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Time for Aristotle: Physics IV .o.. Bv Unstr\ Coorr. (Oxford UP, .oo. Pp. viii +
:q. Price o.oo.)
Ursula Coopes book on Aristotles treatment of time is excellent. It forms a good
dual to Ben Morisons On Location. Both are published in the same Oxford Aristotle
series, both have an amusing title, and both treat of topics which receive a self-
contained discussion in Aristotles Physics IV: Morisons concern is chs :, on place;
Coopes is chs :o:, on time.
I start with two general thoughts about Coopes book. First, since she is discussing
a continuous and fairly short body of text, it would have been helpful had the book
started with a translation (and maybe even a Greek text). Coope provides her own
translations of much of the text throughout, while acknowledging her debt to Ed-
ward Husseys Clarendon Aristotle translation of Physics IIIIV. But she gives no
translation of the text as a continuous whole. This is a pity. After reading Coopes
introduction, some readers will want to read quickly through Physics IV :o:, in
order, for example, to acquaint themselves with the rough structure of Aristotles
discussion. And it would be helpful to be reading Coopes own translation as a
whole and from the start. Even if a continuous translation were not thought
necessary (for there is material in IV :o: which Coope does not discuss), a useful
alternative would have been an indication in the comprehensive Index Locorum (for
example, by use of asterisks) of pages where a translation of a particular portion of
text can be found.
Secondly, while Coope concentrates on a continuous block of Aristotelian text,
she has not written a commentary. So she is able to structure her discussion with an
eye on dialectical clarity, without having to follow too slavishly the detailed structure
of Aristotles text (she does, of course, follow its general structure). As a result she
can move backwards and forwards over the text in discussing particular issues: for
example, at pp. :.6, in the course of explaining how earlier and later nows are in
some ways the same and in some ways dierent, she cites ...a :o::, .:qb . and
.oo The Author Journal compilation .oo The Editors of The Philosophical Quarterly
Published by Blackwell Publishing, q6oo Garsington Road, Oxford ox .n, UK, and o Main Street, Malden, x\ o.:8, USA
The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. ,, No. ::, April :oo,
ISSN oo.8o doi: :o.::::/j.:6-q.:..oo.8.x
.:qb ::. To a great extent this is welcome, since Physics IV :o: is not very
tightly structured. But the disadvantage is that it is often hard for the reader to see
where and in what order Aristotle himself is making the points which Coope pre-
sents, and the diculty of getting an overview of Aristotles treatment is exacerbated
by the absence of a continuous Coope translation of the four chapters.
:. A summary
Time for Aristotle starts with an introduction (pp. ::) which lays the necessary
groundwork for what is to follow, for example, concerning Aristotles general
account of continuity and his characterization of change as the actuality of that
which potentially is, qua such (Physics III :, .o:a :o::).
There then follow ve parts containing two chapters each. Part I deals with the
introductory material in IV :o::, arguments which suggest that time either does
not exist at all or exists only scarcely (.:b .q.:8a o), and arguments on the
relation of time and change (.:8a o.:qa :o), which culminate in the important
preliminary conclusion that time is something of change (.:qa q:o).
Part II examines in detail Aristotles view that important features of time some-
how depend on corresponding features of change, which features in turn depend on
features of magnitude (roughly IV ::, .:qa :o.:).
Part III unpacks the opaque claim that time is a number of change with respect
to the before and after (IV ::, .:qb :.; see also IV ::, .:qa ...:qb q and IV :.,
..oa ...ob .).
Part IV tackles the idea that there is a single time within which all dierent
changes have a position. Relevant portions of Aristotles text are IV ::, .:qb :o
..oa .6, and IV :, ..a .q..b :. and ..a .:. Aristotles writing here is very
dense, and Coope does a ne job in helping the modern reader to engage with the
issues Aristotle raises. Her ch. 8 is particularly helpful in clarifying his somewhat
unsuccessful attempts to explain how it is that earlier and later nows are in a way the
same and in a way dierent, and includes (pp. :.q) a novel interpretation of one of
the analogies on which Aristotle relies in the course of that explanation, the analogy
between a now and a thing in motion.
Finally, part V looks at two broad consequences of Aristotles treatment of time.
First (IV :., ..ob ....a q and IV :, ...b :6.), there are some things which are
in time, while there are others which are not (the latter including not only things like
Sherlock Holmes, which do not exist at all, but also anything which does exist and
lasts forever, IV :., ..:b ). Secondly (IV :, ..a :6.q), Aristotle sees a complex
relation between time and the soul, summarized at the endishly dicult ..a .8:
But if nothing else has the nature to count than soul (and in the soul, the intellect), it
is impossible for there to be time if there is no soul, except that there could be that,
whatever it is, by being which time is, for example, if it is possible for there to be
change without soul (Coopes translation, p. :q).
