Some Problems with the Russellian Open Future
Some Problems with the Russellian Open Future
Jacek Wawer 0
0 Department of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University , ul. Grodzka 52, 31-044 Krako ?w , Poland
In a recently published paper, Todd (Mind, 125(499), pp. 775-798, 2016a) advocates a novel treatment of future contingents. On his view, all statements concerning the contingent future are false. He motivates his semantic postulates by considerations in philosophy of time and modality, in particular by the claim that there is no actual future. I present a number of highly controversial consequences of Todd's theory. Inadequacy of his semantics might indirectly serve as an argument against the philosophical view underpinning his proposal. Todd (2016a) undertakes a very ambitious project in his recent paper. He tries to motivate a novel treatment of future contingents which would render them all false. He offers a surprisingly simple rationale for his semantic endeavor: a sentence in future tense is true, if and only if what it says happens in the actual future. But if there is no actual future, then nothing happens in the actual future and any sentence in future tense is false. It certainly is an original semantic proposal, well-grounded in existing philosophical views. I am going to argue, however, that it ultimately fails. Upon closer examination, it turns out that Todd's definitions generate numerous difficulties which are hard to accept (or overcome). In my opinion, it indicates that the claim that there is no actual future requires clarification since, when taken at face value, it might lead to unwelcome consequences.
Future contingents; Open future; Future tense
I shall proceed as follows: firstly, I briefly mention the philosophical
considerations that motivate Todd?s semantic account. Then, I introduce the first of Todd?s
semantics (which I call ?extremism?, for reasons that will soon become apparent) and
argue that it is not a plausible account of the future tense. Later, I discuss a milder,
?austere? version of the semantics which Todd ultimately recommends. I intend to
show that, as far as semantics of ?will? is concerned, austerity is hardly better than
extremism. Finally, I argue that the austere semantics can be reduced to Peircean
semantics of Arthur Prior and explain why it is bad news for Todd.
1 Metaphysical Background
Let me first briefly quote the metaphysical views that influence Todd?s semantic
decisions. The future, following the author?s argument, is contingent, if and only if
it is not causally determined. Todd prefers to describe the contingent, undetermined
future as the ?open future.? Then, he imposes a very specific condition:
If the future is open, then there is no actual future.
The author does not motivate the condition, only stipulates it as the starting point
of his investigations. Admittedly, the view that there is no actual future is
sometimes promoted both in philosophy of time (e.g., by some presentists, like
or growing blockers, like
) and in philosophy of possibility (by
certain advocates of the branching model of possibilities, like
Belnap et al. (2001)
However, it should be underlined that this rendering of openness is rather
controversial. For once, it is exclusive. There is a long line of philosophers and theologians
who claimed, or can be interpreted to have claimed, that even if there are many
possible futures (in this sense, the future is ?open?), we can still reasonably assume that
only one of these possible futures is (or rather will be) actual. For example, Peter
Abelard finds inspiration for such a view in Aristotle?s famous De Interpretatione.1
A similar view was supported by William of Ockham and Gottfried Wilhelm
(for references and detailed discussion cf. ?hrstr?m and Hasle 1995, esp. sec. 1.1
. In the last century, such a view was defended, by, e.g.,
, ?hrstr?m (1984), or
. In my opinion, it is slightly too
hasty on behalf of Todd to qualify all these thinkers, often against their will, as
opponents of the ?open? future.
Moreover, under one natural understating of the claim that there is no actual future,
it says that nothing will actually happen?that is, that all the world?s days are run.
But then, (OF) would allow us to infer that the world has just come to its end from
the assumption that the future is open. It is surely not a valid inference, so (OF) must
(an argument along this line has been presented by Lewis 1986, p. 207)
1Ironically, Todd takes Aristotle to be the archetype open-futurist who excludes the notion of the actual
future. Anyhow, Aristotle can be hardly summoned as a source of authority in this context. The debate over
the correct interpretation of the famous passage of De Interpretatione continues for over two millennia
and there is little chance that it shall conclusively end any time in the future.
