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Sunday, February 25, 2024


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Good stuff, Mr. Bill.
I don't share your training or your glossary, being a retired carpenter by trade and home builder by profession--but that doesn't mean I don't ponder from time to time such things as you bring to the table.
Does what I think of as a "hypothetical past" even exist? "I sure wish I had done such-and-such instead..."
You might hear the old combat vet say,"I wouldn't do it again for anything, but I wouldn't take anything for it!" I suppose that's saying that the past is who we are right now.
Anyway, thank you,sir.

As you know, Bill, I am no philosopher but an historian, so while I hesitate to comment on this profound philosophical meditation on the past, I would like to make one observation. This concerns your thought that the past “has some sort of reality, and a reality “greater” than that of the merely possible. Specifically, I believe that what makes this reality greater’ is that the line that separates the past and the present is fluid, rather than fixed. By this I mean, that the past spills into the present to a greater or lesser extent and so continues to be part of what constitutes the present. When I say “greater or lesser extent,” I have in mind, on one extreme, the seemingly infinite number past events that constituted the quotidian lives of the dead, starting with pre-historic times. Whether the effects of any or some of these continue to radiate into the present is a valid question, although it seems likely that they are in fact assigned forever to pastness. On the other extreme, we have those events of the past that to one extent or another continue to constitute something of the makeup of the present. These are events of historic importance, whether recognized or not at the time of their occurrence, with an enduring impact, making for the fluidity of the line past/present. Let me cite some examples, some in the far past and some in the nearer: Constantine does not issue the Edict of Milan but rather continues the persecution of Diocletian; Charles Martel loses the Battle of Tours; General Reynolds does not arrive in time at Gettysburg, allowing the Confederate army to occupy the high ground;


I think a better way to make your point would be by saying that some wholly past events continue to have effects in the present. So it is not that the Fall of Berlin (1945) is still present, or has spilled into the present, but that that wholly past (and therefore wholly non-present) event has effects in the present. But of course there are innumerable wholly past events for which there is no present evidence. But even if there is no present evidence of a particular past event, that past event might still have contributed to the the present state of affairs. For example, think of all the votes cast for JFK in the 1960 election. Even if there is now no evidence of Joe Blow of Kokomo's vote for JFK, his particular act of voting nevertheless made a miniscule causal contribution to the present state of affairs.

This leads to the question: could the reality of past events be identified with their present effects?

Well, suppose Abelard had a single transient lustful thought about Heloise one day, a thought he did not act upon but immediately suppressed. His having that thought is a past event, but not one with any causal influence on the present state of the world.

Bill, your exposition of the relation of some past wholly events that “continue to have effects in the present” is more lucid than that of my comment. Thank you. As to what I term the “seemingly infinite number past events that constituted the quotidian lives of the dead” (your vote of Joe Blow for JFK), I think you are right in cautioning that while these, without evidence, “might still have contributed to the present state of affairs.”

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