The Jowett Society (Friday - Week 6, HT20)

Philosophical Society

Dilip Ninan has recently advanced a puzzle about our knowledge of the future, and relatedly about our ability to make assertions about the future. We can sometimes assert (and know) a future fact on the basis of indirect evidence. In December, I can assert “it will snow in Moscow at some point in the coming winter”. However, that very same evidence is insufficient to assert that proposition when it is past-directed. That is, in April, I cannot assert “it snowed in Moscow at some point in the past winter” without some kind of direct evidence. After presenting the puzzle, I accomplish three things: (i) I amplify the puzzle, by identifying some important variations on it (ii) I critique Ninan’s proposed solution in terms of knowledge loss and (iii) I propose an alternative. According to my preferred analysis, there is no past-future asymmetry when it comes to knowledge, but there is a past-future asymmetry when it comes to assertibility. The asymmetry is ultimately due to the fact that by default we make future judgments on the basis of indirect evidence (such as imaginative simulation or inductive inference). In addition to arguments supporting the plausibility of my approach, I sketch a model that accounts for the source of these default constraints.


After the talks all are invited to socialise and continue discussion over drinks in the Ryle Room. If you would like to join for dinner after the drinks reception, please email