, Volume 164, Issue 3, pp 829-844

Soft facts and ontological dependence

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Abstract

In the literature on free will, fatalism, and determinism, a distinction is commonly made between temporally intrinsic (‘hard’) and temporally relational (‘soft’) facts at times; determinism, for instance, is the thesis that the temporally intrinsic state of the world at some given past time, together with the laws, entails a unique future (relative to that time). Further, it is commonly supposed by incompatibilists that only the ‘hard facts’ about the past are fixed and beyond our control, whereas the ‘soft facts’ about the past needn’t be. A substantial literature arose in connection with this distinction, though no consensus emerged as to the proper way to analyze it. It is time, I believe, to revisit these issues. The central claim of this paper is that the attempts to analyze the hard/soft fact distinction got off on fundamentally the wrong track. The crucial feature of soft facts is that they (in some sense) depend on the future. Following recent work on the notion of dependence, however, I argue that the literature on the soft/hard distinction has failed to capture the sense of dependence at stake. This is because such attempts have tried to capture softness in terms of purely modal notions like entailment and necessitation. As I hope to show, however, such notions cannot capture the sort of asymmetrical dependence relevant to soft facthood. Arguing for this claim is the first goal of this paper. My second goal is to gesture towards what an adequate account of soft facthood will really look like.