LINGUIST List 15.837

Thu Mar 11 2004

Review: Semantics: Jokic & Smith, eds. (2003)

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  1. Magda Dumitru, Time, Tense, and Reference

Message 1: Time, Tense, and Reference

Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 10:47:05 -0500 (EST)
From: Magda Dumitru <>
Subject: Time, Tense, and Reference

Jokic, Aleksandar and Quentin Smith, ed. (2003) Time, Tense, and
Reference. MIT Press.

Announced at

Magda Dumitru, The University at Buffalo, SUNY

This is one exciting book; as the editors mention in their
''Introduction'', it is an attempt to bring together the philosophers
of time and the philosophers of language. Contrary to what the
back-cover says, most essays were not ''written expressly for this
book'', but, as mentioned by the editors, they are the result of the
April 11-13, 1997 'Time, Tense, and Reference' Conference held at the
newly created Center for Philosophical Education (CPE) housed in the
Philosophy Department at Santa Barbara City College. The book has two
parts, I (The Philosophy of Tensed Language), and II (The Metaphysics
of Time). Each part is made out of two sections, A and B. This
lettering notation appears to be harmless in Part I (section A ''The
Semantic Content of Tensed Sentences'', including chapters 1 and 2,
and B '' The Cognitive Significance of Tensed Sentences'', including
chapters 3-7), but turns out to be unfortunate in Part II, where
section A (''Tenseless Theories of Time'', including chapters 8-10)
refers to the 'B-theory' of Time, while section B (''Tensed Theories
of Times'', including chapters 11-14) refers to the 'A-theory' of

Despite occasional typos - 'Cralg' for 'Craig' (p.1, last line from
top); 'include' for 'includes' (p.2, line 3 from top); 'has' for
'have' (p.32, line 8 from top); 'is' for 'it' (p.35, line 11 from
bottom), 'which which' for 'which' (p.41, line 8 from bottom),
etc. The reader will be delighted to follow a very dynamic text,
where frequent cross-reference is made by many authors to each other's
work; this is the reason why, sometimes, we chose to discuss together
closely related articles. The reading is eased by the carefully
written introductions: one by the editors, one by Mark Richard (to
Part I), and one by Jan Faye (to Part II).


Chapter 1 ''Outline for a Truth-Conditional Semantics for Tense''
(Ernest Lepore and Kirk Ludwig)

Lepore and Ludwig offer a truth-theoretical semantics for tense a la
Tarski and Davidson. The goal is to have a unified analysis of tenses
for state and event verbs: they are all indexed to the time of
utterance (for the simple tenses) or to the reference time (for the
perfect tenses), meaning that tenses quantify over times. It follows
that ''a verb's tense restricts what modifiers it can take''. This may
explain why the simple past may take present adverbials ('now'), but
never future or past ones ('tomorrow' and 'yesterday', respectively).

The analysis of tenses proposed by Lepore and Ludwig seems to
encounter at least one problem, related to the asymmetry they propose
for the treatment of present tense of event verbs, as opposed to the
past and future tenses. 'Mary opens the door' is awkward because, the
authors say, there is no further temporal specification (such as 'on
the 23 of this month') to index it to the time of utterance. Such an
explanation rests on the assumption that the present is a simple
tense. One may argue, however, that the simple present is ideal for
story telling (e.g. while presenting the plot of a thriller), where
events are past as of utterance time, yet present as of reference
time, and hence that the present may be a 'present in the
past'. Moreover, simple present tense sentences may include present
adverbials, which index them to a reference time in the past, not to
the time of utterance: 'At this time, Mary opens the door'.

Chapter 2 ''Tense and Intension'' (Nathan Salmon)

Nathan Salmon proposes an enriched Kaplanian theory of reference, by
introducing the notion of 'content-base'. The content of a sentence is
doubly indexed to the content- base, time being a separate semantic
parameter (since sentence and utterance may have different times).
While Salmon's proposal is very fitting for explaining the difference
between 'Sometimes, the U.S. president is a Republican', and
'Sometimes, the present U.S. president is a Republican', it is not
sure whether it is successful in establishing adequate reference for
cases of 'no demonstration, no speaker uses' mentioned in King 2001,
such as 'That guy who scored one hundred on the exam is a genius'.

