Scientists are able to completely separate the concept of time from other values such a distance, or speed, or mass. Can philosophers speak about time in the same way, i.e. as a standalone subject, and by doing so does that change what they can or cannot say?

  • It's an interesting example, given that for instance Bergson identifies the major characteristic of modern science being precisely this -- the abstraction-isolation of time as independent variable... :)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Feb 9 '14 at 3:13
  • However -- it's a little unclear what sort of explanation you might be expecting from someone here (i.e., given in a few paragraphs); is there any chance you could share a little bit more about what might have motivated the question, and what the context might be around it? What sort of hypotheses have you formulated, and what has your research uncovered?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Feb 9 '14 at 3:14
  • I was actually wondering if someone from a more philosophical background instead of scientific would know philosophy's stance on isolation of time. I've learned there are three schools in philosophy divided between the existence of past, present, and future. @JosephWeissman
    – user5443
    Feb 9 '14 at 4:05
  • 2
    The question still seems kind of unclear to me. The ability to use time as an independent variable in science does not make it a standalone subject in my understanding. But in your last comment it sounds like you are alluding to McTaggart's A-theory and B-theory of time (he actually advocated neither but that gets lost). Are you asking if philosophy can be done in a way that does not privilege the present?
    – virmaior
    Feb 9 '14 at 4:17
  • Time in physics although can be considered 'standalone'; it only really attains meaning when considered together with space, matter and energy. Feb 9 '14 at 14:32

I think you would find a very good treatment of this subject in Heidegger's relatively short essay, (22 pages), The Concept of Time.

It covers the concept of time starting from Aristotle's ideas (of circular time--like a clock), and makes sense of the normal scientific abstraction we are so used to.

To elaborate beyond the scope of the essay, in terms of relativity, it is scientifically described that moving closer to the speed of light slows passage of time. (The reason being because atomic particles cannot oscillate so quickly at that speed due to the speed of light limit). However, despite these different rates (of movement), overall the moment of time is the same everywhere. That is to say, mathematical abstractions of the time elapsing in various parts of the universe moving at different speeds relative to light, are all actually happening at the same moment in time. So there is simply only one time, and mathematical abstractions, memories, future dreams, are all secondary to the moment. The basic underlying concept of momentary time is made quite clear in Heidegger's essay.

Heidegger's essay goes beyond that too, to say that time is the horizon of existence. And, in effect asks, is you perceptual time not your true measure of time?


I think the answer to your question is yes.

There is a significant amount of work around the study of time in ontology. The old endurantism vs. perdurantism debate is part of this. A good example is Sider's "Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time".


No, because time is the measure of change. Your question is then: "Can measurements exist without the existence of what they measure?"


Time is part of our sense of movement as it looks in the direction of entropy increase. We sense movement by determining the change between two instantaneous measurements of the same environment taken separately. Time is completely relative and is essentially "generated" in your head as a necessity of perceiving movement via instantaneous measurements that can only be taken serially (one at a time). Don't know if that helps...

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