In what follows I shall concentrate on a few points I found particularly dicult.
Parts of Physics IV :o: are opaque even by Aristotles standards, but at every turn
Coopes discussion aided engagement, cast light and stimulated thought. Time for
Aristotle is an impressive and exciting book, and it would benet not only specialists
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in ancient philosophy, but also anyone interested in the philosophy of time, since in
this area, as in so many others, Aristotles contributions are of value.
.. Magnitude, change and time
A central feature of Aristotles account of time is that there is some sort of depend-
ence of time on change, and of change on magnitude:
Since the changing thing changes from something to something and all magnitude
is continuous, the change follows the magnitude. For through the magnitudes being
continuous the change too is continuous, but through the change the time. For the
amount of time that has passed is always thought to be as much as the amount of
change. Therefore, the before and after is rst of all in place. And there it is in
position. But since the before and after is in magnitude, it is necessary that also the
before and after is in change, by analogy with the things there. But the before and
after is also in time, through the following always of the one upon the other of them
(IV ::, .:qa :o:q; Coopes translation, p. ).
This raises many issues. Coope makes a good case for taking magnitude () to
mean spatial path, while change () incorporates all types of change (see
pp. o for her attempt to reconcile these two interpretations). What sort of
dependence does Aristotle have in mind when he talks of change following magni-
tude? According to Coope, what is at issue is explanatory dependence (p. 8: it is the
continuity of the magnitude which explains the continuity of the change and not
vice versa). What does this come to? Coope rst (pp. 6q) introduces a symmetrical
relation, making possible and ensuring : since change is continuous, time both can be and
is guaranteed to be continuous (and likewise mutatis mutandis for change and magnitude).
But, as Coope notes (p. 8 fn. ), what Aristotle has in mind is asymmetrical depend-
ence. So there are two questions:
:. Why say that certain features of change depend on corresponding features
of magnitude, rather than vice versa?
.. Why say that certain features of time depend on corresponding features of
change, rather than vice versa?
Aristotle is not very explicit about his reasons here. Coope oers interesting specula-
tions on each question. But her answers pull in opposite directions. On question (:)
she makes two points (p. ):
:a. Because there can be a spatial magnitude over which no change is going on,
while there cannot be a change which does not have a spatial magnitude as its
:b. Because a single spatial magnitude can be the path for lots of dierent changes,
while a single change can occupy only one spatial path.
(:a) suggests a does-not-require criterion (features of change depend on those of magni-
tude because magnitudes do not require changes, while changes do require
magnitudes); (:b) suggests a onemany criterion (features of change depend on
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features of magnitude because one magnitude can be associated with many changes,
while one change cannot be associated with many magnitudes).
These criteria are consistent with each other as applied to (:), changemagnitude,
but they give entirely the wrong answers when applied to (.), timechange. Aristotle
says that features of time depend on those of change. But does-not-require fails to give
that verdict, since it is not the case that changes do not require times in which to
occur while times do require changes to occur in them. Nor does onemany give the
expected answer: it is not the case that one change can go with many times while
one time cannot go with many changes. Quite the opposite: a single period of time,
just like a single spatial magnitude, can be associated with many changes, while a
single change cannot be associated with many periods of time, any more than it can
with many spatial paths.
Coope does indeed say something quite dierent about (.) as contrasted with (:).
She refers back (pp. ) to Aristotles reasons for saying that time is something of
change (rather than change being something of time). Her account of those reasons
appeals to the privileged ontological status Aristotle typically accords individual
substances (p. .: changes are more closely related to individual substances than
time is). But Coopes explication of this closer relation renders the conict between
(:) and (.) even more severe. Changes are more closely associated with substances
than are times, because a single change is the change of just one substance (this
motion is the motion of this chariot), whereas a single period of time can be associ-
ated with lots of dierent changes in lots of dierent substances (the motion of this
chariot and the walking of that man occur in the very same time). But this sits ill
with the onemany criterion behind (:b).
There is an important underlying issue here. Aristotles treatment of time is
shaped by his general ontological preferences. Time, for Aristotle, should not be
something ontologically primary. He hopes to give time its proper status by viewing
it as a way of ordering changes, while changes are to be understood (in some way) as
the actualization of potentialities possessed by substances, which are ontologically
privileged. It is natural to assume that what goes for time goes for place too. And
certainly, for Aristotle, places are not ontologically primary they are the locations
of substances (Physics IV , .:.a 6: the limit of the surrounding body, at which it is
contact with that which is surrounded). But it seems that changes are more closely
related to individual substances than are either times or places (dierent changes
can occur at the same time, although in dierent places, just as dierent changes can
occur in the same place at dierent times and maybe even at the same time). So it
is hard to understand why Aristotle should choose to make features of magnitude
explanatorily basic (features of magnitude being more basic than change, while
features of time are less basic than change).
