A Future for Presentism
Bourne (Craig)
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Back Cover Blurb

  1. Presentism, the view that only the present exists, was a much neglected position in the philosophy of time for a number of years. Recently, however, it has been enjoying a renaissance among philosophers. A Future for Presentism is meant as a timely contribution to this fast growing and exciting debate.
  2. After discussing rival positions in the philosophy of time, in Part I Craig Bourne shows how presentism is the only viable alternative to the tenseless theory of time. He then develops a distinctive version of presentism that avoids the mistakes of the past, and which sets up the framework for solving problems traditionally associated with the position, such as what makes past-tensed statements true, how to give the proper semantics for statements about the future, how to deal with transtemporal relations between the past and the present, how we can meaningfully talk about the future, how to deal with transtemporal relations between the past and the present, how we can meaningfully talk about past individuals, and how causal relations can be formulated. Part I concludes with a discussion of the direction of time and causation1, the decision-theoretic problem known as 'Newcomb's problem', and the possibility of time travel2 and causal loops.
  3. In Part II Bourne focuses on the problems for presentism raised by relativity theory. He begins with by giving a self-contained exposition of the concepts of special relativity that are important for understanding the later discussion of its philosophical implications. The last two chapters explore the philosophical implications of certain cosmological models that arise from general relativity, namely the expanding models, which seem to represent our universe, and Gödel's infamous model, which allows us to take a journey into our future and arrive in our past. The necessary physics is explained with the aid of diagrams, throughout.

Amazon Customer Review
  1. There are a couple of items that make this work particularly valuable. Above all, it is a valuable contribution to the literature on the philosophy of time, as it wrangles with issues that are (supposedly) extremely problematic for a position in philosophy of time, called ‘presentism’. These include issues such as presentism in the face of the special theory of relativity (STR), which seems to contradict the idea of a universe-wide ‘now’. (For more on this, see Saunders’ well-known article on STR and presentism.) Other issues, very, very intriguing with respect to presentism are discussed, are Gödel’s take on the ideality of time (which is grounded in the general theory of relativity (GTR)) and numerous considerations in the on-going debate of the reality of tense (as in, past, present, and future tenses). For these sorts of reasons, I recommend the work to all interested in philosophy of time, students of philosophy, and philosophers. The at-large intellectual may find quite a bit of value in this work, though its lines of argument may not be easily trodden, as a working knowledge of basic logic is necessary, for instance.
  2. The central contribution of this work to the existing literature on philosophy of time comes from a platform problem that Bourne proposes: though we are acquainted with the present, in a sense, how do we know that our now is the "*present*". Bourne is speaking in nuanced terms that he fully develops for the reader. Recasting the problems of tense in this nuanced way allows for valuable insight and clarification into what presentism entails and how it could (i.e., possibly) entail it (in light of modern physics).
  3. Piecewise, the book is valuable for as many, maybe more, reasons as its overall broader contribution and impact. For instance, I have already recommended Bourne’s chapter (#5) on “Physics for Philosophers” to peers, because of how cleanly and to the point it lays out ideas. If a full-length treatise on physics for philosophers were so constructed, the body of literature would be all the richer. The third chapter supplies very important commentary and perspective on McTaggart’s original philosophical points (in “The Unreality of Time,” included in Le Poidevin and MacBeath’s anthology), which have essentially served as a foundation to the 20th-century discussion of the philosophy of time. This chapter, at the very least, will interest those who have read the classic 1908 paper, even if not as interested in presentism, per se. Finally, for those of us supremely interested in the dialogue of metaphysically-inclined philosophy of time and a philosophy of time strictly informed by the ontological suggestions of present-day physics and cosmology, chapter 7 is a particular treat – and it sets the Gödel discussion, nicely.
  4. Two final points, these about the construction: the book is very well written, beautifully, even; and the bibliography is indispensable for newcomers to philosophy of time. A solid bibliography can provide a curriculum (of sorts) that rivals any top universities curriculum, and this, in my opinion, is the substance of top-tier scholarship qua intellectual pathfinder. The bibliography is loaded with just about every major paper I have encountered in the subject thus far (as a grad student) – and then some – so I recommend perusing this wealth of resources for full personal gain.

