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Sunday, May 10, 2020

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As I pointed out a few posts ago, we can study the reformation, or the dissolution of the monasteries. Why should this be any problem for anti-realism? I keep repeating this like a mantra: if you think there is some problem, say what the problem is. Say what you think the anti-realist claims, say what is wrong with it.

>>the dead man must in some sense exist if he is to be an object of ongoing study via photographs and other documentary evidence <<

Why?

I have explained all this in great detail to my satisfaction, but not to yours. We'll have to leave it here and agree to disagree.

True philosophers should never "agree to disagree", for philosophy is not about agreement or disagreement. It is about establishing what clearly stated proposition is the subject of disagreement, and what grounds or evidence would justify the statement or not.

You still haven't provided a clear statement of what your version of presentism is supposed to be, for example.

You quote Dummett. "On presentism, the (temporally) present alone exists and "the past, as the past, retains no existence whatever"".

Yet you agree with me that Oswald no longer exists, ergo has (now) no existence whatever. That apparently makes you a presentist!

You have said that Oswald 'tenselessly' exists, but when challenged as to the meaning of 'tenselessly exists', you said it means 'simply exists' (see last post. This makes it no clearer. If Oswald no longer exists, does he still 'simply exist'?

Argument from history is interesting argument against presentism.

If I understand it proper it says: it is beyond dispute that we study past by remains of the past - this is epistemological question; but, more or less faithful to those remains, we build theories on past events, persons, processes etc.

Our sentences aren't about remains of the past persons (events, etc) and mentions of past persons in written records but past persons as such. But, if our propositions about past persons are true, we have to ground them. What is the best ground for truths about past persons? Past persons themselves, say permanentist. Therefore, persons from the past exist and presentism is false.

Is this faithful presentation of argument?

Milos,

You understand me quite well. Assertions made in the present about wholly past persons and events are about those persons and events, and not about anything present, including the documentary and other evidence from which we learn about the past persons and events.

It is built into the very sense of an assertion about the past that it is about past items, and, if true, then made true by something that exists but does not exist in the present.

But all I am doing above is mounting a powerful objection to presentism and issuing a challenge: how do you, presentist, account for the reality of the past? Or do you deny the reality of the past? I am not trying to prove any tenseless theory such as eternalism. For my deepest suspicion is that all theories are inadequate and that the underlying problems, though genuine, are insoluble by us. Of course, I do not dogmatically assert this metaphilosophical claim.

Bill, one day I would love to read an extended treatise from you defending precisely this metaphilosophical claim. Perhaps saying all philosophical problems are insoluble is a step too far, but I am quite drawn toward the idea that time uniquely transcends the feeble capacity of discursive reason. What would be interesting is a “critique of discursive reason” that definitively demonstrates, from the standpoint of discursive reason, why discursive reason cannot sufficiently articulate the nature of time (or Being, or individuality, or what have you), thus drawing the boundaries of discursive reason from within, so to speak. Do you have such a project in the pipeline?

By the way, such a project would go a long way towards silencing those critics such as Ed Feser who try to back you into a corner and force you to affirm another theory of time - eternalism, moving spotlight, or some other idea - while you point out the paradoxes of presentism. It’s blatantly obvious to me that they misinterpret your project, for you are gesturing towards the antimonies that inevitably arise when discursive reason entertains any theory of time, full stop.

I should think that once the presentist has been backed into the corner of defending surrogacy or ersatzism he has lost the game. Rather, he should say that the anti-presentist argument goes off the rails at stage (5), that the inference from (3) and (4) to (5) fails. Here is an analogous and even shorter anti-presentist argument: My father is wholly past, and according to presentism the photo I have of him is a photo of nothing. But the photo clearly is not of nothing, ergo presentism is false. Now, I don't think anyone would make this latter argument, perhaps because we understand how a photograph captures a moment in time. But suppose that a photo's being of something is relevantly analogous to a sentence's being about something. Then just as 'This photo is of nothing' doesn't follow from 'this photo is of my father' and 'my father is nothing' so ''Ruby killed Oswald' (S) is about nothing' doesn't follow from 'S is about Ruby' and 'Ruby is nothing'.

This comment is somewhat off-topic but is brought to mind by the present example. A bystander at the shooting might well have immediately cried out 'Someone shot Oswald'. This fact comes into the world ready-made in the past tense. Only later did we find out that the perpetrator was Ruby and that he succeeded in killing Oswald. Two questions here: Can the truthmaker objection be brought to bear on this sentence? and Why would the bystander naturally use the past tense?

EGP,

>>one day I would love to read an extended treatise from you defending precisely this metaphilosophical claim.<< That's the book I am working on right now. But it is slow going since the first-order questions I deal with are from the toughest areas of philosophy: time, existence, death, God.

