Temporal Ontology

Edited by Sam Baron (Australian Catholic University)
Assistant editors: David Ingram, B. C. Everett, James Darcy
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 present. The debate here is between A-theorists on the one hand, and both B- and C-theorists on the other. At the very least, all A-theorists hold that there is an objective present moment that changes as time passes. On the other hand, B-theorists hold that there exist relations of earlier than, later than, and simultaneous with, while C-theorists maintain that times are ordered but directionless (so times are not objectively earlier or later than any other time). The dispute between A-theorists, and B- and C-theorists is owed to the A-theorist’s acceptance of a changing present moment, and the B- and C-theoretical denial of this. Accordingly, the debate is often characterised as a dynamic/static divide. Additionally, a related issue is the relationship between future and agency. If, as B- and C-theorists maintain, the future is on equal footing with all other times, then arguably all of the facts about the future are already settled. 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. The second debate in the temporal ontology literature is that between different versions of the A-theory and concerns the ontological status of the past and future, given the A-theoretical acceptance of the present. These different accounts can be divided into 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 comprised of versions of the moving spotlight view, according to which all times exist but the present is objectively privileged. The most severe form of conservativeness about temporal ontology is presentism, according to which only present entities exist. 

Key works

Bourne 2006 is a book-length defense of presentism. Putnam 1967 presents the chief motivation for eternalism, namely that it is implied by the special theory of relativity. Mellor 1998 is an important exposition and defense of an eternalist model of time, whereas Tooley 1997 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. Additionally, Sullivan 2012 is a key work on the A-theory. Useful comparisons between the different views on the nature of time include Miller 2013 and Savitt 2006Barnes & Cameron 2011, and Todd 2021 are both important texts on temporal ontology and fatalism. Tallant 2015 talks about grounding truth in presentism, and Braddon-Mitchell 2004 looks at epistemic issues in regard to the objective now on non-presentist views.  

Introductions

Good articles include Markosian 2010, Rice 2008Hoefer 2008Le Poidevin 2008, and Deng 2017

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  1. IN DEFENCE OF A DYNAMIC VIEW OF REALITY.Jerzy Gołosz - 2022 - Kraków: Jagiellonian University Press.
    This collection of papers consists of mostly previously published articles which develop a scientific research program designed to defend a dynamic view of reality, which is founded on the assumption of the existence of the flow of time. The vindication makes use of a metaphysical theory of the flow of time developed by the author which is based on the notion of dynamic existence. In this book, the author analyzes different aspects of the problem of the flow of time and (...)
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  2. Augustine on the Existence of the Past and the Future.David Anzalone - forthcoming - Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie.
    In the eleventh book of the Confessiones Augustine puts forward several considerations about the nature of time. The received view is that he held that only the present exists, while the past and the future do not exist. This received view has recently been attacked by Paul Helm and Katherin Rogers, who have offered alternative interpretations according to which Augustine held that the present has no privileged ontological status, and that past, present and future all equally exist. The aim of (...)
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  3. How to Get Out of the Labyrinth of Time? Lessons Drawn From Callender.Jerzy Gołosz - forthcoming - Logic and Logical Philosophy:1-24.
    Callender [2017] claims that contemporary science demonstrates that there is no objective present and no objective flow of time, especially since all sensed events come from the past, our various senses need different amounts of time to react, and there are enough asymmetries in the physical world to explain our experience of time. This paper holds that, although Callender’s arguments for the subjectivity of the flow of time are unconvincing, the scientific discoveries and arguments he indicates can still be applied (...)
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  4. Метафизика перед выбором.Alex V. Halapsis - 2007 - Грані 56 (6):43-47.
    Метафизика в лице таких выдающихся мыслителей, как Хайдеггер и Гегель, вплотную подошла к проблеме введения времени в фундаментальное описание бытия. Однако указанная проблема так и не была сформулирована в рамках метафизики. Главная причина этого заключается, на наш взгляд, в том, что сама направленность метафизики на постижение вечных принципов подразумевает неизменность последних, их автономию от времени. Основой для такого воззрения выступает максима: «Что вечно, то неизменно, а что изменчиво, то не вечно». Выше мы попытались показать, что эта максима, по меньшей мере, (...)