It may be that Coope does not worry that no single set of criteria decides ques-
tions (:) and (.), and that there is no single notion of explanatory dependence in
which features of time depend on those of change and features of change depend on
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Coope says explicitly that she takes Aristotle to be using magnitude and place inter-
changeably in his discussion of time. He typically says magnitude (), but we have
place () at IV ::, .:qa :.
those of magnitude. For she starts her interpretation (pp. .q) of Aristotles account
of the before and after in magnitude, change and place like this:
The central claim of this interpretation is that the way in which the before and after
in place is related to the before and after in change is quite dierent from the way in
which the before and after in change is related to the before and after in time.
Aristotle holds not only that the continuity of time is derived from that of change,
which is derived from that of magnitude, but also that temporal order (before and
after) is derived from the order of stages in a change, which is derived from spatial
order. This is very puzzling. Many philosophers are apt to think that order (or direc-
tion, if this comes to the same thing) is one of the most signicant features of time,
and to think, for example, that temporal order sustains striking modal dierences
between past and future. In contrast, though, it is not clear even what a before/after
order is in the case of place; and so it is surprising to nd Aristotle saying it is there
rst of all (, .:qa :) and by position (, .:qa :6). Further, while it is
easier to recognize a before/after ordering in the stages of a change, it is hard to
avoid seeing this as a temporal ordering of earlier and later stages; but if that
were so, it would undermine any attempt to derive a temporal before/after from a
before/after in change.
Coopes constructive interpretation of Aristotles position here is intriguing. At
Metaphysics ::, :o:qa :, Aristotle explains the important notion of before/after
(priority/posteriority) in nature and substance: a is before b in nature and sub-
stance if a can exist without b while b cannot exist without a. In this light, for the
before/after in place, bare claims about spatial order make little sense. If I am asked
whether Birmingham is before or after Sheeld, I have no idea what to say. I
require reference to an origin (is Birmingham before or after Sheeld in relation to
London?). And I require reference to a path (travelling north on the M:, rather than
south and round the globe?). Thus specied, the question has a clear answer:
Birmingham is before Sheeld in relation to London and travelling north on the
M:. That is to say that a path LondonSheeld has a path LondonBirmingham as
a part; and therefore that the LondonBirmingham part can exist without the
LondonSheeld whole, while the LondonSheeld whole cannot exist without
the LondonBirmingham part (pp. 686q, ). LondonBirmingham is before
LondonSheeld in nature and substance.
Coope then uses this asymmetry that LondonBirmingham can exist with-
out LondonSheeld, but not vice versa in order to generate a non-temporal
asymmetry in the stages of a change. But there is a point to raise even before moving
on to the application to change. Quite what does it mean to say, in the case of
places/magnitudes, that LondonBirmingham can exist without LondonSheeld,
but not vice versa? It is clear enough that I can travel (north on the M:) from London
to Birmingham without travelling from London to Sheeld, but not vice versa. But
this would be to understand a before/after relation in place in terms of a
before/after in a change (i.e., a journey), which would get things the wrong way
round. Rather, what Coope has in mind is that we can think of London
Birmingham as standing to LondonSheeld as a line segment stands to a whole
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line. Thinking of it thus is intended to connect with Metaphysics ::, :o:qa :o:: and
::, although it would remain hard to understand the further claims Aristotle
makes in the surrounding :: text, that LondonBirmingham is posterior in sub-
stance to LondonSheeld in actuality (:o:qa q:o); and that LondonSheeld is
prior to LondonBirmingham in respect of generation (:o:qa :.:; I think Coope
ducks this issue at p. 68 fn. :). If we do think of matters thus, however, it seems we
are considering not places from which and to which substances move, nor extended
spatial regions across which they pass, but rather the abstracted magnitudes of those
bits of the world. For we are being asked to consider a line actually divided into
two line segments so that the whole no longer exists, rather than the London
Birmingham chunk of the cosmos existing without the LondonSheeld chunk.
