How is the asymmetry between the open future and the fixed past to be characterized

Synthese:1-24 (2019)

Vincent Grandjean
University of Geneva
A basic intuition we have regarding the nature of time is that the future is open whereas the past is fixed. For example, whereas we think that there are things we can do to affect how the future will unfold, we think that there are not things we can do to affect how the past unfolded. However, although this intuition is largely shared, it is not a straightforward matter to determine the nature of the asymmetry it reflects. So, in this paper, I survey various philosophical ways of characterizing the asymmetry between the ‘open future’ and the ‘fixed past’ in order to account for our intuition. In particular, I wonder whether the asymmetry is to be characterized in semantic, epistemic, metaphysical or ontological terms. I conclude that, although many of these characterizations may contribute to a global understanding of the phenomenon, an ontological characterization of the asymmetry is to be preferred, since it is superior to the alternatives in explanatory power, intelligibility, and in how it coheres with interesting senses of openness.
Keywords Open future  Indeterminism  Future contingents  Bivalence
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-019-02164-2
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