Philosophy Time and Tense
by
Kristie Miller
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0051

Introduction

The nature of the relationship between time and tense is a contested one. On the one hand, when philosophers ask about the nature of time, they tend to ask (among other things) whether time flows, whether time has a direction, and if so, whether the direction is intrinsic or irreducible. They also ask whether other times are, in some good sense, just like other places, or whether there is some ontological difference between the present moment and other moments in time. When philosophers ask about the nature of tense, they ask (among other things) whether tensed language is eliminable, and they ask how we ought to model tensed language in logic. Exactly what the relationship is between these two sets of questions is not always clear. For some time it was thought that if tense turns out to be ineliminable in some appropriate sense, then this would give us reason to think that the world itself is tensed—that there are irreducible tensed facts—and therefore reason to think both that time flows, and that other locations in time are ontologically different from the current moment in time at which we are located. This link between tense, in our language, and the way the world is has for some time been much disputed, and it is probably fair to say that most philosophers no longer believe that we can automatically conclude that the world is composed of tensed facts even if language is ineliminably tensed.

Foundations

There are many good introductory works about the nature of time. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a good first resource—it includes both Markosian 2008 and Copeland 2007. Le Poidevin 2003 is a very accessible and far-reaching book that considers a range of issues about the nature of time, and it provides a good accessible exposition of some of the more science-related material. Another broad overview of the metaphysics of time is provided by Smith and Oaklander 1995. Written in dialogue form, this is a very accessible text for those with little or no background in these areas. Dialogues 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9 will be of particular interest. Lowe 2002 is also a good introductory text, and all of Part 5 (Space and Time) will be of use. Finally, there are some good resources for those who are looking to go beyond the bare introductory texts but who are not experts in this area. Section 1 of Zimmerman 2004 contains a number of papers that jointly provide an introduction to the metaphysics and semantics of presentism (and to some extent, therefore, eternalism). In particular, the papers by David Lewis, Ned Markosian, Thomas Crisp, Peter Ludlow, and Simon Keller introduce the reader to the most important aspects of the dialectic between presentists and eternalists. A second good resource of this kind is the edited collection Le Poidevin and MacBeath 1993. Again, some background knowledge of the issues will be useful, but with this in hand the collection offers a very good broad set of papers, and it includes the most central and influential papers, historically, on the topic.

  • Copeland, B. Jack. “Arthur Prior.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2007.

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    Offers a useful overview of Prior’s views about the nature of time and tense, and a good introduction to thinking about tense and tense logic.

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    • Le Poidevin, Robin. Travels in Four Dimensions: The Enigmas of Space and Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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      A very clear, introductory book that covers a wide range of topics within the metaphysics of time, and is particularly useful for those interested in some of the issues arising from a consideration of the physics of our world.

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      • Le Poidevin, Robin, and Murray MacBeath, eds. The Philosophy of Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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        This anthology is perhaps not best described as an introductory work, as the papers in it are not targeted at those new to this area of study. But, the papers are seminal works in the philosophy of time, including papers by McTaggart, Mellor, and Prior, so this is an excellent resource for those wanting to read the key papers on this topic.

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        • Lowe, Ernest Jonathan. A Survey of Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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          Part 5 of this introductory text not only contains a nice exposition of issues surrounding tense, but also considers the philosophy of time more generally. It offers an excellent source of background reading to this area.

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          • Markosian, Ned. “Time.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2008.

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            This is a useful introduction to the vast literature on time; it brings together disparate issues, including discussion of different views about the ontology of our world, the nature of temporal flow, the nature of persistence, and the nature of tense.

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            • Smith, Quintin, and L. Nathan Oaklander. Time, Change and Freedom: An Introduction to Metaphysics. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

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              This book covers many more areas than just the metaphysics of time. Written in dialogue format, it is an entertaining and very easy read, and there are at least five dialogues (1–3, 6, and 9) that focus on both the nature of time and the nature of tense. This is an excellent resource for those with little to no background in this area.

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              • Zimmerman, Dean, ed. The Oxford Studies in Metaphysics. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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                Section 1 of this handbook contains a number of papers that focus the discussion of time and tense by employing a particular metaphysical theory : presentism. These are not, properly speaking, introductory papers, but they are generally fairly accessible and the section as a whole gives a nice sense of the nature of the debate between presentists and eternalists.

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                General Overviews

                There is a vast amount of literature about the nature of time and tense. Markosian 2008, an article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, offers a very accessible entry into the literature for both undergraduates and graduate students or those unfamiliar with the literature. Perhaps the most famous and oft-cited paper is “The Unreality of Time” (McTaggart 1908), which has spawned a small cottage industry in both interpretation and responses. McTaggart’s explication of two temporal series—which he calls the A-series and B-series—has proved to be one of the most crucial distinctions when thinking about time and tense, and almost all of the work that followed this work has taken this distinction seriously. Both Zimmerman 2005 and Dyke 2001 begin as responses to McTaggart 1908, exploring the nature of these two temporal series and the relation between tense and the world. They are both very accessible papers that give a nice overview of the debate. Prior 2003 is a seminal work in the area, and although this is a 2003 edition that includes a couple of newer papers, the original work dates from 1968. The view of the relationship between time and tense that Prior defends here has been the catalyst for many new developments in this area. Tooley 2000 is a more recent work that builds on Prior (albeit while jettisoning some of Prior’s commitments). In contrast, Mellor 1981 offers a radically different view about the nature of time and tense. The view that Mellor defends has become, in one form or another, a very popular view in the metaphysics of time, and that makes this an excellent resource. To get a sense of the variety of views in this area, Le Poidevin 1998 is a good resource that brings together some of the leading thinkers about time and tense, thus offering a number of different perspectives on these issues. Finally, Dyke 2001 is a very nice overview of McTaggart’s argument about the unreality of time, and hence about the relation between time and tense.

