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Thursday, April 14, 2022


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Thanks, Bill. That has clarified things a great deal, I think. You ask two questions of me:

Q1. Do I accept the notion of existence simpliciter? Yes and No. In so far as 'X exists simpliciter' appears to be a shorthand (a computer scientist's macro) for the disjunction of tensed claims 'X existed or X exists or X will exist' then I can guardedly accept it. This does seem to capture what is meant by 'listed in the final ontological inventory', does it not? But I worry that if we aren't very careful it can lead to logical mistakes. 'Simpliciter' here is a strange beast. It isn't an adverb qualifying 'to exist' for that would make 'to exist simpliciter' into a tenseless verb, and there are no such things. Nor, I think, does 'exists simpliciter' attribute a property to an item, so I cannot see 'existence simpliciter' as a concept. There is a whiff of 'grue' about it.

Q2. Do I agree that the thesis of presentism cannot even be formulated without the notion of existence simpliciter? No. I take the core intuition of presentism to be that there is nothing 'outside' the ever-changing present and that the 'spatialisation' of time is a misleading metaphor. But I think of presentism as more of an attitude than a thesis. That attitude is one of adhering to tensed language and avoiding gerrymandered terms. You say that if we stick with tensed English we won't be able to formulate the problem. I say that if we try to go beyond tensed English we will be in danger of formulating a pseudo-problem. For example, you say,

When I say that the past is real, I mean that past items exist simpliciter. I do not mean that past items exist now -- which would be self-contradictory -- or that they existed -- which would be trivial.
We differ here. Let x be an element of the past. You want to explicate 'x is real' as 'x exists simpliciter', which, you say, means something non-trivially beyond 'x existed or x exists or x will exist'. But how do we get beyond the disjunction? That remains unclear.

Our question is, How do we reconcile the reality of the past with the presentist intuition that reality is exhausted by the present, that there is nothing outside the present? By equivocating between things and ideas of things. Here is a sketch. Let IWC, IBJ, and ISH denote my idea (singular concept) of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson, and Sherlock Holmes, respectively. I categorise ideas of things in two dimensions: REAL/IMAGINARY and PAST/NOW/FUTURE:
Only those things the ideas of which I characterise as both REAL and NOW can I expect to encounter and to be able know by acquaintance. There are as it were two species of unreality, the IMAGINARY and the PAST/FUTURE. When I talk about the objects of these ideas a degree of ambiguity arises. I might say,
Winston is real but in the past / Winston was real
Boris is real
Sherlock is/was a fictional detective
All these are acceptable ways of expressing the categorisation of the corresponding ideas.


Thank you for your direct and very clear answers to my questions. You have made the right objections. Pursuing these matters will be fruitful (for me at least) and my plan is to devote stand-alone entries to (Q1) and (Q2), respectively. So stay tuned.

To provide context, I should point out that my view is that the problems that divide presentists and 'eternalists' are genuine, but insoluble. So anything I say in criticism of presentism is not to be taken as a (veiled) argument for eternalism which, I think, has its own problems.

Morning Bill. I have been trying to fit this topic into the larger one of language and reference that we have also touched on over the years (!). I look forward to your next posts.

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