Author’s Preface
  1. I got hooked on the philosophy of time as a first year undergraduate in Cambridge after reading "Mellor (D.H.) - Real Time" and attending (Hugh Mellor’s) lectures in the Easter Term of 1995-6. That term I was also supervised on time by Jeremy Butterfield, and although we agreed that the tenseless theory was indeed a wonderful thing, I thought presentism was not entirely dead. That thought turned into this book.
  2. One reason for thinking presentism was not entirely ruled out as a viable position was that I thought presentism could escape McTaggart’s argument. Thinking I was on to something, I remember being a little depressed when Katherine Hawley, who supervised my third year undergraduate coursework on time, pointed me towards Robin LePoidevin’s 1991 book3, where I found he had already beaten me to this idea! It was some consolation, though, to see that he thought presentism should be rejected on other grounds.
  3. Apart from that contribution, however, and Arthur N. Prior’s work in the 1950s and 1960s, there was virtually no literature on presentism during this time. However, there has been a growing interest in the position in recent years, and I hope this will be seen to be a timely book.
  4. Almost all of the ideas included here were formulated while I was a graduate in Cambridge (M.Phil. 1998-9; Ph.D. 1999-2002).
  5. There follows a description of the provenance of the various Chapters, several of which have been published in journals, either entire or in an earlier form.

  • Preface and Acknowledgements – xi
  • Introduction – 1
    1. What is a theory of time? – 1
    2. Initial plausible options for a theory of time – 3
    3. What conditions must any adequate philosophical theory of time satisfy? – 14
  • Part I: The Presentist Manifesto – 19
    1. When am I? – 21
      1. The Present Problem – 21
      2. Tensed theories toppled – 24
      3. Tensed truth-conditions: token-reflexive or non-token-reflexive, that's not the question – 33
    2. A theory of presentism4 – 39
      1. The parameters of the problem – 39
      2. A radical response – 40
      3. Priorian presentism – 41
      4. Reductive presentism – 47
      5. Ersatzer presentism – 52
      6. Branching time for presentists – 61
      7. The advantages of ersatzer presentism – 65
    3. Some outstanding problems for presentism met – 70
      • Problem 1: McTaggart's argument – 70
        1. McTaggart's position – 71
        2. McTaggart's argument – 73
        3. How ersatzer presentism avoids McTaggart's argument – 76
      • Problem 2: A deontic, semantic, and paradoxical need for other times – 78
        1. The deontic need – 78
        2. The semantic need – 79
        3. The paradoxical need – 80
      • Problem 3: – Future contingents, non-contradiction, and the law of excluded middle muddle – 82
      • Problem 4: Transtemporal relations (I) – 95
        1. Earlier than and defining tenses – 96
        2. Determinables – 98
        3. Qualitative relations – 98
      • Problem 5: Transtemporal relations (II): reference – 99
        1. Prior, proper names, and presentism – 99
        2. Rigidity for Russellians – 102
        3. Who wants to be a Millianaire? – 103
        4. Passing the nominal parcel – 104
    4. Transtemporal relations (III): causation5 – 109
      1. Formulating theories of causation6 within presentism – 110
      2. The direction of time and causation7: the counterfactual connotation of causation8 – 115
      3. The direction of time and causation9: the means-end connotation of causation10 – 121
      4. Mellor's argument against causal loops – 131
      5. Presentism and backwards causation11 – 134
  • Part II: Presentism and Relativity – 137
    1. Physics for philosophers – 141
      1. Basic notions – 141
      2. Essentials of special relativity – 146
      3. Minkowski space-time diagrams – 151
      4. Minkowski's philosophical conclusions – 157
    2. The present dialectic in special relativity – 160
      1. Putnam's thesis – 160
      2. Stein's antithesis – 162
      3. Questioning the grounds for adopting Einstein's definition of simultaneity – 172
      4. Understanding and defining absolute simultaneity – 173
      5. The interpretation of the Lorentz transformations – 176
      6. The 'conspiracy of silence' objection – 179
      7. Simplicity and surplus content – 182
      8. The Present Problem revisited – 184
      9. Conclusion – 185
    3. Becoming inflated12 – 187
      1. The Mellor-Rees argument against tense theories – 187
      2. Can expansion combat such wrinkles? – 191
      3. Event and creation horizons – 197
      4. Bursting the balloon – 198
    4. All the time in the worlds: Godel's modal13 moral – 204
      1. Godel's philosophical position on the nature of time – 205
      2. Establishing part I of Godel's argument – 206
      3. Part 2 of Godel's argument – 212
      4. Using TNT as ammunition against Godel's conclusion – 213
      5. Tenseless time: one way to dispose of TNT safely – 214
      6. The essential properties of time – 216
      7. Another way to dispose of TNT — although taking great care to do it safely – 217

