Thursday, August 11, 2011


Antipastism would be the view that the past is unreal, but both the present and the future are. I asked my six-year-old son whether he thought the past was real. He was quite sure it wasn't. One of his reasons was that we can't get there. I then asked him if he thought the future was real. He was quite unsure either way. In other words, he vaccilated between presentism and antipastism.
This is interesting, because if presentists feel a pull away from their theory, I would expect that it would often be towards an open future view on which the past is real but the future is not.
Anyway, one can take my son's reasoning and formalize it into a plausibilistic argument:

  1. If you can get somewhere, it's probably real.
  2. You can get to the future. (It's easy, just wait a moment.)
  3. So the future is probably real.

In an earlier post, I called antipastism "Shrinking Block".


Heath White said...

I would have thought "antipastism" was the dogmatic belief that every meal should begin with a plate of Italian appetizers.


JSA said...

Robin Hanson linked to a couple of studies yesterday, surveying people's attitudes about past versus present. If the studies are showing that people see the past as more "near", that would suggest that people consider the past to be more real, and the future to only be "possibly real".

In fact, I think our internal biases come through in our language -- past-tense uses the possessive verb "have", as in "I have eaten my breakfast"; while future-tense uses desire-oriented verb "will", as in "I will have a cupcake after work". In Chinese, it's even more obvious -- the future-tense helper verb is "yao", which is exactly the word (spoken and glyph) for "want".

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't see what the intention issue in the linked post has to do with whether the future is seen as further from us than the past. I may be missing something.

If anything, the claim that people think future transgressions are more deserving of punishment than past ones would suggest that they think the future more real than the past.

JSA said...

Sorry, that post presupposes that you're familiar with what Robin means by near and far.

People regarding a future action as more intentional, or more "far", is related to the way that people's moral proclamations and policy recommendations change dramatically depending on whether their target is someone who is close or someone who is "far", whether culturally, socially, proximally, or whatever.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But the far may be more objective while the near more subjective, in this sense, and if it is the objective that we align with the real, then the far is the more real.

JSA said...

Yes, it seems that "far" is more objective, but people probably vary widely on whether their definition of "more real" aligns with objective or subjective, in this sense. For example, I might say "Those rioters are all criminals! They should be shot on sight!", while also protesting, "My little brother wasn't hurting anyone when he TP'd the principal's lawn! He's just a young kid with a lot of energy". In the former case, I'm being objective by dealing with hypothetical rioters. In the latter case, it's more subjective because it's not hypothetical.

Jarrett Cooper said...

I'd categorize myself as saying the past was once real (in the sense at one point the past was a now or present), but is no longer. The future simply never arrives. The future is like tomorrow--it never comes.

So, I'd take issue with 2. Once you think you reach the future, you're merely at the present (the now).

I also need some clarification with regards to the word "real" that is being used in 1 and 3. Does real, in this case, mean actual? If so, this can raise some important issues.

Cody Rudisill said...

Dr. Pruss, do you think we should think of the future as something we get to rather than as something that gets to us--or, maybe better, the future as something that only indirectly affects us by its unintended relation to us?

Moreover, do we get to the future (or vice versa) since at the moment we "arrive" there it is the present? Which may beg the question as to whether we actually arrived there in the first place (or vice versa).

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think neither. We exist in the past, present and future. What we call future is future relative to a particular time. Relative to a later time it's present, and relative to an even later time it's past.

Jarrett Cooper said...

Prof. Pruss,

Is there any works you endorse that would lay out this view? Is Ted Sider's Four-Dimensionaism possibly one?

To be clear: You believe we only exist at one particular time--though this time is relative to other particular times--and this thereby allows us to say we exist in the past, present and future based on the relation of the other times?

I don't have a problem with this view, though it seems that you're denying any objective standard of time (i.e., an objective present). Does one need to deny an objective present time? For example, I can make a point on a graph and say the point is relative to other points on the graph; however, at the same time the point on the graph occupies an objective space. Right? (Or does this further prove your point, b/c the space the point occupies is based on the arbitrary decision which we create to be the x-axis and y-axis?)

Jarrett Cooper said...

Apologies. The book by Ted Sider is Four-Dimensionalism. Spell check took off the l.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think we exist at every time during our lives, not just our lives.

My current view is that I am a four-dimensional entity, without any parts.