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Monday, May 18, 2020


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Consider first the past. Among the gross facts not in dispute is the truth of

1) Scollay Square no longer exists.

What this says using tensed language is that

1T) Scollay Square existed but Scollay Square does not exist.

In tenseless language it goes like this:

1U) Every time at which Scollay Square exists* is a time earlier than the present time.

The reader may claim victory at this point. "You see? Two different ways of saying the same thing, a presentist way and an eternalist way. Hence there is no substantive difference between the two views."

But now consider the future. Here a substantive difference emerges. Suppose Dave is a father whose kids are slackers who may or may not procreate, but haven't done so yet. If they do, then Dave will have one or more grandchildren. If they do not, then Dave will have no grandchildren. On presentism, future temporal items do not exist* which implies that neither of the following is now true:

2) Dave will have a grandchild


~2) Dave will not have a grandchild.

On eternalism, however, future temporal items exist* so that one of the above propositions is now true. On eternalism, the future is as fixed as the past, whereas on presentism, the past alone is fixed. This is a substantive difference and not a difference in two ways of saying the same thing.

That is true. But now suppose the same argument against presentism and growing block theory. Surely we don't want to say that presentists and growing block theorists' dispute is insubstantive any more than we want to say presentists and eternalists' is.

I will grant you that if presentists believe that statements about the future are neither true nor false, this is a substantive disagreement.

I had forgotten that previous post, which I must have read since I commented on it. On re-reading it, I had the same thoughts that I expressed in my comments--that the differences you consider substantive (between reality vs. non-reality of the past) aren't obviously substantive to me. However, I can see why you would believe they are substantive, so I'm going to have to think about how to explain my reservations.

David G,.

What you have been suggesting sounds very close to the line argued by Eli Hirsch in *Quantifier Variance and Realism.* You may want to acquire that book and study the Intro and the chapter in which he responds to Ted Sider.

Among all metaphilosophical positions deflationism is - for myself - the less plausible approach.

I have to quote Kit Fine:

''I personally could not care a toss for the many arguments that philosophers have presented for thinking that certain metaphysical questions are meaningless, even if I could not see what was wrong with them. If, on a careful reflection, a question just struckme as meaningful, then this intuitive evidence of meaningfulness would far outweigh any philosophical argument to the contrary.''


You need to argue for your assertion. You and I agree that presentism and growing block theory (GBT) are metaphysically very different. Although both are A-theories, which distinguishes them from eternalism, which is a B-theory, GBT, but not presentism, allows for the existence* of past items.

It is not clear what Gudeman is demanding, but I think he is demanding to be shown a pragmatic (as opposed to metaphysical) difference between the different theories of time.


Thank you for the Fine quotation. Where does he say it?

Fine seems to be saying that if it seems to him, upon reflection, that a certain question makes sense, then he is justified in rejecting any and all considerations and arguments that purport to show that the question is meaningless or empty or pseudo, etc.

I don't buy it!

People who say things like that privilege their own point of view -- which strikes me as unphilosophical. Such a person, driven by ego and an excess of self-confidence, is unwilling to consider that he might be wrong.


You need to argue for your assertion. You and I agree that presentism and growing block theory (GBT) are metaphysically very different. Although both are A-theories, which distinguishes them from eternalism, which is a B-theory, GBT, but not presentism, allows for the existence* of past items.

I was only asserting that you and I want to deny that the dispute between presentists and growing block theorists is insubstantive, not that we all do. I was (admittedly not very clearly) challenging you to defuse the argument re: presentism and GBT.

It is not clear what Gudeman is demanding, but I think he is demanding to be shown a pragmatic (as opposed to metaphysical) difference between the different theories of time.

It's unclear to me what is meant by "pragmatic". Based on David's comments about about whether God exists, I take it to mean "existentially meaningful"; however, I'm still a bit unclear on what exactly counts as existentially meaningful.

If it's existentially meaningful that punishment is justified, perhaps an argument like the one you gave here
serves to show that the difference between presentism and GBT is existentially meaningful.