I should stress that Patrick Todd does not fully embrace (OF) in the paper I
discuss. At some point, he even admits that ?[t]he motivation for having an open future
view may be dubious? (p. 778). He just stipulates (OF) and proceeds to construct a
hypothetical argument: If one wished to accept such a notion of the open future, then
one could, or even should, accept the semantic proposals he puts forward. Therefore,
I will assume, for the purposes of this paper, such a notion of the open future and use
it to reconstruct Todd?s line of reasoning.
Let me begin with Todd?s initial, ingenious proposal (I will refer to it as F1).
Following the author, I shall analyze future tense as a propositional operator (F ).2
F ? is true iff (if and only if). The actual future features ? iff. There is a unique actual future and it features ?.
If the future is open and (OF) is true, then there is no actual future. Then, 3 is
untrue, since the first conjunct is not true. Thus, every sentence in future tense is
untrue. Since Todd desires to preserve bivalence, he concludes that every sentence of
the form F ? should be considered false:
On the relevant semantics for ?will?, something ?will? happen (as a first
approximation) if and only if ?the unique actual future? features the thing happening. But if
there is no ?unique actual future?, as open futurists contend, then (on a Russellian
analysis) such a proposition simply comes out false. Todd (2016a, p. 776)
Let me note that the future might well be open, in Todd?s sense of the term, even
if some truths are settled. For the future to be open, it is sufficient that some issues
are unsettled and Aristotle once sanely noticed that ?it is necessary that he who lives
shall one day die (. . . ) But whether he dies by disease or by violence, is not yet
determined.? (Metaphysics 1027b, 10?14). Thus, if the world is not determined in
every respect, then the future is open, and therefore it does not exist.3 Hence, if the
future is open, Todd?s claim extends to settled truths. It is settled that I will die, but
the proposition asserting that I will die is false according to (F1). The result of all
sentences in the future tense being false might look unappealing at first, but Todd
argues?in the Puritan spirit?that if it is where our philosophical precepts take us,
we can do nothing but follow:
On my view, when we try to talk about ?what will happen?, we presuppose
a metaphysical picture of time and the world that philosophical reflection
ultimately recommends that we reject?. Todd (2016a, p. 796).
2It is a matter of some controversy, whether operators provide the most fortunate formal account of tense
(cf. e.g. King 2003)
3One might be inclined to say that the ?determined parts? of the future already exist. The insight is later
incorporated into Todd?s theory. I discuss this modification in the following section.
Todd describes his project as a ?Russellian? approach to future contingents and he
contrasts it with a ?Strawsonian? account. He alludes to the famous debate regarding
the analysis of definite descriptions. On the one hand, according to
every affirmative sentence with a non-denoting definite description as a subject is
false. On the other hand,
argues that such a sentence should be
considered neither true nor false. Todd (2016a) argues that the same argument can
be restated for sentences which refer to the future. If there is no future, then every
sentence of the form ?The future features ?? should be considered false, on the
Russellian approach, and indeterminate, on the Strawsonian. The supervaluational
might be seen as a Strawsonian account of future
contingents, whereas Todd proposes a Russellian alternative.
In their recent paper,
Schoubye and Rabern (2017)
undermined the parallel
between Toddian future tense and Russellian definite descriptions. They argued in
particular that the major advantages of the Russellian analysis do not transfer to
Todd?s proposal (I will refer to some of their major observations in due course). It
is therefore questionable whether Todd should rely on the Russellian analysis of the
phrase like ?The future features ?? or should he rather simply stipulate (F1) as his
intended meaning of the future tense operator.4
Setting aside validity of the Russellian justification of Todd?s views, I should note
that the elegant simplicity of his theory is impressive. In a sense, it is astounding
that it had to wait until 2016 to be presented. Well, this is not quite true. I have
identified two sources, where a view like (F1) is mentioned. Firstly, it is considered
(but instantly discarded) by David Lewis:
It is false that the future holds a sea fight; because ?the future? is a
denotationless improper description. (. . . ) But [if we go this way], our customary thought
about ?the? future is in bad trouble. Lewis (1986, p. 207)
A sketch of a theory like (F1) can be also recognized in a few remarks by
First of all, there is what might be called ?extreme? presentism, where this is the view
that any positive proposition that is expressed by some statement about the past, or about
the future, however that statement is interpreted, is false. Tooley (2012, p. 26)
Tooley does not develop this view at any length, only briefly comments:
[E]xtreme presentism with its radical view that all positive propositions about
the past (and about the future) are false, has not recommended itself to many
philosophers. Tooley (2012, p. 26)
4A few points made in my paper coincide with those presented by
Schoubye and Rabern (2017)
Especially the line of reasoning outlined in Section 4 is largely parallel to the argument they make in the last
section of their paper. There are also many differences in our approach, however, and the two papers
constitute independent attacks on Todd?s position.
