Relative and Absolute Temporal Presence

  • Sean Enda PowerEmail author
Part of the Studies in Brain and Mind book series (SIBM, volume 9)


Different ways of thinking about presence can have significant consequences for one’s thinking about temporal experience. Temporal presence can be conceived of as either absolute or relative. Relative presence is analogous to spatial presence, whereas absolute presence is not. For each of these concepts of presence, there is a theory of time which holds that this is how presence really is (and that the other concept of presence is merely derivative in some way). For the A-theory, temporal presence is absolute; it is a special moment in time, a time defined by events in what has been called the A-series. For the B-theory, temporal presence is relative; it is itself defined relative to moments in time, a time defined by events in the B-series. Many A-theorists (presentists) go further to claim that the present is the only real moment in time; the past and future are unreal. One can have different sets of problems depending on whether one thinks in terms of absolute presence or relative presence. For example, there is the concept of the “specious” present—a duration many theorists claim that we perceptually experience. It is argued in this paper that the specious present has problems given absolute presence, which it does not have given relative presence. Many of the problems are avoided by having an extended present. However, A-theory, the standard theory of time which advocates absolute presence, cannot have an extended present. Further, the best solution for absolute presence which is extended, durational presentism, involves denying the standard theories in the philosophy of time.


Presence Specious present Relativity A-theory B-theory Presentism 



My thanks to two anonymous referees for their very thorough and insightful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. I am also grateful to Valtteri Arstila for additional thoughts and comments. This paper is based on two talks given at the source of this volume, a 2013 conference on presence at the University of Turku. My further thanks for the insights of participants at the workshop. Finally, of course, I am grateful for the invitation to present at the workshop (as well as the funding provided by the TIMELY research network to do this).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity College CorkCorcaighIreland

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