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Temporal Ontology

Edited by Sam Baron
Assistant editor: James Darcy (University of Otago)
About this topic
Summary Temporal ontology is home to two central issues in the philosophy of time. The first issue concerns the ontological status of the past, present and future. The debate here is between liberal accounts of temporal ontology, according to which past, present and future entities all exist and conservative accounts of temporal ontology, which deny that past, present and future entities all exist. Liberal approaches to temporal ontology are typically called eternalist views about time, and are contrasted with the most severe form of conservativeness about temporal ontology: presentism, according to which only present entities exist. The second broad issue in the category of temporal ontology concerns the relationship between the future and agency. If, as eternalists maintain, the future exists, then arguably all of the facts about the future are already setltled. But if the facts about the future are already settled, then the future is closed. If, however, the future is closed, then it would seem that there is nothing we can do now to alter what is going to happen. The central issue facing eternalism from agency then is how to avoid descending into fatalism.
Key works The locus classicus for contemporary presentism is Bigelow 1996. Bourne 2006 is a book-length defense of presentism, which is a must-read on the topic. Putnam 1967 presents the chief motivation for eternalism, namely that it is implied by the special theory of relativity, an issue that comes to the fore in Dieks 2006. Mellor 1998 is an important exposition and defense of an eternalist model of time, whereas Tooley 2000 is an attempt to develop a middle-ground position between presentism and eternalism, according to which the past and present exist but the future does not. Anscombe 1956 is a crucial paper on Aristotlean arguments in favour of fatalism, and Barnes & Cameron 2009 and Barnes & Cameron 2011 represent the state of the art on temporal ontology and fatalism. Markosian 1995 forges a link between the open future and indeterminism about the laws of nature. Determinism about the laws of nature is usefully discussed in Churchland 1981 and Unger 1977.
Introductions Encyclopedia articles include Markosian 2010, Rice 2008, Hoefer 2008 and Le Poidevin 2008.
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Eternalism
  1. Marcus Arvan (2013). A New Theory of Free Will. Philosophical Forum 44 (1):1-48.
    This paper shows that several live philosophical and scientific hypotheses – including the holographic principle and multiverse theory in quantum physics, and eternalism and mind-body dualism in philosophy – jointly imply an audacious new theory of free will. This new theory, "Libertarian Compatibilism", holds that the physical world is an eternally existing array of two-dimensional information – a vast number of possible pasts, presents, and futures – and the mind a nonphysical entity or set of properties that "read" that physical (...)
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  2. Jamin Asay & Sam Baron (2014). The Hard Road to Presentism. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 95 (1).
    It is a common criticism of presentism – the view according to which only the present exists – that it errs against truthmaker theory. Recent attempts to resolve the truthmaker objection against presentism proceed by restricting truthmaker maximalism (the view that all truths have truthmakers), maintaining that propositions concerning the past are not made true by anything, but are true nonetheless. Support for this view is typically garnered from the case for negative existential propositions, which some philosophers contend are exceptions (...)
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  3. Mark Balaguer (2014). Anti‐Metaphysicalism, Necessity, and Temporal Ontology. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (1).
    This paper argues for a certain kind of anti-metaphysicalism about the temporal ontology debate, i.e., the debate between presentists and eternalists over the existence of past and future objects. Three different kinds of anti-metaphysicalism are defined—namely, non-factualism, physical-empiricism, and trivialism. The paper argues for the disjunction of these three views. It is then argued that trivialism is false, so that either non-factualism or physical-empiricism is true. Finally, the paper ends with a discussion of whether we should endorse non-factualism or physical-empiricism. (...)
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  4. Y. Balashov & M. Janssen (forthcoming). Presentism and Relativity, Http:/Philsci-Archive. Pitt. Edu, Forthcoming In. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
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  5. Yuri Balashov & Michel Janssen (forthcoming). Forthcoming.“Presentism and Relativity.”. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
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  6. Adrian Bardon & Heather Dyke (eds.) (2013). A Companion to the Philosophy of Time. Wiley-Blackwell.
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  7. Luca Barlassina & Fabio Del Prete, No Longer True.
    There are sentences that express the same temporally fully specified proposition at all contexts--call them 'context-insensitive, temporally specific sentences.' Sentence (1) 'Obama was born in 1961' is a case in point: at all contexts, it expresses the proposition ascribing to the year 1961 the property of being a time in which Obama was born. Suppose that someone uttered (1) in a context located on Christmas 2000 in our world. In this context, (1) is a true sentence about the past. Moreover, (...)
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  8. Sam Baron (2014). The Priority of the Now. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly:0-0.
