Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Troy Catterson

Troy Catterson

Philosopher Laureate

 

Dr. Troy T. Catterson (Hawaii Pacific University) received the 2003 Fedorov Prize in Metaphysics for his "Letting The Dead Bury Their Own Dead: A Reply To Palle Yourgrau" (reproduced below by permission).

____________________________________________________________

Letting The Dead Bury Their Own Dead: A Reply To Palle Yourgrau

____________________________________________________________

ABSTRACT

In his articles "The Dead" and "Can The Dead Really Be Buried," Palle Yourgrau argues for the reality of nonexistent objects. He does this by arguing that the dead do not exist and yet are real. In this paper I claim that his argument rests on a crucial premise: whatever no longer exists does not exist at all. I then argue that this premise can be shown to be false even on an A-theory of time. I accomplish this by outlining an A-theory that does not require the past to go out of existence, and yet does not spatialize time. Finally I attempt to show on independent grounds why Yourgraus original theory of time should be discarded in favor of a model of time in which the past continues to exist and affect the present.

KEYWORDS

Nonexistent Objects, Yourgrau, Metaphysics of death, A-theory of time, B-theory of time, Silverstein, Time, Change, Causation, Existence, Being. Actualism, Serious Actualism, Possibilia.

____________________________________________________________

 

Reprinted by permission from pages 413-426 of:

Death And Anti-Death, Volume 1:

One Hundred Years After N. F. Fedorov (1829-1903)

Editor: Charles Tandy, Ph.D.

Year Of Publication: 2003

Publisher: Ria University Press -- Palo Alto, California USA

ISBN: 0-9743472-0-5

Distributor: Ingram [Ingram is the leading U.S. distributor of books and audiobooks to the world]

[click here for more information about the book]

[click here to reach a seller of the book]

Copyright 2003 by Charles Tandy

____________________________________________________________

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Letting The Dead Bury Their Own Dead: A Reply To Palle Yourgrau

Troy T. Catterson

 

Philosophy is often torn between two conflicting impulses, the urge to save the appearances and the urge to regiment them. Nowhere is this tension more apparent than when the appearances themselves seem to lead to contradiction, when we have conflicting intuitions on the same subject. Then Philosophy must either make a choice between intuitions, it must claim that at least one of the appearances is misleading; or it must show why what at first appears to be in conflict indeed yields no contradiction after all when looked at in the right manner.

Consider the following two intuitively true statements:

(SA) All and only existing objects have properties.

(DT) There are truths concerning the dead.

SA is the thesis of serious actualism.1 It implies that the word existence is synonymous with the word being, that to exist is to possess properties. If we read DT to mean that

(DP) The dead have properties,

and we define death as "permanent postnatal nonexistence" (Yourgrau 1987, 85), then it would seem as if DT and SA contradict each other, that they cannot both be true.

Palle Yourgrau, in his seminal articles: "The Dead," (1987) and "Can The Dead Really Be Buried?" (2000),2 claims that there are true statements concerning the dead, that these statements imply that the dead have properties, and hence that SA must be false. There are objects that do not exist and yet have properties. Thus there are nonexistent objects. In this paper I propose to save the appearances. I will argue that the fact that the dead no longer exist does not imply that they do not exist at all. Thus if there are true facts concerning them, we do not need a separate category of Being distinct from existence in order to explain this. For convenience sake, I use the word property as a shorthand for n-place relation, where when n>0 we are talking about a relation rather than what is usually referred to as a property, quality, or characteristic.

Yourgrau states his basic argument for the being of nonexistent objects in the following manner:

The approach I favor is what the facts themselves seem to be urging us to accept: that death concerns the nonexistent as well as the existent; that, therefore, some things dont existThus from "Socrates is dead" I conclude: "There is an object that is dead and this object is Socrates." (Yourgrau 1987, 89)

Thus his initial argument for the reality of nonexistent objects seems to be

  1. The dead do not exist.
  2. There are facts true of the dead.
  3. Whatever has facts true of it must be real.
  4. Therefore:

  5. The dead are real and yet do not exist.
  6. And hence:

  7. There are objects that are real and yet do not exist.
  8. The first thing to note is that this argument, if sound, does not imply the reality of objects that never have existed. That is to say, this argument cannot be used to prove the existence of merely possible objects. But, that said, the question still remains: Is this argument sound? It seems to me that premise 1 is dubious.

