Friday, October 12, 2007

Presentism and the Direction of Groundings

Presentism (or any other theory that's antirealist about the past), at least in many versions, does not seem to be able to make a distinction between an old universe and a new one which just recently popped into existence with all the appropriate evidence for the past already there. Consider, for instance, a view according to which current dispositions or the state of the universe plus laws of nature provide the truth makers for past-tensed statements. Now take some statement S about the distant past and the presentist's candidate for the truth-maker of S, D (some disposition or state plus laws). It seems perfectly possible that D might be part of the present time and yet S be false - that is, that D might be there and yet the universe could have been very different than it had been or at least that it had not actually existed until very recently. For instance, God could have just created the universe ten minutes ago complete with all the dispositions, laws, et cetra which the presentist takes to make true statements about what the universe was like, say, ten years ago. But of course, if God did in fact just create the universe all such statements will fail to be true. So any such proposal for the truth-maker of a claim like S is going to fail since it seems possible for the truth-maker to be there without in fact making S true.

Of course, now that I've mentioned God here, it might be suggested that God himself could provide a way out of this - God is sort of supposed to be the ultimate ground of reality anyway, so why not let some state or decision of God ground claims like S? But for almost any candidate, it seems hard to see why it would be that kind of state that does the grounding and even once we have that kind narrowed down we may still wonder why this particular state grounds the truth of some statements and not others or why God has some particular contingent grounding-states and not others. If it is something under God's control or subject to his decision then it seems we have an extreme kind of super-Calvinistic view that even many Calvinists would cringe at (though perhaps not all - even though even the staunchest probably should) and certainly it would not leave any room for moral responsibility.

The best candidate, then, appears to be God's memories. That is, God's memory that p grounds its having been the case that p. But this clearly won't work. After all, a state's being a memory that p is itself at least partially grounded in its having been the case that p. And this is incompatible with what was just said about memories grounding it having been the case that such and such. So if we do appeal to memories of God, we cannot appeal to them as memories - they must be some more basic state which, because they ground the past facts, are therefore memories since the past facts ground their even being memories. But now we are left with the same question as before as to how we are to identify such states and why God even has them. And suddenly using states of God no longer looks so much different from using any other piece of reality which we are supposed to hook up in a systematic way with the truth and falsity of past-tensed sentences.

In general, presentism and its ilk is weird because of all the required dependencies of the past on the present rather than vice versa as is most plausible. Indeed, this failing of presentism - which seems to be required since presentism only allows present things to do any grounding in the first place - is what seems to give rise to all the problems I just mentioned above. And it seems crucially connected to the problem I've noticed in this earlier post about how presentists and the like cannot allow for moral responsibility for the past.

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