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Monday, May 02, 2022

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Hi Bill, That is very helpful. It highlights our differences of view and of vocabulary.

Have you understood my position? Pretty much so, though I don't see the reality of the past as located in facts about language, be it tense or reference. Rather there is space and matter undergoing endless change, including regular, repetitive motion that serves as a temporal index. Change includes the standing out (ex+sistere)and falling back of parcels of matter from undifferentiated background matter. We call this the creation and annihilation of things. We use tensed language to talk about becoming, being, and 'begoing', if I can coin that term.

So far I suspect we agree. We diverge in that you will use terms like 'existence simpliciter', 'temporal presentness', 'tenseless existence', 'being/becoming nothing' which are outside my vocabulary. I have to use them to some extent in order to engage in the rewarding activity of discussion with you, but for me it is a foreign language and I use it with trepidation. Having lived nearly three score and ten without them I wonder how they have come about. They strike me as theoretical terms, like 'electric potential', say, that have been introduced as part of a vocabulary for discussing certain seeming problems and puzzles with regard to time: Reference to the past, the truthmaker problem, formulating a non-trivial presentism, and so on. You ask,

You want to say that what is nothing now is nothing without any temporal qualification. Can you prove that? Can you refute the view that wholly past items, which by definition are nothing now, have (tenselessly) a share in reality? Can you prove that the past -- past times, past events, processes, continuants, etc. -- are simply nothing as opposed to nothing now?
No, I can't. I don't know how to use these terms. I have no idea how to assign truth or falsehood to statements containing them.

Here is a mathematical analogy. Certain problems in real analysis, for example the integration of some real function over the whole of the real line, can be easily solved by extending the function to the complex plane and employing results from complex analysis. The latter, of course, is a fully worked out theory on as firm a footing as real analysis. It contains the 'language' of complex numbers which extends the language of real numbers. But here the analogy breaks down. I remain unconvinced that the 'language' of the philosophy of time has a sufficiently well-defined semantics that truth-value assignment and inference are possible in it. What follows from 'x has tenselessly a share in reality' or 'x is nothing at all'? To the extent that these terms are poorly defined I regard them as a misuse of language. One cannot get away with this in mathematics. I would be really happy if they could be explained in terms of some kind of model, just as complex numbers can be identified with 2x2 matrices of reals, say

So I am inclined to reject what for me is new-fangled talk insufficiently tethered to the ground of everyday speech. I prefer to seek solutions for the seeming puzzles of time on an ad hoc, piecemeal basis, borrowing ideas from other departments of philosophy. Hence the tentative investigations into non-standard conceptions of reference, diachronic truthmaking relations, neo-Meinongian encoding versus exemplification, and so on.

Good discussion! Clarifying. There's a lot to say.

>>I don't see the reality of the past as located in facts about language, be it tense or reference.<<

I misrepresented you. Of the following two views, yours is the second, not the first.

1. The past is real, but what the past consists in is the present use of past-tensed sentences.

2. The past is nothing. Temporal passage -- which we both are assuming to be real and not merely subjective, right? -- reduces present items to nothingness.

So as I read you, your presentism is of the creationist-annihilationist variety, like Lowe's. That is not my view however.

Do you agree that you are committed to the proposition that the wholly past is nothing? If yes, then I ask: is the 'is' in the proposition to which you are committed in the present tense?

If you say yes, then the proposition is a tautology. All will agree that the wholly past is nothing now. Are you content to espouse tautological presentism?

If you say no, then the 'is' in the proposition to which you are committed is tense-neutral which would contradict things you said earlier.

I conclude that your creationist-annihilationist presentism is a tautological thesis. Agree?

2. The past is nothing. Temporal passage -- which we both are assuming to be real and not merely subjective, right? Yes-- reduces present items to nothingness. Yes.

So as I read you, your presentism is of the creationist-annihilationist variety, like Lowe's. That is not my view however. Yes, I find much to like in Lowe.

Do you agree that you are committed to the proposition that the wholly past is nothing? Yes. If yes, then I ask: is the 'is' in the proposition to which you are committed in the present tense? Yes.

If you say yes, then the proposition is a tautology. All will agree that the wholly past is nothing now. Are you content to espouse tautological presentism? Yes.

If you say no, then the 'is' in the proposition to which you are committed is tense-neutral which would contradict things you said earlier.

I conclude that your creationist-annihilationist presentism is a tautological thesis. Agree? Yes.

Excellent. We now agree about what we disagree about. More tomorrow.

One more point that needs clarifying. I take it you hold that reality is exhausted by temporal reality, i.e., that everything real is in time, which boils down to: everything is in time.

And then you apply presentism to the restriction to the temporal to get: Everything exists at present.

The present I will assume is for you 'nonpunctuate,' i.e., it has a short duration. Cf. William James' "specious present."

