Summary of the Fatalist's Mistakes

So what is true of James Cole?
Q1. He can revise the past? That is, could the past actually occur twice, each time different?
Everyone should say: No!
Q2. He made a difference to what happened in 1996?
Fatalist says: No, his efforts were pointless and couldn't make any difference.
I say: Yes, he DEFINITELY DID make a difference. The fatalist is confusing one sense of the question "Did he change what happened in 1996?", where it's asking Q1, whether he revised the past, and the answer is no; and a second sense, where it's asking Q2, whether he made a difference, and the answer is yes. If Cole hadn't been there, 1996 would have happened differently. (Dena and Taylor made this point in class.)
Q3. He had the power or ability to do different things than he actually did?
Fatalist says: No.
I say: MAYBE. Nothing we've seen so far proves he didn't have that power. If he had done different things, then past would still only have happened once--it'd just have happened differently. (Michelle made this point in class.)

In his answer to Q2 and Q3, the fatalist is too quickly jumping from premises about what actually happens (and what else can consistently happen in the same situations) to conclusions about how things would or could have gone differently.

  1. You'll be surprised by the fact that: (If A then B)
  2. If A, then: (You'll be surprised by the fact that B)
These are clearly different.

You can have (2) without (1). For example, let A be "There is a reporter hidden behind the curtain taping your conversation" and let B be "What you say appears in tomorrow's paper." It's not surprising that if A then B. So (1) is false. However, if there really is a hidden reporter, then you may not notice him, and you may well be surprised to see your words in the paper the next day. That is, it could be that A and that as a result you're surprised by the fact that B.

You can also have (1) without (2). For example, let A be "An assassin is secretly tracking your movements." and let B is "You make it to class today in good health." If A is true, you may not know that it's true, and so you may be completely unsurprised to arrive at class in good health. That is, (2) is false. However, you may find the claim "You arrived in good health even though an assassin is tracking you" to be surprising. So, (1) may be true. (Perhaps the surprising explanation behind (1) is that your assassin values philosophy too much to kill you on the way to class...)

So (1) and (2) can clearly come apart.

In the same way, these two claims are also different:

  1. It's necessary that: (If you're single, you have no spouse)
  2. If you're single, then: (It's necessary that you have no spouse)

(4) says that anyone who's in fact single is essentially spouseless: there is no possible situation in which they have a spouse. That's a very extreme and implausible claim.

(3) on the other hand, merely said that you can't be single and have a spouse at the same time. That claim is obviously correct.

In his treatment of Q2 and Q3, I think the fatalist is confusing claims of this sort. He's confusing the TRUE claim:
  1. It's necessary that: (If you will do E, then you don't avoid doing E)
with the much more DOUBTFUL claim:
  1. If you will do E, then: (Necessarily, you don't avoid doing E)
or, as we can also express 6:
  1. If you will do E, then: (You CAN'T avoid doing E)

As we proceed, we'll encounter other arguments for claims like 6 and 6*. So I don't yet want to say that 6 and 6* are definitively false. Some of the other arguments we look at may persuade some of you to accept them. What I do want to persuade you of now is that so far we've seen no reason to accept 6 and 6*. The kind of reasoning the fatalist appeals to, based merely on the premise that there are already truths about how the future will turn out, doesn't support 6 and 6*.