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The New B-Theory of Language

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Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI,volume 293)

Abstract

Having shown that tensed sentences cannot be translated without meaning loss by either date-sentences or token-reflexive analyses, Richard Gale concluded that there must be tensed facts which are conveyed by tensed discourse: “That a statement containing an A-expression cannot be translated into a B-statement without loss of factual or informative content suggests that A-expressions are used to convey factual information, namely information about the A-determination of an event or state of affairs.”1 New B-theorists, while conceding the untranslatability of tensed sentences by tenseless sentences, deny this implication. They argue that the ineliminability of tense from language has no implications for the objectivity of ontological tense. Thus, New B-theorist Nathan Oaklander explains,

...the old tenseless theory of time assumed that a logical analysis of ordinary language that eliminates tensed discourse, supported an ontological analysis of time that rejects transient temporal properties. The tenser shared that assumption, but argued that since no tenseless translations were successful, temporal becoming... is necessary in any adequate account of time. Tensers, claim, in other words, that because tensed discourse is ineliminable, the detenser is mistaken and tensed properties and acts must exist.

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. According to the new tenseless theory of time, our need to think and talk in tensed terms is perfectly consistent with its being the case that time is timeless. 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.2

Keywords

  • Truth Condition
  • Propositional Content
  • Sentence Type
  • Tensed Fact
  • Tensed Sentence

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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References

  1. Richard Gale, The Language of Time, International Library of Philosophy and Scientific Method (London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul, 1968 ), p. 55.

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  2. L. Nathan Oaklander, “A Defense of the New Tenseless Theory of Time,” Philosophical Quarterly 41 (1991): 26–27. For other conscious rejections of the Old B-Theory by New B-theorists, see Jeremy Butterfield, “Indexicals and Tense,” in Exercises in Analysis, ed. Ian Hacking (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 69–87; Michelle Beer, “Temporal Indexicals and the Passage of Time,” Philosophical Quarterly 38 (1988): 158–164. For an anthology on the New B-Theory, see L. Nathan Oaklander and Quentin Smith, eds., The New Theory of Time ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994 ).

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  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; have the same truth conditions as any of the R;, 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,, which will be that S, occurs in 1980. We may then inquire as to the truth conditions of“ S1 occurs in 1980.”

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  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,” p. 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 R.

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  10. In his response to Oaklander, Smith charges that the latter has misunderstood Mellor’s theory, since that theory holds that tensed and tenseless sentence tokens have different truth conditions (Smith, Language and Time, p. 70–71). But this time it is Smith who misinterprets Mellor, for in the passage Smith cites, the varying versus unvarying truth conditions referred to are each of a single type respectively. As the Figures in our text illustrate, the truth conditions of the S, are varying, while the truth conditions of the R; are unvarying. Thus, the “modification” is in line with Mellor’s theory.

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  11. A more plausible route for Mellor to take would be to distinguish between the rule of use of a token, which is given by the tenseless truth conditions, and the linguistic meaning of the token, which is the same for all tokens and the type they exemplify. But then it would also seem necessary to distinguish propositional content from linguistic meaning, since “It is now raining” tokened on one date does not have the same information value as it does when tokened on another date. But then matters of fact become more closely aligned with propositional content rather than linguistic meaning, and thus different tokens having the same meaning may express different facts. What reason would there be, then, to think that tensed and tenseless tokens express the same facts? Because they are both given the same rule of use? How does having the same rule of use prove that two tokens express the same propositional content?

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  12. Now simultaneity with its subject matter is the defining truth condition of a present tense judgment, as opposed to a past or future tense one; so if I am thinking of my actions or experiences as happening while I am thinking of them, I am ipso facto thinking of them as being present. And that, I suggest, is all there is to the much vaunted presentness of our experience. Experiences in themselves, like events of every other kind, are neither past, present, nor future. It is only our simultaneous consciousness of them, as being simultaneous, which necessarily both has, and satisfies, the tenseless truth conditions of present tense judgments“ (D. H. Mellor, ”McTaggart, fixity, and coming true,“ in Reduction, Time and Reality, ed. Richard Healey [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981 ], p. 88 ).

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  13. Mellor seems to be saying that the presentness of experience amounts to no more than my thinking of my experiences as simultaneous with themselves. But this seems a patently inadequate explanation of why certain of my range of experiences are apprehended as present.

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  14. If “The present experience is present” is said attributively, then the sentence is trivial for A- and B-theorist alike. If it is used referentially, then the B-theorist can only state that this statement is necessarily true in the sense that the designated experience is self-simultaneous. But he offers nothing to explain why we experience that moment, not merely as self-simultaneous (it is always that), but as present. By contrast, the A-theorist explains that we apprehend the designated experiences as present because they, and they alone, really are present, that is, they exist at the unique time which is ontologically present.

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  17. Smith, Language and Time, p. 90; idem, “Problems with the New Tenseless Theory,” pp. 374–384. 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 token-reflexive truth conditions, as Smith comes to see in his revised version of the argument.

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  18. L. Nathan Oaklander, “The New Tenseless Theory of Time: a Reply to Smith,” Philosophical Studies 58 (1990): 288.

