Monday 12th of September 2016

University of Milan, Via Festa del Perdono 7, Milan


                                                locandina Presentism

Within the debate on the metaphysics of time, there is a theory that is generally taken as highly problematic, the theory according to which only present entities exist: presentism. 

On the one hand, it is usually thought of as incompatible with our best scientific theories – in particular with Special Relativity; while on the other it seems that, if it were true that the past is unreal, then it would be hard to see what the truth of past-tensed sentences, such as “Caesar crossed the Rubicon”, supervenes on. 

Over the last few decades, many versions of presentism have been proposed in order to overcome these objections – e.g. Lucretian presentism, haecceitist presentism, non-serious presentism, and so on – and the debate seems nothing but solved, with new problems arising. Do these new versions of presentism commit us, as someone suggested, to embrace metaphysically suspicious entities? Are they too costly in terms of primitive ideology? Are there better strategies to account for the truth of past-tensed sentences? Is it possible to reconcile presentism and Special Relativity? 

This workshop aims to explore new ways to articulate the presentist picture.


10:00 – 11:30 Natalja Deng (Cambridge) – “Does Temporal Ontology Exist?”

11:30 – 13:00 Emiliano Boccardi (FAPESP, Campinas) – “Why Will Today Cease Being Today?”

13:00 – 14:30 Lunch

14:30 – 16:00 Marcello Oreste Fiocco (UC Irvine) – “Time, Temporal Reality and Presentism”

16:00 – 17:30 Roberto Loss (Logos, Barcelona) – “Presentism Is Not the End of the World”

17:30 – 17:45 Coffee Break

17:45 – 19:15 Jonathan Tallant (Nottingham) – “There’s No Such Thing as Presentism”



Emiliano Boccardi (FAPESP, Campinas) – Why Will Today Cease Being Today?

Abstract: One of the chief allures of Presentism is that it promises to make room for a robust notion of temporal passage. There are various proposals as to how it is best to characterize passage in a Presentist ontology. What they all have in common is that they are all comparative. By this I mean that they all start by characterizing the present as that unique time that is real (or existent), and they proceed to account for passage by comparing this with the fact that different times have been, and will be real (cf. Crisp 2005). This should be contrasted with the view (call it Intrinsicalism) that passage should rather be construed as an intrinsic, instantaneous state of change in which time is present; a view which has virtually no supporters among those who think that passage does not involve actual contradictions. This dialectic is closely paralleled by that which divides (1) Russellian (comparative) understandings of instantaneous velocity, according to which a body’s instantaneous velocity is ontologically parasitic on its trajectory, supervening solely on the location of the body at different times; and (2) Intrinsicalist understandings, according to which a body’s instantaneous velocity at t stands on an ontological par with and is metaphysically independent of the body’s trajectory in its neighbourhood. Drawing from a number of influential arguments against the Russellian view (e.g. Lange 2005), in the first part of my presentation I shall advance an explanatory gap argument against comparative accounts of passage. In a nutshell, I shall argue that, if passage is to play its conceptual role, the fact that different states of affairs or events exist at different times should be a consequence of it happening, rather than its very supervenience base. In the second part I shall argue that a number of recent objections against Presentism, which I call The New McTaggart (Fine 2005, Oaklander 2010, Price 2012), should rather be viewed as arguments against the comparative accounts of passage that Presentists typically endorse. Having argued in favour of Intrinsicalism, I plan, in the final part of my talk, to investigate the internal ontological structure of temporal passage. The working hypothesis will be that the state of change in which passage consists of ought best to be thought of as the instantiation of a dispositional property, whose manifestation is the pattern of instantiation of presentness across different times.

Natalja Deng (Cambridge) – Does Temporal Ontology Exist?

Abstract: The main aim of the paper is a modest one, though one in the spirit of skeptical views about temporal ontology: it’s to motivate the title question, i.e. to show that there is an open question about what’s at stake in temporal ontology. That aim is pursued indirectly, via an examination of elucidation attempts by Ted Sider, Christian Wuethrich, and Tom Stoneham. I then make a concession regarding a prima facie viable elucidation via temporal passage. I suggest that Jonathan Tallant’s existence presentism does not escape the intelligibility worries afflicting the standard debate. Finally, I explore a link to normative views about how we should relate to time, which gives rise not to a candidate interpretation, but to a possible re-orientation of the debate.

Marcello Oreste Fiocco (UC Irvine) – Time, Temporal Reality and Presentism

Abstract: TBA

Roberto Loss (Logos, Barcelona) – Presentism Is Not the End of the World

Abstract: Presentists are notoriously saddled with the problem of what grounds truths about the past. Many authors have tried to solve this problem by pointing to present grounds for past-directed facts (e.g. Bigelow’s [1996] ‘Lucretian’ properties). Recently, however, some authors have argued that present grounds fail to properly explain past-directed truths and facts, which appear to be better explained by the way things were and not by the way things are (see, for instance, Sanson and Caplan [2010] and Tallant and Ingram [2015]). 

In this paper I present and criticise what appears to be a prima facie natural and intuitive way to regiment this kind of proposal, that is, the idea of employing a cross-temporal grounding-operator ‘because in the past’ [Merlo 2015] and saying that (at least for any contingent P such that it was the case that P) it was the case that P because-in-the-past P. As I will argue, although initially attractive, this thesis appears to lead to implausible consequences regarding the possibility of ‘doomsday’, thought of as a moment in time in which every sentence of the form ‘It will be the case that P’ is false. 

As I will show, the possibility of cross-temporal grounding seems to make valid a principle according to which, for instance, future cross-temporal grounding claims pointing to grounds in the past for a certain statement P correspond to present grounding claims pointing to present grounds for a corresponding future-tensed statement ‘It will be the case that P’ (for instance: if it will be the case tomorrow that P because-yesterday Q, then it is the case today that it will be the case that P because-today Q). However, if this principle is valid, then from the ‘necessitarian’ idea that (present) grounds necessitate what they ground (so that, if P because-today Q, then, necessarily, if P, then Q; see, for instance, Rosen [2010], Trogdon [2013], Audi [2010], Correia [2005]), it is possible to conclude that everything that is the case on doomsday can only be the case on doomsday and thus can never be something that has been the case in the past. Since it appears highly implausible that, if possible, doomsday is a ‘unique’ moment in this strong sense, I will conclude that presentists cross-temporally grounding truths about the past in the past are committed to claiming that doomsday is metaphysically impossible. 

Jonathan Tallant (Nottingham) – There’s No Such Thing as Presentism

Abstract: Presentism is very well-known in the literature on the metaphysics of time and the metaphysics of persistence. It has its defenders and its detractors. Or so things seem. My thesis in this paper is that there is, in fact, no such view as presentism. My argument is straightforward. Section 1 introduces one reading of presentism to give us our starting point and outlines my methodology. In the literature, in turns out that there are a whole host of mutually incompatible definitions of what presentism is supposed to be. This suffices to show that there is no single view that is presentism (section 2). There is also no common core to these views that marks them as distinctively ‘presentist’ (section 3). That being so, I claim that there is no such position as presentism. In section 4 I consider some worries and objections. 

Sponsors: University of Milan (UNIAGI 19598); Regione Lombardia and Cariplo Foundation (Project 2015-0746).


12 September – TMW “Presentism”

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