Presentism Workshop

The Present State of Presentism

A one-day workshop at the University of Bristol.

Tuesday 8th March, 2011. 12:30-16:00.

Philosophy Common Room, 9 Woodland Road, Bristol. BS8 1TB.



Christian Wüthrich (California, San Diego)

Oliver Pooley (Oxford)

Matt Farr (Bristol)


This workshop assesses the current status of presentism – the thesis that only present events exist – in light of logical and scientific objections. All are welcome, especially those working in philosophy of time and/or philosophy of physics, and attendance is free. Please email matt.farr  [AT] if you intend to attend.



12:30 – 13:20    Matt Farr, ‘Temporal Ontology on the Two-Time Framework’

13:30 – 14:35    Oliver Pooley, ‘Physically Respectable Alternatives to the Block Universe’

14:45 – 15:50    Christian Wüthrich, ‘The fate of presentism in modern physics’



Matt Farr – ‘Temporal Ontology on the Two-Time Framework’

There is a recent literature against the claim that presentism and eternalism are substantially distinct metaphysical positions. This paper provides a new perspective on this ‘triviality’ objection by focusing on the presentist’s commitment to a dynamic present moment. I argue that the commitment to a moving present entails a commitment to a supertemporal dimension. Using a model with two temporal dimensions, I provide new accounts of presentism and eternalism that differ in a metaphysically substantial way, and argue that only if the (dynamic) presentist commits to ‘superpresentism’ can she maintain a genuine dispute with the eternalist. I argue that such a position is untenable for several reasons, and thus argue that the dispute between presentists and eternalists is not metaphysically substantial.


Oliver Pooley – ‘Physically Respectable Alternatives to the Block Universe’

Can the presentist or, more generally, the A-theorist resist the B-theorist's block universe conception of reality other than by postulating a preferred foliation of spacetime that has little or nothing to do with physics?  It would seem that the A-theorist has two options:  (1) argue that there is a preferred foliation that is of central importance to physics or (2) somehow be an A-theorist without postulating a preferred foliation.  I will explore the viability of both options.


Christian Wüthrich – “The fate of presentism in modern physics"

There has recently been a remarkable resurgence of presentism in the philosophy of time. What is of particular interest in this renaissance is that a number of recent arguments supporting presentism are crafted in an untypically naturalistic vein, breathing new life into a metaphysics of time with a bad track record of co-habitation with modern physics. Against this trend, I will argue that the pressure on presentism exerted by special relativity and its core lesson of Lorentz symmetry cannot easily be shirked. A categorization of presentist responses to this pressure is offered. As a case in point, I analyze a recent argument by Monton (2006) presenting a case for the compatibility of presentism with quantum gravity. Monton claims that this compatibility arises because there are quantum theories of gravity that use fixed foliations of spacetime and that such fixed foliations provide a natural home for a metaphysically robust notion of the present. A careful analysis leaves Monton’s argument wanting. In sum, the prospects of presentism to be alleviated from the stress applied by fundamental physics are faint.