    This paper motivates and develops a new theory of time: priority presentism. Priority presentism is the view according to which (i) only present entities exist fundamentally and (ii) past and future entities exist, but they are grounded in the present. The articulation of priority presentism is an exercise in applied grounding: it draws on concepts from the recent literature on ontological dependence and applies those concepts in a new way, to the philosophy of time. The result, as I will argue, (...)
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  9. Helen Beebee & Michael Rush (2003). Non-Paradoxical Multi-Location. Analysis 63 (4):311–317.
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  10. Nuel Belnap, Two Moves Take Newtonian Determinism to Branching Space-Times.
    “Branching space-times” (BST) is intended as a representation of objective, event-based indeterminism. As such, BST exhibits both a spatio-temporal aspect and an indeterministic “modal” aspect of alternative possible historical courses of events. An essential feature of BST is that it can also represent spatial or space-like relationships as part of its (more or less) relativistic theory of spatio-temporal relations; this ability is essential for the representation of local (in contrast with “global”) indeterminism. This essay indicates how BST might be seen (...)
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  11. Jiri Benovsky (2009). Eternalist Theories of Persistence Through Time: Where the Differences Really Lie. Axiomathes 19 (1):51-71.
    The eternalist endurantist and perdurantist theories of persistence through time come in various versions, namely the two versions of perdurantism: the worm view and the stage view , and the two versions of endurantism: indexicalism and adverbialism . Using as a starting point the instructive case of what is depicted by photographs, I will examine these four views, and compare them, with some interesting results. Notably, we will see that two traditional enemies—the perdurantist worm view and the endurantist theories—are more (...)
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  12. Jiri Benovsky (2006). Persistence Through Time and Across Possible Worlds. Ontos Verlag.
    How do ordinary objects persist through time and across possible worlds ? How do they manage to have their temporal and modal properties ? These are the questions adressed in this book which is a "guided tour of theories of persistence". The book is divided in two parts. In the first, the two traditional accounts of persistence through time (endurantism and perdurantism) are combined with presentism and eternalism to yield four different views, and their variants. The resulting views are then (...)
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  13. Craig Bourne (2007). Numerical Quantification and Temporal Intervals: A Span-Er in the Works for Presentism? Logique Et Analyse 199:303-316.
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  14. Katherine Brading (2014). Presentism as an Empirical Hypothesis. Philosophy of Science 80 (5):1101-1111.
    Within philosophy of physics it is broadly accepted that presentism as an empirical hypothesis has been falsified by the development of special relativity. In this article, I identify and reject an assumption common to both presentists and advocates of the block universe and then offer an alternative version of presentism that does not begin from spatiotemporal structure, which is an empirical hypothesis, and which has yet to be falsified. While some features of familiar presentism are lost, a sufficient core remains (...)
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  15. Katherine Brading, Physically Locating the Present: A Case of Reading Physics as a Contribution to Philosophy.
    In this paper I argue that reading history of physics as a contribution to history of philosophy is important for contemporary philosophy of physics. My argument centers around a particular case: special relativity versus presentism. By means of resources drawn from reading aspects of Newton's work as contributions to philosophy, I argue that there is in physics an alternative way to approach what we mean by "present" such that (without adding any preferred foliation or anything like that) presentism remains an (...)
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  16. Ben Bradley, Eternalism and Death's Badness Syracuse University.
    Suppose that at the moment of death, a person goes out of existence.1 This has been thought to pose a problem for the idea that death is bad for its victim. But what exactly is the problem? Harry Silverstein says the problem stems from the truth of the “Values Connect with Feelings” thesis (VCF), according to which it must be possible for someone to have feelings about a thing in order for that thing to be bad for that person (2000, (...)
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  17. Ben Bradley (2010). Eternalism and Death's Badness. In Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke & Harry Silverstein (eds.), Time and Identity. Mit Press.
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  18. 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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  19. J. Butterfield (1984). Seeing the Present. Mind 93 (370):161-176.
  20. Jeremy Butterfield (1984). Prior's Conception Of Time. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 84:193-209.
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  21. William Bynoe, Temporal Scattering.
    I show that the Eternalist faces a trilemma. Given their theory of time, three claims are each very plausible, yet together form an inconsistent triad. Denying any one of these claims will have significant consequences for how they can conceive of the material realm. I urge that the best strategy is to deny the first claim, and show that this would have a significant consequence: Perdurantism is false.
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  22. Craig Callender, Time's Ontic Voltage.
