How Real Are Future Events?

John Perry


Early in the twentieth century our ordinary conception of time was challenged by McTaggart's argument that time was unreal, and by the standard interpretations of developments in physics inspired by the special theory of relativity. McTaggart held that central to our conception was the change in events from future to present and then to past. But, he held, this makes no sense, and so there is no such thing as time as ordinarily conceived. The view that time is a fourth dimension seems to reinforce much of McTaggart's reasoning. Many physicists and philosophers have concluded that although time is real enough, the sense of the passage of events from future to present to past is merely a subjective phenomenon; the classic statement of this position perhaps being Adolph Grunbaum's. Samuel Alexander, C.D. Broad and most recently Michael Tooley have maintained that we can have time as a fourth dimension, and passage as a real and not merely a subjective phenomenon, if we recognize that the future is unreal. Passage is not the mysterious movement of the property of presentness along the temporal dimension, nor is it a matter of consciousnesses successively apprehending points in time. It is a matter of new events coming into existence. I will review the issues and defend a version of the Alexander-Broad-Tooley view.


20th century philosophy; philosophy; philosophy of time; Wittgenstein Ludwig; A-series; B-series; fatalism; future; Broad Charlie Dunbar; McTaggart John McTaggart Ellis; possibility; reality of time; time

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