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Rubenstein Discusses “Essence of Time” and the “Pitfalls of Nominalism”

Posted on 3/11/2014 7:59:28 PM

Recent papers by Eric Rubenstein, Department of Philosophy, include “Relations and the Essence of Time” and “Domesticated Platonism and the Pitfalls of Nominalism.”

“Relations and the Essence of Time” was presented at the 2014 Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, held February 26–March 1 in Chicago, Ill., as part of a Philosophy of Time Society session devoted to the work of Nathan Oaklander.

Rubenstein will also present “Domesticated Platonism and the Pitfalls of Nominalism” at the 2014 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, April 16–20 in San Diego, Calif.

Abstracts of both papers are below.

“Relations and the Essence of Time”


Nathan Oaklander has defended a Russellian version of the B-series, where time differs from other series or orders in virtue of an irreducible, asymmetric, and transitive relation of succession. Russell’s philosophy of mathematics shows a similar emphasis on the role of relations. Building on this, I advance a position akin to structuralism in mathematics. Taking a cue from Oaklander, time will be understood as nothing but its relational structure, or as van Fraassen has described it, a “logical space.” While the nature of time doesn’t depend on how we represent it, our choices for such representation include such structures as a line, ray, line-segment, spiral, circle, etc. Each is individuated by a distinctive relational structure. Just as the double-cone is a way of representing the structure and thus nature of color, and as the number-line tells us the structure and nature of number, so too, the essence of time is to be found in its relational structure. Time is, at root, nothing but a relational structure, and the task of philosophers and scientists is to discover the proper description or representation of that structure.

“Domesticated Platonism and the Pitfalls of Nominalism”


Armed with an ontology of only individuals, nominalists face the difficult task of explaining the general or common. For those whose nominalism is motivated by a fear of abstracta which can’t exist in causal relations, including being objects of knowledge, a theory of concrete universals can serve be a viable alternative. I sketch such an account, taking seriously the idea from Plato’s middle dialogues that generality is explained by the sharing of something common, but adding the twist that we think of predicables as modeled on stuffs or masses. Thinking of universals as concrete, stuff-like entities allows us to make generality a basic feature of reality, in a way that alleviates as least some of the concerns that drive philosophers towards nominalism. Ultimately the nominalist’s reliance on a primitive relation of resemblance is replaced by that of whole/part. 

Department of Philosophy