Relativism and Two Kinds of Branching Time

Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 104 (2):465-492 (2023)
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This essay examines the case for relativism about future contingents in light of a distinction between two ways of interpreting the ‘branching time’ framework. Focussing on MacFarlane (2014), we break the argument for relativism down into two steps. The first step is an argument for something MacFarlane calls the "Non-Determination Thesis", which is essentially the view that there is no unique actual future. The second step is an argument from the Non-Determination Thesis to relativism. I first argue that first step of this argument fails. But despite that result, the second step is still of interest, since many philosophers have maintained something like the Non-Determination Thesis on alternative grounds. I then argue that whether the second step of the argument suc- ceeds depends on how the Non-Determination Thesis is motivated, and how the ‘branching time’ framework is interpreted in light of that moti- vation. If the branches in an intended branching time model are ersatz possible worlds, then the argument for relativism might go through; but if, instead, the branches are concrete parts of a ‘branching multiverse’, then the argument for relativism turns out to make implausible assumptions about the nature of personal identity over time. That argument can thus be rejected by rejecting those assumptions. One upshot of this is that the case for relativism about future contingents is much weaker than has been appreciated; a broader lesson is that philosophers who invoke the branching time framework need to pay close attention to different ways of interpreting it.

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Dilip Ninan
Tufts University


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