist at all times, including now, so my reformulations of the presentist position do not take any position on the existence of timeless objects.

>>If you asked a Christian "Does God exist right now?" Surely he would say "yes".<< Not if he believes that God is eternal as opposed to omnitemporal.

Omnitemporal: in time at every time.

Eternal: not in time.

>> I was suggesting that objects that exist timelessly exist at all times,<<

This is tricky. There are objects that exist spacelessly. Would you say that they exist at every place? Or would you say that they exist at no place? Does the set {2, -2} exist at every place or at no place?

I am inclined to say that it exists at no place and at no time.

"Does the set {2, -2} exist at every place or at no place? I am inclined to say that it exists at no place and at no time."

It's an interesting point that I'll have to think about, but does it apply to my second formulation: "present objects exist; past objects do not exist; future objects do not exist"? Since this statement only makes claims about temporal objects, it still seems to avoid the issue of timeless objects.

Dave,

You began by saying, >>the presentist denies that there is any such thing as tenseless existence.<<

But surely atemporal items, if any, exist and have their intrinsic properties tenselessly. So if you deny tenseless existence, then you are denying that there are atemporal items. You need to decide between these:

Unrestricted presentism about what exists: for any x, x exists iff x exists at present.

Restricted presentism about what exists: for any x in time, x exists iff x exists at present.

And note that if you are a restricted presentist about what exists, then you cannot be a presentist about existence. That is, you can't say the property of existence is identical to the property of temporal presentness.

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