The Difference between Physical and Temporal Antecedence

My purpose in this post is simple; I want to demonstrate that physical antecedence is not coextensive with temporal antecedence and vice versa. You can have one without the other. This reflection leads to a very weak argument against the A-theory.

Physical antecedence and temporal antecedence don’t always go together. To see this, imagine that Bill takes a time machine, for instance, from the year 2059 to the year 2014. Clearly the physically antecedent events include events after 2014 and before 2060, but the events which physically antecede the appearance of Bill in 2014 do not temporally antecede Bill’s appearance in 2014. I admit it is harder to imagine cases of temporal antecedence which aren’t cases of physical antecedence, but perhaps these would just be non-physical events. Candidates for non-physical events might include things like purely mental events, such as libertarian free choices.

This makes it clear that temporal antecedence and physical antecedence are distinct concepts; they are neither identical with each other nor are either of them identical with antecedence simpliciter (something can temporally and physically antecede without being causally antecedent).

One may object that on the A-theory of time, time travel is logically impossible, and proceed to argue for a closer connection between temporal and physical antecedence. They might argue that given A-theory, the distinction between temporal and physical antecedence isn’t so clear, and that would undermine the project of this post. They would have to be a very committed A-theorist though, since they would, it seems to me, have to argue that A-theory is not just contingently true, but that thought experiments involving explicitly B-theoretic phenomena (such as time travel) must be literally confused ideas, and represent absurd impossibilities. Perhaps we can run the argument backwards.

  1. If physical antecedence and temporal antecedence are distinct concepts then they are distinguishable.
  2. Physical antecedence and Temporal antecedence are distinct concepts.
  3. If A-Theory is correct then physical and temporal antecedence are indistinguishable.
  4. A-Theory is correct.
  5. Therefore, (from 3,4) physical antecedence and temporal antecedence are indistinguishable.
  6. But, (from 1,2) physical antecedence and temporal antecedence are distinguishable.
  7. Therefore, A-Theory is incorrect.

This is a weak argument, but interesting. Of course the A-theorist might point to the less intuitively obvious cases of ‘mental’ events to get out of such an argument with relative ease. If somebody is inclined to think that there are no such non-physical events, though, then this argument against the A-theory can be taken more seriously.


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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