Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A tale of three horses

Consider three horses: Alexander's Bucephalus, Gandalf's Shadowfax and Dawn. Here, I am using "Dawn" as the name of a horse that has come into existence just now, so that it is now the first moment of existence for Dawn. (Imagine the claims about Dawn all being made at the first moment of its existence.)

Intuitively, there is something Bucephalus and Dawn have in common with each other that they don't have in common with Shadowfax, namely reality.

The eternalist can take this at face value and say: Bucephalus and Dawn both exist, while Shadowfax does not.

But it is difficult for the presentist to say what Bucephalus and Dawn have in common which they don't share with Shadowfax. According to presentism, neither Bucephalus nor Shadowfax exist. Of course Bucephalus did exist, but on the other hand it is false that Dawn did exist: it is Dawn's first moment. So on presentism, Bucephalus and Dawn have neither existence nor past existence in common. And they don't have future existence in common either, since Bucephalus presumably has no future (unless there is a resurrection for brute animals, which we can suppose for the sake of argument there won't be). Nor do they have timeless existence in common, since none of the three is a timeless entity.

Of course, it is true that both Bucephalus and Dawn did-or-do-exist. But that's a disjunctive property, and a similarity in respect of a merely disjunctive property is not a real similarity. Perhaps the presentist can argue that it is a disjunctive property, but not a merely disjunctive one. But barring some sort of account of the similarity this seems ad hoc. We might as well say that Shadowfax and Bucephalus have this in common, that each fictionally-or-actually-exists.

16 comments:

Peter said...

I am not sympathetic to presentism, but what about this as a response: These two horses do not, strictly speaking, have anything in common, but they are, nonetheless, similar. They are similar insofar as past existence and present existence are similar. This similarity is not itself rooted in a deeper commonality (to avoid disjunctive categories) but is itself a fundamental feature of the world. The similarity between past and present (and future) existence is simply basic.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's an option. But note that actual existence and merely possible existence are similar in some way, too (Mt Everest is more like a golden mountain than like a square circle). Is it just a matter of degree?

Peter said...

As I said, I am not a presentist, but I do find basic similarity plausible, and I tend to think it can come in degrees. So, yeah, I would think that on this particular response one should say that present and past existence have a far greater degree of similarity than possible and actual existence do. That doesn't seem too bad to me, but there might be problems down the road for thinking of degrees of fundamental similarity in this way.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

How do you know animals will not be resurrected when Christ comes to make ALL things new?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Dagmara,

I don't know, but it seems not all that likely to me. Animals have been living and dying for about half a billion years prior to the Fall, so it doesn't seem that their death is an evil all things considered.

I suppose God could resurrect them all, and fill millions of planets with ancient marine invertebrates, etc. Nothing is beyond the power of God. But it seems to me that resurrecting all the animals would make us lose out on some of the progressive story of the evolution. And, of course, God could feed a T-rex chunks of fake meat, but a T-rex that doesn't chase and kill prey just isn't a fully fulfilled T-rex. Moreover, reproduction seems to be a less replaceable part of animal flourishing than of human flourishing, and without death, this would require God to relocate offspring to more and more planets.

God could do all this. But my aesthetic sense does not say that this all particularly worth doing.

It seems to me that finitude is a part of the story of non-person animals. The flourishing of non-person animals is to achieve a kind of eternity through reproduction. It wouldn't surprise me if there were animals in the afterlife. But I doubt that they are resurrected animals.

I say that as someone who has never had a close relationship with a non-person animal. The only pet *I* ever had was a caterpillar. My family owned a Dalmatian puppy for several days, and I remember those as nightmarish days, including once myself running to hide in the bathroom from it, with the nightmare ended when we decided that a dog, or at least that dog, wasn't for us (and thankfully the sellers took it back as there was another family very interested in it). So I don't have the lived insights of someone who has has closer relationships with non-person animals.

God's judgments are no doubt very different from mine on many matters.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

My spiritual director told me that my animals can be a part of my heaven. When I had to put my Thoroughbred down, I prayed the Glorious Mysteries on the Rosary and the knowledge that Christ will come to make ALL things new was a great consolation as well as a deepening of my faith.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

I am sorry for the bad experience you had with the Dalmatian puppy. If there is one thing about dogs, it is that they for the most part love their humans unconditionally even when other people don't.

Chris Giles said...

Wouldn’t a Thomist presentist answer that both Dawn and Bucephalus have had their essences actualised by an act of existence? On that level, there is no difference between them.
This isn’t said of a future or fictional being.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I wouldn't say that Dawn "has had its essence actualized". This is the first moment of Dawn's existence. So there isn't any past actualization: just a present actualization.

Chris Giles said...

Then why not say that ‘actualisation of essence by act of existence’ is true of both Dawn and Bucephalus but not of Shadowfax? This avoids any when.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But Bucephalus doesn't exist according to presentism. If it doesn't exist, it doesn't have an act of existence. It doesn't have have an actualization of essence.

Chris Giles said...

Agreed. But Dawn does exist according to presentism, so Dawn has in fact had its essence actualised. I think you would want to say Dawn is having its essence actualised, present continuous not present perfect. So ok, why not talk of Dawn and Bucephalus both as possessors of essences capable of / susceptible to actualisation by an act of existence? This much they have in common that Shadowfax doesn’t share. This leaves open a further distinction between Dawn and Bucephalus in terms of present and past existence.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The presentist cannot say that Bucephalus *is* a possessor of an essence capable of actualization, since Bucephalus does not exist on their view. They can only say that Bucephalus *was* such a possessor. But this claim is exactly parallel to the claim that Shadowfax *would be* a possessor of an essence capable of actualization, or that Shadowfax *according to the fiction is* such a possessor.

It is very difficult to talk in a consistently presentist way.

Chris Giles said...

I agree my second and third shots don’t work, so one last try:
In my first moment of toothlessness, I can say I have had my tooth removed; it is the first moment of my tooth-removed-state.
In the first moment of my existence, I can say I have had my essence actualised by an act of existence; it is the first moment of my actualised essence.
So I want to return to my first point and say that the present perfect tense covers past events up to and including the present, so Dawn has indeed had her essence actualised at the first moment of her existence.
Examples: Students have protested on campus since the dawn of time, we might say as they now protest outside our window. This human at the first moment of its existence has (just) come to be in its mother’s womb. This blog post has just been published, we might have said, at the first moment it was posted.
So Dawn and Bucephalus have had their essences actualised by an act of existence and this they share which cannot be said of Shadowfax.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Chris:

I guess you're right as a matter of English grammar. But all this shows is that "have had" does not always refer to the past in English. However, we are interested in a question of metaphysics, and specifically if we have a rigid distinction between past, present and future, it is possible to explain what Dawn and Bucephalus have in common. Basically, the only reason your option works is that "have had" means something like "have had in the past or is occurring for the first time right now", so it is a disjunction between a past and a present.

One way to do this is to go for an language with simpler past, present and future tenses, and not those weird compound tenses that English has (something more like Russian than like English), and ask the question in that language. A better way is to consider an idealized language with Pastly and Futurely operators.

Furthermore, given classical theism, a *future* horse, say Evensong, will be known to God just as well as a present or past horse. Thus, if we add classical theism into the mix, we will want to say what Bucephalus, Dawn and Evensong have in common, and what they do not have in common with a merely fictional horse like Shadowfax.