Schoubye and Rabern (2017)
stress the disanalogy between
Russellian definite descriptions and Toddian future contingents, while I accept Todd?s theory ?as is? and
discuss some of its corollaries. I should mention that I was not familiar with
Schoubye and Rabern (2017)
until recently and the partial coincidence of some of our claims results from similar reaction to parts of
Todd?s paper rather than from direct influence.
(F1) is not, strictly speaking, a case of extreme presentism in Tooley?s sense, as
Todd limits his investigation to future tense. Anyhow, it is fair to describe his initial
proposal as ?extremism?. Not only does it partly coincide with Tooley?s extreme
presentism, but, more importantly, it advocates a quite extreme revision of the future
talk of English (it might be what Lewis had in mind, when he warned against ?bad
Russell rightly suggested that ?[a] logical theory may be tested by its capacity for
dealing with puzzles, and it is a wholesome plan, in thinking about logic, to stock
the mind with as many puzzles as possible, since these serve much the same purpose
as is served by experiments in physical science?. Russell (1905, pp. 484?485). In
what follows, I am going to present a list of puzzles that extremism should solve.
In my opinion, these ?logical experiments? jointly constitute a serious challenge for
Todd?s theory. I should note that the arguments below undermine extremism only if
the theory aims (among other things) at providing an analysis of natural language
future tense. In my view, Schoubye and Rabern (2017, pp. 9?10) convincingly argue
that it is reasonable to expect that much from Todd?s proposal.
To present some of puzzles, I will use a metric version of the tense operator?
F1?to encode ?It will be the case tomorrow?.5 Let us assume then that the future is
open (and thus, all F -sentences are false) and study how sentences in the future tense
behave in various contexts.
Assuming (F1), sentences resembling tautologies come out false. Let us take the
I will have a cup of coffee tomorrow or I won?t have a cup of coffee
tomorrow. (F1p ? F1?p)
Todd realizes that this kind of cases might be problematic for his proposal.
Therefore, he treats them with special care. In the end, he adopts the tactics
originally devised by Russell himself and argues that the sentence above may be
understood either as F1p ? F1?p or as F1p ? ?F1p and observes that, given
his semantics, it is a tautology under the second interpretation only (just as the
sentence, ?The present king of France is bald or not,? is a tautology under one
of Russellian interpretations only). He continues by noticing that his preferred
reading of the sentence above?i.e., F1p ? F1?p?is not a case of the law of
excluded middle and it is logically consistent to claim, as he does, that both
disjuncts are false.6
Nonetheless, this result, even if logically consistent, is still in severe conflict
with natural language intuitions, which is a strong argument against extremism.
Moreover, an extremist needs to explain why we tend to understand the sentence
5Or more precisely, ?It will be the case exactly 1 unit of time hence.? By representing ?Tomorrow? as F1,
I ignore the indexical nature of the term, but it is irrelevant to the examples presented below.
6I should add, and thank the anonymous reviewer for pointing this out to me, that F1p ? F1?p and
Fp ? F ?p may be false in standard tense logic as well, though for different reasons. Under the standard
interpretation of Fp it is true at t iff p is true at some time later than t. Thus, in the extreme case where t
is the last moment of time?the end of the world?both Fp and F ?p are false at t. In every model where
time has no end, however, both F1p ? F1?p and Fp ? F ?p are always true.
above as a tautology and if he admits that the English ?won?t? is usually
understood as ?F , he needs to accept that all the ?won?t? sentences of English are
usually rendered true by his semantics. Thus, regardless of what we might think,
hope, or fear, it is true that Donald Trump won?t be impeached and that this paper
won?t be rejected. If only it would be so easy. . .
