Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rationality, value and presentism

  1. If presentism is true, future events are not real.
  2. It is not rational to trade a real good event for a non-real event.
  3. It is rational to trade a small present good event for a great future good event.
  4. Present good events are real.
  5. So, presentism is not true.

I wonder if a rejection of presentism wasn't implicit in the traditional Catholic condemnation of usury. For if presentism is true, then present cash sure seems worth more than future cash, since the latter doesn't exist. But the argument that usury may be charged because present cash is worth more than future cash so has been explicitly condemned by Pope Innocent XI (1679). (Parenthetically, this leads to the question of whether and, if so why, lending at interest is permitted in our day. I think what has happened is that the nature of what is denoted by the word "money" has changed, from being something largely constituted by the value of concrete stuff, like some metals, to being entirely a matter of shifting and always future-directed social agreement. Thus, the word "money" means something different in the medieval texts and in contemporary usage. Of course 1679 isn't medieval, but the switchover was a temporally extended event with vague boundaries.)


Drew said...

Premise 2 seems far from obvious. If presentism is true, then it is at least sometimes rational to trade a present good for a not yet existent future good.

In fact, I could make a decision where I trade one possible future for another. I do not think I have to be a realist regarding counterfactuals to say such a decision is rational.

Mike Almeida said...

The same argument could be made against actualism, of course. But would you say it's not rational exchange any actual good for any possible good? That's can be right. Even under ideal circumstances, it's not rational to pay Smith $10.00 to build a new house for you?

Alexander R Pruss said...

It makes no sense to trade an actual good for one that I am certain is merely possible.

James Bejon said...

Wouldn't you trade £10 for a 50/50 (or inscrutable) chance of winning £1,000,000? Or, put in moral terms, wouldn't you trade a hot dinner for the possibility of saving someone's life in a day to come?

Alexander R Pruss said...

But these are cases where I am not sure that the good is merely possible.