    Of course, everyone will agree that the dead no longer exist. That is to say, whatever dies at t does not exist at t+n for n>0.3 But, in order to get from this apparently true statement to 1, one must also assume that the past itself no longer exists, that only the present moment exists. This additional assumption, however, leads to paradox. Suppose that neither the past nor the future exists. Then whatever exists must exist in the present, since only the present exists. But within the present there is no passage of time. Therefore, Time itself does not exist! Surely this is not a palatable conclusion. Yourgrau might, as a good possiblist, be tempted to respond: "Yes, Time does not exist, but it is certainly real." The problem with this response is that it flouts our generally firm intuition that, whatever else time is, it involves change. There cannot be change without the passage of Time, and there is no passage of Time without change. But change is a causal process. Therefore change must exist in order to be real, for whatever does not exist is causally inert. Hence, if neither the past nor future exist, and in the present there is no change; then, not only does change not exist, it isnt real! Time itself cannot be real!

    This conundrum is resolved if we admit the existence of the past, for time would then be the transition from the past to the present, a relation between moments of time. It does not exist at any particular moment of time. But that poses no problem, because both terms of the relation exist, and something does not have to exist within time in order to exist.4

    Yourgrau seems to think that this kind of reply inevitably involves a "spatialization" of time. Presumably one spatializes time when one denies the ontological validity of the tenses, that is, one rejects an A-theory of time. How would the above account of time entail such a rejection? According to Yourgrau, affirming an A-theory of time commits us to three further claims: (1) time passes or flows; (2) the future, unlike the past or the present, is still open; and (3) location in the A-series is not ontologically neutral. Yourgrau then adds in parentheses, as if to explicate the meaning of (3), "to be in the past is not only not to exist now; for temporal objects it is not to exist at all" (Yourgrau 1987, 98). Thus if one accepts an A-series view of time, then, by virtue of (3) alone, one must reject the existence of the past. But the above account espouses the existence of the past. Hence, whoever accepts the above account must reject an A-theory of time.

    Now I agree with Yourgrau that Silversteins (1980) rejection of an A-theory of time based on current scientific results is an ad hoc move at best. For suppose modern theories of physics such a Special Relativity do require such a spatialization. All this implies is that the actual world is a world in which the dead still exist. The particular physical laws that govern this world are certainly not metaphysically necessary. Hence, in worlds where Newtonian laws hold an A-series is still possible. And if such a series is still possible, then, on Yourgraus account of the A-series, we can still defend the claim that it is possible that there are objects that do not exist. Surely the actualist wants to deny even the possibility of such perverse objects.

    Nevertheless, as Yourgrau himself admits, the rejection of an A-theory of time does not sink or stand with the rejection of a Minkowski view of spacetime. McTaggarts famous arguments against the intelligibility of an A-series are completely metaphysical in nature. That is to say, they do not depend on any particular scientific theory on the nature of time. One can be a Newtonian and espouse a B-theory. So it behooves Yourgrau to defend the A-theory against the charge of metaphysical incoherence. For, as we have come to see, unless time is constituted by an A-series, Yourgrau cannot proceed logically from the statement "The dead no longer exist" to the statement "The dead do not exist at all." Indeed, if the B-theorists are correct, then 1 is simply false.

