Saturday, January 26, 2008

Endurantism and perdurantism

For a long time, I was a B-theoretical endurantist. As a B-theorist, I did not believe there was an objective difference between past, present and future--only a difference relative to the speech act or mental act. I still hold to this. As an endurantist, I believed that I was wholly present at every given time at which I existed. Not a part of me, a slice of me, but the whole of me.

But now I see that I don't really have a very good objection to a perdurantism that says I am a four-dimensional entity, transcending particular times. Most perdurantists believe that there are temporal parts, slices of the four-dimensional entities that we are. But there is no need to believe that. Certainly, I don't believe that we have horizontal or vertical parts. If I have parts at all, they are parts like heart, leg, brain hemisphere, not neat slices along planes such as "my left half" or "my bottom third". I have no idea what the persistence conditions for "my left half" or "my bottom third" would be. Likewise, if I have temporal parts, they're going to be cut along natural cutting hyperplanes. But in fact, I doubt there are any natural cutting hyperplanes for temporal parts, except perhaps death where the soul separates from the body.

So if I opted for perdurantism, I would not believe in temporal parts or slices. I would think of myself as a single organic entity, stretched out in time.

There is something attractive about this view. It makes us be in time but also transcend particular times, since we're not contained in any time slice.

Moreover, this view escapes the following objection against endurantism: If we're wholly present at every time at which we exist, there is not much to that "whole". It's very "thin"--it's merely three-dimensional. But insofar as we're merely three-dimensional, we don't do very much--the lesson of Zeno's paradox of the arrow is that on a (three-dimensional) time-slice the arrow doesn't move, and there perhaps isn't much to us except insofar as we're moving. I think a presentist endurantist can overcome this worry, but an eternalist endurantist will have some trouble with it. But maybe I am confusing motion with activity here--contemplation is an activity which does not involve motion. So perhaps a three-dimensional entity can have activity without having motion, and then there will be a lot to it (there still won't be a lot to the arrow, but that's OK).

On the other hand, the perdurantist view may have some trouble with transsubstantiation. (That's just a hunch.) If the trouble can't be overcome, I'll stick to endurantism.


Jeremy Pierce said...

If you can have extended partless objects at a time, then there shouldn't be any problem with extended partless objects across time. If you can have bi-located objects at one time, there shouldn't be any problem with objects wholly located at multiple times. A 4D view can handle either way. So I don't think there's a problem for transsubstantiation except in figuring out which way of doing it is correct.

It might be worth keeping in mind that there might be some enduring entities and some perduring entities. Some 3Ders think objects endure and events perdure (because, for example, a baseball game has temporal parts). If that's right, then there's no contradiction if some objects perdure and others endure, particularly if you're dealing with miracles involving objects ceasing to exist and being replaced by other objects with almost all the detectable original properties of the no longer existing things. So that may be a third way to handle it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

No, that doesn't address the worry I had. But I can't fully remember the worry I had...

Ryan said...

I like the endurantist model, and I would like to ask something about the objection you raise against it.
You say that the endurantist model faces the objection that if I am wholly present at any given time, then there seems not to be much to me. I think this objection makes a start at pointing out a difficulty for endurantism, but it doesn't go all the way. Is there some way to suggest that there are (intuitively) essential properties I have which cannot be had by a 3D me at any given time? If there are, this would seem to be a very strong objection against endurantism. If there aren't, then perhaps the endurantist will be okay with saying, "there isn't much to me." Why can't the endurantist just insist that any essential properties of mine are had by a 3D me and that I also acquire interesting accidental properties at different times and during different durations of times?
In other words, if saying that the 3D me doesn't look like much only means that it doesn't have certain fun accidental properties, then the objection doesn't appear as strong as it might have seemed.