pp 1–18 | Cite as

Does the temporal asymmetry of value support a tensed metaphysics?

  • Alison FernandesEmail author


There are temporal asymmetries in our attitudes towards the past and future. For example, we judge that a given amount of work is worth twice as much if it is described as taking place in the future, compared to the past (Caruso et al. in Psychol Sci 19(8):796–801, 2008). Does this temporal value asymmetry support a tensed metaphysics? By getting clear on the asymmetry’s features, I’ll argue that it doesn’t. To support a tensed metaphysics, the value asymmetry would need to (a) not vary with temporal distance, (b) apply equally to events concerning oneself and others, and (c) be rational and judged to be so. But evidence suggests the value asymmetry lacks these features. There are, moreover, independent arguments against its rationality. The asymmetry’s features suggest instead that it arises as an emotion-driven generalisation from a temporal bias concerning our future actions. This explanation points towards mechanisms that can play a role in explaining other instances where we generalise about the past and future, and why we’re tempted towards metaphysical pictures of time.


Temporal value asymmetry Time Metaphysics A-theory Psychology Normative Rationality Preference asymmetry Attitude asymmetry Time bias 



I would like to thank Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack, Ruth Lee and Patrick Burns for many helpful discussions, and for including me so enthusiastically in their work. I would also like to thank the following people for comments and suggestions: Meghan Sullivan, Alistair Wilson, Natlja Deng, Nick Jones, Tom Dougherty, Scott Sturgeon, Craig Callender, and Tobias Wilsch, as well as audiences at the University of Warwick, and the University of Birmingham. This work was supported by a Research Fellowship at the University of Warwick on the AHRC project ‘Time: Between Metaphysics and Psychology’ (AH/P00217X/1), Principal Investigator Christoph Hoerl and Co-Investigator Teresa McCormack.