Perhaps it is unproblematic that these paths-with-an-origin are abstracted magni-
tudes. Indeed, perhaps it is to be expected, for that will be why they have two di-
mensions rather than three, and why there is no answer to questions such as Where
does Liverpool stand on the LondonBirminghamSheeld path?. But the danger
then is that it again becomes unclear why the before/after order of these abstracted
magnitudes should be privileged. For, as noted earlier, these abstract lengths and
distances, just like periods of time, seem to be less closely related to the ontologically
privileged individual substances than are the individual changes, the before/after
structure of which is claimed by Aristotle to be derivative.
It is invariably the case that when something about Aristotles position is
puzzling, Coope recognizes the fact and has something to say. On the question of
why order in change is explanatorily dependent on spatial order, see pp. q. She
makes two points:
(i) It is reasonable for Aristotle to make the before/after in place prior to the
before/after in change because he is already committed to the priority of place
over change as regards their continuity
(ii) It is easier to make sense of actually dividing a magnitude than of actually
interrupting a change; actual division of a magnitude takes me from a whole
which exists to a part which exists; but if I do in fact interrupt a change, what I
interrupt is not an actually occurrent change but something which would have
existed had I not interrupted it.
However, as regards (i), I have already noted some problems in Aristotles idea that
the continuity of place is prior to, while that of time is posterior to, the continuity of
change. And as regards (ii), the point about actual division is far more plausible as
regards abstracted magnitudes than as regards chunks of the world; and it remains
puzzling why we should privilege these magnitudes over changes, which are, after
all, more robustly connected than the former are with the ontologically basic indi-
vidual substances.
Suppose, however, that we let pass any problems about the basic status of the
before/after ordering in magnitude. Coopes appeal to the Metaphysics :: notion of
priority in substance as ontological independence is nevertheless valuable, because it
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See fn. : above on Coope on Aristotles use of magnitude and place.
suggests a way to explicate a prima facie non-temporal before/after order in change;
and if that change-order is genuinely non-temporal, then Aristotle could derive
temporal order from it without circularity (one time is before another so long as a
change-stage at the rst time is non-temporally before a change-stage at the second).
The idea is as follows. Suppose I am asked to interrupt a change, for example, a
journey from London to Sheeld, or a reading of Anna Karenina. Starting at London,
going north on the M: to Birmingham, and stopping, is (or could be) an interrupted
journey from London to Sheeld; but starting at Birmingham and going to
Sheeld is not (and could not be). So too starting at p. :, continuing to p. :oo, and
stopping, is an interrupted reading of Anna Karenina, while opening the book at p. :oo
and then reading to the end is not. The crucial point on which this turns is not
about the temporal order of change-stages, but rather about what makes a change
the change that it is. A change is a transition between a point-from-which and a
point-to-which (my rebarbative terms are intended to avoid the temporal con-
notations of starting- and nishing-points). The crux of Coopes interpretation (p. ) is
that there is a non-temporal asymmetry between the from-which and the to-which of a
The dierence between the beginning and the end of the change is this. A changing
thing can be going to a point C, even though it in fact never gets there. But a
changing thing cannot be coming from a point A if it has never been there.
This sounds highly plausible. But of course it would not help Aristotle if it owed its
plausibility to some covert temporal content. For example, Aristotle would get
nowhere if this was his thought: if something is going to C then its being at C is future
and the future is contingent, while if it is coming from A then its being at A is past and
the past is necessary. Naturally Coope is well aware of this, and her favoured way
(p. ) of bringing out the putatively non-temporal asymmetry is (as in my examples
above) by reference to interruption:
... the change-parts that might be left over when the change is interrupted all share a
common boundary. It is this fact that makes it possible to dene the start of a change
without presupposing temporal order.
However, one might suspect that interruption is a covertly temporal term (and suited
for its purpose for precisely that reason).
Interruption can be compared and contrasted with a couple of other notions. First,
with interference.
A pollutant might interfere with the development of the eye without
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Coope tends to use interruption and interference interchangeably, but this does not seem
reasonable. See, e.g., p. 8: A crucial step in our account of the before and after in change
was the claim that it is possible for a part of a change to occur although, because of interference,
the complete change does not. This claim presupposes that interrupting a change is, in a certain
sense, analogous to destroying a line (my italics). Or p. : When we interfere with an on-
going change, what is left is part of the interrupted change. I suspect Coope adds on-going
in this second remark because her claim would be far less plausible without it. Is it really the
case that any interference with the natural development of a human embryo interrupts a pro-
cess which starts with the fertilization of an egg by a sperm? What the use of on-going does is
to import the idea that the change is already under way (i.e., that it has already started).