Chapter 3 ''Objects of Relief'' (Mark Richard)

As Evans before him, Richard believes that Kaplan's notion of
'character' cannot straightforwardly determine content. He proposes
for each character C to have an associated set C* of mundane
principles determining a conceptual role. Apart from slight
oversights such as defining 'S' first as a ''collection of principles
that determine a conceptual role'' (p.179) and next as a ''sentence
playing the conceptual role'' (p.180), or referring to 'a property of
sleeping' (p.180), where he meant to say 'a property of being sad',
Richard's essay may be open to the following criticism: C* is taken to
relate to linguistic tense; we believe that it relates merely to
actual time.

Chapter 4 ''Tensed Second Thoughts'' (James Higginbotham)

Higginbotham responds to critiques by Mark Richard (this volume) of
his theory of cross-reference between state verbs such as relief,
regret, and anticipation, and the tense of the verb in the embedded
sentence. He sets out to solve the problem posed by modal statements
such as 'My root canal might not have been over now', which differ
from 'My root canal might not have been over as of the present
moment', since cross-reference only applies to the latter example. He
proposes to separate the indexical predicate from the circumstances of
deployment of its concept. Higginbotham's demonstration is only
sketched here; reference is made to a forthcoming article.

Chapter 5 ''Tensed Sentences, Tenseless Truth Conditions, and Tensed
Beliefs'' (Anthony Brueckner) and Chapter 6 ''Need We Posit
A-Properties?'' (Mark Richard)

Brueckner's argumentation starts from Hugh Mellor's position that
tense is transcendentally ideal: something must have a property P of
being present, because being present only has behavioral
consequences. Brueckner questions this reasoning: being present is
different from other types of properties, such as 'being intelligent';
while individuals may be intelligent any time, presentness depends on
context, hence it must be a B-series property. Mark Richard wonders
whether Brueckner's conclusion is really proving a weakness in
Mellor's argumentation. He concludes that it does not, since tense is
transcendentally ideal not because it involves 'empty modes of
representation', as Brueckner argues, but because it involves
'artifacts of representation'. For Brueckner, context is real;
causation depends on it, and so do beliefs. For Richard (and Mellor),
nothing is real; truth is relative to a mode of representation.

The obvious question, after reading both Brueckner's and Richard's
articles, is whether there is any reality outside the subject. One may
argue that there is, and Brueckner has this intuition, unlike Richard
(and Mellor). But this does not necessarily mean that Mellor's
argumentation is lacking, as Brueckner claims. What it means is that
such an argumentation may not be intuitive.

Chapter 7 ''Time Plus the Whoosh and Whiz'' (Arthur Falk)

Falk argues that the experience of time's passage is grounded not in
language (Kaplan, etc.), but in perceptual mechanisms ('flushing' and
'freshening'). Perception is tenseless, since it's processing (the
'flushing') is B- theoretic and subjective. Pastness and futurity are
labels for experiences flushed (episodic memory) or to be flushed
(agency). The whoosh is ''the flushing and freshening of the now''
(p.225). Unlike Higginbotham (this volume), Falk doesn't see
presentness as a reflexive act of awareness, but as a ''viewpoint in
perception by virtue of direct attribution'' (p.225). Perhaps the most
interesting part of his argumentation, from the linguist's
perspective, is his discussion of tense and aspect. Falk argues
against a unified treatment of tense and aspect (Reichenbach 1947),
since for him aspect is not indexical. Instead, he proposes that
''tense operations apply globally to sentences that already have
aspect'' (p.240).

Falk may seem biased in his discussion of tense and aspect, for he
gives past tense examples only: the perfective 'had worked' and 'had
been working', the habitual 'used to work', the progressive 'was
working', and the nonprogressive 'worked'. One may wish for Falk to
elaborate more on his idea that tense always applies after aspect
does, since it is not clear why languages allow only certain
combinations of tense and aspect (the future, for instance, is
notorious for his intolerance of many aspectual values,

Chapter 8 ''Two Versions of the New B-Theory of Language''
(L. Nathan Oaklander)

Oaklander proposes a new B-theory of time, according to which facts
are tenseless, despite there being tensed language and thought. He
corrects an oversight philosophers of time and language are guilty of:
not realizing that the meaning of 'meaning' has 4 distinct meanings:
intentional, ontological, pragmatic, and linguistic. Beliefs
(A-series), encoded as intentional meaning, are different from, yet
made true by B-facts; intentional and linguistic meaning are different
for tensed and tenseless sentences.

