Friday, March 24, 2006

Preliminary Report from the Pacific APA

Well, it's Friday morning here in Portland, Oregon, where this year's Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association is being held.

On Thursday morning, I went to an interesting session on the philosophy of time. The first paper, by well-known B-theorist Nathan Oaklander, was entitled "Is the Future Open?" As one would expect for a B-theorist, Oaklander's answer is 'no' (B-theorists think that temporal becoming is merely apparent, not real - hence what we think of as the 'future' is always already there.). But I found a couple things interesting about his paper. First, he distinguished between three different senses in which the future might be thought of as 'open' - "openness of time" (i.e., do future events really exist?), "openness of freedom" (i.e., are there future contingents?), and "openness of truth" (i.e., can the truth values of propositions about the future change?). This parallels the threefold distinction that my coauthors and I draw in this forthcoming paper, section 1. Unfortunately, he seemed to think that all three types of openness either stand or fall together, which is incorrect.

Second, Oaklander's target in this paper was the 'growning universe' model as represented by C.D. Broad (in one of his stages) and Michael Tooley. After presenting some general criticisms of that position - which affirms that past and present events exist, but future events do not - he turned to consider whether meeting the challenge of logical fatalism requires an open future. He says, no, of course, but the interesting thing was that his answer appealed to the 'Ockhamist' tense logical view that the present truth of a proposition about a future time depends solely on what actually happens at that time, and not on anything that obtains now. (For an explanation of 'Ockhamist' tense logic and its 'Peircean' rival, see here.)

The next paper was by Mark Hinchliff and was entitled "The Mutable Future". Hinchliff is an A-theorist (he thinks that temporal becoming is real, not merely apparent) and a presentist (he thinks that only present events and states exists). He argued that what is true about the future can change and offered several examples to support his point. The one that received the most discussion concerned the incident from the recent Winter Olympics in which at one point it looked clear that Lindsey Jacobellis was 'going to' win the women's snowboardcross event, and then, after a silly show-off stunt that caused her to fall was 'not going to' win.

After discussing arguments Plantinga and J.J.C. Smart to the effect that the future cannot be changed, "not even by God" (as Plantinga puts it for emphasis), Hinchliff drew upon Peter Geach's work in Providence and Evil (an out-of-print book I'd like to get) to argue for a rejection of 'Ockhamist' tense logic and of the view that future time can be adequately represented by a single, non-diverging line. So far I'm in full agreement, but Hinchliff went on to argue that truths about the future cannot be grounded in present trends and tendencies because such truths are not 'about' present trends and tendencies. The problem is that this leaves him no way to ground truths about the future without falling back into the very 'Ockhamist' tense logic that he's already committed to rejecting. For this reason, he's lead to wonder whether truths about the future can be grounded at all. Furthermore, while Hinchliff is right that propositions about the future are not 'about' present trends and tendencies in the sense that a person making a prediction typically takes himself to be speaking 'about' something future, not something present, this does not imply that the truthmakers of those propositions cannot be identified with present trends and tendencies. Contrary to Hinchliff, the truthmaker for a proposition need not be what that proposition is 'about', where the latter refers to the intentional object that a person expressing the proposition would have in mind. For example, that some dogs exist is made true by Lassie's existence, but one could claim "some dogs exist" without intending to say anything about Lassie.

There was a third paper after Oaklander's and Hinchcliff's by Tomis Kapitan. I won't say much about this. Basically, it amounted to an argument that logical fatalism loses its sting if a compatibilistic view of human freedom and moral responsibility is defensible - nothing particularly controversial there.

After that, I decided to scout around downtown Portland in search of the famous Powell's bookstore and lunch, in that order. I found Powell's after about half-an-hour. It's a hugh store, with a great selection. I found a brand-new book that I had been looking for at about 60% off retail price, and another used book for about half-off retail. Throw in a $5 off coupon I got at the conference, and I was quite happy with myself. Spent another hour after that searching for food - restaurants in downtown Portland seem to be rather scattered - and finally settled for pizza.

Anyway, I think I'll wrap it up now and get back to the conference. I'll post another update tomorrow.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home