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Perdurantism or perdurance theory is a philosophical theory of persistence and identity. [1] The perdurantist view is that an individual has distinct temporal parts throughout its existence. Perdurantism is usually presented as the antipode to endurantism, the view that an individual is wholly present at every moment of its existence. [1]

In philosophy, identity, from Latin: identitas ("sameness"), is the relation each thing bears only to itself. The notion of identity gives rise to many philosophical problems, including the identity of indiscernibles, and questions about change and personal identity over time.

In contemporary metaphysics, temporal parts are the parts of an object that exist in time. A temporal part would be something like "the first year of a person's life", or "all of a table from between 10:00 a.m. on June 21, 1994 to 11:00 p.m. on July 23, 1996". The term is used in the debate over the persistence of material objects. Objects typically have parts that exist in space—a human body, for example, has spatial parts like hands, feet, and legs. Some metaphysicists believe objects have temporal parts as well.

Endurantism or endurance theory is a philosophical theory of persistence and identity. According to the endurantist view, material objects are persisting three-dimensional individuals wholly present at every moment of their existence, which goes with an A-theory of time. This conception of an individual as always present is opposed to perdurantism or four dimensionalism, which maintains that an object is a series of temporal parts or stages, requiring a B-theory of time. The use of "endure" and "perdure" to distinguish two ways in which an object can be thought to persist can be traced to David Lewis.


The use of "endure" and "perdure" to distinguish two ways in which an object can be thought to persist can be traced to David Kellogg Lewis (1986). However, contemporary debate has demonstrated the difficulties in defining perdurantism (and also endurantism). For instance, the work of Ted Sider (2001) has suggested that even enduring objects can have temporal parts, and it is more accurate to define perdurantism as being the claim that objects have a temporal part at every instant that they exist. Currently there is no universally acknowledged definition of perdurantism. [lower-alpha 1] Others argue that this problem is avoided by creating time as a continuous function, rather than a discrete one.

In mathematics, a continuous function is a function for which sufficiently small changes in the input result in arbitrarily small changes in the output. Otherwise, a function is said to be a discontinuous function. A continuous function with a continuous inverse function is called a homeomorphism.

Perdurantism is also referred to as "four-dimensionalism" (by Ted Sider, in particular) but perdurantism also applies if one believes there are temporal but non-spatial abstract entities (like immaterial souls or universals of the sort accepted by David Malet Armstrong). [2]

In philosophy, four-dimensionalism is an ontological position that an object's persistence through time is like its extension through space. Thus, an object that exists in time has temporal parts in the various subregions of the total region of time it occupies, just like an object that exists in a region of space has at least one part in every subregion of that space.

David Malet Armstrong Australian philosopher

David Malet Armstrong, often D. M. Armstrong, was an Australian philosopher. He is well known for his work on metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, and for his defence of a factualist ontology, a functionalist theory of the mind, an externalist epistemology, and a necessitarian conception of the laws of nature. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.

Worm theorists and stage theorists

Perdurantists break into two distinct sub-groups: worm theorists and stage theorists.

Worm theorists believe that a persisting object is composed of the various temporal parts that it has. It can be said that objects that persist are extended through the time dimension of the block universe much as physical objects are extended in space. Thus, they believe that all persisting objects are four-dimensional "worms" that stretch across space-time, and that you are mistaken in believing that chairs, mountains, and people are simply three-dimensional. [3] [4]

Stage theorists take discussion of persisting objects to be talk of a particular temporal part, or stage, of an object at any given time. So, in a manner of speaking, a subject only exists for an instantaneous period of time. However, there are other temporal parts at other times which that subject is related to in a certain way (Sider talks of "modal counterpart relations", [5] whilst Hawley talks of "non-Humean relations") such that when someone says that they were a child, or that they will be an elderly person, these things are true, because they bear a special "identity-like" relation to a temporal part that is a child (that exists in the past) or a temporal part that is an elderly person (that exists in the future). Stage theorists are sometimes called "exdurantists".

It has been argued that stage theory, unlike the worm theory, should be favored as it accurately accounts for the contents of our experience. The latter requires that we currently experience more than a single moment of our lives while we actually find ourselves experiencing only one instant of time, in line with the stage view. [6] [7] [8] However, on the other hand, as Stuchlik (2003) states, the stage theory will not work under the possibility of gunky time, which states that for every interval of time, there is a sub-interval, and according to Zimmerman (1996), there have been many self-professed perdurantists who believe that time is gunky or contains no instants. Some perdurantists think the idea of gunk means there are no instants, since they define these as intervals of time with no subintervals.

In mereology, an area of philosophical logic, the term gunk applies to any whole whose parts all have further proper parts. That is, a gunky object is not made of indivisible atoms or simples. Because parthood is transitive, any part of gunk is itself gunk.

See also


  1. See also: McKinnon (2002) and Merricks (1999)

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  1. 1 2 Temporal parts - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. Brian Garrett (2011). What Is This Thing Called Metaphysics?. Taylor & Francis. pp. 54–55. ISBN   978-1-136-79269-4.
  3. Douglas Ehring (25 August 2011). Tropes: Properties, Objects, and Mental Causation. Oxford University Press. p. 100. ISBN   978-0-19-960853-9.
  4. Timothy D. Miller (2007). Continuous Creation, Persistence, and Secondary Causation: An Essay in the Metaphysics of Theism. ProQuest. pp. 75–77. ISBN   978-0-549-39708-3.
  5. Sider, Theodore (1996-09-01). "All the world's a stage". Australasian Journal of Philosophy. 74 (3): 433–453. doi:10.1080/00048409612347421. ISSN   0004-8402.
  6. Balashov, Y. (2015). Experiencing the Present. Epistemology & Philosophy of Science, 44(2), 61-73.
  7. Skow, B. (2011). Experience and the Passage of Time. Philosophical Perspectives, 25(1), 359-387.
  8. Parsons, J. (2015). A phenomenological argument for stage theory. Analysis, 75(2), 237-242