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Thoughts on Aristotelian Determinism and Future Contingents

Feb 2, 2017

Tags: philosophy

Preword: These are some collected thoughts on determinism and the problem of future contingents as stated by Aristotle in De Interpretatione (18a34 through 19a39). I make no claims about their profundity or novelty; they’re just a list of observations and notes from a lecture.

  1. A “thing” may be reasoned about in its capacity as a category for individual objects.
  2. An empty thing is a thing.
  3. An empty thing supports the notion of a thing.
  4. “Some-thing” is a particular thing, including the “absence-thing” for a thing (in the category sense).
  5. The “some-thing is” then is now “some-thing was”.
  6. We could say “some-thing will be”.
  7. “Some-thing will be” is true without qualification.
  8. Future statements may have truth-value without necessitating determinism.

Depending on how charitable you’re feeling, Aristotle swings between claiming that future contingents are categorically incapable of truth-value:

[…] everything necessarily is or is not, and will be or will not be; but one cannot divide and say that one or the other is necessary. (19a23)

…to more lenient (emphasis added):

Clearly, then, it is not necessary that of every affirmation and opposite negation one should be true and the other false. (19a39)

In either case, Aristotle would probably not be happy with my torturing of “some-thing” and “no-thing” into existence, as they do not meet his name definition:

A name is a spoken sound significant by convention… (16a19)

After all, “some-thing” is maximally indexical to ensure that “some-thing will be” is true, and “no-thing” is “some-thing” whose significance is an absence and therefore unknown to convention.

Thus, it would not be unreasonable to critique all of the above as more of a rewriting of Aristotle’s ontology with a particular outcome in mind than a real answer to the problem of false contingents. It needs more work.

- William