    But is one constrained to agree with Yourgrau, that as long as one accepts an A-theory of time, one must accept 1? As I have explicated it above, his argument to that effect goes something like this:

  9. An A-theory implies that location in the A-series is not ontologically neutral.
  10. Thus if t is a temporal moment and t is in the past, then t does not exist at all.
  11. The existence of a temporal object consists in its existence at each moment in a series of temporal moments.5
  12. Thus if a series of moments is such that every member of the series is in the past, then any temporal object that exists within the span of that series does not exist at all.6
  13. To say that the dead no longer exist is to say that every moment of the dead persons existence is in the past.
  14. Hence, to say that the dead no longer exist is to say that they do not exist at all.
  15. The problem with this argument is that 6 does not imply 7, and without 7 the argument cannot go through. 7 does imply 6, for if being past implies the nonexistence of a temporal moment, then obviously location in the A-series is not ontologically neutral. But the converse does not necessarily hold. Consider the following series: If t is in either the past or the present then t exists; but if t is in the future then t does not exist. Location in such a series is not ontologically neutral. But in this kind of series 7 is false. Let us call an accretive series (AC-series) a series of moments where any t which is past exists and is fixed, any t which is in the present exists and is in the process of becoming fixed,7 and there are no ts that exist wholly in the future. It is obvious that an AC-series is an A-series. First, time flows or passes in such a series; the total number of existing moments increases with the addition of each new present moment. Second, the future is unlike the past in that it is still open; every past moment is fixed while there are no future moments and hence no future moments that are fixed. And finally, location in this series is not ontologically neutral. Thus every AC-series is an A-series. But the series articulated above is an AC-series. Hence, there are A-series where the past does exist, and one is not constrained to accept 1, even on the assumption of an A-theory of time.

    However, all is not lost for Yourgraus initial argument. He could argue that all he needs is the possibility of 1. From this and the remaining premises it follows that it is possible that there are nonexistent objects. And as long as we have this possibility, then Actualism is false. Since the series which consists of moments coming and going out of existence is a paradigm case of an A-series, there is nothing within the nature of an A-theory of time that precludes there being a possible world where the past goes out of existence. Thus if one espouses an A-theory of time it is possible that the past goes out of existence, and thereby possible that the dead do not exist.

    It is true that there is nothing within the nature of an A-theory of time that precludes the possibility of the past going out of existence. But that in itself does not insure the metaphysical coherence of such a series. Consider two facts that most philosophers admit are true of the past:

  16. The past is causally efficacious.
  17. Whatever does not exist is causally inert.
  18. 12 implies that the past is not causally inert, that the past has an effect or influence on the present and the future. Thus from 13 we may infer that the past exists.

    Now Yourgrau could deny 12. He could say that, while it is true that some objects that existed in the past are the cause of objects that exist in the present, it is not true that these objects are causally efficacious now in their present state as objects in the past. It was when they were in the present that they exercised their causal influence to produce subsequent present moments and objects. If this is Yourgraus response, then it seems to entail that all causal activity takes place in the present moment. But this claim could itself be taken in one of two ways: it could mean that a cause must always be simultaneous with its effect, or it could mean that although a cause could precede its effect in time, the activity by which it brings about its effect must take place in the present. That is to say, some portion of the temporal career of the cause must be simultaneous with that of its effect.

    Both of these readings, however, run aground on the shoals of absurdity. The first reading straightforwardly implies that there is no such thing as causal succession. For consider any cause A in relation to its effect B. Not only must A be simultaneous with B, but whatever causes A must be simultaneous with A, and whatever causes the cause of A must be simultaneous with that cause and so on; so that the entire chain must be contemporaneous. The second possible reading fares no better than the first; for it leads to the same type of absurdity when we consider the total sufficient cause of any effect. Suppose that A is the sufficient cause of B.8 That is to say that A is enough to account for the existence of B. Suppose also that only a portion of As career is contemporaneous with that of B. Then A cannot be the sufficient cause of B. For, on the hypothesis of the sufficiency of A, the very existence of A would imply the existence of B. But, on the hypothesis of some portion of As career predating Bs, the existence of A does not entail the existence of B. Hence A alone cannot account for B, and we have a contradiction.

