A-Theories of Time

Edited by Stephan Torre (University of Aberdeen, University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
About this topic
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. The A-theory of time is typically associated with the idea that the present is metaphysically privileged or singled out in some way from past and future times. Furthermore, there is genuine flow of time as past events recede further and further into the past and future events move closer and closer to the present. The A-theorist holds that the properties of being past, being present and being future are fundamental to the nature of time. Presentism, the Growing Block Theory, and the Moving Spotlight Theory are all versions of the A-theory, providing different accounts of how the present is metaphysically distinguished. The B-theory of time, in contrast, denies that the present is metaphysically privileged over 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. 
Key works McTaggart introduces the A-series and the B-series in McTaggart 1908. Arthur Prior is one of the most important and influential A-theorists (see Prior 1968 and Prior 1967). Ned Markosian has done a great deal in formulating and defending the A-theory.  See his Markosian 1993 for one such defense. Dean Zimmerman provides an illuminating discussion of drawing the A-theory-B-theory distinction in Zimmerman 2005.
Introductions For good introductions to the A-theory of time, see Markosian 2010 and Zimmerman 2008
Related categories

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  1. Agency and the A-Series.Roman Altshuler - 2009 - Southwest Philosophy Review 25 (1):153-161.
  2. Determinism, Indeterminism and the Flow of Time.Miloš Arsenijević - 2002 - 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 (...)
  3. Tense and Relativity.Andrew Bacon - 2016 - Noûs 50 (4).
    Those inclined to positions in the philosophy of time that take tense seriously have typically assumed that not all regions of space-time are equal: one special region of space-time corresponds to what is presently happening. When combined with assumptions from modern physics this has the unsettling consequence that the shape of this favored region distinguishes people in certain places or people traveling at certain velocities. In this paper I shall attempt to avoid this result by developing a tensed picture of (...)
  4. Time, Tense, and Thucydides.Egbert J. Bakker - 2007 - Classical World: A Quarterly Journal on Antiquity 100 (2):113-122.
  5. A Companion to the Philosophy of Time.Bardon Adrian & Dyke Heather (eds.) - 2013 - Wiley-Blackwell.
  6. The Future of the Philosophy of Time.Adrian Bardon (ed.) - 2011 - 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 the implications (...)
  7. The Physics of Time: Block Universe or Flow of Time?Stefan Bauberger - 2005 - Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 61 (1):61 - 72.
    It has been advocated that Einstein's theory of special relativity implies a view of the universe as a space-time-block (block universe). Accordingly the flow of time is only a subjective and unreal phenomenon. An interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics leads to a completely different view, stating that the flow of time and the difference between past and present are fundamental phenomena. This article argues that this view has priority over the view of the block universe. /// Segundo o (...)
  8. Tense and Truth Conditions.Michelle Beer - 2010 - 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 (...)
  9. On the Individual Essences of Moments of Time.Michelle Beer - 2007 - Philo 10 (1):69-71.
    In “Can the New Tenseless Theory of Time be Saved by Individual Essences?” Smith objects to the co-reporting theory on the groundsthat, since it grants that every time “now” is tokened it expresses a unique individual essence of that time which can be apprehended only at that time, the co-reporting theory is consistent with an A-theory of time that holds that each moment of time acquires its own particular property of presentness. I argue that Smith’s conclusion does not follow, since (...)
  10. The Causal Efficiency of the Passage of Time.Jiri Benovsky - 2012 - Philosophia 40 (4):763-769.
    Does mere passage of time have causal powers ? Are properties like "being n days past" causally efficient ? A pervasive intuition among metaphysicians seems to be that they don't. Events and/or objects change, and they cause or are caused by other events and/or objects; but one does not see how just the mere passage of time could cause any difference in the world. In this paper, I shall discuss a case where it seems that mere passage of time does (...)
  11. Review: Time, Tense, and Reference. [REVIEW]C. Bourne - 2005 - Mind 114 (455):747-750.
  12. When Am I? A Tense Time for Some Tense Theorists?C. Bourne - 2002 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 80 (3):359 – 371.
  13. Becoming Inflated.Craig Bourne - 2004 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 55 (1):107-119.
    Some have thought that the process of the expansion of the universe can be used to define an absolute ‘cosmic time’ which then serves as the absolute time required by tensed theories of time. Indeed, this is the very reason why many tense theorists are happy to concede that special relativity is incompatible with the tense thesis, because they think that general relativity, which trumps special relativity, and on which modern cosmology rests, supplies the means of defining temporal becoming using (...)
  14. 10. Fighting the Zombie of the Growing Salami1.David Braddon-Mitchell - 2013 - Oxford Studies in Metaphysics 8:351.
