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Friday, May 15, 2020


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Bill, is there any the room within the debate for a version of presentism that places these mysterious truthmakers for true statements about the past within a realm of abstract objects? Here is the motivation: Some presentists (Ed Feser, for instance) allow for the existence of eternal (non-temporal) entities, and they clarify that their doctrine that only presently-existing entities exist simpliciter applies exclusively to temporal entities. This doesn’t appear unreasonable; would we want to define presentism in such a way that prohibits classical theists or Platonists from being presentists? I don’t think so. So let’s accept this stipulation for the sake of argument.

But having allowed for eternal (non-temporal) entities, can the presentist thus find a solution to the problem? Perhaps, for every true statement, there exists an abstract object that serves as the truthmaker for that statement (yes, I am aware that this implies a radically revisionist philosophy of the truthmaking relation). Thus, ‘Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in 1865’ is true because there is an abstract object that appropriately “records” Abraham Lincoln having been assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in 1865.

Note that this proposed abstract object does not exist in the past, nor does it even exist in the present, but rather exists timelessly and eternally, as does any other abstract object.

What kind of abstract object could serve as such a truthmaker? It would seem it would need to be internally structured so as to appropriately “fit” the true statement about the past that corresponds to it. There would be an abstract-Lincoln, an abstract-Booth, an abstract assassination event, and some kind of “time stamp” that indexes this occurrence to 1865 (but once again, while the abstract object is “time stamped” to 1865, this abstract object does not exist in 1865, but timelessly and eternally).

Summing up: Abraham Lincoln does not exist, John Wilkes Booth does not exist, and the event of the assassination does not exist. But an ersatz abstract object that encodes this past event exists eternally, and serves as the truthmaker for the true statement, ‘Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in 1865.’

Plausible? Or nonsense? I can anticipate objections: it is unclear what the relationship is between the concrete Lincoln and abstract-Lincoln that forms a constituent part of my hypothesized abstract truthmaker. Also, one might worry that this is simply the wrong kind of truthmaker, for statements about the past are obviously about temporal entities, and not obviously about eternal entities.

Two more clarifications: these hypothesized abstract objects would not be propositions, since propositions are truthbearers in need of their own truthmakers. Rather, they are ersatz abstract truthmakers, if there is any room in one’s ontology for such a thing. Second, I am aware that this view would imply a form of fatalism, as it would be true from all eternity that Lincoln would be assassinated by Booth in 1865.


Interesting suggestions. Hope to discuss later.


Something like this has been proposed in the literature under the rubric 'ersatz presentism' or 'ersatzer presentism' by T. Crisp and C. Bourne and others.

To paraphrase Bourne, A Future for Presentism, Oxford 2006, p. 52: We all agree that Socrates taught Plato, i.e., that the proposition that Socrates IS teaching Plato was, at some time, true. So far, so good. But then Bourne says that we should take the 'i.e.' seriously and say that what makes it true that Socrates taught Plato is the existence of an abstract proposition that states that this is the case for some time in the past.

We are being told that the truthmaker of a past-tensed truth about concrete individuals in time is an abstract object outside of time! I find this preposterous.

First of all, if a sentence has a truthmaker, then what the sentence is about either is or is a constituent of the truthmaker. Call this the Aboutness Constraint on T-making. For example, 'Trump is inarticulate' is about Trump and owes it truth in part to the existence of Trump. In the case of 'Trump exists' it appears that the T-maker just is Trump. In this case what makes the sentence true is identical to what it is about.

Why should it be different with 'Kennedy existed' or 'Ruby shot Oswald' or 'Socrates taught Plato'? The latter is plainly about Socrates and Plato. Those individuals are constituents of the T-maker of the sentence. It is obvious that the sentence is not about any abstract object.

Truths about the past need to be made true by past items Therefore, a past-tensed truth about concrete individuals cannot have an atempotal T-maker. It also follows that nothing concrete in the present can serve to make true a past-tensed truth. Napoleon left his mark on the world. But those marks, leavings, causal traces, monuments, etc are not what truths about Napoleon are about. So, on presentism, these truths are about nothing. So much the worse for presentism.

To the Aboutness Constraint I would add the following:

If a truth needs a truthmaker, and that truth is about one or more concreta, then its truthmaker must either be or have as constituents one or more concreta.


Do you take the debate between truthmaker theorists and deflationists to be decidable in favour of truthmaker theory?


Tell me exactly what you mean by deflationism.


I was thinking of Paul Horwich's minimalism, but any deflationary theory of truth would suffice.

Flipping through my copy of Truth, Horwich defends against various objections by conceding that truths correspond to reality. So, he doesn't contradict the core truthmaking intuition. So, never mind.

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