I'm not expecting to learn individual points of view of those who read this question here (The specific question here is whether time has a beginning - not general ideas pertaining to philosophy of time). Instead I want to learn the following:

(a) Is the question whether time has a beginning considered as an important question in the philosophy of the western world (i.e. ancient Greeks & then the modern Europeans)?

(b) Who were/are the mainstream philosophers who have seriously dealt with the question whether time has a beginning (not philosophy of time)?

(c) Does anyone of the following philosophers (some of them physicist but understood philosophy) have substantially discussed the question whether time has a beginning: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Plotinus, St. Augustine, Descartes, Isaac Newton, Leibnitz, Kant, David Hume, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Derrida, Alain Badiou, Ernst Mach, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr? (if so what have they said?)

(d) According to popular interpretations of the problem of causation (as has been expounded by David Hume) there is no ultimate cause and therefore is it correct to assume that David Hume believed that time has no beginning?

  • Hello, and welcome to philosophy.stackexchange. Your first three questions are not really appropriate for this site because the site is not intended to be a substitute for doing your own research. You should have no problem finding answers in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or possibly even Wikipedia. The question about Hume is more appropriate, but it needs details and clarification. Jan 6, 2022 at 19:23
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    There has been considerable thought among physicists about the nature of time. the nature of time has a massive effect on whether time had a beginning. Asking for an answer, while rejecting info on the nature of time -- is self-defeating. Also, Hume's conception of causation as merely correlation is widely rejected as insufficiently weak to capture what is meant by causation, among philosophers today. Popperian predictive modeling is a stronger conception, and is what science operates with.
    – Dcleve
    Jan 6, 2022 at 19:30
  • These two prior questions appear to be very similar in content. Reviewing their answers may provide you your answer. If they do not, clarifying how your question is different, by focusing its text so that you get more info than these answers provide, will be needed to avoid closure. philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/82382/… philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/74102/…
    – Dcleve
    Jan 6, 2022 at 19:43
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    The question is too broad for this site, with this scope it calls for reading a book. Wikipedia's Eternity of the world and SEP's, The Topology of Time give reviews and reading suggestions.
    – Conifold
    Jan 6, 2022 at 23:52
  • Does this answer your question? How can time have a beginning when a beginning needs time?
    – Dcleve
    Jan 7, 2022 at 0:35

1 Answer 1


a) Yes, starting with Aristotle.

b & c) One of the earliest philosophers who considered that time had a beginning is Aristotle.

This was later picked up by Islamic philosophy with Ibn Sina (Avicenna) as being the most famous exponent. In fact he considered time as such a fundamental category that he temporalised logic.

Then Avicenna's thoughts on time and it's beginning was incorporated into Christian thought by Aquinas.

Once Einstein came up with GR he looked at what it had to say about cosmology. At first he assumed that the universe was always there and static - so he assumed a universe without a beginning in time. However, GR showed that the universe was dynamic. But it was both Friedmann and Lemaitre that actually showed that the universe was expanding but only Lemaitre that took the further step of stating the universe began in a 'primeval atom'. These theories were more or less rejected out of hand by Einstein but astronomical observations by Hubble showed that the universe was in fact expanding and Einstein very quickly reversed his position endorsing both Friedmann and Lemaitre.

More recently, Lawrence Krauss has written a book, A Universe from Nothing which is, as David Albert pointed out, is philosophically incoherent. A universe cannot begin from nothing. The vacuum is not nothing and nor are physical laws. Nevertheless, he is not denying the universe had a beginning.

Lee Smolin has a theory of a Darwinian multiverse theory where universes have beginnings but the multiverse does not. However it should be emphasised that this, presently, has the status of a hypothesis and that it is difficult to concieve exactly how such a theory can be empirically tested.

d) Given that Hume rejected Christianity, I would suggest that it's very likely he disputed that time had a beginning given how deeply embedded that notiin is in Christian philosophy. And in fact, he has Cleanthes in his book Dialogues concerning Natural Religion disputing exactly this point. It's likely that Hume neither believed that time had a beginning and nor time is eternal. He simply considered it not proven. (It's not well known that Hume influenced Einstein in thinking through the notion of simultaneity in his special relativity. This appears to be due to his scepticism about how one moment of time succeeds another. Of course, time has a rebirth in QM as a reality rather than as an aspect of geometry. This is a line that Smolin is pursuing currently).

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