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B-Theories of Time

Edited by Stephan Torre (University of Aberdeen, Northern Institute of Philosophy)
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Summary One of the central debates in the philosophy of time is between the A-theorists and the B-theorists. These unhelpful labels can be traced back to John McTaggart's distinction between the A-series and the B-series.  According to the B-theory of time, the present is not metaphysically distinguished in any way from past and future times. Just as there is nothing metaphysically special about, say, London as opposed to Sydney, the B-theorist maintains that there is nothing metaphysically special about the present moment as opposed to, say, the year 1847 or 2157. Some B-theorists deny that time really flows or passes, while others argue that passage can be accommodated within a framework where all times are metaphysically on par. The A-theory of time, in contrast, maintains that the present is metaphysically privileged in some way and the properties of being past, being present and being future are fundamental to the nature of time.
Key works Two classic papers presenting and defending the B-theory of time are Williams 1951 and Smart 1963. D. H. Mellor is one of the most influential defenders of the B-theory. See his Mellor 1981 and Mellor 1998.  An important collection of papers defending the B-theory is Oaklander & Smith 1994.
Introductions For good introductions to the B-theory of time, see Markosian 2010 and Smart 2008.
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  1. Miloš Arsenijević (2002). Determinism, Indeterminism and the Flow of Time. Erkenntnis 56 (2):123 - 150.
    A set of axioms implicitly defining the standard, though not instant-based but interval-based, time topology is used as a basis to build a temporal modal logic of events. The whole apparatus contains neither past, present, and future operators nor indexicals, but only B-series relations and modal operators interpreted in the standard way. Determinism and indeterminism are then introduced into the logic of events via corresponding axioms. It is shown that, if determinism and indeterminism are understood in accordance with their core (...)
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  2. Richard T. W. Arthur (1987). Book Review:Temporal Relations and Temporal Becoming: A Defense of a Russellian Theory of Time L. Nathan Oaklander. [REVIEW] Philosophy of Science 54 (1):142-.
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  3. Yuri Balashov (2005). Times of Our Lives: Negotiating the Presence of Experience. American Philosophical Quarterly 42 (4):295 - 309.
    On the B-theory of time, the experiences we have throughout our conscious lives have the same ontological status: they all tenselessly occur at their respective dates. But we do not seem to experience all of them on the same footing. In fact, we tend to believe that only our present experiences are real, to the exclusion of the past and future ones. The B-theorist has to maintain that this belief is an illusion and explain the origin of the illusion. The (...)
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  4. Adrian Bardon (ed.) (2011). The Future of the Philosophy of Time. Routledge.

    The last century has seen enormous progress in our understanding of time. This volume features original essays by the foremost philosophers of time discussing the goals and methodology of the philosophy of time, and examining the best way to move forward with regard to the field's core issues.

    The collection is unique in combining cutting edge work on time with a focus on the big picture of time studies as a discipline. The major questions asked include:

    • What are (...)
    • Is the passage of time real, or just a subjective phenomenon?
    • Are the past and future real, or is the present all that exists?
    • If the future is real and unchanging (as contemporary physics seems to suggest), how is free will possible?
    • Since only the present moment is perceived, how does the experience as we know it come about? How does experience take on its character of a continuous flow of moments or events?
    • What explains the apparent one-way direction of time?
    • Is time travel a logical/metaphysical possibility?
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  5. Michelle Beer (2010). Tense and Truth Conditions. Philosophia 38 (2):265-269.
    The B-theory of time holds that McTaggart’s A-series of past, present, and future is reducible to the B-series of events running from earlier to later. According to the date-theory—originally put forth by J.J.C. Smart and later endorsed by by D.H. Mellor—the truth conditions of tensed or Asentence-tokens can be given in terms of tenseless or B-sentences and, therefore, A-sentence-tokens do not ascribe any A-determinations of pastness, presentness, or futurity. However, as Nathan Oaklander has argued, the date-theory does not provide an (...)
