Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ex nihilo nihil fit, and presentism

According to presentism, events come out of nothing (the future), have a flash of reality as they are briefly present, and then pass back into nothing (the past). But nothing comes out of nothing. So, it seems, presentism is false.

I wonder if the above argument equivocates on "comes out of nothing".

12 comments:

Mike Almeida said...

I don't think the presentists are committed to events arising from nothing, uncaused. They are committed to effects having no existing causes, but that's not too surprising. If we think of substances as causes, then they can have existing causes as well, since God (and lesser substances) might be the cause of present events.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe that's the equivocation I was feeling: maybe the problematic sort of "ex nihilo" is lack of a cause, but the "ex nihilo" of events on presentism is different, more like the "ex nihilo" of creatio ex nihilo?

Mook Vanguard said...

I was always under the impression that the future comes from the present changing into the future.

Heath White said...

If I were a presentist, I think my view would be that the present causes the next instant, such that the next instant becomes "present" even as its cause slips into annihilation. I'm not sure that's a coherent view.

Mike Almeida said...

I'm not seeing the concern, Alex. Suppose at t I flip the switch of a machine that creates a widget. The widget comes into existence at t'. At the instant prior to t' the creative process terminates and is in the past, a no longer existing process. We have a widget that results from a now non-existing process. That's not creation ex nihilo. Where does the problem come in? Consider a possible world in which things that create cease to exist at the moment their first creation begins to exist. That seems offhand possible.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Think of a future event, say my going to my office. That event is first future, then present, then past. When it's future, it doesn't exist according to presentism. Then it becomes present, and exists. Then it becomes past, and exists no more. So the event comes out of the non-existent future, into the present, and back out of existence.

Mike Almeida said...

That event is first future, then present, then past. When it's future, it doesn't exist according to presentism. Then it becomes present, and exists. Then it becomes past, and exists no more. So the event comes out of the non-existent future, into the present, and back out of existence.

Part of the problem is the idiom in which you describe what's going on. The event does not "come out of" the non-existent future since nothing can come out of something that does not exist. You have some event e at t that is the effect of an event e' at t'. So, e does not just happen, it is caused by e' (which no longer exists). Of course, this looks like it pushes the question back one step. It does. But now we're off and running on a cosmological argument of sorts that requires something to be existing at all present moments.

Michael Gonzalez said...

On presentism, talk of "futures" seems to me to be talk of possibilities. I would think of it in the way you talk about alethic modality: Some state of affairs is a "possible future" just if there are causally sufficient states of affairs right now such that that other state of affairs could possibly be actualized. Surely no presentist thinks, as you say in your example, that the act of walking into the office was ever "in the future"; non-existent or otherwise. It was one of many possible futures until you causally actualized it.

My response to your main point is this: events do not come out of the "nothingness of the future", but out of the "somethingness of past presents". Each present state is caused by previous present states, and indeed the present (it seems to me) partially consists of these causal truths. The fully-described state of affairs that I am in the office today partially consists of the causal chain that led here.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Michael:

Are you assuming that presentism implies open futurism? Even if so, then focus on some *determined* event.

The "somethingness of past presents" doesn't seem to me to help, since the past is nothing on presentism.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: I wasn't really attempting to make a statement on open futurism vis-a-vis determinism. That something is determined just limits the number of possible futures. The future is still just possibilities. On presentism, being a determined (and therefore certain) part of all the possible futures is still ontologically different from already having happened. If the world continues dynamically becoming and arrives at a state where it contains an event which could not have failed to happen (given physically determining constraints), then that event was determined. But it still comes out of the dynamic lead-up. It does not in any sense "come out of the future".

On my own presentist view, I think there are true statements about how the world used to be. Everything that is true now is the result of all the "dynamic becoming" that has already happened. Nothing ever comes out of nothing; the one world that exists just constantly evolves. And the grounding of definite, true statements about the past is the present which would not have been exactly the way it is if anything in the past had gone differently.

Aron Zavaro said...

Is simultaneous causation ruled out by presentism, since the the cause must lapse out of existence before the effect comes into existence?

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's not ruled out by presentism per se, but it is ruled out by presentism plus the usual motivations for an open future.