allzermalmer

Truth suffers from too much analysis

Fatalism

Posted by allzermalmer on November 6, 2011

This blog is based on a paper done by the philosopher Richard Taylor. The paper is called Fatalism, and was in the philosophical journal The Philosophical Review, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Jan., 1962), pp. 56-66.

Richard Taylor first starts out by stating what a Fatalist is suppose to be.

“A Fatalist-if there is any such-thinks he cannot do anything about the future. He thinks it is not up to him what is going to happen next year, tomorrow, or the very next moment. He thinks that even his own behavior is -not in the least within his power, any more than the motions of the heavenly bodies, the events of remote history, or the political developments in China….A fatalist, in short, thinks of the future in the manner in which we all think of the past. For we do all believe that it is not up to us what happened last year, yesterday, or even a moment ago, that these things are not within our power…”

Now he sets up six presupposings, which are supposed to help to lead to Fatalism. And most of these presuppositions are very common, which is what makes the argument interesting.

First Presupposition: A statement is either true or false.  [Law of Excluded Middle]

Second Presupposition: If any state of affairs is sufficient for the occurrence of some further condition at the same or any other time, then the former cannot occur without the latter occurring also. [Sufficient Condition]

Third Presupposition: If the occurrence of any condition is necessary for the occurrence of some other condition at the same or any other time, then the latter cannot occur without the former occurring also. [Necessary Condition]

Fourth Presupposition: If one condition or set of conditions is sufficient for (ensures) another, then that other is necessary (essential) for it. Or, if one condition or set of conditions is necessary (essential) for another, then that other is sufficient for (ensures) it. [Logical implication of 2nd and 3rd Presuppositon]

Fifth Presupposition:  No agent can perform any given act if there is lacking, at the same or any other time, some condition necessary for the occurrence of that act.

Sixth Presupposition: Time is not by itself “efficacious”; that is, that the mere passage of time does not augment or diminish the capacities of anything and, in particular, that it does not enhance or decrease an agent’s powers or abilities.

First Situation: Now let’s imagine that I wake up in the morning, and I find my newspaper at the doorstep. I pick it up and go to sit at the kitchen table. I open it up to look at the headlines of the newspaper. It’s assumed conditions are such that only if there was a naval battle yesterday does the newspaper carry a certain kind of headline, or if it carries a certain different sort (shape) of headline, this will ensure that there was no such battle. Like either it says there was a naval battle, or there wasn’t any naval battle.

Now I know I’m either going to see the headline with a certain shape (i.e. Naval battle) or I won’t see the headline with a certain shape (i.e. Naval battle). And each shall be represented like this:
X=see the headline with a certain shape
~X= don’t see the headline with a certain shape .

We also two more statements, with their own meaning:
Y= “A naval battle occurred yesterday”
~Y= “No naval battle occurred yesterday”

If I perform X, then my doing that will ensure that ~Y. Or, if I perform seeing the headling with a certain shape, then my doing so will ensure that no naval battle occurred yesterday. If I perform ~X, then my doing that will ensure that Y. Or, if I perform not seeing the headline with a certain shape, then my doing that will ensure that a naval battle occurred yesterday.

Now I come to wonder if it was up to me what headline I read when I open up the newspaper, to see the headlines.

I might come to think, “It’s within my power to do X, and it is also within my power to do ~X.” Or, in another way, “It’s within my power to see the headling with a certain shape, and it is also within my power to do not seeing the headling with a certain shape.”

Now this comes off as false, because if it were up to me which one to do, then it would also be up to me whether that naval battle took place or not. This would imply me having the power over the past, and I don’t plainly posses this power.

1. If “a naval battle occurred yesterday” is true, then it is not within my power to “don’t see the headling with a certain shape”.[Reason: for in case “a naval battle occurred yesterday is true”, then there is, or was, lacking a condition essential for my doing “not seeing the headling with a certain shape”, the condition, namely, of there being no naval battle yesterday.]

2. But if “no naval battle occurred yesterday”, then it’s not within my power to see “a headline with a certain shape”. [Reason: same as the reason above.]

3. But a naval battle occurred yesterday or no naval battle occurred yesterday.

4. Therefore, either it is not within my power to  “see the headling with a certain shape”, or it is not within my power to “don’t see the headling with a certain shape.”