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  5. Постнеклассическая метафизика истории.Алексей Владиславович Халапсис - 2008
    В монографии разработан проект становления постнеклассической метафизики и представлена концептуальная версия постнеклассической метафизики истории. Выявляются метафизические факторы цивилизационного развития, устанавливается характер «работы» общества с прошлым, рассматриваются вопросы о логике исторического процесса и о «законах истории». Также анализируются причины цивилизационных кризисов и очерчиваются возможные пути их разрешения, обсуждаются проблемы социального прогнозирования, исследуются метафизические истоки глобализации, определяются риски и перспективы будущего развития западной цивилизации.
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  6. A Mereologia Temporal Como Uma Questão de Fundamentação.Matheus Diesel Werberich - 2018 - Caderno de Resumos da IX Jornada de Pesquisa Na Pós-Graduação Em Filosofia da UFSM.
    É uma prática comum na metafísica contemporânea qualificar a discussão entre o tridimensionalismo e o quadridimensionalismo como uma questão acerca da existência de partes temporais. Enquanto que o tridimensionalismo não permite que as partes temporais existam, de tal forma que os objetos seriam totalmente presentes em todos os tempos nos quais eles existem, o quadridimensionalismo requer que esses objetos tenham partes temporais. Essa maneira de caracterizar o debate parte do ponto de vista da metaontologia quineana, segundo a qual as questões (...)
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  7. The Moving Spotlight: An Essay on Time and Ontology, by Ross Cameron: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, Pp. X + 219, £35, $US60. [REVIEW]Maureen Donnelly - 2017 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 95 (4):813-816.
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  8. Un tempo oltre la storia: inconscio, après-coup e genealogia in psicoanalisi.Fabio Vergine - 2017 - L'inconscio. Rivista Italiana di Filosofia E Psicoanalisi 2018 (4):161-185.
    To the origin of psychoanalysis, in the thought of his founder, Sigmund Freud, the unconscious is properly timeless. In this work we will analyze the concept of Real in Jacques Lacan's thought, and at the same time we will try to understand the functioning of après-coup temporality on the relationship between the time of trauma and the time of symptom. Doing this, we will try to answer an essential question: if the concept of Real is the key concept of last (...)
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  9. La philosophie de la physique sans le temps.Alexandre Guay - 2018 - In Joseph Famerée & Paulo Rodrigues (eds.), The Genesis of concepts and the confrontation of rationalities: Theology, Philosophy, Science. Louvain, Belgique: pp. 105-121.
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  10. Review of Ross Cameron: The Moving Spotlight: An Essay on Time and Ontology. [REVIEW]Daniel Deasy - 2016 - Journal of Philosophy 113 (9):472-477.
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  11. Complicated Presence: Heidegger and the Postmetaphysical Unity of Being.Jussi Backman - 2015 - State University of New York Press.
    From its Presocratic beginnings, Western philosophy concerned itself with a quest for unity both in terms of the systematization of knowledge and as a metaphysical search for a unity of being—two trends that can be regarded as converging and culminating in Hegel’s system of absolute idealism. Since Hegel, however, the philosophical quest for unity has become increasingly problematic. Jussi Backman returns to that question in this book, examining the place of the unity of being in the work of Heidegger. Backman (...)
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  12. The Past and the Future.Alan Bullock - 1982 - Upa.
    Alan Bullock demonstrates the continuity of mankind's thought and concerns from the historical past, through the troubled and often confusing present into the almost invisible future. This continuum offers us a basis for achieving understanding and perspective, for relating past, present and future. Without seeing this relationship, the moment of our lifetime must seem isolated and meaningless. Co-pubished with the Aspen Institute.
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  13. Why Time is Not a Natural Phenomenon.Samuel K. K. Blankson - 1997
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  14. Shoobridge-Waldstein, Herculaneum, Past, Present and Future.M. Knapp - 1908 - Classical World: A Quarterly Journal on Antiquity 2:157.
