The problem of future contingents: Scoping out a solution

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Abstract

Various philosophers have long since been attracted to the doctrine that future contingent propositions systematically fail to be true—what is sometimes called the doctrine of the open future. However, open futurists have always struggled to articulate how their view interacts with standard principles of classical logic—most notably, with the Law of Excluded Middle (LEM). For consider the following two claims: (a) Trump will be impeached tomorrow; (b) Trump will not be impeached tomorrow. According to the kind of open futurist at issue, both of these claims may well fail to be true. According to many, however, the disjunction of these claims can be represented as p ∨ ~p—that is, as an instance of LEM. In this essay, however, I wish to defend the view that the disjunction these claims cannot be represented as an instance of p ∨ ~p. And this is for the following reason: the latter claim is not, in fact, the strict negation of the former. More particularly, there is an important semantic distinction between the strict negation of the first claim [~(Trump will be impeached tomorrow)] and the latter claim (Trump will not be impeached tomorrow). However, the viability of this approach has been denied by Thomason (Theoria 36:264–281, 1970), and more recently by MacFarlane (Assessment sensitivity: relative truth and its applications, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013) and Cariani and Santorio (Mind 127:129–165. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/mind/fzw004, 2017), the latter of whom call the denial of the given semantic distinction “scopelessness”. According to these authors, that is, will is “scopeless” with respect to negation; whereas there is perhaps a syntactic distinction between ‘~Will p’ and ‘Will ~p’, there is no corresponding semantic distinction. And if this is so, the approach in question fails. In this paper, then, I criticize the claim that will is “scopeless” with respect to negation. I argue that will is a so-called “neg-raising” predicate—and that, in this light, we can see that the requisite scope distinctions aren’t missing, but are simply being masked. The result: a under-appreciated solution to the problem of future contingents that sees (a) and (b) as contraries, not contradictories.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSynthese
Early online date9 Oct 2018
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Oct 2018

Keywords

  • future contingents
  • the open future
  • law of excluded middle
  • A.N. Prior
  • Bivalence
  • Neg-raising

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