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DOI 10.1007/s11229-016-1164-3

Refining Four-Dimensionalism

Shieva Kleinschmidt1

Received: 17 September 2015 / Accepted: 8 July 2016

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Abstract Current formulations of Four-Dimensionalism may be objected to on

grounds that they are too inflexible: the formulations do not seem to allow for enough
variety in the views they are paired with. For instance, Kit Fine has noted that formula-
tions of Four-Dimensionalism in terms of instantaneous parts may be too demanding
for Four-Dimensionalists who believe nothing is instantaneous. And Trenton Merricks
has argued that one can think something persists four-dimensionionally without taking
it to have proper temporal parts (i.e., temporal parts distinct from the whole object),
and claims that our formulation of Four-Dimensionalism should be revised to allow
for this. I will add my own worries to those of Fine and Merricks. I will note that
current formulations of Four-Dimensionalism are not sufficiently neutral with respect
to the structure of time, with respect to how liberally objects decompose into parts,
and with respect to whether objects and the regions they fill match in mereological
structure. I will show that we can formulate Four-Dimensionalism in a sufficiently
neutral way, while still producing a view that can do the work we typically require of

Keywords Persistence · Four-Dimensionalism · Parthood · Time

Three-dimensionalists claim that objects persist in virtue of being wholly present at

each time; that is, at each time at which you’re present at all, none of you is missing,

Thanks to Yuri Balashov, Renee Bolinger, Matthew Davidson, Maegan Fairchild, Kit Fine, Michael Hall,
John Hawthorne, Jake Ross, Mark Schroeder, Ted Sider, and the audience at the 2015 Central APA for
helpful discussion on this topic.

B Shieva Kleinschmidt

1 The University of Southern California, 3709 Trousdale Pkwy, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA


you’re all there. Four-dimensionalists, on the other hand, tend to think that objects
extend through time as they do through space; they have smaller temporal parts making
them up across any interval they persist though. These characterisations are rough,
however, and work has been done to more adequately capture what it would mean to
persist in each of these ways. In this paper, I will argue that Four-Dimensionalism can
be neutral with respect to much more than we may have imagined.
The current formulations of Four-Dimensionalism may be objected to on the
grounds that they are inflexible, or not sufficiently general. They do not seem to
allow for enough variety in the views they are paired with. For instance, Merricks
(1999, p. 431) and Fine (2006) have each presented revised accounts of the Three-
Dimensionalist/Four-Dimensionalist disagreement, due to thinking the typical ways of
formulating Four-Dimensionalism are too theoretically demanding. Fine claims that
formulations of Four-Dimensionalism in terms of instantaneous parts are too demand-
ing for Four-Dimensionalists who believe that nothing is instantaneous.1 And Merricks
argues that one can believe something persists four-dimensionionally without thinking
it has any proper temporal parts (i.e., temporal parts distinct from the whole object),
and so argues against formulating Four-Dimensionalism in terms of proper temporal
parts. In the spirit of Fine’s and Merricks’ projects, I will seek improved, theory-
neutral formulations of Four-Dimensionalism, produced without appeal to unusual
(i.e., not already widely accepted) primitive notions. I will show that it is possible
to give a single formulation that addresses both Fine’s and Merrick’s worries, and
also addresses several other worries as well. I will show that Four-Dimensionalism
needn’t require additional commitments about the structure of time, and is surpris-
ingly neutral on how liberally entities decompose into parts. Further, it can do all of
this while preserving what four-dimensionalists all seem to agree upon, while doing
the work four-dimensionalists tend to want their view to do, and without invoking
controversial primitive notions.2 Thus, we can capture what four-dimensionalists like
about their view, while formulating it in ways that are harder to object to than their
more commitment-laden counterparts.
This paper will proceed as follows: I will begin by defining the technical terms I
will use throughout the paper. Then I will broadly set apart Three-Dimensionalism,
Four-Dimensionalism, and the Spanning View of persistence. I will then work through
a series of formulations of Four-Dimensionalism, showing problems with each for-
mulation, and how each problem might be addressed. Finally, I will conclude with
a formulation that does all of the work we want it to do, while avoiding needless

1 Fine (2006, p. 700).

2 Many four-dimensionalists will be happy to include additional primitive notions in their formulations of
Four-Dimensionalism, such as in virtue of or grounded in. (For instance, many take Four-Dimensionalism
to be a view about what entities persist in virtue of.) I will not argue against such views, but will show that
we needn’t endorse them in order to give strikingly neutral formulations of Four-Dimensionalism that do the
work we tend to demand, and which do not require the inclusion of relations like in virtue of. For precedent
for separating talk of in virtue of from formulations of Four-Dimensionalism, see Sider (2001, Chap. 3). He
notes that his formulation of Four-Dimensionalism lacks talk of in virtue of relations or property inheritance,
and takes these to be additional claims about persistence that a four-dimensionalist can make.


1 Definitions

Before we begin, it will be helpful to define some of the mereological and locative terms
I will be regularly using throughout the paper. There is debate about which groups
of definitions we ought to use; for instance, about which mereological and locative
primitives to adopt, what location at a region involves, and so on. I have chosen some
of the standard definitions below, but my claims about Four-Dimensionalism can be
translated for a variety of systems of definitions.
I am taking parthood to be primitive, to amount roughly to making up some or all
of an object.3
• ‘x is a proper part of y  =df x is part of y and distinct from y 4
• ‘x overlaps y  =df there exists a z such that z is a part of x and z is a part of y
• ‘x is disjoint from y  =df x and y do not overlap
• ‘x fuses the ys  =df each of the ys is a part of x, and x has no part disjoint from
each of the ys5
I will take these mereological relations to relate regions as well as objects. For any
who would like to reject this assumption, simply translate the definitions below that
appeal to mereological features of regions to involve analogous subregionhood rela-
tions instead.
I will take located at as a primitive relation between objects and spatial or spa-
tiotemporal regions (depending on whether you posit space or spacetime as the kind
of regions entities bear this relation to). I will sometimes use exactly located at to pick
out this relation.
• ‘x is located at r  =intuitivegloss (i) r is shaped just like x,6 (ii) r is the same size as
x, (iii) x completely fills r , and (iv) all of the parts of x contained within r fuse to
make x
Some strange counterexamples preclude the above intuitive gloss from eligibility as
an adequate definition, but it helps us get a grasp of the relation.7
A relation like this one is taken as primitive by Casati and Varzi (1999) and Hudson
(2006), and Parsons (2007) suggests that taking such a relation as primitive is one
acceptable way to endorse his system of locative definitions. The authors disagree
about whether the relation is functional, in that every entity may have exactly one
region it bears this relation to: Casati, Varzi, and Parsons, say it is, and call it ‘exact

