The Tenseless Theory of Time
Smart (J.C.C.)
Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction1

  1. Strictly speaking, the tenseless theory of time is not a theory of time (or space-time) in the way in which, for example, the special theory of relativity is. It has to do with the unimportance for ontology of words such as 'past', 'present', 'future', 'now', and the temporal inflections of verbs, and the tensed 'is', 'will be', 'was', etc. I shall include 'past', 'present', 'future', and 'now' as tenses, no less than the inflections of verbs. I shall distinguish the tenseless 'is' as in '7 plus 5 equals 12'. Some philosophers say that 7 plus 5 always was, is, and always will be equal to 12. It seems to me a pity to sully the purity of mathematics by bringing in time references, even trivial ones. I shall also contend that a tenseless idiom is most appropriate for physical theory. A tensed locution could avoid the tensed inflections of verbs but would say 'is future'. 'is present', and 'is past' with tenseless 'is'. I have been told that Chinese is like this in eschewing tense inflections on verbs. Opponents of the tenseless theory tend to be influenced by the phenomenology of our immediate experience of time, whereas I distrust phenomenology. I hope that such phenomenology can be explained away. There can be metaphysical illusions (Armstrong 1968 and Smart 2006.) Note that I am using the word 'phenomenology' in a relatively sensible way, not as used obscurely by a certain school of German philosophy.
  2. Opponents of the tenseless theory do not treat tenses and words such as 'past' as indexicals, as are 'I' and 'you' and 'here' whose reference depends on who utters them and the time of utterance. The opponents of the tenseless theory generally treat such inflections and words as referring to intrinsic properties in respect of which events change. Thus a person's marriage may be said to have the property of futurity, then of presentness, and then of pastness. The tenseless theorist sees this as, at the very least, highly misleading. All this is sketchy and merely preliminary to details in subsequent sections. I shall use the term 'A-theory' to refer to opponents of the tenseless theory, which I shall call the B-Theory.



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Truncated rather arbitrarily!


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