                • Dyke, Heather. “The Pervasive Paradox of Tense.” Grazer Philosophische Studien 62.1 (2001): 103–124.

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                  This is a very accessible paper and a good way into McTaggart’s argument for the unreality of time, as well as being a good entry into the literature on the relation between tense and time.

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                  • Le Poidevin, Robin. Questions of Time and Tense. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                    This book brings together a range of papers from well-known researchers in the field, and it covers a number of different perspectives on the nature of time and tense. As such, it is a very useful resource, particularly for those wanting to a get a sense of the breadth of the issues and the diversity of opinion.

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                    • Markosian, Ned. “Time.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2008.

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                      Offers a useful introduction to the vast literature on time.

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                      • McTaggart, J. Ellis. “The Unreality of Time.” Mind: A Quarterly Review of Philosophy 17.68 (1908): 457–473.

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                        This paper essentially defined the dialectic regarding time and tense for decades after its publication. An essential read, the paper spawned what has become known as McTaggart’s Argument, or McTaggart’s Paradox. It is important not only because the argument for the unreality of time is much discussed in the literature, but also because it introduces the very notions of the A- and B-series that have become central to discussions of time and tense.

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                        • Mellor, David Hugh. Real Time. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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                          This book is Mellor’s seminal defense of the B-theory of time that rejects both temporal flow and the reality (in the appropriate sense) of tense. The book brings together and considers a vast number of arguments for the B-theory, and it is an excellent resource.

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                          • Prior, Arthur N. Papers on Time and Tense. Edited by Per Hasle, Peter Ohrstrom, Torben Brauner, and Jack Copeland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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                            Arthur Prior developed temporal logic, and this important book explores both the role of tense and temporal logic as well as the implications for the nature of time. The book contains some introductory material, but the bulk of the material will only really be of use to those with a background in logic.

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                            • Tooley, Michael. Time, Tense and Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                              Tooley argues for a dynamic “growing block” conception of the universe. This is a genuinely novel account of the relation between time and tense that is neither that offered by Prior and those who followed in his footsteps, nor that offered by Mellor and those that follow him. Not suitable for undergraduates or those without background in this area of study.

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                              • Zimmerman, Dean W. “The A-Theory of Time, the B-Theory of Time, and ‘Taking Tense Seriously.’” Dialectica 59.4 (2005): 401–457.

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                                Dean Zimmerman’s paper is a very useful overview of the relationship between the A- and B-theories of time, on the one hand, and the eliminability of tense, on the other. It is an accessible paper that will serve postgraduate students well.

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                                The A-Theory and B-Theories of Time

                                There is a vast literature on the A-theory and the B-theory of time, and readers should be aware that although the literature is replete with self-described A-theorists and B-theorists, there is no univocal view that is the A-theoretic view, or univocal view that is the B-theoretic view. Instead, there are roughly two families of views that share certain features. The most interesting and fundamental discussion of these views focuses on the relationship between tensed language and the temporal nature of the world, and asks whether and how we can draw metaphysical conclusions from the structure of our language. Some of this material is highly technical, such as some of Ludlow 1999, but much of it is approachable with a little bit of background. Prior 1959 is a good, early introduction, and Dyke 2003 is a good, more recent introduction to the two families of views. Dyke also introduces the “new” B-theory, which construes somewhat differently the B-theoretic project. Craig 1996, Oaklander 1991, Smith 1993, and the set of papers in Le Poidevin 1998 offer nuanced discussions and competing views regarding the role of tense in language and the world, while Markosian 1992 suggests that language (and hence tense) is irrelevant to the metaphysics of the world. Fine 2005, a more generalist paper about the role of perspective in language and the world, of which temporal locatedness and tense are but one example, offers a somewhat different view on these issues and is a useful counterpoint to the more familiar dialectic between the various A- and B-theorists.

                                • Craig, William Lane. “Tense and the New B-Theory of Language.” Philosophy 71.275 (1996): 5–26.

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                                  This paper offers a defense of the A-theory and an examination of the relationship between tense in language and tense in the world, focusing on whether tense in language is eliminable. The paper is relatively accessible with a little background. It is a reply to Oaklander 1991, and they make a good pair.

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                                  • Dyke, Heather. “Temporal Language and Temporal Reality.” Philosophical Quarterly 53.212 (2003): 380–391.

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                                    This is an accessible paper, well suited to postgraduate students and those less familiar with this field of study. It provides a clear discussion of the relationship between language and tense, on the one hand, and reality and the world, on the other.

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                                    • Fine, Kit. Modality and Tense. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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                                      While this book provides a general discussion of issues relating to modality and tense, chapter 8 will be of most interest, as it offers a novel introduction to the issues from a nonstandard perspective that ties the issues of tense and time into broader issues about perspective and the world. Some background to these issues would be of use in approaching this chapter.

