Saturday, January 31, 2009

Snow in London

Alan Rhoda has been defending the idea that there must be some necessary connection between the present and the future in order for propositions about the future to be true or false. I restate his argument as follows. A true proposition depends on what exists - a 'state of affairs' - for its being true. The state of affairs that makes the proposition true at some particular time must exist also at the same time. Accordingly, it cannot be true now that there will be snow in London tomorrow, unless this truth 'supervenes upon present reality', i.e. there is some existing state of affairs which makes this proposition about the future true. Which is absurd. Why should snowing in London tomorrow be logically connected with any state of affairs existing today?

The mistake lies in his assumption that what makes a proposition true at some time must exist at that same time. Certainly there is a connection between truth and existence. This was recognised by the scholastic philosophers of language. Unumquodque sicut habet esse, ita et veritatem "As each thing is in respect of being, so it is in respect of truth", taken from Aristotle Metaphysics book 2 (993b 31). A proposition signifying that some state of affairs exists, is true or false depending on whether that state of affairs exists or not.

A corollary of this is what I shall call the Adequacy Principle: that the state of affairs signified to exist by the proposition can be no more (and no less) than what makes the proposition true. Otherwise, suppose a proposition signifies the existence of more than what is required to make it true, e.g. suppose that it signifies the existence of X and Y, but Y alone is sufficient to make it true. Then so long as Y exists, the proposition will be true, even if X does not exist, and even though the proposition signifies that X does exist. This is impossible, therefore a proposition can signify the existence of absolutely no more than what is sufficient to make it true. (A similar argument proves that a proposition can signify the existence of no less than what is necessary to make it true, but that is not relevant here).

From the Adequacy Principle it follows that a proposition in the future tense, signifying that some state of affairs Y will exist, depends for its truth on the future existence of Y, and nothing else, particularly nothing else in the present. The proposition 'It will snow in London' can be analysed as

* Snowing in London will be the case

which signifies that the future state of affairs 'snowing in London' will exist. It signifies no more than that, in particular, it does not signify that some state of affairs X exists now. Why should it? It may be that some present state of affairs (large cold front sweeping in from Siberia) will be the cause of the snow. But the proposition in the future tense has nothing to say about cold fronts.


Unknown said...

Well snow came! Because the future is unknown territory we are fools not to take account of past patterns. In a quantum multiverse anything may happen. Probability law is useful and the laws of karma are not superceded by our desires for unboundedness. Lets stay real and find our freedom in the real world, not in wishful thinking.

Edward Ockham said...

How does this engage with the argument in the post?