By "death" in this post, I shall mean the permanent cessation of the existence of a person. I do not know if death occurs (it does not occur among human persons), or even if it is metaphysically possible (it might be incompatible with divine goodness). Presentism is the view that only presently existent things and present events exist. Eternalism is the view that there are pastly and futurely existent things and past and future events. Growing Block is the view that there are pastly existent things and past events but no future ones (there are two versions of Growing Block, depending on what one says about the present).
The following argument is valid:
- Death in and of itself is tragic. (Premise)
- Existing within one region in space-time and being wholly absent from another region or set of regions in space-time is not in and of itself tragic. (Premise)
- If Presentism is false, then Growing Block or Eternalism is true. (Premise)
- If Growing Block or Eternalism is true, then a person's being dead at t consists in his existing in the region of space-time prior to t and being wholly absent from the region of space time spanning from t onward. (Premise)
- Therefore, if Growing Block or Eternalism is true, death in and of itself is not tragic. (By (2) and (4))
- Therefore, if Presentism is false, death in and of itself is not tragic. (By (3) and (5))
- Therefore, Presentism is true. (By (1) and (6))
Now, one might worry that some deaths are tragic, such as those of good or happy persons, while others, those of bad or unhappy persons, are not. I am inclined to disagree, but I think the argument can be modified to handle this, for instance by modifying (2) to say that existing within one region and being wholly absent from another while being happy and good in the first region is not in and of itself tragic.
This seems to me to be a powerful argument for Presentism, as long as the Presentist can tell us what on her view makes death tragic that does not succumb to a similar argument. And I think she can do that. To be presently dead is tragic in that one does not exist even though one had existed. (This is not an instance of occupying one space-time region rather than another.) And that one will be dead is tragic in that its being the case that something tragic will happen is already tragic.
But I am still an eternalist B-theorist. So what do I deny in the argument? I have to admit that I have intuitions in favor of each of (1)-(4). But I think we can distinguish the intrinsic tragedy of death in two ways. First, we can think of the tragedy of death for the dead person, and second, we can think of the tragedy of his death for others or for the universe. When we talk of tragedy-for-others, I think we have reason to deny (2). For, yes, the total absence of a person from regions of space-time can be tragic for others, since it can entail that they cannot futurely meet this person, etc.
But the "in and of itself" in (1) and (2) probably signals that we're talking of the tragedy-for-self. But then we can actually build an argument against Presentism:
- It is tragic for the dead person that she is now dead. (Premise)
- Nothing is tragic for someone who does not exist. (Premise)
- If Presentism is true, someone who does not now exist does not exist. (Premise)
- Therefore, if Presentism is true, nothing is tragic for someone who does not now exist. (By (9) and (10))
- Therefore, Presentism is false. (By (8) and (11))
Suppose that I live alone. It is, then, no better for me to live a hundred chronometric years of fulfilling and blissful spiritual and mathematical activity than it is to live fifty years of the same activity sped up by a factor of two. Well, then, it is no better for me to live for an infinite number of chronometric years, than to live the same activity at an ever increasing pace over the period of a hundred years, by having one's functioning sped up by a factor of two for the first fifty chronometric years, another factor of two for the next twenty-five, another factor of two for the next 12.5, and so on. That at the end of a hundred chronometric years I will be dead is no tragedy for me, if I have lived this life of infinite internal temporal length.
Or suppose that I have a space-time travel machine, an elixir of eternal youth and our universe is infinite spatially. In 2030, I will use my space-time machine to travel to the year 2000 in some other galaxy[note 1]. There I will live thirty good and meaningful years, and then in 2030, I will move to the year 2000 in another galaxy. And so on. Note that I do not exist in 2031 or at any later date. So I die before 2031. (Necessary truth: If I do not exist at t, but existed earlier, then I died before t.) But this death is no tragedy for me, because I am assured of an internally infinite span of good and meaningful life.
So, I cautiously deny (1) and (8) in the case of tragedy for the person. Therefore, I cannot accept either the first argument, which was for Presentism, nor the second, which was against.