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. Since twentieth-century analytic philosophy as a whole often drew metaphysical conclusions from arguments with linguistic premises, philosophy of time perhaps may be forgiven for this transgression. Connected to this language-saturated way of doing philosophy, however, is a hitherto unnoticed obsession, equally unhealthy; namely, an obsession with existence. Existence draws the very lines of debate in philosophy of time: “eternalists” believe past, present and future events all ‘equally’ exist, “possibilists” believe that past and present events exist, and “presentists” believe that only present events enjoy this lofty status. These differences between what events exist as of some other time are supposed to explain the main puzzles surrounding time. This fixation on existence, I submit, is a lingering symptom of the language-saturated days of philosophy of time. And just as linguistic issues such as the ineliminability of tense fail to elucidate time and temporal experience, so too do the “existence debates” fail to explain much of what is interesting about time. Philosophers should have more to say about such a fascinating topic.
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