    Philosophy of time, as practiced throughout the last hundred years, is both language- and existence-obsessed. It is language-obsessed in the sense that the primary venue for attacking questions about the nature of time—in sharp contrast to the primary venue for questions about space—has been philosophy of language. Although other areas of philosophy have long recognized that there is a yawning gap between language and the world, the message is spreading slowly in philosophy of time.[1] Since twentieth-century analytic philosophy as a (...)
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  23. Claudio Calosi (2014). Metaphysics of Time in Spacetime. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 3 (1):1-8.
    I give a new and more general argument against presentism within relativistic spacetimes. This argument is untouched by different recent proposals designed to save presentism in a relativistic setting.
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  24. Roberto Ciuni, Giuliano Torrengo & Kristie Miller (eds.) (forthcoming). New Papers on the Present: Focus on Presentism.
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  25. Rafael De Clercq (2006). Presentism and the Problem of Cross-Time Relations. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 72 (2):386 - 402.
    Presentism is the view that only present entities exist. Recently, several authors have asked the question whether presentism is able to account for cross-time relations, i.e., roughly, relations between entities existing at different times. In this paper I claim that this question is to be answered in the affirmative. To make this claim plausible, I consider four types of cross-time relation and show how each can be accommodated without difficulty within the metaphysical framework of presentism.
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  26. Rob Clifton & Mark Hogarth (1995). The Definability of Objective Becoming in Minkowski Spacetime. Synthese 103 (3):355 - 387.
    In his recent article On Relativity Theory and Openness of the Future (1991), Howard Stein proves not only that one can define an objective becoming relation in Minkowski spacetime, but that there is only one possible definition available if one accepts certain natural assumptions about what it is for becoming to occur and for it to be objective. Stein uses the definition supplied by his proof to refute an argument due to Rietdijk (1966, 1976), Putnam (1967) and Maxwell (1985, 1988) (...)
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  27. William L. Craig (1996). Timelessness and Creation. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (4):646 – 656.
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  28. William Lane Craig (1997). In Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Faith and Philosophy 14 (2):236-247.
    Graham Oppy’s attempt to show that the critiques of the kalam cosmological argument offered by Griinbaum, Davies, and Hawking are successful is predicated upon a misunderstanding of the nature of defeaters in rational belief. Neither Grunbaum nor Oppy succeed in showing an incoherence in the Christian doctrine of creation. Oppy’s attempts to rehabilitate Davies’s critique founders on spurious counter-examples and unsubstantiated claims. Oppy’s defense of Hawking’s critique fails to allay suspicions about the reality of imaginary time and finally results in (...)
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  29. William Lane Craig (1997). On the Argument for Divine Timelessness From the Incompleteness of Temporal Life. Heythrop Journal 38 (2):165–171.
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  30. 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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  31. Paul Daniels, The Persistent Time Traveller: Contemporary Issues in the Metaphysics of Time and Persistence.
    The main theme of this thesis is time travel; time travel cases—both from relativistic physics and science fiction—provide or highlight deep problems for certain positions in contemporary debates about the metaphysical nature of time and of how material objects persist through time. This thesis explores the implications of these discussions; more specifically, I draw attention to some of the interesting things we can learn about presentism (a theory of time) and endurantism (a theory of persistence) from discussions of time travel (...)
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  32. Paul R. Daniels (2013). Endurantism and Paradox. Philosophia 41 (4):1173-1179.
    Mereological challenges have recently been raised against the endurantist. For instance, Barker and Dowe (2003) have argued that eternalist endurantism entails (1) persisting objects are both 3D and 4D, and that (2) the lives of persisting objects last longer than they actually do. They also argue that presentist endurantism also entails, albeit in a tensed way, that (3) the lives of persisting objects last longer than they actually do. While they’ve further argued (2005) that the objections raised by McDaniel (2003) (...)
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  33. 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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  34. Mauro Dorato (2013). Che Cos'è Il Tempo?: Einstein, Gödel E l'Esperienza Comune. Carocci.
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  35. Mauro Dorato (2012). Presentism/Eternalism and Endurantism/Perdurantism: Why the Unsubstantiality of the First Debate Implies That of the Second. Philosophia Naturalis 49 (1):25-41.
    The main claim that I want to defend in this paper is that the there are logical equivalences between eternalism and perdurantism on the one hand and presentism and endurantism on the other. By “logical equivalence” I mean that one position is entailed and entails the other. As a consequence of this equivalence, it becomes important to inquire into the question whether the dispute between endurantists and perdurantists is authentic, given that Savitt (2006) Dolev (2006) and Dorato (2006) have cast (...)
