The Double Life of Objects


Richard Marshall interviews Thomas Sattig in 3:AM Magazine [Photo: Tuomas Tahko]:

3:AM: In your book about language and reality you study them together rather than separately. Why put them together?

TS: Metaphysicians often begin with prephilosophically accessible phenomena and then go deep by asking what the phenomena are like fundamentally. Given that the phenomena are familiar, we have common-sense beliefs and intuitions about them. What role does common sense play in the metaphysical enterprise? I believe that foundational metaphysical analysis should aim to preserve our common-sense conception. The task is a difficult one. Soon tensions between our metaphysical principles and our ordinary thought and talk start appearing. But we should resist giving up our prephilosophical beliefs too easily. For they are prima facie guides to how things are and to how they could be. So I recommend searching for an equilibrium between the metaphysical analysis of the deep structure of the world and our ordinary, linguistic and mental, representation of the latter. The way in which I recommend establishing such an equilibrium is by giving a semantical account of ordinary discourse, which links familiar linguistic behaviour with deep metaphysics. To be sure, this is a type of semantics geared to the demands of metaphysicians. Semantics as done in linguistics and philosophy of language doesn’t share the aim of uncovering the metaphysical basis of ordinary thought and talk.

3:AM: You begin with what you call temporal supervenience. Can you explain what you mean by this term?

TS: The problem of temporal supervenience is an equilibrium problem of the sort I just mentioned. There are different conceptions of time. While ordinary space is three-dimensional, ordinary time is one-dimensional—it can be represented by a line—and consists of past, present, and future. This is the ordinary conception of time, in virtue of being the conception to which we are committed by our ordinary temporal discourse. When we describe the world in ordinary time, we describe it from the perspective of the present time—we use tensed language.

Modern physics, by contrast, offers a different conception: there is only a four-dimensional spacetime of which time is merely an aspect. In its most general form, the problem concerns the metaphysical status of our ordinary conception of time.

One instance of the problem concerns the status of tense. Is temporal perspective an aspect of the reality represented by ordinary thought and talk—are there fundamentally present-directed, past-directed and future-directed facts—or do we merely represent a fundamentally tenseless reality in a tensed way? Another instance concerns the relationship between ordinary time and spacetime. How is what goes on in ordinary time related to what goes on in spacetime?

More here.