To make things worse, Schoubye and Rabern (2017, pp. 11?12) present a
convincing argument that the Toddian ?wide scope? reading of ?won?t? is intuitively
unavailable in natural language (nor can it be rendered salient with explicit
disambiguation). Thus, Todd?s strategy to explain the impression that the ?will or
won?t? sentences are tautologies is unlikely to succeed. Moreover, it is crucial
for Todd that we carefully distinguish F1?p from ?F1p which brings me to the
2. According to (F1), the English phrase ?It won?t be the case tomorrow that ??
is ambiguous. More specifically, there is a syntactic scope ambiguity of the
(a) I will not drink coffee tomorrow.
It can be understood in either of these two ways:
(b) It will be the case tomorrow that I do not drink coffee. (F1?p)
(c) It is not the case that I will drink coffee tomorrow. (?F1p)
The ambiguity has severe semantic consequences, as the two senses have
radically different truth conditions under (F1). John MacFarlane notices, however,
that this kind of semantic ambiguity seems to be missing from the English ?will
It is striking, though, that although we can mark the syntactic distinction
by resorting to cumbersome circumlocutions, as in (b)?(c), these variants
seem like different ways of saying the same thing. If you ask somebody
who utters (a) whether they meant (b) or (c), you are likely to be met with
a blank stare. MacFarlane (2014, p. 216)
Therefore, if MacFarlane is right, the users of English do not recognize the
two meanings that Todd is forced to stipulate. It seems, however, that the
difference should be easily detectable, given that every sentence of the form F1?? is
false, while every sentence of the form ?F1? is true.
3. Let us reflect for a moment on the temporal operator ?It is always going to be the
case? (G). It is commonly introduced as a dual of F (G = ?F ?). But then, since
every sentence of the form F ? is false, then every sentence of the form ?F ? is
true. Therefore, (F1) implies that every sentence of the form ?It is always going
to be the case that ?? is true.
In a sense, it should not come as a surprise. If F ? means something like ?some
moment in the actual future features ??, then G? means something like ?All
moments in the actual future feature ??. However, since there are no moments
in the actual future (because there is no actual future), then the latter claim is
Thus, according to (F 1), it is false that
I will drink another coffee. (Fp)
But it is true (surprisingly perhaps) that
I am always going to be drinking coffee. (Gp)
Also, it is true that
I am always going to be not drinking coffee. (G?p)
4. (F1) falsifies the basic principle of the majority of tense logics: ??H F ?. The
operator H stands for ?It has always been the case that? and the sentence H ? is
true, iff ? has always been true. Observe that under (F1), even if ? is true now,
the sentence F ? was once false (assuming that what has in fact happened, might
not have happened). Therefore, even if ? is true, H F ? is not. According to (F1),
it means that, even if I do drink coffee right now, it was false to say that I would.
It stands in conflict with how we usually assess our predictions. If you said that
I would drink coffee today and I do, then it seems that I am entitled to say that
what you said was true (or, more commonly, that you were right).7
Also, the principle ??H F ?, together with its dual ??GP ?, is meant to
grasp an elementary symmetry between temporal concepts. They encode the idea
that the present is in the past of the future and in the future of the past.8 (F1)
violates this idea in at least one direction?the present is no longer in the future
of the past.
5. There is a related problem that (F1) generates for analysis of speech acts. Many
of them seem to be systematically related with the truth value of the sentences
used in the acts. The paradigm example is the act of betting. If ? bets that ?, then
? wins, only if ? is true. (For a detailed discussion of speech acts in the context
of open future, see Belnap 2002.)
If this understanding of betting is sound, then, given (F1) is accepted, no bet
can ever be won. After all, if the future is open, whenever you say ?Eclipse will
come first?, what you say is false (and will remain false forever). Therefore,
even if you bet on Eclipse and Eclipse does in fact come first, you still stand no
chance, when bargaining with the bookie about your payoff.