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                                      • Le Poidevin, Robin. Questions of Time and Tense. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                                        This edited collection offers an excellent overview of the literature on A- and B-theory, including some seminal papers. They are generally quite approachable but are not introductory.

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                                        • Ludlow, Peter. Semantics, Tense, and Time: An Essay in the Metaphysics of Natural Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

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                                          This is a defense of the A-theory via a defense of presentism, but more particularly, the book defends a particular view about the relationship between language (in this case tensed language) and metaphysics, or the world. Some background in the logic of tense and in the metaphysics of time is necessary to fully appreciate it.

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                                          • Markosian, Ned. “On Language and the Passage of Time.” Philosophical Studies 66.1 (1992): 1–26.

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                                            This is an early, and approachable, paper that argues the metaphysics of time is independent of the semantics or syntax of language. It offers a useful counterpoint to other papers in this literature that take the structure of language as a guide to the nature of time.

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                                            • Oaklander, L. Nathan. “A Defence of the New Tenseless Theory of Time.” Philosophical Quarterly 41.162 (1991): 26–38.

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                                              With some background, this is a relatively accessible paper. It is a reply to Quentin Smith’s “Problems with the New Tenseless Theory of Time,” Philosophical Studies 52 3 (1987): 371–392, to which Smith eventually responded (see Smith 1993). Together, all make a nice set of papers since they directly engage with one another.

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                                              • Prior, Arthur N. “Thank Goodness That’s Over.” Philosophy 34.128 (1959): 12–17.

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                                                This is a short accessible paper that nicely sums up the fundamentals in the debate between tenseless and tensed theories.

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                                                • Smith, Quentin. Language and Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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                                                  Smith’s book is a defense of a tensed theory of time and, in particular, a defense of presentism. Chapters 1–4 provide a detailed exposition of the role of tense in language. This makes Part 1 of the book a useful resource for anyone interested in tense. Though Part 2 is a defense of presentism, it is very heavily based on the philosophy of language and meaning, and thus follows naturally from a discussion of tense. Some background to this area of study is desirable before approaching this text.

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                                                  McTaggart and the Unreality of Time

                                                  McTaggart 1908 (cited in General Overviews) has fostered a large literature, going back to Broad 1938 and Williams 1951, both of which are good places to start reading this literature. Some of the later works in this line focus on the question of whether McTaggart, or a suitably reworked McTaggart, has shown that time itself is illusory. Much of this literature, however, focuses on whether McTaggart was right when he asserted that the A-series is essential for the existence of temporality, and whether he was right when he asserted that the A-series is internally incoherent. Dummett 1960, Dyke 2002, Le Poidevin 1993, Lowe 1992, Thomson 2001, and the papers in the 2010 special issue of Philosophia all offer interpretations of McTaggart and then go on to evaluate their preferred interpretations. Rather differently, Monton’s essay in Philosophia and Baron, et al. 2010 take seriously McTaggart’s own conclusions about the unreality of time and explore that idea in the context of modern physics.

                                                  • Baron, Sam, Peter Evans, and Kristie Miller. “From Timeless Physical Theory to Timelessness.” In Special Issue: Physics and Metaphysics. Edited by Claudio Calosi. Humana.Mente: Journal of Philosophical Studies 13 (2010): 35–61.

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                                                    This paper explores the conclusion of McTaggart’s argument, and is a nice companion piece to Bradley Monton’s “McTaggart and Modern Physics” (Philosophia 38.2 [2010]: 257–264). It is a little more challenging in terms of the explication of the science that is offered, which makes Monton’s paper the ideal starting point, with this following.

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                                                    • Broad, C. D. “Ostensible Temporality.” In Examination of McTaggart’s Philosophy. Vol. 2, Part 1. By C. D. Broad, 264–288. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1938.

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                                                      In the three parts of this chapter (chapter 35), Broad first presents an account of time (his third such account), then presents McTaggart’s view, and finally criticizes what he calls the “destructive” part of McTaggart’s argument. Along the way, he gives his most sophisticated account of the specious present, a topic that is currently receiving increased attention from philosophers.

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                                                      • Dummett, Michael. “A Defense of McTaggart’s Proof of the Unreality of Time.” Philosophical Review 69.4 (1960): 497–504.

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                                                        This paper offers Dummett’s defense of McTaggart’s argument. It is notable because it offers what has now become one of the two more common interpretations of McTaggart. It is an accessible paper suitable for postgraduate students or those without much background in the area.

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                                                        • Dyke, Heather. “McTaggart, and the Truth about Time.” In Time, Reality and Experience. Edited by Craig Callender, 137–153. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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                                                          This is a very nice introduction to McTaggart’s argument, and a good place to start for someone trying to get a handle on what is at stake in the debate.

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                                                          • Le Poidevin, Robin. “Lowe on McTaggart.” Mind 102.405 (1993): 163–170.

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                                                            This paper is Le Poidevin’s response to Lowe 1992. It offers a reconstruction of McTaggart’s argument, and a defense of the newly reconstrued argument. Along with the Lowe companion piece, the pair offers a good overview of the issues raised by McTaggart’s argument. That being said, these are not in any way introductory pieces, and some background is necessary.

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                                                            • Lowe, E. J. “McTaggart’s Paradox Revisited.” Mind 101.402 (1992): 323–326.

