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La métaphysique du temps : perspectives contemporaines

Alexandre Declos
Claudine Tiercelin

II- Sur les ontologies temporelles : présentisme et théorie du bloc en expansion

Presentism and Moderate Presentism: Motivations and Objections

Francesco Orilia


According to presentism, there exists only what exists at the present time. Moderate presentism is a version of presentism that emphasizes that only present events exists and admits, as part of the present, past and future times and non-concrete past and future objects. This paper presents moderate presentism with some new details and defends it from the charge that it is not a form of presentism after all. Then, the paper further motivates moderate presentism by showing how it can tackle a recent objection to presentism regarding temporal change, put forward by Lisa Leininger.

Entrées d'index

Note de l’auteur

Research for this paper has been supported by the PRIN 2017 project The Manifest Image and the Scientific Image, funded by the Italian Ministry for Education, University and Research.

Texte intégral


1In current analytic philosophy of time there are many competing temporal ontologies, most notably presentism and eternalism. According to presentism, there is, in a dynamic fashion, an objective presentness, i.e., there is always an objectively present time, although which time is the present time keeps changing as time goes by. This is often called time passage or temporal change. Moreover, according to presentism, always all things presently exist, or exist at the present time. This is often put by simply saying that all things are present, but I would like to favor the former formulation here, since I want to emphasize the distinction between being present, as property of the present time, and existence at the present time, by virtue of which, something other than the present time, e.g. an event occurring at the present time, may also be said to be present, though, we may concede, in a secondary sense. Thus, according to presentism, there are no merely past or future things, i.e. things that existed or will exist at past or future moments, but do not exist at the present time (here and elsewhere I use “moment” as a synonym of “time”).

2In contrast, according to eternalism, all times are “equally real,” as is often put, where this is taken to imply that there are, in addition to things that exist at the present time, also things that exist at past and future times and do not exist at the present time, i.e., merely past or future things. Eternalism comes in two main varieties, A-eternalism, according to which, there is, as in presentism, an objective presentness that keeps shifting from one time to another, and B-eternalism, which rejects the existence of an objective present, and consequently understands attribution of presentness, pastness and futurity in a subjective or mind-dependent sense. For present purposes, however, this distinction is not important for the most part and therefore I shall usually speak of eternalism, without specifying whether the eternalism in question is of the A or of B sort.

3There are also many different kinds of presentism such as Lucretian presentism (Bigelow 1996), ersatzist presentism (Bourne 2006, Crisp 2007), haecceitistic presentism (Keller 2004), thisness presentism (Ingram 2019). They mainly differ for the types of entities they postulate in order to deal with the notorious truthmaking objection that afflicts presentism. These entities are then typically put to other services to counter other objections, e.g., those based on the problem of accounting for cross-temporal relations or for the meaning of “past-oriented” proper names such “Socrates” or “Napoleon.”

4I myself have proposed over the years a form of presentism, moderate presentism (MP, in short) (Orilia 2012a, 2012b, 2014, 2016). MP deals with the truthmaking problems by appealing to (i) past-tensed and future-tensed properties, such as having been P at time t, where t is a past time, or going to be P at time t, where t is a future time, and (ii) non-concrete objects analogous to those postulated by Williamson (2002, 2013) in his permanentism, i.e. ex-concrete objects and (to a limited extent ) not yet concrete objects. The former are past objects, such as Socrates and Napoleon, which are taken to be still existent now, although as no longer in space and thus without the concreteness they had in the past. The latter are future objects, such as, let us suppose, human outposts on Mars, which are taken to be already existent now, albeit as devoid of the concreteness that they will have in the future. Thus, MP admits the existence of past and future objects that presentism usually does not acknowledge. Moreover, as can be seen from the consideration accorded to past-tensed and future-tensed properties, MP also acknowledges the existence of past and future times, which is typically not admitted by presentists.

5In accepting these past and future objects and times, which we also find in the ontological inventory of the eternalist, MP makes, one could say, some concessions to eternalism (Orilia 2016, 605). I have argued (i) that these concessions allow MP to counter in an interesting way the main objections that presentism has to face (Orilia 2016, §§ 2-3 and §§ 5-6), in particular the above mentioned ones, and (ii) that, despite these concessions, MP preserves the main assets of a presentist view, such as alignment with common sense, endurantist three-dimensional account of objects, open future (Orilia 2016, §4). The main reason why it succeeds in this lies in its rejection of past and future events, and thus I have emphasized that, according to MP, there are only present events (Orilia 2016, §1), meaning by that that there are only events that occur at the present time.

6It seems that MP, besides having to face all the objections that afflict presentism in general, must confront a very specific objection against it, namely that it is not a form of presentism after all. I have noted this in audience reactions after oral presentations and in referees’ comments. Moreover, Lisa Leininger, in an email message of June 29, 2015, comments on MP as follows:

I see it more as having an existing past, albeit a ghostly one, so it’s still not presentism (apologies if you addressed this in the paper and I missed it). Maybe it’s more like a minimalist eternalism than a moderate presentism, and that’s the reason my counterpart in a close world finds it an attractive view.

