allzermalmer

Truth suffers from too much analysis

Posts Tagged ‘Time’

Pyrrhonian Scepticism Against Time

Posted by allzermalmer on October 14, 2012

This comes from Sextus Empiricus, the Pyrrhonian skeptic, speaking out against conceptions of time. This comes from Against the Physicists II.

“Let this, then, serve as our account of the difficulties regarding the real existence of time which arise from the conception of it; but we can also establish our case by means of direct argument. For if time exists it is either limited or unlimited; but neither is it limited, as we shall establish, nor is it unlimited, as we shall show; therefore time is nothing.

For if time is limited, there was once a time when time did not exist, and there will one day be a time when time will not exist. But it is absurd to say either that there was once a time when time did not exist, or that there will one day be a time when time will not exist, for the statements that “there once was” and that “there will be” are (as I said before) indicative of different times. So, then, time is not limited.

-Nor, in fact, is it unlimited. For one part of it is past, the other future. Each of these times, then, either exists or does not exist. And if it does not exist, time is at once limited, and if it is limited the original difficulty remains- that there was once a time when time did not exist and there will one day be a time when time will not exist. But if each exists- I mean both past and future time,- each will be in the present. And as existing in the present, both past and future time will be in present time. But it is absurd to say that past and future are conceived as in present time. So, then, time is not unlimited either.

But if it is neither conceived as limited nor as unlimited, it will not exist at all. – Also, what is composed of non-existents will be non-existent- of the past which exists no longer and of the future which does not as yet exist; time, therefore, is non-existent.

 

Furthermore: if time is anything, it is either indivisible or divisible; but it cannot be either indivisible, as we shall show, or divisible, as we shall establish; no time, therefore, exists.

Now time cannot be indivisible, since it is divided into past, present, and future. And it will not divisible because everything divisible is measured by a part of itself; the cubit, for instance, is measured by the palm, and the palms, is a part of the cubit, and the palm is measured by the finger, and the finger is a part of the palm. So, then, if time too is divisible, it ought to be measured by some part of itself.

But it is not possible for the other times to be measured by the present. For if the present time measures the past, the present time will be in the past, and being in the past it will no longer be present but past. And if the present measures the future, being within this it will be future and not present.

Hence, too, it is not possible to measure the present by the other times; for, as being within it, each of them will be present and not either past or future. But if one must certainly conceive time as either divisible or indivisible, and we have shown that it is neither divisible nor indivisible, it must be declared that time is nothing.

 

Furthermore: time is tripartite; for one part of it is past, one present, and one future. And of these the past no longer exists and the future does not yet exist. It remains to say that one part exists, the present.

The present time, then is either indivisible or divisible. But it cannot be indivisible, for “nothing divisible is of a nature to exist in indivisible time,” as Timon says, – becoming, for example, and perishing, and everything of a similar kind. And if it is indivisible, it will neither have a beginning whereby it is joined on to the past, nor an end whereby it is joined on to the future; for that which has a beginning and an end is not indivisible. But if it has neither a beginning nor an end, it will not have a middle either; for the middle is conceived by way of comparison in its relation to the other two. And as having neither beginning nor middle nor end, it will not exist at all.

And if present time is divisible, it is divided either into existent times or into non-existent. And if it should be divided into non-existent times, it will no longer be time; for that which is divided into non-existent times will not be time. And if it is divided into existent times, it will no longer, as a whole, be present but one part of it will be past, another future. And for this reason it will no longer, as a whole, be [present and] existent, as part of it no longer exists and part of is not as yet existing. But if of the three times- past, future, and present- it has been proved that not one exists, no time will exist.

 

And those who assert that present time is the limit of the past and the beginning of the future,- thus making one out of two non-existent times,- making not only one but every time nonexistent.

– And further : if present time is the limit of past, and the limit of the past has passed away together with that whereof it is the limit, present time will no longer exist, if it really is the limit of the past.

– And again; if present time is the beginning of the future, and the beginning of the future does not yet exist, present time will not yet exist, and thus it will have most opposite properties; for inasmuch as it is present it will exist, but inasmuch as it has passed away together with the past it will exist no longer, and inasmuch as it accompanies the future it will not as yet exist.

But it is absurd to conceive the same time as both existing and not existing, and no longer existing and not yet existing. So, then, in this way too one must deny that any time exists.

 

One may also argue thus: if time is anything, it is either imperishable and ingenerable or perishable and generable; but it is neither imperishable and ingenerable, as shall be proved, nor perishable and generable, as this also shall be established; time, therefore, is not anything.