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  15. El Ser y la Esencia. [REVIEW]Etienne Gilson - 1951 - Sapientia 6 (21):240.
    En lugar de explicar la potencia por el acto (la esencia por la existencia), nos sentimos inclinados a explicar el acto por la potencia. Habría que hacer filosofía basándonos en lo que vemos, no en lo que suponemos. -/- Pero no sólo la mente humana es causa de este reduccionismo. El ente mismo podría ser responsable, porque si bien el ente es concebible sin la existencia actual, el ser no lo es sino unido a un ente. De ahí la fatal (...)
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  16. Tallis in Wonderland: Call No Event Future Until It Is Past.Raymond Tallis - 2011 - Philosophy Now 86:48-49.
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  17. The Past and Future of Medieval Studies. [REVIEW]Gabrielle Spiegel - 1995 - The Medieval Review 2.
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  18. On the Philosophy of Technology, Past and Future.Joseph C. Pitt - 1995 - Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 1 (1/2):18-22.
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  19. The Past and Future of Medieval Studies. [REVIEW]Charles Wood - 1996 - Speculum 71 (3):686-689.
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Eternalism
  1. Eternalism as Therapy: Mourning the Death of Michael Besso.Paula Sweeney - 2021 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 102 (3):504-514.
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  2. Look at the Time!David Builes - 2022 - Analysis 82 (1):15-23.
    I argue that we can get evidence for the temporal ontology of the universe simply by looking at the time. The argument is an extension of the ‘epistemic objection’ towards Growing Block theories.
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  3. Life and Death Without the Present.Daniel Story - 2021 - The Journal of Ethics 26 (2):193-207.
    In this paper, I explore the connection between certain metaphysical views of time and emotional attitudes concerning one’s own death and mortality. I argue that one metaphysical view of time, B-theory, offers consolation to mortals in the face of death relative to commonsense and another metaphysical view of time, A-theory. Consolation comes from three places. First, B-theory implies that time does not really pass, and as a result one has less reason to worry about one’s time growing short. Second, B-theory (...)
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  4. Eternalism and the Problem of Hyperplanes.Matias Slavov - 2022 - Ratio 35 (2):91-103.
    Eternalism is the view that the past, the present and the future exist simpliciter. A typical argument in favor of this view leans on the relativity of simultaneity. The ‘equally real with’ relation is assumed to be transitive between spacelike separated events connected by hyperplanes of simultaneity. This reasoning is in tension with the conventionality of simultaneity. Conventionality indicates that, even within a specific frame, simultaneity is based on the choice of the synchronization parameter. Hence the argument for eternalism is (...)
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  5. Heraclitean Flux Metaphysics.Andrew Dennis Bassford - forthcoming - Metaphysica: International Journal for Ontology and Metaphysics.
    This essay offers an original interpretation and defense of the doctrine of flux, as it is presented in Plato’s Theaetetus. The methodology of the paper’s analysis is in the style of rational reconstruction, and it is highly analytic in scope, in the sense that I will focus on the text itself, and only on certain parts of it too, while ignoring the rest of Plato’s extensive corpus, and without worrying about whether, how, and to what extent the interpretation of the (...)
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  6. Five New Arguments for The Dynamic Theory of Time.Ned Markosian - forthcoming - Philosophical Perspectives:1-43.
    According to The Static Theory of Time, time is like space in various ways, and there is no such thing as the passage of time. According to The Dynamic Theory of Time, on the other hand, time is very different from space, and the passage of time is an all-too-real phenomenon. This paper first offers some suggestions about how we should understand these two theories, and then introduces five new arguments for The Dynamic Theory of Time.
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  7. Meaning in Life and the Nature of Time.Ned Markosian - forthcoming - In The Oxford Handbook of Meaning in Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Many of the leading accounts of what makes a life meaningful are goal-based theories, according to which it is the pursuit of some specific goal (such as love for things that are worthy of love) that gives meaning to our lives. In this chapter I consider how these goal-based theories of meaning in life interact with the two main theories of the nature of time that have been defended in the recent metaphysics literature, namely, The Dynamic Theory of Time and (...)
