Monday, November 12, 2007

Why Essential Indexicals Are Really Essential: The Case of Tensed Thoughts

For my dissertation, I've been thinking a lot about essential indexicals and related phenomena and wondering if we could come up with an actual argument that would show that they or some other sort of "perspectival" element sare essential for us rather than merely appealing to intuitions gleaned from thought experiments with grocery carts and ripped bags of sugar. Like most things in philosophy, it probably won't be a knock-down, prove-it-once-and-for-all sort of argument, but that's okay - it still needs to be done. Here's my first pass at such an argument as it relates specifically to temporally perspectival (tensed) thoughts (note that it is extremely rough and a lot of the discussion is oversimplified or not spelled - these are just quick notes I typed out on my computer and in need of polishing over the next few months):

Why do we need tensed representations (count representations which pick out a time via indexicals, demonstratives, first-person representation, etc. as tensed for my purposes here)? Assume we only had tenseless representations. To have these, we need to explicitly represent times in all our representations of what is the case at a time (or times). So when it is some time t, we need a representation T represents t and, to get us to act at the right time, T needs to get us to do at t the actions to be done at t. Two things are needed here: T must be about t and T must in ordinary circumstances only and almost always cause the appropriate actions at t (or t+1). Consider these requirements in reverse order.

For the latter to happen, T must either only show up at all at t or only show up in a certain way at t (say, in the right functional “box”). How would a system, however, acquire such a T? Inference cannot fully explain this since T must either be inferred from a tenseless or tensed representation. As a matter of logic, a tenseless representation cannot follow from a tensed one. And as far as following from a tenseless one, that (or those) would be the T needing explanation. To constantly keep track of the time, T must be something like one syntactic “date” in a system of dates coordinated with actual times via some kind of clock-ish system.

It looks like such a clock system is required if we are only going to used tenseless representations to get us to act. But now that we have the beginnings of an explanation of how the system acquires T, we need an explanation of the semantics for T and the system of temporal representations associated with it, governed by the internal clock. Either the semantics for this system is determined via description or it is not. If it is, then one option is that it is through determining one time via description and then the other times by their relations to this one time. The other option is that they are interdefined in some way.

If it is determined via description in the former way then the only way to do this is by describing events that occur at that time (or using a description of that time which describes it as coming before or after to a certain degree the events of another time). This will involve either a purely qualitative description or else some sort of description involving using a rigidly-designating name of an event (or indexicals – but that’s not allowed). If it’s purely qualitative then there’s no guarantee that we’ll pick out a specific time or even the right time (we might get the description wrong or more than one time could fit it). And that’s bad if we want to act at the time represented. If, on the other hand, it uses the mental concept of an event then either we are directly hooked up to the even with reference not being determined by description or the reference is in fact by description. If by the latter, we have the same problem over again. The former, however, seems unlikely – how would we get hooked up in this way with a specific particular event without some indexicalish phenomena going on?

It looks like determining the semantics of the system via determining the reference of one representation via description won’t cut it. How about if it’s more holistic? Here we have an even greater chance of being off since, given that the syntactic times are all interdefined and will presumably involve descriptions of what goes on at some or all of the times being represented. The problems with specificity might be better but the chance of error is increased.

If, however, the reference is not determined via any sort of description then we have the same problem as with referring to events – it looks like this requires the use of some kind of indexicalish activity. Since these seem to be the only options for getting us to act in a timely and appropriate way using tenseless representations alone and they either do not work or end up involving tensed representation, it looks like we really do need tensed representation.

Explanations of why we need other sorts of perspectival representations are going to be similar (perhaps including first-person and phenomenal concepts).

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Yet More Outside Discussions

Two more discussions going on with Alan Rhoda over at his blog:

Click here for our discussion over whether God is timeless - I say yea and he says nay.

Click here for a discussion of this recent post of mine where I argued that many kinds of presentism can't deal with explaining why this time is the present one.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Weird cult-like folks

Just for fun, this is something I was just looking at...

For some reason, I always find - and am fascinated when I do - the websites of weird cults and sects who want to say that Christians for the past 2 millenia have been basically wrong and suddenly they (usually the one true church, obviously) have suddenly got it right. Sometimes I find these sites because they end up linked to my blog in the ads at the side of the page. Today I found one that was a bit interesting (in a bad way):, which seems to be the ministry of one Neville Stevens.

