Skip to main content

Time and Existence

  • Genevieve Lloyd (a1)

Much debate in contemporary metaphysics of time has centred on whether or not tense is essential to the understanding of a temporal reality. The rival positions in this debate are associated with two very different pictures of the relationship between time and existence. Those who argue for the dispensability of tense see the phenomenon of tense as an epistemological accretion which infects our perception of the world but is in no way essential to a complete description of reality. With respect to existence, things past and future are supposed to be on an equal footing with things present. Thus the Quinean ‘time slice’ ontology, which sees the world as a four-dimensional entity in space-time, repudiates any ontological significance to the differences between past, present and future. For the Quinean, what differences we see between past, present and future existents pertain to our limited mode of access to reality. In a perception which grasped the world as it really is tense differences would have no place. In this respect the Quinean position resembles Spinoza's claim in the Ethics that in so far as the mind conceives a thing under the dictates of reason it is affected equally, whether the idea be of a thing future, past or present.

Hide All

1 Word and Object, §36.

2 Ethics, Part IV, Prop. lxii.

3 See especially Prior A. N., Time and Modality (Oxford, 1968), 2636; Papers on Time and Tense (Oxford, 1968), Papers VII and VIII; Past, Present and Future (Oxford, 1968), Ch. 8. Dummett M., ‘A Defence of McTaggart's Proof of the Unreality of Time’, Philosophical Review 69 (1960); ‘The Reality of the Past’, P.A.S. LXIX (19681969); Frege: Philosophy of Language (Duckworth, 1973), Ch. 11.

4 Geach P. T., ‘Form and Existence’, P.A.S. 55 (19541955).

5 Dummett M., Frege: Philosophy of Language (Duckworth, 1973), 386.

6 Ibid., 387.

7 Philosophical Investigations I, 40.

8 ‘Naming and Necessity’, in Harman and Davidson (eds), Semantics of Naturai Language, 312 if.

9 See Dummett , op. cit., Appendix to Ch. 5.

10 McTaggart J., The Nature of Existence (Cambridge, 1927).

11 Prior A. N., Time and Modality (Oxford, 1968), 29.

12 Ibid., 27.

13 Ibid., 26.

14 Prior A. N., Past, Present and Future (Oxford, 1968), 151.

15 ‘Thank Goodness That's Over’, Philosophy 34 (1959), 17 n.

16 See ‘On Spurious Egocentricity’ in Papers on Time and Tense.

17 Ibid., 20–22.

18 Peirce C. S., Collected Papers 4, 172.

19 Past, Present aud Future, 171.

20 Augustine , Confessions, Book XI.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 6 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 161 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.