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Thursday, April 07, 2022

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Hello Bill,

For what makes it true now that the proposition that Caesar exists had a truthmaker? Nothing at all if presentism is true.
Is there not an assumption here that a truthmaker and the statement that it makes true must exist synchronically? Cannot metaphysical grounding occur diachronically? If yesterday Tom the tomato was green and today he is red, it seems obvious to me that yesterday's no longer extant greenness is what makes-true 'Tom was green yesterday' uttered today. The Moorean force of this outweighs, to my mind at least, theoretical quibbles over the nature of time.

Lowe tells us that "the proper name 'Julius Caesar' is perfectly meaningful, not because it now has an existing referent, but because its use is historically traceable back to a referent that did exist . . . ." Lowe mentions Kripke's causal theory of reference. It is difficult to see how there could be any historical tracing if all of past history has been annihilated by the passage of time.
This seems too pessimistic. Even if all of (wholly) past history has been annihilated by the passage of time, we are still left with present memories, documents, artifacts, etc, which have not yet suffered annihilation. It is through these that we retrace and reconstruct the past.

Hi David,

Thanks for the challenging comment. I am assuming that if a statement S is true now, then S's truthmaker must exist simpliciter, and that it does not matter what the tense of S is. So the past-tensed statement 'Tom was green,' which is true now, must have a truthmaker that exists simpliciter. Your view is that 'Tom was green' has a truthmaker, but the truthmaker is Tom's no longer extant greenness, i.e., Tom's having been green. You are not saying that 'Tom was green' is a brute truth, i.e., one that has no need of a truthmaker to be true; you are saying that it has a truthmaker but one that simply does not exist given presentism, according to which only what exists now exists simpliciter. Your view makes no sense to me. A truthmaker that did exist is nothing, and hence nothing that could serve as truthmaker.

the proper name 'Julius Caesar' is perfectly meaningful, not because it now has an existing referent, but because its use is historically traceable back to a referent that did exist -- pretty much in line with the 'causal' theory of reference advanced by Saul Kripke.
The anaphoric theory of reference rejects such causal theories entirely. David, did you not get the invite to my presentation last week on this very subject?

If the past has no share in reality, what do historians study? Will you
tell me that they study the causal traces in the present of past events?
But if the past has no share in reality, if the past is not, then those
traces are traces of nothing, and the historian is not an historian but a
student of some weird merely present things.

Even if all of (wholly) past history has been annihilated by the passage
of time, we are still left with present memories, documents, artifacts,
etc, which have not yet suffered annihilation. It is through these that
we retrace and reconstruct the past.

The correctness of these two observations, the first by you, Bill, and the second by David Brightly is evident to me, someone who trained and, many years ago, functioned as an historian. The sense of the “share in reality” of which you speak is very acutely felt in the process of historical research, and by this I do not mean reading history, but uncovering it by handling the remnants of the past, whether they be documents or other forms of evidence of which Brightly writes. For instance, I recall even fifty years hence, the sense of having come into contact with those long dead, as if they were reaching out to me from the past, their traces, sometimes their voices, distant but still palpable. The sense of a shared past is heightened as the archival researcher or archeologist digs deeper into these traces, sifting through hundreds and even thousands of documents or artifacts over the course of many weeks and months. In the search of these remnants and their rational deciphering through theory and method, the researcher allows the dead, formerly perhaps silent participants in this shared reality of which you speak, to have their continuing presence made more evident, resulting in an altered, richer present. Thus, the dead, through their traces, affect those who are living.

Vito,

Thank you for your eloquent statement about how the historian does his work. But I don't see how both my claim and Brightly's can both be true.

The evidence (documents, etc.) that the historian studies is present evidence that is taken to be evidence of actual past persons and events. To make a perfectly obvious point, the historian who discovers an old birth certificate in a dusty archive has discovered something that exists at present; he has not discovered a piece of the past. At best he infers that the document before him is the effect of past causes and thus a veridical record of a past event, a birth. The inference is nondemonstrative since the document could be a forgery. Nevertheless, the historical enterprise rests on the presupposition that most of the present evidence of the past is the causal upshot of past events. The hstorian qua historian does not question this presupposition, but a philosopher might. He might entertain the 'possibility' that the universe began moments ago complete with fossils, dusty books, and ancient ruins. That would be the end of history! -- with apologies to Francis Fukuyama.

