allzermalmer

Truth suffers from too much analysis

Fatalism Arguments

Posted by allzermalmer on November 7, 2011

This is a blog based on an article by Steven Cahn. It is based on an article called Fatalistic Arguments. It appeared in the philosophy journal The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 61, No. 10 (May 7, 1964), pp. 295-305. It also follows from the blog Fatalism.

The article by Cahn, basically, follows what Richard Taylor presented in his article on Fatalism (which I gave you a link to that I did a blog of).

Crucial Assumpitions: One assumpition is that any proposition is either true or false, and this is the Law of Excluded Middle. Another assumpition is that an agent can’t perform an action in the absence of some conditions necessary for the action. Another assumpition is that a necessary condition is an event or state of affairs which is logically unrelated to X but which is nevertheless such that X cannot occur without it. We say that oxygen is a necessary condition for humans to live, which is that no human can live without oxgyen. But this isn’t to say that it’s logically impossible for a human to live without oxygen.

“given that it is true that a certain event E has occurred, then it is not now within the power of any agent to perform any action A which would, if performed, be sufficient for the nonoccurrence of E-for a necessary condition for the performance of A is the prior nonoccurrence of E.”

One way to sum this up is “The past is unalterable”. This seems pretty straightforeward, and something not really argued against, or something people believe. I can’t alter who my parents were, or when I was born. That’s beyond anything I can control or change.

“given that it is true that a certain event E will occur, then, [Taylor] says in effect, it is not now within the power of any agent to perform any action A which would, if performed, be sufficient for the nonoccurrence of E-for a necessary condition for the performance of A is the subsequent nonoccurrence of E.”

One way to sum this up is “The future is unalterable”. Now this doesn’t seem straightforeward to the way that we typically like to view things. But one analogy should help. We tend to think that the future is alterable, but we don’t tend to think that movies are alterable. When we go to see a movie, we pretty much expect the movie to have an unalterable ending. But from the point of view of the “characters in the movie”, the future isn’t set and is alterable.

The type of reasoning used is helped is based on necessary conditions and sufficent conditions. For any two events or states of affiars X and Y, if X is a necessary condition for Y, then Y is a sufficent condition for X, and vice versa. It doesn’t matter which one occurs first in time, X or Y.

“Being able” and “Knowing how”: But we might have trouble with the way that Taylor uses the term ‘can’. We might disagree that no agent can perform actions in the absence of some conditions necessary for the accomplishment, only certain harmless logical impossiblility. And this has nothing to do with what any agent is able to do.

Here’s what John Turk Saunders had to say on this, in regards to what Taylor brought up:

“My knocking upon a thin wooden door with my fist is a sufficient condition for the door’s shaking. Hence the door’s shaking is a necessary condition for my knocking upon the door. But the door ‘s shaking is not a necessary condition for my ability to knock upon the door.”

But this type of critique misses the point. Taylor did not argue against an agent can know how to perform some act when there’s missing the condition necessary for it’s accomplishment. And thus, in that sense, the person doesn’t have the ability to perform it.

The point, rather, was that no matter what an agent might know how to do, they still cannot even do what they know how to do (being able to do it) if they’re lacking some condition necessary for doing it.

Here is what Taylor is tyring to get at, with an example:

“[I]magine an expert pole-vaulter locked in a room with an eight-foot ceiling. Both Taylor and Saunders might agree that an expert pole-vaulter has the know-how or technical expertise to pole-vault twelve feet. In this sense of the word “can” the pole-vaulter can pole-vault twelve feet. What Taylor is asserting is that, given the conditions of the locked room, the pole-vaulter does not have it within his power to pole-vault twelve feet. His know-how is constrained by circumstances that prevent him from exercising it.”

Now Brue Aune made a criticism of the “absurd consequences” of what Taylor said. One of them is that no agent can perform any given action if lacking some condition necessary for it. Here is one of the “absurd consequences”, which Aune thinks to seem that follows.

“If a man should say that he can swim, or that he has the ability to swim, he would surely take it as a poor joke if someone replied, ‘No, you cannot swim: you lack the ability to do this because you are not now in a pool or lake.'”

Now imagine that we reply to this situation, and change it just slightly. Imagine that a man comes up to you and says that he can swim, or that he has the ability to swim. Another person says to them “well then, you can swim under any conditions. Let’s see you swim out of water.” Now this would surely be a joke or an “absurd consequence”. The first one, given by Aune, would be a joke. The second one, given by Cahn, would be a joke. But the first joke asserts an obvious truth, which is that one needs water in order to swim. And this is exactly the type of truth that Taylor uses.

But the second joke is really a joke. The second assumes that when someone says that they can swim, they mean that he can swim at a specific time even if the necessary conditions for swimming are missing. This means, no person takes the meaning of “I can swim”, to mean that they can swim when they lack the necessary condition of water.Thus, we find that the way that Taylor uses “can” fits in perfectly with the way that we use.

The Simple Rejection of Fatalism: Some people, like John Turk Saunders, have pointed out that Taylor’s argument leads to fatalism. It is dismissed as “weird” that the ability to knock upon the door will suffice to make it shake. And this is part of the fatalist position. You cannot perform a given act if there is lacking a condition necessary for doing it, no matter what you might know how to do. This does imply that if I can knock on the door then I shall.

