Time and Explanation – CPT/FraMEPhys Workshop, Aug 2018

In August 2018, the Centre for Philosophy of Time at the University of Milan and the FraMEPhys project at the University of Birmingham co-hosted a two-day workshop on Time and Explanation. Here’s the poster.


  • Alastair Wilson
  • David Ingram
  • Alison Fernandes
  • Michael Hicks
  • Samuel Baron
  • Christina Conroy
  • Heather Demarest


Monday 20 August
13.00 – 13.15: Alastair Wilson – Introduction
13.15 – 14.45: David Ingram – “Nefarious Metaphysical Explanations”
15.00 – 16.30: Alison Fernandes – “Three Accounts of Laws and Time”
16.45 – 18.15: Michael Hicks – “Space-Time Symmetries and Inductive Discovery”

Tuesday 21 August
10.00 – 11.30: Sam Baron – “The Metaphysics of Spacetime Emergence”
11.45 – 13.15: Christina Conroy & Alastair Wilson – “Relationism and the Structure of Time”
15.00 – 16.30: Heather Demarest – “Flowing Alone”
16.45 – 17.15: General discussion


“The Metaphysics of Spacetime Emergence.” Samuel Baron (University of Western Australia)
Recent developments in physics suggest that spacetime is not fundamental but arises from a fundamental reality that lacks spatial, temporal and spatiotemporal properties. I argue that standard metaphysical accounts of emergence won’t work for the emergence of spacetime and so a new metaphysics is needed.

“Relationism and the Structure of Time.” Christina Conroy (Morehead State University) & Alastair Wilson (University of Birmingham and Monash University)
We discuss the contingency (or lack thereof) of some widely-discussed views about the structure of time, and defend a necessitarian perspective according to which the structure of time (in particular, its topological structure) should be regarded as epistemically but not metaphysically contingent. This perspective opens up a new way of defending relationism about time.

“Flowing Alone. Heather Demarest (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Standardly, presentist theories of time accept both a shared, universal present moment as well as flow. But, these two features are notoriously difficult to reconcile with special relativity, according to which there is no absolute, non-conventional simultaneity. I explore a view that I think is worthy of serious consideration. This view rejects a universal, shared present, but accepts temporal flow. I argue that this view can accommodate the time dilation of special relativity, and also, that it can recover the intuitive picture of ourselves as beings who change as time passes.

“Three Accounts of Laws and Time.” Alison Fernandes (Warwick University/Trinity College, Dublin)
Loewer distinguishes two approaches to the metaphysics of science: Humean accounts that deny primitive modality and explain temporal asymmetries in scientific terms, and anti-Humean accounts that take temporal asymmetry and modality as primitives. I’ll argue that Loewer neglects an important third approach: explain temporal asymmetries as well as the function of modal notions in scientific terms. This kind of pragmatist approach provides a clear ontology to fundamental science, and doesn’t replace scientific explanation with metaphysics.

“Space-Time Symmetries and Inductive Discovery.” Michael Hicks (University of Cologne)
Recently, a number of authors (Jaag and Loew, Dorst) have argued that pragmatic considerations motivate the idea that they laws of physics should be invariant under certain symmetry transformations. These arguments follow Wigner (1967) in noting that laws which are not invariant under, for example, the Poincare symmetry group will deliver behavior that varies in different experimental contexts. Since our only access to laws is through their application to a wide variety of isolated systems, the argument goes, we would be unable to inductively discover such laws. Some Humeans have gone further: they’ve argued that this constraint on inductive practice allows us to give a pragmatic explanation of this feature of laws. Here, I’ll argue that that this argument goes too far: laws could fail to be invariant under any of these symmetries and still be discoverable and applicable–provided their divergence from perfectly respecting these symmetries is not too great. So, rather than requiring laws to be strictly invariant under these symmetry transformations, we should require something weaker, for example, invariance in a low-energy limit. I conclude by arguing that, given that the induction requires less than full invariance under these transformations, the Humean pragmatic explanation of symmetry invariances does not go through.

“Nefarious Metaphysical Explanations.” David Ingram (University of York)
I extend and develop some recent ideas about ‘nefarious’ responses to the truth-maker problem facing presentism (see ‘Nefarious Presentism’, Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 65; ‘Truth and Dependence’, Ergo, vol. 5). I argue that the success of this project of ‘nefarious metaphysical explanation’ may prove decisive in the debate between presentism and non-presentism.

This event is supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 757295), together with the Department of Philosophy of the University of Milan.

Centre for Philosophy of Time: http://www.centreforphilosophyoftime.it/

FraMEPhys: http://framephys.org