3 We may instead take proper parthood to be primitive, and define parthood disjunctively, as proper parthood
or identity.
4 We may instead take x to be a proper part of y iff it’s not the case that y is a proper part of x. For more
on this, see Cotnoir (2010). Either definition will suit our purposes here.
5 I have taken this short list of definitions from Simons (1987) and Casati and Varzi (1999). Those texts
draw from the formal theories presented by Stanislaw Leśniewski beginning in 1916 and Henry Leonard
and Nelson Goodman’s 1940. For more on this, see the texts just listed as well as Varzi (2007) and the
introduction of Kleinschmidt (2014).
6 Note: if you think objects are extended in time as well as in space, then their shapes and the regions they
exactly occupy will be temporally extended as well.
7 For more discussion about why this fails as a definition of located at, see (Kleinschmidt, unpublished).


location’. Hudson takes it to be possibly non-functional, allowing for the possibility

of multilocation. I will not take a stand on this here, and will present definitions that
are neutral with respect to this issue.

• x is present at r =df r overlaps a region at which x is located8

• x is contained within r =df x is present in r and is not present in any region
disjoint from r .9,10

I will also use some of the following terms involving times11 :

• ‘T is an interval’ =df T is a fusion of times. (Note, since instants are fusions

of themselves, this definition allows for intervals to be either instantaneous or
temporally extended. It also allows for intervals to be either discontinuous or
• ‘x is a proper temporal part of y  =df x is a temporal part of y and distinct from y
• ‘x is located at T  =df x is located at a spatial or spatiotemporal region that overlaps
with every subinterval of T , and does not overlap with any intervals disjoint from
• ‘x is located in T  =df x is located at a spatial or spatiotemporal region that
overlaps with some subinterval of T ,12 and does not overlap with any intervals
disjoint from T
• ‘x is present at T  = df T overlaps a spatial or spatiotemporal region at which x
is located
• ‘x is contained in T  = df x is present at T , and x is not present at any interval
disjoint from T

Two final notes. First: henceforth I will use ‘time’ as synonymous with ‘interval’ as
defined above. Times may be extended or not, continuous or not, just as spatial regions
may be. Second: I will use ‘wholly located at T ’ as synonymous with ‘located at T ’.
However, I do not want to be committed to there being a definition of ‘whole location’,
or to the claim that it should be defined locatively rather than mereologically, so readers
are welcome to substitute any preferred accounts of this notion.

8 This is very nearly equivalent to Parsons’ weak location (2007, p. 203), and is similar to Casati and Varzi’s
generic location (1999, pp. 120–121), but my definition allows for entities to be located at multiple regions.
9 This is exactly like Parsons’ entire location relation (2007, p. 203). It is extentionally equivalent to
Casati and Varzi’s whole location (2007, pp. 120–121), though their definition relies on a preclusion of
10 These definitions are loosely based on definitions from Casati and Varzi (1999), Parsons (2007), and
Hudson (2006). For a more detailed overview of logics of location than the one given here, see Gilmore
(2014) and Kleinschmidt (2014). For discussion of difficulties facing logics of location like these, see also
(Kleinschmidt, forthcoming).
11 For simplicity and neutrality, I have refrained from relativization of times to reference frames. But the
definitions can be thus amended for anyone wishing for such a change.
12 Note that since this does not require that it overlaps with a proper subinterval of T , which would have
to be distinct from T . (The subinterval/proper subinterval distinction is analogous to the part/proper part


2 An overview of views of persistence

Now that we have our technical terms sorted out, let’s do some quick dividing up of
views about persistence. I will describe how one may set apart Three-Dimensionalism,
Four-Dimensionalism, and the Spanning View of persistence.
Attempts have been made to characterize Three-Dimensionalism mereologically.
For instance, it is tempting to take Three-Dimensionalism to be the claim that persisting
objects lack proper temporal parts. i.e., roughly: persisting objects lack parts that are
spatially coincident with them at some time, and which are not present and part of the
object at every time at which the object is present.13 However, this has been objected
to.14 For it seems that a three-dimensionally persisting object could have temporary
temporal parts: an object can be wholly present at each time, but made up of something
different (and temporary) at each time, such as a statue made up of a different portion of
clay at each instant. Though we may think that there are problems with a view like this,
it does not seem contrary to the spirit of Three-Dimensionalism for things to be this
way. So the most straightforward mereological account does not seem to get at what we
have in mind with three-dimensional persistence. In fact, elsewhere I have argued that
every way of attempting to give a mereological formulation of Three-Dimensionalism
will fail (see Kleinschmidt, unpublished). However, we have alternatives. For instance,
we might follow Peter van Inwagen in claiming that ordinary objects that persist are
nonetheless temporally unextended.15 We might say that this is so because material,
three-dimensionally persisting objects are wholly located at a temporally unextended
spatial region at each time at which they are present.16 The regions at which the
entities are located will not be temporally extended, though our theorist will be free
to say that entities persist across extended temporal intervals. Alternatively, we can
separate talk of size from talk of where entities are located. We can simply cash out
the view in terms of temporal sizes of persisting objects: though one might say that
objects are present across extended intervals of time, and perhaps have temporally
extended location, their shapes are not extended in the temporal dimension. Finally,
we might follow Fine (2006) in saying that objects persist three-dimensionally if they
exist (henceforth: existFine ) in time but are not located in it.17 Fine takes existenceFine