  • 1 Even though Ingram concedes (2019, 25; and also 37, fn. 19) that presentism might be redefined in a (...)

7Finally, David Ingram (2019, 24) has explicitly ruled out moderate presentism from his survey of presentist positions1:

Francesco Orilia (2016) proposes a view (called ‘moderate presentism’) that accepts non-present objects and other times, although it rejects non-present events (see, also, Orilia 2012). (...) As I see it, endorsing a view like this entails abandoning presentism completely. Any view that requires its adherents to accept the existence of nonpresent entities (objects, times, etc.) is contrary to the ontological scruples of presentism.

8Curiously, however, Ingram (2019, 196-198) classifies as presentism a view that he calls Williamsonian presentism, which to my mind is pretty much like MP, only more concessive to eternalism. Ingram even finds Williamsonian presentism a good competitor in his search for the best form of presentism, even though in the end he prefers his own thisness presentism.

  • 2 That this objection to MP has been brought up may at least in part be my fault, I may have not pres (...)

9In the following, I shall first defend MP from this specific objection to it2, by showing how, despite the concessions to eternalism, it is a form of presentism. In doing so, I shall focus once more on the objection, which all forms of presentism must confront, namely the truthmaking problem. I shall then consider a new objection to presentism, formulated by Leininger (2015) and show how MP can provide an answer to it. According to Ingram (2019, 165), MP evades Leininger’s challenge, by simply not being a version of presentism. Contrariwise, as we shall see, MP can offer its own specific presentist response to the challenge, which provides an additional motivation for MP, besides those I have previously presented. Finally, I shall further clarify MP by comparing it to other views with which it could be confused.

10As can be seen from the quote from Ingram 2019, there are two main obstacles to viewing MP as a form of presentism, namely the existence of “other times”, times other than the present time, and the existence of “non-present objects,” i.e., non-concrete objects. I shall first focus on times, in §1, and I shall then move to non-concrete objects, in §2. I shall then consider Leininger’s objection, in §3, and proceed, in §4, to compare MP to Williamson’s permanentism, Sullivan’s (2012) Minimal A-theory, and the Williamsonian permanentism considered by Ingram.

1. Times and events

  • 3 I neglect details that are not relevant for present purposes.

11Since presentism is committed to the view that only present entities exist, it may seem that it is incompatible with acknowledging the existence of times other than the present time, i.e., past and future times. However, denying the existence of times is difficult. Some A-theorists and presentists in particular may think that a commitment to times can be avoided by a recourse to Prior’s tense operators, such as “it was the case that ...” and “it will be the case that ...” However, an extensive study of the semantics of tensed language, such as that by Ogihara (1996), seems to show that the rich system of natural language tenses, and their interaction with temporal adverbials, can hardly be explained without admitting that the use of tenses hides an implicit quantification on times. In providing a formal language that allows us to represent natural language sentences in a compositional fashion, in the tradition of Montague semantics, Ogihara thus resorts to a language with quantification on times, so as to interpret, e.g., “x was a philosopher”, roughly3 as “t(time(t) & t is earlier than s* & at t x is a philosopher” (where “s*” refers to the speech time). He presents this as a pragmatic choice that “should not be taken as an important theoretical decision”. He explains this as follows (Ogihara, 1996, 28):

This choice of logical language should not be taken as an important theoretical decision. I adopt Montague’s view that a logical representational language is used only for convenience, and it should not be considered to be a “logical form” that mirrors the semantic structure of natural language. The only important issue is whether the language has enough tools to describe the target constructions in natural language, and the reader will find that our notational system is indeed powerful enough for our purposes.

12However, King (2007, 184) points out, correctly in my view, that the matter should not be seen in this instrumentalist way, but rather as an indication that indeed there are times:

Despite Ogihara’s pragmatic, almost instrumentalist, attitude I am inclined to view things rather differently. If the complex temporal facts present in natural language are most readily and easily represented by viewing tenses as involving explicit quantification over time and as expressing relations between times, that is a good reason for thinking that tenses really work this way.

13In sum, it seems as if, by accepting natural language, we implicitly recognize that there are times. This point can be reinforced by noting that we use dates, which are best viewed as terms that refer to times on the basis of a conventional dating system that takes advantage of cyclical natural processes such as the rotation of the earth around the sun, and the assumption that a certain “origin event”, such as the birth of Jesus Christ, has taken place.

14All this does not tell us what times ultimately are, and it is open to the presentist to show that they are presentist-friendly entities after all, despite the fact that, among them, there must be past and future times. It seems to me that Prior (1967, 187ff.) has followed this road by viewing times as special sorts of propositions, world-propositions, which, intuitively, (i) exhaustively represent how the world could be at a given instant, and (ii) are such that they were true, are true, or will be true. The one world-proposition that is true right now is regarded as the present time, whereas the other world-propositions are regarded as past and future times. This however does not mean giving away presentism, for world propositions that are past or future, in that they have been or will be true, are nonetheless present entities; they are taken to exist at the present moment.

