Semantics, Tense, and Time

An Essay in the Metaphysics of Natural Language

According to Peter Ludlow, there is a very close relation between the structure of natural language and that of reality, and one can gain insights into long-standing metaphysical questions by studying the semantics of natural language. In this book Ludlow uses the metaphysics of time as a case study and focuses on the dispute between A-theorists and B-theorists about the nature of time. According to B-theorists, there is no genuine change, but a permanent sequence of events ordered by an earlier-than/later-than relation. According to the version of the A-theory adopted by Ludlow (a position sometimes called "presentism"), there are no past or future events or times; what makes something past or future is how the world stands right now.

Ludlow argues that each metaphysical picture is tied to a particular semantical theory of tense and that the dispute can be adjudicated on semantical grounds. A presentism-compatible semantics, he claims, is superior to a B-theory semantics in a number of respects, including its abilities to handle the indexical nature of temporal discourse and to account for facts about language acquisition. Along the way, Ludlow develops a conception of "E-type" temporal anaphora that can account for both temporal anaphora and complex tenses without reference to past and future events. His view has philosophical consequences for theories of logic, self-knowledge, and memory. As for linguistic consequences, Ludlow suggests that the very idea of grammatical tense may have to be dispensed with and replaced with some combination of aspect, modality, and evidentiality.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. Acknowledgements
  3. Introduction
  4. 1. The Nature of Language
  5. 2. The Form of the Semantic Theory
  6. 3. Attitudes and Indexicals
  7. 4. Drawing Metaphysical Consequences from a T-Theory
  8. 5. The B-Theory Semantics
  9. 6. Problems with the B-Theory Semantics
  10. 7. The A-Theory Semantics
  11. 8. Temporal Anaphora without B-Series Resources
  12. 9. Broadening the Investigation
  13. 10. Consequences
  14. Appendix P1 Is I-Language the Language of Thought?
  15. Appendix P2 Language/World Isomorphism?1
  16. Appendix T1 A Basic Quantificational Fragment
  17. Appendix T2 A Quantificational Fragment with Events
  18. Appendix T3 A Fragment with ILFs for Propositional Attitudes
  19. Appendix T4 A B-Theory Technical Fragment
  20. Appendix T5 A Basic A-Theory Fragment
  21. Notes
  22. Bibliography
  23. Index