The Fixity of the Future

Not been posting very often recently, as you may have noticed. This may well continue, who knows? For now I will throw up something I found banging around my hard-drive from ages ago. It’s not very original or sophisticated, but I’d be really interested if someone could show me a way to avoid this conclusion.

Summary Argument for Fatalism

(By ‘fatalism’ I mean the view that future events, including my actions, are determinate, regardless of whether they are determined by anything. This does not rely on a causal argument based on deterministic scientific explanations, and is consistent with future events being random, i.e. not necessitated by anything. The point is just that for future random events, just as for random events in the past, there is a fact of the matter about what happens.)

Premise 1) Past events are determinate.

Therefore 2) If future events are indeterminate, then there is a real, non-perspectival difference between future and past events.

Premise 3) If there is a real, non-perspectival difference between future and past events, then a given moment of time must pass from future, to present, to past, i.e. must change.

Premise 4) But this is incoherent: time itself cannot change, for all change takes place in time.

Therefore 5) By reductio ad absurdum, there is no real, non-perspectival difference between future and past events.

Therefore 6) Future events are not indeterminate, but determinate.


I take premise 1), and the step from 1) to 2), to be evident and uncontroversial.

To establish premise 3), observe that all events must be, in some sense, both past and future — something happening in the year 2000 in a future event to anyone in the year 1990, but a past event to anyone in the year 2007.  An event couldn’t be only past, for that would imply that no event before it is ever present, or only future, which would imply that no event after it is ever present – and both would imply that the event itself was never present, i.e. ‘never happens’.

Yet if there is a real, non-perspectival difference between future and past, then a certain moment can’t be both future and past ‘at once’, since that would mean being (say) both determinate and indeterminate. So it could only be both insofar as it changes from one to the other. For instance, the year 2000 would have to be future ‘up until a certain point’ and ‘then become’ past, after ‘briefly’ being present ‘for a moment’.

But this implies, as premise 3) says, that moments of time change, even though change itself must be in time. But as premise 4) says, it’s incoherent to speak of time itself changing. At what speed could a moment of time pass from future to past?  One hour per hour? Two hours per hour? What’s the ‘before’ and ‘after’ here?

Since that doesn’t seem coherent to me, I find myself forced to reject the initial supposition that the future is indeterminate, and conclude that all future events are as much definite facts as past events are. Which feels a little bit despiriting.

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One Response to The Fixity of the Future

  1. Even if you allow for the future to be indeterminate (e.g. due to random events), there is still only one way that the future will actually be (we’ll find out what it is when we get there), so in that sense it is determinate. In other words, I agree that your definition of the words determinate and indeterminate make it a logical necessity that the future be determinate. Rather than be dispirited by this, maybe a better response would be to wonder whether or not you’ve got the right meaning for determinism. I would certainly say that if an event were random it wasn’t determined in any sense that could possibly matter to me now. However, if randomness were all we could hope for in escaping from determinism, I’d still be dispirited. Instead, I prefer to think that I can effect change on the world, but that “I” am also part of the world. Crudely, the way the world minus the little bit of space my body occupies behaves is different to the way the world including that bit behaves. So the fact that my decisions are perhaps determined by the evolution of a physical system (possibly including randomness) doesn’t upset me because that’s what I am. To the extent that one can assign a meaning to the statement “I can change things”, it is true. What more could we ask for?

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