One person, Peter Makepeace, allows Taylor’s argument, like “I cannot make something happen in the future if it is not going to happen.” And the logical equivalent of that statement is “If it is true that a certain event E is not going to happen, then I cannot make it happen.” But if he allows that, then he supports Taylors argument. That’s what Taylor’s argument leads to, and he agrees with that!

Here is what Makepeace takes disagreement over, with an example of what Makepeace doesn’t like.

“If conditions are such that a snowfall yesterday is a necessary condition for the lawn ‘s being snow-covered this morning, then, given that no snowfall occurred, we can conclude not only that the lawn is not snow-covered, but that it cannot be.”

So we shouldn’t speak of the lawn’s state of being snow covered being “within its power”. So we think it’s absurd to add that it’s “consistent with its being able to carry snow, having the ability not to melt it, and so on, and thus being able, in that sense.”

But this isn’t really absurd, but it is an odd choice of words for one to use. We don’t usually, or like to, think of inanimate objects having something “within its power”. But this isn’t a major issue, because we can change examples from animate to inanimate objects. We can change the expression of “within its power” to “within its capability”. Now this just shows that Makepeace repating an error that Saunder’s made, which is disputing what Taylor didn’t claim.

Taylor hasn’t claimed that “the lawn does not possess the capability to hold snow (i.e., to carry snow, not to melt it, and so on), any more than he claims that the pole-vaulter does not have the know-how to pole-vault twelve feet in a room with an eight-foot high ceiling.”

All Taylor is claiming is that given the absence of a necessary condition, the lawn doesn’t have it within its capability to be snow-covered, just like the pole-vaulter doesn’t have it within their power to pole-vault 12 feet in the 8 foot room.

Fatalism and Linguistic Reform: Some have taken problem with Taylor’s use of “within ones power’s”, and still using it in its coneventional contexts. And this is said to lead to the fatalistic conclusion, because doesn’t keep a distinction.  And this means that it’s claimed that Taylor treats “the only events which it is within one’s power to produce are those which occur.”  as an analytic.

But Taylor isn’t using the statement as analytitic. It’s not true by definitions, but it does follow from his argument that the only action one is able to perform are those which he does perform. And this is the conclusion of fatalism.

Is this linguistic reform, that Taylor is trying to do? Perhaps not, and maybe an example could help to figure out what Taylor is saying.

“Consider a violinist, for instance, who has forgotten to bring his violin to his recital and is unable to obtain another before the time of the recital.”

Taylor is not asserting that the violonist could not play the violin, even if, they had a violin in their hands. This is false. What is being asserted is that if at the time of the recital the violinist doesn’t have a violin in their hands, then they can’t play at the time of the present recital. They’d have to be playing imaginary violins, because that’s the only thing that they had. In that actual situation, there was no violin, and so they can’t play a violin when they don’t have what they need to play. We can imagine that one could have gotten one into their hands, and then when they had it they could play it. But the fact is that they don’t have one. No matter of imagination changes that. And Taylor takes “cannot” to mean that people can’t play imaginary violins, and we consider this to be obviously true.

But Taylor admits that there is another way that the word “can” is used, but one way that he doesn’t use it. The way that his notion of “can” is use, is used to mean the notion of “know-how”. Now this is what we mean when we say that the violinist “can” play the violin. They have the know-how, so if one were given to them then they could play it. But Taylor doesn’t use it this way.

And we don’t think that because someone in the past had the “can” or “know-how”, to do something when they lacked it in the past, means that they did it when they lack that necessary condition. But now it’s trying to be applied to the future. But Taylor is using “can” in the way we use it for the past.

Fatalism and Causation: One might try to attack Taylor on causality. For Taylor’s argument isn’t logically related, but then it must be causally related. But Taylor expresses the argument in terms of necessary conditions and sufficent conditions, which involve no temporal relations. And yet causality seems to imply a temporal relation.

“If, for instance, the presence of oxygen is a necessary condition of a certain man’s being alive over a given period of time, then that man’s continuing to live over that period is a sufficient condition for there being oxygen present. But neither of these is logically necessary or sufficient for the other, nor is either the cause of the other. The presence of oxygen may be a causal condition of that man’s continuing to live, but certainly his living is no causal condition for the presence of oxygen-even though it is a sufficient condition for the presence of oxygen.”

One person points out that Taylor doesn’t include logical necessary and susfficent conditions in his arguments. And logical necessity implies physical necessity, and this could be damaging to the argument.

But Taylor only dealt with “physically” necessary or sufficent conditions. But Taylor doesn’t deny that logical necessity implies “physical” necessity, because he doesn’t a stand on this, and isn’t relevant to his argument.

The Nonefficacy of time: Some might claim that Taylor’s assumpition that time isn’t efficacious is ambigious, because time is logically efficaious. But this misunderstands Taylor’s notion of efficacy of time.

