Michael Edwards. Time and the Science of the Soul in Early Modern Philosophy

By Fester, Karin Susan | Seventeenth-Century News, Fall-Winter 2015 | Go to article overview

Michael Edwards. Time and the Science of the Soul in Early Modern Philosophy


Fester, Karin Susan, Seventeenth-Century News


Michael Edwards. Time and The Science of The Soul In Early Modern Philosophy. Brill's Studies in Intellectual History 224. Leiden: Brill, 2013. x + 224 pp. $128.00. Review by KARIN SUSAN FESTER, INDEPENDENT SCHOLAR.

This is a book for philosophers who are not only interested in the concept of time, but who seek new perspectives on this intriguing and problematical philosophical concept as well as appreciate what Rene Descartes and Thomas Hobbes have to say about it. Michael Edwards' book is distinctive because it focuses attention on the numerous late Aristotelian thinkers who assumed that the soul's diverse functions played an active role in the concept of time. More precisely, it is devoted to the aspects of time which have either not been thoroughly examined or omitted by other historians of early modern philosophy; instead, these other scholars have shown how Aristotelian natural philosophy was concentrated on "space" rather than "time." Edwards argues that time is somehow intimately connected to the human rational soul--"'relative' or as dependent on motion and the soul"--and this, of course, contrasts with Isaac Newton's (1642-1727) concept of time as something 'absolute' (6). The author seems to achieve a persuasive argument, and he invokes elements from early modern commentaries and textbooks concerning Aristotle's Physics and De Anima and attempts to find connections and influential elements to the natural and political philosophy of Descartes and Hobbes in the seventeenth century.

The in-depth Introduction begins with delineating distinct ways of conceptualizing time: absolute and relative. The author disagrees with Newton's concept of absolute time: "an immaterial entity, that is parallel to space, and which flows independently and absolutely" (2). He also discusses the early modern thinkers, 1570 to 1670, who also embraced the idea of time as something absolute, namely, Telesio, Patrizi, Gassendi, Charleton, and Barrow. For centuries, this particular view of time was dominant. Edwards challenges this taken-for-granted assumption, because to "[view] early modern theories of time solely through a Newtonian lens can distort our perspective strikingly" (3).

In Chapter One, Edwards explores how time was considered in early modern commentaries on Aristotle's Physics Book IV, as well as textbooks in natural philosophy and metaphysics produced by authors from Italy and France, and throughout northern and central Europe before 1650. Edwards highlights ideas from Aristotle's Physics Book IV, 223a21-a29.' "that time in some way depends on, or is constructed by, the soul" (4). The author emphasizes the theological works of philosopher Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) and the Spanish theologian Francisco Suarez's metaphysical writings, because these texts seemed to influence early modern commentaries concerning the ontology of time. Scotus and Suarez both emphasized the significance of the human "imagination," and "internal time" as a property of beings. The textbook authors surveyed included Clemens Timpler, Rodophus Goclenius, Bartholomaeus Keckerman, Johann Heinrich Alsted, Johannes Poncius, and the Franciscans Mastrius and Belluti.

The role of time in Aristotelian psychology is the focus of the second chapter. This is significant because it is the first work that has thoroughly examined the role of time and temporality in early modern commentaries of Aristotle's De Anima. Numerous commentaries were surveyed by the author: the De Anima commentaries of Hieronymus Dandinus (1554-1634), the Coimbra commentaries, and a host of others, including Johannes Maginus, Franciscus Toletus, Michaeli Zanardi and Hugo Cavellus. These commentators "considered not only how we think of time [...] but also how we think in time" (10). The De Anima tradition perceived man as both a rational and temporal animal. The author considers various phenomena and concepts: "time and duration," "the language of time and duration," "temporal sequence," the soul's "temporality and atemporality," "time and motion," and more (69, 72, 73, 75, 91). …

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