13 See, for instance, Markosian (1994).

14 See, for instance, Fine (2006), and Hawthorne (2006). For an argument that we cannot cash out Three-
Dimensionalism merely mereologically, see (Kleinschmidt, unpublished).
15 See van Inwagen (1990).
16 See, for instance, Simons (1987) and Hawthorne (2006). For more references, see Sider (2001, p. 63).
For an excellent discussion of how to define wholly present, as well as a survey of attempted definitions,
see Crisp (2005). And if we wish to combine Three-Dimensionalism with gunky time, we can amend our
formulation to say “persisting objects are wholly located in every time at which they are present.”
17 I tend to prefer the locative account because it does not require an extra primitive relation beyond what
the Three-Dimensionalist’s opponent already (barring Supersubstantivalism) has reasons to posit. Though
Kit Fine’s view has the advantage that it gives us a unified account of three-dimensional persistence for
material objects and (if there are any) immaterial objects present in time (which, arguably, wouldn’t have
sizes or locations, but may nonetheless exist in time; see Fine (2006) for other advantages). But we won’t
need to take a stand on this topic here. We need something that sets Three-Dimensionalism apart from
the other views, but regardless of our take on what this should be, there is work to be done in separating
Four-Dimensionalism from The Spanning View.


as a primitive, non-locative notion, and he contrasts it with extension. Ordinary objects

existFine in time rather than extending through it, just as immanent universals (should
there be any) existFine in space rather than extending through it.18 Entities like events,
on the other hand, extend through both time and space.19
As an alternative to Three-Dimensionalism, one may endorse the Spanning View
of persistence.20 According to this view, persisting objects span21 through time. Some
relevant terminology (and recall that you can take r to range over spatial or spatiotem-
poral regions, as fits your views about location):
• ‘x spans r  =df x is located (or existsFine ) at a superregion of r , and x does not
have any part that is located (or existsFine ) at any proper subregion of r 22
• ‘x spans T  = df x is located (or existsFine ) at a superinterval of T , and x does not
have any part that is located (or existsFine ) in T
Notice, neither kind of spanning requires that spanning entities are mereologically
simple.23 There is merely the requirement that spanning entities lack parts that have
certain locative (or existenceFine -related) features. For instance, a temporal spanner
may have proper parts that are spatially but not temporally smaller than it; it simply
may not have any parts (proper or improper) that are located or existingFine in proper
subintervals of the interval the whole entity is located at.
The Spanning View takes persistence to involve spanning through time. Consider an
example: suppose we have an object that is spatially simple24 and temporally extended,
such as a (spatially) point-sized grain with a minute-long life. If this object persists
via spanning, then though it fills a minute-long interval, it is neither located at nor

18 This notion of exists

Fine in time is not to be confused with the notion of existence-at-t defined by Heller
(1984) and Sider (2001), according to which (roughly) an entity exists-at-t iff the entity exists and has a
part present at t. For Fine, though existsFine is not reducible to any notion of location, it is required that if
an entity existsFine at a time, all of its parts are present at that time.
19 Peter Simons defends a similar distinction between how ordinary objects (continuants) and events
(occurrents) relate to time and space. However, he takes the different relations involved to be locative. For
more on this, see Simons (2014).
20 Cody Gilmore (unpublished) has shown that the Spanning View is relevant to how we draw distinctions
between alternative views of persistence. Parsons (2000) and (2007) defends this account of persistence,
using ‘entending’ as synonymous for ‘spanning’, and Parsons (2000) has argued for its plausibility as a
candidate view of persistence.
21 The term ‘spanner’ was first used by McDaniel (2003), to name a sort of entity that Cody Gilmore first
presented to the literature and described in 2004 (see Gilmore, unpublished). For further discussion, see
Hudson (2006, pp. 99–103).
22 With the exception of the addition of the notion of existence
Fine , this is nearly exactly the definition
presented and discussed by Hudson (2006, p. 101). This is also nearly equivalent to the notion of entension
presented in Parsons (2000).
23 For instance, if I am made of tiny, locatively non-overlapping, extended-simple parts, such as curved
1-dimensional strings. I will count as spanning each region that any such part is located at, in virtue of
having no parts (proper or otherwise) located at any proper subregions of those regions. Another example:
suppose I have a special post-it made of two extended simples of the same size. I fold it in half, but it’s
made of special matter that allows me to make the halves colocate, so that the simple parts are now each
located at the same region. This special post-it will now span the region at which it is located, though it is
composite and colocated with its proper parts.
24 Again, spanners needn’t be simple; this simply makes our case simpler.


