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Objection 2: Tense Tokens Are Not Merely Linguistic Entities

Philosophers seeking to dissolve metaphysical problems cannot use this tense account of language. It draws on tense truth-makers. Tense truth-makers are metaphysical entities. They are real things in the world that are tensed. Tense theorists accept such entities. How'ever, tenseless theorists deny that there are such entities. If the tense and tenseless debate is a metaphysical debate, what seems to be a merely linguistic solution involves taking a metaphysical position.

The issue is that this solution involves committing to tense facts. But, for a tenseless theorist, there is no need for such facts. As such, this solution brings in metaphysical entities, and so is not purely about language.

Response: The Tokens Only Undermine Mere Linguistic Solutions

Although tense theorists might need to posit metaphysical truth-makers, such as tensed facts, this only undermines a verificationist solution to the paradox. Tense theorists need not be verificationists. They need only be one with respect to McTaggart’s paradox—and, given it is a paradox, have excellent reasons to do so. They can dissolve the paradox on linguistic grounds w'hile accepting other metaphysical entities, such as tense facts.

Furthermore, given the reason for taking the linguistic approach, one might hold that this linguistic analysis supports tense theorists. It uses tense truth- makers. This use gives tense theorists the advantage over tenseless theorists. Tense theorists hold that events have real and fundamental tenses. That language’s truth-values depend on tensed things is compatible with such a view.

Even so, this solution is not based merely on language. As may be expected, this account is a problem for tenseless theory. Although not a mere linguistic analysis, it turns on there being tokens and truth-makers with positions in the A- series. Can a tenseless theorist offer a solution that does not need tensed tokens and truth-makers?

Tenseless Facts

Tenseless theory has its own theory for propositions involving tense. It involves implicit and explicit reference to some aspect of the tokens of such tensed propositions. One such account is Mellor’s early token-reflexive account of tensed propositions (Mellor 1981). Another is Smart’s date-reflexive theory (see Smart 1963). The most developed account comes from Mellor (1998).

According to Mellor, what makes any proposition true or false is that its tokens are true or false. And what makes tokens of tensed propositions (which he calls A-pwpositions) true or false is something tenseless. These tenseless facts (or, in Mellor’s terms, В-facts) are truth-makers of tensed expressions.

However, a tenseless fact is always true; it is always a fact. How can always true tenseless facts make true sometimes true tensed statements such as it is raining or there is a cat in the kitchen?

Mellor’s first answer draws on token-reflexive statements. For example, a proposition P contains references to the following:

  • • Event e
  • • Tenses—present, past, and future
  • • A token of P itself, e.g., a particular utterance or written statement expressing P

These features allow P to have the general form of a token-reflexive expression for the tenseless fact of a tensed statement:

Any token of P is true if and only if it is as much earlier or later than e as P describes the present is than e.

  • (Adapted from Mellor 1998, 31) For example, KA is a true proposition and M is a fact:
  • • KA: The cat was in the kitchen a day ago.
  • • M: The cat is in the kitchen.

For tenseless theory, KA is true because of a tenseless fact described by the following tenseless statement:

Cat-Kitchen Tenseless Fact: A token of KA is true if and only if the token is a day later than M and KA describes the present as a day later than M.

The “a day later than M” is how much longer KA refers to the present as later than M, the cat being in the kitchen. The amount of time described in the proposition is a day, and the token itself is a day later than M. That is how much time a day ago is from the present. In this, the token and description of the present are at the same time.

The fact described by the Cat-Kitchen Tenseless Fact proposition is not tensed. However, the proposition KA refers to does have tensed terms. In keeping with the tensed responses to McTaggart, the “is” and similar verbs in KA are present terms. In terms of tenseless facts, this analysis aligns the tensed parts of grammar (such as in KA) with tenseless facts, such as those containing tenseless relations of earlier and later.

These theories involve reference to entities and their place in time. They involve appeals to entities that are actual things in space or time. However, verificationists should be fine with tokens. Such an anti-metaphysical philosopher of language might think that language does not involve abstract entities such as propositions. However, they must at least grant that there are the kind of things that are tokens of language. These are such things as words written down somewhere and at some time, or said in different circumstances.

As indicated by the analysis above, tenseless facts are very little beyond such things as written words for tokens and cats in kitchens for truth-makers. If verificationists accept written words and cats, then they accept what is enough for tenseless theory.

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