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Why Presentism Cannot Be Refuted by Special Relativity

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Cosmological and Psychological Time

Part of the book series: Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science ((BSPS,volume 285))


It has been argued that Special relativity with its most striking feature, namely that the definition of the present depends on a choice of an inertial frame, actually refutes presentism – the metaphysical view that only present events are real. Contrariwise, it has also been argued that the notion of the present in a relativistic setting is not a matter-of-fact but established by convention and hence devoid of metaphysical interest. In this paper, I contend that, considering Einstein’s philosophical motivations for introducing special relativity, both of these assertions are wrong and that the pre-relativistic notion of the present may be retained.

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  1. 1.

    An ingenious attempt has been made in Malament (1977) to show that standard simultaneity is actually uniquely definable in terms of the intrinsic geometric structure of Minkowski space-time. Nevertheless, his result is still in considerable dispute. For more details, see Janis (2010).

  2. 2.

    This argument is due to Putnam (1967, p. 246) although he did not state it in terms of reality of points.


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Correspondence to Yehiel Cohen .

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Cohen, Y. (2016). Why Presentism Cannot Be Refuted by Special Relativity. In: Dolev, Y., Roubach, M. (eds) Cosmological and Psychological Time. Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science, vol 285. Springer, Cham.

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