this implying that the development starts as it should: maybe it is precisely the initial
stages which the pollutant causes to go wrong. Or secondly, interruption can be com-
pared with incomplete occurrence. If things go wrong, Candy may manage only an
incomplete London marathon: maybe she overslept, missed the start, joined the race
late and ran only the second half. If someone interrupts Candys philosophy exam
then he allows her to start but prevents her continuing, and she turns in an in-
complete script. But if someone prevents her turning up on time and she starts half
way through, would we not say exactly the same thing, that her exam was incom-
plete? By contrast, it seems the upshot of Coopes view would be that we cannot say
that Candy turns in an incomplete exam, and stranger still that what she actually
does is turn in a complete sub-exam. The problem, then, is that if Coopes claims
are plausible only about interruption (rather than, for example, interference or incomplete
performance), and if the reason for this is that interruption has some covert temporal
content (you can interfere with a process before it starts, but you cannot interrupt
a process until it is already under way), then the before/after order in change will
not be genuinely non-temporal, and Aristotle will not after all be able to derive a
temporal before/after from an order of change-stages without circularity.
. Numbers and measures
Aristotles general project, of deriving features of times (continuity, before/after
order) from corresponding features of changes, gives rise to a problem. To put it
simply, there are many changes in the world, but only one time order. How is
Aristotle to guarantee that there is a single (inclusive) temporal dimension within
which all the dierent changes have a position, and which inherits its features from
their features? What is there that is common to the variety of changes (which are
variously rooted in dierent potentialities of dierent substances) apart from the fact
that they all stand in a single set of temporal relations? And if it is only their
temporal relations which connect them together, then it is hard to see how the
structure of that single temporal dimension can be derived from their structure.
Aristotle is well aware of this. Indeed he appeals to the fact that there is a single
time for all changes in arguing that time cannot be identical to change:
The movement and change of each thing is only in the changing thing itself or
wherever the moving or the changing thing itself happens to be. But time is similarly
both everywhere and with everything (IV ::, .:8b :o:; Coopes translation, p. ).
How does Aristotle approach the issue? The rst step is to explain how it is that time
stands to any individual change. Here are some extracts from Physics IV :::
But time, too, we become acquainted with when we mark o change, marking it o
by the before and after, and we say that time has passed when we get a perception of
the before and after in change.... whenever [we do perceive] the before and after,
then we speak of time. For that is what time is: a number of change in respect of the
before and after.... It is the now that measures time, considered as the before and
after.... Just as the moving thing and the motion go together, so too do the number of
the moving thing and the number of the motion. Time is the number of the motion,
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and the now is, as the moving thing is, like a unit of number (.:qa .., .:qa
.:qb ., .:qb :::., ..oa :; Husseys translation).
Aristotles characterization of time is puzzling: a number of change with respect to
the before and after (Coopes translation, p. 8). What does this mean? There is a
tempting (and fairly common) interpretation according to which Aristotle is saying
something which looks (relatively) straightforward: that time is what it is that
measures change (the quantity of change, as it were). However Aristotle says that time
and change measure each other (IV :., ..ob ::8: not only do we measure change by
time but also time by change, because they are dened by one another. The time
denes the change, being its number, and the change the time; Coopes translation,
p. :o). Further, Aristotles characterization of time as a number of change follows im-
mediately (and seems to be intended to follow uncontroversially) on his claim that
we are aware of the passage of time by being aware of the occurrence of changes;
and there is nothing in the latter claim to suggest that Aristotle has in mind aware-
ness of the special sort of regular repeated changes that would be needed as the units
for clock measurement of time. When we register any alteration we say that time has
passed, even if we are unable to say how much, or to measure the passage by
reference to a regular unit.
So Coope oers a dierent interpretation, according to which Aristotle is not
using number simply to mean measure (see pp. q68 for her criticism of the alternative).
But now there is a problem: how can something continuous (such as time) be
counted or numbered? The answer lies in Aristotles renement of the claim: time is
a number which is counted rather than with which we count (.:qb 8). We count with
discrete pluralities (e.g., the numerals :, ., , ... , or intermediaries, such as one
mark after another on a page). By contrast, though, we can in an extended sense
count continuous wholes. That is to say, we can order them in the same sort of
linear order as that in which numbers stand. And this, according to Coope, is the
core of the matter. What we count in counting time are nows. To count a now is to
mark it o to register it, as it were. Sometimes the reason to mark o items in a
series is not to nd out how many there are, but to x an order or direction.
In counting nows, though, the order is all-important. It does not matter how many nows
we count; what is important is that we count a series of nows in a certain denite order
(an order that reects the dierent before and after orders within changes) (p. q:).
