Time and Mind: The History of a Philosophical Problem

Time and Mind: The History of a Philosophical Problem

Time and Mind: The History of a Philosophical Problem

Time and Mind: The History of a Philosophical Problem


This book deals with the history of a central problem in the philosophy of time: Can time exist without mind or consciousness, and if not, in what respects? Aristotle was the first to formulate this problem, and it has been intensively discussed ever since. This book analyses the answers and arguments and sets them in their historical context. Although there have been very different approaches, the book shows important continuities as well. Besides being a specialist monograph, it can be used in courses on the philosophy of time in general, or on the realism/idealism debate.


Can time exist independently of consciousness or mind?

This book is about the history of this question and the answers that have been given. Aristotle was the first to ask whether time would exist if there were no mind. the question still occupies the minds of philosophers of very different persuasions today. That is hardly surprising, for no matter how peremptory and ineluctable time may seem to be, it was just as natural to call its absolute, ineluctable reality into question, not so much because everything can be called into question, as because time invited such questioning more than other matters did. Compared with the existence of space or matter, the existence of time has always had something fragile or paradoxical about it, sometimes almost as though it were not genuine at all. Do we perhaps create time ourselves with our experience, our memory, our expectations?

Strictly speaking, of course, it was not always the same question. It already makes a difference whether one is talking about mind, soul or consciousness. Consciousness is the most elementary given, while soul and mind presuppose much more than that. But even when the same word was used, that was no guarantee of identical meaning. Ideas about mind, soul and consciousness varied over the centuries (and often at one and the same moment), while time was taken to refer to different things too. Moreover, all kinds of subsidiary and further questions automatically arose. If time is dependent on mind or consciousness, how and why is it so, and in which respects—and why not in other respects? So many answers had the character of ‘Yes, but…’ or ‘No, except…’, and did not necessarily refer to the same thing.

It is thus debatable whether the question as formulated in the first instance really does have a proper history.

I believe that it does. the following chapters will give sufficient grounds for this belief. Although there is certainly not one and only one issue, there is a coherent cluster of issues. It is striking how many aspects and considerations regularly recur, how much continuity there is amid the unmistakable discontinuity, how many unbroken lines can be detected in this tangle. It is rewarding to note how . . .

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