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  8. A Better A-Theory.Alexander Jackson - manuscript
    I present a new kind of A-theory. On this proposal, time’s passing is a metaphysically fundamental aspect of reality. I take this to mean that there are fundamental facts like: four hours passed from 8am today until noon. This A-theory also posits fundamental facts about the state of the universe at a given time, and about cross-temporal relationships. The proposed metaphysical package attractively articulates our pre-relativistic conception of time. I defend the proposal from a number of orthodox objections: fundamental facts (...)
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  9. Symmetric and Asymmetric Theories of Time.Vincent Grandjean - 2021 - Synthese 199 (5-6):14403-14426.
    There is a feeling of dissatisfaction with the traditional way of defining the A-theories of time. One reason is that these definitions rest on an ontological question—‘Do the future and the past exist?’—to which no non-speculative answer can be provided. Another reason is that these definitions fail to distinguish between various A-theories of time at all times and, therefore, cannot be regarded as essential to them. In the present paper, I make a fresh start in the debate, by introducing two (...)
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  10. Four-Dimensionalism, Eternalism, and Deprivationist Accounts of the Evil of Death.Andrew Brenner - 2021 - Synthese 199 (5-6):13643-13660.
    Four-dimensionalists think that we persist over time by having different temporal parts at each of the times at which we exist. Eternalists think that all times are equally real. Deprivationists think that death is an evil for the one who dies because it deprives them of something. I argue that four-dimensionalist eternalism, conjoined with a standard deprivationist account of the evil of death, has surprising implications for what we should think about the evil of death. In particular, given these assumptions, (...)
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  11. On the Origin of Logical Determinism in Babylonia.Andrew Schumann - 2021 - Logica Universalis 15 (3):331-357.
    In this paper, I show that the idea of logical determinism can be traced back from the Old Babylonian period at least. According to this idea, there are some signs which can explain the appearance of all events. These omens demonstrate the will of gods and their power realized through natural forces. As a result, each event either necessarily appears or necessarily disappears. This idea can be examined as the first version of eternalism – the philosophical belief that each temporal (...)
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  12. Temporal Form and Existence.George P. Adams - 1935 - University of California Publications in Philosophy 18:203-225.
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  13. The Modal Moving Spotlight Theory.Daniel Deasy - forthcoming - Mind.
    The Moving Spotlight Theory (MST) combines three theses: first, that there is an absolute present time; second, that always, everything exists eternally; and third, that exactly one fundamental property is temporary. In this paper, I argue that MST so defined can be combined with a reductive analysis of the tense operators (i.e. properties of propositions like being past), which I call the 'Modal Analysis'. According to the Modal Analysis, for it to be the case that at a time t, p (...)
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  14. The Affective and Practical Consequences of Presentism and Eternalism.Mauro Dorato - forthcoming - Argumenta.
    In the dispute between presentism and eternalism, the affective dimensions of the debate have been somewhat neglected. Contemporary philosophers of time have not tried to relate these ontological positions with two of the most discussed maxims in the history of ethics – “live in the present” vs. “look at your life under the aspect of the eternity” (sub specie aeternitatis)– that since the Hellenistic times have been regarded as strictly connected with them. Consequently, I raise the question of whether the (...)
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  15. Paradoxes of Time Travel to the Future.Sara Bernstein - forthcoming - In Helen Beebee & Anthony Fisher (eds.), Perspectives on the Philosophy of David K. Lewis. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
    This paper brings two fresh perspectives on Lewis’s theory of time travel. First: many key aspects and theoretical desiderata of Lewis’s theory can be captured in a framework that does not commit to eternalism about time. Second: implementing aspects of Lewisian time travel in a non-eternalist framework provides theoretical resources for a better treatment of time travel to the future. While time travel to the past has been extensively analyzed, time travel to the future has been comparatively underexplored. I make (...)
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  16. An Empirical Investigation of the Role of Direction in our Concept of Time.Andrew J. Latham, Kristie Miller & James Norton - 2021 - Acta Analytica 36 (1):25-47.