15The alternative road for the presentist is to admit “proxy times.” The idea is to claim that there always exists just one time, the present time, which, however, as time goes by, ceases to exist and is replaced by a new present time, while also postulating presently existing entities that go proxy for the past and future times, whose existence is denied by the “proxy presentist” who makes this move. These postulated presently existing entities may be either world-propositions (as in Bourne 2006 and Crisp 2007) or haecceities or thisnesses of past times, as in Keller 2004 and Ingram 2019, respectively. These are properties that were exemplified by past times, when they existed, and that presently exist even though the corresponding past times do not. Haecceities or thisnesses of future times (or future entities in general) are not envisaged, as these special properties are taken to start existing only when the objects they exemplify begin to exist (Ingram 2019, 67). This is a problem, I think, since referents for “future-oriented” dates such “May 23, 2040” seem also to be required. Thus, if the proxy presentist is to take the referents of dates to be not times but proxy times, and haecceities or thisnesses are the proxy times, additional haecceities or thisnesses of future times seem to be required. Be this as it may, to interpret what seems to be natural language’s implicit quantification on times as actually a quantification on proxy times presumably generates many theoretical complications, which the proxy presentists have not explicitly addressed. For, at least to my knowledge, they have not engaged in a detailed account of natural language tenses such as that in Ogihara (1996).

16I thus think that to admit times other than the present time is a better course for the presentist, if they can be taken to be compatible with presentism after all. I also think, however, that there are good reasons to reject the idea that times are world-propositions, as Prior has it (Orilia 2016, §2), and thus MP prefers to view times as sui generis primitive entities, as in a substantivalist account of time. They are taken to be ordered by the earlier/later relation, independently of which time is present; they are past or future depending on whether they are earlier or later than the present time. However, as I shall explain below, this does not prevent MP from taking past and future times to also exist at the present moment, so that their existence is compatible with presentism.

17It should be noted that the view that is typically opposed to substantivalism about times, namely the relationist view, according to which times are classes, or mereological sums, of simultaneous events, is hardly compatible with presentism, since it presupposes the existence of past and future events. For example, a past event such as the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar must be taken to exist, qua member or part of a certain past time. This of course is not a problem for the eternalist, who could then choose this option. The eternalist could also choose the alternative substantivalist option, although usually, in the current debate, they do not make this choice, at least not explicitly. In any case, in talking about eternalism in the following, we may leave this issue open.

18All temporal ontologies typically recognize that there are events, understood as the entities that occur at times. MP conceives of events as consisting of the exemplification by something, x, of a property, P, call this the event /Px\; or the exemplification by a number of things of a relation, e.g., the exemplification by x and y of R, which we may call /Rxy\ (for simplicity, I shall focus in the following on examples with events that involve properties; generalizing to events involving relations is obvious). Events, as so understood, occur at a certain moment, but do not depend, for their individuation, on the moment at which they occur; that is, they may recur, occur at different times (Chisholm 1970). According to a different conception of events, defended by Kim (1976), the moment at which an event occurs contributes to the individuation of the event, which can be seen as the exemplification of a property P by something, x, at a certain time, t; an event which we may represent as /t-Px\. It should be clear that events of this sort are unrepeatable, they cannot recur. If x exemplifies P first at time t and then at time t’, a certain event, /t-Px\, is followed by a distinct event, /t’-Px\. The conception of events as repeatable, accepted by MP (and acceptable by any form of presentism), seems to me preferable, as it is more in line with our ordinary beliefs. We say for example that a certain event, say John’s meeting Mary, has occurred four times. As we shall see, the conception of events as unrepeatable seems more adequate to eternalism in general and to its permanentist version by Williamson, and I shall thus associate it to them (supporters of these views may prefer conceptions of unrepeatable events different from the one proposed by Kim, e.g. the one by Davidson (1969), but for our purposes nothing hinges on this).

19Once events and times are admitted, all temporal ontologies may agree that events exist at the moments in which they occur. As we shall see, in Williamson’s permanentism, events also exist at moments different from those at which they occur. According to MP, however, and, I’d say, according to any form of presentism, there is only one moment at which events occur, namely the present time, which is also the only time at which they exist. All the other times, the ones that are earlier or later than the present time, are, we could say, “empty,” as there are no times that occur at them. On the other hand, as is often put, presentism is a dynamic theory of time. Accordingly, MP acknowledges that the present time changes, i.e., which time is the present time constantly changes. In other words, which time is the time that contains events constantly changes, and this is precisely what the passage of time amounts to. For instance, a certain time, t, is present, thus containing all the events there are, and then a later time, t’, is present, thus coming to contain all the events there are, presumably different ones, and t becomes past, and empty, devoid of any event.