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                                                              In reading Lowe’s paper, one will find oneself part way through a dispute between Lowe and Le Poidevin. This is, in part, a reply to an earlier work of Le Poidevin, and Le Poidevin 1993 subsequently replies to this paper. The pair of papers is useful because they offer not only competing interpretations of McTaggart, but also competing views about whether there is a version of McTaggart’s argument that is successful.

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                                                              • Philosophia 38.2 (2010).

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                                                                Entire issue is dedicated to McTaggart’s argument, and it contains many useful papers. Almost all are quite accessible, and almost all give a nice overview of McTaggart’s argument as the respective author sees it. See especially Monton’s “McTaggart and Modern Physics” (pp. 257–254), which explores the idea that our world might be timeless, an idea in part motivated by some features of modern physics. It is a very nontechnical exploration of general and special relativity, as well as quantum mechanics and quantum gravity, and the way in which these theories have implications about time in our world. The paper puts McTaggart’s conclusion about timelessness into the modern physics context.

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                                                                • Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “McTaggart on Time.” Noûs 35.s15 (2001): 229–252.

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                                                                  This is a clear and detailed explication of McTaggart’s argument, and it considers a number of interpretations of the argument. The primary focus is making sense of McTaggart rather than using his argument to some further purpose; this makes this paper an ideal introduction to McTaggart for those unfamiliar with the literature.

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                                                                  • Williams, D. C. “The Myth of Passage.” Journal of Philosophy 48 (1951): 457–472.

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                                                                    A swashbuckling review of attempts to make sense of the notion of the passage of time. Williams is typically understood as finding fault with all of them, and thus as advocating a “tenseless” view, but the reader should not overlook this sentence: “There is passage, but it is nothing extra.”

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                                                                    Models of Temporal Passage

                                                                    It is an open and controversial question whether or not models of time ought to model temporal passage. The history of the philosophy of time, right up to contemporary debates in the area, is starkly and deeply divided between those who consider temporal passage to be an obvious feature of reality, and strive to capture this within their metaphysics, and those who consider temporal passage to be nonsensical, and consequently aim to eliminate it from their metaphysics and explain away any appearance of temporal passage in terms of the cognitive features of agents. Those who believe that tense is fundamental, and that reality is therefore itself tensed, generally conclude that temporal passage is an objective metaphysical feature of the world. That is, they tend to suppose that there is a moment that is the objective present, and that moments earlier than that moment lie in the objective past, and moments later than that moment lie in the objective future. They also suppose that which moment is the objective present changes. It is in this that temporal passage consists. Models that incorporate this feature are generally known as dynamic A-theoretic models.

                                                                    Dynamic A-Theoretic Models

                                                                    Dynamic A-theoretic models attempt to model the passing of time. They are dynamical, rather than static, because they suppose that which moment is the objectively present one changes. Although all such models agree about this one insight, they offer very different ways of understanding temporal passage. The models disagree about which moments exist. On some models only the present exists. On other models, past and present exists; on still other models, past, present, and future exist. These models also differ with respect to how they model the movement of the present. In some incarnations, they also disagree about whether tensed properties are fundamental, or whether they supervene on (or perhaps emerge from) some other dynamical feature of our world. But they all agree that a static representation of our universe would be an incomplete representation of our universe, since this would leave out the dynamical quality of temporal passage.

                                                                    • Zimmerman, Dean. “The Privileged Present: Defending an “A-Theory” of Time.” In Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics. Edited by Theodore Sider, John Hawthorne, and Dean W. Zimmerman, 211–226. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

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                                                                      This is a long paper that covers a lot of terrain. It gives a nice outline of various different models of the A-theory, and goes on to defend presentism, focusing in particular on some of the objections to presentism arising from modern science. It’s a very accessible paper and a good place to start in developing an understanding of different A-theoretic models.

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                                                                      Presentism

                                                                      Though presentism is an ontological view about the status of the past (nonexistent), present (existent), and future (nonexistent) that does not entail anything about the existence or lack of temporal passage, in reality most presentists are dynamic A-theorists. Indeed, arguably the most popular of the dynamic (A-theory) models is presentism, and that makes it a good metaphysical model to approach in coming to understand A-theory views more generally. There is a vast corpus of papers both defending and attacking presentism, and the debate has become ever more complex and abstruse. Bigelow 1991 and Bourne 2006 offer very influential defenses of presentism and are good places to start to get a sense of the view. Stoneham 2009 offers a good introduction to the debate between eternalists and presentists (a debate that some have argued is trivial—see Meyer 2005), while Putnam 1967, Caplan and Sanson 2011, and Sider 1999 present some of the core problems facing presentism. Stein 1968, Crisp 2007, and Zimmerman 2008 (cited under Dynamic A-Theoretic Models) respond to these problems on behalf of the presentists.

                                                                      • Bigelow, John. “Worlds Enough for Time.” Noûs 25.1 (1991): 1–19.

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                                                                        This is just one of John Bigelow’s papers that defend presentism, but it is a very good place to start because it outlines Bigelow’s general and very influential account of presentism in terms of ersatz possible worlds, and offers his account of how the presentist can make sense of past and future tensed sentences taking truth values.

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                                                                        • Bourne, Craig. A Future for Presentism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

                                                                          DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199212804.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          This is an extensive defense of presentism. It is very accessible and a very good introduction to the issues. The second half confronts head-on the worry that presentism is inconsistent with modern physics, particularly special relativity. This, again, is a good source (though of course a perspectival one) regarding this issue.