    This paper empirically investigates one aspect of the folk concept of time by testing how the presence or absence of directedness impacts judgements about whether there is time in a world. Experiment 1 found that dynamists, showed significantly higher levels of agreement that there is time in dynamically directed worlds than in non-dynamical non-directed worlds. Comparing our results to those we describe in Latham et al., we report that while ~ 70% of dynamists say there is time in B-theory worlds, (...)
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  17. Philosophy of Time: A Contemporary Introduction.Sean Enda Power - 2021 - Routledge.
    As a growing area of research, the philosophy of time is increasingly relevant to different areas of philosophy and even other disciplines. This book describes and evaluates the most important debates in philosophy of time, under several subject areas: metaphysics, epistemology, physics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, cognitive science, rationality, and art. -/- Questions this book investigates include: Can we know what time really is? Is time possible, especially given modern physics? Must there be time because we cannot think (...)
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  18. Powers, Processes, and Time.Giacomo Giannini - 2021 - Erkenntnis:1-25.
    In this paper I argue that even the most radical metaphysics of powers (such as that adopted by Mumford & Anjum, Cartwright, or Groff) are compatible with eternalism. I first offer a taxonomy of powers ontologies, and attempt to characterise the difference between moderate and radical powers ontologies – the latter are characterised by an emphasis on production and dynamicity. I consider an argument by C. Friebe to the effect that the productive character of powers is inconsistent with Eternalism and (...)
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  19. Eternalism and Perspectival Realism About the ‘Now’.Matias Slavov - 2020 - Foundations of Physics 50 (11):1398-1410.
    Eternalism is the view that all times are equally real. The relativity of simultaneity in special relativity backs this up. There is no cosmically extended, self-existing ‘now.’ This leads to a tricky problem. What makes statements about the present true? I shall approach the problem along the lines of perspectival realism and argue that the choice of the perspective does. To corroborate this point, the Lorentz transformations of special relativity are compared to the structurally similar equations of the Doppler effect. (...)
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  20. Aquinas on the Existence of the Future: A Response to Gili.Damiano Costa - 2020 - European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 12 (3):225-235.
    I defend my paper “Aquinas, Geach, and Existence”[1]against objections from Luca Gili, who argued that, according to Aquinas, future contingents do not enjoy genuine existence but exist in God’s mind only.[1] Damiano Costa, “Aquinas, Geach, and existence”, European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 11, no. 3.
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  21. Quantum Mechanics, Time, and Theology: Indefinite Causal Order and a New Approach to Salvation.Emily Qureshi-Hurst & Anna Pearson - 2020 - Zygon 55 (3):663-684.
    Quantum mechanics has recently indicated that, at the fundamental level, temporal order is not fixed. This phenomenon, termed Indefinite Causal Order, is yet to receive metaphysical or theological engagement. We examine Indefinite Causal Order, particularly as it emerges in a 2018 photonic experiment. In this experiment, two operations A and B were shown to be in a superposition with regard to their causal order. Essentially, time, intuitively understood as fixed, flowing, and fundamental, becomes fuzzy. We argue that if Indefinite Causal (...)
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  22. Gallifrey Falls No More: Doctor Who’s Ontology of Time.Kevin S. Decker - 2019 - Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy 2:1-21.
    Despite being time-travel adventure series, both classic Doctor Who (1963-1989, 1996) and its reboot (2005-present) have not seen the development of a coherent ontology of time for their fictional universe. As such, it is extremely difficult to review established theories of the nature of time in an attempt to shoe-horn Doctor Who into an existing framework. Difficulties include the evolution of the views of the central character, the alien “Doctor,” from a position that insists “time can’t be rewritten” to its (...)
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  23. The Block Universe: A Philosophical Investigation in Four Dimensions.Pieter Thyssen - 2020 - Dissertation, KU Leuven
    The aim of this doctoral dissertation is to closely explore the nature of Einstein’s block universe and to tease out its implications for the nature of time and human freedom. Four questions, in particular, are central to this dissertation, and set out the four dimensions of this philosophical investigation: (1) Does the block universe view of time follow inevitably from the theory of special relativity? (2) Is there room for the passage of time in the block universe? (3) Can we (...)