In-Page Footnotes ("Bourne (Craig) - A Future for Presentism")

Footnote 3: Change, Cause and Contradiction.

Footnote 4: Originally published as "Bourne (Craig) - A Theory of Presentism".

Footnote 12: Originally published as "Bourne (Craig) - Becoming Inflated".


OUP Oxford (18 Jun. 2009)

"Bourne (Craig) - A Theory of Presentism"

Source: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Mar., 2006), pp. 1-23

Section I: The parameters of the problem
  1. Most of us would want to say that it is true that Socrates taught Plato. According to realists about past facts1, this is made true by the fact that there is, located in the past, i.e., earlier than now, at least one real event that is the teaching of Plato by Socrates. Presentists, however, in denying that past events and facts exist2 cannot appeal to such facts to make their past-tensed statements true. So what is a presentist to do?
  2. There are at least three conditions that would ideally be met in a
    satisfactory solution to this problem:
    1. It must preserve our views about which statements are true and which false
    2. It must be transparent what the truthmakers are for those statements
    3. It must accommodate the truth-value links between various times.
  3. I shall survey two different families of proposals for the presentist's truthmakers, recent examples of each being advocated by Craig (2003) and Ludlow (1999), and show that they fail at least one of these three conditions. This is not entirely negative, for it shows us what an adequate solution to the problem would look like. I go on to show where presentists can find suitable objects that satisfy these conditions, and in this way give a clear statement of presentism, something that is lacking in the literature3.

  1. The parameters of the problem
  2. A radical response
  3. Priorian presentism
  4. Reductive presentism
  5. Ersatzer presentism
  6. Branching time for presentists
  7. The advantages of ersatzer presentism

COMMENT: Chapter 2 of "Bourne (Craig) - A Future for Presentism".

In-Page Footnotes ("Bourne (Craig) - A Theory of Presentism")

Footnote 1:
  • There is a clear partition between tensed and tenseless theories of time: essentially, tensed theories of time assert that in some objective, mind-independent sense or other, the present is privileged, whereas tenseless theories of time assert that all times are real and no one of them is privileged. Thus all tenseless theorists are realists about the past, but tensed theorists needn't be, although some are.
Footnote 2:
  • Throughout this paper, 'exists' is meant tenselessly, for to equate 'exists' with 'exists now' renders presentism trivial. The tenseless reading is the only reading that makes presentism a substantial alternative to the tenseless theory, which currently dominates the philosophy of time.
Footnote 3:
  • As is widely known, relativity theory creates problems for all tensed theories of time, not just presentism. How to reconcile the two cannot be addressed in this paper, but see my forth coming book ("Bourne (Craig) - A Future for Presentism") for a proposed solution. Note that this solution is perfectly compatible with the version of presentism I present below.

"Bourne (Craig) - Becoming Inflated"

Source: The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Mar., 2004), pp. 107-119

Author’s Abstract
  1. Some have thought that the process of the expansion of the universe can be used to define an absolute 'cosmic time' which then serves as the absolute time required by tensed theories of time. Indeed, this is the very reason why many tense theorists are happy to concede that special relativity is incompatible with the tense thesis, because they think that general relativity, which trumps special relativity, and on which modem cosmology rests, supplies the means of defining temporal becoming using cosmic time.
  2. I argue that cosmic time is not up to the task, and that these tense theorists should rethink their strategy in dealing with the theories of relativity.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Mellor-Rees argument against tense theories
  3. Can expansion combat such wrinkles?
  4. Event and creation horizons
  5. Bursting the balloon

COMMENT: Chapter 7 of "Bourne (Craig) - A Future for Presentism".

