Presentism vs Static Eternalism
What parts of time exist?
o This rests upon our definition of ‘a part of time’ and our definition of ‘existence’.
Later we will examine the way in which answers to this question depend upon
o Two intuitions motivate responses to this question:
It seems like there is an important difference between the present and the
past or future. The present is more tangible, knowable, accessible, etc.
Presentism explains this difference by claiming that the present exists and
that the past/future are not. Moving eternalism attempts to accommodate
this intuition by claiming that although all times are real, there is still an
important objective difference between the present and the past/future.
It seems like there are objective and knowable truths about the past, and
that the past has the ability to influence the present or future. Eternalism
explains this by claiming that the past exists; Presentism by claiming that it
It seems least possible that there are objective and fixed truths about the
future; especially if the universe is deterministic. Eternalism explains this by
claiming that the future exists; Presentism by claiming that it ‘will exist’.
Presentism: only the present exists.
o This requires a definition of the present, and of existence.
o Is Presentism more intuitive? It seems like in some sense it is
o How can we apply Dainton’s distinction between reality and occurrence?
o What is the nature of their response to a) what is a part of time? And b) what is
Static Eternalism: past, present and future all exist
o Requires a definition of existence; as well as past/present/future
o So the eternalist has a bit more explaining to do in terms of their ontology
o How can we apply Dainton’s distinction between reality and occurrence? o What is the nature of their response to a) what is a part of time? And b) what is
o A version of eternalism is the ‘moving-spotlight’ theory: all times are equally real but
there is a privileged frame of reference (the present) that moves across time.
How long is the present?
o Rests upon the question ‘is time finitely divisible?’
(or, ‘are there any moments?’)
If it is, then the duration of the present is either 0 units, 1 unit, or multiple
If it is not, then it becomes exceedingly tricky to understand what is meant
It might be possible to understand it relationally, but not between moments;
only between events.
Hume: there are moments
Buddhists: time has no moments (yet everything is still momentary)
How does Buddhism relate to Kant’s noumenal/phenomenal
distinction? It looks like they advance an incomprehensible view of
o Dainton hypothesises a compound Presentism
At each time, there exist two sum totals of existence. What this means is
that two (possibly-incompatible) descriptions of the world are true at each
moment in time.
Furthermore, each complete-description exists for two moments in time.
There is an overlap.
The question of how to relate this to relationism/substantivalism is difficult.
Is time to be understood in terms of empty ‘moments’ or ‘complete
descriptions’? At first glance, it looks like Dainton’s view requires
substantivalism. This is because in order for two ‘complete descriptions’ to
exist in the same moment, they would have to be something separate from
Danton’s view could have some interesting consequences for causation. o Two important questions to consider with Dainton’s position
‘What events occur at t2?’
‘What events are real as of t2?’
We could generalise these questions further to the debate about the
ontology of time.
o Growing-block: past and present exist; the future comes into existence
o Shrinking block: the present and future exist, the past becomes destroyed
o Growing/shrinking block: the present exists, the future is coming into existence, the
past is being destroyed
How is this really different from Presentism?
o Anti-Presentism: the past and future exist, the present does not
o Anti-block: neither the past, nor the present, nor the future exist
o Random-block: a surprise combination of existence, growth and destruction.
o ‘moving-spotlight’ theory: all times are equally real but there is a privileged frame of
reference (the present) that moves across time.
All of these positions rest upon assumptions made about a deeper question. What is meant
o This is the ontological question
o This allows us to better understand what is meant by ‘X exists’; as well as perhaps ‘X
does not exist’, ‘X comes into existence’, ‘X goes out of existence’.
o Dainton: we should distinguish occurrence from reality.
Is it possible for an event to occur without being real? Is is possible for an
event to be real without occurring?
At first glance, it looks like an event has to be real in order to occur; but that
it might not have to be occurrent in order to be real. So the overlap may be
an important thing to consider.
How exactly would we make this distinction? o Another question, apparent from the truthmaker argument: what is a fact?
Specifically, what is a fact about a time? And when does a fact exist?
o A further question would be ‘what is the distinction between ‘X exists’ and ‘X will
exist’ or ‘X did exist’?’