existsFine within any shorter portion of that minute, nor does it have any parts with
either of those features. Whereas a three-dimensional object is located at or existsFine
at each time at which it is present, and typical four-dimensional objects have temporal
parts present at any times at which it is present, a persisting spanner will fill an extended
temporal region, and bear a location (or existenceFine ) relation to that region, without
it or any part of it being located at or existingFine at shorter intervals within that region.
Suppose for the moment that the spanning theorist believes that spanners are located
at (rather than, say, existFine at) the temporally extended regions they occupy. (So, in
the case of the grain, the object will be located at a minute-long interval. Let’s call such
objects ‘spannersL ’.) If we endorse this view, perhaps because we don’t posit a notion
of existenceFine , then we will take The Spanning View and Four-Dimensionalism to
have a lot in common. They agree about where persisting objects are located and
what their sizes are; they both believe persisting objects are located at regions that are
temporally extended, and unless they endorse some nonstandard view, they think the
objects have the same sizes and shapes as the regions at which they are located. It is
partly on this basis that Parsons (2000) argues that spanningL should be considered a
form of Four-Dimensionalism.
If spanning is a kind of four-dimensional persistence, it is an unusual kind. Typ-
ically when four-dimensionalist persistence is discussed, it is treated as involving
objects with temporary parts, and the spanning theorist denies objects have such parts.
That is, typical Four-Dimensionalism as frequently discussed involves a mereological
component that the Spanning View lacks. This can be seen, in part, by reflecting on
the kinds of work Four-Dimensionalism is often used to do: Four-Dimensionalism is
typically taken to provide us with the material for a unique solution to the problem
of change over time (presented to us by Heraclitus25 and, roughly 2,500 years later,
clarified by David Lewis26 ). Typical four-dimensionalists are able to explain change
over time by appealing to temporary parts as the bearers of temporarily-had properties.
But as Parsons notes, the Spanning View does not give us any temporary parts to work
with, so the spanning theorist will have to opt for another response to the problem,
such as property relativization or an appeal to distributional properties.27
I will not depend on the claim that the Spanning View is not a kind of Four-
Dimensionalism; this is a matter of terminological preference. But I am interested
in examining the extent to which Four-Dimensionalism can be neutral while giving
us tools to handle the problem of change over time. Thus, I will focus on how we
may formulate that form of Four-Dimensionalism. Whether that should be taken to be
Four-Dimensionalism full-stop, or just Four-Dimensionalism with an additional mere-
ological component, is up to readers. Henceforth, I will refer to this mereologically
demanding form of Four-Dimensionalism simply as ‘Four-Dimensionalism’.
Thus, though we can distinguish Three-Dimensionalism from each of Four-
Dimensionalism and the Spanning View merely via appeal to location, size, or

25 See Hoppolytus’s Refutation 9.10.4 = 22B59 and 9.10.5 = 22B61 (Cohen et al. 2005, pp. 29–30), John
Tzetzes’ Notes on the Iliad, p. 126, Hermann = 22B126 (Cohen et al. 2005, p. 31), and Arius Didymus, Fr.
39.2 (Dox. gr. 471.4) = 22B12 (Cohen et al. 2005, p. 30).
26 Lewis (1986, pp. 203–204).
27 For more on distributional properties, see Parsons (2004).


existenceFine in time, Four-Dimensionalism has a mereological component that the

Spanning View does not. Roughly: the four-dimensionalist thinks that, for any per-
sisting object: it has proper parts present at (and contained within) every proper
subinterval of any interval at which it is located. Further, the persisting object is
the fusion of those proper parts, and occupies the fusion of the regions occupied by
those proper parts.28 (I will include a fusion condition like this one in the formula-
tions of Four-Dimensionalism that I will consider below, putting it in italics when
adding it to a formulation presented by someone else.) This characterization of Four-
Dimensionalism is incomplete, however, because it does not tell us enough about
which parts four-dimensional objects must have.29 It is to that issue that we shall now

3 Formulating Four-Dimensionalism

Standardly, it is believed that four-dimensionally persisting objects must have proper

temporal parts.30 Sider (2001) gives us the following account of temporal parts:

• x is an instantaneous temporal part of y at instant t = df (i) x is a part of y; (ii) x

is present at, and contained in, t; and (iii) for all z, if z is present at, and contained
in, t, and z is a part of y, then x overlaps z.31

The first condition ensures that x stands in the right mereological relation to y, and
that x does not mereologically contain too much; if x is part of y, x cannot have any
parts that y does not also have. The second condition ensures that x is exactly the
right temporal size. The third ensures that x mereologically contains enough; none of
y escapes it at the times at which x is temporally present. Using this definition, Four-
Dimensionalism is formulated. (Note: I have included my additional requirement in

28 Things are more complicated if you think four-dimensional objects or their parts can be multiply located.
For a discussion of this, see Kleinschmidt (2011).
29 We might also say that it is incomplete because it does not say anything about what it is in virtue of that
persistence occurs. Please feel free to add this to my formulations if you would like.
30 These can be contrasted with temporary proper parts, which I will discuss shortly.
31 I have substituted talk of presence at and containment in times for Sider’s talk of existence-at-times,
just to avoid any confusion that this might require a denial of Eternalism, the view that past, present, and
future objects all exist. Thomson (1983, p. 207) offers a slightly different account of temporal parts, on
which, roughly, x is a temporal part of y at T iff x is located at the intersection of T and y’s location.
Four-Dimensionalism when understood as involving temporal parts as defined by Thomson will face the
same problems that I will raise for Four-Dimensionalism involving temporal parts as defined by Sider. For
interesting further problems facing these accounts of temporal parts, see Effingham (2011).
32 To motivate this condition, recall the three-dimensionally persisting statue that is made of a distinct,
instantaneous chunk of clay at each time. Arguably, this statue has temporal parts at each time. But with
the added requirement that four-dimensionally persisting objects fuse all of their proper temporal parts, we
avoid classifying this statue as a four-dimensionally persisting object.


