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Shedding Light on Time

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

Craig Callender*
London School of Economics
Send requests for reprints to the author, Department of Philosophy, Logic & Scientific Method, The London School of Economics, Houghton St., London WC2A 2AE, U.K.


Throughout this century many philosophers and physicists have gone for the ‘big kill’ regarding tenses. They have tried to show via McTaggart's paradox and special relativity that tenses are logically and physically impossible, respectively. Neither attempt succeeds, though as I argue, both leave their mark. In the first two sections of the paper I introduce some conceptual difficulties for the tensed theory of time. The next section then discusses the standing of tenses in light of special relativity, especially recent work by Stein on the topic. I argue that, Stein's possibility theorem notwithstanding, special relativity is inconsistent with any philosophically interesting conception of tense. Finally, I search for help for tenses in the broader context of quantum theory, Lorentzian interpretations of time dilation/length contraction, and general relativistic spacetimes. I suggest that these avenues do not provide tenses the home for which some have hoped.

Philosophy of Physics and Chemistry
Copyright © 2000 by the Philosophy of Science Association

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