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Sunday, May 17, 2020


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Bill, you have thoroughly convinced me that there are such strong arguments on both sides of the eternalism/presentism debate as to make it doubtful that the problem is resolvable when viewed as a real philosophical problem, but what I haven't seen is an argument that it is a real philosophical problem. You seem impatient when Ostrich has asked about this, and I know there is history to justify your impatience, but it is a question I have been hoping you would address because it is not at all clear to me.

For example, one of your arguments against presentism relies on the assumption that p can be true of x only if x exists, but it seems that someone who wants to simply eliminate the problem can assert that there is one sense of "exists" in which this is true and another sense in which it is false. For example, I could define the following:

exists1: to say that x exists1 is to say that there are true propositions that predicate something of x.
exists2: to say that a physical object x exists2 is to say that x is capable of interacting causally with other physical objects that exist2.

First, let me try to head off a couple of peripheral issues: I realize that exists1 has implications for fictional objects and self-contradictory objects and the like, and I also realize that exists2 says nothing about the existence of non-physical objects, but the point is that with enough work, it would probably be possible to define a series of exists predicates like this to support many different ontological positions.

Why doesn't this work? Why does there have to be one and only one concept "exists"? Why not take your arguments as reductios proving that there are multiple concepts of "exists"; that is, that the assumption that both presentists and eternalists are appealing to the same concept leads to contradictions?

David G,

>>Why does there have to be one and only one concept "exists"? Why not take your arguments as reductios proving that there are multiple concepts of "exists"; that is, that the assumption that both presentists and eternalists are appealing to the same concept leads to contradictions?<<

Do you want to say that each thing exists in its own unique way and that 'exists' has a different sense in 'BV exists' and 'DG exists'? Or do you want to restrict your proliferation of senses of 'exists' to types of entity?

Does God exist or not? Presumably you will say that the question that divides the theist from the atheist is a pseudo-question which can easily be dissolved by pointing out that God exists if 'exists' means 'believed-in' and does not exist if 'exist' means 'is an object of ordinary sense pe3rception.'

You seem to be saying that, if ontology tries to answer Quine's question What is there?, ontology is an impossible enterprise. Is that what you are saying?

I'm not staking out a position, Bill; I'm just asking a question that I would like to know the answer to. As a renowned expert on existence you seemed like a good person to ask.

Certain kinds such as merely possible objects, fictional objects, abstract objects, or past objects all have schools of serious philosophers who disagree on whether objects of that type exist, but who agree on the basic pre-philosophical facts about the objects, so there are no real substantive questions that would be resolved by deciding whether the objects exist or not. To me, this naturally leads to the question of whether they are using the word "exists" in the same way.

There aren't different schools of philosophy some of whom thing DG exists but BV does not, while another school thinks that BV exists but DG does not, so there is no motivation for thinking of different concepts of existence for individuals.

Also, once you decide that God does not exist, you have decided a host of other substantive questions such as that God did not create the world, God will not punish evil-doers, and such, so the method to does not apply to God, but what substantive questions are resolved by deciding whether fictional objects exist or not? I can't think of any.

This is not at all the same as suggesting that ontology is impossible (or at least, if it is, I don't see it), rather it is the suggestion that the question of whether something exists or not does not have a binary answer.

I wonder if ostrich is a high-level software engineer like I am. People who have spent a lot of time writing high-level code have an unusual perspective because of the way that we interact with abstractions. To us, abstractions are tools that we constantly invent, implement, experiment with, and discard or modify, over and over. We frequently have to reconstruct someone else's abstractions from code artifacts and sparse hints to extend or repair those abstractions. Maybe this background makes us unusually prone to modifying our concepts in response to problems rather than trying to find a way to fit the world into our existing concepts.

Thanks for kind reply.

I will try in this comment to further clarify my question and metaphilosophycal problem beyond it.

It is clear that some questions we can answer: there is self-contradictory or obviously incoherent views or just lunatic views (for example eliminativism about mind or that my chair is the Creator of the Universe).

Those are questions which we can resolve. However, there is more important and much harder questions, not only theoretically hard but with a lot of existential load (God, Soul and Freedom), which we finite minds, even the brightest among us, can't properly resolved. Here we have to make ''leap of faith'' and ''decide what to believe and how to live'' (to use Maverick own words). Or to paraphrase David Lewis: at the end of the day, when we formulate all theories and decide all burdens of all theories we are left with our own intuitions, which are, at the end of the day, our opinions.

My main metaphilosophical worry is this one: how wide is metaphysical abyss we have to jump over (to say metaphorically)?

I will try to give an example: lets assume we argue over Free Will. We agree that there is such a think as the Free Will, but one interlocutor is libertarian and other one compatibilist. They put their arguments - Consequence argument for incompatibilism and Mind argument against it.

Lets further assume that both find Mind argument wanting, even if they cannot refute it completely. Could we, in such circumstances agree, with understanding of our own fallibility, that arguments for incompatibilism, together with our sense of agency, make it more reasonable believed even if arguments for it aren't satisfy criteria for rigorous proof?

Or to put things briefly: how to weigh our evidence in metaphysics?

Of possible interest: https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2019/03/equipollent.html

Thanks, strangly, I missed this post.

This is it what I am looking for. Thank you, Cyrus.

I apologize to everyone for fussiness.

David G,

See if my latest post addresses your concern. You may also want to get a copy of Ted Sider's *Four Dimensionalism* and study the Intro and the chapter on presentism. Are you in Tucson? If so, we should meet.

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