Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Nailed it! At last, I found the passage by Sartre I mentioned to Vallicella the other day. Being and Nothingness, Part Two, Chapter Two (Temporality).

If we study the relations of the past to the present in terms of the past, we
shall never establish internal relations between them. Consequently an
in-itself, whose present is what it is, can not 'have' a past. The examples
cited by Chevallier in support of his thesis, and in particular the facts of
hysteresis, do not allow us to establish any action by the past of matter upon
its present state. There is no one of these examples, in fact, which can not be
explained by the ordinary means of mechanistic determinism. Of these two nails,
Chevallier tells us, the one has just been made and has never been used, the
other has been bent, then straightened by strokes of the hammer; they appear
absolutely similar. Yet at the first blow the one will sink straight into the
wall, and the other will be bent again; this is the action of the past.
According to our view, a little bad faith is needed in order to see the action
of the past in this example. In place of this unintelligible explanation in
terms of being which here is density, we may easily substitute the only possible
explanation: the external appearances of these nails are similar, but their
present molecular structures perceptibly differ. The present molecular state is
at each instant the strict result of the prior molecular state, which for the
scientist certainly does not mean that there is a 'passage' from one instant to
the next within the permanence of the past but merely an irreversible relation
between the contents of two instants of physical time. Similarly, to offer as
proof of this permanence of the past the remanence of magnetization in a piece
of soft iron is not to prove anything worthwhile. Here we are dealing with a
phenomenon which outlives its cause, not with a subsistence of the cause qua
cause in the past state. For a long time after the stone which pierced
the water has fallen to the bottom of the sea, concentric waves still pass over
its surface; here nobody makes an appeal to some sort of action by the past to
explain this phenomenom; the mechanism of it is almost visible. It does not seem
that the facts of hysteresis or of remanence need any explanation of a different

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