  1. Albert, D. (2015). After physics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bickel, W. K., Yi, R., Kowal, B. P., & Gatchalian, K. M. (2008). Cigarette smokers discount past and future rewards symmetrically and more than controls: Is discounting a measure of impulsivity? Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 96(3), 256–262.Google Scholar
  3. Blanchard, T. (2014). Causation in a physical world. PhD Thesis. Rutgers University.Google Scholar
  4. Brink, D. O. (2011). Prospects for temporal neutrality. In Craig Callender (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of time. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Buehler, R., Griffin, D., & Ross, M. (1994). Exploring the “planning fallacy”: Why people underestimate their task completion times. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 366–381.Google Scholar
  6. Burns, Z. C., Caruso, E. M., & Bartels, D. M. (2012). Predicting premeditation: Future behavior is seen as more intentional than past behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141, 227–232.Google Scholar
  7. Burns, P., McCormack, T., & Lee, R. (2018). A developmental perspective on temporal asymmetries. In Presentation at temporal asymmetries in philosophy and psychology workshop, University of Warwick.Google Scholar
  8. Burns, P., McCormack, T., Jaroslawska, A., Fitzpatrick, A., McGourty, J., & Caruso, E. M. (2019). The development of asymmetries in past and future thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 148(2), 272–288.Google Scholar
  9. Callender, C. (2017). What makes time special. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Caouette, J., Wohl, M. J. A., & Peetz, J. (2012). The future weighs heavier than the past: Collective guilt, perceived control and the influence of time. European Journal of Social Psychology., 42, 363–371.Google Scholar
  11. Caruso, E. M. (2010). When the future feels worse than the past: A temporal inconsistency in moral judgment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139(4), 610–624.Google Scholar
  12. Caruso, E. M., Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2008). A wrinkle in time: Asymmetric valuation of past and future events. Psychological Science, 19(8), 796–801.Google Scholar
  13. Caruso, E. M., Van Boven, L., Chin, M., & Ward, A. (2018). Why the future is bigger (and “Badder”) than the past. Presentation at temporal asymmetries in philosophy and psychology workshop, University of Warwick.Google Scholar
  14. Cimpian, A., & Salomon, E. (2014). The inherence heuristic: An intuitive means of making sense of the world, and a potential precursor to psychological essentialism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37, 461–480.Google Scholar
  15. Cockburn, D. (1998). Tense and emotion. In R. Le Poidevin (Ed.), Questions of time and tense (pp. 77–91). Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  16. Craig, W. (2000). The tensed theory of time. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  17. D’Argembeau, A., & van der Linden, M. (2004). Phenomenal characteristics associated with projecting oneself back into the past and forward into the future: Influence of valence and temporal distance. Consciousness and Cognition, 13, 844–858.Google Scholar
  18. Dixon, M. R., & Holton, B. (2009). Altering the magnitude of delay discounting by pathological gamblers. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis., 42, 269–275.Google Scholar
  19. Dorsey, D. (2016). Future-bias: A (qualified) defense. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly. Scholar
  20. Dougherty, T. (2011). On whether to prefer pain to pass. Ethics, 121(3), 521–537.Google Scholar
  21. Dougherty, T. (2015). Future-bias and practical reason. Philosophers’ Imprint, 15(30), 1–16.Google Scholar
  22. Fernandes, A. (2017). A deliberative approach to causation. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 95(3), 686–708.Google Scholar
  23. Fernandes, A. (2018). Freedom, self-prediction, and the possibility of time travel. Philosophical Studies. Google Scholar
  24. Frederick, S., Loewenstein, G., & O’Donoghue, T. (2002). Time discounting and time preference: A critical review. Journal of Economic Literature, 40(2), 351–401.Google Scholar
  25. Gelman, S. A. (2003). The essential child: Origins of essentialism in everyday thought. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2009). Why the brain talks to itself: Sources of error in emotional prediction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B., 364, 1335–1341.Google Scholar
  27. Graham, S. A., Kilbreath, C. S., & Welder, A. N. (2004). Thirteen-month-olds rely on shared labels and shape similarity for inductive inferences. Child Development, 75(2), 409–427.Google Scholar
  28. Greene, P., Latham, A., Miller, K., & Norton, J. (2019). Hedonic and non-hedonic bias towards the future. Unpublished manuscript. Accessed 24 Feb 2019.
  29. Greene, P., & Sullivan, M. (2015). Against time bias. Ethics, 125, 947–970.Google Scholar
  30. Guo, T., Ji, L.-J., Spina, R., & Zhang, Z. (2012). Culture, temporal focus, and values of the past and the future. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(8), 1030–1040.Google Scholar
  31. Hare, C. (2007). Self-bias, time-bias, and the metaphysics of self and time. The Journal of Philosophy, 104(7), 350–373.Google Scholar
  32. Hare, C. (2008). A puzzle about other-directed time-bias. Australasian Journal of Philosophy., 86(2), 269–277.Google Scholar
  33. Hare, C. (2013). Time—The emotional asymmetry. In Heather Dyke & Adrian Bardon (Eds.), A companion to the philosophy of time. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  34. He, J. M., Huang, X. T., Yuan, H., & Chen, Y. G. (2012). Neural activity in relation to temporal distance: Differences in past and future temporal discounting. Consciousness and Cognition, 21(4), 1662.Google Scholar
  35. Helzer, E. G., & Gilovich, T. (2012). Whatever is willed will be: A temporal asymmetry in attributions to will. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(10), 1235–1246.Google Scholar
  36. Hoerl, C. (2015). Tense and the psychology of relief. Topoi, 34(1), 217–231.Google Scholar