  • 4 We should not understand

20Since there are no events that occur at past or future times, there are, according to MP, no past or future events. In contrast, there are such events for the eternalist. Let us suppose, for example, that Mary felt tired at the past moment t1, that she does not feel tired now, at the present moment t2, and that she will feel tired at the future moment t3. If so, according to the eternalist, there are, presumably, three distinct unrepeatable events, /t1-Tm\, /t2-Tm\, /t3-Tm\, occurring at t1, t2, t3, respectively, and consisting of the exemplification of being tired by Mary at t1, t2, t3, respectively. According to MP, in contrast, at t1 there existed the event /Tm\, consisting of the exemplification of being tired by Mary, but now, at t2, there is no such event, although it will exist again at t3. However, there are repeatable events that, so to speak, go proxy for the unreapeatable past or future events postulated by eternalism. As we shall see in the next two sections, these events allow MP to solve the truthmaker problem, and are also involved in a reply to a component of Leininger’s objection. We may call them secondary, in order to distinguish them from the garden-variety repeatable events that we discussed so far, such as /Tm\, which we may call primary. This is the idea. If at the present time, t, there occurs a certain primary event, /Px\, then, by virtue of this, at all subsequent times, x will have the timed past-tensed property of having been P at time t. That is, at all subsequent times, when they become present, there will occur a secondary event consisting of the exemplification by x of the past-oriented property in question (I call a property of this sort timed since it involves a time as a constituent, time t in this case). This secondary event, which we may call past-oriented, goes proxy for a corresponding past event that we find in eternalism. For example, by virtue of the fact that at t1 Mary felt tired, there is now, at t2, the past oriented event consisting of the exemplification of the property of having felt tired at t1 by Mary. Such an event, we may say, goes proxy for the past event /t1-Tm\, postulated by eternalism4. Additionally, MP may acknowledge timed future-tensed properties such as the property of going to be P at time t, where t is a future time, which are exemplified by something, x, to the extent that it is already determined, given the present state of the world and the laws of nature, that x will be P at time t. The exemplification by x of a future-tensed property is a future-oriented secondary event, which goes proxy for a future event postulated by eternalism. For example, assuming it is already determined, now, at t2, that Mary will feel tired at t3, then there now exists the secondary future-oriented event consisting of the exemplification by Mary of the property of going to be tired at t3, which in a sense goes proxy for the future event /t3-Tm\, postulated by the eternalist. Here it is important to emphasize that MP does not admit future-oriented events for any future events postulated by eternalism, in order to leave room for the idea that not all future events are already determined; in other words, for the idea that the future is open.

  • 5 By building on this point I have developed an argument for the moral or existential desirability of (...)

21In order to fully grasp the crucial difference between admitting a past or future event and admitting a past- or future-oriented secondary event, it is useful to concentrate on an event involving a sentient being such as Mary and properties of sentient beings that entail pleasure or pain. Suppose Mary had a terrible toothache at t1, she feels joyful now at t2, and will have again a terrible toothache at t3. Let us also imagine, to make the point more vivid, that Mary is the only sentient being in the universe. From the eternalist point of view, there is (tenselessly speaking) pleasure in the universe, because of Mary’s feeling joyful at t1, but there is also pain, because of the existence of the two events of Mary’s having a terrible toothache at t1, and Mary’s having a terrible toothache at t3. In contrast, from the point of view of MP, there is only the pleasure due to Mary’s feeling joyful at t2, since the times t1, and are t3 empty. There are to be sure, at t2, the two secondary events of Mary’s having felt a terrible headache at t1, and Mary’s going to feel a terrible toothache at t3 (assuming it is determined at t2 that she will have a terrible headache at t3), but such events do not involve the existence of any pain. They are simply “marks,” so to speak, that signal that there was or there will be pain, but by themselves they do not entail any pain. Indeed, Mary need not even be conscious or sentient in exemplifying properties such as having felt a terrible headache at t1, and going to feel a terrible toothache at t3, whereas of course she must be conscious or sentient in exemplifying having a terrible headache5.

22As noted, times are ordered by the earlier/later relation. This must be taken for granted because time has, as is often put, a “direction”, which clearly distinguishes it from space. Moreover, this leads us to say that that there are temporal order states of affairs (or facts), as we may call them, of the kind t is earlier than t’, where t and t’ are times. The eternalists may consider these states of affairs as timeless, as occurring at no times. This may seem a plausible choice. These states of affairs, one could say, come to constitute temporal order and are thus presupposed in the occurrence of events at the times at which they occur. However, from a presentist perspective, one may well say that temporal order facts occur, just like the primary and secondary events just discussed, at the present moment (so that temporal order facts are themselves events). A primary event such as Mary’s sleeping, occurs, as time goes by, at the present moment, thus abandoning the earlier moments that it occupied while they were present. Analogously, a temporal order fact, such as t1’s being earlier than t2, occurs, as time goes by, at the present moment, thus abandoning the earlier moments that it occupied while they were present. There is a difference of course in that Mary’s sleeping ceases to exist when Mary wakes up, whereas any temporal order fact never ceases to exist, and thus, according to this picture, the present moment always contains all the temporal order facts. Thus, times, qua constituents of temporal order facts, which always occur at the present time, always exist at the present time. Except for the present time, they are also past or future, in that they are earlier or later than the present time, but nonetheless they are not merely past or future, since they exist at the present time.

23There is wrinkle here to be considered. If a past time t is present, in that it exists at the present time, isn’t it simultaneous with the present moment? If so, it cannot also be earlier than the present moment. The reply is that the notion of simultaneity should not be applied to times but to events, which are simultaneous if and only if they occur at the same time. Since for the presentist there are only present events, all events are simultaneous, but for the eternalist who admits past and future events, there are non-simultaneous events, events that occur at different times. MP can “simulate” non-simultaneous events by appealing to past- or future-tensed properties. For example, we could say that an event such as x’s having been F at t1 is “earlier” than another event such as y’s having been G at t2 if and only if t1 is earlier than t2.