A parallel argument might be presented for other speech acts like promise,
order, or assertion. Therefore, unless an alternative understanding of speech acts
is offered, the future-oriented speech acts are irrational in the context of (F1).
Actually, Todd refers (pp. 787?8) to an argument by Arthur Prior to the effect
that betting is problematic for an open futurist. He uses this argument to
distinguish his version of open futurism from Prior?s. However, he does not restate this
7Observe that some semantics which Todd would qualify as open futurist are not threatened by this
problem. For example, Thomason?s supervaluationism makes every future contingent neither true nor false, but
it simultaneously validates ??H F ?. For a thorough discussion of the so-called retrospective accuracy
assessment of assertions, see MacFarlane (2014, ch. 9).
8In relational semantics, these two sentences hold true, if the accessibility relation for operator F is the
converse of the relation for operator P .
argument against his own proposal, nor does he make any attempt to rationalize
betting behavior within his account of the future tense.9
6. Let us introduce one more connective, ?it is determined that? expressing
causal necessity. We say that is true, iff ? is true in all causally possible
futures. Remember that even if is true, the future might still be open. It is
enough that some other aspect of the future is undetermined.
Then, if the future is open, (F1) breaks the natural connection of ?will? (F )
and ?determined? . For example, even if ? is causally necessary to happen,
it is still false that it will happen. So, the following implication is false:
If it is determined that I will drink a cup of coffee tomorrow, then I will.
7. Every (material) implication with an antecedent in the future tense is true.
Therefore, it is true that:
If I drink a cup of coffee tomorrow, then I will be the king of France.
8. Since all sentences in future tense are false, then ?I will drink a cup of coffee
tomorrow? and ?I will not drink a cup of coffee tomorrow? are both false. Todd
is well aware of that and he is ready to accept it. However, he might have not
noticed that it means that these two are (materially) equivalent. Thus, if the future
is open, then it is also true that:
I will drink a cup of coffee tomorrow, if and only if I will not.
Perhaps none of the arguments above is decisive. However, when accumulated,
they constitute a rather strong case against (F1) as a semantics of future tense. This
result might serve as a warning to take cum grano salis the slogans like ?there is no
To my mind, a proponent of (F1) has two solutions open to him. He might bite the
bullet, endorse the error theory, and insist that people are massively confused when
they use future tense. This strategy has not recommended itself to many philosophers
indeed. Even Todd admits that ?[t]his is not an easy philosophical road to walk? (p.
796). This is not to say that a philosopher has nothing to say about the most fortunate
semantics of future tense. It might be that our ordinary attitude towards ?the future?
is tangled and a philosopher can help to clarify, or even regiment, our way of talking.
However, when a philosophical theory (and a semantic theory in particular) gets as
remote from common usage as (F1) does, then the concept of the future encoded by
this theory is probably very distantly related to our everyday notions. It leaves us
with the other solution, which is to admit that (F1) models a technical sense of ?will?
used for example by extreme presentists. Then, (F1) might be useful, if the purpose
9Schoubye and Rabern (2017, pp. 13?15) provide a different argument that many propositional attitudes
such as ?x believes that? or ?x fears that? are at odds with the Russellian analysis of future tense.
was to study the linguistic niche of these philosophers. However, it will not teach us
much about how people actually do, or should, think about notions like ?the future?.
None of these two solutions seems particularly appealing and both might
discourage one from endorsing (F1) (they certainly discourage me). However, I still believe
that any of these two solutions are better than the route that Patrick Todd actually
3 From Extremism to Austerity
In face of the mounting technical difficulties, Todd has relaxed his view.10 He gave
up some of his philosophical chastity and acknowledged that some sentences about
the future should be true, even if there is no future. Specifically, he makes an
exception for sentences that talk about the future events which are causally determined to
happen. For example, he admits that the sentence like ?I will die? is true. To convey
this insight technically, the author proposes a modification of the definition of the
future tense (F2):
It will be the case that p iff there exists a unique actual future, and that future
features p, OR p is true in all causally possible futures.