Oaklander claims that neither thought nor language can represent
reality, other than symbolically. His position is thus the first to
defy the purpose of the present volume, that of bringing together
philosophers of time and philosophers of language. Yet this would be a
small price to pay, if his argumentation is convincing -- which it is
most of the time, except for claims such as the one that 'this
utterance' is not indexical, unlike 'the utterance now' (p.297, in
response to a remark by Ludlow).

Chapter 9 ''Why Tenses Need Real Times'' (Robin Le Poidevin)

The essay is an exact opposite to Oaklander's article (this book),
maintaining that tenses correspond to real times. After reviewing the
main tensed and tenseless arguments for explaining causal relations in
a sentence such as 'It has been raining, and as a result, the pitch is
now waterlogged', Le Poidevin concludes that the Date Theory only can
survive criticism. Moreover, it can survive it only if times are taken
to be real, not reduced to their contents (events), or constructed
from actual and possible events and relations.

Le Poidevin's essay is based on an elegant dynamic between various
theoretical positions. Paradoxically, this is the reason why it may be
open to critique: realism is declared to be the winning candidate only
because neither reductionism, nor relativism is proven to be
correct. Le Poidevin's argumentation is thus not constructed
explicitly in support of realism, but against competing alternatives.

Chapter 10 ''Real Tenses'' (Milos Arsenijevic)

Arsenijevic proposes a tense logic system including both tenses and
B-series dates. The reason for having such a system is that ''the
concept of the in-the-world-inherent modalities requires the
flow-of-time assumption'' (p.329). Arsenijevic is dismayed at the
thought that the world as we know it is completely deterministic, as
the classic tenseless theory suggests. Introducing contingency would
mean to classify worlds not just along the dimension real- possible,
but also along the dimension accessible- inaccessible. This
two-dimensional representation, christened 'ontological wheel of
fortune', creates the flow-of-time and would ''enable God to know
which time is the present time by simply being informed about the
number of possibilities at any time at which this is greater than 1''

Arsenijevic's Cartesian representation is certainly a better way to
understand time. In fact, multiplying dimensions to represent reality
has been the way to make advances in physics, from Einstein (4
dimensions) to string theory (16 dimensions). However, these theories
have not been able to explain how the big bang happened, and how the
world will end. If we look at Arsenijevic's 'wheel of fortune' from
this perspective, we notice not only that the beginning of the 'wheel'
is given by a different rule than for any of the subsequent times, but
also that one cannot distinguish the beginning from the end of the
'wheel', since they give the same outcome: one possibility only.

Chapter 11 ''Reference to the Past and Future'' (Quentin Smith) and
Chapter 12 ''In Defense of Presentism'' (William Lane Craig)

In his essay, Smith argues for a maximalist tensed theory of time (aka
the A-B theory), according to which presentness, pastness, and
futurity are first-order properties. This is, in his view, the only
approach to fit the correspondence theory of truth (defined as a
''relation between a relevant proposition and the concrete state of
affairs it is about'' (p.365). Craig's essay is constructed as a
step-by-step critique of Smith's paper.

First, Craig considers that Smith's classification of tense theories
as de-dicto and de-re is abusive: ''Smith associates tense de-dicto
with presentism and tense de-re with his maximalist A-B theory''
(p.392). A closer look at Smith's text, however, suggests that he
actually means: ''The presentist wishes to say that 'only the present
exists', in any sense of 'exist''' (p.385). Smith only claims that
certain versions of presentism (Prior's and Craig's, among others) are
or may appear to be de-dicto, unlike others (Ludlow's, for
instance). Craig's reading is also the reason why he believes that
Smith confuses 'correspondence' with 'direct reference' (p.395).

Second, Craig takes Smith's argumentation to be ''an attack upon the
coherence of Prior's tense logic, rather than on presentism per se''
(p.393), based on what Le Poidevin (this volume) calls 'the
prehistoric era objection', namely that ''there were no truths prior
to the existence of beings capable of making utterances or having
thoughts'' (p.310). We leave it to the reader to select between
Prior's own forewarning as presented by Craig (p.394) and Le
Poidevin's solution to this objection (p.312). If the former is
chosen, then Craig has a point; if the second is chosen, then Smith
has a point.

