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Shadows of Divine Things

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Location: Texas, United States

This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Movement, Change and Number: Aristotle’s View of Time (Part 2)

Aristotle’s Definition of Time

In Physics book 4 section 10 Aristotle begins by questioning the nature of time in terms of being and/or nonbeing. Hippocrates G. Apostle points out that “Aristotle’s usual procedure is to show the existence of a thing before proceeding to its nature or definition, for a nonbeing has neither a nature nor a definition (it may have a formula, like the formula of a circle with two centers, which circle cannot exist). Besides it is easier to observe the existence of a thing than to state its definition, as in the case of a man or a tree.”[1] Apostle’s comments are helpful. In fact Aristotle does attempt to determine, in the beginning of his discussion on time, whether time is being or nonbeing.

Aristotle begins by asking, “does it [time] belong to a class of things that exist or to that of things that do not exist?”[2] From this question Aristotle attempts to determine if time “either does not exist at all or barely, and in some obscure way.”[3] The reason Aristotle asserts that time is suspect, with reference to it having ‘being’ is that time might be divisible. In other words, in aporetic fashion Aristotle plays with the idea that part of time has been and is not and part of time is going to be and is not yet (218a 1-4). However, Aristotle asserts, “if a divisible thing is to exist, it is necessary that, when it exists all or some of its parts must exist. But of time some parts have been, while others are going to be, and no part of it is, though it is divisible.” Aristotle continues this line of thinking by declaring, “For the ‘now’ is not a part: a part is a measure of the whole, which must be made up of parts. Time, on the other hand, is not held to be made up of ‘nows.’”[4] This portion of Aristotle’s text has left centuries of scholars speculating about what Aristotle is attempting not only to communicate, but what he is trying to solve about time as well.

In this difficult passage it seems that Aristotle is at least concluding that time is nonbeing. Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary to Aristotle’s Physics concludes this very thing. Aquinas, commenting on this particular text, writes, “Anything that is composed of things which do not exist cannot itself exist or have any substance. But time is composed of things which do not exist. For one part of time is the past which does not now exist, and the other part is the future which does not yet exist.” Aquinas then concludes, “And from these two things the whole of time, given as infinite and perpetual, is composed. Therefore, it is impossible that time is something.”[5] Moreover, Apostle comments on this same passage by declaring, “If time is considered as composed of parts which do not exist, then time itself does not exist and so it has no nature or substance.”[6] This leads us to the question that if time is not a substance and has no being, then what is it? Following Aristotle’s pursuit of time as being or nonbeing is Aristotle’s question what is time’s nature?

[1] Aristotle, Physics, trans. with commentary Hippocrates G. Apostle (Grinnell, Iowa: The Peripatetic Press, 1980), 259.
[2] Jonathan Barnes, ed., The Complete Works of Aristotle (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984), 217a 31, 369. All references from this point will be from this version of the Physics and will be marked with the corresponding numbering in the text unless otherwise noted.
[3] 218a 1-2, 370.
[4] 218a 1-8, 370.
[5] Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, translated by Richard Balckwell, et. al. (Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1999), 273.
[6] Apostle, Aristotle’s Physics, 259. (Emphasis in the original).

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Blogger Steve Scott said...

I think of time as a fourth dimension. The first three dimensions we can see in both directions. The fourth is revealed to us in linear fashion and we can see in only one direction. Probably a limited viewpoint, I know.

10:02 PM, June 09, 2007  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...


That notion seems a little like Alan Padgett's theory from God, Eternity, and the Nature of Time.

11:05 AM, June 10, 2007  

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