Check out this quote in their article about who the true church is:
By all means pray for your enemies and those who spitefully use you. This is right and proper. But don't take it upon yourselves to pray for the enemies of God - this is an act of treachery! Don't participate in public rallies for promised 'liberties.' Don't donate money to organisations that attempt to thwart God's judgment. Don't pray for, or support, the starving Cushites that God has judged. God could have sent rain to the famine-stricken African nations and ended the famine - but He didn't! Do you agree that God was just? If you had the power, would you have ended the famine? If the answer is yes, then you are not in agreement with God! You must get your thoughts and your priorities right! If you don't NOW, then you will be in great danger of offending God when the crunch-time comes. You may even find yourself wanting to kill God's two prophets! If you found offence in what God has done to Satan's evil brood in Africa and elsewhere, what will be your reaction be to what happens in your own country? God is in control! You don't have to question His judgment - it is correct! Always! See what Christ said: Luke 21:25 "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the WORLD, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken." The translation of these verses is relatively innocuous in comparison to their true meaning. There are plenty of other descriptions about coming events.
Now that's just crazy - this is the sort of wrong-headed, unbiblical hate that really makes people look down on Christians. I also found an article on the book of Galatians where they question whether Galatians is really Scripture (mainly because they both seriously misunderstand it and also because they pretty much agree with the Judaizers that Galatians was opposing - along with some other really bad arguments, of course). This is a bit strange, of course, since almost all the teachings in Galatians can be found elsewhere, such as in Romans. (This also one of the places where the author uses kind phrases like "curdled-brained morons" - and many others - to speak of people who aren't quite up to their standards) There's indeed a lot of "creative" interpretation going on in the articles here (context seems to be important only when it's convenient). Not everything's bad or false, but like other sectarian or heretical groups, its mixed in with a lot that is. Another example of the sort of crazy stuff from this site (from an article on the Passover):
Christ set out the exact format for observing the Passover.If you substitute the Passover ceremony with a ‘lords supper’, then you are worshipping demons!What is more, you are forbidden to do both (some people believe they can observe their ‘lord’s supper’ at any time of the year and fulfill the requirements given by Christ. They can’t!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Why is this time the present?

Alright! Back to blogging after a couple weeks of grading of papers...

Here's a problem for most forms of presentism - on most versions, there's no good answer to the question of why this time is the present one. That is, why does the stuff at this time (and in its current arrangement) exist rather than that of some other? Why isn't some other time the present one?

The presentist needs some answer here since intuitively there is indeed an explanation for why (at least a lot of) what exists now does exist and why it (mostly) is the way it is. It can't just be random which time is present and not just because it doesn't conform to how we think present things are explained. We simply don't have random times popping up as present and then another one as the next one - time simply doesn't work that way, even on a spooky tensed view like presentism.

Any plausible answer, if it is to explain why present stuff exists and exists the way it in fact does, must obviously be explanatorily prior to the existence of that stuff and its current arrangement. So on many versions of presentism, to follow William Lane Craig and say that the present time's presentness is explained by the past presentness of past times just won't cut it. This due to the fact that on many versions of presentism, such facts are themselves reducible to or grounded in things that are explanatorily posterior (or at least not prior) to the existence of present things and their current arrangement. Present dispositions, current evidence, or properties of things, hence, cannot do the job since they presuppose this time being the present rather than explaining it.

What about ersatzism a la Craig Bourne and others? This won't work either, for there is no reason for one ersatz time be realized as present rather than another. Having the realized time be the last ersatz time in a terminating series of ersatz time won't help matters either since it still leaves open the question of why this is the last ersatz time (and why the last one should be realized as opposed to some other in the first place).

How about, per Ross Cameron's suggestion, we let the entire world have a single distributional property which grounds all tensed facts and which gives the world its current state? No, that won't work either since this still leaves open why only one state - that is, this particular present one - which is governed by the distributional property should be the one to be realized as present rather than another (see more in my comments on Cameron's post linked at the top of this paragraph).

So most versions of presentism simply fail to explain why this time is the present one and, like I've said before, this is due to the simple problem that presentists in general get things backwards and try to explain the past by the present instead of the other way around.