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                                                                          • Caplan, Ben, and David Sanson. “Presentism and Truthmaking.” Philosophy Compass 6.3 (2011): 196–208.

                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00380.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            This paper is a good introduction to some of the issues facing presentists when it comes to accounting for the grounding of past and future tensed statements. Though the paper is situated very recently in terms of the dialectic between presentists and nonpresentists, it offers a nice overview of the issues and is appropriate for graduate students and perhaps even senior undergraduates.

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                                                                            • Crisp, Thomas M. “Presentism and the Grounding Objection.” Noûs 41.1 (2007): 90–109.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0068.2007.00639.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              Here, Crisp defends presentism against certain objections. Though the paper is best thought of as located some way into the dialectic between presentists and nonpresentists, it offers a nice overview of what each side thinks about presentism’s temporal ontology. It is a relatively accessible paper and recommended for anyone familiar with presentism.

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                                                                              • Meyer, Ulrich. “The Presentist’s Dilemma.” Philosophical Studies 122.3 (2005): 213–225.

                                                                                DOI: 10.1007/s11098-005-1784-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                A small group of philosophers have argued that the debate between eternalists and presentists is merely verbal: there is no genuine metaphysical dispute; instead, when properly understood, both theses are different ways of expressing the same claims about the nature of reality. Meyer’s paper is a good instance of a defense of such a view.

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                                                                                • Putnam, Hilary. “Time and Physical Geometry.” Journal of Philosophy 64.8 (1967): 240–247.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/2024493Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  This is one of the earliest papers to explore the relationship between metaphysics and modern physics by examining whether presentism is inconsistent with the theory of special relativity. The arguments developed here are often cited, and this article is the locus of much of the dispute about this issue. It should be read alongside Howard Stein’s classic reply (Stein 1968).

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                                                                                  • Sider, Theodore. “Presentism and Ontological Commitment.” Journal of Philosophy 96.7 (1999): 325–347.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/2564601Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    Sider’s paper is, first, an attempt to clarify exactly what is at issue between presentists and eternalistsm and, second, an attempt to present the strongest version of presentism. It also nicely ties together the ontological debate between presentists and eternalists and the debate about tense between A- and B-theorists. It is more suited to those familiar with the literature.

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                                                                                    • Stein, Howard. “On Einstein-Minkowski Space-Time.” Journal of Philosophy 65.1 (1968): 5–23.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.2307/2024512Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      Stein’s paper is a response to Putnam 1967, and Stein argues, contra Putnam, that presentism is consistent with special relativity. Both papers are controversial in their own way, but worth reading in order to get a sense of the debate.

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                                                                                      • Stoneham, Tom. “Time and Truth: The Presentism-Eternalism Debate.” Philosophy 84.2 (2009): 201–218.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/S0031819109000187Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        Stoneham’s paper explores the question of how to understand the distinction, if there really is one, between presentism and eternalism. It focuses on not just the ontological implications of each view but also the nature of tense. While offering a good overview of many of these issues, it is not really an introductory work and would be best suited to those already familiar with the issues.

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                                                                                        Growing Block and Moving Spotlight Models

                                                                                        The growing block and moving spotlight models are less popular A-theoretic models. They are important models nonetheless, because they combine some of the features of eternalism (generally associated with the B-theory) with features of the A-theory model. Since presentism is often held to be problematic because of its ontological commitments (or lack thereof), these models prove a useful foil in pulling apart the ontological commitments of presentism versus eternalism from the tensed and tenseless commitments of the A- and B-theories. This literature is more constrained and tends to be more accessible. Broad 1923 is one of the earliest statements of both views, and an obvious place to start. Those who want a detailed defense of the growing block view should then move on to Tooley 2000. A more accessible start is Merricks 2006. Zimmerman 2005 is the best resource for explicating the moving spotlight view. Very accessible papers that discuss problems with both of these views may be found in Braddon-Mitchell 2004 and Heathwood 2005, with a response from Forrest 2006.

                                                                                        • Braddon-Mitchell, David. “How Do We Know It Is Now Now?” Analysis 64.3 (2004): 199–203.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.1093/analys/64.3.199Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          This is a very short, accessible paper that presents some objections to the growing block theory. It forms a good companion piece to Merricks 2006. Both papers are suitable for graduate students and undergraduate students.

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                                                                                          • Broad, C. D. “The General Problem of Time and Change.” In Scientific Thought. By C. D. Broad, 53–84. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1923.

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                                                                                            This chapter contains Broad’s second account of the nature of time, a very early exposition of the view that is now known as the “growing block” view. This chapter also explicates, though does not endorse, the “moving spotlight” view.

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                                                                                            • Forrest, Peter. “Uniform Grounding of Truth and the Growing Block Theory: A Reply to Heathwood.” Analysis 66.290 (2006): 161–163.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1093/analys/66.2.161Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              Forrest defends the growing block theory. Here, he responds to Heathwood 2005, which takes up some of the issues raised in Braddon-Mitchell 2004, and which are considered in Merricks 2006. These two papers make a good pair, since they directly respond to one another. The papers presume some familiarity with the current dialectic, so are not introductory. But, they are both relatively accessible with some background reading.