Now it is not imperishable and ingenerable, seeing that part of it is past, part present, and past future. For the day of yesterday exists no longer, that of to-day exists, and that of to-morrow has not yet come into existence. Hence one part of time (namely, the past) no longer exists antoher (namely, the future) does not yet exist. And for this reason time will be neither ingenerable nor imperishable.

– But if it is perishable and generable, it is hard to say what it will perish into and from what it will come to exist. For neither does the future exist already, nor the past exist any longer. But how can a thing (come into existence) from non-existents, (or how can a thing) perish (into non-existents)? Time, then, is nothing.

 

One may attack it also in this way; if time is anything, it is either generable or ingenerable, or partly generable and partly ingenerable. But time cannot be either generable or ingenerable or partly generable and partly ingenerable; therefore time is not anything.

For if it i were generable, since everything which is generated becomes in time, time too being generated will be generated in time. Either, then, it will be generated as itself in itself or as one time in another.

And if it is generated as itself in itself, it will be a thing which has come to exist before it has come to exist; which is absurd. For since that in which a thing becomes must exist before that which is generated in it, time also, as generated in itself, must have come into existence before itself; just as a statue is wrought in a workshop, but the workshop existed before the statue, and a ship is constructed in a certain place, but the place was existing before the ship, So, then, if time too becomes in itself, it will exist before itself; and thus, inasmuch as it becomes, it will not yet exist, since everything which becomes, while it is becoming, does not exist as yet; but inasmuch as it becomes in itself, it must exist beforehand. Time, then, will be at once both existent and non-existent. Inasmuch as it becomes it will not exist, but inasmuch as it becomes in itself it will exist. But it is absurd that the same thing at the same instant should both exist and not exist; therefore it is also absurd to say that time becomes in itself.

-Nor yet does it become as one time in another,- the future, for instance, in the present, and and the present in the past. For if one time becomes in another, each of the times will necessarily quit its own position and occupy the post of the other. If, for example, the future time becomes in the present time, the future as becoming during the present will be present and not future; and if the present becomes in the past, as becoming during the past it will certainly not be present but past. And the same argument applies if we reverse their order, making the past becoming in the present and the present in the future; for her again the same difficulties follow.

– if, then, time does not become either in itself or as one time in another, time is not generable itself or as one time in another, time is not generable. But if it is neither ingenerable nor generable, and besides these one can conceive no third possibility, one must declare that time is nothing.

Now the fact that it cannot be ingeneralbe is extremely easy to demonstrate. For if it is ingenerable and neither has become nor will become, one time alone, the present, will exist, and neither will the future, and the things therein, be any longer future, nor will the past, and the things done therein, be any longer past. But this is not so; nor, consequently, is time ingenerable.

Nor yet is it partly generable and partly ingenerable, since, if so, the difficulties will be combined. For the generable must become either in itself or in another; but if it becomes in itself it will exist before itself, and if in another it will no longer be that time but , quitting its own post, it will be the time during which it becomes. And the same argument applies also to the ingenerable; for if it is ingenerable, neither will the future time every exist nor the past, but one time only remains, then, to say that as time is neither generable nor ingenerable, nor partly generable and partly ingenerable, time does not exist.”

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What Time is It?

Posted by allzermalmer on November 13, 2011

Around the year 397 A.D.-398 A.D., the Christian philosopher St. Augustine talked about time in his book Confessions. In chapter 11 of his book he says, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” Time seems so obvious to us, yet at the same time it is hard to explicate what exactly time is. Once we do explicate what time is, we find that we come to contradictions or absurdities. Some, like Immanuel Kant, says that time is a condition of experience that our minds impose on things. Some, like J. Ellis McTaggart, says that time does not exist!

For the sake of this blog, and to cut through many of the discussions on time, and I will specifically deal with McTaggart ‘s Proof of The Unreality of Time. The conclusion of his work is that time is an illusion, or just an ideal. Some people try to avoid this conclusion of the unreality of time. Therefore, they try to come up with positions that can avoid this, yet there are some problems with these positions that try to escape the unreality of time, and what some of them allow for. Now McTaggart lived from 1866 to 1925, and was a philosophy teacher at Trinity College in Oxford. He was part of the Hegelian Idealist movement in Great Britain during this time. McTaggart had his paper, The Unreality of Time, was published in the philosophical journal Mind Vol. 17, No. 68, in 1908.