>>By the way, such a project would go a long way towards silencing those critics such as Ed Feser who try to back you into a corner and force you to affirm another theory of time - eternalism, moving spotlight, or some other idea - while you point out the paradoxes of presentism. It’s blatantly obvious to me that they misinterpret your project, for you are gesturing towards the antimonies that inevitably arise when discursive reason entertains any theory of time, full stop.<<

I am happy to see that you have understood me so well. The trouble with almost all contemporary analytic philosophers is that they assume that there has to be a true theory of time, say, or a correct answer to some specific question. For example, B-theorists say that real time (alluding to Mellor's title) is exhausted by the B-series while A-theorists deny this. (Presentists are only one group of A-theorists, spot-lighters and growing blockers are also A-theorists.) And so the B-theorists and the A-theorists battle each other. And it goes on and on with no resolution. It does not occur to either party that both schemes are untenable. And so someone like Feser thinks that by blasting away at some tenseless theory and showing its drawbacks, he can support his favorite tensed theory, which is a version of presentism. But that is false if both competing theories are untenable. Or he thinks that if I point out a flaw in presentism, that I therefore must embrace some tenseless theory such as Sider's four-dimensionalism. But that is a non sequitur based on the false assumption that one of the competing theories must be true. More later.

EGP,

Please contact me by e-mail (or message me on FB) so that I can learn who you are. I promise not to 'blow your cover.'

I distinguish between philosophy as worldview and philosophy as inquiry. Ed Feser is a worldview philosopher in the sense that he has his worldview (trad. Roman Catholicism underpinned by Aristotelico-Thomistic philosophy), and accordingly he sees his task as articulating and defending that worldview against all comers. He does it very well. He is a master of clear exposition and he is up to speed on current controversies and current literature. His task is essentially apologetic. And so he takes sides. So if someone casts doubt on his Aristotelian presentism, say, then he sticks up for his side and does battle with the guy he takes to be on the other side, even when the other guy is not pushing a worldview but is merely trying to understand the underlying problems in all their depth and complexity.

EGP,

>>I am quite drawn toward the idea that time uniquely transcends the feeble capacity of discursive reason. What would be interesting is a “critique of discursive reason” that definitively demonstrates, from the standpoint of discursive reason, why discursive reason cannot sufficiently articulate the nature of time (or Being, or individuality, or what have you), thus drawing the boundaries of discursive reason from within, so to speak.<<

As I said, I am pleased to meet someone who understands what I am driving at. I am struck by the infirmity of discursive reason when it comes to the treatment of problems which are genuine (or at least not obviously pseudo) and yet have never been solved to the general satisfaction of the best and brightest. But can it be definitively demonstrated from within discursive reason that this faculty cannot solve the problems that it faces? I fon't think so. My working hypothesis is that the core problems of philosophy are all of them genuine, some of them humanly important, but none of them soluble. Suppose this is true. Now the problems of metaphilosophy are among the core problems of philosophy. So the working hypothesis applies to them as well. It follows that the problem of whether or not the problems of philosophy are soluble is itself insoluble. Thus I cannot demonstrate or prove that my hypothesis is true. But while I cannot prove it, it is reasonable to believe, and supplies an explanation of the indisputable facts that the problems have not be solved to the general satisfaction of competent practitioners. They haven't been solved because they cannot be solved.

Surely Ed knows this, and simply denies this is the state of philosophy. . . I mean, I think you even pointed it (the metaphilosophical difference) out to him in your previous discussion, when he made a similar kind of complaint to his recent one. He also reads your blog. (I was surprised Ed bothered to even write the relevant part of his recent post.)

3) On presentism, the (temporally) present alone exists and "the past, as the past, retains no existence whatever . . . ." (Michael Dummett, Truth and the Past, Columbia UP, 2004, p. 52)

4) That Ruby killed Oswald is not about anything that exists at present. This is because Ruby and Oswald are wholly past individuals.

5) That Ruby killed Oswald is not about anything at all. This follows from (3) and (4). So much the worse for presentism unless it can find a way to uphold and do justice to the reality of the past.

David Brightly says that the inference from (3) and (4) to (5)
fails.

>>My father is wholly past, and according to presentism the photo I have of him is a photo of nothing. But the photo clearly is not of nothing, ergo presentism is false.<<

I'd say that there is an equivocation on 'nothing.' It could mean 'no representational content' or no thing in reality. A picture of David's dead father is of course a picture of a man in that it represents a man if it represents anything. But the picture does not represent a man in that there exists no man in reality that it represents.

Similarly with 'Ruby killed Oswald.' Given that the sentence is true, it has to represent two individuals that exist in reality beyond the representational content of the sentence.

So I say that the inference from (3) and (4) to (5) succeeds.

Hello Bill,

We can agree that neither the photo nor the sentence is empty of content.

You say that the presentist is obliged to allow that the photo represents nothing because no man in reality looks like the man in the photo. I think the presentist can say the photo represents (re+presents) my father on a certain day in his life, and that the photo did so as long as my father existed, and beyond. His becoming wholly past hasn't changed what the photo represents. The photo is a true image of my father---it hasn't been tampered with in any way---and will remain so until it itself ceases to exist. Likewise, the presentist can say that sentence S represents an event on a day in the past (it's past-tensed) and that S is true in that the represented event occurred and the individuals involved existed. That the event is no longer ongoing and its participants no longer extant doesn't change what S is about.

Perhaps we can reword S as 'There was a killing, K, of Oswald by Ruby'. Then the problem for the presentist is to explain how this can be now true given that the names now have no extant referents.

Thank you Bill; I sent you an email. Hopefully it didn’t get caught in spam.

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