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                                                                                              • Heathwood, Chris. “The Real Price of the Dead Past: A Reply to Forrest and to Braddon-Mitchell.” Analysis 65.287 (2005): 249–251.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1093/analys/65.3.249Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Heathwood’s paper is the third in this trio of papers, of which Forrest and Braddon-Mitchell compose the remaining three). The three papers taken together offer a very good overview of the growing block theory, and the objections to it. Ideally, the papers are best read in the order in which they were written.

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                                                                                                • Merricks, Trenton. “Goodbye Growing Block.” In Oxford Studies in Metaphysics. Vol. 2. Edited by Dean Zimmerman, 103–110. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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                                                                                                  This is a very accessible paper about the growing block model of temporal becoming, and would be ideal for someone wanting an introduction to the view. In part, it replies to Braddon-Mitchell 2004, which makes the pair useful companion pieces.

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                                                                                                  • Skow, Bradford. “Relativity and the Moving Spotlight.” Journal of Philosophy 106.12 (2009): 666–678.

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                                                                                                    Skow defends the moving spotlight account against the claim that it is inconsistent with special relativity. The paper offers a nice introduction to the moving spotlight view. However, the lengthy discussion that is at the heart of the paper, regarding the compatibility of special relativity and the moving spotlight view, while clear, is complex and not well suited to graduate students not familiar with the special theory and its implications.

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                                                                                                    • Tooley, Michael. Time, Tense, and Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/0198250746.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      This book is much more than a defense of the growing block theory; it explores a whole range of issues surrounding the nature of tense, the flow of time, and the nature of causation. This book is definitely not an introduction to these issues, as it is quite technical and difficult in places. It is thus best for those who are already familiar with the literature.

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                                                                                                      • Zimmerman, Dean. “The A-Theory of Time, the B-Theory of Time and “Taking Tense Seriously.”” Dialectica 59.4 (2005): 401–445.

                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/j.1746-8361.2005.01041.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                        This is a very general and approachable discussion of the A- and B-theories of time and their relation to tense in language. But, it is also a defense of the moving spotlight account. It is a very good place to start in bringing together the morass of issues pertaining to the nature of time, ontology, and tense. Suitable for postgraduates and those with limited background in the area.

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                                                                                                        Dropping Branches Model

                                                                                                        The dropping branches model is another A-theoretic model that combines the ontological commitments of eternalism (roughly speaking) with the dynamism of an A-theory model. It therefore has very different sorts of costs and benefits than presentism, or indeed than the growing block view. It is defended at length by McCall 1994 and considered in some detail in Bourne 2002, MacCallum 1997, and Miller 2006.

                                                                                                        • Bourne, Craig. “When Am I: A Tense Time for Some Tense Theorists?” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 80.3 (2002): 359–371.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1080/713659472Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          This paper is essentially a defense of presentism. But, it includes discussion of the dropping branches and growing block models. It is an excellent source for those wanting a (perspectival) overview of the various different A-theory models.

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                                                                                                          • MacCallum, D. “McCall’s Branched-Tree Model of the Universe.” In Special Issue: Non-Classical Logic and Semantics. Dialogue 36.1 (1997): 171–176.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/S0012217300009379Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            MacCallum’s paper is a nice short overview of the dropping branches model that will serve as a good introduction for those new to the view, though not an introduction suitable for undergraduate students.

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                                                                                                            • McCall, Storrs. A Model of the Universe: Space-time, Probability and Decision. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                              McCall’s book is one of the relatively few defenses of the dropping branches view, and it does this in great detail. It includes an extensive discussion of temporal flow, as well as the model’s implications for many related areas. Though this is an introduction to the view, it is not by any means introductory.

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                                                                                                              • Miller, Kristie. “Morality in a Branching Universe.” Disputatio 1.20 (2006): 305–325.

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                                                                                                                This is an approachable paper that offers a light-hearted critique of the dropping branches model. Not ideal for undergraduates but suitable for postgraduates. An accessible explication of the model itself is included.

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                                                                                                                Static B-Theoretic Models

                                                                                                                B-theoretic models are often known as static models, by which it is traditionally meant that they do not posit any temporal passage and, therefore, there is no “movement” of the present. Arguably, the static B-theory is the leading contender among competitor theories about the nature of time in our (and perhaps all other) world(s). One of the most straightforward and earliest explications of the view is that given in Smart 1955, and this is a good paper to read as an introduction to this view. Mellor 1981 and Mellor 1998 are two of the seminal statements of, and defenses of, the B-theory. Smith 1987 provides an alternative perspective that presents objections to the B-theory, while Petersen and Silberstein 2010 offers a new defense of the B-theory model that is particularly sensitive to modern physics. Discussion of whether tense is eliminable or not—and if not, what this means for the B-theory—and whether the provision of tenseless truth conditions for tensed sentences is sufficient to vindicate the B-theory is crucial to the debate between A-theorists and B-theorists, and thus has spawned many papers. Cresswell 2006 and Farkas 2008, as well as the papers in Callender 2002, offer a number of perspectives on these issues and jointly give a good overview of the dialectic.

                                                                                                                • Callender, Craig, ed. Time, Reality and Experience. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2002.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511550263Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  This edited collection includes papers that cover a range of perspectives in the metaphysics of time. It includes papers on presentism, temporal passage, temporal direction, and McTaggart’s argument. While the papers are not introductory, the corpus presents an excellent overview of a number of key issues in the metaphysics of time.