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  19. Ibid., p. 290. Smith in his response to Oaklander (Smith, Language and Time, p. 13), errs in thinking that the New B-Theory draws ontological conclusions about the nature of time from the analysis it provides of tensed sentences’ truth conditions. That analysis is primarily defensive (though some B-theorists may occasionally rashly claim more) in nature; the positive case for a B-theoretic ontology of time leans primarily on McTaggart’s Paradox. Smith is correct that New B-theorists aim to construct a language that gives in truth condition sentences the meanings and entailments in a natural language, but Oaklander does not deny that—he denies that a logical entailment between two sentences corresponds to an ontological connection between things in the world.

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  20. Smith, Language and Time, p. 99. 1 have altered some of Smith’s stylistic conventions expressing tenseless and tensed verbs.

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  39. They trace the roots of the notion of truth makers to the realist revival during the early part of the twentieth century. For thinkers like Russell, Wittgenstein, and Husserl there must be, in addition to truth bearers, whether these be sentences, propositions, or whatever, entities in virtue of which sentences and/or propositions are true. Such entities are variously identified as facts, states of affairs, etc. The discovery of a sentence’s truth maker is quite a different exercise than the specification of its truth conditions, as is immediately evident from the fact that many types of true sentences have no truth makers. Cf. apropos remarks by John Perry on the varieties of truth conditions in A Companion to the Philosophy of Language, ed. Robert Hale and Crispin Wright, s.v. “Indexicals and Demonstratives” (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), pp. 586–612. G0 Mellor, Real Time, p. 75.

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  42. Salmon points out that tense operators are not extensional operators by means of the following example: “2+2=5” and “It is cloudy” are equally false with respect to my actual context. But the tense operator “sometimes” has different consequences when these sentences are placed in its scope: “Sometimes 2+2=5” is false, but “Sometimes it is cloudy” is true. Since “sometimes” + present tense is not truth functional, it cannot be extensional. Salmon also points out that tense operators are not intensional either in the sense of being a function from a proposition to a truth value. For example, the sentences “The senior senator from California is a Republican” and “The present senior senator from Califomia is a Republican” both have the same intension, or express the same proposition. But the sentences “Sometimes the senior senator from Califomia is a Republican” and “Sometimes the present senior senator from California is a Republican” express different propositions due to the need for double indexing of the latter, the former sentence being true and the latter false. Salmon therefore regards tense operators as super-intensional operators operating on propositional matrices, e.g., the senior senator from California and the property of being a Republican.

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  44. Eg., Smith, Language and Time, sec. 4. 3. Since, however, I reject Smith’s account of tensed truth conditions in favor of Priest’s, I do not agree with Smith’s reasons for the explanatory primacy of tensed facts. Nevertheless, the fact that tensed sentences require tensed truth conditions serves to answer the challenge of Clifford Williams, “The Date Analysis of Tensed Sentences,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 70 (1992): 199–200, that A-theorists must show that tensed and tenseless sentences differ not merely in their meanings, but in the states of affairs they describe. Williams appears to allow that tensed and tenseless sentences may have different truth conditions, but holds that the state of affairs described by a tensed sentence and its tenseless date-sentence counterpart may be the same, so that tensed facts have not been shown to exist. But a closer reading of Williams’s remarks on p. 199 reveals that he both confuses truth conditions with the conditions requisite for our knowing certain sentence tokens to be true (i.e., alethic with cognitive conditions) and conflates truth conditions with sentences’ meanings. In fact, Williams never states what the truth conditions for either tensed or tenseless sentences are. If he accepts Mellor’s account, how does he remedy its defects? If he rejects it, what does he propose in its stead? Our demonstration that tensed sentences require tensed truth conditions shows that the states of affairs described by tensed sentences do differ from those described by tenseless sentences (and this whether or not they make the sentences true). Against this argument, Williams poses a to quogue riposte based on spatial indexicals, which we shall discuss in chap. 4.

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  46. See, for example, the critique by Greg Restall, “Truthmakers, Entailment and Necessity,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (1996): 331–340. In his “Truthmaker Realism,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 77 (1999): forthcoming, Barry Smith rejects the original theory crafted by Mulligan, Simons, and Smith, along with what he calls “truthmaker maximalism,” the doctrine that every truth has a truth maker. In particular he makes the provocative suggestion that past-and future-tensed, contingent sentences may not have truth makers but had or will have truth makers.

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  47. Mellor, Real Time II, pp. 23, xi.

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  48. For another attempt to rescue the New B-Theory by appeal to sentence types, see L. A. Paul, “Truth Conditions of Tensed Sentence Types,” Synthèse 111 (1997): 53–71 and the critiques by Quentin Smith, “The `Sentence-Type Version’ of the Tenseless Theory of Time,” Synthèse (forthcoming); William Lane Craig, “On the Truth Conditions of Tensed Sentence Types,” Synthèse (forthcoming).

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  49. Mellor, Real Time II, pp. 29–30.

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  50. Recall our discussion in chap. 1, pp. 6–9.

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  51. The same problems attend Tooley’s formulation of the Indexed B-Theory (Tooley, Time, Tense and Causation, pp. 200–201). According to Tooley, any utterance, at time t*, of the sentence “Event E is now occurring” is true at time t = It is true at time t that E lies in the present at time t*. This analysis provides neither truth conditions nor truth makers for “E is now occurring.”

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Craig, W.L. (2000). The New B-Theory of Language. In: The Tensed Theory of Time. Synthese Library, vol 293. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-015-9345-8_3

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