The Objectivity of the Distinction between Past, Present and Future
Probably most contemporary philosophers (e.g., Donaldson, Smart, Russell, Quine, Grünbaum, Sellars) who have considered the problem have held that tenses were eliminable from any language concerned with mathematics or with ‘objective reality’ and correspondingly that the ideas of ‘temporal passage’, temporal direction and an objective distinction between past, present and future were spurious. A. N. Prior is a notable exception, as is Reichenbach in certain respects. I have said “held” rather than “argued for” since it seems to be a peculiarity of this particular dispute that explicit arguments are rarely appealed to: those who favour the view that the past-present-future distinction (as it is ordinarily used — not as it is used in Minkowski diagrams) is subjective, generally simply point out that it plays no role (or no transparent role at least) in certain physical theories, e.g., in Newtonian Mechanics or in Special Relativity and, given certain assumptions, that any particular tensed proposition can be translated into a tenseless one. Grünbaum argues in much greater detail that the past-present-future distinction is subjective. My intention in this chapter is to argue for Prior’s position (broadly speaking) and against Grünbaum’s, but to avoid misunderstanding certain distinctions should be clearly noted right at the outset.
KeywordsPerceptual Time Specious Present Ordinary Language Mental Time Indexical Expression
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