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                                                                                                                  • Cresswell, M. J. “Now Is the Time.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 84.3 (2006): 311–332.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1080/00048400600895805Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    This is a paper for those who want to explore tensed logic further, and who want to consider what sorts of conclusions we can draw from the logical (as opposed to semantic) aspects of the debate between A-theorists and B-theorists. Some background in logic is necessary to fully appreciate this paper.

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                                                                                                                    • Farkas, Katalin. “Time, Tense, Truth.” Synthese 160.2 (2008): 269–284.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1007/s11229-006-9116-ySave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      This paper is a very general exploration of how it is that indexical sentences get their meaning, focusing on tensed sentences as a case study. This is an approachable paper that will be particularly useful for someone wanting to get a general handle on some of the issues in philosophy of language and semantics before approaching the more opinionated papers that defend a particular view about the nature of tense.

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                                                                                                                      • Mellor, David Hugh. Real Time. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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                                                                                                                        Though Mellor was by no means the first to defend a tenseless theory of time, this book is one of the first detailed defenses, and it became one of the most important statements of the B-theory and the token reflexive account of tensed statements. An excellent introduction for someone unfamiliar with the subject.

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                                                                                                                        • Mellor, D. H. Real Time II. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.4324/9780203302675Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          This is Mellor’s follow-up to Real Time (Mellor 1981) and considers many of the same issues, but discusses these as they stand in the dialectic more than fifteen years later. That alone makes this book a useful and fascinating read, especially as a companion to Real Time. It covers a great many issues in the metaphysics of time and serves as a good introduction to the subject, especially for those with some background in it.

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                                                                                                                          • Peterson, Daniel, and Michael Silberstein. “Relativity of Simultaneity and Eternalism: In Defense of the Block Universe.” In Space, Time and Space-Time: Physical and Philosophical Implications of Minkowski’s Unification of Space and Time. Edited by Vesselin Petkov, 209–237. Fundamental Theories of Physics 167. Berlin and New York: Springer-Verlag, 2010.

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                                                                                                                            This paper is a good explication of the debate between presentists and eternalists with respect to ontology. It focuses, in particular, on the implications of the Minkowski theory of space-time. For those not overly familiar with the Minkowskian theory or with special relativity, this is a good introductory work, though it goes far further than mere introduction and will also be useful to anyone interested in these issues.

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                                                                                                                            • Smart, J. J. C. “Spatialising Time.” Mind 64.254 (1955): 239–241.

                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1093/mind/LXIV.254.239Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                              Smart was one of the first philosophers to propose a static B-theory of time, and this short, clear paper is an excellent early statement of the view that avoids some of the complexities that more recent papers feel bound to consider. This is a good place to start getting a handle on this view.

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                                                                                                                              • Smith, Quintin. “Problems with the New Tenseless Theory of Time.” Philosophical Studies 52.3 (1987): 371–392.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1007/BF00354054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                This is one of the earlier replies to the new B-theory of time, and in particular to Mellor’s Real Time (Mellor 1981), and as such, it is a good place to get a sense of the dialectic between tensers (or A-theorists) and the new B-theorists. Some background regarding the dispute would be helpful to fully appreciate the details here.

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                                                                                                                                Time, Tense, and Time Travel

                                                                                                                                Consideration of the modal status of backwards time travel has spawned a small industry of papers. Though independently interesting, many of these offer a new perspective from which to think about the implications of accepting either an A-theoretic or B-theoretic conception of our world. Much work has recently been done on whether time travel is consistent with the A-theory, and if not, what that tells us about temporal flow in A-theoretic worlds. Grey 1999 provides one of the most accessible introductions to this debate. Though Grey’s paper comes chronologically after Lewis 1976, a seminal paper defending the logical possibility of time travel (by defending the consistency of time travel within a B-theoretic world), it is the more accessible of the two. Keller and Nelson 2001, a more recent addition to the debate, seamlessly follows from the Grey and Lewis papers, and Sider 2005, Miller 2005, and Monton 2003 take up the same issues in their respective papers. This is a close-knit cluster of papers that explore similar questions, and this makes them an ideal set of papers to read to understand the dialectic.

                                                                                                                                • Grey, William. “Troubles with Time Travel.” Philosophy 74 (1999): 55–70.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/S0031819199001047Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  This is a very clear, introductory paper that outlines a number of issues about the possibility of time travel. In particular, it focuses on the question of whether any world in which the A-theory is true is a world in which there is time travel. It is one of the earlier papers to consider the link between time travel and tense. It is suitable for both undergraduates and postgraduates.

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                                                                                                                                  • Keller, Simon, and Michael Nelson. “Presentists Should Believe in Time Travel.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79.3 (2001): 333–345.

                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1080/713931204Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                    Keller and Nelson respond to what has become a widely held view, that presentism, and the A-theory more generally, are inconsistent with time travel. This is a nice companion piece to both Grey 1999 and Sider 2005. It is very approachable and well suited to postgraduate students.

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                                                                                                                                    • Lewis, David. “The Paradoxes of Time Travel.” American Philosophical Quarterly 13 (1976): 145–152.

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                                                                                                                                      This paper (reproduced in Lewis’s Philosophical Papers) is an early defense of the logical possibility of time travel, and it set the stage for almost all subsequent discussions of the issue. It is a good entry into the literature for postgraduates and those with a general background in metaphysics.

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                                                                                                                                      • Miller, Kristie. “Time Travel and the Open Future.” Disputatio 1.19 (2005): 223–232.

