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Hume Studies Volume 27, Number 1, April 2001, pp. 129-148 Hume on Steadfast Objects and Time DONALD L. M. BAXTER One of the most difficult parts of Hume's account of time to grasp, much less accept, is that a single, temporally simple thing can coexist with a succession of things. This perplexing result follows directly from his discussion of steadfast objects. I show that Hume is committed to this claim, and respond to commentators who suggest otherwise. I then note why the claim seems inconsistent and argue to the contrary that it relies on a consistent, though unusual, theory of time in which a single moment can coexist with successive moments. After formalizing the theory to help show that it makes sense, I defend it against a textual objection, and derive from it some surprisingly commonsensical results . Nonetheless it is not a common-sense theory, and I will end by giving a Humean explanation why his theory of time seems so unnatural. Being "stedfast and unchangeable" is in contrast to being "a succession of changeable objects" (T 37).: A steadfast object, for Hume, is something that is "fast in place, firm; fixed," as Johnson puts it in his dictionary.2 It does not change; that is, there is no "succession of one thing in the place of another," in Johnson's definition of the relevant sense of "change." The steadfast object is not quickly replaced, nor is it itself a succession. If it were a succession it would have duration, which according to Hume steadfast objects lack (T 37). Yet while it remains unreplaced, other changes occur elsewhere. Not everything is steadfast while it is. Not being a succession and so lacking duration, it nonetheless coexists with successions having duration.3 Note that having temporal parts entails being a number of things in succession , for Hume. So, not being a succession entails not having temporal parts. When reasoning about space, he makes the analogous premise for this Donald L. M. Baxter is Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269-2054, USA. e-mail: donald.baxter@uconn.edu 130 Donald L. M. Baxter argument explicit. He claims that anything with spatial parts is a number of coexistent things as opposed to a single thing (as opposed to "an unite," T 30). He then says, "All this reasoning takes place with regard to time" (T 31). The difference is that temporal parts are successive, not coexistent (T 36). So anything with temporal parts is a number of successive things as opposed to a single thing. It's a succession. So a single thing remaining unreplaced lacks temporal parts, because it is not a succession. Thus Hume thinks that a single thing lacking temporal parts can coexist with a succession of things. Not only does such a single thing lack actual temporal parts, it lacks potential temporal parts. Anything divisible has parts according to Hume (see T 29). So something lacking parts is indivisible. Hume's view is even stranger given his view that moments of time are abstractions from single things in time. Each moment is an abstraction from the temporally simple object occupying it. So the structure of temporal relations between single things in time is exactly the structure of temporal relations between moments. Given this and the foregoing, some single, indivisible moments coexist with some successions of single moments. I won't argue that this conception of time is Hume's by discussing abstraction, however . That is too much to do. Rather I will assume this result of Hume's theory of abstraction and merely reinforce it by the following argument: Hume thinks that time consists of indivisible moments (T 31). Anything in time exists at at least one moment. Something has duration if and only if it exists at distinct successive moments. So something in time that lacks duration exists at a single indivisible moment. Yet there is something that lacks duration, namely a steadfast object, which coexists with something that has it, namely, some succession. If things coexist, then the moments they exist at coexist. So a single indivisible moment coexists with distinct successive moments. I There is clear textual evidence that a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 129-148
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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