    The problem is this argument seems a little too strong. It contains two premises:

  19. An object or aggregate of objects that exists for any time without producing a particular effect cannot be the sufficient cause of that effect.
  20. Any object which is a sufficient cause of another object must be contemporaneous with that object for at least a portion of its career.
  21. But now that we have laid out the premises of our argument so baldly, we can see that giving up 15 will be of no help to us in avoiding the contradiction. For 14 alone implies that every sufficient cause must be contemporaneous with its effect. And yet a total rejection of sufficient causation would be out of hand. For it is obvious that there are cases of sufficient causation in the world; there are cases where the occurrence of a certain complex of events is sufficient for the occurrence of another complex. One obvious way to avoid this conundrum is to point out that every causal process involves a change of state for the system in which the process takes place, and every change takes time. Thus all that 14 requires is that there be no time in the existence of the sufficient cause that it is not in the process of producing its effect. It does not require that the completed effect exist at all times that the cause exists.

    But this doesnt solve our problem either. 14 will imply that at every point in the career of A it is in the process of producing B. Let us picture this process as a series of intermediate stages I1In where B = In+1. Now let us consider the first point of As existence at t1. By 14 A must have already produced some stage of Bs existence, I1, and A and I1 must both exist at t1. But at t1 A is still in the process of producing B. Thus both of these together must constitute a sufficient condition for I2, the next stage in the process, which by 14 again implies that A, I1 and I2 exist together at t1. This complex must be jointly sufficient for the existence of I3. And one can see how, utilizing the same reasoning, we can infer that B must exist at t1. One cannot object that this process is presupposed to take time, so that the production of each stage would require some duration, because as long as we assume 14 in its present form every point in the career of A is a point where some stage of B is already complete but A is still in the process of producing some further stage, and the completion of all preceding stages in a process is sufficient for the production of the next stage, otherwise there would be some point in time where A is not even in the process of producing B, which by 14 would imply that it is not the sufficient cause of B.

    So 14 must be modified; it cannot be completely discarded. If there are cases of sufficient causation, it would seem a part of the meaning of sufficient that the existence of the sufficient condition implies the existence of the thing so conditioned. The way out is to restrict all causes to being temporally prior to their effects. We thus modify 14 to read

  22. A is the sufficient total cause of B if and only the existence of A at tn implies the existence of B at tn+m for m>0.9

16 implies the falsity of 15. But if 15 is false then, at least in the case of sufficient causation, to say that A is the cause of B for any presently existing temporal object is to say that A is in the past, and that A is not causally inert. Thus there are at least some past events that exist, indeed quite a few.

But does this argument constitute a reason to believe that the dead exist, albeit as constituents of past facts? I think it does. Consider the truth of the sentence "Socrates is dead." This sentence is made true by the present tense obtaining of the fact that Socrates is dead. But this fact has a sufficient cause, namely the actions of Socrates and the totality of past events that precipitated those actions. Thus a complex of past facts are sufficient causally to account for the present tense fact of Socrates being dead. Notice how one does not have to posit an intervening chain of events from the occurrence of these past facts to the present fact many thousands of years later. Those facts alone make the present fact obtain. Hence those past facts exist; for they are causally efficacious. But since these facts contain Socrates as one of their constituents, Socrates himself must exist. Of course Socrates doesnt exist now. Of course Socrates doesnt exist at any point following his death. But that need not imply that he does not exist at all.

The reason Yourgraus original arguments worked against the spatialization of time by Silverstein is because it is plausible to believe that the physical laws that govern our universe and thus give it a Minkowski spacetime are not metaphysically necessary. In other words, properties of time which are implied by contingent facts could themselves be contingent without contradiction. But, if our preceding arguments work, there can be no coherent conception of an A-series that posits the passing away of the past, and thus there could be no possible world where the dead do not exist.

Indeed there exists an interesting tension in the way that Yourgrau describes the relation between the past and the future that can provide us with additional motivation for attributing existence to all past moments. On the one hand he wants to say that there is a complete symmetry between the two; there is no ontological difference between being as of yet unborn and being dead. On the other hand he clearly states that the future is open in a way that the past is not. But if the latter statement is true, then surely there is a substantial difference between being unborn and being dead. The dead will have facts true of them, and these facts will be completely determinate and unalterable, while the same cannot be said for the unborn.10 So what are we to say about this ontological difference between the future and the past? If we take Yourgrau seriously, this ontological difference should entail the addition of some new category of Being. We thus may divide Being up into three modes! But why should we do this? Wouldnt it be just as coherent and even more elegant if we kept our plain old vanilla sense of Being and admitted the past into the ranks of existence? The determinateness of past facts is a quality that such facts share with those in the present. This seems to me to be as good a dividing line between existence and nonexistence as anything else.

