Time, Creation, & the Continuum: Theories in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (review)
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BOOK gEVlEWS 583 common, so that the definition of the best man and the best constitution must be the same, the function of phronesis in Aristotle's ethicopolitical thought will become clearer. A. W. H. ADKINS University of Chicago Richard Sorabji. Time, Creation, & the Continuum: Theories in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1983. Pp. xviii + 473. $49.5 o, This is an extremely rich and diverse book. With his characteristic clarity and readability , Professor Sorabji covers the entire range of ancient and early medieval discussions (including the Islamic ones) on the subjects of his title, as well as on related topics such as eternity and timelessness, mysticism, and causality. The breadth of scholarship displayed is remarkable. Sorabji seems to have at his fingertips not only every relevant text, no matter how recondite, from a period of nearly two millenia, but also a comprehensive knowledge of the critical literature in every major language . The citations given in his footnotes and bibliography are alone enough to make this book invaluable to anyone working in these areas, and he provides a helpful chronological list of major historical figures for the reader, who will inevitably be unfamiliar with one or another of the periods he covers. But the book is even more remarkable for Sorabji's facility in bringing these old debates to life and making them philosophically interesting and relevant to contemporary discussions. Sorabji does not speak solely to the historian; he is writing for the broad philosophical audience, and he succeeds so well that the book will be read with profit by anyone with an interest in the philosophy of time, the philosophy of mathematics, and related areas. There is no space in this brief review to do justice to all the book's contents: it seems best rather to concentrate on a single figure and a single issue, Aristotle's theory of time. The first of the book's five parts deals with the reality of time, taking its start from Aristotle's puzzles about how there can be time (Physics,4. ao, 217b29- -218a3o ). Aristotle clearly wants to hold that time is real, but notoriously he fails to indicate how the theory of time he presents in Physics4. a1- x4 is supposed to solve his puzzles, and his successors debated at length both how he meant to solve them and how in fact they were to be solved. Sorabji traces these arguments and compares them fruitfully with the contemporary debates about the reality of time that are the legacy of McTaggart. Relying on a heretofore neglected text of the Metaphysics (loo2a28-bla), he shows that Aristotle had a clear answer to the second of his puzzles, about when the 'now' ceases: being an indivisible, it has ceased at any succeeding instant, but never/s ceasing. He fails to give sufficient weight, however, to Aristotle's important insistence in the Physics itself that in one way at least the now persists and does not cease, for we always live in the now. Sorabji considers various answers that Aristotle might have given to his other puzzle, namely how time can exist when it is exhausted by the past and the future, neither of which exist. All of 584 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 23:4 OCTOBER 198 5 these replies he finds less than satisfactory, and he shows how much of the energy of Aristotle's successors was put into devising theories of time that would be able to answer this puzzle. Sorabji is concerned to answer it himself, since he wishes to uphold the reality of McTaggart's A-series as well as his B-series. He thinks Aristotle should have recognized a sense of "exists" that, though tensed and temporal, is distinct from "exists now." (A purely tenseless "exists," he argues, would not be sufficient to allow for the reality of the A-series.) He does not, in my view, grant enough force to what I take to be Aristotle's actual answer to this puzzle) namely that the existence of the present instant or 'now', which Aristotle treats as an unquestioned phainornenon or appearance, requires that the past and future be real...