24Thus, all times, qua constituents of temporal order facts that always occur at the present time, exist at the present time, and thus are temporal, rather than timeless, entities, as the eternalist may take them. The presentist may say something similar of abstract entities such as numbers. That is, the presentist may take mathematical facts as always occurring at the present time and thus view the constituents of such facts, e.g. numbers, as existing at the present times. This move is not usually considered obligatory for being considered a presentist. That is, a presentist is allowed to (implicitly) restrict the claim that all things exist at the present time to things that are not abstract. In line with this, some presentists consider abstract entities as timeless or at least are agnostic about this. However, it seems better to me to take even abstract entities to be temporal, as this choice makes for a more economical ontology, according to which all entities are temporal.

2. Non-concrete objects and the truthmaker problem

25The acceptance of non-concrete objects certainly differentiates MP from typical versions of presentism. However, MP admits such objects in a way that also clearly differentiates it from eternalism, as this is typically understood (albeit not, as we shall see, from Williamson’s permanentism, which is a form of eternalism). In eternalism, as this is typically understood, there are past and future objects, such as dinosaurs, or (let us assume) human outposts on Mars, that are temporally located at past or future times, but not at the present time, and thus are merely past or future objects. It is true that, where the eternalist admits a certain past or future object, the moderate presentist correspondingly admits a certain ex-concrete object or (at least in some cases) a certain not yet concrete object. However, these objects acknowledged by the moderate presentist are not temporally located at past or future times. They are rather temporally located at the present time and are thus fully compatible with presentism. We may say they are past or future in that they existed or will exist, and were concrete and will be concrete, but they are not merely past or future, since they also presently exist. Similarly, any ordinary object currently existing, say the laptop on which I am now writing, is past and future in that it has existed and will also exist (at least for a while), but it also presently exists and thus is not merely past or future. To be sure, non-concrete objects are very different from concrete ordinary objects, since they are no longer located in space, and have no property that requires location in space to be instantiated, but are nonetheless temporally located at the present time.

26Let us now see how non-concrete objects can be used to solve the truthmaker problem. This is the problem for presentism to provide truthmakers for true past-tensed and future-tensed propositions, given the constraint that there are only present entities; so that the presentist cannot appeal to past or future events to do the job. Usually, the sample sentences considered in discussing this problem do not involve dates, e.g. they are sentences such as “Socrates was a philosopher” or “there will be outposts on Mars.” These examples however do not make it clear how the presentist accounts for dates and whether in the light of them she is willing to accept times, as I think it should. I shall thus rather consider past-tensed and future-tensed sentences with dates. By focusing on them, we shall see how non-concrete objects, together with timed past- and future- tensed properties, allow MP to solve the truthmaker problem.

27Here are the sentences to be used for illustration:

(1) Napoleon was a baby on August 20, 1769 at noon.

(2) Novo will have mass m* on August 25, 2060 at noon.

28We know (1) to be true and we take (2) to also be true, under the supposition that it is already determined, given the current state of the world, and the laws of nature, that a new planet, Novo, will come to exist, and that it will have mass m* on August 25, 2060 at noon. According to MP, Napoleon still exists, even though he is now an ex-concrete object. As such, he can no longer have properties such as being a man or being a general, although he has past-tensed properties such as having been a man or having been a general. And he also has timed past-tensed properties such as having been a baby at time August 20, 1769, noon. Accordingly, there is now the secondary event consisting of Napoleon’s having this timed property, and this provides, according to MP, the truthmaker for the proposition expressed by (1). MP offers a similar story regarding (2). Novo already exists, although as a non-concrete object. As such it cannot have the property of being a planet or having a mass. Given that certain facts are already determined, it has however future-tensed properties such as going to be a planet or going to have a mass, and in particular also the timed property going to have mass m* at time August 25, 2060, noon.

3. Leininger’s objection concerning temporal change

29Lisa Leininger (2015) has argued that presentism cannot account for temporal change and thus for the passage of time (which is based on temporal change). She takes presentism to be committed both to the Present Thesis, i.e., that only what is present exists, so that past and future moments do not exist, and to the Change Thesis, according to which what is present changes, so that there is a difference in what exists from moment to moment (2015, 726). Given the former, she claims, the latter cannot be embraced, since, for there to be a difference between two successive moments, both must exist. This seems to be an instance of the general principle that for a relation between two entities x and y to hold, both entities must exist. In this case, if the difference relation holds between a moment x and a successive moment y, then both x and y must exist.

30Leininger thus seems to demand that, for there to be temporal change, there must be successive times. But this is only a first demand. Elsewhere in the paper she makes a second demand, which allegedly the presentist cannot meet, when she says that the presentist “must preclude the possibility of a one-instant world,” i.e., “a world in which there were no events preceding the present moment and there will be no events following the present moment (…) a persisting object,” since this is required for “temporal change” (Leininger 2015, 733). Here the demand is that the world be a persisting object, where this is taken to have two consequences, namely that (i) there were previous moments, there is now a present moment and there will be successive moments, and (ii) there were events at these previous moments and there will be events at these future moments.

