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How is the asymmetry between the open future and the fixed past to be characterized?

  • Vincent GrandjeanEmail author
Symmetries and Asymmetries in Physics
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Symmetries and Asymmetries in Physics


A basic intuition we have regarding the nature of time is that the future is open whereas the past is fixed. For example, whereas we think that there are things we can do to affect how the future will unfold (e.g. acting in an environmentally responsible manner), we think that there are not things we can do to affect how the past unfolded (“what is done is done”). However, although this intuition is largely shared, it is not a straightforward matter to determine the nature of the asymmetry it reflects. So, in this paper, I survey various philosophical ways of characterizing the asymmetry between the ‘open future’ and the ‘fixed past’ in order to account for our intuition. In particular, I wonder whether the asymmetry is to be characterized in semantic, epistemic, metaphysical or ontological terms. I conclude that, although many of these characterizations may contribute to a global understanding of the phenomenon, an ontological characterization of the asymmetry is to be preferred, since it is superior to the alternatives in explanatory power, intelligibility, and in how it coheres with interesting senses of openness.


Open future Indeterminism Future contingents Bivalence 



I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Fabrice Correia, Claudio Calosi and the members of eidos (the Centre for Metaphysics), Claudine Tiercelin and the members of GEM (Groupe d’Études en Métaphysique), Esa Díaz-León, Dan López de Sa and the audience at the PERSP Metaphysics Seminar, Richard Glauser, Uriah Kriegel and Sven Rosenkranz for their helpful comments. I am also grateful to two anonymous referees for reports which helped to improve the paper considerably. Finally, I would like to thank Lauréline Dartiguepeyrou for her love and patience. Work on this paper has been funded by the European Commission’s HORIZON 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Training Network DIAPHORA, under grant agreement H2020-MSCA-ITN-2015-675415.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland

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