Friday, December 19, 2014

Being is grounded in fundamental being, and presentism

Assume a bloated ontology, on which there are events, chairs, holes, waves, etc. In defending such a bloated ontology, we should sensibly say that these beings are grounded in what the fundamental beings are and how they are, and so the bloat does not infect fundamental reality.

So far so good. But what if we add presentism into the mix? Imagine two worlds, A and B, that are exactly alike at time t, but in one of them a race is beginning at t and in the other it is ending at t. We may here suppose massive mental dysfunction in B, so that everybody thinks the race is beginning, whereas in fact it has just ended.

Then in A at t, there is an event E that doesn't exist in B at t: the beginning of the race. Suppose t is the present moment and A is actual. Then E is not grounded in what the fundamental beings are and how they are, given presentism, since the fundamental beings and how they are are the same between A and B. In our bloated ontology, there really are events, and E really does exist, though. And so we have a violation of the principle that all beings are grounded in the fundamental beings and how they are.

Some presentists will get out of this by saying that A and B differ in the past, and facts about the past are grounded in what God remembers. Note first that this requires a denial of divine simplicity. For, given divine simplicity, there cannot be two possible worlds that differ only in how God is, since that would imply an intrinsic accidental property in God. Second, we have the standard criticism that this gets things the wrong way around: God remembers the past because it was so, rather than its having been so because God remembers it thus.

The above is a slight tweak on the usual grounding objection to presentism. But I do think that while one might balk at the claim that all truth is grounded in what fundamentally exists and how it is, it is plausible that all being is so grounded.

The best way out for the presentist is to deny the bloated ontology, of course.


Heath White said...

I think you can force the denial of the bloated ontology at an earlier stage. For on presentism, there can be no temporally extended entities: no races, empires, birthday parties, or love affairs. I'm a little doubtful about causal sequences.

The "what God remembers" gambit bears a strong resemblance to Berkeley's "to be is to be perceived [remembered]" and then positing a universal perceiver to make sure things don't vanish when we stop looking at [remembering] them.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I was originally going to post that on presentism there are no temporally extended events. But I wasn't completely convinced. I thought that the presentist could say that an extended event exists in virtue of having an existent part.

But since you have the same intuition as me, I feel more confident now.

Here are two sad truths:
- The Syrian Civil War (SCW) is going on.
- The Battle of Damascus and Aleppo (BDA) is a part of SCW.

Now it seems that from
1. x exists
2. y is a part of x
one can infer:
3. y exists.

So if SCW exists, so does BDA. But BDA wholly occurred in 2012, so according to the presentist it no longer exists. And hence SCW does not exist either. And the argument generalizes to other temporally extended events.

However, I wonder if our presentist friends couldn't just deny that BDA is a part of SCW. Maybe they could say: BDA was a part of SCW?

But that's awkward. We normally say that an event x was a part of an event y when y is no longer occurring ("The Battle of Stalingrad was the beginning of World War II"). But for an ongoing event y, we get to say: x is a part of y.

Also, if we say that BDA was a part of SCW but BDA is not a part of SCW, then we have to say that BDA is no longer a part of SCW. But that's the wrong thing to say in this case.

We can perhaps say of event x that it is no longer a part of an event y when x has spilled out of y. For instance, maybe we can imagine a riot that starts as part of a political protest and then becomes just a plain unpolitical riot. Then we say: the riot is no longer a part of the protest. I suspect we're equivocating, but in any case nothing like this is the case with BDA and SCW.

David Gawthorne said...

Divine determinists could ground transtemporal truths on God's unchanging will, which represents and causes all universal history in succession. It gets the direction of dependence right and is, therefore, more plausible than the divine memory theory.

Alexander R Pruss said...

There will still be a problem with divine simplicity, of course.