"Dyke (Heather) - Review of Craig Bourne's 'A Future for Presentism'"

Source: The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 233 (Oct., 2008), pp. 747-751

Full Text
  1. Presentism, the view that only present entities exist, is a theory in the ascendant, and this book, a defence of presentism, will contribute to its rise. It is a clear and well argued monograph which systematically develops a metaphysical theory of presentism, and ably defends it against common objections. Most significantly, Bourne defends his theory against the criticism that presentism is false because it is inconsistent with the special theory of relativity (STR), a well confirmed scientific theory. This is probably the biggest hurdle for any proponent of presentism, since if a metaphysical theory is inconsistent with any of our best current scientific theories, the smart money will be on the scientific theory, and the best the metaphysician can hope for is to have developed a consistent but false theory. Furthermore, presentism is, prima facie, inconsistent with (STR). Nevertheless, this is a hurdle which some presentists are reluctant even to attempt to jump. Not so Craig Bourne, who presents the physics in a clear and manageable way for philosophers who may be unfamiliar with it, and argues that both (STR) and his version of presentism can be maintained. Whether his arguments ultimately succeed is another matter.
  2. Philosophers engaging in debate in the philosophy of time have come up with countless ways of drawing the battle lines between various opposing theories. Some distinguish between static and dynamic theories, others between A- and B-theories, or tensed and tenseless theories. But there is disagreement over whether the descriptors 'tensed' and 'tenseless' should be reserved for theories about temporal language, or whether they can properly describe metaphysical theories. For example, is a tenseless theory one which holds that tensed sentences are reducible to tenseless sentences, or is it the more robust metaphysical view that there are no real tenses, no ontological distinction between past, present and future? Furthermore, it is not the case that each of these ways of dividing up the metaphysical terrain maps neatly onto the others. In the face of this lack of consensus over how the debate is to be set out, Bourne offers a simple and compelling way of doing so. According to him, 'if one's theory postulates an ontologically significant notion of the present, then that theory is a tensed theory' (p. 10). This allows him to maintain the view that the debate is robustly metaphysical, and not merely linguistic, and it also allows him to separate all the contending theories into two groups solely on the basis of their response to one simple question.
  3. Bourne begins the development of his positive thesis by posing a problem he calls the 'present problem', and which he claims can only be adequately met by the tenseless theory and presentism (the material in this chapter has been previously published in his 'When am I?', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 80 (2002), pp. 359-71). He thus eliminates all opponents save the tenseless theory in one fell swoop. His 'present problem' is the challenge of guaranteeing our knowledge that we are present, and not past or future. The tenseless theory meets this challenge by effectively deflating it: we know that we are present because this is merely the indexical knowledge that we are located at the time at which we are located. But this option is not available to tensed theories, which postulate an ontologically significant notion of the present. According to them, our knowledge that we are present must be knowledge that we are located in this ontologically privileged moment. So we can distinguish between knowing that we are 'present' in the indexical sense, and knowing that we are *present* in the referential sense which refers to the ontologically privileged present moment. Bourne then argues that any tensed theory which is pluralist about times, that is, any which holds that there is an ontologically significant present moment, and recognizes the existence of more than one time, will not be able to meet this challenge. Such a theory could guarantee our knowledge that we are 'present', but this will not do, for we could have all the same beliefs and experiences as we currently have if we were in fact *past*, or even *future*. The only tensed theory which can adequately meet this challenge, according to Bourne, is presentism, because it does not postulate the existence of any times other than the present. Given that we exist, we must be *present*.
  4. Bourne sets up his version of presentism via the truthmaker problem for presentism. This is the problem of finding truthmakers for truths about non-present times. We would all want to agree, says Bourne, that 'Socrates taught Plato' is true, but what makes it true? According to the tenseless theorist it is the tenseless existence of the past fact that Socrates taught Plato. But this option is not available to the presentist who denies that there are any past facts. Bourne then gives us three desiderata which any satisfactory solution to this problem must deliver. It must preserve our views about which statements are true and which are false; what the truthmakers are for those statements must be transparent; and the solution must accommodate the truth-value links between various times. Looking to these desiderata, Bourne then considers and rejects a number of attempts to solve the truthmaker problem before finally offering his own.