  37. Horwich, P. (1987). Asymmetries in time. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  38. Ismael, J. (2016). How physics makes us free. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Kane, J., Van Boven, L., & McGraw, A. P. (2012). Prototypical prospection: Future events are more prototypically represented and simulated than past events. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42(3), 354–362.Google Scholar
  40. Lee, R., McCormack, T., Burns, P., O’Connor, P. A., Fernandes, A. S., & Hoerl, C. (2018). The development of a past-future temporal value asymmetry for hedonic goods. Presentation at European Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Rijeka.Google Scholar
  41. Maclaurin, J., & Dyke, H. (2002). ‘Thank goodness that’s over’: The evolutionary story. Ratio, 15(3), 276–292.Google Scholar
  42. Maudlin, T. (2007). The metaphysics within physics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. McCormack, T., & Hoerl, C. (2008). Temporal decentering and the development of temporal concepts. Language Learning, 58, 89–113.Google Scholar
  44. Medin, D. L., & Ortony, A. (1989). Psychological essentialism. In S. Vosniadou & A. Ortony (Eds.), Similarity and analogical reasoning (pp. 179–195). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Mellor, D. H. (1981). Real Time. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Mellor, D. H. (1998). Real time II. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  47. Miloyan, B., & Suddendorf, T. (2015). Feelings of the future. Trends in Cognitive Sciences., 19(4), 196–200.Google Scholar
  48. Newby-Clark, I. R., & Ross, M. (2003). Conceiving the past and future. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 807–818.Google Scholar
  49. O’Brien, E. (2015). Mapping out past and future minds: The perceived trajectory of rationality versus emotionality over time. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(3), 624–638.Google Scholar
  50. Parfit, D. (1984). Reasons and persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  51. Parfit, D. (2011). On what matters. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Perry, J. (1979). The problem of the essential indexical. Noûs, 13(1), 3–21.Google Scholar
  53. Price, H. (1996). Time’s arrow and archimedes point: New directions for the physics of time. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Prior, A. N. (1959). Thank goodness that’s over. Philosophy, 34(128), 12–17.Google Scholar
  55. Pronin, E., & Ross, L. (2006). Temporal differences in trait self-ascription: When the self is seen as an other. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 197–209.Google Scholar
  56. Prosser, S. (2016). Experiencing time. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Radu, P. T., Yi, R., Bickel, W. K., Gross, J. J., & McClure, S. M. (2011). A mechanism for reducing delay discounting by altering temporal attention. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 96(3), 363–385.Google Scholar
  58. Rhodes, M., & Mandalaywala, T. M. (2017). The development and developmental consequences of social essentialism. Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 8(4), 1–18.Google Scholar
  59. Roh, S., & Schuldt, J. P. (2014). Where there’s a will: Can highlighting future youth-targeted marketing increase support for soda taxes? Health Psychology, 33(12), 1610–1613.Google Scholar
  60. Scanlon, T. (2014). Being realistic about reasons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Schlesinger, G. (1976). The stillness of time and philosophical equanimity. Philosophical Studies, 30(3), 145–159.Google Scholar
  62. Smith, Q. (2002). Time and degrees of existence: A theory of ‘degree presentism’. In C. Callender (Ed.), Time, reality and experience (pp. 119–136). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Strickland, L. H., Lewicki, R. J., & Katz, A. M. (1966). Temporal orientation and perceived control as determinants of risk-taking. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2(2), 143–151.Google Scholar
  64. Suhler, C., & Callender, C. (2012). Thank goodness that argument is over: Explaining the temporal value asymmetry. Philosophers’ Imprint, 12(15), 1–16.Google Scholar
  65. Sullivan, M. (2018). A theory of rational planning and personal persistence. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Tarsney, C. (2017). Thank goodness that’s Newcomb: The practical relevance of the temporal value asymmetry. Analysis, 77(4), 750–759.Google Scholar
  67. Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2003). Temporal construal. Psychological Review, 110(3), 403–421.Google Scholar
  68. Van Boven, L., & Ashworth, L. (2007). Looking forward, looking back: Anticipation is more evocative than retrospection. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 136(2), 289–300.Google Scholar
  69. Van Boven, L., & Caruso, E. M. (2015). The tripartite foundations of temporal psychological distance: Metaphors, ecology, and teleology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 9(11), 593–605.Google Scholar
  70. Van Boven, L., Kane, J., & McGraw, A. P. (2010). Temporally asymmetric constraints on mental simulation: Retrospection is more constrained than prospection. In K. D. Markman, W. M. P. Klein, & J. A. Suhr (Eds.), Handbook of imagination and mental simulation (pp. 131–147). New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  71. Van Caruso, E. M., Boven, L., Chin, M., & Ward, A. (2013). The temporal Doppler effect: When the future feels closer than the past. Psychological Science, 24(4), 530–536.Google Scholar
  72. Weiss, D., Job, V., Mathias, M., Grah, S., & Freund, A. (2016). The end is (not) near: Aging, essentialism, and future time perspective. Developmental Psychology, 52(6), 996–1009.Google Scholar
  73. Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2005). Affective forecasting: Knowing what to want. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(3), 131–134.Google Scholar
  74. Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2008). Explaining away: A model of affective adaptation. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 370–386.Google Scholar
  75. Yi, R., Gatchalian, K. M., & Bickel, W. K. (2006). Discounting of past outcomes. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 14(3), 311–317.Google Scholar
  76. Zimmerman, D. W. (2007). The privileged present: Defending an ‘A-theory’ of time. In T. Sider, J. Hawthorne, & D. Zimmerman (Eds.), Contemporary debates in metaphysics (pp. 211–225). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland

Personalised recommendations