It is important to appreciate how strong Coopes claim is. She is not saying merely
that while we in fact count how many nows there are, what is important is not that
there are this number of them but that they are in a certain order. It is relatively
uncontroversial that there can be counting procedures like this (if I write down a
name every time a runner passes the nishing line, in order to produce a ranking for
the race, then in fact I count the number of runners, although what matters is not
that there were that many people competing but that they nished in that order).
Coope is envisaging something stronger, a case in which it does not even matter
whether we count all the Fs, so long as the Fs we do count are put in a certain order.
And since it may be more controversial that there are counting procedures like this,
it would have been helpful to oer some other examples. (Perhaps this would be
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one: I ask you to count o rocks as we walk through the wilderness because what I
want to x is the direction in which we have come, so that we can return, rather
than the precise number of rocks there are it does not matter at all to me whether
there are rocks which you have missed out.)
If this is the way in which time is a number of change i.e., it is the order in which
change occurs then it is natural for Aristotles characterization of time as a
number of change with respect to the before and after to follow on from his claim
that we are aware of time by being aware of change. Being aware that this change-
stage (e.g., passing through Birmingham) is dierent from that change-stage (e.g.,
passing through Nottingham) is a matter of marking o potential divisions in the
change (my journey could have been interrupted at Birmingham, or it could have
been interrupted at Nottingham). And in registering those dierent potential
divisions I thereby mark o a period of time, between this now and that now.
I shall not attempt to do justice to the subtlety and detail of Coopes discussion
of numbering and measuring in part III (which includes welcome constructive en-
gagement with material in Metaphysics , one of the driest, most unrewarding and
neglected of Aristotles metaphysical treatises). I shall say something, though, about
how the time is a number of change doctrine is said to contribute to the project of
showing that time is a single and universal dimension.
There is a gain, in numbering changes by marking o stages, in ascending from
changes to time, precisely because time is a single order within which all dier-
ent changes have a position. And given that time is a single order within which
changes have a position, we can, as Aristotle says, use time to measure change and
also change to measure time. A regular and repeated change (the movement of the
clock hand, or the rising and setting of the sun) measures out a period of time (an
hour, a day); and since time is a single continuum, that period of time will also
measure out other changes (Candys running of the mile). But now the problem
facing Aristotles strategy of deriving features of time from those of changes looms
large. On the one hand it seems plausible to say that we are not aware of the passage
of time directly, but indirectly through recognition of dierent change-stages, so that
time will inherit the linear before/after order manifest in any individual change. On
the other hand, though, the order and structure of time should be independent of
any particular change, so that we can be assured of a single temporal order accom-
modating any individual change there might be. Suppose I mark o two stages in
this change, and two stages in that change. There is no reason to think that the two
change-intervals stand in any (non-temporal) before/after relation to each other
(that there is any relation of priority in substance and nature between them). But we
are very much inclined to expect that the two change-intervals will stand in some
temporal relation. How can we be condent of that?
. A single time for all changes
I was not clear, either from the Physics text or from Coopes discussion in part IV,
how far Aristotle thought it necessary to go in answering this question. A running
theme of Coopes book is that while Aristotles discussion of time is not of merely
historical and scholarly interest, it is also important to recognize that his concerns
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are sometimes orthogonal to our own. Maybe the current problem is a case in point,
as suggested by this deationary remark by Coope (p. ::):
Nows are dierent by being at one stage of a movement and at another.... However, a
full account of temporal order would also have to explain the relation in which one
and the same now stands to dierent changes. Aristotles remarks about following tell
us nothing about this. As we have seen, he assumes that when we count a now we
count all the change-stages that are at it. This naturally raises the question: in virtue
of what are these change-stages simultaneous or at the same now? To this, he
appears to have no answer.
To what does Aristotle have no answer? If there is to be a single time for all changes,
then one and the same now will have to stand in some relation to each and every
change namely, it must either count a stage of the change or be before or after a
now which does so. Immediately following this deationary comment Coope turns
her attention to a peculiar Aristotelian claim at Physics IV ::, .:qb :o, all simultan-
eous time is the same, . (See p. :: fn. ; it is important
to have Coopes translation here rather than Husseys very dierent though the
whole time in sum is the same. The revised Oxford Translation agrees with Coope.)
Coope argues that what Aristotle is concerned to establish here is that as regards any
change which is going on at the same time (e.g., this afternoon), a single now (as,
e.g., when I shout Now) marks o a potential division in every one of them. This
sounds like the view which according to the deationary passage cited above,
Aristotle merely assumes (when we count a now we count all the change-stages which
are at it); although Coope then goes on to provide a wonderful exposition of
Aristotles defence of the claim, based on a dicult comparison between the same-
time of dierent changes and the same-number of dierent pluralities (see esp.
pp. ::6..). Still, why should Aristotle think it of any signicance either to assume or
to defend the claim that all simultaneous changes are marked o by one and the
same now that there is some one now which marks all simultaneous changes?