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  36. Mauro Dorato (2008). Putnam on Time and Special Relativity: A Long Journey From Ontology to Ethics. European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 4 (2):51-70.
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  37. Mauro Dorato, The Irrelevance of the Presentist/Eternalist Debate for the Ontology of Minkowski Spacetime.
    In this paper I argue that the debate between the so-called “presentists” – according to whom only the present is real – and the “eternalists”, according to whom past present and future are equally real, has no ontological significance. In particular, once we carefully distinguish between a tensed and a tenseless sense of existence, it is difficult to find a single ontological claim on which the two parties could disagree. Since the choice of using a tense or a tenseless language (...)
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  38. Bradley Harris Dowden (2009). The Metaphysics of Time: A Dialogue. Rowman & Littlefield.
    Introduction -- Fatalism, free will, and foreknowledge -- Mind, the metric, and conventionality -- Time travel and backward causation -- Time's origin, and relationism vs. substantivalism -- McTaggart, tensed facts, and time's flow -- Presentism, the block universe, and perduring objects -- The arrow of time -- Zeno's paradoxes and supertasks.
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  39. Phil Dowe (2009). Every Now and Then: A-Theory and Loops in Time. Journal of Philosophy 106 (12):641-665.
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  40. Phil Dowe (2009). Every Now and Then. Journal of Philosophy 106 (12):641-665.
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  41. Heather Dyke (2003). Review of Katherine Hawley, How Things Persist. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2003 (1).
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  42. Heather Dyke & Adrian Bardon (eds.) (2013). A Companion to the Philosophy of Time. J. Wiley.
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  43. John Earman (2008). Reassessing the Prospects for a Growing Block Model of the Universe. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 22 (2):135 – 164.
    Although C. D. Broad's notion of Becoming has received a fair amount of attention in the philosophy-of-time literature, there are no serious attempts to show how to replace the standard 'block' spacetime models by models that are more congenial to Broad's idea that the sum total of existence is continuously increased by Becoming or the coming into existence of events. In the Newtonian setting Broad-type models can be constructed in a cheating fashion by starting with a Newtonian block model, carving (...)
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  44. Michael Esfeld (2006). The Impact of Science on Metaphysics and its Limits. Abstracta 2 (2):86-101.
    The paper argues for three theses: (1) Metaphysics depends on science as a source of knowledge. Our current scientific theories commit us to certain metaphysical claims. (2) As far as science is concerned, it is sufficient to spell these claims out in such a way that they amount to a parsimonious ontology. That ontology, however, creates a gap between our experience and the scientific view of the world. (3) In order to avoid that gap and to achieve a complete and (...)
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  45. Michael Esfeld (2006). The Impact of Science on Metaphysics and its Limits. Abstracta 2 (2):86-101.
    The paper argues for three theses: (1) Metaphysics depends on science as a source of knowledge. Our current scientific theories commit us to certain metaphysical claims. (2) As far as science is concerned, it is sufficient to spell these claims out in such a way that they amount to a parsimonious ontology. That ontology, however, creates a gap between our experience and the scientific view of the world. (3) In order to avoid that gap and to achieve a complete and (...)
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  46. M. Oreste Fiocco (forthcoming). Becoming: Temporal, Absolute, and Atemporal. In L. Nathan Oaklander (ed.), Debates in the Metaphysics of Time. Bloomsbury. 87-107.
    There are two conspicuous and inescapable features of this world in which time is real. One experiences a world in flux, a transient world in which things constantly come into existence, change and cease to be. One also experiences a stable world, one in which how things are at any given moment is permanent, unchangeable. Thus, there is transience and permanence. Yet these two features of the world seem incompatible. The primary purpose of this paper is to sketch a metaphysics (...)
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  47. Paul Fitzgerald (1985). Stump and Kretzmann on Time and Eternity. Journal of Philosophy 82 (5):260-269.
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  48. Peter Forrest (2010). 1. Why It Matters That We Cannot Alter the Past. Oxford Studies in Metaphysics 5:29.
  49. Robert Francescotti (2008). Endurance and Discernibility. Metaphysica 9 (2):193-204.
    How can an object remain the same, numerically identical, while undergoing change? This is a worry for endurantists, who hold that for any stages, x and y, of a persisting object, x is numerically identical with y. Endurantists might try to avoid the problem of change by insisting that all properties are temporally anchored. It is argued here that while this strategy helps in many cases, it does not help in all. A type of case is presented in which a (...)
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  50. Cord Friebe (2012). Eternalism and the Temporal Content of Persistence. Philosophia Naturalis 49 (1):63-83.
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