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The Problem of the Existence of the Future

After this somewhat longish introduction, the time has come for a brief conclusion. We assume that although all truths are everlasting, not every truth must be eternal. Something that is true at a given time, will remain thus forevermore. Truth does not evanesce, nor can it in time transform into falsehood. And neither that which is false can one day become true. What exists at a given moment will continue to exist until the end of time. Yet not everything that will one day become true, has necessarily been thus since time immemorial, not every judgement nowadays established was equally established yesterday, and one that was established yesterday need not have been established the day before. There are judgements that become truths at a given time, whose truthfulness is acquired, there are also those which have indeed been fashioned to be true, whose truth has been a matter of creation. This view, if I am not mistaken, was first proposed by pragmatists, and indeed I believe it was they who ultimately distorted it. For us, however, it stems from our deliberations on the indeterminability of a certain sphere of future occurrences and on the conditions of freedom and limitations to action. And so, the great fire of Rome will exist and has existed at the very least since the moment the fire was planted at Nero’s alleged behest: and so, although once the Rubicon had been crossed, the fact of Caesar’s crossing it on this particular day became the truth and will remain true forevermore, it had assumedly not been true before Caesar actually elected to cross said body of water; conversely, the fact of Comet Haley’s intersecting with the Earth’s orbit had existed before it ever transpired; similarly, as we now wait for summer to arrive, that summer already exists; and should we now declare our future death, said declaration will hold true, in fact the future death itself already exists today. As we initially observed, the past has never ceased to be, what it did was merely cease to be present; one could be inclined, as indeed many have been, to add that: the future exists as well, but it is merely not yet present. It is our view, however, that contrary to such sentiments, a certain part of the future is neither present nor has come to exist at all, a future whose existence is not yet the truth.

Indeed, there is a great bulk of future occurrences that from the practical perspective have far more in common with events of the past, than they do with other events of the future. The flow of sea currents, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, the revolutions of heavenly spheres are all beyond our influence. It is not within our power to make the Gulfstream flow to Poland tomorrow, we cannot affect the truth of its locality. In face of such things we remain powerless, regardless of whether they have already transpired or will do so in time to come. Those that will and those that have been, must all be equally accounted for as faits accomplis. Such things will always be what they are, their nature already exists for what it is, despite them belonging to the sphere of the future; any present judgement that ascribes said nature to the same is already true, as it likely has been since time immemorial. Analogically, our future death is, and has been at least since the moment of our birth, in existence in the present. There is truth in the judgement that attributes our death to a given object, which is to exist in a given period in the future, as its intrinsic quality. The fact of its inclusion or incorporation of our death, to put it in more demonstrative terms, is indeed true even today. But can the same be said of my every position in every moment of my still unfolding future? Is the fact that I will die equally true as the claim that it must happen on a particular day at a particular time, or that I will choose to pursue a given path in life, that when I come to a junction I will turn right rather than left, that at a certain time a particular thought will cross my mind as my focus shifts, or that I will make a promise, or refuse to make one, and will keep or break it? Would all these things be true even now, would they have been true for many centuries, or at least since the day of my birth: No, never! Such future events remain undecided, we have the power and the means to determine them, and thus that great practical boundary which divides all things into two great spheres is by no means located in the present; all it does is sometimes coincide with the present. Naturally, beyond the great river that marks the limits of freedom, there is a whole world of future things whose truth is already ascribed. Indeed, all freedom must end where truth begins and that border is not confined to the past. If I am free to make something, to create it, then it is surely not yet true that it exists. For how could one create what already is? what has come to pass or has already been created? One could, at best, strive to copy such a thing. But the claim that the thing which I can create exists is also not false. For could something exist if the statement of its existence is declared false? If it exists while being created we reach a contradiction: any judgement pertaining to it would be simultaneously false and true. It may not seem thus at first glance, but ultimately that would be the case. For it is not about relegating something that is not present to the future. It is not about some microbe finding its way into a healthy human organism tomorrow. Not about a painting appearing tomorrow on today’s blank canvas. That would require no creation, that, in itself, would not be subject to creation in its ontological understanding; whereas this indeed is the claim one makes when intuitively negating the impossibility of creating a thing whose declaration is false. We only ever truly create when we create the truth. What we mean is that this very painting, whose existence today is false, would tomorrow cease to be false and become true, so that it would come into existence tomorrow, and so that already today it would be or could be ascertained that he who claims thus not only does not speak the truth but does indeed lie. Because for something to truly come to exist, it is necessary that before it comes to be any claim that declares it be false. This is the very condition of creation. And yet on the other hand, creation does not come to pass if prior to the moment when its declaration is to become true, it is already false; for that which is false may never come to be true. If it is false that at the moment t a given object has a given quality, than one cannot make it so that said object has said quality at the moment t, even if the moment in question is now of the past. And so once again, a contradiction. For since it can be done, the statement of its achievement cannot be contradicted by any true statement, meanwhile the declaration of that achievement would entail that the statement of the achievement is true, ergo it is true that the object displays said quality at said moment, while the premise states that it is not true – a contradiction. Should one wish to argue that the ability to do something does not in fact suppose the existence of result, but rather only that the result will exist, nor does it suppose the truth of the statement that declares it, but rather only that the statement will, at a later time once activity has been performed, become true, the counterargument would be as follows. If it is false that a given object has a given quality at a given time, then the same will never be true, i.e. not even after the activity has been performed; moreover, it will actually remain false. Thus, we have a statement which simultaneously is and is not true, and indeed is also false, again a contradiction; one that applies to future, present and past existence alike. Therefore, we cannot travel tomorrow if we know today that the person who declares tomorrow’s journey is indeed lying.

And yet, since it is impossible to create that which is truthfully declared, nor that which is declared falsely, then the condition for creation is that the statement of its declaration be neither true nor false. There are things which can be created, creation is a fact, this must be our fundamental premise; therefore even such a condition must be possible to meet. Conversely – nothing can ever be destroyed. Creation is a fact, destruction – an illusion. The former truth resounds in the fact that some judgements are not eternally true, the latter – that truth is everlasting, that no true judgement can ever cease to be true.





Tadeusz Kotarbiński "The Problem of the Existence of the Future." in: "The Philosophical Review" V. 16, 1913


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