Prior tense, Paul Morris

Arthur Prior: A “Young Progressive”: Letters to Ursula Bethell and to Hugh Teague 1936-1941
Mike Grimshaw (ed)
Canterbury University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9781927145593

A N Prior graduated from Otago University in philosophy and taught there and at the universities of Canterbury (1946-58), Manchester (1959-66) and Oxford (1966-69). At Canterbury, he developed a new form of logic, “tense logic” (1949-1954). Standard logic was atemporal, having no place for timed inferences. Prior developed non-truth-functional temporal operators [F (future – “will be”); G (universal future – “always will be”); P (past – “was”); and, H (universal past – “always was”)] to be added to the usual truth-functional operators in first-order propositional logic, that allowed for propositions qualified in terms of time. This innovation allowed Prior to take time seriously – to understand reality as tensed – and so reconfigure the metaphysics of time (Time and Modality, 1957; Past, Present and Future, 1967). Tense logic also provided the foundation for a number of developments in artificial intelligence.

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