Morning Bill,

One more point that needs clarifying. I take it you hold that reality is exhausted by temporal reality, i.e., that everything real is in time, which boils down to: everything is in time. Yes.

And then you apply presentism to the restriction to the temporal to get: Everything exists at present. Yes, but see (1).

The present I will assume is for you 'nonpunctuate,' i.e., it has a short duration. Cf. William James' "specious present." Hmmm, see (2).

Notes

1. Trivially true if quantification is over what I call the NOW domain. False if over the PAST domain. Using 'exists' here as a predicate, not part of the machinery of quantification.

2. Tricky. I think it's a mistake to think of 'the present moment' as a point on some geometric 'line' of time, despite the usefulness of this idea in physics. I am with Lowe in saying the world undergoes change and one kind of change is the regular movement of the hands of the clock. Phenomenologically we live in a specious present of short but varying duration. Yet what I call the NOW domain contains things like the Earth itself that have spanned myriads of rotations of the hands of the clock.

Good morning, David.

Ad (1). I have no problem with the first and the third sentences. But please explain how there could be a PAST domain on your presentist theory. A domain is a domain of items, to use my favorite noncommittal word. Are these items entities (beings, existents)? Presumably not. Are these items beingless? Does that make sense? I take it you agree that all quantification is over a domain. Suppose the domain is the null set. Can one quantify over the elements/members of the null set?

Ad (2). The Earth has been around for some time now, and is still with us, hence it is not wholly past. So yes, the Earth is in the NOW domain. (The whole of it, or only the present temporal phases/parts of it?)

And yes, phenomenologically the only present for us is the specious, nonpunctuate, present. The issue, however, is not phenomenological but ontological. The issue is whether what exists now is all that exists.

The issue that divides endurantists and perdurantists is looming, or rather LURKING, in the background. More on that later.

Afternoon Bill,

Yes, one can do logic on the empty domain. It's not very interesting! All universally quantified sentences are true and all existentially quantified sentences are false.

Before we look at the logic of talk about PAST things let's consider FICTION things. In a detective novel there is no problem in applying quantified logic to the sentences the author gives us in order to ferret out the murderer. Ditto for those made-up situations one sometimes gets in exam questions, eg, in Law. So from a purely logical point of view I don't think the 'ontological status' of the items being talked about is relevant. Hence I can't see any difficulty applying the logic of quantification to sentences about the past. Thinking about past and present presidents of the US we can say 'Some president was taller than Trump', and we can verify the truth of this because we have historical height records.

So the past domain exists but is empty? How could the past exist but not be 'populated' with events and things?

An empty domain makes as much and as little sense as the empty (null) set. The first axiom of ZFC posits the existence of the null set. The null set 'works' mathematically, but is philosophically dubious (as I could argue).

Can on quantify over the members of the null set?

More later.

Let's put the null domain/set to one side. It's not very interesting and I'm not suggesting that the past, as a domain of discourse and quantification, is empty. Quite the contrary, it's surely getting more numerous all the time (!) I do agree that all quantification is over a domain, either explicitly declared or implicit. Suppose we have a bag of tokens. I say 'some token in the bag is white'. That would be false (and it would be useful to know that it was false) if the bag were empty.

>>I'm not suggesting that the past, as a domain of discourse and quantification, is empty. Quite the contrary, it's surely getting more numerous all the time (!)<<

Now you've lost me. I thought you said you were an annihilationist about the past. How can the number of past items increase as time passes if what becomes past ceases to be?

And so I am. The number of past items increases by one each time an item ceases to be. So we aren't counting beings, we are counting ceasings-to-be. That answer rather side-steps the question of what we mean by 'past item', but it gives us hope that this is not an impossible ask.

Further to my preceding comment. I am impressed that inference works just as well on fictional accounts, eg, detective novels, as it does on accounts of reality like newspapers and history and mathematics. This suggests that inference is a linguistic business that requires no 'connection' to reality, except perhaps in so far as it accommodates a reality in which there are individual things and events. This makes sense if we assume that language must work over all possible worlds. This world's fiction is another world's fact, and language and inference cannot depend on anything contingent to the actual world. When we say that quantification is over a 'domain' we can't mean that this domain has to be a subset of reality. What we mean is that when we say 'some x is P' or 'all x are P' we require that the set of individuals over which x ranges be well defined, else truth preservation fails. The tokens in the bag, the members of Emma's Box Hill picnic party, or the past presidents of the USA.

Earlier you asked,

So the past domain exists but is empty? How could the past exist but not be 'populated' with events and things?
I say almost the exact opposite: that the past domain is populated with events and things none of which exists. They all were but are not. The price of admission is to have ceased to be. Nor does the past domain itself exist outside of thought. If a set is 'any collection into a whole of definite and separate objects of our intuition and thought' then a set of objects of thought is presumably also a thought of some kind.

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