Now you and I believe that the past is real: it is factual not fictional; it is actual not merely possible. You and I do not believe that reality is exhausted by the present and its contents (events, etc). You and I believe that reality includes both the actual past and the actual present. When I say that the past is real, I mean that it is not nothing. If the past were nothing, history and archeology would be deprived of their proper objects and the practitioners of these disciplines would be occupying themselves with merely present weird things (as I put it above).

And therefore I reject Brightly's statement. My mother is dead. Assume that when a human dies, that is the end of the person. If Brightly were right, then none of my (present) memories of my mother would be veridical. But some of them are. Ergo, etc.

And the same goes for documents that purport to record past events such as births, deaths, property transfers, etc. If the passage of time annihilates that which becomes wholly past, then the purports are vacuous: there is nothing for them to record. Not just nothing now, nothing simpliciter.

Thank you, Bill for making evident the difference between your postion and that of David Brightly, and I now grasp why you and I fall on one side, that which believes that the past is real, and he on another. You final two paragraphs above makes the essential point of the disagreement, which I initially missed, very clear to me.

Many of philosophical questions greatly interest me, although I know that I am sometimes off the mark in my understanding of them. That's why I count on you.

Vito

Vito,

My birth certificate purports to record the event of my birth which occurred on such and such a day to such and such parents, etc. For an event or process to exist is for it to be ongoing or occurring. So my birth, being wholly past, no longer exists. This does not mean it never occurred or never existed, just that the passage time brought that event or process to an end. Bill would argue that if the passage of time annihilated my birth then my birth certificate would record nothing (no real event). This could only be true under a strict and literal interpretation of 'annihilation' as making a thing (and the world) as if never existed. Elsewhere Bill calls this 'absolute annihilation'. It seems to me, however, that Lowe is operating with a weaker notion of annihilation as a bringing to an end---a mere ceasing to be rather than a ceasing to having been.

I too believe that the past is (was?) real, but I suspect my understanding of this claim differs from Bill's. Bill appears to contrast 'reality' with 'nothingness'. I contrast 'real' with 'imaginary'. We need to look into this difference of view. Arguably a blank birth certificate records no event. A falsified birth certificate records an event, but an imaginary or unreal one.

Bill,

You characterise my stance on the 'Tom was green' example as

['Tom was green'] has a truthmaker but one that simply does not exist given presentism, according to which only what exists now exists simpliciter.
I would say that in this instance I am making no commitment to presentism or any understanding of 'exists simpliciter'. Rather I am committed to Moorean facts expressed in tensed language. If we then introduce the theoretical idea of a truthmaking relation it would seem that we are forced to accept that said relation is diachronic. But this is no worse than, say, the relation taller than. Lincoln was taller than Trump (6ft4 versus 6ft3 apparently) but their lifetimes do not overlap.

David,

I worked yesterday on a response to your second-to-last comment. I am still working on it. I hope to post it today in a separate entry. It's a good discussion!

David,

Thank you for explaining your postion so clearly to me. I have been enjoying this exchange between you and Bill. You have both helped me to understand better the nuances of this question.

Hello Bill,

I have just spotted that you quote EJL as saying,

This, of course, raises the question of how we can so much as talk about Caesar now that he no longer exists simpliciter -- how we can speak about 'that which is not.'
My understanding is that 'no longer' is a marker of a tensed verb. So Lowe appears to be using 'to exist simpliciter' as if it were tensed. This leaves me somewhat confused. I'm not at all sure that 'simpliciter' adds (or subtracts) anything here. Lowe's paragraph, minus the 'simpliciter', makes sense as ordinary tensed English.

Also, further down you say,

However things stand with respect to the future, the past surely seems to have a share in reality.
Could you not have said '...the past seems to have had a share...'? Again,
The question is whether what WAS has a share in reality as opposed to being annihilated, reduced to nothing, by the passage of time. [my emphasis]
You then return to the truthmaker objection. It seems to me quite natural and unproblematic to say that the past both had a share in reality and has been reduced to nothing. Problems only appear when we say the past both has a share in reality and has been reduced to nothing.

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