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Review of  Time, Tense, and Reference

Reviewer: Magda Dumitru
Book Title: Time, Tense, and Reference
Book Author: Aleksandar Jokic Quentin Smith
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Philosophy of Language
Issue Number: 15.837

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Date: Mon, 8 Mar 2004 07:21:08 -0800 (PST)
From: Magda Dumitru
Subject: Time, Tense, and Reference

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

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 time.

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. ^Ö 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

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, crosslinguistically).

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" (p.346).

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 straightforward.

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 book.

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 Press.

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

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-

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

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

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

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