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Past, Present and Future: The Philosophy of Time


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and who have also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including: Wetenschapsfilosofie or Philosophy of Science, and Taalfilosofie or Language and Thought.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement, and for whom this course is part of their programme.


What is time? What is the difference between past, present and future? Is there a difference? Do past and future even exist? Does the present move towards the future? Can causes work backward in time? Questions like these lie at the heart of the philosophy of time. In this course, we will explore this vibrant part of philosophy, focussing on contemporary discussions in (mostly) analytic philosophy.

We will pay special attention to, first, the asymmetry of time: the fact that many processes happen only from the past to the future, but not the other way around. People grow older, never younger; we can have much more detailed knowledge about the past than about the future; we can make plans for the future, not for the past; causation works from past to present; and so on. What is the relation between these asymmetries? Is any of them fundamental? Are they perhaps to be grounded in the nature of time itself?

Second, we will look with special care at the notion of the moving present. Does our feeling that we move inexorably towards the future make sense, or is it an illusion that has been unmasked by modern science? Could we dispense with it? What is, in fact, the correct relation between a common sense and a scientific view of time?

(Some idea from physics will come up during these discussion, but it is very much a philosophy course and no prior knowledge of physics is necessary.)

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce students to contemporary philosophy of time, and give them a good working knowledge of the literature on time asymmetry and the metaphysics of past, present and future.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the central questions and theories in the philosophy of time;

  • the most important philosophical ideas concerning time asymmetry and the difference between past, future and present;

  • some ways of thinking about the relation between the scientific and the manifest image of the world.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • explain the central discussions in philosophical thinking about past, present and future;

  • write a paper setting out their own view and giving coherent arguments for it that show knowledge of the literature.


The timetable is available on the following websites:

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course load

Total course load 10EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Attending seminars (3 hours x 13 weeks): 39 hours

  • Weekly literature and assignments (10 hours x 13 weeks): 130 hours

  • Writing final paper (including research / reading additional literature): 111 hours

Assessment method


  • Mid-term paper (30%)

  • Final paper (70%)

Active participation in class is required for admission to the exam.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (see above)


The resit covers the entire exam (100%) and consists of of paper. Active participation in class is required for admission to the resit. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Dissemination of information

  • Literature

Reading list

  • Paul Horwich, Asymmetries in Time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science (1987), ISBN 9780262580885

  • Contemporary articles; links will be posted on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. V.A. Gijsbers


Not applicable.