Saturday, June 22, 2013

The British Lions win the first test and pose a philosophical problem

This morning, rather than stay in and listen to the British Lions game on the radio or find a pub that was showing it, I headed off to explore the backstreets of Leicester with my camera. As you will soon see.

So I missed the Lions’ victory. Or did I?

Because I have always had a philosophical worry over statements like that. Can I assume that the game would have been exactly the same if I had watched it?

My worry is not that, in some butterfly’s wing and hurricane way, my decision to go to Leicester may somehow have affected the game.

My worry is that if I say that I missed the Lions’ victory then I am saying it was inevitable before kick off that they would win. And that seems wrong.

Surely the future is open? How can it have been inevitable before the start that Beale would miss the last kick of the game?

Gilbert Ryle’s essay “It Was to Be”, in his collection Dilemmas, tackles this worry, or something very like it, but it is years since I read it and the version on Google Books is cut off before the end.

As someone with a good degree in Philosophy I feel a little embarrassed by this worry. My feeling is that it is not the kind of problem that you find an answer for: it is the kind of problem that disappears when you realise there is not a problem.

But I have never been able to make it disappear.

1 comment:

Simon said...

There seem to me several things you could say here

1 - is there a counterfactual to 'I missed the lions victory" such that if that counterfactual holds then the statement "I missed the lions victory" would be false and if it doesn't hold then its true? Probably not, since any counterfactual statement would be true either if you didn't miss the victory or if there was no victory for you to miss then it cannot be that its failing to hold makes the statement "I missed the victory" true. Presumably this is the kind of worry you had?


2 - is there some fact about the world such that if it holds then the statement "I missed the victory" is true? Yes of course there is, it is the fact that there was a victory and you missed it, and that is what happens. This is true EVEN IF we have some butterfly flapping its wing scenario such that if you had seen the match then there would have been no victory because you missed the match and their was a victory. We don't need to consider the counterfactuals to establish this fact and so the truth of the statement. You did miss the victory. Tough luck!