We may therefore conclude that DT is consistent with SA, even on its property theoretic reading.11 The dead do possess properties, because the fact that they no longer exist does not preclude them from existing at all. As a consequence of this, the dead cannot be used as "the proper introduction to nonexistents" (Yourgrau 1987, 89). One has to look elsewhere for the proper introductions. We also need take no special conceptual pains in effecting their burial. We can, in the words of the Master, "Let the dead bury their own dead."

Bibliography

Hume, D. 1984. A Treatise of Human Nature. New York: Penguin Classics.

Lewis, D. 1973. Counterfactuals. Oxford: Blackwell

McTaggart, J.M.E. 1993. The Unreality of Time. In The Philosophy of Time, ed. R. Le Poidevin and M. McBeath, 23-34. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Plantinga, A. 1974. The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Silverstein, H. 1980. The Evil of Death. The Journal of Philosophy 77(7): 401-423.

Yourgrau, P. 1987. The Dead. The Journal of Philosophy 86(2): 84-101.

_______. 2000. Can The Dead Really Be Buried? In Midwest Studies In Philosophy. Vol. 24, Life and Death: Metaphysics and Ethics, ed. P. French and H. Wettstein, 46-68. Boston: Blackwell.

Endnotes

1 This term was first coined by Plantinga (1974). But the thesis that only things that exist have properties is of much more venerable lineage, going all the way from Russell back to Aristotle. Serious Actualism implies Actualism, the claim that there are no nonexistent objects. For suppose that there are such objects, then they at least have the property of being nonexistent. Hence there are things that dont exist and yet have properties, and Serious Actualism is false.

2 Since the argument undergoes no substantial changes in his later work, I shall be concentrating my attention on the argument as it is presented in "The Dead."

3 Here we are assuming Yourgraus definition of death. If there is life after death, then on this definition it would be more accurate to claim that we survive the death of our bodies, or that no one really dies.

4 If God exists in the mode that classical theists purport, then he does not exist at any particular moment of time. Moreover, the actual world, being actual, must exist as well as be real. But it wouldnt seem appropriate to view it as existing in time.

5 This series could be ordered in a variety of ways without affecting Yourgraus argument. It could be well-ordered, it could be either an open or closed interval. All that matters is that at some point every moment in the series is in the past.

6 By within the span of a series I mean the following: Let t1tn be a series of moments. An object x exists within the span of t1tn if and only if every moment of xs existence tm is such that 1 m n.

7 Here I have in mind a model of time where the present is specious, i.e., temporally thick or having duration. This is basically the process view of time as articulated in Whitehead (1929).

8 A version of this argument can be found in Hume (1984, 124). However Humes argument is that there can be no causes that are totally simultaneous with their effects.

9 implies does mean logically entails here. It could mean A together with the relevant physical laws implies B, or it could mean that A counterfactually implies B in the sense that Lewis (1973b) articulates.

10 Here we are talking about future persons yet to be born, or Socrates in his prenatal state, not those who will never be born.

11 But that is not to say that SA is true. There may be other reasons for giving it up. My only point in this paper is to say that the existence of true facts concerning the dead is not one of those reasons.

____________________________________________________________

 

Reprinted by permission from pages 413-426 of:

Death And Anti-Death, Volume 1:

One Hundred Years After N. F. Fedorov (1829-1903)

[click here for more information about the book]

[click here to reach a seller of the book]

Editor: Charles Tandy, Ph.D.

[A Volume In The Death And Anti-Death Series By Ria University Press]

Year Of Publication: 2003

Publisher: Ria University Press -- Palo Alto, California USA

[Hardback Book Of 444 Pages]

ISBN: 0-9743472-0-5

Distributor: Ingram [Ingram is the leading U.S. distributor of books and audiobooks to the world]

Copyright 2003 by Charles Tandy

____________________________________________________________