Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The importance of the future

It would be bad for me to permanently cease to exist in five minutes. But why? Suppose first a metaphysics of time on which there is no future, namely Growing Block or Presentism. On such a metaphysics there is no such thing as my future life, so how could it be bad for there to be a cessation of it?

Since the only tenable alternative to Growing Block and Presentism is Eternalism, the view that the past and future are real (oddly, there are no Futurists who think the future is real but deny the reality of the past), Eternalism is true.

Now, given Eternalism, we have a choice for three visions of our persistence through time. On one vision, Exdurantism, we are instantaneous stages that do not persist through time at all—at most we have temporal counterparts at other times. This does not fit with the intuition of my radical incompleteness should I cease to exist in five minutes. The second vision is Endurantism: I am wholly present at each time at which I exist. But then if the present moment is real, and eternally will be real, and I wholly exist at this present moment, then the intuition about the deep incompleteness I would have were my existence to permanently end in five minutes is undercut. So that can't be right either.

What remains is a family of views on which we are strung out four-dimensionally. The most common member of the family is Perdurantism: I am four-dimensional but have three-dimensional stages localized at times. A less common view is that I am four-dimensional, but not divided up into stages. Both of these views do justice to the idea that my existence is deeply incomplete, in something like the way it would be if I were missing an arm, should I cease to exist in five minutes.

As far back as I thought much about time (probably going back to age 10) I was an Eternalist. Until a couple of years ago, I was an Endurantist. Then I started being unsure whether Endurantism or a stageless four-dimensional view is right. The above argument strongly pushes me towards a four-dimensional view, and since I don't believe in stages, a stageless one.

Moreover, the above may help with a puzzle I used to have, which was how a B-Theorist should think about the badness of impending evils (especially death). How can a B-Theorist make sense of the badness of being closer and closer to something bad? But that may primarily be a problem for the Endurantist, since the Endurantist thinks we are three-dimensional beings wholly located in the here and now (as well as in the there and later, of course).

1 comment:

Matthew Kennel said...

I don't see why this is a problem for Presentism. In fact, it seems to me that your argument is a parallel to the argument that Parmenides used against change in general. He argued, as I understand it, that change couldn't occur because change would be a change from being to non-being. It was in response to this argument that Aristotle posited the principles of potentiality and actuality. My response would be similar to his. Even if, on Presentism, my future doesn't exist, my potential to exist in the future does exist. By annihilating me, you are also annihilating that potential. Thus, I am suffering a real loss.