  15. How Do We Know It is Now Now?David Braddon-Mitchell - 2004 - Analysis 64 (3):199–203.
  16. Scientific Thought.C. D. Broad - 1923 - Routledge and Kegan Paul.
    First published in 2000. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.
  17. Tensed Relations.Berit Brogaard - 2006 - Analysis 66 (3):194-202.
  18. Beyond “Beyond a- and B-Time”.Mikel Burley - 2006 - 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 (...)
  19. Dummett on Temporal Operators.J. Butterfield - 1984 - Philosophical Quarterly 34 (134):31-42.
  20. Seeing the Present.J. Butterfield - 1984 - Mind 93 (370):161-176.
  21. Seeing the Present.Jeremy Butterfield - 1998 - In Robin Le Poidevin (ed.), Mind. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 161-176.
  22. Shedding Light on Time.Craig Callender - 2000 - 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 (...)
  23. How Can You Know You 'Re Present?'.Ross Cameron - manuscript
  24. The Moving Spotlight: An Essay on Time and Ontology.Ross P. Cameron - 2015 - Oxford University Press.
    Ross P. Cameron argues that the flow of time is a genuine feature of reality. He suggests that the best version of the A-Theory is a version of the Moving Spotlight view, according to which past and future beings are real, but there is nonetheless an objectively privileged present. Cameron argues that the Moving Spotlight theory should be viewed as having more in common with Presentism than with the B-Theory. Furthermore, it provides the best account of truthmakers for claims about (...)
  25. Proposition and Tense.James Cargile - 1999 - 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 (...)
  26. Other Times: Philosophical Perspectives on Past, Present, and Future.David Cockburn - 1997 - Cambridge University Press.
    We view things from a certain position in time: in our language, thought, feelings and actions, we draw distinctions between what has happened, is happening, and will happen. Current approaches to this feature of our lives - those seen in disputes between tensed and tenseless theories, between realist and anti-realist treatments of past and future, and in accounts of historical knowledge - embody serious misunderstandings of the character of the issues; they misconstrue the relation between metaphysics and ethics, and the (...)
  27. Other Times: Philosophical Perspectives on Past, Present and Future.David Cockburn - 1997 - Cambridge University Press.
    We view things from a certain position in time: in our language, thought, feelings and actions, we draw distinctions between what has happened, is happening, and will happen. Frequently, approaches to this feature of our lives - those seen in disputes between tensed and tenseless theories, between realist and anti-realist treatments of past and future, and in accounts of historical knowledge - embody serious misunderstandings of the character of the issues; they misconstrue the relation between metaphysics and ethics, and the (...)
  28. The Problem of the Past.David Cockburn - 1987 - Philosophical Quarterly 37 (146):54-77.
  29. Earlier and Later If and Only If Past, Present and Future.Denis Corish - 2011 - Philosophy 86 (1):41-58.
    To prove the equivalence one must start with one side, and the earlier-later side seems, for starting with, logically the clearer. The equivalence is provable on reasonable definitions of ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’ in terms of the earlier-later structure of time. McTaggart's attempted distinction between the past-present-future A series and the earlier-later B series, as though they were rivals for the structure of time, is based on an unexamined, and false, assumption. The equivalence shows they are not rivals; they are (...)
  30. Presentism Without Presentness.Fabrice Correia & Sven Rosenkranz - 2015 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 4 (1):19-27.
    We argue that presentism, understood as a view about time and existence, can perspicuously be defined in opposition to all other familiar contenders without appeal to any notion of presentness or cognate notions such as concreteness. Given recent worries about the suitability of such notions to cut much metaphysical ice, this should be welcomed by presentism's defenders. We also show that, irrespective of its sparse ideology, the proposed formulation forestalls any deviant interpretation at odds with the view it aims to (...)
  31. Philoponus's Traversal Argument and the Beginning of Time.Spyridon George Couvalis - 2013 - Modern Greek Studies (Australia and New Zealand) (Special Issue):68-78.
  32. On Truth Conditions of Tensed Sentence Types.W. L. Craig - 1999 - Synthese 120 (2):265-270.
  33. Tense and Temporal Relations.William Craig - 2001 - American Philosophical Quarterly 38 (1):85 - 97.
  34. Wishing It Were Now Some Other Time.William Lane Craig - 2001 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62 (1):159-166.
    One of the most serious obstacles to accepting a tenseless view of time is the challenge posed by our experience of tense. A particularly striking example of such experience, pointed out by Schlesinger but largely overlooked in the literature, is the wish felt by probably all of us at some time or other that it were now some other time. Such a wish seems evidently rational to hold, and yet on a tenseless theory of time such a wish must be (...)
  35. The Tensed Theory of Time : A Critical Examination.William Lane Craig - 2000 - Kluwer Academic.
    In this book and the companion volume The Tenseless Theory of Time: A Critical Examination, Craig undertakes the first thorough appraisal of the arguments for and against the tensed and tenseless theories of time.
