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Presentism and the Space-Time Manifold

Presentism and the Space-Time Manifold

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Published by: nikesemper on Dec 05, 2012
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Presentism and the Space-Time Manifold
Dean Zimmerman, Rutgers University
 I. Introduction: Presentism Among the A-TheoriesThe A-Theory of Time and the B-Theory of Time
McTaggart gave the name “A-series” to “that series of positions which runs from the far pastthrough the near past to the present, and then from the present through the near future to the farfuture, or conversely”; and the name “B-series” to “[t]he series of positions which runs fromearlier to later, or conversely”.
McTaggart’s rather bland labels have stuck, and been put tofurther use. The “determinations” (his word), or properties,
being past 
being present 
, and
being future
are generally called the “A-properties”. The relations of 
being earlier than
being laterthan
, and
being simultaneous with
, are the “B-relations”. These days, philosophers are said tohold an “A-theory of time” or a “B-theory of time”, depending upon their attitudes to theseproperties and relations.Some philosophers suppose that there are objective distinctions between what is presentand what is past and what is future. In order to tell the full truth about time, they think, one mustadvert to the A-properties. Naturally enough, such philosophers are called “A-theorists”.Although A-theorists disagree about many details, they agree that the present is distinguishedfrom past and future in a deep and important way. Exactly how to describe this difference is avexed question, and some philosophers have argued that would-be A-theorists inevitably fail tostake out a coherent position.
I shall not attempt a full-scale defense of the coherence of the A-
2theory here; but hopefully the following characterization will suffice to convey, in a rough-and-ready way, the nature of the A-theorists’ convictions about time: The A-theorist grants thatevery thing in time (setting aside the possibility of a beginning or end of time itself) is “pastrelative to” some things, “future relative to” others, and “present relative to” itself — just asevery place on earth (setting aside the poles) is south relative to some places, north relative toothers, and at the same latitude as itself. But the A-theorist insists that this attractive analogybetween spatial and temporal dimensions is misleading; for, of any time or event that is past,present, or future in this merely relative way, one can also ask whether it is, in addition, past,present, or future in a
-relative way — past, present, or future
. The A-theoristtakes the merely relative A-determinations to be based upon facts concerning which times andevents are
past, present, or future, not merely relatively so. “B-theorists”, by contrast,deny the objectivity of the division of time into past, present, and future; they regard the spatialnorth-south analogy as deeply revelatory of the purely relative nature of this division (thoughmany B-theorists admit that there is some intrinsic difference between spatial and temporaldistances). To arrive at more objective facts about time, one must turn to relations like
beingearlier than
being later than
, and
being simultaneous with
— the “B-relations”.
 The A-theory is almost certainly a minority view among contemporary philosophers withan opinion about the metaphysics of time.
Nevertheless, it has many defenders — IanHinckfuss, J. R. Lucas, E. J. Lowe, John Bigelow, Trenton Merricks, Ned Markosian, ThomasCrisp, Quentin Smith, Craig Bourne, Bradley Monton, Ross Cameron, William Lane Craig,Storrs McCall, Peter Ludlow, George Schlesinger, Robert M. Adams, Peter Forrest, and NicholasMaxwell, to name a few.
Several of the most eminent 20th century philosophers were A-theorists, notably C. D. Broad, Arthur Prior, Peter Geach, and Roderick Chisholm.
3The B-theory can claim support from two of the founders of the analytic movement inphilosophy: Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell.
In the years since, it has achieved broadacceptance. D. C. Williams, W. V. O. Quine, Adolf Grünbaum, J. J. C. Smart, David Lewis, D.H. Mellor, Paul Horwich, Tim Maudlin, Frank Arntzenius, Theodore Sider, Robin Le Poidevin,Nathan Oaklander, Steven Savitt, and Thomas Sattig are just the tip of the B-theorist iceberg.
 B-theorists have raised many kinds of objections to the A-theory and to the particularkind of A-theory I find most attractive, namely,
What follows is a defense of presentism in the face of just one of these: that the view has been refuted or at least badlyundermined by discoveries in physics. The rejection of Newton’s substantival space by thenatural philosophers and physicists of the nineteenth century had already created an environmentsomewhat hostile to presentism, as shall emerge in my discussion of one of Theodore Sider’sobjections to presentism (the objection described near the end of Section III, based on cross-temporal relations involving motion). Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity (SR) and GeneralTheory of Relativity (GR) seem only to have made things worse. Both imply the “relativity of simultaneity”; and this raises obvious questions for all A-theorists. If, as A-theorists believe,there is an objective fact about what is presently happening, there must be an objective fact aboutwhich events are simultaneous with one another — in other words, a fact about simultaneity thatis not relative to anything, including the frames of reference of SR, or the local frames of GR.But, on the face of it, these scientific theories require that simultaneity be frame-relative.Before launching into description of the variety of A-theories, and defense of the kind Iprefer, I should mention some things that will not be discussed in this essay. The first is aphilosophical debate that is sometimes conflated with the A-theory-B-theory dispute: namely,the question whether time has an intrinsic direction to it; that is, whether the relation

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