WIkipedia says:

In philosophy, a thick concept (sometimes: thick normative concept, or thick evaluative concept) is a kind of concept that both has a significant degree of descriptive content and is evaluatively loaded... Thick concepts thus seem to occupy a 'middle position' between (thin) descriptive concepts and (thin) evaluative concepts.

I know there are lots of different ways to think about time: e.g. McTaggert's A B and C series. I assume time has many other theories about it.

Has any philosopher or philosophy tried to make time thin? Detached the descriptive aspect of "times" from their normative component?

So e.g. using McTaggert's A series: an A property cannot tell us anything about value.

I would imagine the conventional pre philosophical idea of time is that timing can have a normative component (my wedding is in just three days, that's such a good thing): so if time is in this sense "thin" it would have some currency.

I personally have a number of reasons to wonder if time is thin, too various to explain here: the modern lyric; an interest in mythological characters who represent time; in the meaning of my own death; in boredom and flux; etc..

  • Your question assumes that the concept of time is thick. Could you expand on this or give some references? What are the normative aspects of time? – Quentin Ruyant Oct 6 '15 at 5:38
  • no it doesn't assume that, why do you suppose it does ??? – user6917 Oct 6 '15 at 6:04
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    As I understand it, the question itself is quite clear and could be reformulated as follows: "As a thick concept is here defined as both descriptive and evaluative; are there philosophers who tried to establish a concept of time either only descriptive or only evaluative, thus a thin concept?" – Philip Klöcking Oct 6 '15 at 6:46
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    @Philip Klöcking If I take your definition - which is clearly stated: I cannot imagine anyone who considers time other than a thin concept with solely a descriptive component. Do you imagine any normative component of the concept time? – Jo Wehler Oct 6 '15 at 7:07
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    @mathematician I've never heard of time as having normative aspects, as your question presupposes, so references are welcome. – Quentin Ruyant Oct 6 '15 at 10:18

After your edition, from your example, I understand your question as follows (correct me if I'm wrong):

Has any philosopher attempted to distinguish a normative and a descriptive aspect in the concept of time (=interpreted time as a thick concept that would have both aspects, and then analysed the two components)?

I don't know of any philosopher that interpreted time predicates ("now", "in three days", "yesterday"...) as intrinsically normative, or having a normative component. The closest I can think of is Bergson, who views time as irreducibly qualitative, and distinct from space, but that's still different from attributing normative aspects to time.

Your example emphasise the fact that we have intentional stances toward events which depend on their position in time relative to us: apprehension, nostalgy, ... Note that space is not different in this regard: something being close or far away can imply different intentional stances (fear, desire, lack...).

However it seems to me that being thick or thin, descriptive or normative, is not a characteristic of occurrences but a generic feature of predicates and concepts. That means that a predicate is normative/descriptive/thick independently of its specific applications, but in general.

Take "good" for example. You can say that "x is good" evaluates x positively whatever x is. But "x is in three days" says nothing about how x should be evaluated: if it's a wedding that's good and if it's an exam and you're not prepared it might be less good.

Obviously our time relation to events will impact how we evaluate them but that doesn't mean that time predicates are themselves normative because it is not part of their meaning: the impact will depend on the circumstances (it can also be neutral such as: "a mosquito will die in three days" is neither good nor bad to me).

That's the difference, in philosophy of language, between semantic aspects (general meaning) and pragmatic aspects (use in context).

What philosophers are interested in when they employ the notion of thickness is the general meaning of terms out of context, i.e. the semantic aspects. I don't think that time predicates can be interpreted as thick out of context. However understanding how descriptive aspects are evaluated in context is still an interesting question.

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  • thanks for the reply, i can't think of a counter example to your belief about universals – user6917 Oct 6 '15 at 13:49

I think what troubles you is the difference between moments loaded with normative aspects and time itself. Our concept of a table is in itself purely descriptive, even if we can load a thought of a specific table normatively.

A normative aspect of time would be saying how time itself should be like. And I actually cannot imagine how to think this.

To clarify my point: Kant for example said that for conceiving objects we must conceive them in the form of time and space. Time therefore must, to him, be thought as part of the substance of what it means to be "something in the world" (Beware: this only holds for our very conceptions of these objects, not the objects themselves). But all concepts (in sense of "Begriffe") of what there is are descriptive, because they say what is needed to be "a table" or what we mean by "time". Normativity can only be attributed to concrete phenomena, let it be of an object, an event in time, or a concept (in sense of "Anschauung", perception of an object).

In the light of this, again: It is weird to say how "time" should be like, it is like it is. There can be wrong conceptions about what time is, but a philosophical concept will (or should) always be "thin" if it is not an ethical term (one could say that this is because ethics have no "real being" like objects and are purely phenomenal).

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  • i'm not sure !! it's a little clunky – user6917 Oct 6 '15 at 9:16
  • Upvoted +1; the answer clearly discriminates between a concept and the context of its use. Hence the answer covers much of the different comments to the question and to my own answer. – Jo Wehler Oct 6 '15 at 10:05
  • You don't answer the question. "Has any philosopher or philosophy tried to make time thin?" – user2953 Oct 6 '15 at 10:46
  • @JoWehler asking "why downvoting" is not constructive. There are several questions about this on meta. I'm on my phone so adding a link is a little difficult, but it should be easy to find -- have a look. – user2953 Oct 6 '15 at 11:07
  • On Meta I read divided opinions concerning downvoting without giving an explanation. Apparently, you and I differ concerning this practice. – Jo Wehler Oct 6 '15 at 11:19

None of the eminent thinkers like e.g., Aristotle, Newton, Leibniz, Kant, Einstein have attributed a normative aspect to time. I think neither do McTaggart' A,B,C series. Notwithstanding all made different and partially incompatible statements about the concept of time, they all considered time a descriptive concept.

Why does the question of a normative aspect of time occupy you?

Of course one can use a purely descriptive term like time in a normative context, e.g., Use the remaining time! But then it is the imperative, which is normative, not the term time.

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  • so Aristotle would say it doesn't matter when anything happens ?? – user6917 Oct 6 '15 at 8:17
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    @mathematician "white" is descriptive. But doesn't it matter to me whether my teeth are white? Sure it does. Your criteria for normativity is incorrect: "white" is not evaluative per se, and the fact that it can be embedded in normative statements doesn't change its descriptive nature. – Quentin Ruyant Oct 6 '15 at 10:22
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    @quen_tin what about "whiteness" ? if you want white teeth, do you consider "whiteness" an evaluative term? whatever your answer is, has no-one ever claimed that some facts cannot be "embedded in normative statements"? do you understand the original question ? – user6917 Oct 6 '15 at 10:25
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    @mathematician a better criteria is that a terms consists in attributing a valuation (independently of what it applies to). "Good" is positive whether it applies to a person, an event, or whatever. – Quentin Ruyant Oct 6 '15 at 10:27
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    @mathematician I don't see how time could be normative in this sense. Attributing a specific time doesn't amount to attribute a valuation to something. There can be good and bad things happening at the same time, (in different places). – Quentin Ruyant Oct 6 '15 at 10:30

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