• Four-Dimensionalism1 : Necessarily, each spatiotemporal object has a temporal

part at every moment at which it is present33 (and is the fusion of all of its temporal
It is worth noting that this is a general formulation of Four-Dimensionalism, intended
to cover both the Worm View (on which ordinary objects are temporally extended)
and Stage Theory (on which ordinary objects are, strictly speaking, not temporally
extended, 34 in that they fail to have parts (proper or improper) present at disjoint times).
Though those two kinds of Four-Dimensionalism disagree about whether ordinary
objects are temporally extended, they agree about what it is for an object to extend
through time.
However, this formulation will be unacceptable for anyone who believes there are
no instants, or non-extended units, of time. For such a person will count as a four-
dimensionalist regardless of his or her other views, simply because the condition will
be vacuously satisfied. Thus, Sider provides an alternative account for those who think
that time comes only in extended chunks:
• x is an extended temporal part of y at temporal interval T = df (i) x is a part of
y; (ii) x is present at, but only at, times overlapping T ; and (iii) for all z, if z is
present at some time in T , and is not present at any time not overlapping T , and if
z is a part of y, then x overlaps z.
• Four-Dimensionalism2 : Necessarily, each spatiotemporal object has a temporal
part at every relevant temporal interval it persists through (and is the fusion of all
of its temporal parts).35
Reading ‘interval’ as ‘region of time’, so it includes instants as well as extended tem-
poral regions, the above definition of ‘extended temporal part’ can serve as a general
definition of ‘temporal part’, capturing extended as well as unextended temporal parts.
And Four-Dimensionalism2 will provide us with an informative condition regardless of
our view of the structure of time; that is, regardless of whether we think time is pointy,
ultimately consisting of instants, chunky, consisting of smallest extended regions of
time, or gunky, consisting of smaller and smaller composite, extended intervals and no
instants. However, the formulation is incomplete without some explanation of what is
meant by relevant temporal interval.
Sider suggests that the relevant intervals are the continuous ones. Thus:
• Four-Dimensionalism3 : Necessarily, each spatiotemporal object has a temporal
part at every continuous temporal interval it persists through (and is the fusion of
all of its temporal parts).
This principle will entail not only that a temporally extended object will have temporal
parts located at all of the smallest intervals it persists through (if there are any such

33 Again, I’ve replaced talk of Siderian existence-at-times with talk of presence.

34 See Sider (2001).
35 Sider (2001, p. 60).


intervals), but that for any continuous interval, if our entity persists through it, it has
a temporal part located at that interval. So we each have a temporal part that extends
through, say, just the first half of the our lifespan, and another extending through all
but our last minute and forty-seven seconds.36
This requires a sort of liberal decomposition that many may find distasteful. It is
relevantly similar to the Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts. Formulated (but not
endorsed) by Peter van Inwagen, this doctrine says:
• The Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts (DAUP): For every material object, M,
if R is the region of space occupied by M at time t, and if sub-R is any occupiable
sub-region of R whatever, there exists a material object that occupies the region
sub-R at t.37
It is not unreasonable to want to reject DAUP. While it is natural to think that you have
hands, arms, a torso, etc., it is less natural to think there is a single part consisting of
all of you but the portions within an inch of where your feet meet the floor.38 If we
reject DAUP for spatial parts, we may also wish to reject the relevantly similar claim
about temporal parts—especially if, as four-dimensionalists are often fond of saying,
objects are spread across time in the same way they are spread across space. Rejecting
this form of liberal decomposition should not be incompatible with accepting Four-
Dimensionalism.39 So, there must be a less demanding formulation of the view.
If we were considering only views on which there are simple intervals (that is, either
instants or extended intervals that are not made up of any smaller intervals), we might
give the following formulation (and, having moved past Sider’s formulations, I will
replace quantification over spatiotemporal objects with quantification over persisting
objects, to allow for four-dimensionalists who do not believe in spacetime):
• Four-Dimensionalism4 : Necessarily, each persisting object (i) has a temporal part
at every mereologically simple temporal interval it persists through, and (ii) is the
fusion of all of its temporal parts.
Using this formulation, someone who believes that time is pointy will count as a
four-dimensionalist as long as she thinks that persisting objects have temporal parts
at every instant at which they are present. It does not matter if she also thinks there

36 Hawthorne (2006, p. 87) formulates an even more demanding thesis for gunk theorists: “Gunky Plenitude:
For any object x and any temporal interval of non-zero measure during which x exists, there is an object
y such that y exists just in the interval and coincides with x at every time in the interval.” This requires
then gunk theorist to posit even more objects than Four-Dimensionalism3 would require of them (since it
requires objects at discontinuous intervals as well), but it does not require that these objects are parts of the
persisting object.
37 van Inwagen (1981).
38 Mark Heller notes that one can reject DAUP while accepting Four-Dimensionalism, on p. 327 of his
(1984). Many accept DAUP because they accept that objects have point-sized parts at every point at which
they are present, and they accept Unrestricted Composition. But the Unrestricted Composition theorist
has some work to do: see Dan Korman’s “Debunking Perceptual Beliefs About Ordinary Objects” for an
interesting challenge to some widely endorsed motivation for Unrestricted Compositon.
39 Fine (2006, p. 700) also takes a stand against grouping claims of liberal decomposition with Four-
Dimensionalism. He comes to a different conclusion than I do, though: this is one of his motivators for
positing two different ways of being present in time, namely, extending through it, and existing in it.


are temporal parts present at any extended intervals through which the object persists.
This formulation, then, will have the same results for our pointy theorist as Sider’s
original formulation. Similarly, if one takes time to be chunky, then as long as entities
are taken to have temporal parts at each of the smallest intervals through which they
persist, the entities will count as persisting four-dimensionally regardless of whether
they have any larger proper temporal parts.
However, even if this account is successful in avoiding being too demanding with
respect to how liberally entities must decompose into parts, it has the same problem
as Four-Dimensionalism1 . It is not a plausible formulation of Four-Dimensionalism
regardless of our view of the structure of time, for it fails to allow for the view on which
time is gunky. This is because someone who believes time is gunky will think there are
no mereologically simple temporal intervals. So, according to the above formulation,
every object persisting through a temporally gunky interval will count as persisting
four-dimensionally (even spanning objects and three-dimensional objects). What we
want, then, is a formulation of Four-Dimensionalism that applies to gunky time as
well as to non-gunky time, and which does not carry hefty commitments to views like
DAUP. An initial attempt:

• Four-Dimensionalism5 : Necessarily, each persisting object is such that (i) every

temporal interval it persists through is wholly decomposable into sub-intervals,
the T s, that have temporal parts of the object located at each of their sub-intervals,
and (ii) it is the fusion of all of its temporal parts.

That is to say: for any interval an object persists through, there is some level of
decomposition of that interval into smaller intervals, and from that group of smaller
intervals on down, we find temporal parts of our object located at each of those intervals.
For ease of discussion, let’s use the following definition:

• ‘T is liberally temporal-parted by x  = df each subinterval of T has a temporal

part of x located at it.

