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Epicureans and the Present Past

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This essay offers a reading of a difficult passage in the first book of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura in which the poet first explains the Epicurean account of time and then responds to a worry about the status of the past (1.459-82). It identifies two possible readings of the passage, one of which is compatible with the claim that the Epicureans were presentists about the past. Other evidence, particularly from Cicero De Fato, suggests that the Epicureans maintained that all true assertions must have a contemporaneous truth-maker and that no contingent future-tensed assertions are true. It appears, however, that they did not assert a symmetrical view of past-tensed assertions. There is no compelling reason, therefore, to think that the Epicureans were presentists about the past.

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