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  24. Primitive Directionality and Diachronic Grounding.Naoyuki Kajimoto, Kristie Miller & James Norton - 2019 - Acta Analytica 35 (2):195-211.
    Eternalists believe that there is no ontological difference between the past, present and future. Thus, a challenge arises: in virtue of what does time have a direction? Some eternalists, Oaklander and Tegtmeier ) argue that the direction of time is primitive. A natural response to positing primitive directionality is the suspicion that said posit is too mysterious to do any explanatory work. The aim of this paper is to relieve primitive directionality of some of its mystery by offering a novel (...)
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  25. Temporal Existence and Temporal Location.Fabrice Correia & Sven Rosenkranz - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (7):1999-2011.
    We argue that sensitivity to the distinction between the tensed notion of being something and the tensed notion of being located at the present time serves as a good antidote to confusions in debates about time and existence, in particular in the debate about how to characterise presentism, and saves us the trouble of going through unnecessary epicycles. Both notions are frequently expressed using the tensed verb ‘to exist’, making it systematically ambiguous. It is a commendable strategy to avoid using (...)
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  26. Momentum and Context.Hans Halvorson - manuscript
    A sentence's meaning may depend on the state of motion of the speaker. I argue that this context-sensitivity blocks the inference from special relativity to four-dimensionalism.
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  27. Théorie des cordes, gravité quantique à boucles et éternalisme.Baptiste Le Bihan - 2021 - In Alexandre Declos & Claudine Tiercelin (eds.), La métaphysique du temps : perspectives contemporaines. Paris: Collège de France.
    L'éternalisme, la thèse selon laquelle les entités que nous catégorisons comme étant passées, présentes et futures existent tout autant, est la meilleure approche ontologique de l'existence temporelle qui soit en accord avec les théories de la relativité restreinte et de la relativité générale. Cependant, les théories de la relativité restreinte et générale ne sont pas fondamentales si bien que plusieurs programmes de recherche tentent de trouver une théorie plus fondamentale de la gravité quantique rassemblant tous les enseignements de la physique (...)
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  28. A memória episódica, o problema da cotemporalidade, e o senso comum.César Schirmer Dos Santos - 2020 - In Gerson Albuquerque de Araújo Neto & Giovanni Rolla (eds.), Ciência e Conhecimento. Teresina: Editora da Universidade Federal do Piauí. pp. 151-180.
    Os realistas diretos sobre a memória episódica alegam que um sujeito que lembra está em contato direto com um evento passado. No entanto, como seria possível estar em contato direto com um evento que deixou de existir? Este é o assim-chamado problema da cotemporalidade. A solução padrão para este problema, a qual foi proposta por Sven Bernecker, consiste em distinguir entre, por um lado, a ocorrência de um evento, e, por outro lado, a existência de um evento, de modo que (...)
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  29. String Theory, Loop Quantum Gravity and Eternalism.Baptiste Le Bihan - 2020 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 10:17.
    Eternalism, the view that what we regard locally as being located in the past, the present and the future equally exists, is the best ontological account of temporal existence in line with special and general relativity. However, special and general relativity are not fundamental theories and several research programs aim at finding a more fundamental theory of quantum gravity weaving together all we know from relativistic physics and quantum physics. Interestingly, some of these approaches assert that time is not fundamental. (...)
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  30. Time as Narrative: An Ontological Daydream.Marcos Wagner Da Cunha - manuscript
    A thought experiment on the ultimate non-essence of Time.
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  31. From Spacetime to Space and Time: A Reply to Markosian.Baptiste Le Bihan - 2020 - Analysis 80 (3):456-462.
    In a recent article, Ned Markosian gives an argument against four-dimensionalism understood as the view that time is one of four identical dimensions that constitute a single four-dimensional manifold. In this paper, I show that Markosian attacks a straw man as his argument targets a theory known to be false on empirical grounds. Four-dimensionalism rightly conceived in no way entails that time is identical to space. I then address two objections raised by Markosian against four-dimensionalism rightly conceived.
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