Monday, March 21, 2016

A Catholic argument against presentism

  1. If Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is true, then there is a time t such that an accident of bread exists-at-t and no substance of which it is an accident exists-at-t.
  2. It is metaphysically impossible that an accident exists and no substance of which it is an accident exists.
  3. If presentism is true and x exists-at-t, then it is true at t that x exists.
  4. Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is true.
  5. If presentism is true and Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is true, then it is true at some time t that an accident of bread exists and no substance of which it is an accident exists. (By 1 and 3)
  6. There is no time t such at that time it is true that an accident of bread exists and no substance of which it is an accident exists. (By 2)
  7. So at least one of presentism and Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is false. (By 5 and 6)
  8. So presentism is false. (By 4 and 7)
Traditionally, Catholic philosophers have denied (2). But (2) is very plausible, so we have a good argument against presentism.


sgirgis said...

I'm not sure about 1. I don't think Catholic teaching on the Eucharist (most solemnly and extensively clarified at Trent?) rules out the possibility that the breadish accidents of the host are accidents of the parts of Jesus' glorified body that that host constitutes. Aquinas's view rules this out. But for a defense of its compatibility with faith:

Alexander R Pruss said...

I agree that infallible Catholic teaching does not rule out this possibility. In fact, I am inclined to think that infallible Catholic teaching might not even require belief in the persistence of accidents--only of appearances (species). But I think it's plausible to say that the Grisez view is incompatible with some fallible teaching.

Still, this is a very interesting defense of a Leibnizian reading of transsubstantiation (I don't think Grisez mentions this, but Leibniz offered--without endorsing--a view very much like this: the monads of bread and wine are taken into the substantial form of the body of Christ). While I think a good case is made that this interpretation of "whole Christ" is compatible with Trent, I just think it doesn't fit with standard Catholic views since Trent, and it doesn't fit that well with "This is my body". It seems that if Grisez were right, Christ would have more precisely said: "This is a part of my body." If someone sticks their leg in my office, I wouldn't say that he's wholly present in my office.

Anonymous said...

Grisez's view also has a very unfitting consequence that he did not mention. He says that in St. Thomas's view it is hard to understand how the consecrated species can become something else after corruption. But this is much worse on his view: since it seems that parts of the risen Christ become some corrupted substance.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Is this what you're thinking? On the Leibniz-Grisez view, Christ ends up losing integral parts when the host is digested. But to lose an integral part is a harm. So Christ is harmed. But that is unfitting for the risen Christ.

Maybe, though, it's OK if it's a very minor part. Perhaps individual cells in heaven still die and are replaced by new ones? But if the bread becomes a very minor part, then Christ is present in only a very minor way. We surely wouldn't say someone is my office if only a cell is present.

Unknown said...

So this will probably show my lack of familiarity with the doctrine, but I'm confused about why we should think there is a time when the accidents exist without a substance? Don't they just hop from one substance to another?

Alexander R Pruss said...

The standard view is that although the bread's roundness and whiteness persist, they don't jump to Christ. If they did, then Christ would become round and white, which we do not believe.

The Leibniz-Grisez theory makes the roundness and whiteness jump to a new part of Christ, so Christ comes to have a body part that is round and white. That's a bit better.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I meant that the Leibniz-Grisez view is a bit better than the view that Christ becomes round and white, not that it's better than the standard view.

Unknown said...

Thanks. That helps clear things up.

So, is the idea here that if we accept past existences, then the accidents just inhere in the substance from a time after the substance ceases to persist?

I'm curious if this just ends up being a special case of the problem of cross-temporal relations for the presentist.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Not being a Catholic, I have very little to say about transubstantiation and the Eucharist. However, doesn't Christ taking on new properties (like a piece of him becoming round and white) not require that Christ be in time and changing?

In any case, I'm confused about the "accidents" and "substances" in your argument: If the bread is transubstantiated into being a part of the body of Christ, then the accidents of the bread's properties are no longer accidents of bread at all, but of that piece of Christ's body. Thus, there is no issue of having an accident without a concomitant substance, is there?

Alexander R Pruss said...


In other words, maybe the presentist can just take the inheres-in-past-substance solution, and plug it into their theory of cross-time relations. Maybe, but I'm not sure.


The standard Catholic view, from Aquinas, is that the accidents do NOT become accidents of Christ's body. They become free-floating accidents.

Tom said...

On a side note from the Eucharist, I think a Catholic argument against presentism can be made based on the doctrine that God has foreknowledge of our free choices.

If God knows our choices by causing them (either via concurrence as the Molinist maintains, or via directly causing them) then they must exist because on the supposition that God is causing X, it follows that X exists

If God knows our choices by "watching" them, then in order to know the choice, it must exist. But if presentism is true, future choices do not exist and cannot be known.

Therefore, future choices exist. So presentism is false.

Slightly off topic, but interesting nonetheless.

Alexander R Pruss said...

'If God knows our choices by "watching" them, then in order to know the choice, it must exist.'