So, for instance, consider the interval I persist through. There are a lot of ways
to decompose it: into hours, seconds, years, minutes, nanoseconds, etc. Suppose we
think that the collection of non-overlapping seconds that make up my lifespan are the
relevant intervals for my meeting condition (i) in Four-Dimensionalism5 . That would
mean that, while I may have some longer temporal parts, and I might lack a few (such
as a temporal part persisting through exactly the first half of my lifespan), I must have a
temporal part located at every one of these seconds. Furthermore, for every subinterval
of each of those seconds, I must have a temporal part located at that interval, too.
Four-Dimensionalism5 addresses our worry about DAUP-like commitments by
allowing us to deny that persisting objects have temporal parts located at every con-
tinuous interval they persist through; we can now say that persisting entities have
temporal parts located at just some of those intervals. And this account applies to
pointy, chunky, and gunky views about the structure of time.
If we think time is wholly decomposable into simple (instantaneous or extended)
intervals, the most minimal way for a persisting object to satisfy requirement (i) of
Four-Dimensionalism5 will be for it to simply have proper temporal parts located at


each simple interval it persists through (after all, those will be at the bottom level of
decomposition of the intervals the object persists through).
For the temporal gunk theorist things are a bit messier, however, because they
believe intervals do not have a bottom level of decomposition; instead, each interval
has smaller and smaller proper subintervals. The pointy and chunky theorists can
non-arbitrarily choose a minimal group of intervals as those that are liberally temporal-
parted: the ones at the bottom level of decomposition. The temporal gunk theorist does
not have this option. They face three problems: First, for any interval an object persists
through, it is not clear how to non-arbitrarily select a decomposition of that interval
to be the top-most level that is liberally temporal-parted by the object. Consider:
if a temporal gunk theorist thinks that every interval any object persists through is
liberally temporal-parted, then we face the difficulties of Four-Dimensionalism4 . But
if, instead, the temporal gunk theorist thinks that some interval an object persists
through is not liberally temporal-parted by that object, then they will be positing non-
uniform temporal gunk: some intervals will be liberally temporal-parted, others will
not, and we will have no way to explain this difference in our gunk across levels
of decomposition. The second difficulty faced by the temporal gunk theorist who
endorses Four-Dimensionalism5 is that there is no minimal way to meet condition
(i) of Four-Dimensionalism5 . This will not be ideal for someone hoping to present a
formulation of Four-Dimensionalism that minimizes mereological commitments.
The third problem is that Four-Dimensionalism5 seems to mischaracterize the fol-
lowing case of uniform temporal gunk:
• Intermittent Temporal Gunk: Object O is extended for exactly one hour of gunky
time. O’s proper temporal parts consist entirely of those in the following series (and
those parts fuse to make O): Though O does not have proper temporal parts located
at either the first half or second half of the hour, it does have proper temporal parts
located at each fourth of the hour.40 And though it does not have temporal parts
located at the eighths of its duration, it does have temporal parts located at each
of the sixteenths. And so on, ad infinitum.
This object persists by having proper temporal parts located in (though in some cases
not at) all of the different intervals it persists through. And those temporal parts
together are enough to make up the object. So the object persists by having smaller
temporal parts in every interval it fills, and it is made up out of those temporal parts.
This object should count as a four-dimensionally persisting object. But it will not
meet requirement (i) in Four-Dimensionalism5 because, for any decomposition of the
hour into subintervals, the T s, that we choose, there will be some subinterval of some
member of the T s such that the object does not have a temporal part located at it. For
instance, if we decompose the hour into non-overlapping sixty-fourths of that hour,
then though O will have a temporal part located at each of those sixty-fourths, it will
not have a temporal part located at any of the one-hundred-twenty-eighths that make
up our sixty-fourths of the hour. If we want to claim that an object like this one can
count as four-dimensional, as well as avoid the problems of arbitrariness and lack of

40 That is, for each of the the non-overlapping, continuous fourths of the hour through which O persists,
O has a temporal part located at that fourth of the hour. Similarly for sixteenths, sixty-fourths, and so on.


minimality that Four-Dimensionalism5 faces, we need an alternative account. We may

opt instead for the following.
• Four-Dimensionalism6 : Necessarily, each persisting object is such that, (i) every
interval41 it persists through is wholly decomposable into subintervals each of
which is such that the object has a temporal part located at it, and (ii) the object is
the fusion of all of its temporal parts.
This formulation tells us that, for any persisting entity and any interval it persists
through, anywhere we look within the interval, we’ll find the entity has temporal parts
throughout it. Pointy and chunky objects can meet the requirement by simply having
temporal parts located at each (pointy or extended) simple temporal interval. And
gunky objects can meet the requirement even with an unusual distribution of temporal
parts “all the way down”. All that is required is this: no object can persist through a
temporal region without having temporal parts that make it up throughout that interval.
Thus, we have a straightforward formulation of Four-Dimensionalism that seems
to capture four-dimensional persistence that gives us tools for the problem of change,
while avoiding needless commitments about the structure of time and needless com-
mitments to extra parts of our persisting objects. This formulation looks promising.
However, there is an issue to address.
One of our desiderata is to minimise mereological commitments, but it is widely
granted that to endorse Four-Dimensionalism, you cannot be completely mereologi-
cally neutral. It is assumed that you must at least claim that persisting objects have
proper temporal parts. However, Merricks (1999) has questioned this. He has claimed
that things can persist four-dimensionally without having proper temporal parts. To
see how we might get such a result, consider the following, highly unusual view (a bit
different from what Merricks presents).
Combine a van Inwagenesque Ontology with a spacetime-worm view of persisting
objects. That is, suppose we think that the only objects that exist are mereological
simples (such as instantaneous point-sized grains, for instance) and living beings
(such as people and dogs). But suppose we also think that objects that persist are
not wholly located at any given instant, but instead are located at the fusion of all of
the regions they fill. Thus, on this view, I am not wholly present right now, nor do I
have a temporal part that is present right now. The only parts of me that are entirely
present right now are point-sized, instantaneous simples. And yet, though we have
fewer objects to work with than a typical four-dimensionalist does, this seems like a
four-dimensionalist view, because the entity persists across time via having proper,
temporary parts contained within each of the extended temporal regions it fills (and
the entity is the fusion of all of those parts). This is a kind of Four-Dimensionalism
without proper temporal parts.42

