Chastek and the Aristotelico-Thomistic Theory of Time. An Aristotelian Critique

0. In “Our contribution to motion and time,” his January 3, 2015, post to his blog, Just Thomism, James Chastek offers a brief statement of the Aristotelico-Thomistic understanding of time.

Time is a sort of measure, and so presupposes some contribution from the one measuring…

I recognize that this represents the understanding of time which Aristotle, Aquinas, and the Aristotelian tradition have advanced. But I have long thought that such an understanding does not accord with Aristotelianism’s most fundamental tenets.

1. I do not here deny the Aristotelian thesis that time is an “accident” and, along with quantity, quality, and relation, etc., “category of being,” quite the contrary. I further do not here deny the more specific Aristotelian thesis that time has its immediate basis in motion or change, the thesis evident in the definition of time Aristotle offers in Physics (219a30),* quite the contrary:

Time is the number of change in respect of before and after.

I am not here denying this more specific thesis even though I am currently in the process of reading and reflecting on physicist Lawrence Krauss’s bestselling work, A Universe From Nothing. Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, in which he unhesitatingly assumes that contemporary physics tells us that there can be and indeed have been space and time without there being the “stuff” now empirically discoverable in the universe “within” space and time. This is evident in numerous passages throughout the book, including the following,** in which, after bringing up the question of

how all the stuff we see could have arisen from a universe in which that stuff did not already exist

he goes on to say:

Now, that state of no-stuff may not be “nothing” in a classical sense, but it is a remarkable transformation nevertheless. So, the first form of “nothing” is just empty space. But one is perfectly reasonable in questioning whether this is really “nothing” because space is there, as is time. I then describe how it is possible that space and time themselves could have arisen from no space and time, which is certainly closer to absolute nothing. Needless to say, one can nevertheless question whether that is nothing, because the transition is mediated by some physical laws.

2. What I am denying is the subjectivism, as I will call it, evident in Chastek’s title and in his understanding that time, as a measure [or number, to adhere more tightly to Aristotle’s own wording], “presupposes some contribution from the one measuring [or counting].” As I am using the term here, subjectivism is the thesis that:

That which is known is ontologically posterior to, or dependent upon, the activity of knowledge by which it is known.

In other words, knowledge is creative of the known.

When Chastek announces, as he does via the post’s title, that we “contribute” to time and motion (and change), he is affirming that they are in some measure ontologically posterior to, or dependent upon, as he says in the body of the post, “the cognition of higher animals,” that is, the measuring or counting activity of “higher animals.”

3. I do not deny that Chastek’s view, on this point, is fully in accord with that of Aquinas and Aristotle, on this point. But I do assert that that it goes absolutely counter to the fundamental objectivism of the Aristotelico-Thomistic philosophical perspective, the thesis according to which:

That which is known is ontologically prior to, or independent of, the activity of knowledge by which it is known.

In other words, knowledge is not creative of the known.

In no wise, then, does the Aristotelico-Thomistic philosophical perspective hold that the physical beings which are subject to motion and change and so are temporal are ontologically posterior to, or dependent upon, the activity of knowledge by which they are known. Again, in no wise, therefore, should the Aristotelico-Thomistic philosophical perspective hold that the motions and changes to which physical beings are subject are ontologically posterior to, or dependent upon, the activity of knowledge by which they are known.

Finally, in no wise, therefore, should the Aristotelico-Thomistic philosophical perspective hold that the times of the motions and changes to which physical beings are subject are ontologically posterior to, or dependent upon, the activity of knowledge by which they are known.

4. Yes, times, in the plural, for it should be the case that there is a time for every motion or change. But that is a topic for another post. So too will be the topics of the Aristotelico-Thomistic theories of measurement and the measurable.

Until next time.

*Aristotle, Physics. Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye. Book IV, 219a30. An online version is readily available at The Internet Classics Archives. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/physics.4.iv.html.

**Lawrence Krauss, A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (New York: Free Press, 2012). The pages from which Krauss’s text is taken are unnumbered, but had they been numbered, they would have been pp. 205-206.

 

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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