Interesting, but I think the presentist's commitments may require her to dispute this argument. We can see events that are in the past. For instance, we may see a supernova that happened long ago, even though it doesn't exist anymore. So the presentist will have to say that to see x, it's not necessary that x exists.

Tom said...

"For instance, we may see a supernova that happened long ago, even though it doesn't exist anymore"

I am not sure that the presentist should say we see the supernova. It seems more appropriate if she says we see the effects of a supernova and then proceed to argue that past events despite not existing can have effects in the present.

But also, I think that the primary intuition behind open theism is the conjunction of the view that GOd knows our choices by watching them (a consequence so it is claimed of libertarianism) and the view that presentism is true.

CWEC Small Group said...

Bill O'Reilly is a Catholic who believes Christ was white :p

On a more serious note though, it seems like the "growing block" hybrid A-B theorist could avoid your objections. Then again, growing block doesn't seem to count as presentism proper, so given the truth of the RC view of the Eucharist, the argument still works.

Unknown said...

Hi Alex! I don't see why the Catholic presentist wouldn't just reject (2). He can soften the blow by admitting the following as a replacement principle (but one that can't be used to construct a valid argument against presentism):

(2*)It is impossible for there to be accident that neither is nor ever has been the accident of some substance.

(One could add "over ever will be" if one thought that this is still too strong. But I don't see any need to weaken it further.) The accidents of the bread that survive after the host is consecrated are not the accident of any substance, but they WERE the accidents of a substance, namely of a piece of bread. Anyone who has the intuition that (2*) is too weak seems to me to be unlikely to allow that there could be a time at which an accident exists without being the accident of some substance. But in that case, he will have to reject the whole free-floating accidents stuff in the first place. (Which contradicts the standard, if not the infallible, teaching on the Eucharist, as you have in effect pointed out in your previous comments.)

Alexander R Pruss said...


That's true. But accidents are grounded in their substance. If the substance doesn't exist, the accidents are grounded in nothing. That seems to be a problem.

Unknown said...

Assuming the standard Eucharistic teaching, both the Catholic presentist (CP) and the Catholic eternalist or grouwing blocker (CE) have to accept some pretty surprising grounding claims:
CPG: There are accidents not (now) grounded in anything.
CEG: There are accident that exist at t that are not grounded in anything that exists at t.
If the CE has an advantage, it's because she can soften the blow by posting a cross-temporal grounding relation between such presently existing accidents and a piece of bread that no longer exists, whereas the best the CP can do is say that the accidents in question WERE grounded in a piece of bread. I'm beginning to think that Cruz was right in his earlier post: this may be just "a special case of the problem of cross-temporal relations for the presentist."

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think a case can be made that it's a particularly problematic to make something not real be the ground of something real.

CWEC Small Group said...

It seems like the CE could hold that the bread continues to have temporal coordinates, but not any spatial coordinates (or nonextedned spacial coordinates) such that the bread still exists. I'm not familliar with the standard metaphysics of transubstantiation, though, so maybe that doesn't help much.

Unknown said...


"I think a case can be made that it's a particularly problematic to make something not real be the ground of something real."

Do we want to say that substances *ground* their accidents? Since grounding is a determination relation, the substance would guarantee the existence of the accident. That seems wrong.

If we opt in for saying that the accidents *depend* on the bread, then it doesn't seem like we need the existence of the substance of the bread and the wine to have their accidents existing. To borrow an example from Fine, Socrates might exist only contingently, and the property of being identical with Socrates exist necessarily, but it seems that the latter would depend on the former even in worlds where Socrates doesn't exist. Perhaps the accidents of the bread and wine are like this. They depend on the bread and wine because their identities are wrapped up with that particular piece of bread and that particular amount of wine.

Also, don't propositions like those expressed in (2) fall under the scope of the condemnations of 1277? There relevant propositions that were decided against were:

139. That an accident existing without a subject us not an accident, except equivocally; [and] that it is impossible that a quantity or dimension exist by itself because that would make it a substance.

140. That to make an accident exist without a subject is an impossible argument that implies a contradiction.

141. That God cannot make an accident exist without a subject, nor make several dimensions exist simultaneously [in the same place].

Heavenly Philosophy said...

Catholic argument against perdurantism

1. Jesus Christ is fully present in the Eucharist.
2. If Jesus Christ is fully present in the Eucharist, then every part of Christ is present in the Eucharist.
3. Therefore, every part of Christ is present in the Eucharist. (1,2)
4. If perdurantism is true, then not every part of Christ is present in the Eucharist.(Jesus Christ's temporal part at 1 AD probably isn't present in the Eucharist, etc.)
5. Therefore, perdurantism is false. (3,4)

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's a cool argument! But a standard principle is that we interpret the Church according to ordinary linguistic usage. In ordinary usage, all we need for someone to be fully present in a room is that all their _current_ parts are present in the room.

Heavenly Philosophy said...

Well, you could still say that it's evidence for endurantism because Christ would be fully present in more ways. You could affirm that doctrine more strongly maybe.
By the way, are you still an endurantist?