41 I want to emphasise that I do not just mean for this to describe merely the largest interval the entity
persists through. This condition applies to any interval whatsoever that the thing fills; so, for instance, it
applies to the first minute of your life, as well as the full interval your life fills. And it applies to the first
second of that first minute. And so on.
42 The situation Merricks has us consider is slightly different: he has us imagine that everything is made
up of four-dimensional cells which have temporal parts, but that the objects with the cells as proper parts


This particular view is odd, and (to my knowledge) has never been endorsed.
Though it does have some things to recommend it. For instance, the view can be
used to respond to puzzles in Metaphysics in much the same way typical varieties of
Four-Dimensionalism can, with pluralities of temporary parts playing the roles that
temporal parts typically play. Further, the view may help us avoid The Problem of
Thinking (proper) Parts, which typical varieties of Four-Dimensionalism have more
trouble with.43 A full evaluation of this view, however, is a topic for another paper.
What matters for our purposes is that, though this view does not posit any proper
temporal parts, it seems to be squarely in the spirit of Four-Dimensionalism with
respect to persistence across time, and it gives us the tools to give four-dimensionalist
responses to puzzles. But Four-Dimensionalism6 will classify this sort of persistence
as relevantly dissimilar from four-dimensional persistence. So, how might we for-
mulate Four-Dimensionalism in order to group this view with the others? We might
attempt to merely state general requirements for parts persisting objects have, rather
than having requirements for temporal parts in particular. For instance, we might go
with the following formulation.

• Four-Dimensionalism7 : Necessarily, each persisting object is such that, (i) every

proper subregion of any region at which it is located is wholly decomposable into
regions each such that the object has a proper part located at and contained within
it,44 and (ii) the object is the fusion of every object that is, at any time, part of it.45
Notice that condition (ii) has changed: we no longer require that the object is the fusion
of all of its temporal parts, for we are allowing that the object may have no temporal
parts (perhaps merely having temporary proper parts instead).46

Footnote 42 continued
do not have any additional, intermediate parts. So the composites of multiple cells do not have proper
temporal parts, though parts of them have proper temporal parts. I’ve gone a different route simply because,
on the view I’ve presented, no objects have proper temporal parts. So not only needn’t an object possess
proper temporal parts for it to persist four-dimensionally, nothing in its world needs to have proper temporal
43 For a presentation of this problem, see Olson (2007, pp. 78–98). The basic idea is this: It seems that
the four-dimensionalist must accept the rather odd claim that, in addition to you thinking your thoughts,
something distinct from you, say, your minute-long current temporal part, also thinks some of your thoughts.
On the view I’ve presented, all of the proper parts of thinking creatures are too simple to think themselves.
44 This portion of the account is in some ways similar to Hudson’s account of pretension (Hudson 2006,
p. 99): ‘xpertends’ = df x is a material object, and x is entirely located at (i.e., located at, and contained
in) a non-point-sized region,r , and for each proper subregion of r , r ∗ , xhas a proper part entirely located
at r ∗ . But, importantly: pertension requires that objects obey DAUP, and my four-dimensional persistence
does not.
45 Sider (2001) talks about interpreting ‘y is part of x at t’ to mean y has a temporal part at t that is part
of x. I do not intend to pick out such a relation with my “at a time, x is part of y”. I intend the ordinary
requirements for parthood to apply. So, for instance, there are no parts of y that are not also parts of x.
46 Further, if you believe that unextended objects can inhabit gunky regions, the conditions in Four-
Dimensionalism7 will not be sufficient to guarantee that there is an adequate array of temporal parts.
To briefly explain: consider a continuous, topologically closed, perfectly straight line segment 1 long,
made of uncountably many points. For each point, it has some exact distance in inches from the left
end-point of the line-segment (for instance, the point exactly in the middle of the segment will be .5 in from


Formulation Four-Dimensionalism7 has multiple problems, though.47 The most

significant is this: this formulation will misclassify some views on which things persist
across time differently from how they persist across space. For instance, it misclassifies
four-dimensional persistence of some objects that are temporally extended, spatially
extended, and spatially simple. Suppose a theorist thinks that the smallest objects are
of Planck-length in each spatial direction, and that they persist by having temporal
parts present at each time at which they are present at all. (Suppose also that space
and time are made of continuously many points.) This theorist will not think that
things persist through time in the same way that they persist through space; an object
can be spread across space without having proper parts contained within an extended
spatial region the object fills, but it cannot be spread across time without having proper
parts contained within any extended temporal intervals the object fills. On the above
formulation, Four-Dimensionalism7 , space and time are treated on a par; we simply
make a requirement of persistence across regions, and it applies to spatial regions,
temporal regions, and spatiotemporal regions. This is a requirement that our persisting,
extended, Planck-length, spatially-simple object will fail to meet, for the left half of
the n-dimensional Planck-length region it fills at an instant is a proper subregion of
a region at which it is located, but the object does not have any parts located at that
region (though it fills that region). If we think that this object should count as persisting
four-dimensionally, we need to revise our formulation of Four-Dimensionalism.48
If we want our requirements about parts to only apply to persistence across temporal
intervals, but we do not want to require the existence of temporal parts, we might talk
about pluralities of parts had at times rather than individual parts had at times. We
might present something along these lines:

