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A Tenseless Account of the Presence of Experience

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A Tenseless Account of the Presence of Experience
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  Penultimate draft of a paper that appeared in  Philosophical Studies   129 (2006): 441-476 A TENSELESS ACCOUNT OF THE PRESENCE OF EXPERIENCEBy J OSHUA M. M OZERSKY Department of PhilosophyQueen’s UniversityKingston, Ontario K7L 3N6Canada Tel.: (613) 533-2182Fax: (513) 533-6545E-mail: mozersky@post.queensu.ca A BSTRACT  Tenseless theories of time entail that the only temporal propertiesexemplified by events are earlier than, simultaneous with , and later than . Such an account seems to conflict with our common experienceof time, which suggests that the present moment is ontologicallyunique and that time flows. Some have argued that only a tensedaccount of time, one in which  past, present  and future are objectiveproperties, can do justice to our experience. Any theory that claimsthat the world is different from how we experience it must nonethelessbe consistent with the having of that experience. Accordingly, in thisessay I defend the tenseless theory by arguing that it can indeed  account for certain key features of our experience of time withoutrecourse to tensed properties. 2  A TENSELESS ACCOUNT OF THE PRESENCE OF EXPERIENCE1. Introduction In what follows I examine the prospect of defending a tenseless or ‘B-series’ account of time from a particular challenge. The tenselesstheory I wish to defend is austere. It entails that the only temporalproperties exemplified by events are the relations earlier than , later than and simultaneous with . 1 In particular, tensed or ‘A-series’ termssuch as ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’ 2 either fail to refer or in factfunction to ascribe some combination of tenseless relations. 3 Thereare, in other words, no such monadic properties as being  past  ,  present  or future . Claims such as ‘1945 is past’ or ‘2045 is future’ can be true,but their truth conditions must be spelled out only in tenseless terms(for how this can be done see Mozersky 2001). The challenge I wish to consider is that manifested by consciousexperience. Two elements of such experience appear to be relevant.First, the present is experientially privileged in that we are only evercapable of experiencing that which occurs in the present. To put thisobservation another way, though we may know all week that themovie and Friday, 1:00 p.m. are simultaneous, when we learn thatFriday, 1:00 p.m. is present and, therefore, that the movie starts nowwe seem to learn a new fact. Accordingly, tenseless relations cannotbe all there is to time and the best explanation of the presence of  1  experience is that the present is ontologically privileged, more realthan other times.Secondly, as we interact with the world it appears as if time, insome non-metaphorical sense, passes; what was future becomespresent and then past. However, since tenseless relations arepermanent—if ‘  x  is earlier than (or later than or simultaneous with)  y  ’is true, then it is always true—the B-series lacks the conceptualresources to describe either the ontological uniqueness of the presentor temporal passage. For if it is never false that  x  is earlier than (laterthan or simultaneous with)  y  , how can there be time at which either  x  or  y  fails to exist? 4 Furthermore, if temporal relations are temporallyinvariant, how can it be that any one time, t  , changes from beingfuture to present to past?So the question becomes, can the tenseless theory of timeaccount for the obvious facts of human temporal experience? It doesno good to deny that we have such experiences. Their occurrence is,as Richard Taylor puts it, a Datum (Taylor 1992). Rather, ametaphysical theory must be able to explain why it is we have theexperiences we do as they are the starting points for investigation intothe world. 5  In this paper I focus on the presence of experience. I wish topresent a tenseless explanation of why it is that the present isexperientially privileged and why we seem to learn a new fact when 2  we learn that an event is present or now, given that all times stand onan ontological par. I shall do so via an analysis of present tensebeliefs and utterances. I believe that the account offered below doesin fact provide some clues as to why we experience eventssequentially and take differential attitudes towards the past andfuture. However, a B-theoretic account of the experience of passagedeserves separate treatment and I shall bypass it here. Nonetheless, Iconclude that tenseless theories of time can be defended against oneimportant experiential challenge. 2. The problem How are we to construe the truth conditions of tensed sentences suchas ‘2003 is present’ or ‘it is now 2003’ and the thoughts they express?Simple disquotation will not do:(0)‘2003 is present’ is true iff 2003 is present.For one thing, the context of evaluation may differ from the context of utterance rendering (0) false even if the srcinal sentence token istrue. But more germanely, the B-theorist must reject this onindependent grounds: it ontologically commits one to the property of presentness. 6 If there are no tensed properties, then the specificationof the truth conditions of temporal sentences must refer only totenseless relations. The natural suggestion is to employ ‘simultaneous 3
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