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  6. Michelle Beer (2007). A Defense of the Co-Reporting Theory of Tensed and Tenseless Essences. Philo 10 (1):59-65.
    The co-reporting theory holds that for every A-sentence-token there is a B-sentence that differs in sense but reports the same event orstate of affairs. Thus, if it is now t7, what is reported by now tokening “It is t7 now” is identical with what is reported by tokening “It is t7 at t7.” Quentin Smith has argued that the fact that the sentence-tokens differ in sense but are co-reporting is compatible with the A-theory supposition that their difference in sense consists (...)
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  7. Nuel Belnap & Mitchell Green (1994). Indeterminism and the Thin Red Line. Philosophical Perspectives 8:365 - 388.
  8. Emiliano Boccardi (forthcoming). If It Ain't Moving It Shall Not Be Moved. Topoi:1-15.
    There are two no-change objections that can be raised against the B-theory of time. One (McTaggart’s objection) stems from the observation that in a B-theoretic scenario changes of determinations can only be represented by propositions which have eternal truth values. The other (James’ objection) derives from the principle that nothing can vary over a period of time if it doesn’t instantiate a state of change at all the instants of time which compose it. Here I argue that both objections apply (...)
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  9. David Braddon-Mitchell (2004). How Do We Know It is Now Now? Analysis 64 (3):199–203.
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  10. Mikel Burley (2008). Should a B-Theoretic Atheist Fear Death? Ratio 21 (3):260-272.
    This article discusses Robin Le Poidevin's proposal that a commitment to the B-theory of time provides atheists with a reason to relinquish the fear of death. For the purposes of the article, I grant Le Poidevin's assertion that the B-theory gives us a sense in which our lives are 'eternally real'; but I deny that the B-theorist is entitled to regard this as sufficient to furnish a reason to cease fearing death. This is because, according to the most prevalent B-theoretic (...)
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  11. Mikel Burley (2008). The B-Theory of Time and the Fear of Death. Polish Journal of Philosophy 2 (2):21-38.
    This paper discusses Robin Le Poidevin’s proposal that a commitment to the B-theory of time provides a reason to relinquish the fear of death. After outlining Le Poidevin’s views on time and death, I analyze the specific passages in which he makes his proposal, giving close attention to the claim that, for the B-theorist, one’s life is “eternally real.” I distinguish two possible interpretations of this claim, which I call alethic eternalism and ontic eternalism respectively, and argue, with reference to (...)
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  12. Mikel Burley (2006). Beyond “Beyond a- and B-Time”. Philosophia 34 (4):411-416.
    This Article critically discusses Clifford Williams’ claim that the A-theory and B-theory of time are indistinguishable. I examine three considerations adduced by Williams to support his claim that the concept of time essentially includes transition as well as extension, and argue that, despite its prima facie plausibility, the claim has not been adequately justified. Williams therefore begs the question against the B-theorist, who denies that transition is essential. By Williams’ own lights, he ought to deny that the B-theory is a (...)
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  13. Craig Callender (2000). Shedding Light on Time. Philosophy of Science 67 (3):599.
    Throughout this century many philosophers and physicists have gone for thc ‘big ki11’ regarding tenses. They have tried to show via McTaggart’s paradox and special relativity that tcnscs arc logically and physically impossible, rcspcctivcly. Ncithcr attempt succccds, though as I argue, both lcavc their mark. In thc iirst two sections of thc paper I introduce some conceptual difficulties for the tensed theory of time. The next section then discusses the standing 0f tenses in light of special relativity, cspccially rcccnt work (...)
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  14. James Cargile (1999). Proposition and Tense. Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 40 (2):250-257.
    McTaggart assumed (1) that propositions cannot change in truth value and (2) if (a) there is real change, then (b) events must acquire the absolute property of being present and then lose this property. He held that {1,2b} is an inconsistent set and thus inferred 2a--that there is no real change. The B theory rejects 2 and the A theory rejects 1. I accept 1, 2, 2a, and consequently, 2b, and argue that this is consistent. There is an absolute property (...)
