“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Process and Sorites

David writes:

Hi Tim, so what is the Sorites problem for processes?

1) Processes are composed of ultimate temporal parts that are not processes.

2) Successive temporal combination of non-processural things never gets you a process.
So if pn is 's1+s2...sn is not a process', we have pn implies pn+1.

We start with with an ultimate part p1 (s1 is not a process) and we know by induction that this is true for all n.

On the face of it 1 and 2 are contraries. But isn't it open to the process philosopher to dig their heels in and just deny 1 - i.e. that processes are composed of things that are not processural?

Point (1) was not a statement I made. The point was that processes can be measured because they are ontically given. It doesn't matter to me what they are made of.

Never mind. Let's assume that processes are made of parts that are either temporal or not.

This makes things much worse for our process philosopher.

1) The components of processes are themselves process, which doesn't explain what processes are. Question begging.

2) These microprocesses are also subject to the Sorites. Pushing the problem back a stage doesn't get rid of it.

1) She has admitted that processes are not the basic constituent of reality.

2) She is no longer able to explain time, since the actual fundamental constituents do not have temporal parts and thus are instantaneous or eternal.

3) For the same reason, causality is no longer explicable.

But by far the most difficult obstacle is this one, no matter which way you slice it:

The fundamental ingredients are also subject to the Sorites problem. How many of them constitute a "heap" or indeed a process? Nothing has been achieved whatsoever.

Being subject to the Sorites happens if you are ontically given, not because you do or don't have temporal parts.


Adam said...

Hi Tim,

I've been following this chain of posts over the past few days with interest. As far as Whitehead goes (and whoever follows after Whitehead) I don't think there is any way around conceding that his whole metaphysics is a metaphysics of presence. In fact, I think Whitehead's whole point was to generalize the idea of presence to include all beings (i.e., all actual entities experience the presence of all other actual entities). No doubt Whitehead is sure to be a philosopher of influence for some time to come (and deservedly so) but I think it's time to leave some elements of his thought behind. And this is coming form someone who really digs Whitehead. Just my two cents.

David said...

My comment was an attempt to reconstruct a version of the Sorites for processes since I was a puzzled about the relevance of the schema to your discussion. While it may not have been what you had in mind, 1) was an attempt derive a paradox from two more or less plausible metaphysical assumptions.

If you deny 1, then there isn't problem concerning when the fundamental ingredients compose a process. Since a) either processes don't have ingredients or b) they are just made out of processes (turtles all the way down).

I'm not sure what you mean by "ontically given" here. If this is just observability measurability, then it's an epistemological property and not obviously relevant here.

If it's something ontological like conforming to the metaphysics of presence then the process fan can always invoke her Derrida or her Deleuze - processes could have a trace structure undermines their self-identity at source. Ontically underdetermined processes seem, if anything, more plausible than ontically undetermined objects.

Best, David Roden