(Todd 2016a, p. 792)
Since all causally possible futures feature my death, the sentence ?I will die? is
true. Thus, the semantic maneuver allows the author to generate the result he desired.
The semantic shift marks a transition from extreme to austere form of semantics, to
use Tooley (2012) terms once again. In the austere version of presentism, we can
reasonably talk about the future as long as it is in some sense present, for example, if
it is ?present in its causes?.
I understand the ?linguistic? motivation to escape from the dubious theory (F1);
however, the fix proposed by Todd reduces rather than increases the philosophical
allure of his position. To be fair, (F2) does avoid a few of the worries pointed out
above. To be exact, the problems 3 and 6 do not threaten this position. However, the
remaining problems are not answered by this semantic modification (these problems
apply to any p that is not causally determined to happen). Worse even, the transition
from (F1) to (F2) generates new semantic oddities. For example:
9. If it is causally determined that I will have one more cup of coffee today, but it
was not causally determined two hours ago (e.g., I could have taken a nap an
hour ago), then it is true to say:
I will drink a cup of coffee today but an hour ago it was false that I would.
(Fp ? P ?Fp)
10I am not sure of which of the problems I have described above Todd was aware. In his paper, he writes
(pp. 791?2) that he was particularly discouraged by the result that I described in point 6.
11A very similar, disjunctive definition of the future tense operator had previously been proposed by a
couple of authors who assume that indeterminism is compatible with existence of the actual future
Malpass and Wawer 2012, p. 132)
. The argument I present in the next section does not apply to their view.
To be fair, Todd does not find this sentence as peculiar as I do. He even tries to
justify why we should consider it true in a recent paper
Whenever it is determined that I will have either a cup of coffee or a cup of tea,
but it is undetermined which one, I can truly utter the sentence which sounds,
to my ear, very much like a contradiction:
I will drink coffee or tea, but it is not the case that I will drink coffee or
that I will drink tea. (F (p ? q) ? ?(Fp ? F q))
The next problem with (F2) is that nothing is ever true in this theory without
being causally determined. It means that it is never true that:
It is not determined that John will drink another coffee today but he will.
It is a matter of some controversy, whether these kind of sentences should
ever be considered true
(see MacFarlane 2014, pp. 215?216)
. However, it is
worth noticing that they always come out false in (F2). (In fact, they come out
false also in (F1), but for different reasons.)
On top of all of those, there is a methodological problem with (F2). Namely,
the second disjunct in the definition of will which mentions causally possible
futures seems to be added entirely ad hoc, just to explain away some controversial
I hope that by now it is clear that the switch from (F1) to (F2) is not as good a deal
as it might seem.12 We do get rid of two controversial cases, but we generate two
new ones. Even if this new semantics is slightly better, it is not much better than the
previous one. Thus, the meta-philosophical reasons that might discourage us from
accepting (F1) apply to (F2) as well. Things, however, get even worse. . .
4 Back to Peirceanism
Remember that Todd have accepted (OF), which says that if the future is open, then
there is no actual future. Bearing this in mind, let us muse over the modified truth
condition of the future tense operator:
F ? is true iff there exists a unique actual future, and that future features ?, OR
? is true in all causally possible futures.
I shall encode this condition symbolically:
Let us now consider two scenarios. First, assume that the future is open. It implies
that there is no actual future. It implies in turn that the first disjunct in the definition
12It definitely seemed a good deal to Todd, who writes ?I am deeply grateful to Andrew Bailey for
suggesting this disjunctive approach, thereby saving me from a great many complications.? Todd (2016a, p.
792, n. 28)
above is false and F ? inherits the truth value of the second disjunct. Thus, if the
future is open, we arrive at a simplified definition of truth:
Now, let us assume that the future is not open. Then, there is only one possible
way in which the world can develop. Todd admits that in this case, the actual future
does exist and it is identical to the unique causally possible future (see p. 785). But
then, doubtlessly, whatever the actual future features is determined to happen. Thus,
in case the future is not open, we arrive at the same simplified definition:
Therefore, no matter if the future is closed or open, the truth conditions for the
future tense operator are exactly the same. The first disjunct in definition (F2) makes
no difference and F ? and are equivalent. The equivalence can be derived on
the basis of (OF) and (F2) alone; so, provided they are necessary, the equivalence
of F ? and is also necessary. Moreover, if we assume that (OF) is not merely
a metaphysical hypothesis, but it serves to partly explicate the meaning of ?open,?