Footnote 46 continued
the leftmost point). Consider all and only those points that have an exact distance that is a rational number
of inches. Call these the Xs. The Xs do not make up the whole line-segment (for instance, there are some
points with a distance from the leftmost point that is not a rational number of inches). Now suppose, keeping
their size and arrangement fixed, that the Xs were embedded in a gunky, one-dimensional, inch-long region.
Every subregion of that region would contain at least one of the Xs. If this sort of case is possible, you
might think it is possible (or at least, conceivable) for a persisting, hour-long entity in gunky time to have
a similar “dusting” of instantaneous temporal parts. Suppose that the hour-long entity is exactly located at
a continuous, hour-long interval, and is not the fusion of the instantaneous temporal parts. This entity will
count as having temporal parts contained within each interval it persists through, but you may think it isn’t
persisting merely in virtue of those temporal parts, and that this should not count as a four-dimensionally
persisting object. In this case, you will want a complication of condition (ii) similar to the one offered
following the presentation of formulation Four-Dimensionalism8 .
47 Some problems: It has difficulties with mixtures of Four-Dimensionalism and multiple-location, where
an object bears the located at relation to more than one region (though issues of spatiotemporal multilocation
raise enough problems that I leave discussion of this for another paper). And it may misclassify some three-
dimensional objects that do not change their parts across time (though this could be avoided with some
additional requirements).
48 It should be noted that this object would not count as persisting four-dimensionally relative to every
reference frame. However, we can imagine a theorist who posits objects such as these and believes (perhaps
for moving spotlight purposes) that there is a metaphysically privileged reference frame. All else being
equal, it would be better for our formulation of Four-Dimensionalism to allow for such views, and to not
presuppose that a privileged reference frame does not exist.


• Four-Dimensionalism8 : Necessarily, for any persisting object, x, (i) every interval

x persists through is wholly decomposable into subintervals each such that x has
a part located at and contained in that subinterval, and (ii) x is the fusion of every
object that is, at any time, part of it.
Condition (ii) as written above should be read as an informal gloss on what we really
want. To see why, consider an object that persists for an hour and is similar to a
temporal spanner in that it is located at the hour-long spacetime region, and does not
have any proper temporal parts within the interval it fills. Further, suppose this object
has only one spatial part (a single, special atom) that persists four-dimensionally, and
in fact has proper temporal parts at every proper subinterval through which it persists.
All of the other atoms making up our object are temporal spanners. This object will
meet the above conditions for persisting four-dimensionally, in virtue of having the
right kind of proper part that does so. But intuitively, this should not count as a four-
dimensionally persisting object. To get the right results, we need a more complicated
reading of condition (ii):
• Precise (ii)8 : for any way of decomposing the fusion of intervals x fills49 into
subintervals, the Ts, such that for each member of the Ts there is a part of x that is
located at interval and is contained in it, there is some collection of objects, the ys,
such that (a) each of the ys is located at and contained in of some member of the
T s, (b) each of the T s has at least one of the ys located at it, and (c) x is a fusion
of the ys.
Here is the intuitive idea behind Four-Dimensionalism8 : This formulation requires
that persisting entities have temporary parts, but not that they have temporal parts.
Entities persist by having a succession of short-lived parts, and they fuse all of the
parts they have at any time.
There is one final worry that I will discuss. One might hold the view that objects
and times have mismatches in mereological structure. Suppose, for instance, a theorist
thinks objects persist in virtue of having successions of instantaneous temporal parts,
but he/she also thinks that time is gunky. If this theorist thinks that some persisting
object does not have any intermediate-level temporal parts (there are just the instan-
taneous temporal parts, and the whole object), there will be no proper sub-interval of
the interval the object persists through such that the entity has a temporal part located
at it. The object will have many temporal parts located in those intervals, but none
located at them.
Perhaps, then, we can amend our account one last time, to require parts within
intervals. Perhaps we should say:
• Four-Dimensionalism9 : Necessarily, for any persisting object, x, (i) every interval
x persists through contains a part of x, and (ii) x is the fusion of every object that
is, at any time, part of it.

49 I.e., any subregion of a fusion of regions that x is located at. Note that this, as well as the more intuitive,
simpler statement of condition (ii), will need adjustment if we wish to allow for spatiotemporal multilocation
of (what we might otherwise think are) four-dimensionally persisting entities.


As before, we will need a precise version of the second condition:

• Precise (ii)9 : For any way of decomposing the fusion of intervals x fills into
subintervals, the Ts, such that for each member of the Ts there is a part of x that is
contained within it, there is some collection of objects, the ys, such that (a) each
of the ys is contained within some member of the T s, (b) each of the T s has at
least one of the ys contained within it, and (c) x is a fusion of the ys.

(Note that this more precise reading of condition (ii) of Four-Dimensionalism9 differs
from the precise reading of condition (ii) of Four-Dimensionalism8 , in that it no longer
includes requirements that any proper parts of objects are located at intervals. This
is in line with Four-Dimensionalism9 ’s compatibility with objects that fail to have
temporal parts located at any intervals.)50
In shifting from talk of parts at intervals to talk of parts in intervals, we have a much
easier response to worries about times made of instants vs. times made of gunk; we
no longer need to talk of levels of decomposition, as the same requirement applies to
every temporal region the entity is present at or through.
Even if you think that the view on which there is a mismatch between the mereo-
logical structure of some persisting object and the mereological structure of the region
it is located at is not one we need to be careful to allow for, it seems that we have lost
nothing in amending our account of Four-Dimensionalism in order to do so.
This last formulation of Four-Dimensionalism seems to capture the intuitive spirit
behind the kind of four-dimensional persistence that involves a plenitude of parts to
assist us in addressing the problem of change. And this view is far more flexible
than we may have thought Four-Dimensionalism could be. Something persists four-
dimensionally just in case it has parts contained within every subinterval of any interval
(instantaneous or extended) that it persists through, and it’s made up of all of those
parts. And this is so regardless of what view we have of the structure of time, how
(otherwise) liberally objects decompose into parts, and whether objects and times
match up with respect to mereological structure.

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