At this week’s CMM I’ll be presenting a paper I’ve been working on recently, ‘Truthmaking for Presentists’. Here’s the general gist. Many see a tension between presentism and truthmaker theory. Some (Sider, Armstrong etc) see this as counting against presentism, some (e.g. Merricks) see this as counting against truthmaker theory. Fewer of us want to reconcile the two. While I am no presentist, my paper aims at reconciliation.
I say that people see a ‘tension’ between the two doctrines. The tension is not incompatibility. It’s hard for a doctrine to be incompatible with truthmaker theory because, without further constraints, it’s just too easy to be a truthmaker theorist. The tension arises because, allegedly, the only way to be a truthmaker theorist and a presentist is to accept the existence of things that violate some other norm governing what we should postulate in our ontology. Consider, for example, the Lucretian reconciliation of truthmaker theory and presentism, defended by Bigelow. Bigelow thinks there are properties like being such as to have been a child, and the state of affairs of me instantiating this property is the truthmaker for the fact that I was a child. Sider and Merricks agree that this is not an attractive reconciliation: they both charge these Lucretian properties with peculiarity and both claim that it is a cheat to appeal to them. I want to offer the presentist a truthmaker that isn’t peculiar in the way that the Lucretian’s truthmaker is peculiar.
So in what sense are the Lucretian properties peculiar. In the paper I settle on the following: those properties are peculiar because they make no contribution to the intrinsic nature of their bearer at the time of instantiation.
An assumption in the paper (that I think the presentist should definitely grant) is that it makes sense to talk of the intrinsic nature of an object at a time as opposed to the intrinsic nature of an object atemporally speaking. An object’s currently instantiating being such as to have been a child does indeed tell us something about the intrinsic nature of that object if by its intrinsic nature we mean its atemporal intrinsic nature; but, I want to say, its instantiating that property now doesn’t tell us about how it intrinsically is now. That is what’s peculiar about properties like that, I claim: properties should make a difference to their bearers; since, for the presentist, the bearers are not temporally extended objects, a property can only be making a difference (in the relevant sense) if they’re making a difference to its present intrinsic nature. Lucretian properties don’t, so we shouldn’t believe in them.
If I’m right about what makes Lucretian properties peculiar, then the challenge for the presentist truthmaker theorist is to find properties the present instantiation of which makes a difference to the present intrinsic nature of the bearer but which are also such that the bearer couldn’t instantiate them without some truths of the form ‘the bearer was F’ being true. That is, the presentist needs properties which make a difference both to the present intrinsic nature of their bearers and which fix the truths concerning how the bearer was in the past.
I think Josh Parsons’ distributional properties fit the bill. Consider an extended simple that is polka-dotted with red spots on white. What explains the polka-dotted-ness of this object? Not that the object has some parts which are red simpliciter and some parts that are white simpliciter, because it doesn’t have parts. Not that the object is red at some places and white at others, because being white is not a relation between a thing and a region. Parsons’ answer is that the object simply has a distributional property of being polka-dotted in a certain fashion. This is a property that says how the object is across space, but Parsons also believes in distributional properties that says how an object is across time. What explains why I am a bent at t and straight at t*? Not that I have a part that is a bent simpliciter and a part that is straight simpliciter because (let us suppose) I don’t have temporal parts. Not that I am bent at some times and straight at others, because (as Lewis taught us) being bent isn’t a relation between a thing and a time. Parsons’ answer is that I simply have a distributional property that says how I am across time. Now, crucially, I couldn’t currently instantiate that very distributional property and it not be the case that I was bent. So my instantiating that distributional property is a truthmaker for the fact that I was bent. But it’s not peculiar in the way the Lucretian property is: instantiating it now is making a difference to my present intrinsic nature, because it is in virtue of having this property that I am straight. And so I think we’ve got a non-peculiar way of being presentist truthmaker theorists. Distributional properties ground facts about how things were, solving the truthmaker problem, while at the same time grounding facts about how things now are, avoiding the charge of peculiarity.
So that’s the basic idea. The draft paper is here; comments are, of course, welcome.