  5. Bourne calls his view 'ersatzer presentism', as it bears some similarities to ersatz modal1 realism, criticized by David Lewis in "Lewis (David) - On the Plurality of Worlds". According to Bourne's ersatzer presentism, there are non-present times: they are maximally consistent sets of unembedded present-tense propositions - specifically, those propositions which we would say are true at the time in question. So Bourne's version of presentism helps itself to the existence of as many times as does the tenseless theory, but tells a different story about what sorts of entities make up those times. For the tenseless theory, those times are populated by just the same sorts of concrete entity as populate the present time; other times are qualitatively just like the present time. This is similar to Lewis' account of other worlds, which are qualitatively just like the actual world. For ersatzer presentism, other times are sorts of entity radically different from the present time which we inhabit: they are constructed out of propositions. But that is not quite right. The present time too is constructed out of propositions, but it differs from all the rest in being the only one which is concretely realized, or perhaps, whose constituent propositions are all true. Similarly, ersatz modal2 realism has it that all possible worlds, including the actual world, are abstract entities constructed out of propositions, pictures, sets of sentences, or whatever; but only one of those worlds, the actual world, is concretely realized.
  6. Bourne insists that the propositions which make up a time are unembedded: that is, none of the propositions constitutive of a time contains past- or future-tense operators. Presumably this is so that the set of propositions which make up a time does not include any of the problematic cases of propositions about non-present times. But it raises some potential problems. The set of propositions which constitute a time is supposed to give a complete, maximally specific description of what is the case at that time (p. 54). But a complete maximally specific description of what is the case now will surely include some past- and future-tense truths, or at least some truths which cannot be fully accounted for without making reference to past or future events. For example, it is true now that my daughter's sixth birthday is approaching. This is a proposition which makes reference to a future event, and it is true in virtue of the past fact that she was born almost six years ago. Other propositions too will be omitted from the set of propositions which constitute a time because they make ineliminable reference to past or future times or events, for example, those involving causal processes; and this will render the description of what is the case at a time incomplete.
  7. But there is a further worry with this strategy of constructing times out of propositions. Unembedded present-tense propositions are made true by the concrete facts they represent. Past-tense propositions, however, are made true by ordered pairs of unembedded propositions and dates (p. 57). But what makes these latter propositions true, i.e., the ones which, together with a date, constitute the truthmaker for a past tense proposition? They appear to be ungrounded, which is a problem Bourne thinks afflicts other versions of presentism, but not his own.
  8. A similar worry arises with respect to Bourne's discussion of temporal relations. Bourne defines simultaneity in terms of a conjunction of two unembedded propositions, each stating that a given event occurs. So two events are simultaneous because the relevant conjunction is true. But the dependence relation here should go the other way: the conjunction of the two propositions is true because the two events are simultaneous. This strategy carries over into his discussion of absolute simultaneity in the section on special relativity. He defines absolute simultaneity thus: 'e is absolutely simultaneous with e* =dfP(p & q) v (p & q) v F(p & q)' (p. 173). Here p is the true present-tense proposition that event e occurs, q is the true present-tense proposition that e* occurs, P is the past-tense operator 'It was the case that' and F is the future-tense operator 'It will be the case that'. Again this definition seems to be getting things the wrong way round. Surely the conjunction of p and q either was, is, or will be true because e and e* are simultaneous; they are not simultaneous because the conjunction is true at some time. A conjunction, or any other well-formed string of symbols, is a representational entity which, if true, represents how things are in the world. So it is how things are in the world that grounds the truth of the conjunction. Bourne opts for a wholesale rejection of this way of thinking, assigning primary ontological significance to the representational entities. In doing so he nobly bites the bullet: 'For I say that it isn't that the conjunctions are true because the events are simultaneous, but rather that they are simultaneous because the conjunctions are true. And why not?' (pp. 173-4). But his definition of absolute simultaneity has wider ramifications than he seems to think. How are physicists supposed to make use of this definition of absolute simultaneity? A logical definition is quite useless for their purposes. They think themselves to be in the business of studying physical relations, but if Bourne is right, they should turn their attention to logical relations instead.
  9. My criticisms should not be taken as criticisms of the quality of this book. They are, rather, an attempt to engage with it, as philosophers of time from across the spectrum will have to do. It is a well written, well-argued and thorough defence of presentism which, in my view, gives that theory its best chance to date of being true.


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