Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Privation, false belief and time

According to the privation theorist, when an evil occurs, some entity is lacking such that were that entity to exist, there would have been no evil there.

The challenge for the privation theorist is to find the missing entity. Here is one special case of this challenge: the case of justified false belief.

Suppose yesterday I had a justified belief that today you will not dance a jig. And yet today you did dance a jig. What is the missing entity, such that if it existed, there would have been no evil? I can think of only two candidates for the missing entity: truth and correspondence.

Consider first the truth suggestion. My belief yesterday lacked truth. But is this missing truth an entity? It had better be for it to help the privation theorist. But then by choosing to dance a jig today, you brought it about that an entity did not exist yesterday. But we surely do not have such routine and easy power over what entities existed in the past!

The above argument generalizes: whatever the missing entity is, it had better not be an entity that would have existed yesterday. It needs to be an entity that would have existed today, presumably at the very time when by dancing a jig and thereby ensured its nonexistence. (This is already problematic. For what went wrong was my belief yesterday, not your action today, so it seems that what makes the evil an evil should be located yesterday, because of the world-to-mind direction of fit of belief.)

So, perhaps correspondence is such an entity, and perhaps the correspondence between mind and reality exists precisely at the time at which that reality exists. But this is also problematic. For suppose that today you secretly dance a jig, and tomorrow Alice forms the false belief that you didn’t. If correspondence exists at the time of the reality, then were it to be the case that Alice instead tomorrow formed the belief that you did dance a jig, there would have been a correspondence between mind and reality today, during your jigging. Thus, depending on which belief Alice forms tomorrow, either a correspondence does or does not exist today, and so once again we have a routine and ordinary power over what entities existed in the past, which is absurd.

Could we say that the correspondence exists at both the time of the belief and the time described by the belief? But that doesn’t help: Alice by forming a belief tomorrow still affects whether there is a correspondence today.

I suppose one could have a messy view on which when a true belief is about the past, the correspondence exists at the time of the belief, and when the true belief is about the future, the correspondence exists at the time of the described reality. But now suppose that I have a conjunctive true belief about what you did yesterday and what you will do tomorrow. That belief is about both the past and the future. When does it exist? If we say that it exists today or yesterday, then your action tomorrow can affect what exists today or yesterday, and that’s absurd as before. So that correspondence has to exist tomorrow.

But then we are forced into this even messier view: if a belief is true, the correspondence exists at the time of the belief or at the last of the times the belief is about, whichever comes later. But now we have more problems. For suppose you will exist forever (in heaven, say), and I form the true belief that you will never dance a jig. But there is no last time that the belief is about! Indeed, whatever the time t the correspondence exists at, there will be a later potential jig-dancing time at which by choosing whether to dance a jig you control whether that correspondence exists at t. And it seems implausible that just by living forever you gain the power to create or annihilate past entities.

Note that the problem here afflicts anyone who thinks that tokens of correspondence between belief and reality are genuine entities.


Apologetics Squared said...

You made a typo:
"According to the privation theorist, whene an evil occurs,"
"Whene" should be "when."

Alexander R Pruss said...