We never talk about relativity in class, but that’s all anyone outside of class wants to talk about when I bring up the subject of tense ontology. I just want to get one thing straight. It ought to have a straightforward answer.
Does presentism require absolute time?
If so, is the presentist just holding out and hoping that absolute time is vindicated when the implications of relativity are fully discerned?
If not, assume that t1 is present in whatever sense presentism requires a present moment to be. Now assume that t2 is simultaneous with t1 relative to some frame F, and t3 is simultaneous with t1 relative to F’, but on both F and F’ T2 and T3 are non-simultaneous with one another.
This must be the most basic of questions, but I hear it so often that I want to get some feel for the various stock answers that are available to the presentist. Does presentism countenance the relativizing of existence to a frame of reference? And what of the function by which a relativistic physics determines simultaneity? Is it such that there is some possible frame that makes any two moments simultaneous with one another? If so, doesn’t presentism turn into eternalism in attempting to accomodate relativity?
posted by Raleigh on 02/08/2010 05:53:39
We haven’t talked about relativity in class. Funny: if you said the class was on change people wouldn’t immediately think that the most pressing thing was to consider relativity.
Rather than list all the relevant papers here, let me point you to one paper (which is on JSTOR) and suggest you chase the references (most of which are on JSTOR):
In particular, I’d recommend the Prior, Putnam, Stein, Sklar, and Savitt pieces he references. But if you are only going to read two things, read the Hinchliff and the Savitt, and they will give you a fair sense of issues and options.
posted by David on 02/08/2010 05:54:24
I’m finding Fine’s article extremely challenging, and I think I’d benefit from getting clear as I go along instead of waiting until class. Can we get the hive-mind working on this stuff? I’ll start us off. I’m not far in.
In Section 1, Fine tries to show that some common ways of presenting the debate about whether reality is perspectival are bad. Here’s the first way he considers: the debate is about “what is required for a complete description of reality” (264).
Fine gives two very quick arguments for why this way of framing things is bad. First, “the claim that one can give a complete description of the world in tenseless terms does not, in itself, rule out the possibility that one can also give a complete description of the world in tensed terms” (264). Second, the formulation essentially asks whether there is a true tensed sentence that isn’t entailed by any true tenseless sentence, and that depends on whether the entailment involves content or character, and there’s no reason to think that one or the other corresponds to the metaphysical notion we originally had in mind.
These are weird arguments.
First, if neither a tensed nor a tenseless description of reality leaves anything unaccounted for—if both are complete—then I suppose it’s economy that compels us to accept the tenseless description. If the a tenseless description is complete, then we don’t need to go in for more. There’s nothing left! Fine says “Clearly, there is more to [the anti-realist’s] position than the mere unidirectional claim of completeness” (264). Any maybe that’s right. It’s that claim and what seems to be a completely reasonable methodological assumption. How does the use of this methodological assumption show that framing the debate in terms of what’s needed for a complete description of reality is bad? It’s an assumption that both parties can agree on. (The realist denies that the anti-realist is giving a complete description.)
Second, I don’t see why the disagreement’s being about whether a description of what is the case is missing something that is the case shows that the debate is essentially about entailment. Fine makes the inference at the very bottom of page 264, and I don’t follow him on it.
But even if the debate is essentially about entailment, I don’t see how the ambiguity between content and character is going to mess things up. A sentence’s character is a function from a context to a content. But who thinks that entailment holds between functions? That just seems like a category mistake. Entailment holds between propositions, and functions aren’t propositions. Functions are mapping from objects to objects.
Fine says that “in the given case we might identify [the character of”I am sitting“] with the tensed proposition I am sitting” (265). But why can we make that identification. And if he’s right, then there’s no category mistake going on. I’m sure Fine knows more about Kaplan’s view than I do, but why should we identify a function from contexts to contents with a tensed proposition?
posted by Scott on 02/19/2010 23:08:55
But who thinks that entailment holds between functions? That just seems >like a category mistake. Entailment holds between propositions, and >functions aren’t propositions. Functions are mapping from objects to >objects.
Forget this point. I don’t read carefully enough, apparently. Fine tells us that, when asking whether the character of the tenseless sentence entails the character of the tensed sentence, then we’re probably asking “whether the characters are such as to guarantee that the tensed statement will be true at any time at which the tenseless statements are true” (265).
posted by Scott on 02/20/2010 10:29:00
posted by Scott on 02/20/2010 11:02:41
Sorry for the double post above. If you refresh the page after posting a comment, then it posts your previous comment again, and I don’t think we can delete posts.
Ultimately, Fine suggests that we understand the debate to be about which sentences to endorse when they’re affixed with a primitive sentential operator, R. For example, if they both endorse “I am sitting,” then the realist also endorses “R(I am sitting)” and the anti-realist endorses “~R(I am sitting).”
This seems like it makes the debate very thin. How are we supposed to have a productive debate about what sentences are true when affixed with a certain operator if both sides take the operator to be primitive? Doesn’t this just make the debate hopeless?
posted by Scott on 02/20/2010 11:16:37
I’m not sure about Fine’s arguments in section one either, but ultimately I don’t think understanding them in all their detail is that important as whether or not Fine’s arguments here succeed is not really the heart of the matter.
In section (1) Fine is criticizing one way of construing the A-theorist (Fine’s realist) vs. B-theorist debate (Fine’s anti-realist).
Fine seems to think that construing the debate as about translatability is the wrong way to go.