The philosophy of time is a very complex subject, and it is a subject that has had many things said on it. As a complex subject, there have been contradictory views on time. We have some views of time that it is absolute or relative, and these two contradict each other. We have that time as something that is objective and exists independent of minds, or that time is a product of minds. Time had a beginning, or that time has always existed. Because of these contradictory positions, some held that time does not exist or that it is something that does not exist in an independent world of us, which is the position that Immanuel Kant held. Thus, he said that time is a precondition that our minds impose on our experiences. Others, like McTaggart, have held that time does not exist at all, and would seem to agree that it is an illusion of the mind.

McTaggart has been a philosopher that has brought much food for thought on the philosophy of time. His paper on the illusion of time has helped present two standard views of time, and this has lead to much debate on the view of time. My point of this paper is to go over his view on time, and some of the consequences of it. As I go over some of the consequences of these different views of time presented in his paper, I shall also introduce some ways in which we epistemologically try to deal with these view, and how they can tell us how to work with the views of time.

Now, when someone makes a statement, it is typical for one to ask that person, “What evidence do you have to support your statement?” When we ask for evidence, we usually want something that is observable, which means that we want something that is related to our sense experience. This is where we want the position to come back to a sense experience, since we can verify that the statement is correct. Thus, we can call this verificationism, and state it like this: A statement is true if and only if it is directly based on the senses. Therefore, I can say, “The moon will be blacked out in 5 minutes”. We wait five minutes, and we see if we have the sense experience where the moon is blacked out. If we do make that observation, then we say my statement is verified. If we do not make that observation, then we say my statement is not verified.

Besides verificationism, we have another position called conventionalism. For example, a cubit was defined by the human body parts of an Egyptian royal member as the length of an arm from the elbow to the extended fingertips. This was taking the standard from which a cubit was to be based, and it was employed. They defined was a cubit was based on a standard, and that standard was applied throughout the land. Thus, they made a cast from the person elbow to the tip of their fingers. This became the set standard, and was the convention from which a cubit was set. If something did not meet this standard, it is said not to be a cubit. Therefore, we can define a convention: There is a convention if and only if there is an agreed upon standard. Thus, if I make the statement, “This is a cubit”, and we find that it does not agree with the standard that is accepted, then it is not a cubit. We find that science works with conventions, like those of measurement. We have defined the convention of a meter based on the speed of light, and this has become an accepted convention that scientist employ.

Now, going back to McTaggart’s philosophy of time, he comes to tell us that time is an illusion. He develops an argument to lead to this conclusion, and presents three views of time to do this. In the end, he says that each of them is contradictory, and so that time does not exist. These views of time are the two that are held to today. Therefore, in order to avoid that they lead to contradictions or are false, we try to save them by modifying them. He came up with three series of time, and they are, respectively, the A-Series, B-Series, and C-Series. Each of these plays a part in his argument. The part about his argument is that it is an argument that makes few assumptions, and leads to what he says are contradictions. Because of this, he is lead to the conclusion that time is an illusion and that it does not exist.

Positions in time are considered to be showed in two ways. (1.) ‘Earlier than’ and ‘Later than’ to some other position, and (2.) each position is either past, present, or future. This forms the foundation of McTaggart’s argument, and presents us two theories of time. The first point is a permanent and objective, and the second point is not considered permanent since it relies on change. From these distinctions, McTaggart thinks that the second is the fundamental point of time, and what he thinks a show that time is unreal. He calls the first position the B-Series of time, and he calls the second position the A-Series of time.

We have events as positions in time. These are the things that come to directly make up the A-Series or the B-Series. Without events, we have no series of time. We can imagine it as a dot on a line, since this grabs our attention to a certain part of the line, and this can be an event for anything that happens in time. These form the fundamental part of time, since time is nothing without an event. From events, time expands out to either an A-Series or B-Series, or both.

When we look at the A-Series of time, we have past, present, and future. For example, there is the past in which I started writing this paper. There is the present of me typing words for the paper now. There is the future of me finishing this paper, and getting in A for it! There is a language for this, which is the tensed language. The tensed language follows like this: I started this paper in the past; I am writing this paper in the present; I will finish this paper in the future.

When we look at the A-Series of time, we have ‘before that’ and ‘after that’. For example, John F. Kennedy died after World War II; John F. Kennedy died before Barack Obama became president; Barack Obama was born before the Persian Gulf War; Barak Obama was in the White House as President after Iraqi Freedom.  We call the B-Series language the tenseless language.  It gets rid of tensed language, and forms a new way to talk about events.

With the A-Series of time, things come into being and go out of being. We can look at it like life, since people are born and die. When they person is born, they come into being, and when they die, they go out of being. However, with the B-Series of time, under the analogy of a person, they never go out of being. They always exist within the B-Series of time, and never leave the event that they occupy, since it is permanent.

