Past, present, and future

Past, present, and future is a concept of comparing different eras in time - the known past, the uncertain present, and the unknown (but often optimistic) future.


  • There must be what Mr. Gladstone many years ago called "a blessed act of oblivion". We must all turn our backs upon the horrors of the past. We must look to the future. We cannot afford to drag forward across the years that are to come the hatreds and revenges which have sprung from the injuries of the past.
    • Winston Churchill, speech at Zurich University, Zurich, Switzerland, September 19, 1946. The Sinews of Peace: Post-War Speeches by Winston S. Churchill, p. 200 (1949).
  • The point at issue between the two theories [A and B theory] is whether 'time' really is, in some deep ontological sense, differentiated into past, present and future. ...Reichenbach and Whitrow propose that there is indeed such a type of event and this is the 'becoming', or 'coming into being' of factual states-of-affairs in the physical world.
    Reichenbach ...claimed that 'becoming' is in fact made manifest through the Uncertainty Principle of Heisenberg: "The concept of becoming, he wrote, acquires a meaning in physics: The present, which separates the future from the past, is the moment when that which was undetermined becomes determined, and 'becoming' means the same as 'becoming determined' ".
    Whitrow expressed ..."The past is the determined, the present is the moment of 'becoming' when events become determined, and the future is as-yet undetermined.
    Although neither Reichenbach nor Whitrow developed their thesis at any length, the general purport of what they meant is clear: there is a basic chance element in nature, at least at the micro-level, and the moment of 'becoming', which they identify with 'the present', is marked by a transition from what is merely possible to what is factual. However... this important attempt to provide a physical basis for the A-theory is by no means immune from criticism.
    • K. G. Denbigh, Three Concepts of Time (2012)
  • The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water…. I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self evident, "that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living:" that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison (September 6, 1789); in Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1958), vol. 15, p. 392. In an editorial note, Boyd states that "This concept of political relativism was the one great addition to Jefferson's thought that emerged from his years of residence at the center of European intellectual ferment" (p. 384).
  • Like my three brothers before me, I pick up a fallen standard. Sustained by their memory of our priceless years together I shall try to carry forward that special commitment to justice, to excellence, to courage that distinguished their lives.
    • Ted Kennedy, speech, Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts, August 21, 1968, as reported by The New York Times, August 22, 1968, p. 22.
  • The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
  • Our duty is to preserve what the past has had to say for itself, and to say for ourselves what shall be true for the future.
    • Attributed to John Ruskin. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • Whereof what's past is prologue, what to come
    In yours and my discharge.
    • William Shakespeare, The Tempest, act II, scene i, lines 253–54. Antonio is speaking. "What's past is prologue" is carved on the National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.
  • More and more Emerson recedes grandly into history, as the future he predicted becomes a past.
    • Robert Penn Warren, speech upon receipt of the 1970 National Medal for Literature, New York City (December 2, 1970); transcript, p. 2.
  • There is nothing new under the sun.
    • Various authors. Some sources give as a first source the Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:9, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun". However, Marcus Aurelius said in his Meditations, "Consider for example, and thou wilt find that almost all of the transactions in the time of Vespasian differed little from those of the present day. Thou there findest marrying and giving in marriage, educating children, sickness, death, war, joyous holidays, traffic, agriculture, flatterers, insolent pride, suspicions, laying of plots, longing for the death of others, newsmongers, lovers, misers, men canvassing for the consulship and for the kingdom;—yet all these passed away, and are nowhere". Craufurd Tait Ramage, Familiar Quotations from Greek Authors, p. 47 (1895, reprinted 1968). For a range of variations of the above quotation, see The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, p. 164–65 (1982).
  • Man must have been conscious of memories and purposes long before he made any explicit distinction between past, present, and future.

See also