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Tense and the New B-Theory of Language

  • William Lane Craig

New B-Theorists of language, while conceding the untranslatability of tensed sentences by tenseless sentences, deny that the ineliminability of tense implies the reality of tensed facts. Thus, New BTheorist Nathan Oaklander explains,

For a variety of reasons, ... recent defenders of the tenseless view have come to embrace the thesis that tensed sentences cannot be translated by tenseless ones without loss of meaning. Nevertheless, recent detensers have denied that the ineliminability of tensed language and thought entails the reality of temporal properties. ... Tensed discourse is indeed necessary for timely action, but tensed facts are not, since the truth conditions of tensed sentences can be expressed in a tenseless meta-language that describes unchanging temporal relations between and among events.

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1 Oaklander, L. Nathan, ‘A Defense of the New Tenseless Theory of Time,’ Philosophical Quarterly 41 (1991), 2627.

2 Mellor, D. H., Real Time (Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 74.

3 Quentin, Smith, ‘Problems with the New Tenseless Theory of Time,’ Philosophical Studies 52 (1987): 371392; cf. his Language and Time: a Defense of Presentism (Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 6970. For a similar point concerning spatial indexicals, see Sanford, David H., critical notice of Real Time, by Mellor, D. H., Philosophical Review 93 (1984): 290291.

4 Oaklander, , ‘Defense,’ 28-31. The Smith-Oaklander, Auseinander-set-zung has been reprinted in The New Theory of Time, ed. with Introductions by Oaklander, L. Nathan and Quentin, Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).

5 Oaklander, , ‘Defense,’ 29.

7 Ibid.. Even this statement is not quite accurate, as we shall see below.

8 Herein lies Oaklander's error; he fails to specify which token of S the tenseless sentence is referring to. If one insists that the type S does occur in time, then none of the S 1, have the same truth conditions as any of the T 1, since the former refer to tokens and the latter to the type. This will be of no help to Mellor, however, for the problem resurfaces upon our asking for the truth conditions of, say, S 1, which will be that S 1 occurs in 1980. We may then inquire as to the truth conditions of ‘S 1 occurs in 1980.’

9 Oaklander himself comes to propose a similar modification of Mellor's theory: ‘… tensed and tenseless sentence-types have tokens with different truth conditions, while … tensed and tenseless sentence tokens themselves have the same truth conditions’ (Oaklander, , ‘Defense,’ 30). This statement of the theory is very ambiguous, however, and does not take cognizance of the fact that only the 1980 tokens of S have the same truth conditions as the tokens of T.

10 Mellor, , Real Time, 75-77.

11 Ibid., 75.

12 Ibid., 76.

13 Ibid., 77

14 Ibid., 77-78.

15 Smith, , ‘Problems with the New Tenseless Theory,’ 374-384;idem, Language of Time, 69. Smith sometimes makes the tensed tokens synonymous, but dissimilar, e.g., ‘It is now 1980’ and ‘1980 is present.’ Two synonymous sentence types are thus being tokened. But I do not see that this move contributes anything to the argument, since on the New B-Theory it is tokens which are the truth-bearers and recipients of truth conditions, so that even two similar tokens must have distinct tokenreflexive truth conditions, as Smith comes to see in his revised version of the argument. Smith also states the argument in terms of entailment, not material implication, but since Mellor does not clearly affirm logical equivalence between a tensed sentence and its tenseless truth conditions, I use the weaker relation.

16 Oaklander, L. Nathan, ‘The New Tenseless Theory of Time: a Reply to Smith,’ Philosophical Studies 58 (1990), 288.

17 Ibid., 290.

18 Oaklander, , ‘Defense,’ 32. On the futility of this escape route, see my ‘The New B-Theory's Tu Quoque Argument,’ Synthese (forthcoming).

19 Smith, , Language and Time, 99. I have altered some of Smith's stylistic conventions expressing tenseless and tensed verbs.

20 Graham, Priest, ‘Tense and Truth Conditions,’ Analysis 46 (1986): 162166;Mellor, D. H., ‘Tense's Tenseless Truth Conditions,’ Analysis 46 (1986): 167172;Graham, Priest, ‘Tense, Tense, and TENSE,’ Analysis 47 (1987): 184187.

21 Mellor also argues on the basis of McTaggart's Paradox that such conditions lead to a vicious infinite regress; space does not permit me to examine that claim here, but Mellor's defense of McTaggart crucially depends upon taking sentence tokens as truth bearers.

22 See Paul, Helm, ‘Timelessness and Foreknowledge,’ Mind 84 (1975): 524527.

23 Smith, , Language and Time, 103-105.

24 Jeremy, Butterfield, ‘Indexicals and Tense,’ in Exercises in Analysis, ed. Ian, Hacking (Cambridge University Press, 1985), 7074.

25 Ibid., 73-74.

26 Ibid., 74. All he gives is a tu quoque argument concerning spatial indexicals: ‘… no one wishes to infer that a description of reality is incomplete unless it specifies a “here”: nor should we do so in the temporal case.’ For a discussion of this argument see my ‘The New B-Theory's Tu Quoque Argument,’ Synthese (forthcoming); suffice it here to say that the A-theorist can provide a reductive analysis of spatial indexicals in terms of the co-ordinate location of the irreducible ‘I-now.’

27 Smith, , Language and Time, 106-107.

28 Mellor, , Real Time, 34. ‘… I subscribe to the so-called ‘token-reflexive’ account of what makes tensed statements true or false, an account which lets me keep objective tensed truths and falsehoods while rejecting objectively tensed things, events, and facts’ (Ibid, 5-6). Cf. Mellor, D. H., ‘McTaggart, Fixity and Coming True,’ in Reduction, Time, and Reality, ed. Healey, R. (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1981), 87;idem, ‘Tense's Tenseless Truth Conditions,’ 171;idem, I and Now,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 89 (1988-1989): 81.

29 Oaklander, , ‘Defense,’ 27;idem, ‘New Tenseless Theory,’ 290. Even Priest, zealous to disprove tenseless facts, succumbs to this confusion (Priest, , ‘Tense and Truth Conditions,’ p. 162). That Priest can give tensed truth conditions even to tenseless sentences and thereby eliminate tenseless facts constitutes in my mind a reductio of the conflation of truth conditions and grounds of truth.

30 Mellor, , Real Time, 75.

31 Alvin, Plantinga, ‘Reply to Robert Adams,’ in Alvin Plantinga, ed. James, Tomberlin, Profiles 5 (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1985), 378.

32 Ibid..

33 See Nathan, Salmon, ‘Reference and Information Content: Names and Descriptions,’ in Handbook of Philosophical Logic, vol. 4;Topics in the Philosophy of Language, ed. Gabbay, D. and Guenther, F., Synthese Library 167 (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1989), 411412, but especially idem, ‘Tense and Singular Propositions,’ in Themes from Kaplan, ed. Joseph, Almog, John, Perry, and Howard, Wettstein (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 362366.

34 Roger, Wertheimer, ‘Conditions,’ Journal of Philosophy 65 (1968), 355364;Jaegwon, Kim, ‘Noncausal Connections,’ Nous 8 (1974), 4152.

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