So, say that we have the events A, B, and C. If we take the A-Series of time, A would be the past, B would be the present, and C would be the future. These events only exist for a little while, and move out further from the present. However, taking the B-Series, these events always exist and always exist in relation to one another.

McTaggart says that the A-Series is more fundamental than the B-Series. We can wonder how this is, and he gives us one answer. The A-Series is what we directly experience, and it is always present to our awareness. We never experience anything else but the present, and the B-Series is something that we never experience. We also find that we have events going from future, to present, to past. We feel and see this flow with our senses. I have a pain in my thumb, and then I no longer feel it after I take a pin killer. The pain is no longer in the present, and so it is no longer felt by me.

What we go on to find is that the A-Series is fundamental since we can derive the B-Series from the A-Series. However, we cannot do it otherwise. We cannot derive the A-Series from the B-Series. Therefore, we find an asymmetry between the A-Series and the B-Series. Say that we accept the B-Series, and then we cannot derive what event is in the present, like what event we are now experiencing. So take the example of the event of pain in my thumb, which we can label X. I would not be able to know when this event will be present within the B-Series. I we have the permanent events of A, B, C, and X. We find that C is before X, and X after C. We also find that X is after A, B, and C. From this, I cannot tell which event is going on now in the present, I can just see what relations are shared.

Now we can abstract from the A-Series and create the B-Series. From the past of A, the present of B, and the future of C, we can say that they are all permanent. Therefore, when I no longer experience A, and A moves further and further from B, I can say that it still exists in permanent relation to B. We form a mental image, and keep these events in relation to one another, even though they are no longer experienced. They are no longer in the present.

Now, with the A-Series and B-Series, we find there is a direction of time. It is constantly moving forward. Thus, we can find it looking like this, –A—-B—Cà. We see the arrow moving forward, yet with the B-Series, the events never change their relation to one another. With the A-Series, we also find things changing, and moving forward with the future becoming the present, past, far past, etc. As McTaggart says, “The B-Series, however, cannot exist except as temporal, since earlier and later, which are distinctions of which it consists, are clearly time-terminations. So it follows that there can be no B series where there is no A series, since where there is no A series there is no time.” (pg. 461 of Mind Vol. 17, No. 68)

McTaggart goes on to bring up a time series that does not involve temporal change, and he calls it the C-Series. The C-Series would look like this, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J….Z. There is no arrow pointing one way or another, and so there is no change within it. The events cannot be altered from one to another, as if B switches places with D, or any event with another. This would be a universe that is unchanging, and yet if there were to enter change, then it would automatically become a B-Series. Thus, from the A-Series, we can derive the B-Series, and from the B-Series, we can derive the C-Series. Thus, we can derive the C-Series from the A-Series. We can derive the B-Series from the C-Series by pointing the temporal arrow either forward or back. Therefore, this is the situation: The A-Series is what we experience, and we can abstract from the A-Series and create the B-Series; from the B-Series, we can abstract even more and form the C-Series; however, we cannot derive the A-Series from the C-Series, since we cannot derive the A-Series from the B-Series.

Now we can wonder, How do we verify the B or C-Series? We cannot have an experience to show that the future exists in permanent relations to one another, or that the future actually exists. In order to have an experience of the B-Series or C-Series, we would require being outside of the time. We would need to take a “Bird’s Eye View” of things, and be detached from the time series itself. We have to be on the outside looking in. Now we typically think that our experiences take place in time, and so would have to be outside of time to verify it.

The main problem with this idea is that all of our experiences take place in the present. We can verify this from the beginning, and this is even how we come up with our idea of time. Once we come to recognize that something is going on through experience, we imagine that there is something around the corner waiting for us, which we call the future. This obviously does not come from experience, since that would mean that we are experiencing the present and the future, at the same time. We take the example that I am walking down a street, and I see that there is a turn coming up. I am not experiencing that there is something around the corner, so I do not know that something is there. However, I can imagine that something is around the corner, and think that there is something around there. I verify this when I come to the corner and turn. When I make the turn, and find something is there, like say more buildings, I have verified that something is there.

As we saw before, we can create the B-Series/C-Series from the A-Series, but we cannot create the A-Series from them both. In other words, we can deduce the B & C-Series from the A-Series, but we cannot deduce the A-Series from the B & C-Series. This means that we cannot deduce the present from permanent events. Thus, we find that we have created these abstractions in order to deal with our experiences. Because we have created these things, we have created them in order to help order our experiences and orientate ourselves for action. Therefore, we act as if the future exists and we are moving towards it.