31Let us see what MP can say in reply to these demands. As regards the first demand, MP can concede that for there to be change there must be successive times, but it can deny that the existence of successive times is incompatible with presentism. The alleged incompatibility arises from the acceptance of the Present Thesis, as formulated by Leininger, i.e., as the thesis that takes for granted that past and future moments cannot also be present. However, as we saw in the previous section, this is wrong, for past and future times can be regarded as present qua existing at the present time, and thus though past or future, not merely past or future. Hence, MP rejects a part of Leininger’s Present Thesis, while saving the part that simply asserts the presentist claim that only what is present exists. MP is then free to grant, while remaining presentist, that the change thesis requires the existence of successive moments in a way that involves a difference in what exists from moment to moment. And what this difference amounts to is clear from the point of view of MP: only the present moment is the one that contains events, so that, as one moment becomes the present moment, it changes by coming to contain all the events, while what was previously the present moment becomes empty, in fact while all other moments are empty, i.e., without any event in them.

32As regards the second demand, recall that it involves two parts, one concerning times, and one concerning events As regards the first part, MP can acknowledge that there were previous moments, there is now a present moment and there will be successive moments, since by granting an objective presentness that shifts from one moment to another, MP can speak in this tensed way, which can be taken to amount to this: it was true that there are moments that are earlier than the present moment, it is true that there is now a present moment, and it will be true that there are moments later than the present moment. As regards the second part, which demands that there were events at past moments and that there will be events at past moments, MP can counter that this is granted by the existence at the present time of secondary events. We saw that a secondary event involving a timed past-tensed property such as having been F at past time t comes to exist only to the extent that there was at time t a primary event involving the property of being F. That is, for there to be a secondary event of this sort, time t must not have been empty, i.e. there must have been a primary event occurring at it. And, similarly, to the extent that it is determined that there will be some future primary events, the present existence of a secondary event involving a timed future-tensed property such as going to be F at future time t grants that there will be primary events at future times.

33Leininger argues that a presentist that appeals to proxy times, or “surrogates” in her terminology, cannot succeed in complying with the change thesis, where this is supposed to be shown by the fact that such a presentist cannot pass the One Instant Test (Leininger 2015, 733), namely:

(OIT) Suppose that God creates only this one instant, exactly as it is NOW. Is he able to create—in this one instant—the relevant ingredients by which the presentist establishes temporal change?

If the answer is ‘No’, then the presentist passes the OIT (...) If the answer to the question posed by the OIT is ‘Yes’, then the presentist fails the OIT.

  • 6 I explain this in more detail in Orilia (2016, 603) where I call law of history the metaphysical ne (...)

34The idea here is that God could have created the world right now, with all the proxy times in it, so that the existence of these proxy times does not guarantee that there were past times. As noted above, secondary events go proxy for the past and future events postulated by the eternalists. Thus, one may worry that MP similarly cannot account for the second part of Leininger’s second demand, since God could have created the world right now, with secondary events in it, without it being the case that there were corresponding primary events at past times. But this cannot really be the case, since, necessarily, for there to be the secondary events, the primary events must have occurred. There is, we may say, a metaphysical necessity at play, that not even God can infringe; similarly, not even God can make it the case that 2+2=56.

35As anticipated in the introduction, Ingram (2019, 165) considers how MP stands with respect to Leininger’s challenge to presentism and concludes that MP does not really confront this challenge. The reason would be that the challenge regards the compatibility of the present thesis and the change thesis, and MP rejects the present thesis, since MP is not really a form of presentism (Ingram, 2019, 165). We saw that MP is a form of presentism, which, as such, does not reject the part of Leininger’s present thesis that simply says that only what is present exists (understanding “is present” as “exists at the present moment”). What MP rejects is the other part of the thesis, according to which past and future moments do not exist. And it rejects it, because it does not take past and future moments to be merely past or future. Thus, as we have seen, MP can provide an interesting presentist reply to the objection.

4. Other views with non-concrete objects

36To shed further light on MP, it is useful to compare it to other temporal ontologies that appeal to non-concrete objects, namely Williamson’s permanentism, Sullivan’s Minimal A-theory, and the Williamsonian presentism considered by Ingram.

37Permanentism is defined by Williamson (2013, 18) as the thesis that always everything always exists. It is opposed by him to temporaryism, according to which, sometime there is something that sometime does not exist. Williamson explains that, according to permanentism, nothing ever ceases to exist, and nothing really new comes into being. However, concrete things may become non-concrete, and non-concrete things become concrete. Thus, for example, it is not the case that a coin that was destroyed in 1789 no longer exists. It is rather the case that it has become non-concrete and thus it is no longer located in space. Similarly, it is not the case that a coin that will be created in 2090 does not yet exist. It is rather the case that it is not yet concrete, and thus it is not located in space. As Williamson (2013, 13) tells us: “Where is the past or future coin now? ... Nowhere”. In acknowledging objects that were concrete and are now non-concrete, MP is of course similar to permanentism. However, contrary to MP, in permanentism no new objects really come to exist. As we saw, MP denies this, in making room for an open future; according to MP, it is only when it is already determined that there will be a certain concrete object, that a not yet concrete object is taken to exist now. Moreover, according to permanentism, not only objects, but also events, never cease to exist or come to exist. Rather, events become non-concrete, after having been concrete, or become concrete after having been non-concrete. As Williamson puts it, “an event is something before and after it occurs, but perhaps it is concrete only while it is occurring” (2013, 13). In this, MP is radically different from permanentism, for according to MP events exist only when they are occurring, namely at the present time.