This, basically, says that the sort of headline that I read depends on what took place yesterday, or in the past. And what happened yesterday or in the past isn’t up to me. We’re all fatalist when it comes to the past, or it seems that we are. “Don’t cry over spilt milk.”

But there is nothing self-contradictory with thinking that, if I did open up the newspaper and saw a certain shape, then I brought about a naval battle. This is another way of saying that me looking at the headline on the newspaper, and it having a certain shape, that I’ve ensured that there was a naval battle. But I can’t see the headline with a certain shape unless there was a naval battle yesterday.

Second situation: Assume that I’m a naval commander, and I’m going to give my orders for the day. Now assuming the totality of other conditions prevailing,  if I issue a certain kind of order, then it will ensure a naval battle. If I issue a different kind of order, then it will ensure no naval battle. We know that I’ll either issue the first type of order or issue the second type of order.

Here’s a certain symbolic representation:
O= “issue certain kind of order M”
~O= “don’t issue certain kind of order M”
H= “a naval battle will occur tomorrow”
~H= “no naval battle occur tomorrow”

So, if I “issue a certain kind of order M”, then it will ensure that there’s “a naval battle tomorrow”. If I “don’t issue certain kind of order M”, then it will ensure that there’s “no naval battle tomorrow.” But is it up to me which sort of order I issue?

A fatalist would disagree that doing either proposition is within your power. But most of us typically think that it is within our power to do either proposition. For we typically think it is up to the naval commander, with the totality of other conditions prevailing, whether there is a naval battle or no naval battle. The commander, after all, gives the order to do it, and we think that it’s within his power to give the order or not.

But the same formal argument presented for the first instance can be presented for this, the second, instance.

1. If  “a naval battle will occur tomorrow” is true, then it’s not within my power to “don’t issue certain kind of order M”. [Reason: for in case “a naval battle will occur tomorrow” is true, then there is, or will be, lacking a condition essential for my doing “don’t issue certain kind of order M”, the condition, namely, of there being no naval battle tomorrow.]

2. But if “no naval battle occur tomorrow” is true, then it’s not within my power to “issue certain kind of order M”. [Reason: same as for above.]

3. But either “a naval battle will occur tomorrow” or “no naval battle will occur tomorrow.”

4. Therefore, either it is not within my power to “issue certain kind of order M” or it is not within my power to “don’t issue certain kind of order M”.

Another way to say this is, the order you issue depends on whether “a naval battle will occur tomorrow”. By our fourth presupposition, it is a necessary condition for “issue certain kind of order M”, while no naval battle tomorrow is equally essential to “don’t issue certain kind of order M”. Now we might have trouble with this, but we didn’t have trouble when the same type of inference and rules were used with the first situation, with the headline of the newspaper.

Considerations of Time:  Some might object by saying that no condition can be necessary for any other before that conditions exist. However, the fifth and sixth presuppose don’t allow for this.

“Surely if some condition, at any given time, whether past, present,
or future, is necessary for the occurrence of something else, and that condition does not in fact exist at the time it is needed, then nothing we do can be of any avail in bringing about that occurrence for which it is necessary.”

In order for me to be a U.S. Senator, it is necessary that I be at least 30 years old. Past, present, or future, it’s necessary that I be at least 30 years old. If I’m not at least 30 years old, then I can never be U.S. Senator. Being at least 30 years of age is the necessary condition of being U.S. Senator, and I can’t be a U.S. Senator if this condition is never met.

“And if one should suggest, in spite of all this, that a state of affairs that exists not yet cannot, just because of this temporal removal, be a necessary condition of anything existing prior to it, this would be logically equivalent to saying that no present state of affairs can ensure another subsequent to it.”

We would be in a strange  position if we would deny the necessary conditions of states of affairs that don’t exist yet. And this is usually what we do with things in the future, by us thinking that we will either give the naval command or we won’t give the naval command. And this means that what happened in the next second will not be ensured by what happened in the previous second.

“All that is needed, to restrict the powers that I imagine myself to have to do this or that, is that some condition essential to my doing it does not, did not, or will not occur.”