The reason, according to Coope, is that the claim is required for a crucial (and
natural) assumption concerning overlapping changes, that if two changes overlap,
then there are some parts of each which are exactly simultaneous. For example, if I
am walking to the shop while a bird ies from one tree to the next, then there is
some part of my walk and some part of the birds ight which are exactly simul-
taneous. Whether this is plausible or not depends on whether uninterrupted changes
have parts of arbitrary size (since it is arbitrary precisely how my walk should
overlap with the birds ight). What is it for an uninterrupted change to have parts?
Dividing a change is interrupting it, so an uninterrupted change will not have actual
parts (pp. :::). But we can create potential parts in a change when we mark o a
point at which it could be interrupted. So we are guaranteed that two overlapping
changes have exactly simultaneous (potential) parts, so long as one and the same
now marks o a potential division in every change going on at that now. For if this
is the case, then marking o a pair of nows while two changes are overlapping will
mark o two change-parts which are simultaneous, since each is bounded by one
and the same pair of nows.
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Coopes exposition of the connection between
(i) All simultaneous changes are marked o by one and the same now
(ii) If two changes overlap then they have parts which are exactly simultaneous
was persuasive. But I was less clear about how (ii) is supposed to connect with the
view that there is a single time for all changes. Coope argues (p. :::6) that (ii) is
required for that claim:
In fact this assumption [(ii)] is not merely natural. It is an assumption that is pre-
supposed by Aristotles view that time is universal.... Aristotle needs to show how we
can make such arbitrary divisions in changes if he is to defend his assumptions about
the universality of time.
Coopes argument turns on the relation between (ii) and the following claims
(iii) There could be a change with no parts which are exactly simultaneous with the
parts of any other changes
(iv) Time is a single ordered series in which all changes are related.
Coope argues that if (ii) is false, (iii) is true, and if (iii) is true, (iv) is false.
It follows,
then, that Aristotle has a motive for defending (ii), since in doing so he is furthering
the project of establishing (iv). And since (i) entails (ii), then there is a purpose to
Aristotles peculiar remark that all simultaneous time is the same (IV ::, .:qb :o).
But Coopes argument looks unconvincing. For (iii) would be true quite inde-
pendently of whether (ii) were true or false if and only if it is possible for there to be a
lone change (that is, a change which does not overlap any other). For in that case (iii)
would be true in virtue of that lone changes having no parts simultaneous with any-
thing else. Nevertheless, even given the truth of (iii), (iv) could still be true, so long as
any lone change is either earlier or later than any other change you care to pick.
Therefore the truth of (iii) would not entail the falsity of (iv), in which case estab-
lishing the truth of (ii), in order, supposedly, to guarantee that (iii) is not true, would
contribute little to the defence of (iv). Consequently the signicance of (i) proered
as necessary for the truth of (ii) is diminished; and one may then as a result be less
condent in Coopes controversial translation of .:qb :o, from which (i) arises.
What would Aristotle need to establish in order to guarantee (iv), that there is a
single temporal order? He has argued in the earlier part of Physics IV :: that there
are no periods of time which are empty of change (.:8b .:.:qa :o; see Coope,
ch. .). He also argues that there are no rst or last times (IV :, ...a o...b ). So
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Cf. the summary at p. ::: If the fact that two changes were both going on at once did
not guarantee that they had parts that were exactly simultaneous, then there could be changes
that stood outside the order of the before and after in time. For in that case there could be
a change which had no parts that were exactly simultaneous with the parts of any other
changes. In counting the parts of such a change, we would not also be counting the parts of
other changes (since there would be no other change-parts that were exactly simultaneous
with those that we were counting). Hence our counting could not produce a single ordered
series within which this change and all others were related.
if there were a lone change, it would have to be continuous with some preceding
and succeeding changes, and therefore any lone change would be bounded by a pair
of nows, each one of which is also the boundary of some other change. Therefore
the existence of a lone change, and the truth of (iii), will not threaten (iv), the
universality of time, so long as the fact that one and the same now is the end of one
change and the start of another entails that the rst change is earlier than the
second, and the second change later than the rst and it may be that Aristotle
takes this to require no great argument, since it comes to pointing out that the now
is a boundary and a link between past and future (IV :o, .:8a q; IV ::, ..oa ;
IV :, ...a :o:.).
