Thursday, February 8, 2018

Presentism and counting future sufferings

I find it hard to see why on presentism or growing block theory it’s a bad thing that I will suffer, given that the suffering is unreal. Perhaps, though, the presentist or growing blocker can say that is a primitive fact that it is bad for me that a bad thing will happen to me.

But there is now a second problem for the presentist. Suppose I am comparing two states of affairs:

  1. Alice will suffer for an hour in 10 hours.
  2. Bob will suffer for an hour in 5 hours and again for an hour in 15 hours.

Other things being equal, Alice is better off than Bob. But why?

The eternalist can say:

  1. There are more one-hour bouts of suffering for Bob than for Alice.

Maybe the growing blocker can say:

  1. It will be the case in 16 hours that there are more bouts of suffering for Bob than for Alice.

(I feel that this doesn’t quite explain why it’s B is twice as bad, given that the difference between B and A shouldn’t be grounded in what happens in 16 hours, but nevermind that for this post.)

But what about the presentist? Let’s suppose preentism is true. We might now try to explain our comparative judgment by future-tensing (1):

  1. There will be more bouts of suffering for Bob than for Alice.

But what does that mean? Our best account of “There are more Xs than Ys” is that the set of Xs is bigger than the set of Ys. But given presentism, the set of Bob’s future bouts of suffering is no bigger than the set of Alice’s future bouts of suffering, because if presentism is true, then both sets are empty as there are no future bouts of suffering. So (3) cannot just mean that there are more future bouts of suffering for Bob than for Alice. Perhaps it means that:

  1. It will be the case that the set of Bob’s bouts of suffering is larger than the set of Alice’s.

This is true. In 5.5 hours, there will presently be one bout of suffering for Bob and none for Alice, so it will then be the case that the set of Bob’s bouts of suffering is larger than the set of Alice’s. But while it is true, it is similarly true that:

  1. It will be the case that the set of Alice’s bouts of suffering is larger than the set of Bob’s.

For in 10.5 hours, there will presently be one bout for Alice and none for Bob. If we read (3) as (4), then, we have to likewise say that there will be more bouts of suffering for Alice than for Bob, and so we don’t have an explanation of why Alice is better off.

Perhaps, though, instead of counting bouts of suffering, the presentist can count intervals of time during which there is suffering. For instance:

  1. The set of hour-long periods of time during which Bob is suffering is bigger than the set of hour-long periods of time during which Alice is suffering.

Notice that the times here need to be something like abstract ersatz times. For the presentist does not think there are any future real concrete times, and so if the periods were real and concrete, the two sets in (6) would be both empty.

And now we have a puzzle. How can fact (6), which is just a fact about sets of abstract ersatz times, explain the fact about how Bob is (or is going to be) worse off than Alice? I can see how a comparative fact about sets of sufferings might make Bob worse off than Alice. But a comparative fact about sets of abstract times should not. It is true that (6) entails that Bob is worse off than Alice. But (6) isn’t the explanation of why.

Our best explanation of why Bob is worse off than Alice is, thus, (1). But the presentist can’t accept (1). So, presentism is probably false.

11 comments:

Christopher Michael said...

In 16 hours, Bob will have suffered twice as much as Alice.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But what does that mean given presentism?

Martin Cooke said...
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Martin Cooke said...
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Martin Cooke said...

Alice is better off than Bob because she is currently doomed to just one of those units of badness, whereas Bob is currently doomed to two of them, is what I would say as a presentist

Michael Gonzalez said...

It doesn't mean anything right now. She isn't worse off yet. And statements of "will be" aren't true statements on presentism (that's why it goes hand-in-hand with Open Theism and other "open" views about the future). If you change the scenario so that the sufferings have already happened, then yes, Alice is now better off than Bob, because she has suffered less. That is a present fact.

So, the simple answer is that it isn't a bad thing that you "will" suffer, because it isn't true that you "will" anything. The question you ask seems to presume that it is a normal intuition to think "Alice is better off than Bob, because Bob will suffer more in the future". I don't think anyone normally has that intuition, since we intuitively think the future is pure potential and can be changed.

As Tim Maudlin puts it, everyone knows I can do things now that will affect what I eat for dinner, but I can't do anything now that will affect what I already ate for breakfast. The future is changeable, unlike the past. So, there is no intuition that one person is right now, objectively better off than someone else, because of what "will" happen.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Martin:

That would seem to mean: There are two units of badness, and Bob is doomed to them. But there aren't two units of badness if presentism is true! There are none.

Michael:

Well, first of all, you can run the story assuming determinism. Second, the same problem reappears regarding the past if presentism is true. What does it mean to say that Bob is worse off because he suffered more? The only account I can think of is one that involves ersatz times. And that seems wrong for the reasons in the post.

Moreover, it is not clear that one *is* presently worse off for *having* suffered. Suppose he suffered and forgot the sufferings. How *is* he presently worse off? (The eternalist can say that as a 4D entity, he tenselessly is worse off.)

Michael Gonzalez said...

Assuming Determinism, there are fact about Alice and Bob and the world right now such that they inevitably will suffer differently later, and that could easily constitute a reason to call one worse off than the other.

On presentism, the past leaves its trace on the present. The particular present that it is is the specific result of past events. If the only way one is "worse off" involves what one remembers (leaving all psychological/unconscious scarring aside or whatever other traces aside), then they may indeed be just as well off. I'm not sure what intuition you're attempting to pump, since we do not in normal discourse worry about one's sempiternal "well-offness". We worry about what one remembers, what effects experiences have had (conscious or otherwise), etc.

Alexander R Pruss said...

This well-offness matters for decisions. If we are to choose between one bout of suffering and two, obviously we should choose one. But why?

Martin Cooke said...

There are two units of badness because Bob is doomed to them. The doom makes them quite real; although they would have some reality were they only possible. Indeed, presentists take heart from quantum mechanics, where future possibilities seem to have a certain reality now, in that they can have interacted: we presentists like the way that there are 2 of them, not just the one that eternalists wish there was.

I see why you say that they do not exist under presentism, but it is not that presentists keep the present moment and throw the past and future away. In a single moment nothing changes, whereas presentists regard time as abstracted from the reality of change.

Martin Cooke said...

Consequently we are changing continuants, under presentism; we are not just our present state. Suppose the cause of a future badness was internal to Bob: then that cause would be a present badness. Similarly for the doom: it is a present badness in itself (roughly the same as the badness doomed to).