  • 7 Although the presentist/eternalist dispute is rejected as ill-founded by Williamson (2013, § 1.6), (...)

38The most crucial difference is that permanentism, contrary to MP, is a form of eternalism. The claim that always everything always exists, as I think Williamson intends it, says that, for every time t, for every x, if x is temporally located at t, then, for every time t’, x is also temporally located at t’. Thus, for example, given that Napoleon is temporally located at all past times in which he is concrete, he is also located at any other time, except that in these other times he is not concrete. Among these times there is the present time, and thus MP and permanentism agree that Napoleon is temporally located (as non-concrete) at the present time. However, according to permanentism, Napoleon is also temporally located at other times, in particular at all those times in which he was alive. This makes permanentism a form of eternalism, albeit different from a typical eternalism, according to which Napoleon is temporally located only at those times in which he was alive7.

39We may further note that, like MP, Williamson’s permanentism is explicitly committed to times (2013, 376ff.) and, though perhaps tentatively, admits an objectively present time (2013, 369). Thus, his permanentism is, we may say, an A-permanentism. Presumably, as in MP, all times exist at the present time, given the permanentist thesis that always everything (including times, I suppose), always exists. However, Williamson does not say anything explicit about this.

40Sullivan’s (2012) minimal A-theory claims to accept, like Williamson’s permanentism, the thesis that “everything always exist” (2012, 149) (the thesis is not prefixed with an “always,” as in Williamson, but presumably this “always” is implicit). She thus endorses objects that come to lose a spatiotemporal location in order to claim that objects never cease to exist. That is, when we ordinarily would say that a certain object has ceased to exist, then, according to Sullivan’s view, this object has rather lost a spatiotemporal location. Hence, Sullivan has non-concrete objects pretty much as both MP and Williamson’s permanentism. It is not clear whether Sullivan admits non-concrete events like Williamson or rather denies them like MP, for she says nothing explicit about events. Be this as it may, despite Sullivan’s claim that everything always exists, and her telling us that her view is permanentist like Williamson’s and not committed to presentism (2012, 153), she seems to take all objects to exist only at the present time, for Sullivan (2012, 167) says something similar to what, as we have seen, MP says about the emptiness of times other than the present:

How do we account for the ‘‘flow of time’’ on the new theory? One and only one region of spacetime has a special, complex temporary property—it is the only region that figures in any (untensed) location relations. Other times were locations of objects or will be locations of objects, but temporarily are not locations of anything.

41This suggests that, contrary to Williamson, and in analogy with MP, she does not take non-concrete objects to exist at those times at which they were or will be concrete. Be this as it may, all spacetime regions are taken by Sullivan to permanently exist (2012, 167) without existing, as I understand her, at the present time, and presumably this is why Sullivan does not advertise her position as a form of presentism.

42The way in which I have interpreted Sullivan’s view suggests that the permanentist thesis that always everything always exist could be understood in a way quite different from Williamson, i.e., not as the thesis that at all times there are the same objects, as Williamson has it, but rather as the thesis that (i) if it was true that a thing is temporally located at a certain time t, then it is located at the present time (without also being located at other times) and it will be true that it is temporally located at any later time, and (ii) if it will be true that a thing is temporally located at a future time, then it is located at the present time (without also being located at other times) and it was true that it is temporally located at any earlier time. MP accepts (i), provided it is read as restricted to objects. The Williamsonian presentism discussed by Ingram (2019, ch. 10, § 2) is presumably a view that accepts both (i) and (ii), as I gather from the discussion of Ingram (2019, 196), although he expresses it as follows: “everything always exists, but everything that exists is present. Only present entities exist, but some of the presently existing entities are non-concrete past and future entities” (2019, 197). It is ironic that Ingram considers this view, but not MP, a form of presentism. Perhaps it is because Williamsonian presentism is not committed to other times, times other than the present time. If so, the label “Williamsonian” may be misleading, because, as we saw, Williamson’s permanentism is committed to times. Be this as it may, we saw that MP’s acceptance of other times is compatible with presentism, and, I now want to add, MP is a better form of presentism than Williamsonian presentism.