It seems like equivocation over the meaning of these terms could lead to
verbal disputes. It looks like the presentist is asserting that the present exists
in some strong sense, and that the past/future ‘exist’ in some weaker sense
such as ‘existed’ or ‘will exist’. Getting clear on what is meant by these
terms, whether they are a sense of ‘existance’ broadly defined, or a different
type of thing altogether, is important to understanding the debate.
So the debate between Presentism and Eternalism is liable to confusion and
verbal dispute unless the ontological categories are properly defined.
In particular, it may be that moving-eternalism and Presentism are
otherwise alike, save from a different understanding of existence.
Presentists might think that the term is only useful in a strong sense; whilst
eternalists that it is possible in a weaker sense.
o How strong is the property of existence? Are there degrees of existence, or is it an
The truthmaking problem for Presentism
o It is more easily motivated with respect to the past than the future. It could be
fielded with equal ease against theories that deny the past; but would require more
effort against those that deny the future.
o Note that the converse problem for static eternalism is fatalism.
o The argument as initially presented:
1. For every proposition P, P is false IFF there are no facts to make it true.
2. If Presentism is true, there are no facts about the past
3. Therefore, if Presentism is true, all propositions about the past are false.
4. But some statements about the past are true
5. Therefore, Presentism is false.
Firstly, Premise 1: it looks like a proposition cannot be true if there are no
facts to make it so. But this only implies that it is false if there is a real
dichotomy between the two. It might instead be the case that P is neither true nor false. So it looks like this version of the argument depends upon an
important logical assumption which functions as a tacit premise.
Secondly, premise 2: this could fall victim to a reflexivity strategy.
Presentism claims that there are no facts about the past. This is only
successful if it itself is not a fact about the past. One possible way to respond
might be to hold that negative facts are not real facts in the important
sense. But if so, there can be true propositions about the past which depend
upon negative facts. Another way might be to distinguish facts about the
past from facts about events in the past; and to hold that the latter are the
facts that are missing. But this only allows that propositions about events in
the past are incompatible with Presentism. Furthermore, it would require
substantivalism about time in order that there be a fact about time itself
(namely that there are no facts about events in it). It would, however,
involve weakening Presentism to a thesis about events and facts in time,
rather than time itself.
Premise 3: again, there is the presupposition that ‘not true’ is the same as
‘false’; and that Presentism itself does not involve a true fact about the past.
Premise 4: this is more or less question-begging. The proponent of this
argument would be better served by claiming instead that there intuitively
seem to be facts about the past; instead forcing one to evaluate this
intuition against that which motivates Presentism. If so, then it looks like the
truth maker argument only really accomplishes an intuition-conflict.
A further worry would be, how do we distinguish a fact from a proposition?
Is a proposition a type of fact, perhaps an expressed one?
Another question would be how do we distinguish a time from a fact about
o Summary of questions arising from the first formulation of the truthmaker argument
Does the lack of truthmakers make a proposition false or simply not true; ie
‘either false or neither true nor false’
Does Presentism make a proposition about the past that requires
truthmakers? (if not, what is it that Presentism depends upon that
propositions about the past do not?)
Are there negative facts? (and what are they?)
Can Presentism distinguish facts about the past from facts about events in
the past? (note that this might entail substantivalism, in turn potentially
weakening the presentist thesis)
It looks like the truthmaker argument as presented only show Presentism to
be counterintuitive rather than outright false. o Can we make a better version of the truthmaker argument?
1. A proposition is true IFF there is a fact to make it true
2. If Presentism is true, there are no facts about the past
3. Therefore, if Presentism is true, no propositions about the past are true
4. Therefore, either Presentism is false or there are no true propositions about
5. But it intuitively seems like some statements about the past are true
6. Therefore, Presentism is counterintuitive
This is a more modest version of the truthmaker argument. It weakens
premise 3 by allowing that propositions about the past are either false or
have indeterminate truth values. It also weakens premise 4 (and hence the
conclusion) to claim that Presentism is simply counterintuitive. However, the
worry remains that Presentism might involve making propositions about the
past which depends upon facts about the past.