In Zimmerman’s article,a distinction was made between hard detensers (those who think propositions are eternal and give token-reflexive or contextual analyses to eliminate tenses in stating propositions) soft detensers (who agree with the hard tensers that tenses statements are ultimately about eternal tenseless propositions, but think that there is some ‘mode of presentation’ that the tenseless talk does not capture) and tensers (who think propositions are tensed) and among the tensers, some are A-theorists and some are B-theorists.
Fine would say that debate about which of these three positions about the nature of propositions is not useful in clarifying the metaphysical debate between the A-theorist & the B-theorist. This is because it seems that there will be either complete intertranslatability or if not complete intertranslatability there will be equivalence such that one cannot make out a metaphysical distinction.
Consider the B-theorist serious tenser. She doesn’t think that tensed statements can be translated into tenseless ones without remainder. What separates her from the A-theorist?
Fine thinks that either talk about propositions and entailments as a way of distinguishing the A-theorist from the B-theorist fails OR if you can make a distinction between the two such there are entailment differences this is because each side has already understood propositions and propositional content in particular metaphysical ways.
Fine says “We might call a dispute doctrinal if both sides to the dispute share common understanding of the concepts in terms of which their respective positions are to be stated; and we might call a dispute ideological if there is not such common understanding. The statement of an opponent’s position will be met with incomprehension rather than dissent. [T]he dispute between the realists and anti-realists over tense is, in part, ideological (pg 320)”
If make no metaphysical commitments whatsoever, if you try to adopt a neutral position about propositions and propositional content, then you will not be able to generate any type of interesting contrast between A-theorists and B-theorists.
This I think ties directly into the first of Fine’s big distinctions: the distinction between how things are versus how things are in reality.
In a discussion of how things are, the serious-tenser B-theorist and the A-theorist will be in agreement with each other and in disagreement with the detenser B-theorist. In a discussion of how things are in reality, the serious-tenser B-theorist and detenser B-theorist will be in agreement with each other and in disagreement with the A-theorist.
posted by Conrad on 02/25/2010 21:01:25
First, if neither a tensed nor a tenseless description of reality leaves anything unaccounted for—if both are complete—then I suppose it’s economy that compels us to accept the tenseless description.
Why does economy compel us to accept the tenseless description rather than the tensed description? The situation looks symmetric.
How are we supposed to have a productive debate about what sentences are true when affixed with a certain operator if both sides take the operator to be primitive? Doesn’t this just make the debate hopeless?
Why does the operator make the debate thin? We both take the negation operator to be primitive. Does that mean that debates about what is not the case are thin and hopeless?
Suppose we both take the necessity operator to be primitive and both agree that
But suppose I accept and you deny that
Does the fact that the modal operator is primitive make this debate thin and hopeless? (How should we characterize the relevant facts in this debate? Will we find that the dispute bottoms out in some facts that can be expressed without modal operators?)
How is that different from the case where we both take the reality operator to be primitive and both agree that
But I deny and you accept that
Suppose I think that Conrad is human, but that really, there are only simples, so really, some simples are the Conrads and they are arranged humanwise. Suppose you think that Conrad is human and really, there are humans… Can we characterize this dispute without using the reality operator (or some close relative, like a fundamentality predicate?). If not, does that make the debate thin and hopeless?
A paper that I’ve mentioned a couple of times and have meant to recommend:
posted by David on 03/02/2010 08:45:07
The way I was thinking of things, the situation is not symmetric. (Maybe this means that I’m thinking of things incorrectly.) I thought that the realist and anti-realist about tensed facts agree that reality contains all the tensed facts that it contains, but the realists think it contains tensed facts too. I thought, in other words, that the set of facts that the anti-realist says constitute reality is a proper subset of the set of facts that the realist says constitute reality. If so, and if both descriptions of reality are complete, then the anti-realist does everything that the realist does with less.
Part of the problem I have with framing the debate in terms of disagreement about how to apply a primitive reality operator is that I’m not sure how to think about debates about operators so they’re debates about reality instead of debates about formal languages. Maybe the Sider or Massey will help.
posted by Scott on 03/02/2010 19:01:27
I thought that the realist and anti-realist about tensed facts agree that reality contains all the tensed facts that it contains, but the realists think it contains tensed facts too.
That’s just silly. He should have said “I thought that the realist and anti-realist about tensed facts agree that reality contains all the tenseless facts that it contains, but the realists think it contains tensed facts too.”
posted by Scott on 03/02/2010 19:03:53
I don’t think we’ll understand what Fine is up to unless we understand how his way of framing the debate differs from the ways of framing the debate that he thinks are inadequate. He says that we can makes sense of the debate only if we accept a deeply metaphysical concept of reality and he uses uses an operator (R) to make claims about this deep reality.
However, Fine says that we cannot understand the disagreement to be about what the correct, complete description of reality is. This makes me nervous, because I don’t see how this differs from his way of framing the debate. That makes me worry that I don’t understand how he wants me to think about the debate.
Fine doesn’t say anything about translation or translatability. The first way of framing the debate makes the realist and anti-realist disagree about how to correctly describe reality. The realist says that reality contains certain facts and the anti-realist denies that it contains those facts. Fine understands this disagreement to be about whether all tensed propositions are entailed by tenseless propositions. (The anti-realist says that they are, and the realist says that they’re not.) The second way of framing the debate is in terms of relative and absolute properties. The third way is in terms of indexicals.
Conrad is right, however, about Fine wanting the debate to be about reality and not about propositions. But taking the debate to be about how to correctly describe reality does make the debate about reality. We should get clear about why Fine’s way of framing things differs from, and is better than, the alternatives.
posted by Scott on 03/02/2010 19:34:55