Third, Craig legitimately argues that Smith has not proved presentness
to be a property. Craig assumes that Smith equates presentness with
existence, and, since philosophers such as Kant, Broad and Moore, and
Alston have argued against the property status of existence, it would
follow that the same philosophers implicitly have argued against the
property status of presentness. However, one would need to have
Smith's definition of existence, in order to decide that it is
completely analogous to that of Kant, Broad and Moore, or Alston. If
it is, Craig has a point; if it isn't, then Smith escapes
criticism. The latter's proposal, however, to place presentness,
pastness, and futurity ''in an ontological category by themselves''
(p.363) is unclear, and this is why Craig's alternative to conceive of
presentness as a ''temporal way of existing'' (p.402) seems more

Finally, Craig's first conclusion that Smith's maximalist approach is
incoherent may turn out to be exaggerated; his second conclusion that
any A-B theory of time is just a ''teratological hybrid'' (p.406) is
based on refuting Smith's argumentation and therefore cannot be an
exhaustive critique of all theories trying to reconcile A- and B-
series concepts.

Chapter 13 ''Basic Tensed Sentences and Their Analysis''
(Michael Tooley)

The question addressed in this essay is whether tensed sentences are
truly primitive. Tooley finds that ''tensed sentences are, without
exception, analyzable, but in such a way that they can be true only in
a dynamic world'' (p.446). Tensed sentences are based on 'basic
tensed sentences' of the form 'an event is tenselessly present at a
specific time'. Tooley is no presentist though, for he proposes to
break down the concept of 'being present' into the primitives
'temporal priority' and 'actuality'.

Tooley succeeds in preserving a sound B-series ontology, while
defining becoming in terms of actuality. His analysis is reminiscent
of other attempts at unifying the advantages of A- and B-series
theories, such as those by Falk, Oaklander, and Arsenijevic, in this

Chapter 14 ''Actualism and Presentism'' (James E. Tomberlin)

In his essay Tomberlin takes a chance to express his skepticism
towards both presentism and actualism. He claims that neither of these
ontologic alternatives meets the following two challenges: objectual
quantification in complex causal sentences, and valid truth conditions
for sentences without de-re individuals (as in the sentence 'Ponce de
Leon searched for the fountain of youth'). Tomberlin cites a solution
by Fitch, including an adverbial modifier of 'searched for', and
obtaining 'Ponce de Leon searched-for-a-unique-fountain-of-youthly',
but finds this treatment lacking in a coherent semantics.

Tomberlin's is a well-argumented essay, but one can be more optimistic
and imagine that an adequate semantics, like the re-composing strategy
proposed in Van Geenhoven 1998, for instance, may succeed in
explaining the structure of Fitch's 'adverbial modifiers'.


Evans, G. (1990) Understanding demonstratives. Demonstratives, ed. by
P. Yourgrau, pp.71-96. Oxford University Press.

Fitch, G. W. (1996) In defense of Aristotelian actualism.
Philosophical Perspectives 10, pp.53-72.

Kaplan, David (1989a) Demonstratives. Themes from Kaplan, ed. by
J. Almog, J. Perry, and H. Wettstein, pp.481-563. Oxford University

Kaplan, David (1989b) Afterthoughts. Themes from Kaplan, ed. by
J. Almog, J. Perry, and H. Wettstein, pp.565-614. Oxford University

King, Jeffrey C. (2001) Complex Demonstratives: A Quantificational
Account. MIT Press.

Ludlow, Peter (1999) Semantics, tense, and time: An Essay in the
metaphysics of natural language. MIT Press.

Mellor, Hugh (1998) Transcendental tense. Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 72, pp.29- 43.

Prior, A.N. (1957) Time and modality. Oxford University Press.

Prior, A.N. (1967) Past, present, and future. Clarendon Press.

Van Geenhoven, Veerle (1998) Semantic incorporation and indefinite
descriptions: semantic and syntactic aspects of noun incorporation in
West Greenlandic. CSLI.


Magda Dumitru is a graduate student at The University at Buffalo,
SUNY, interested in linguistic representations and reference.
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