The solution might be to say that Presentism can be true of the past in virtue
of an absence of facts, but that undermines premise 1. It would be that a
proposition could be true in virtue of an absence.
Note that there are two ways which the argument could be finished off. It
can either be used to show that Presentism is counterintuitive, or that
Presentism is incompatible with true propositions about the past. I have
tried to combine the two.
o Presentist responses
Could bite the bullet and insist that all statements about the past really are
false; as counterintuitive as this might seem.
Use traces as truthmakers; though this would be an odd reply.
Use irreducible tensed facts as truthmakers. Facts exist in the present,
though they are about the past. If so, it is no longer the case that a fact is
the same as a description existing at the time it refers to. However, this is
getting towards a difficult and ontologically-questionable account of facts.
Again we depend upon ontology.
A causation problem for Presentism
o The argument: X causes Y only if X and Y both exist
X causes Y only if X occurs prior to Y
If Presentism is true, only the present exists
Therefore, if Presentism is true, either X does not exist or Y does not exist
Therefore, if Presentism is true, X cannot cause Y
Therefore, either Presentism is false or causation is false
Intuitively, it seems like causation is true
Therefore, intuitively it should seem like Presentism is false.
This is a better argument than the truthmaker one
The argument (if successful) really shows that co-existance is incompatible
with successive contiguity. The presentist could respond by revising their
view of causation so that one of these is unnecessary. They would have to
adopt a non-Humean version though, as it looks like Hume’s conception of
causation relies upon the two of these.
Another response would be simply to bite the bullet, and say that there is no
causation. This wouldn’t persuade the undecided, but it would allow the
strongest proponents of Presentism to entrench their positions.
However, biting the bullet would be problematic if rejecting causation is the
same as rejecting necessity.
o Rejecting necessity
This gets us into trouble with propositional dynamics. A lot depends upon
what a proposition actually is, but it looks like a rejection of necessity would
involve premises that precede and necessitate that conclusion. So any
rejection of necessity must undermine the reasoning used to support it.
Hence, it looks like unless a better understanding of propositional dynamics
can be formulated, the incompatibility of necessity and Presentism means
very bad news for Presentism.
One clue towards an alternate understanding of propositional dynamics
might be to note that the above critique depends upon propositions existing
in time and having causal relations that are temporal in nature. However, it
may be that propositions do not act in this way at all. o More generally, any cross-time relations or propositions that depend in any part
upon the past (or future, though this is less obvious) are incompatible with
Presentism. So Presentism seems like a very difficult position to hold.
o Crisp responds by holding that temporal relations are just relations between
propositions. This is a ‘regularity analysis of causation’
For example, yesterday’s downpour caused today’s flood IFF the
propositions about the downpour together with propositions about the laws
of nature entail propositions about the flood.
This response distinguishes propositions from events; such that the events
do not exist but the propositions do. It might be a potential criticism of the
above response to necessity that it confuses propositions with their subject.
How can we preserve the presentist intuition without falling into all the trouble noted
o It looks like the best way might be to weaken what is meant by ‘exist’, such that
there is a weaker sense of exist which allows for past and future, truthmakers,
causation, etc; but a stronger sense of exist which involves only the present.
o If we want to do this though, we are again forced back to ontology. What is meant
The debate between Presentism and Static Eternalism is closely related to the distinction
between A-theory and B-theory.
o Presentism is closely related to A-theory. A-theory claims that there is something
objective and irreducible about the present, and that the terms ‘past’, ‘present’, and
‘future’ are natural and fundamental concepts. These terms are the ‘A-series’.
o Eternalism is closely related to B-theory. B-theory claims that past, present, and
future, are non-fundamental and reducible to ‘earlier-than’, ‘simultaneous-with’ and
‘later-than’; these terms being the fundamental concepts of time. These terms are
o It is sometimes assumed that A-theory is intuitive and that B-theory has the extra
task of explaining how A-properties are reducible to B-relations.
o The ‘token-reflexive’ method:
This involves relating the event described to the time at which the
description is made. So ‘I am happy now’ would be ‘the speaker of