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.

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