  36. Tensed Time and Our Differential Experience of the Past and Future.William Lane Craig - 1998 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 37 (4):515-537.
  37. The Tensed Vs. Tenseless Theory of Time: A Watershed for the Conception of Divine Eternity.William Lane Craig - 1998 - In Robin Le Poidevin (ed.), Questions of Time and Tense. Oxford University Press.
  38. Is Presentness a Property?William Lane Craig - 1997 - American Philosophical Quarterly 34 (1):27 - 40.
  39. Review of Kit Fine, Modality and Tense: Philosophical Papers[REVIEW]Thomas Crisp - 2006 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2006 (8).
  40. Review of L. Nathan Oaklander, The Ontology of Time[REVIEW]Thomas Crisp - 2005 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2005 (3).
  41. McTaggart at the Movies.Gregory Currie - 1992 - Philosophy 67 (261):343 - 355.
    I shall argue that cinematic images do not have tense: not, at least, in the sense that has been ascribed to them by film theorists. This does not abolish time in cinema, for there can be temporal relations without tense, and temporal relations between cinematic images can indicate temporal relations between events depicted. But the dispensability of tense will require us to rethink our assumptions about what is sometimes called anachrony in cinema: the reordering of story-time by narrative, of which (...)
  42. A Critical Introduction to the Metaphysics of Time.Benjamin L. Curtis & Jon Robson - 2016 - Bloomsbury Academic.
    What is the nature of time? Does it flow? Do the past and future exist? Drawing connections between historical and present-day questions, A Critical Introduction to the Metaphysics of Time provides an up-to-date guide to one of the most central and debated topics in contemporary metaphysics. Introducing the views and arguments of Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Newton and Leibniz, this accessible introduction covers the history of the philosophy of time from the Pre-Socratics to the beginning of the 20th Century. The (...)
  43. The Moving Spotlight Theory.Daniel Deasy - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (8):2073-2089.
    The aim of this paper is to describe and defend the moving spotlight theory of time. I characterise the moving spotlight theory as the conjunction of two theses: permanentism, the thesis that everything exists forever, and the A-theory, the thesis that there is an absolute, objective present time. I begin in Sect. 2 by clearing up some common misconceptions about the moving spotlight theory, focusing on the discussion of the theory in Sider. In doing so, I also fill-out the barebones (...)
  44. What is Presentism?Daniel Deasy - 2015 - Noûs 50 (4).
    Different versions of the A-theory of time are traditionally defined in terms of whether everything is present, or whether there are also past and future things. In this paper I argue that the traditional way of defining A-theories should be abandoned. I focus on the traditional definition of presentism, according to which always, everything is present. First, I argue that there are good reasons to reject all the most plausible interpretations of the predicate ‘is present’ as it appears in the (...)
  45. How A-Theoretic Deprivationists Should Respond to Lucretius.Natalja Deng - 2015 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 1 (3):417-432.
    What, if anything, makes death bad for the deceased themselves? Deprivationists hold that death is bad for the deceased iff it deprives them of intrinsic goods they would have enjoyed had they lived longer. This view faces the problem that birth too seems to deprive one of goods one would have enjoyed had one been born earlier, so that it too should be bad for one. There are two main approaches to the problem. In this paper, I explore the second (...)
  46. Fine's Mctaggart, Temporal Passage, and the a Versus B‐Debate.Natalja Deng - 2013 - 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 (...)
  47. 'Beyond A- and B-Time' Reconsidered.Natalja Deng - 2010 - 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 (...)
  48. In Light of the Theory of Special Relativity is a Passage of Time and the Argument of the Presentist Untenable?Mekhi Dhesi - 2016 - Dissertation, University College London
    In light of the Special Theory of Relativity and the Minkowski creation of ‘spacetime’, the universe is taken to be a four-dimensional entity which postulates bodies as existing within a temporally extended reality. The Special Theory of Relativity’s implications liken the nature of the universe to a ‘block’ within which all events coexist equally in spacetime. Such a view strikes against the very essence of presentism, which holds that all that exists is the instantaneous state of objects in the present (...)
  49. The Ontology of Spacetime.Dennis Geert Bernardus Johan Dieks (ed.) - 2006 - 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 (...)
  50. Time From the Metaphysical and Anti-Metaphysical Viewpoints.Yuval Dolev - 1997 - Dissertation, Harvard University
    The idea that the present is "ontologically privileged" can be traced back to texts as early as St. Augustine's Confessions and Aristotle's Physics. The issue of the ontological status of tense continues to set the agenda in contemporary philosophy of time, which is dominated by two views. Proponents of the Tenseless View argue that all events are, in the timeless sense of 'are', equally real. Defenders of the rival Tensed View maintain that only present events are real, and that the (...)
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