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Time, Tense and the Psychology of Relief

A two-day workshop

9th & 10th February 2015
IAS seminar room, Milburn House, University of Warwick


  • Cheryl Chen (Philosophy, Harvard)
  • Graeme A. Forbes (Philosophy, Kent)
  • Heather Dyke (Philosophy, formerly at Otago)
  • Teresa McCormack (Psychology, Queen's University Belfast)
  • Reinhard Pekrun (Psychology, Munich)
  • Eva Rafetseder (Psychology, Stirling)
  • Kate Sweeny (Psychology, University of California at Riverside)

Attendance at the workshop is free, but there are only a small number of places available.
To register for the workshop, please email c dot hoerl at warwick dot ac dot uk

sponsored by: New Agendas for the Study of Time

Provisional schedule:

Monday, 9th February:

9:30am – 10:00am: Welcome and Introduction

10:00am – 11:30am: Kate Sweeny: On Near Misses and Completed Tasks: The Nature and Consequences of Relief

11:30am – 12noon: coffee

12:00noon – 1:30pm: Heather Dyke: Invoking Evolutionary Explanations: Relief and Other Temporal Experiences

1:30pm – 2:30pm: lunch

2:30pm - 4:00pm: Reinhard Pekrun: Relief in Achievement Settings

4:00pm – 4:30pm: coffee

4:30pm – 6:00pm: Teresa McCormack: The Development of Regret and Relief

Tuesday, 10th February:

9:30am – 11:00am: Graeme A. Forbes: Relief and Ontological Status

11:00am – 11:30am: coffee

11:30am – 1:00pm: Eva Rafetseder: Regret and relief in the developing child: a matter of choice?

1:00pm – 2:00pm: lunch

2:00pm - 3:30pm: Cheryl Chen: Relief vs. Gratitude

Workshop Rationale:

The emotion of relief is at the centre of a key argument in the philosophy of time. A central debate in the metaphysics of time concerns the question as to whether time objectively passes, or whether what we refer to as the ‘passage of time’ just reflects our own changing point of view on time. One of the main arguments in favour of the former view is Arthur Prior's 'Thank goodness’ argument. Put briefly, Prior asks us to consider the state of relief felt after a painful experience has ended, and he argues that, in order to make such relief intelligible, we must adopt a picture of time on which the passage of time is objectively real.

The central idea behind the proposed workshop is that the existing literature on Prior’s argument (whether critical or in support of it) pays far too little attention to the kind of state of relief at issue in the argument – its nature, cognitive role, and cognitive pre-requisites – and that this has hampered a proper understanding of the argument and its merits. As such, this is an area in which philosophical discussion about the nature of time could benefit a great deal from engaging with empirical research in psychology.

At the same time, there is arguably a need for existing work on relief in psychology to be put on a firmer theoretical footing – involving, for instance, more clearly articulated conceptual distinctions between different types of relief, depending on the way time figures in them. This, in turn, should facilitate the development of new empirical paradigms for studying relief and its connections with abilities for temporal representation and reasoning. Thus, an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to relief also promises to yield substantive theoretical as well as empirical dividends in psychology.

The plan is for a two-day workshop, to be held at the University of Warwick. The workshop will bring together philosophers working in philosophy of mind and metaphysics, and psychologists working in developmental and cognitive psychology. The workshop will have an exploratory focus, aiming to encourage participants to think about aspects or implications of their own work in ways that they have not done so before. Examples of possible topics for discussion include the following:

  • Prior’s argument assumes that there is something intelligible about the relief I express when I utter ‘Thank goodness that’s over’ after a painful or distressing experience has ended. In what sense might feeling such relief be ‘appropriate’? What role might it play in our cognitive lives? Can we give an evolutionary explanation for it, or is it merely an evolutionary by-product of something else?
  • Prior’s argument also assumes that the intelligibility of my relief turns essentially on the tense of ‘that’s over’ – that is, on the fact that my root canal is in the past. There are arguably forms of relief for which this is not the case. How should we draw the distinction between ‘temporal relief’, in Prior’s sense, and such other forms of relief (which may for instance involve comparing the actual world with counterfactual possibilities)? And to what extent does existing empirical work demonstrate the existence of and differences between several forms of relief?
  • What are the cognitive pre-requisites for relief of the type at issue in Prior’s example? Is it a relatively primitive phenomenon, or does it require a certain amount of cognitive sophistication? Do different types of relief differ in the amount of cognitive sophistication they require? How, in particular, is relief connected to other cognitive factors to do with time, such as capacities for temporal representation and planning, or temporal discounting?