The present of things past is memory; the present of things present is sight: and the present of things future is expectation

Author Bertrand Russell
“What, then, is time?” asks. “If no one asks of me, I know; If I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.” Various difficulties perplex him. Neither past nor future, he says, but only the present really is; the present is only a moment, and time can only be measured while it is passing. Nevertheless, there really is time past and future. We seem here to be led into contradictions. The only way Augustine can find to avoid these contradictions is to say that past and future can only be thought of as present : “past” must be identified with memory and “future” with expectations, memory and expectation being both present facts.

There are, he says, three times : “a present of things past, a present of things present and a present of things future.” “The present of things past is memory; the present of things present is sight: and the present of things future is expectation.” To say that there are three times, past, present, and future is a loose way of speaking.

He realizes that he has not really solved all difficulties by this theory. “My soul yearns to know this most entangled enigma,” he says, and he prays to God to enlighten him, assuring Him that his interest in the problem does not arise from vain curiosity. “I confess to Thee, O Lord, that I am as yet ignorant what time is.” But the gist of the solution he suggests is that time is subjective : time is in the human mind, which expects, considers and remembers. It follows that there can be no time without a created being and that to speak of time before the creation is meaningless.

I do not myself agree with this theory, in so far as it makes time something mental. But it is clearly a very able theory, deserving to be seriously considered. I should go further, and say that it is a great advance on anything to be found on the subject in philosophy. It contains a better and clearer statement than Kant’s of the subjective theory of time - a theory which, since Kant, has been widely accepted among philosophers.

The theory that time is only an aspect of our thoughts is one of the most extreme forms of that which, we have seen, gradually increased in antiquity from the time of Protagoras and Socrates onwards. Its emotional aspect is obsession with sin, which came later than its intellectual aspects.

Saint Augustine exhibits both kinds of subjectivism. Subjectivism, led him to anticipate not only Kant’s theory of time, but Descartes’ “cogito”. In his “Soliloquia” he says: “You, who wish to know, do you know you are? I know it. Whence are you? I know not. Do you feel yourself single or multiple? I know not. Do you feel yourself moved? I know not. Do you know that you think? I do.” This contains not only Descartes’ “cogito”, but his reply to Gassendi’s “ambulo ergo sum”. As a Philosopher, therefore, Augustine deserves a high place.

Widgets Magazine