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  15. William Lane Craig (1996). Tense and the New B-Theory of Language. Philosophy 71 (275):5 - 26.
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  16. William Lane Craig (1996). The New B-Theory's Tu Quoque Argument. Synthese 107 (2):249 - 269.
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  17. William Lane Craig (1985). Was Thomas Aquinas a B-Theorist of Time? New Scholasticism 59 (4):475-483.
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  18. Richard Cross (1997). Duns Scotus on Eternity and Timelessness. Faith and Philosophy 14 (1):3-25.
    Scotus consistently holds that eternity is to be understood as timelessness. In his early Lectura, he criticizes Aquinas’ account of eternity on the grounds that (1) it entails collapsing past and future into the present, and (2) it entails a B-theory of time, according to which past, present and future are all ontologically on a par with each other. Scotus later comes to accept something like Aquinas’ account of God’s timelessness and the B-theory of time which it entails. Scotus also (...)
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  19. Gregory Currie (1992). McTaggart at the Movies. Philosophy 67 (261):343 - 355.
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  20. Natalja Deng (2013). Fine's Mctaggart, Temporal Passage, and the a Versus B‐Debate. Ratio 26 (1):19-34.
    I offer an interpretation and a partial defense of Kit Fine's ‘Argument from Passage’, which is situated within his reconstruction of McTaggart's paradox. Fine argues that existing A-theoretic approaches to passage are no more dynamic, i.e. capture passage no better, than the B-theory. I argue that this comparative claim is correct. Our intuitive picture of passage, which inclines us towards A-theories, suggests more than coherent A-theories can deliver. In Finean terms, the picture requires not only Realism about tensed facts, but (...)
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  21. Natalja Deng (2013). Our Experience of Passage on the B-Theory. Erkenntnis 78 (4):713-726.
    Elsewhere I have suggested that the B-theory includes a notion of passage, by virtue of including succession. Here, I provide further support for that claim by showing that uncontroversial elements of the B-theory straightforwardly ground a veridical sense of passage. First, I argue that the B-theory predicts that subjects of experience have a sense of passivity with respect to time that they do not have with respect to space, which they are right to have, even according to the B-theory. I (...)
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  22. Natalja Deng (2013). On Explaining Why Time Seems to Pass. Southern Journal of Philosophy 51 (3):367-382.
    Usually, the B-theory of time is taken to involve the claim that time does not, in reality, pass; after all, on the B-theory, nothing really becomes present and then more and more past, times do not come into existence successively, and which facts obtain does not change. For this reason, many B-theorists have recently tried to explain away one or more aspect(s) of experience that they and their opponents take to constitute an experience of time as passing. In this paper, (...)
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  23. Natalja Deng (2010). 'Beyond A- and B-Time' Reconsidered. Philosophia 38 (4):741-753.
    This article is a response to Clifford Williams’s claim that the debate between A- and B theories of time is misconceived because these theories do not differ. I provide some missing support for Williams’s claim that the B-theory includes transition, by arguing that representative B-theoretic explanations for why we experience time as passing (even though it does not) are inherently unstable. I then argue that, contra Williams, it does not follow that there is nothing at stake in the A- versus (...)
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  24. Arda Denkel (1999). Transience and Identity. The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy 1999:153-160.
    Mellor’s theory of time includes the doctrines that (a) objectively, time does not embody tense or temporal properties other than those contained in the B-series, (b) particular objects are endurers, and (c) objectively, time does not flow. I show that these theses cannot all be true together, and that one must be rejected. Since (a) is basic to Mellor’s approach, then assuming that he would not adopt a perdurantist ontology, it follows that he should give up (c). Denying (c), however, (...)
