SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Inheritance Temporalism: Sketching a Novel Temporalist Approach
(Metaphysics/Ontology, English)

Some recent temporalist approaches to temporal metaphysics identify instants of time with abstract entities rather than with physical spacetime hypersurfaces. For instance, Bacon (1) identifies times with functions mapping abstract indices to hypersurfaces, and Dorr (3) (unpublished) identifies times with functions mapping individuals to their temporal counterparts. The resulting views aim to maintain that a time is metaphysically distinguished in an A-theoretic sense without singling out a region of spacetime as special. They are ultimately meant to develop a temporalist picture of reality that, at least at the fundamental level, is consistent with egalitarianism about spacetime hypersurfaces. I wish to develop the bones of a view in the spirit of these approaches.

Such view is built within the framework of a specific theory of persistence: perdurantism. In particular it is built within the account of property-instantiation that (standard) perdurantism presupposes. In a nutshell, according to such account the instantiation of properties by perduring wholes is ultimately due to the possession of temporal parts. Temporal parts do the instantiation work in the first place and perduring wholes instantiate the properties had by their temporal parts derivatively - they inherit properties from their temporal parts. My view focuses on the instantiation of one specific class of properties: phenomenal properties. On the one hand, it holds that fundamental facts about what phenomenal properties are instantiated by temporal parts are permanent: temporal parts always instantiate all their properties. On the other hand, it holds that derivative facts about what phenomenal properties are instantiated by perduring wholes are temporary and not eternal: perduring wholes sometime instantiate the phenomenal properties had by one of their parts and sometimes those had by another. In such a way, the view develops a picture which holds (i) that at the fundamental level of reality facts are as permanent as they are on a B-theoretic approach to time, and (ii) that at the non-fundamental level of reality some facts are as temporary as they are on an A-theoretic approach. As its core insight is that what properties perduring wholes inherit is a temporary matter, the view can be labelled as Inheritance Temporalism (IT).

In the context of IT, times, rather than being identified with physical entities like spacetime hypersurfaces, can be identified with functions that map the phenomenal properties had by one of their temporal parts to each perduring worm. As these functions determine what derivative facts about derivative instantiation of phenomenal properties by perduring wholes hold, they can be labelled as inheritance functions (IF). In such a way, the passage of time ultimately consists in a transition in what set of IFs holds: as time passes there is a transition in what phenomenal properties perduring wholes derivatively instantiate (and hence in what experiences they have). In turn, the transition between the holding of a set of IFs and another can be grasped by appealing to tense operators (which, in such context, would (i) be primitive and irreducible and (ii) belong to a non-fundamental level of reality - much as like in Bacons view (1)). So, the resulting picture would be a picture where there are non-fundamental tensed facts about what set of IFs is/were/will be the case.

I shall argue that, as IT identifies times with sets of IFs, it can be coupled with Special Relativity Theory without incurring in the usual A-theoretic drawback of enriching spacetime with some additional fundamental facts about its structure. It is not necessary to hold that some point or region of spacetime is distinguished from the others as it instantiates some A-theoretic property like presentness (as it happens in the context of standard A-theories like the Moving Spotlight Theory (2) (4)). Friends of IT can agree with B-theorists about what is the fundamental furniture of spacetime and about the fact that all hypersurfaces are metaphysically on a par. Still, they can maintain that time passes in an A-theoretic sense: it passes since there is a transition in what abstract set of IFs is/were/will be the case.

Then, I shall focus at length on a concern that may affect IT (I shall set aside other issues that may pertain the fundamental ideology of the view). Such concern is about IFs. Say you have many facts about what phenomenal properties are derivatively instantiated (inherited) by perduring worms. Then a natural question is about whether different perduring worms inherit properties from temporal parts that exist at the same time. That is, is inheritance of properties synchronized among different worms or not? Of course, we want it to be synchronized: we want the experiences of the worms to be centred on the same time. This is especially valuable in the case of interacting worms: while the worm-Brutus has experiences of stabbing Caesar we want the worm-Caesar to have experiences of being stabbed by Brutus. Still, in a relativistic context it is hard to maintain that inheritance of phenomenal properties by worms - and hence experiences "could be synchronized in such fashion" a problem related to this concerns Dorr's view (1) (3). Roughly, Special Relativity entails that there is no frame-independent way of singling instants out of spacetime. It is hard to impose synchronicity over IFs without assuming that one way of singling instants out (and so one specific frame of reference) is privileged with respect to the others. But this brings back to well know problems afflicting standard A-theories of time and the problem of privileging a given way of singling out instants from spacetime. So, IT seems bound to go without synchronicity: while the worm-Brutus inherits experiences of stabbing Caesar, the worm-Caesar may inherit experiences of hanging out with Cleopatra rather than experiences of being stabbed by Brutus. This may look like a conclusive case against the view. Still, I shall provide some reasons for thinking that, at a closer inspection, the lack of synchronicity entailed by IT is not untenable. In particular, I shall show that, as fundamental facts about the instantiation of properties by temporal parts are permanent, the worm-Brutus can still be said to be stabbing an entity which has experiences of being stabbed by Brutus: the Caesar's temporal part which is in fact stabbed by one of Brutus' temporal parts.

Finally, I shall conclude that IT is in many ways attractive and worthy of further exploration.


(1) Bacon, A., 2018, "Tense and Relativity". Nous, 52 (3): 667-696.

(2) Deasy, D., 2022, "The Modal Moving Spotlight". Mind, forthcoming.

(3) Dorr, C., Counterparts. Manuscript.

(4) Skow, B., 2009, "Relativity and the Moving Spotlight". The Journal of Philosophy, 106: 666-78.

Chair: Youssef Aguisoul
Time: 15:20-15:50, 07 September 2022 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.006

Emanuele Tullio 
(CEU, Italy)

Testability and Meaning deco