Time Defined By Events and a Static A-Series

Here is an explanation of the unique present that cannot work. The unique present is defined by an event. Events can define positions in an A-series. Call such an A-series an event-defined A-series. For some event E, in an event-defined A-series:

  • • E is present.
  • • Any event earlier than E is past.
  • • Any event later than E is future.

We may say that only one A-series is the real A-series, with a real present and real temporal passage. However, if we define A-series only by events, this real A-series leads to counter-intuitive results. Whatever event we choose, change as conceived by tense theorists is impossible. It requires events be frozen in what we might call a static A-series.

Here is how. There are multiple event-defined A-series, each defined by different events. For example, the death of the sun is present to itself, past to some later event, and future to your reading this. Your reading this is present to itself, your preparing to read it is past to your reading this, and the death of the sun is future to reading it.

We might say that one event defines the real А-series. However, if we do pick out some such event, then this prevents the possibility of temporal passage. Each event is supposed to change its positions in the А-series, while also being in the past and future of other events. If any of these events define the real A-series, then that event must be present, and only present, in the А-series that they define.

Say that your reading this is the event that defines the real А-series. In that case, your reading this does not change its А-series position. As the event that defines this А-series, it can only be present. Yet, also, all other events that are present with your reading this must remain present; any events that are future to it remain future and any past to it are forever past; indeed, they were never present or future.

As such, no event can change their position in the А-series time. If your reading this defines the real А-series, the death of the sun is in the (real) far future and must stay there. It cannot undergo passage to be in the (real) present.

We might call such a conception of tensed time a static conception of tensed time. It is static because the things to which it refers never change. It is tensed because the things that never change are the tenses of events.

Again, this is the case only if some events in time define the real А-series. No one holds to this static conception of tense time (although another important theory is often called static, as discussed below). That no one holds it means tense theorists hold that features such as a real present, А-series, and passage are defined by something other than events. What, then, picks out the real present and A-series?

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