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  25. Joseph Diekemper (2007). B-Theory, Fixity, and Fatalism. Noûs 41 (3):429–452.
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  26. Dennis Geert Bernardus Johan Dieks (ed.) (2006). The Ontology of Spacetime. Elsevier.
    This book contains selected papers from the First International Conference on the Ontology of Spacetime. Its fourteen chapters address two main questions: first, what is the current status of the substantivalism/relationalism debate, and second, what about the prospects of presentism and becoming within present-day physics and its philosophy? The overall tenor of the four chapters of the book’s first part is that the prospects of spacetime substantivalism are bleak, although different possible positions remain with respect to the ontological status of (...)
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  27. Yuval Dolev (2000). The Tenseless Theory of Time: Insights and Limitations. Review of Metaphysics 54 (2):259 - 288.
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  28. Heather Dyke (2007). Tenseless/Non-Modal Truthmakers for Tensed/Modal Truths. Logique Et Analyse 199:269-287.
    There is a common approach to metaphysical disputes, which takes language as its starting point, and leads to a view about the range of acceptable metaphysical positions in any such dispute. I argue that this approach rests on accepting what I call the Strong Linguistic Thesis (SLT). In the metaphysical debate about time I argue that the new B-theory has rejected SLT, and for good reasons. The metaphysical debate about modality parallels the early metaphysical debate about time. I argue that (...)
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  29. Heather Dyke (2003). Temporal Language and Temporal Reality. Philosophical Quarterly 53 (212):380–391.
    In response to a recent challenge that the New B-theory of Time argues invalidly from the claim that tensed sentences have tenseless truth conditions to the conclusion that temporal reality is tenseless, I argue that while early B-theorists may have relied on some such inference, New B-theorists do not. Giving tenseless truth conditions for tensed sentences is not intended to prove that temporal reality is tenseless. Rather, it is intended to undermine the A-theorist’s move from claims about the irreducibility of (...)
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  30. Heather Dyke (2003). Tensed Meaning: A Tenseless Account. Journal of Philosophical Research 28:65-81.
    If, as the new B-theory of time maintains, tensed sentences have tenseness truth conditions, it follows that it is possible for two sentence-tokens to have the same truth conditions but different meanings. This conclusion forces a rethink of the traditional identification of truth-conditions with meaning. There is an aspect of the meanings of tensed sentences that is not captured by their truth conditions, and that has so far eluded explanation. In this paper I intend to locate, examine, and explain this (...)
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  31. Heather Dyke (2003). What Moral Realism Can Learn From the Philosophy of Time. In , Time and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 11--25.
    It sometimes happens that advances in one area of philosophy can be applied to a quite different area of philosophy, and that the result is an unexpected significant advance. I think that this is true of the philosophy of time and meta-ethics. Developments in the philosophy of time have led to a new understanding of the relation between semantics and metaphysics. Applying these insights to the field of meta-ethics, I will argue, can suggest a new position with respect to moral (...)
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  32. Heather Dyke (2002). Mc Taggart and the Truth About Time. In Craig Callender (ed.), Time, Reality and Experience. Cambridge University Press. 137-.
    McTaggart famously argued that time is unreal. Today, almost no one agrees with his conclusion. But his argument remains the locus classicus for both the A-theory and the B-theory of time. I show how McTaggart’s argument provided the impetus for both of these opposing views of the nature of time. I also present and defend what I take to be the correct view of the nature of time.
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  33. Heather Dyke (2002). Tokens, Dates and Tenseless Truth Conditions. Synthese 131 (3):329 - 351.
    There are two extant versions of the new tenseless theory of time: the date versionand the token-reflexive version. I ask whether they are equivalent, and if not, whichof them is to be preferred. I argue that they are not equivalent, that the date version isunsatisfactory, and that the token-reflexive version is correct. I defend the token-reflexive version against a string of objections from Quentin Smith. My defence involves a discussion of the ontological and semantic significance of truth conditions, and of (...)
