Philosophy Persistence
Maureen B. Donnelly
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0325


An object persists just in case it remains in the world over a stretch of time. Philosophers debate the proper account of persistence—what exactly is it for an object to remain in the world over time? The two main positions on persistence are perdurantism (sometimes called “worm theory”) and endurantism (sometimes called “three-dimensionalism”). Roughly, a perdurantist account takes persistence to be analogous to extension through space–persisting objects are four-dimensional entities extended along the temporal dimension in addition to the three spatial dimensions. Perdurantists usually add that, just as an object is divided into spatially smaller parts, so also is a persisting object divided into temporally smaller parts. Endurantists deny that persistence is analogous to extension through space. Many endurantists also deny the perdurantist claim that persisting objects are composed of shorter-lived temporal parts. Endurantists may add that a persisting object is (in some sense) wholly present at each moment of its career, not merely partially present by virtue of having a temporal part at that time. Traditionally, endurantism has been regarded as the common-sense account of persistence, while perdurantists have claimed that their account fits better with relativistic physics and with plausible philosophical accounts of coincidence, temporary property instantiation, and vagueness. However, the purported theoretical advantages of perdurantism over endurantism have been challenged. An influential third position—stage theory—combines a perdurantist ontology (sometimes called a “four-dimensionalist” ontology) with distinct claims about the referents of ordinary terms and the nature of persistence. Like perdurantists, stage theorists hold that persisting objects may extend over a stretch of time in the same way they extend over a spatial region. However, stage theorists claim that ordinary names and common nouns typically refer to temporally unextended objects (temporal stages) which persist, in an alternative sense, by having temporal counterparts located at different times. Besides work advocating specific versions of perdurantism, endurantism, or stage theory, some important research focuses instead on the criteria used to distinguish these positions. Differences between accounts of persistence standardly have been formulated either as competing claims about objects’ parts or as competing claims about objects’ locations. However, it is not obvious that the standard mereological formulations and the standard locative formulations yield equivalent distinctions among positions on persistence. Furthermore, some philosophers have questioned whether any of the standard formulations of perdurantism and endurantism yield genuinely distinct accounts of persistence.

General Overviews

Haslanger and Kurz 2006 collects some of the most influential papers on persistence. Although ultimately defending stage theory, Sider 2001 and Hawley 2001 include clear and sophisticated discussions of all three major positions on persistence. Like Hawthorne 2008 (cited under Introductory-Level Discussions), Hawthorne 2006 challenges standard ways of framing the debate between endurantists and perdurantists. Balashov 2010 is a comprehensive discussion of issues surrounding persistence from the point of view of relativistic physics.

  • Balashov, Yuri. Persistence and Spacetime. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199579921.001.0001

    Discusses the three main accounts of persistence in the context of relativistic physics. Includes a clear, accessible introduction to distinctions between classical and relativistic accounts of spacetime and a relativity-based argument for perdurantism.

  • Haslanger, Sally, and Roxanne Kurz, eds. Persistence: Contemporary Readings. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2006.

    An anthology of papers on perdurantism, endurantism, and stage theory. Includes presentations and defenses of each of these accounts, as well as papers focused on such issues as the problems of change or motion.

  • Hawley, Katherine. How Things Persist. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Includes sophisticated general discussions of distinctions among the three major accounts of persistence. Rejects the standard assumption that endurantists and perdurantists must differ in their commitment to temporal parts. Proposes instead that endurantists and perdurantists must differ in whether they treat parthood as a time-relative relation.

  • Hawthorne, John. “Three-Dimensionalism.” In Metaphysical Essays. By John Hawthorne, 86–109. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199291236.001.0001

    Develops ideas similar to those of Hawthorne 2008 (cited under Introductory-Level Discussions), but enters into more details on issues of fundamentality and property change. Includes a useful critical assessment of Sider’s “argument from vagueness” (Sider 2001).

  • Sider, Theodore. Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1093/019924443X.001.0001

    Includes sophisticated general discussions of distinctions among endurantism, perdurantism, and stage theory. Proposes a rigorous definition of temporal parts. Critically assesses standard formulations of endurantism as a claim that objects are somehow “wholly present” whenever they are present.

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