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                                                                                                                                        Miller’s paper is an accessible discussion of the coherence of time travel in worlds in which the A-theory is true. Like Sider 2005, though, it is concerned with time travel specifically, and it raises a number of more general questions about the nature of time in an A-theory world. It is suitable for postgraduate students or undergraduates who are well versed in the background metaphysics.

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                                                                                                                                        • Monton, Bradley. “Presentists Can Believe in Closed Time-Like Curves.” Analysis 63.3 (2003): 199–202.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1093/analys/63.3.199Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          Monton goes further than Keller and Nelson 2001 in arguing not only that time travel is consistent with presentism, but that closed time-like curves are as well. This is a short paper, but one best approached once the reader has both some background in the debates in the time travel literature and some understanding of time-like curves.

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                                                                                                                                          • Sider, Theodore. “Travelling in A- and B-Time.” The Monist 88 (2005): 329–334.

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                                                                                                                                            This is an excellent piece in combination with Keller and Nelson 2001. It continues the debate about whether, in an A-theory world, anything would rightly be called time travel. The paper offers a salient way of drawing attention to the differences between an A-theoretic and B-theoretic conception of the universe.

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                                                                                                                                            Time and Tense in Physics

                                                                                                                                            The debate between those who endorse a tensed theory of our world and those who reject tense (at least as a fundamental or irreducible part of our world) has been taken up by philosophers of physics who are keen to see whether modern theories about the physical nature of the world shed light on what we should think about time, tense, and temporal flow. Opinions differ wildly, with Barbour 1999 arguing that modern physics shows us that our world has no temporality, Price 1996 arguing that temporal flow is best understood in terms of human agency and perspective, and Norton 2010 arguing that temporal flow is consistent with contemporary physics. In between these views, there is a good deal of discussion of whether, and to what extent, physics and fundamental physical theories will vindicate temporal flow and the direction of time. The best introduction to these questions is Dainton 2010, a very accessible book. Though more difficult, Callender 2006 and Savitt 2006 are also good introductions to the physics of time. The complexities of these issues can then be followed up with Horwich 1987, the collection of papers in Butterfield 1999, and Callender 2011.

                                                                                                                                            • Barbour, Julian B. The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                              Barbour’s book is written for a generalist audience and does not presuppose any prior knowledge of either general or special relativity or quantum theory, or indeed of the metaphysics of time. While some of the philosophy is at times opaque, this is an excellent introduction to quantum mechanics and quantum gravity.

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                                                                                                                                              • Butterfield, Jeremy. The Arguments of Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                                This is an edited collection that contains a range of papers whose authors are working at the intersection of metaphysics and the philosophy of physics. It includes papers about general and special relativity and quantum mechanics. These papers are not introductory papers, and some familiarity with both the science and the philosophy will be important.

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                                                                                                                                                • Callender, Craig. “Thermodynamic Asymmetry in Time.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2006.

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                                                                                                                                                  This is a good introduction to the way in which physics does (or does not) help us make sense of the apparent directedness of time. For those unfamiliar with thermodynamics or statistical mechanics, this is a good place to start.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Callender, Craig, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199298204.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time is an excellent resource. It contains a large array of papers about the nature of time and has chapters devoted to both the metaphysics of time and the physics of time. The papers are not introductory, but as a corpus, this is a must-have for anyone working in the metaphysics of time.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Dainton, Barry. Time and Space. 2d ed. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2010.

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                                                                                                                                                      This book is an excellent introductory work, suitable for postgraduates and undergraduates, as well as anyone unfamiliar with the issues. It includes discussion of most of the issues that arise in central metaphysics regarding the nature of time, as well as discussion of those issues in terms of modern physics. No background in physics is necessary.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Horwich, Paul. Asymmetries in Time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987.

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                                                                                                                                                        Horwich’s book is an excellent resource that brings together, in an accessible way, a number of discussions of the nature of time that take place at the intersection of metaphysics and physics. It includes discussion of not just the direction of time but also backwards causation and time travel. It is suitable for postgraduate students and those familiarizing themselves with these issues.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Norton, John. “Time Really Passes.” In Special Issue: Physics and Metaphysics. Edited by Claudio Calosi. Humana.Mente 13 (2010): 23–35.

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                                                                                                                                                          This is a very accessible paper with no technicalities, and no background in physics is required. It defends the view that time does pass and that physics does not suggest otherwise. It is a good place to start reading in this area.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Price, Huw. Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996

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                                                                                                                                                            Price’s book is important because it represents a turn in the way in which philosophers viewed the notion of backwards causation. Like Horwich 1987, it includes an extensive discussion of time’s arrow and thermodynamics, but it also goes on to consider temporal phenomena in the light of more recent work in quantum mechanics. While a background in physics is not necessary to appreciate the book, it is not an introductory text and can be difficult going at times. But it’s worth persevering.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Savitt, S. “Being and Becoming in Modern Physics.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2006.

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                                                                                                                                                              This entry includes an excellent overview of the different models of “temporal becoming” and a discussion of McTaggart’s argument. It will be of interest even to those not interested in modern physics but interested only in the metaphysical issues. It also includes an extensive discussion of the theory of special relativity and its implication for metaphysics of time. For those unfamiliar with the theory of special relativity and its implications for metaphysics, this is an excellent place to start.

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