Philosophy Colloquium
Christian Tarney
University of Maryland, College Park
Passage, Identity, and Prudence

Prior (1959) and others have argued that the widely shared preference for future wellbeing over past wellbeing (the preference that unpleasant experiences be located in one's past, and pleasant experiences in one's future) provides decisive evidence in favor of the A-theory of time (which holds that time objectively passes). The B-theory, which does away with passage, seems challenged to explain why it is rational to care more about one's future than one's past, if one is not 'moving towards' the future and 'away from' the past. I argue, with the passage theorist, that the stock B-theoretic responses to this problem have been unconvincing. But I then defend two additional claims: first, that the A-theorist's case has in fact been understated, in that the B-theory undermines not just the asymmetric concern for one's future over one's past, but also the belief that one has any genuinely self-interested stake in the wellbeing of one's 'past/future selves' at all; but, second, there is no compelling reason to regard our (albeit enormously strong) A-theoretic intuitions on these questions as veridical, and that the B-theorist can give a plausible deflationary explanation that renders them almost wholly non-evidential. I conclude, therefore, that while the problem of time-asymmetric preferences offers no compelling reason to adopt either theory of time, it does raise the stakes of the debate by showing that the B-theory, if correct, would demand a fundamental reordering of ordinary intuitions regarding the nature of our mental lives and the foundations of prudential rationality.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

1103 Taliaferro Hall