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  34. Heather Dyke (1998). Real Times and Possible Worlds. In Robin le Poidevin (ed.), Questions of time and tense. Oxford University Press. 93--117.
    There are ways in which the new tenseless theory of time is analogous to David Lewis’s modal realism. The new tenseless theory gives an indexical analysis of temporal terms such as ‘now’, while Lewis gives and indexical analysis of ‘actual’. For the new tenseless theory, all times are equally real; for Lewis, all worlds are equally real. In this paper I investigate this apparent analogy between these two theories, and ask whether a proponent of one is committed, by parity of (...)
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  35. Heather Dyke & Adrian Bardon (eds.) (2013). A Companion to the Philosophy of Time. J. Wiley.
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  36. Heather Dyke & James Maclaurin (2002). 'Thank Goodness That's Over': The Evolutionary Story. Ratio 15 (3):276–292.
    If, as the new tenseless theory of time maintains, there are no tensed facts, then why do our emotional lives seem to suggest that there are? This question originates with Prior’s ‘Thank Goodness That’s Over’ problem, and still presents a significant challenge to the new B-theory of time. We argue that this challenge has more dimensions to it than has been appreciated by those involved in the debate so far. We present an analysis of the challenge, showing the different questions (...)
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  37. Katalin Farkas (2008). Time, Tense, Truth. Synthese 160 (2):269 - 284.
    Abstract: A theory of time is a theory of the nature of temporal reality, and temporal reality determines the truth-value of temporal sentences. Therefore it is reasonable to ask how a theory of time can account for the way the truth of temporal sentences is determined. This poses certain challenges for both the A theory and the B theory of time. In this paper, I outline an account of temporal sentences. The key feature of the account is that the primary (...)
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  38. Jan Faye, Tenses, Changes, and Space-Time.
    Here I develop the idea, which I have presented elsewhere, that time instants are abstract entities existing tenselessly and therefore that events and changes likewise may be said to exist tenselessly in virtue of their place at a certain space-time point.
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  39. Roman Frigg, Review of 'the Images of Time. An Essay on Temporal Representation' by Robin le Poidevin. [REVIEW]
    We experience time in different ways, and we construct different kinds of representation of time. What kinds of representation are there and how do they work? In particular, how do we integrate temporal features of the world into our understanding of the mechanisms underlying representations in the media of perception, memory, art, and narrative? Le Poidevin’s well written and carefully argued book is an exploration of these questions. Although interesting in its own right, Le Poidevin pursues this question as a (...)
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  40. Akiko M. Frischhut (2013). What Experience Cannot Teach Us About Time. Topoi:1-13.
    Does the A-theory have an intuitive advantage over the B-theory? Many A-theorists have claimed so, arguing that their theory has a much better explanation for the fact that we all experience the passage of time: we experience time as passing because time really does pass. In this paper I expose and reject the argument behind the A-theorist’s claim. I argue that all parties have conceded far too easily that there is an experience that needs explaining in the first place. For (...)
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  41. Michael J. Futch (2002). Leibniz's Non-Tensed Theory of Time. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 16 (2):125 – 139.
    Leibniz's philosophy of time, often seen as a precursor to current forms of relationalism and causal theories of time, has rightly earned the admiration of his more recent counterparts in the philosophy of science. In this article, I examine Leibniz's philosophy of time from a new perspective: the role that tense and non-tensed temporal properties/relations play in it. Specifically, I argue that Leibniz's philosophy of time is best (and non-anachronistically) construed as a non-tensed theory of time, one that dispenses with (...)
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  42. Richard M. Gale (1962). Tensed Statements. Philosophical Quarterly 12 (46):53-59.
