Metaphysics PHIL 420
Cal State Fullerton
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Date Created: 09/30/15
Phil 420 Metaphysics Spring 2008 Handout 20 Dean Zimmerman The Privileged Present Defending an ATheory of Time Professor J eeLoo Liu Introduction Time and space are analogous in various ways objects exist in both time and space events can be separated by distances in both time and space matter moves continuously through space and time In recognition of the analogies physicists lump the two together under the heading of space time How far does this analogy go Very far according to J J C Smart Just as objects that are distant in space are real objects that are distant in time are real Just as there is nothing special about here beyond the fact that it is the place where I am there is nothing special about now beyond the fact that it is the time when I am Dean Zimmerman rejects these alleged analogies The present is special it is the only time whose events and objects are truly real From Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics Blackwell 2008 Preface The disputes on the nature of time 1 Are there objective differences between What is past present and future 2 Are present events and things somehow more real than those Wholly in the past or future Zimmerman Affirmative answers to both questions sound obvious and commonsensical to me Atheories versus Btheories Aproperties being past being present being future Bproperties being earlier than being later than and being simultaneous Atheorists Btheorists The metaphysicians who regard A The metaphysicians who regard B relations properties as fundamental and B relations as fundamental and the A properties as as derivative derivative Zimmerman 2 They believe in some sort of objective distinction between what is present and what is past and what is future They don t believe in any objective distinction between what is present and what is past and what is future They answer question 1 in the affirmative The present is distinguished from past and future in a way that is not relative to any other temporal thing such as a conversation a time or a frame of reference They think that when we say that certain events and times are past present and future we are not describing the world as it is in itself we are merely describing the temporal locations of things relative to one particular temporal location the point in time at which the description is being given Varieties of ATheories ATheories 1 Presentism Only the present is real The past is no longer real and the future is not yet real They give affirmative answers to both 1 and 2 above We imagine a moving spotlight traversing in time What is 2 Moving Spotlight illuminated is the present what has been illuminated is the past Theory and what has not yet been illuminated is the future They give an affirmative answer to 1 but not to 2 3 Growing Block Theory Both past and present events individuals times are real the future is not real They give an affirmative answer to 1 but they give partially negative answer to 2 1 Presentism Saint Augustine Prior Zimmerman Presentism is the usual name given to a version of the A theory that accepts at face value the differences among past present and future things this way What it is for an event or thing to move from the future into the present and from the present into the past is to come into existence and then go out of existence There exist only present events individuals and times assuming that times are sums or collections of simultaneous events Saint Augustine It is abundantly clear that neither the future nor the past exist and therefore it is not strictly correct to say that there are three times past present and future Zimmerman 3 2 The Moving Spotlight Theory Quentin Smith Timothy Williamson On the moving spotlight A theory future and past events and things are just as much a part of the furniture of the world as present events and things But there is something special about the ones that are present they are lit up in some way Before and after they are being illuminated they reside in darkness Past and future things are in no meaningful sense less real than present things They lack a peculiar property called presentness but as they acquire and lose this property they undergo no interesting changes of any other kind past past past Present future future future future 3 The Growingblock Theory C D Broad Robert Adams Peter Forrest An intermediate form of the A theory accepts the existence of past and present events things and times but denies the reality of the future Although both past and present things and events exist present events differ from past ones in that there are no events later than them Being present is simply a matter of being on the cutting edge of a growing universe spread out in four dimensions ceasing to be present and becoming past involves no intrinsic change whatsoever Broad quotThe essence of a present event is not that it precedes future events but that there is quite literally nothing to which it has the relation of precedence Nothing has happened to be the present by becoming past except that fresh slices of existence have been added to the total history of the world Past Present Future Zimmerman 4 Objections and Replies First Objection The Atheory has no truthmakers for truths about the past truthmakers Whenever someone says something and what they said was true then there must be something in the world some real object thing event state of affairs or fact that makes what they said true These things are the truthmakers the truthmaker principle For every true proposition there must exist something that requires that the proposition be true in other words a thing that could not possibly exist unless the proposition in question is true The objection According to the Presentists there is nothing more to the world than the way it is now So they have no truthmakers for truth about the past The reply There are backward looking properties that objects really have such as having been occupied by a dinosaur 150000000 years ago Liu huh Second Objection The Atheory is in conflict with the theory of Relativity A 1 Relativity is formulated in terms of a four dimensional manifold of space time points Taken at face value the theory attributes important spatiotemporal structure to this manifold One of the most important kinds of structure is exhibited by sets of points that constitute a straight line running in a time like direction 2 But the A theorist must think that one instantaneous three dimensional slice of the four dimensional universe corresponds to the real present moment And the Presenlisl A theory is committed to the view that only that slice of the block exists But these lines are composed of points that must come from different instantaneous slices so according to the Presentist when one of them exists none of the others does 3 Thus the A theory cannot allow anything to exhibit the important spatiotemporal structure of a straight line in a time like direction Onlv one slice is present I Zimmerman 5 The Reply The Presentist A theory is not necessarily committed to the view that only that slice of the block exists Thus 2 above is false B 1 The structure relativity attributes to space time does not single out just one set of points as the time of a given event within the block There are many different angles at which the block can be sliced into sets of points that look for all the world like instantaneous three dimensional states of the universe or times No one of these ways of slicing it into a series of times is better than any other which angle will seem natural to a given person will depend upon her state of motion 2 But the A theorist must suppose that there is now has always been and will always be a fact of the matter about which parts of space time are really present all together and these facts will privilege one way of dividing the four dimensional block into a series of truly co present slices 3 Since the A theory posts structure within space time that is not countenanced by relativity it contradicts the theory The Reply The objector s point is that if fundamental physics can t see a distinction between the time that is present and the ones that are not then there is no distinction to be made But the verdict is made too soon Presentist A theory provides a layer of space time structure that relativity fails to mention It is not a major crime Why Think the ATheory Is True Argument from the Commonsense 1 It is simply part of commonsense that the past and future are less real than the present that the temporal difference between events and things goes much deeper than the spatial difference between events and things 2 What it is for some statement to be commonsensical is just for it to seem obviously true to most sane human beings for it to be part of the stock of things we all take for granted 3 Therefore something s being commonsensical must be allowed to count very strongly in its favor other things being equal 4 Unless we are willing to become extreme skeptics we must allow that it is reasonable to believe things that seem obviously true in the absence of special reasons to doubt them The A theory preserves the commonsense conviction and the B theory does not Therefore the A theory is the better theory 091 Zimmerman 6 Conclusion The Argument from Reasonableness 1 In philosophy the commonsensical is innocent until proven guilty It is reasonable to believe something that seems obvious unless there are significant reasons to doubt it 2 I find that I believe things that imply the A theory It remains reasonable for me to believe the A theory 3 Often the best one can say for a metaphysical theory is that it is reasonable to believe it 4 Therefore the A theory remains to be an acceptable the best metaphysical theory I would not claim to know that the A theory is true but in my view few philosophers should claim to know the substantive philosophical doctrines they defend against their equally intelligent and well informed philosophical opponents Liu s Qs i Is the A theory really the theory that complies with the commonsense ii Even if it is the growing block view is probably closer to the commonsensical view than Presentism Does this rule in favor of the growing block view iii Why should commonsense be a prima facie sufficient ground for holding a metaphysical view
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