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Seventeenth-Century Scholastic Treatments of Time

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... Des Chene (1996) also provides an insightful discussion, giving particular attention to Descartes. On imaginary time, especially in Suarez, see Daniel (1981) and Bexley (2012). 6 AT 7 235; CSM 2 164 Descartes's point is simply that, given the conceptual interdependence of space and body, imaginary space entails actual body; but there is no parallel interdependence between time and body. ...
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Descartes Intinity Space vs. Time
... Des Chene (1996) also provides an insightful discussion, giving particular attention to Descartes. On imaginary time, especially in Suarez, see Daniel (1981) and Bexley (2012). 6 AT 7 235; CSM 2 164 Descartes's point is simply that, given the conceptual interdependence of space and body, imaginary space entails actual body; but there is no parallel interdependence between time and body. ...
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In two rarely discussed passages – from unpublished notes on the Principles of Philosophy and a 1647 letter to Chanut – Descartes argues that the question of the infinite (or indefinite) extension of space is importantly different from the infinity of time. In both passages, he is anxious to block the application of his well-known argument for the indefinite extension of space to time, in order to avoid the theologically problematic implication that the world has no beginning. Descartes concedes that we always imagine an earlier time in which God might have created the world if he had wanted, but insists that this imaginary earlier existence of the world is not connected to its actual duration in the way that the indefinite extension of space is connected to the actual extension of the world. This paper considers whether Descartes’s metaphysics can sustain this asymmetrical attitude towards infinite space vs. time. I first consider Descartes’s relation to the ‘imaginary’ space/time tradition that extended from the late scholastics through Gassendi and More. I next examine carefully Descartes’s main argument for the indefinite extension of space and explain why it does not apply to time. Most crucially, since duration is merely conceptually distinct from enduring substance, the end or beginning of the world entails the end or beginning of real (as opposed to imaginary or abstract) time. In contrast, extension does not depend on any enduring substance besides itself.
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During the seventeenth century the Iberian Jesuit Francisco Suárez was considered one of the greatest philosophers of the age. He was the last great Scholastic thinker and profoundly influenced the thought of his contemporaries within both Catholic and Protestant circles. He contributed across all fields of philosophy, from the natural law, ethics and political theory, to natural philosophy, the philosophy of mind, and philosophical psychology, and most importantly to metaphysics, ontology, and natural theology. Echoes of his thinking reverberate through Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, and beyond. Yet curiously Suárez has not been well-studied by historians of philosophy. It is only recently that he has emerged as a significant subject of critical and historical investigation for historians of late medieval and early modern philosophy, and that small sections of Suárez's magnum opus, the Metaphysical Disputations, have begun to be translated into English, French, and Italian. The historical task of interpreting Suárez's thought is still in its infancy, and this volume of essays represents one of the first collections in English written by the leading figures largely responsible for this new trend in the history of philosophy. It covers all areas of Suárez's philosophical contributions and contains cutting-edge research, which is sure to shape and frame Suárez scholarship for years to come as well as the history of seventeenth-century generally. It is an essential text for anyone interested in Suárez, the seventeenth-century world of ideas, and late Scholastic or early modern philosophy.
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This paper explores the nature, development and influence of the first English account of absolute time, put forward in the mid-seventeenth century by the 'Cambridge Platonist' Henry More. Against claims in the literature that More does not have an account of time, this paper sets out More's evolving account and shows that it reveals the lasting influence of Plotinus. Further, this paper argues that More developed his views on time in response to his adoption of Descartes' vortex cosmology and cosmogony, providing new evidence of More's wider project to absorb Cartesian natural philosophy into his Platonic metaphysics. Finally, this paper argues that More should be added to the list of sources that later English thinkers - including Newton and Samuel Clarke - drew on in constructing their absolute accounts of time.
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Descartes' account of the material world relies heavily on time. Most importantly, time is a component of speed, which figures in his fundamental conservation principle and laws. However, in his most systematic discussion of the concept, time is treated as some-how reducible both to thought and to motion. Such reductionistic views, while common among Descartes' late scholastic contemporaries, are very ill-suited to Cartesian physics. I show that, in spite of the apparent identifications with thought and motion, Cartesian time retains-in the form of what I will call 'successive duration'-precisely the intrinsic structure necessary to serve as an independent parameter of quantitative physics. As is often the case with Descartes, he gives the impression of embracing traditional doctrines while in fact radically transforming the underlying concepts to serve his scientific agenda. His theory of time, though formulated in Aristotelian terms, anticipates Newton in important respects.
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Seventeenth-century authors frequently infer the attributes of time by analogy from already established features of space. The rationale for this can be traced back to Aristotle's analysis of time as ‘the number of movement’, where movement requires a prior understanding of spatial magnitude. Although these authors are anti-Aristotelian, they were concerned, contra Aristotle, to establish the existence of ‘empty space’, and a notion of absolute space which fit this idea. Although they had no independent rationale for the existence of absolute time, it seemed to go with absolute space, and they drew on a long tradition of space-time parallelism in securing this.
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Suárez's discussion of time in the Metaphysical Disputations is one of the earliest long treatises on time (extending over sixty pages), and includes detailed arguments supporting the view that physical actions take place within an absolute temporal reference frame. Whereas some previous thinkers, such as John Duns Scotus and Peter Aureole, had made tantalising suggestions that time exists independently of physical changes, their ideas were primarily negative theses in response to perceived problems with the dominant view that time was caused by the celestial motion. Suárez, in contrast, provides a positive thesis based on his revision of traditional, Scholastic metaphysics. He argues that the ordering of earlier and later events can only be understood by conceiving events as existing within the embrace of a ‘flowing and successive space’ which he refers to as ‘entirely necessary and immutable in its own flux’ (omnino necessarium et immutabile in suo fluxu) - something at least very like an absolute temporal reference frame. Yet it would be simplistic to describe Suárez's work on time only in terms of its nascent absolutism, since for him there is a second kind of time, a more properly ‘real’ time, which is an accident of material being. This kind of time is ontologically tied to the most intimate existence of objects, creating a plurality of individual continua of time - one for each distinct being. He calls this kind of time ‘intrinsic time’ (tempus intrinsecum). Suárez's dualistic account of time, in which he proposes an ‘intrinsic time’, linked to being, which exists within a second order absolute temporal reference frame, or ‘imaginary succession’, forms a bridge between scholasticism and early modern philosophy providing a foundation for the work of later absolutists like Gassendi and Newton.
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God and time play crucial, intricately related roles in Descartes' project of grounding mathematical physics on metaphysical first principles. This naturally raises the perennial theological question of God's precise relation to time. I argue, against the strong current of recent commentary, that Descartes' God is fully temporal. This means that God's duration is successive, with parts ordered ‘before and after’, rather than permanent or ‘all at once’. My argument will underscore the seamless connection between Descartes' theology and his physics, and the degree to which he was prepared to depart from orthodoxy in the former in order to secure an a priori foundation for the latter. As Newton would later do, Descartes freed time from its traditional dependence on bodily motion and so removed an important barrier to making God temporal. Acting in time, God makes the physical world intelligible in a way He could not were He timeless.
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