The Philosophy of Time

The Philosophy of Time

The Philosophy of Time

The Philosophy of Time

Synopsis

An up-to-date and accessible selection of some of the most important writings on the philosophy of time, including work by David Lewis, Michael Dummett, and Anthony Quinton.

Excerpt

Robin le Poidevin and Murray MacBeath

Consider three fundamental beliefs we have about the world (so fundamental that we would rarely, if ever, articulate them): that change is going on constantly, that changes are caused, and that there are constraints on what changes are possible. If we then ask: but are these beliefs true? and: how is it possible for them to be true, if they are? we have summarized many of the central concerns of metaphysics, the philosophical study of what there is. These are the questions with which the first philosophers were concerned. Such questions are paradigmatic of philosophical enquiry, and one cannot progress very far in answering them without considering problems about time. One of the purposes of this Introduction is to make those connections clear.

The three fundamental beliefs mentioned above introduced three central concerns: change, causation, and possibility. These concerns are unifying themes in the essays of this volume.

Change and the passage of time

It is a commonplace that time, not space, is the dimension of change. There is a wholly uncontroversial sense in which this is true: genuine change involves temporal variation in the ordinary properties of things: a hot liquid cools, a tree blossoms, an iron gate rusts. Purely spatial variation, for example the distribution of various colours in a patterned rug, does not count as genuine change. Uncontroversial as this is, it requires explanation. What is special about time? One persuasive answer to this is provided by those who think that 'time is the dimension of change' is true in another sense: that times themselves change in that what is future will become present and then recede further and further into the past. This, the so-called 'passage' or 'flow' of time, is a much more controversial issue, and is a central topic in Part 1. Believers in time's passage can say that time, not space, is the dimension of ordinary change (i.e. change in the properties of things) because time passes in a way in which space does not. Temporal passage makes ordinary change . . .

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