. Life spans
In part V, Coope discusses two consequences of Aristotles treatment of time, his
(striking) views about the things that are and are not in time (ch. q), and his argu-
ments concerning the relation between time and the soul (ch. :o). I shall concentrate
on a couple of issues arising from the earlier of these discussions.
It is not particularly striking to discover that a philosopher holds that some things
are in time and some things are not. But it is extremely striking to discover what
Aristotle recognizes as not in time. That this is so is the result of two facts. First, he
holds that all things which are in time are surrounded by time (i.e., have a nite
duration), and therefore that anything which lasts forever is not in time:
So it is manifest that the things that always are, considered as such, are not in time,
for they are not surrounded by time, nor is their being measured by time, and an
indication of this is that they are not acted on at all by time either, which shows that
they are not in time (IV :., ..:b ; Husseys translation).
Secondly, Aristotle counts among the eternal items things which are moving (the
celestial bodies). So what can he mean by the claim that there are some changing
bodies which are not in time?
According to Coope, we can best make sense of Aristotles position by adopting a
rich interpretation of what being in time involves. She argues that items of nite
duration are not the only things which can stand in temporal relations, or be past or
present or future, or undergo changes (pp. :o:). If this is correct, then since
Aristotle holds that items of nite duration are the only things which are in time,
we may well conclude that there is more to being in time than, for example,
standing in temporal relations. What more is involved is that all and only the things
that are in time get older, and this in two ways. First, their past accumulates as time
passes (my past is longer this year than it was last year); and secondly, they decay (I
become ever more decrepit as the years pass). If this is what being in time involves,
then Aristotle will be quite correct to hold that something eternal is not in time
even if it is eternally moving in circles. For if something has existed for innite time
past, then it will not have existed for any longer at the end of next year than it has
now; and if it were going to decay it would already have done so. It is the idea of
things in time being subject to decay to which Aristotle is adverting when he speaks
of things being acted on by time in the passage quoted above.
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Coope renders Aristotles talk of certain things being acted on by time respect-
able by reference to the Aristotelian distinction between ecient and formal causes.
Time is not a something which can impart causal force, as it were, or trigger
changes, or push around the stu that an animal is made of that is to say, time is
never an ecient cause. But when my dog dies, and you ask me why, and I say Its
time had come or Its time was up, I am giving a perfectly good and compre-
hensible explanation. I am saying that it was not struck down in its youth by disease
or accident, but that it had completed the life span characteristic of that type of
thing. That is, I am providing a formal cause and saying something about the canine
form (the natural life span of a dog is around fteen years).
Coope is therefore able to suggest a charitable explication of Aristotles views on
being in time: as she puts it, to be in time is to be something that is, in the sense we
have explained, aected by time (p. :). But she notes the diculty of applying this
explanation to non-living things (which is why, presumably, the phrase natural life
span rolls o the tongue far more easily than natural existence span). Yet lots of in-
animate things presumably are in time Mount Everest and my house, for example.
The problem is that inanimate things do not seem to have a natural determinate
time span characteristic of the type of thing they are, and so it is implausible to
suppose that saying Its time was up could constitute a formal explanation of the
crumbling away of a mountain or the collapse of a house.
This is intriguing, and one wonders whether there is a way of extending Coopes
treatment to inanimate entities. There are two sorts of case to consider, stu types
and artefacts. As regards the rst, there is a pattern of explanation which we could
view as an extended formal cause. Suppose I ask you How is it that my wall needed
rebuilding so soon, while yours still remains strong?. You give a perfectly good and
comprehensible explanation in saying What else do you expect? Yours was made of
clay while mine was made of stone. You are not, of course, citing the processes
which led to my clay walls crumbling while your stone wall resisted the wind and
rain that is, you are not providing ecient causes (although there will be an
ecient cause story to tell). What you are doing is pointing out that it is of the
nature of clay to decay or to succumb more rapidly to the natural environment than
would stone (cf. Metaphysics :, :o6a ::: stone has, while clay lacks, a capacity
to resist being acted on for the worse and so as to be destroyed; see also Metaphysics
, :ob :, where Aristotle talks of water undergoing certain changes, e.g., into
vinegar rather than wine, in virtue of a corruption contrary to its nature,
). Further, if it is possible to make some headway along these lines with
the decay of stus, then the case of artefacts might be handled by reference to that
rst case. Perhaps it could be argued that an artefact has a natural life span not qua
artefact but qua artefact made of certain stu. The questions How long do dogs
last? and How long do axes last? are supercially similar; but whereas the rst has
a fairly determinate answer, the second immediately invites the response It depends
on whether they are made of bronze or iron.
University of Sheeld
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