Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why Some Presentists Should Believe that the Objects of Memories are not Past Tensed

Contrary to this previous post on the divine memories analysis of past-tensed statements, I think the defender of such a view actually ought to take the object of memory to be non-past tensed (and hence present-tensed or tenseless instead). The past-tense involved in ordinary memory-statements, I think, should be assigned not to the object of the memory state itself but rather to the perspective of the speaker. So "Sam remembers that he hit the ball" tells us (at least) that (1) Sam has a memory whose content is normally expressed with the present-tensed "I am hitting the ball"; (2) the content of that memory is ascribed to a time earlier than the memory. This is similar to statements such as "At one time, Sam believed he was the tallest man in the Communist Party", where the "was" does not indicate that Sam once believed something he would put in a past tense but rather indicates the speakers own current, shifted perspective on the purported obtaining of that content. So the analysis of the divine memories person should more exactly read: WAS(p) iff God has a memory with the content that p.

Why is this needed by the divine memory person? Well, consider what would happen if we regarded the content of a memory to be a past-tensed something or other. The analysis is supposed to be (where p is past-tensed) something like: p iff God has a memory with the content that p. But the right side contains exactly what we need to find truth conditions for, so this is not a successful statement of the truth conditions for p - it is plainly circular, since the semantics for the right side already presupposes we have semantics for the left. p, even though it is used normally on the left-hand and appears in an intensional context on the right, still appears on both sides in a manner vicious enough to defeat the account. So the divine memories person should state the view the way it is in the above paragraph, not as it is in this one and take the content of the memory to be the non-past-tensed core of the corresponding past-tensed statement rather than get caught in a vicious circle or similar trap.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Is Tense Common Sense? (Plattitudes, Attitudes, and Experiences)

Tensed theorists often claim that their theories are common sense. Growing block theorists claim their theory is the common sense view, moving spotlight folks claim theirs is the common sense view, presentist claim theirs is the common sense view, etc. And this is somehow supposed to provide evidence or at least a presumption in favor of their pet version of the tensed time. But what on earth makes them think this in the first place? I suppose it must involve things like fitting various common platitudes and asymmetric attitudes about time or our experience of time or agency. But I'm skeptical about their claims, to say the least. Note first that it's pretty implausible that each of these views is the common sense one or general common sense. And I think that it's a fair piece of evidence against the identification of, say, a view like presentism with common sense that many people find the debate between it and an opposing view like eternalism to be simply vacuous at best. If common sense is indeterminate enough to leave up in the air an issue such as that between eternalism and presentism, I think that's pretty good reason to say that presentism is not the common sense view. It seems to me in general that common sense is either indeterminate between or vacillates between tensed and tenseless views of time. My money would be that common sense doesn't on it's own go either way, though individuals may take it a step farther in one direction or another. Ordinary thought simply does not deal in such high powered metaphysics to a great enough extent in this area to go either way.

But what about all those platitudes, attitudes, and experiences? Well, tenseless theorists can accept and explain all of these too! It is not contrary to the tenseless theory to say, in ordinary speech, that, for instance, time flows or that "time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'...into the future". Or even that "the future is not yet and the past is no more". What I think tensed theorists are latching onto isn't the plausibility of their own theories but the apparent implausibility of tenseless ones as accurate accounts of what's behind such platitudes, attitudes, and experiences. Sometimes when one looks at tenseless theories of time, it can seem that something is missing in accounting for such things. Tensed theorists, I take it, think they can give us what they think are the things are felt to be missed. But, I contend, they actually fail precisely in this regard in almost the same ways and in general at least as bad as (as sometimes worse than) tenseless theorists. (See Alan's post here and our discussion following for a possible example of the sort of stuff I'm talking about in this post)

This last fact - that the apparent gap between our attitudes, platitudes, and experiences, on one hand, and tenseless views, on the other, is just as bad if not worse between our attitudes, platitudes and experiences and tensed views - usually goes unnoticed (though not always - many people have pointed this out in particular cases of these gaps). This is at least partly because of tensed theorists' misleading terminology and (mis?)appropriation of 'common sense talk' as well as intricate ontologies and metaphysics hidden (or put aside to avoid committing to any particular view) behind the soothing, ordinary speech. It all lends an air of authority and authenticity and faithfulness not possessed by most tenseless theorists' talk, largely because tenseless theorists often eschew common talk and often seem to be denying its worth (sometimes this is precisely because, unfortunately, they are!). This is also due to the prevalence and entrechedness of the common misperceptions of what tenseless eternalists believe (see my earlier post on this).

No theory, however, can fill in the gaps I've mentioned - something will always seem missing from any account. Tensed theorists think that because tenseless theorists "fail" in this regard that they therefore succeed, but that is simply not so. In my dissertation, I am arguing that this is true, show that the most plausible account of our mind's access to, uses of, and representations of time explain where these gaps come from - and do so in a way that is in itself neutral between the two big camps. And that this is just one piece in a larger fabric of our conscious, perspectival access to the world and all the associated perspectival/nonperspectival gaps that arise because of it. Tensed theorists in time - as well as other folks in other areas - make a peculiar mistake relating to our representations' relation to the world, one that is widespread in areas from metaphysics to ethics. Or so I argue. So there is absolutely no support for tensed theories from common sense - not even from our plattitudes, attitudes, and experiences.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Quotes: Anscombe on Various Topics

Last week's biography of Anscombe at the adult Sunday school class went pretty well. Here are some interesting quotes of hers, most of which ended up making it into the presentation:

“You might as well accept any sexual goings–on, if you accept contraceptive intercourse.”

“There is one consideration here which has something like the position of absolute zero or the velocity of light in current physics. It cannot possibly be an exercise of civic authority deliberately to kill or mutilate innocent subjects.”

"In these days, the authorities claim the right to control not only the policy of the nation but also the actions of every individual within it; and their claim has the support of a large section of the people of the country, and of a peculiar force of emotion. This support is gained, and this emotion caused by the fact that they are "evil things" that we are fighting against. That they are evil we need have no doubt; yet many of us still feel distrust of these claims and these emotions lest they blind men to their duty of considering carefully, before they act, the justice of the things they propose to do. Men can be moved to fight by being made to hate the deeds of their enemies; but a war is not made just by the fact that one's enemies' deeds are hateful. Therefore it is our duty to resist passion and to consider carefully whether all the conditions of a just war are satisfied in this present war, lest we sin against the natural law by participating in it."

"For men to choose to kill the innocent as a means to their ends is always murder."

“It is nonsense to pretend that you do not intend to do what is the means you take to your chosen end. Otherwise there is absolutely no substance to the Pauline teaching that we may not do evil that good may come.”

“It is not a vague faith in the triumph of the spirit over force (there is little enough warrant for that), but a definite faith in the divine promises, that makes us believe that the Church cannot fail. Those, therefore, who think they must be prepared to wage a war with Russia involving the deliberate massacre of cities, must be prepared to say to God: 'We had to break your law, lest your Church fail. We could not obey your commandments, for we did not believe your promises.'”

“Each nation that has ‘liberal’ abortion laws has rapidly become, if it was not already, a nation of murderers.”

And last, but not least...

"If you do that again, I'll put you on the train to Bicester."