The B-Series becomes a convention that we accept, and we try to view the world through that lens of the B-Series. However, when we are viewing something, we are always viewing it in the present, and so are viewing it through the A-Series. We do this since, as has been stated before, we always view it, or experience things, in the present. The conventions that we create are very useful to us, and so we accept them as true when they are useful. However, it does not follow that because something is useful that it is true. We can give a simple argument like, If a cat then an animal. Now all we know is that it is an animal. It does not logically follow that since it is an animal that it is a cat. It could be a human or a dog. With this in mind, we overlook this problem and say that it is true because we find a consequence to be true. We find that it is useful.

Now we have a problem if we say that the future exists permanently. As I already pointed out before, we cannot know this without stepping outside of time to verify it, and to do so, as some might say, is impossible. Nevertheless, the other problem is, as has already been pointed out, will take place in the present. The second is that there is no real test that we can make to show that the B-Series is false, since all tests will take place in the A-Series, or the present. Thus, since we can neither verify nor falsify, it is not amendable to experience. However, because it does not meet either verification or falsifiability, this does not mean that we should disregard it. What it does mean is that it makes for a useful convention. We can act, and think, as if it does exist and the world is like the B-Series.

What the convention of the B-Series does, as a convention, is build up another world that is not really a world of experience. This is an abstract world of our thoughts, and not one of our experiences. From this abstract world, we can build other things within it. From this convention, we can apply it to the world of experience. When we apply it to the world of experience, we are trying to help it order the chaotic world of experience, and become a guide to the world of experience. Similar to what Ernst Mach says in his Analysis of Sensations, “The…task of science is to provide the fully developed human individual with as perfect a means of orientating himself as possible.” Instead of saying “science”, we can take him to say “the B-Series”. Thus, with that change, we get this, “The…task of the B-Series is to provide the fully developed human individual with as perfect means of orientating himself as possible.”

Conventions are things that are accepted by a specific community of people, or people in general. These conventions are developed, not because experience shows them, but because they make it easier to deal with experience and organize it into a methodological pattern. The pattern helps orientate ourselves in the world of experience, and are thought instruments that help us think of the world through a certain lens. It has pragmatic value to use, yet it does not have support directly from the senses. It is not verifiable. Thus, we can act and think as if it is true and is how reality is. The only reality, though, is the one of the senses, which is in the present.

As a metaphysical theory, the A-Series is verifiable and the one that is given to our senses. Thus, it is in line with experience, and makes for a good metaphysical theory. The B-Series, as a metaphysical theory, is just as good as the A-Series. The only problem is that it does not fit with experience, but it does open up a new metaphysical world that we can apply to the world of experience. Thus, as a metaphysical theory that contradicts experience, it is a convention that is very fruitful to apply to experience and orient ourselves in the world.

The thing that makes the A & B-Series adequate is that they have a temporal arrow. This temporal arrow is something that is based on our senses. We find that things change, and they move in a certain direction. Because of this, it is implemented into our theories of time with the A & B-Series. Therefore, as a convention, we try to not abstract too much from experience to form these theories. Thus, the B-Series does not abstract the arrow of time, yet the C-Series does abstract more than the B-Series. Thus, since more of experience is left out of the C-Series than the B-Series, we can say that what holds for the B-Series holds for the C-Series. However, the C-Series is even further from experience than the C-Series. However, this does not mean that the C-Series does not make for as good a convention as the B-Series. Thus, we can hold to the C-Series as if it were true as well.

Take this example. In our experience that we find that when we let a ball fall from our hand that it falls to the ground. We find this happens every time we let go of the ball. This will be held within the B-Series. Now, with the C-Series, we can retrodict and predict. It does not matter if we are going forward, predict, or going backwards, retrodict. Thus, we find that time can move forwards or backwards, and the C-Series makes a great convention to see what will happen, or actually did happen. However, we cannot verify what did happen if there was no experience of it. Thus, it makes for a good convention as well.

So let us recap. (1.) Experience only supports the A-Series, since all experience is in the present. (2.) The B-Series abstracts from the A-Series. (3.) The B-Series is not verifiable by the senses. (4.) The B-Series makes a good convention to work with. (5.) We can act as if the B-Series is the correct view. (6.) The C-Series is further from experience than the B-Series. Thus, we find that the A-Series is faithful to experience, and the B-Series is faithful to a useful convention to think of reality as if it is true. Thus, as a useful instrument, we can use it to orient ourselves and build a world-view that is in line with it. However, because it is useful as an instrument, and acts as if it is true, does not give us good ground to think it is true.

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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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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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