Friday, November 21, 2008

My odd intuitions

I have a hard time not thinking of myself as a being that is extended in four dimensions or fully present at multiple times. After all, any time I look at myself, I see myself in motion. Moreover, not just in motion, but in a multiplicity of states occupied over an interval of times. I never see myself just at one time—I always see myself at multiple times, i.e., as either existing at multiple times (the endurantist reading of my intuition) or as existing in a way that extends between multiple times (the perdurantist reading of my intuition). Presentism just plain doesn't fit with my intuitions about myself. But this is just autobiography.


Martin Cooke said...

Hi Alexander. You are wrong about Presentism not fitting with your intuitions about yourself, I think. I see myself in motion too, and see nothing counter-intuitive there. Nor is that just my failure at autobiography, I think. I shall attempt a diagnosis.

I think that you think of time as one of four dimensions of spacetime. (Incidentally, you seem to think that there is empirical backing for that picture, but why you are wrong about that is a different, more complicated - less philosophical - and more contentious issue.)

So to you the Presentist seems, I imagine, to be saying that only one of those temporal slices is (at any time!) real. Now, what the Presentist would be saying is, I think, incoherent (clearly!) but therefore you reject Presentism, rather than your idea of what 'Presentism' means.

I see myself in motion (as a changing continuant, a creature of a God with the power to change), so I have a hard time thinking of myself as essentially static, which is what, I might add (not entirely falsely), a static, or B-theoretic, or 4-dimensional theory of time gives us. You see how bad that argument is?

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's not just that I see myself in motion. I see myself in a multiplicity of incompatible states strung out in time.

Gordon Knight said...

Isn't the issue then what sort of present presentism involves? A purely instantaneous present is phenomenologically implausible

Alexander R Pruss said...

Exactly. But a presentism on which events in a period of length x seconds are real, and all other events are unreal, would be ad hoc for any particular value of x.

Gordon Knight said...


I wonder if your intuition might also speak against the B-theory. How do you get a self moving through time when that same self is understood as series of distinct temporal parts? Don't dynamic theories of time capture the sense of flow much better than the static b-theory?a

Alexander R Pruss said...

Do they? I am not convinced. Eternalist A-theory has a moving present. But the worry is, then, that I am static and only the present moves.

Anyway, for me, dynamism is not so much about change, as about causal activity.

Gordon Knight said...

My problem with the b-theory is this: like you, I assume that I continue to exist through time. I don't see how the conception of myself as a spatio temporal worm captures what is involved in this intuition. What you have with the b theory is different temporal parts, and personal identity becomes an external relation.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Take the following four views of how we extend/move through time:

1. Worm theory with stages: We are four-dimensional worms, and we exemplify certain properties at different times in virtue of our stages exemplifying them.

2. Worm theory without stages: We are four-dimensional worms, and there are no stages.

3. Stage theory: We are three-dimensional stages, and diachronic identity is to be analyzed in terms of being parts of the same human-worm.

4. Endurantism: We are three-dimensional entities, wholly present at different times. (On this formulation, stage theory is a special case of endurantism. That is an odd way to think of it, but I think it's right--stage theory is just endurantism plus a particular theory of identity.)

Now, take the following theories:

a. Eternalist A-theory
b. growing block
c. B-theory

It seems to me that each one of the theories from (1)-(4) is prima facie (pairwise) compatible with each one of the theories from (a)-(c). Thus, prima facie, there is no argument from a view about how we persist through time for or against the B-theory, or for or against the A-theory.

But (a)-(c) differ in this respect from:

d. presentism

For, presentism is not compatible with any of (1)-(4) as they stand, but with a bit of reformulation, (4) can be made a presentist theory.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Let me add that I think (2) or (4) holds, and I am now inclining towards (2).

Martin Cooke said...

I see myself in a multiplicity of incompatible states strung out in time.
Well, things change. There is no incompatibility between being in incompatible states at different times (so to speak) and Presentism. I was writing 'I' and now I am not, but it is not, on Presentism, that I both am and am not writing 'I' but that I can change. Or are you saying that you can now see several instants? You certainly could not see an instantaneous state, but rather you do see moving things, but again that is not incompatible with Presentism but with the idea that Presentism says that of the temporal continuum only one point of it is ever real. I do suspect that you are calling that latter (unrealistic) idea 'Presentism' (if I'm wrong please let me know :)