?future,? and ?actual,? then equivalence of F ? and becomes an analytic truth.
We can put the argument differently, if we notice that on the open future view,
the following implication holds: It says that if ? is not determined
to happen, then the actual future does not feature ?. Todd admits that much when
he says that ?given indeterminism, there doesn?t now exist a complete ?story of the
(Todd 2016a, p. 776)
. But then, we can reason as follows:
Thus, it is clear that the first disjunct is just a smokescreen. It is redundant for
any open futurist in the style of Todd. Classical logic and Todd?s assumptions are
sufficient to establish equivalence of ?will? and ?determined.?
However, if we identify these two, we simply end up with the good old Peircean
semantics of Arthur Prior
(see Prior 1967, chapter 7)
. Of course, it is not a sin to
adopt (even unconsciously) a semantics devised by such an illustrious philosopher.13
Todd?s major problem is not that the semantics he devised is not entirely novel, but
that he himself wants to distinguish his view from Priorian Peirceanism:
Hartshorne and Prior showed that one could have an open future without
denying bivalence, given (at least what most will regard as) a rigged, causally-loaded
semantics for the future-tense ?will?, according to which to say that something
will happen is (roughly) to say that it is determined to happen. However, I aim to
13One just needs to bear in mind that most of the problems mentioned in this paper apply, mutatis
mutandis, to the Peircean semantics of Prior. It might be a reason why the semantics has not been widely
popular among philosophers
(or computer scientists; see Gabbay et al. 1994, pp. 5?6)
. The only defense
of Peirceanism as a semantics of English ?will? that I am aware of has been raised in an unpublished paper
show that one can have such an open future without adopting these semantics.
Todd (2016a, p. 777)
Given the argument above, Todd fails to fulfill his promise. Doubtless, his
initial proposal (F1) does achieve his aim. It does distinguish ?plain? future tense from
?causally-loaded? future tense. In Todd?s initial proposal, the sentence ?I will die?
is false, while it is true in Peirceanism. However, Todd decided to give up (F1)
as an analysis of ?will? and accept another semantics?(F2)?that he finds less
problematic. Closely examined, however, (F2) turns out to be nothing but Prior?s
Ultimately, the author has sacrificed the novelty of his proposal for the sake of a
slightly more intuitive explanation of a few controversial cases. At the same token,
he failed to achieve his primary aim, which was to propose a semantics which would
(a) render all future contingents false and (b) distinguish ?plain? future tense from
?causally-loaded? future tense. Therefore, I would suggest Todd to reject the
tradeoffs and stick to (F1). In fact, I believe that he could philosophically support the result
that scared him away from (F1). After all, if there is no actual future, the actual future
does not feature my death, so the full-fledged Russellian open futurist in the style of
Todd can easily explain why it is false that I will die.
I have argued that none of the semantics of ?will? recently proposed by Patrick Todd
is a reasonable analysis of the English future tense. Moreover, I claim that the
proposal he ultimately recommends, on closer inspection, turns out to be a version of
the semantics which he wants to reject. In light of these results, it would be better
to either abandon his semantic project altogether, or stick to his initial proposal, as it
might be useful for some theoretical applications in philosophy of time.
Notably, Todd?s semantic theories (especially the first one) are guided by, and
faithful to, the view that there is no actual future. Therefore, the failure of his
semantic project might be seen as an indirect argument against the metaphysical thesis
motivating his project.
The research was funded by the National Science Center, Poland (project No.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.
14As I already mentioned, a very similar conclusion is derived by Schoubye and Rabern who write
that ?The problem is that now the quasi-Russellian analysis is nothing but an idle wheel. (. . . ) On the
assumption that there is never a unique actual future, Todd?s semantics is logically and truth-conditionally
equivalent to the Peircean semantics.? Schoubye and Rabern (2017, p. 17)
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