“What restricts the range of my power to do this thing or that is not the mere temporal relations between my acts and certain other states of affairs, but the very existence of those states of affairs themselves;”

We would come to recognize that these states of affairs already exist. All these state of affairs exist, but they don’t exist for us right now. Imagine that you have a long line of dominos, all set up and orderly. You come to focus on one domino. This is basically the position that we’re in. All the dominos lined up are the “states of affairs”, past, present, and future. The present domino is the one that we’re focused on. There’s the one’s in the past which we say exist, and then theres also be the ones in the future which we say exists. We don’t think that we can change the past, and this also follows with us not being able to change the future.

“The fact that there is going to be “a naval battle tomorrow” is quite enough to render me unable to  “don’t issue certain kind of order M”, just as the fact that there has been a naval battle yesterday renders me unable to “don’t see the headline with a certain shape”, the nonoccurrence of those conditions being essential, respectively, for my doing those things.”

Causation: This problem is presented without any reference to causation. Thus, bringing up causation, like it only working from backwards to forwards, or past to future. This objection won’t help with what’s being discussed.

The Law of Excluded Middle:  You can reject one of the premises in the second instance. The first two, the hypothetical premises of “If…then”, can’t be denied without having to reject the the second to fifth presuppositions. And none of those presuppositions seem to have any problems, and are widely used. You can reject the third premise in the second instance, but then you’d have to reject the law of excluded middle.

The reject of the laws of excluded middle has been attempted, and there’s no absurdity in doing so. This leaves with either “a naval battle tomorrow” or “no naval battle tomorrow”. This statement is necessarily true, but each one of the disjuncts isn’t a necessary truth. Thus, we can break apart the statement, and have “A naval battle tomorrow” and “No naval battle tomorrow”. Neither of these statements is necessarily true, but possibly/contingently true. We can thus suppose that neither of them are true and neither of them are false. They’re each “possible”, but it only becomes “necessary” when combine them both together.

Now we can replace the third premise in the second instance, and we can employ keeping the two statements apart from each other, other than putting it into the form of law of excluded middle.

1. If “a naval battle tomorrow” is true, then it is not within my power to “issue certain kind of order M”

2. But if “no naval battle tomorrow” is true, then it is not within my power to “no issue certain kind of order M”.

3. But it is within my power to “not issue certain kind of order M”, and it is also within my power to “issue certain kind of order M”.

4. Therefore, “no naval battle tomorrow” is not true, and “a naval battle tomorrow” is not true”.

Now “a naval battle tomorrow” and “no naval battle tomorrow” are logical contradictories, and if either is false then the other is true. But when we look at the first situation, we find no problems and don’t argue about the law of excluded middle. But when it comes to the second situation, and deals with the future, we find that there’s some problem. It looks like a problem, but the logic is the same, and uses the same presuppositions.

Temporal efficacy: It looks that if we want to avoid fatalism, then we’d have to get rid of the first presupposition of the law of excluded middle, and to get rid of the sixth presupposition of Time is not by itself “efficacious”; that is, that the mere passage of time does not augment or diminish the capacities of anything and, in particular, that it does not enhance or decrease an agent’s powers or abilities.

“In fact, it is doubtful whether one can in any way avoid fatalism with respect to the future while conceding that things past are, by virtue of their pastness alone, no longer within our power without also conceding an efficacy to time; for any such view will entail that future possibilities, at one time within our power to realize or not, cease to be such merely as a result of the passage of time-which is precisely what our sixth presupposition denies.”

Some might want to deny the first presupposition and the sixth presupposition, because they think of status of some future things as mere possibilities. This position denies the futures factuality and lack of it’s factuality. And this makes it look like the first presupposition and the sixth are linked together.

The Assertion of Fatalism: 

“Of course one other possibility remains, and that is to assert, out of respect for the law of excluded middle and a preference for viewing things under the aspect of eternity, that fatalism is indeed a true doctrine, that propositions such as (the second instance) are, like (the first instance), never true in such situation as we have described, and that the difference in our attitudes toward things future and past, which leads us to call some of the former but none of the latter “possibilities”, resulting entirely from epistemological and psychological cosiderations- such as, that we happen to know more about what the past contains than about what is contained in the future, that our memory extends to past experience rather than future ones, and so on.”

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