Quote is from this interview:


Bill, I'll see if I can find that book, although since I no longer have access to a university library I may not be able to.

As to my position, your suggestion that I'm looking for a pragmatic difference is a good way to put it, but I want to clarify that I'm not a pragmatist or any other species of positivist/verificationist/empiricist. My real concern has to do with the fact that you can get the identical same external appearances from very different internal models. Maybe this dialog will give you an idea of where I am coming from:

Bill: The fundamental mathematical abstraction is the set. A pair is just a set constructed in a certain way, a relation is just a set of pairs, and a function is just a relation of a certain form.

Dave: No, the fundamental mathematical abstraction is the n-ary relation. A set is just a 1-ary relation, a pair is a relation that only maps one element to one element, and a function is just a 2-ary relation of a restricted type.

Cyrus: No, the fundamental mathematical abstraction is the n-ary function. An n-ary relation is just an n-ary function mapping to the special domain {True, False}, and set is a 1-ary relation.

I claim that we are all right in thinking that our abstraction is fundamental and that it can implement the others, but we all are wrong in thinking that our preferred abstraction is uniquely fundamental. This is not quite the same as saying that our disagreement comes down to terminology because a set of pairs really is not the same thing as a binary relation, but there is a sense in which the difference is trivial; it makes no difference; it is just a matter of how you prefer to think of it.

I have an as-yet imprecise impression that certain (not all) disagreements in ontology have this character; that there are opposed pairs of ontologies where the difference is trivial in this sense--that the difference makes no difference and it can be put down to just how you think of it.


Here is one of the chapters in the book: http://cjfraser.net/site/uploads/2014/08/Hirsch-2002.pdf

Your comment above is very helpful. Your position seems very close to Hirsch. This will prove to be quite a thorn in my side.

Having made a first pass through the Hirsch paper, I can say that his claims about different concepts of ontology raise the kinds of questions I was raising, but that I don't think much of his comments on language, and especially of his attitude towards what he calls deep ontology.

In particular, his argument that the statements of the deep ontologist are false in "normal English" strikes me as just a very complicated way of saying that non-philosophical speech makes use of everyday non-philosophical ontology. This in no way discredits the work of the deep ontologists, though he seems to think it does.

It's even a bit ironic that he berates deep ontologists for using "exists" in ways contrary to everyday English while he is using the word "language" in a non-everyday way.

He also doesn't seem to take into account that the arguments of the deep ontologists may actually show that the normal everyday use of "exists" is inconsistent (which is how I think the deep ontologists tend to view their work).

The most I would say is that Hirsch has successfully argued that deep ontologists owe us a justification for their assumption that there is only once correct concept of "exists" and that they don't seem to be aware of that, or even of the possibility that there might be multiple reasonable concepts.

Quine famously told us that "Existence is what existential quantification expresses." ("Existence and Quantification" in Ontol. Rel., 97) To put that with all due scrupulosity, we must rewrite it as "Existence* is what existential quantification expresses."

I came across the following in one of my 2015 notebooks earlier. I thought you gentlemen might find it amusing:

Consider this unsound argument for a possible necessary being:

(∃x)(Fx v ~Fx) holds at every possible world (it's a theorem of first-order logic). Hence, at least one being exists in every possible world. For any concrete, contingent being and any possible world at which that being exists, the world obtained by subtracting that being is possible. Hence, a world with no contingent beings is possible. Every being is either contingent or not-contingent. Hence, there is a possible world where a not-contingent being exists. Hence, there is a possible world where a necessary being exists.

We're probably not going to deny that the laws of logic hold at every possible world. At least, this would undermine possible worlds semantics and make it hard to make any further claims about these other worlds. 

The second premise is a weak subtraction principle. All it says is that contingent beings can fail to exist without new beings having to exist. There are debates over subtraction principles, but this version seems to follow pretty much straight from what it means to be contingent.

The third premise is an instance of the law of the excluded middle.

What's wrong with this argument?

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