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Time, Tense, & Rationality

PEARSON, FRANCIS,OLIVER,CHARLES,HE (2012) Time, Tense, & Rationality. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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In this thesis I try to advance our understanding of the nature of time. In particular I defend the idea that there is an objective difference between the past, the present, and the future; a metaphysical tense. This is in opposition to the idea that these distinctions merely mark an aspect of our perspective on entities in time.
I argue that tensed beliefs – beliefs that go hand-in-hand with tensed language – are essential to our lives as rational animals. Firstly, they are essential to our practices of providing reasons for action and acting for reasons. Secondly, they are essential for our lives as emotional animals whose emotions are appropriately responsive to the world.
Perry has argued that indexical – including tensed – beliefs are essential for actions. In order to attend my meeting, it is not enough that I know that it is at 2pm, I must also know that it is now 1:55pm. Examining Perry’s argument I show that its proper conclusion is that tensed and first-personal beliefs are necessary for rational actions.
I argue that reasons are facts (not belief/desire complexes or intensional entities). Further, the rationality of an action derives solely from these reasons, so that when an agent is not mistaken their action is rational purely insofar as it is done for a reason that justifies it. This means that beliefs are required for rational actions only to the extent that they provide an awareness of reasons and thereby enable an action.
A proper understanding of rational action thus enables me to say that if an action must involve one belief rather than another in order to be rational, this must be because the former belief involves an awareness of a reason, hence fact, that the latter does not. Combining this with the proper conclusion of Perry’s argument we can say that tensed beliefs are required in the place of any tenseless beliefs in rational actions, and therefore must involve an awareness of facts that the latter cannot capture. Given that our actions are by and large rational, it follows there are facts captured by tensed beliefs not captured by tenseless beliefs. There is a metaphysical tense. Prior has argued that some emotions involve tensed beliefs and Cockburn has furthered this to show that the appropriateness of some emotions depends upon these beliefs. It is inappropriate to grieve a future death or fear a past danger.
I show that the appropriateness of emotions stems from the reasons they are felt for and that these reasons are revealed by the beliefs involved in these emotions. This enables me to argue that if an emotion must involve one belief rather than another to be appropriate, then this can only be because the former belief captures a reason that the latter does not. In combination with Prior/Cockburn’s conclusion I am thus able to argue, analogously to the case of rational actions, that if there are emotions which must involve tensed beliefs to be appropriate and there are examples of appropriate such emotions, then metaphysical tense is real.
My thesis thus derives a conclusion about the nature of time from our nature as rational animals. These arguments also have implications for a proper understanding of first-personal indexicals, which must now be recognized to pick out facts not captured by non-first-personal language. The former of these conclusions has been famously attacked by McTaggart, and the latter by Wittgenstein, and so I will also say something to rebut these criticisms. My arguments also have implications for certain issues surrounding the cognitive significance of co-referring names/natural kind terms which I will show to be unproblematic.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Metaphysics, time, tense, rationality, reasons, emotions
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:22 May 2012 14:04

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