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  43. Tobias Hansson Wahlberg (2009). Objects in Time: Studies of Persistence in B-Time. Dissertation, Lund University
    This thesis is about the conceptualization of persistence of physical, middle-sized objects within the theoretical framework of the revisionary ‘B-theory’ of time. According to the B-theory, time does not flow, but is an extended and inherently directed fourth dimension along which the history of the universe is ‘laid out’ once and for all. It is a widespread view among philosophers that if we accept the B-theory, the commonsensical ‘endurance theory’ of persistence will have to be rejected. The endurance theory says (...)
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  44. Tobias Hansson Wahlberg (2009). Endurance Per Se in B-Time. Metaphysica 10 (2):175-183.
    Three arguments for the conclusion that objects cannot endure in B-time even if they remain intrinsically unchanged are examined: Carter and Hestevolds enduring-objects-as-universals argument (American Philosophical Quarterly 31(4):269-283, 1994) and Barker and Dowe's paradox 1 and paradox 2 (Analysis 63(2):106-114, 2003, Analysis 65(1):69-74, 2005). All three are shown to fail.
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  45. Tobias Hansson (2007). The Problem(s) of Change Revisited. Dialectica 61 (2):265–274.
    Two recurrent arguments levelled against the view that enduring objects survive change are examined within the framework of the B-theory of time: the argument from Leibniz's Law and the argument from Instantiation of Incompatible Properties. Both arguments are shown to be question-begging and hence unsuccessful.
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  46. Katherine Hawley, Critical Study of Four-Dimensionalism, by Theodore Sider, Oxford University Press 2001, ISBN 0 19 924443 X, Hardback.
    Four-Dimensionalism is a thorough, lively and forceful defence of the claim that “necessarily, every spatiotemporal object has a temporal part at every moment at which it exists” (59). The standard four-dimensionalist view is perdurance theory, according to which everyday things like boats are temporally extended. But Sider rejects perdurance theory, nicely disparaging it as the “worm view”, and he argues for the “stage view” version of fourdimensionalism instead. According to the stage view, everyday things like boats are instantaneous, and claims (...)
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  47. Paul Helm (2002). Time and Time Again: Two Volumes by William Lane Craig William Lane Craig the Tensed Theory of Time: A Critical Examination. Synthese Library Volume 293. (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000). Pp. V+287. £78.00 (Hbk). ISBN 0792366344. William Lane Craig the Tenseless Theory of Time: A Critical Examination. Synthese Library Volume 294. (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000). Pp. V+256. £65.00 (Hbk). ISBN 0792366352. [REVIEW] Religious Studies 38 (4):489-498.
    The two books make a notable contribution in drawing together many of the philosophical problems about time, and the associated literature. The expositions are also valuable for their interdisciplinary strengths, especially in the history and philosophy of science and (to a lesser extent) in theology, and for the clarity and thoroughness of Craig's approach. However, the two books do not present, as might at first appear, a side by side exposition of the respective strengths and weaknesses of the A-series and (...)
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  48. Paul Helm (2002). Time and Time Again: Two Volumes by William Lane Craig. Religious Studies 38 (4):489 - 498.
    The two books make a notable contribution in drawing together many of the philosophical problems about time, and the associated literature. The expositions are also valuable for their interdisciplinary strengths, especially in the history and philosophy of science and (to a lesser extent) in theology, and for the clarity and thoroughness of Craig's approach. However, the two books do not present, as might at first appear, a side by side exposition of the respective strengths and weaknesses of the A-series and (...)
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  49. Christoph Hoerl (2013). Tense and the Psychology of Relief. Topoi:1-15.
    At the centre of Arthur Prior’s ‘Thank goodness’ argument for the A-theory of time is a particular form of relief. Time must objectively pass, Prior argues, or else the relief felt when a painful experience has ended is not intelligible. In this paper, I offer a detailed analysis of the type of relief at issue in this argument, which I call temporal relief, and distinguish it from another form of relief, which I refer to as counterfactual relief. I also argue (...)
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  50. Dennis C. Holt (1981). Timelessness and the Metaphysics of Temporal Existence. American Philosophical Quarterly 18 (2):149 - 156.
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