“What, Then, is Time?”



1. The first serious attempt to analyze the concept of time occurs in Aristotle’s Physics. He raises the question, “In what sense, if any, can time be said to exist?” For Aristotle, only individual substances, which are compounds of form and matter, can be said to exist in an unqualified sense, everything else being attributes of these substances. Time is defined as the “number of movement in respect of ‘before’ and ‘after.’” Motion is an attribute of a substance, and time in turn is an attribute of motion. Time is not motion, but the number or measure of motion. Motion is potentially time and becomes such in actuality only when its temporal succession is noted and measured by some sentient creature. Thus time is not a substantial entity which is capable of existing separately from other things: it has no reality independently of the changes that substances undergo. It has being only as an attribute of an attribute of substance.


Temporal Expression Future Time Time Past Pantheon Book Sentient Creature 
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  1. Critical surveys of traditional theories of time are in: J. A. Gunn, The Problem of Time, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1929Google Scholar
  2. M. F. Cleugh, Time, and Its Importance in Modern Thought, Methuen & Co., London, 1937.Google Scholar
  3. L. Wittgenstein’s diagnosis of Augustine’s perplexities about time, which is developed by F. Waismann In the selection in this section, is to be found in Wittgenstein’s books: The Blue and Brown Books, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1958, pp. 6, 26 ff., and Philosophical Investigations, tr. by G. E. M. Anscombe, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1953, pp. 42ff. Articles in which the Wittgensteinian approach to Augustine is pursued are: O. K. Bouwsma, “The Mystery of Time (Or, The Man Who Did Not Know What Time Is),” JP, 51 (1954), reprinted in Bouwsma’s Philosophical Essays, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1965Google Scholar
  4. F. Waismann, “How I See Philosophy,” in Contemporary British Philosophy, third series, H. D. Lewis, ed., George Allen & Unwin, London, 1956, especially pp. 450–53Google Scholar
  5. Ronald Suter, “Augustine on Time with Some Criticisms from Wittgenstein,” Revue internationale de philosophie, 16 (1962)Google Scholar
  6. Richard M. Gale, “Some Metaphysical Statements about Time,” JP, 60 (1963).Google Scholar

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© Richard M. Gale 1968

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