Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Robert Stainton


In this thesis, I examine the metaphysical debate between the A-theory and the B-theory of time, first by elaborating upon its proper characterization, and then by examining the sorts of evidence that are often thought to be germane to it. This debate, as I see it, is about whether or not time passes in any objective (observer-independent) sense: the A-theory holds that it does, while the B-theory holds that it does not. I identify two opposing conceptions of time—that of the “time of ordinary experience” on one hand, and that of “scientific time” on the other—and argue that the tension between them is the driving force behind this debate. I then examine two aspects of “evidence” from the time of ordinary experience: the phenomenological experience of time (how time feels) and the linguistic experience of time (how we generally talk about time). It is often supposed, by both A- and B-theorists alike, that these sorts of evidence lend credence to the A-theory of time, since ordinary experience suggests that time passes. I hope to discredit this presumption, and so challenge the very framework in which this debate is so often carried out. In particular, by closely examining both of these kinds of experience—phenomenological and linguistic—in turn, I hope to provide a partial argument to the effect that the ordinary experience of time as a whole does not favour the A-theory over the B-theory of time. In the case of the phenomenological evidence, this is because the A-theory is just as inconsistent with such evidence as is the B-theory of time; in the case of the linguistic evidence, this is because the B-theory is equally consistent with such evidence as is the A-theory of time, particularly once it is revealed that a certain key assumption is tacitly accepted by both sides of the debate. Because of the popularity of the claim that the ordinary experience of time favours the A-theory, I take this conclusion to be something of a modest defence for the B-theory of time.