“Taylor explains this by noting that the mere passage of time does not augment or diminish the powers or capacities of anything. Abelson, however, seems to equate the sentence “Time is logically efficacious” with the sentence “Time often has a lot to do with the truth of what we say. ” But these two sentences are entirely different. For instance, the sentence “It is now raining” may be true today and false tomorrow. Quite obviously, time has a lot to do with the truth of the sentence. But it is not time which augmented the power of the clouds to produce rain. Certain meteorological conditions did that. Time in this sense is not efficacious.”

Now another person notices that time canot pass without something chaning, and this is taken to be true.  But this has nothing to do with Taylor’s argument. Taylor pointed out that the passage of time “has no causal effect upon anything”. Something must change during a period of time, but time isn’t the cause of the change. A lake is dired up, but not by time. It is by certain meterological conditions or by people emptying the lake. This all happens in time, but time itself is no cause of it.

Taylor thought we could avoid Fatalism by alterting the Law of Excluded Middle. This way, we say that the certain statements about the future might be neither true or false. But Cahn presents Taylor’s argument, but with only slight modification and unaffected by any modification of the Law of Excluded Middle. This argument takes all of Taylor’s originaly presuppositions, all six of them, and will work with his second instance of the naval commander.

1. At time^1 Naval Commander issues order that “will ensure a naval battle the following day”, or if he does not issue order that “will ensure a naval battle the following day”, then he issues order which “will ensure that no naval battle occurs the following day”.

2. His issuing order which “will ensure a naval battle the following day” at time^1 is a sufficent condition for a naval battle occuring at time^2 (assuming time^2 to be exactly one day after time^1).

3. Therefore, a necessary condition for his issuing order which “will ensure a naval battle the following day” at time^1 is the occurrence of a naval battle at time^2.

4. Naval Commander issuing order which “will ensure that no naval battle occurs the following day” at time^1 is a sufficent condition for no naval battle occuring at time^2.

5. Therefore, a necessary condition for his issuing order which “will ensure that no naval battle occurs the following day” at time^1 is no naval battle occuring at time^2.

6. But at time^2 it is true or, if not true, then false, that a naval battle occurs at time^2.

7. If it is true at time^2 that a naval battle will occurs at time^2, then a necesssary condition is lacking for his having issued order which “will ensure that no naval battle occurs the following day” at time^1.

8. If it is false at time^2 that a naval battle occurs at time^2, then a necessary condition is lacking for his having issued order which “will ensure  a naval battle the following day” at time^1.

9. But in either case, a necessary condition is lacking for his having issued one or the other of the two orders.

10. Therefore, one of the orders was such that he could not issue it, and he was forced to issue the order.

Now this argument can be denied, and avoid fatalsim. But we’d do this by saying the argument doesn’t prove that a necessary condition for one of the two orders was lacking at time^1, but that the conditions were only lacking at time^2. Thus, the naval commander didn’t have it within their power to issue ither command. This means that the law of excluded middle was denied to certain statements in the future. But this seems to bring about some problems. Here’s an argument that tries to show that problem.

1. In order to issue order which “will ensure a naval battle the following day” at time^1, all conditions necessary for the occurrence of order which  “will ensure a naval battle the following day” at time^1 must be satisfied at time^1.

2. In order to issue order which “will insure no naval battle the following day” at time^1,  all conditions necessary for the occurrence of  which “will ensure a naval battle the following day” at time^1 must be satisfied at time^1.

3. If order which “will ensure a naval battle the following day” is issued at time^1, then that is a sufficient condition for a naval battle occurring at time^2.

4. Therefore, a necessary condition for the issuance of order which “will ensure a naval battle the following day” at time^1 is the occurrence of a naval battle at time^2.

5. If order which “will ensure no naval battle the following day”  is issued at time^1, then that is a sufficient condition for no naval battle occurring at time^2.

6. Therefore, a necessary condition for the issuance of order which “will ensure no naval battle the following day”at time^1 is no occurrence of a naval battle at time^2

7. But at time^1 it is neither true nor false, according to those who wish to deny the law of excluded middle, that a naval battle occurs at time^2.

8. In order to issue order which “will ensure a naval battle will occur tomorrow”  at time^1 all conditions necessary for the issuance of that order must then be satisfied, and one of those conditions is that a naval battle occurs at time^2. But this condition is not satisfied at time^1. Therefore order which “will ensure a naval battle will occur tomorrow”  cannot be issued at time^1.

9. In order to issue order which “will ensure no naval battle will occur tomorrow” at time^1, all conditions necessary for the issuance of that order must then be satisfied, and one of those conditions is that no naval battle occurs at time^2. But this condition is not satisfied at time^1. Therefore order which “will ensure no naval battle will occur tomorrow” cannot be issued at time^1.

10. Thus, neither order which “will ensure a naval battle will occur tomorrow” nor order which “will ensure no naval battle will occur tomorrow” can be issued at time^1.

What this argument shows is that we can avoid the conclusion of Taylor’s argument by rejecting the Law of Excluded Middle with regards to certain statements about the future. But if we do this, then we’re led to dney that any action can occur. But this conclusion is even stranger than Taylor’s argument that leads to Fatalism.

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