43I shall give three reasons for this. First, we saw the usefulness of accepting times, which MP acknowledges and Williamsonian presentism presumably rejects. Second point. For Ingram, as for most of us, “entity” is an all-encompassing term and thus, I take it, Williamsonian presentism acknowledges, contrary to MP, non-concrete events. I think this is a bad choice. On the one hand, since events are exemplification of properties by objects, it is unclear what it could be for an event to be non-concrete. The perplexity comes to the surface especially if we consider events involving sentience. If John had a toothache, there was the event consisting of his exemplifying the property of having a toothache, which entails the presence of some pain in the world. Correspondingly, there should now be the non-concrete event of John’s exemplifying the property of having a toothache. Does this entail the presence of pain in the world? Perhaps no, because of the non-concreteness of the event, but how is this possible if the event is an exemplification of the property of having a toothache? Can one exemplify having a toothache, without being in pain? The third point regards the open future. As we saw, MP grants it and accordingly admits not yet concrete objects only to a limited extent. On the contrary, the plethora of not yet concrete entities, both objects and events, amounts to giving away the open future, as Ingram emphasizes (2019, 19).


44I hope I have shown that MP is a form of presentism, and I also hope I have added to the reasons already adduced in previous works further reasons to think that MP is an interesting competitor in the presentist marketplace, and more generally in the marketplace of temporal ontologies. Ingram (2019, 197) acknowledges that Williamsonian presentism is a “plausible alternative” to the option he favors, namely thisness presentism. He thinks so basically for two reasons: (i) Williamsonian presentism’s dismissal of the open future (2019, 197), and (ii) its inability to cope with Leininger’s objection regarding temporal change (2019, 198). As explained in the previous section, MP is similar to Williamsonian permanentism, but has room for the open future. Moreover, as we saw in §3, MP can deal with Leininger’s objection. MP indeed seems to be a good competitor.

I have presented a version of this work at the conference La métaphysique du temps. Perspectives contemporaines, at the Collège de France, Paris, October 3-4, 2019, without the content of §4, which was omitted for lack of time. This material has instead been presented in a lecture at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Milan, on December 2, 2016. I wish to thank both audiences for their valuable comments.


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1 Even though Ingram concedes (2019, 25; and also 37, fn. 19) that presentism might be redefined in a more liberal way so as to classify MP and other views as presentist.

2 That this objection to MP has been brought up may at least in part be my fault, I may have not presented MP with sufficient clarity. This paper is a chance to remedy.

3 I neglect details that are not relevant for present purposes.

4 We should not understand

(1) x’s having been F at t


(1a) x’s being F at t & t is earlier than the present moment.

We may instead say that “having been” expresses a past-tensed copula or exemplification, PE, linking x, F and t, so that we have the following fact occurring at the present moment:

(1b) PE(F, x, t).

5 By building on this point I have developed an argument for the moral or existential desirability of presentism, sketched in Orilia (2012a) and presented in detail in Orilia (2016b). There are similar ideas in Mullins (2014). In essence, the argument is this. There is a pro-presentist annihilation argument:

(P1) Absence of sorrow is existentially preferable to occurrence of sorrow;

(P2) if there were past sorrowful events, then: (i) they are part of reality, if the world is eternalist; (ii) they are not, if the world is presentist;

(P3) there were sorrowful events;


(PC) a presentist world is existentially preferable to an eternalist world.

There is also a pro-eternalist preservation argument:

(E1) Occurrence of joy is existentially preferable to absence of joy;

(E2) if there were past joyful events, then: (i) they are part of reality, if the world is eternalist; (ii) they are not, if the world is presentist;

(E3) there were joyful events;


(EC) an eternalist world is existentially preferable to a presentist world.

How shall we choose? Or can we choose? Are these arguments equally powerful? The powerful demon analogy may help. Imagine that a powerful and eccentric demon will flip a coin with this intention: if the outcome is cross, he will bring about that a number of people will enjoy an extraordinarily pleasant experience and that someone will suffer excruciating pain; if the outcome is head, he will do nothing. Do you hope for cross or head? It seems clear that most of us would hope that the outcome is head: it is preferable not to have an unfortunate fellow in excruciating pain, even though nobody will enjoy the extraordinarily pleasant experience. Analogously, a presentist world is better than an eternalist world: we should seemingly prefer a world in which all past sorrowful events are no part of reality, even if this means that all past joyful events are similarly erased. See Graziani (forthcoming) for a critical discussion, to which I plan to react in a future work.

6 I explain this in more detail in Orilia (2016, 603) where I call law of history the metaphysical necessity in question. Ingram (2019, ch. 8) similarly appeals to metaphysical necessity in order to claim that his thisness presentism passes the one instant test. For he relies on the notion of non-rigid ontological dependence (2019, 67), involving a “necessarily” which I take is to be read in terms of metaphysical necessity. I worry however that his idea that a thisness x non-rigidly ontologically depends on the item y of which it a thisness creates a problem for Ingram’s presentist scruples. Thisnesses are supposed to exist after the items on which they depend have ceased to exist and yet they are in a relation of non-rigid ontological dependence. Moreover, as noted above, instant presentism does not envisage thisnesses of future times and thus it is not clear how it can meet the part of Leininger’s second demand concerning future times and events.

7 Although the presentist/eternalist dispute is rejected as ill-founded by Williamson (2013, § 1.6), because of the triviality argument against both. For my reply to the triviality argument, see Graziani and Orilia (2019).


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