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Three important innovations in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries led to a far-reaching revision of the concept of time and with it of the concept of simultaneity: (1) the philosophical abandonment of the Aristotelian association of the concept of time with that of motion, (2) the widespread technical use of mechanical clocks, and (3) the scientific discovery of the finite velocity of light. As mentioned at the end of chapter 3, the philosophical change was initiated by the Italian natural philosophers Telesio and Patrizi who maintained that Aristotle was right in stating that time cannot be measured without motion but wrong in stating that it cannot exist without motion. Their point of view made it possible to resolve the problem of the multiplicity of time (tot tempora quot motus) and to reduce it to a duplicity of time, in which one kind of time, usually defined as subjective or spiritual time, as previously conceived by Augustine, serves, so to speak, as a pacemaker or regulator of the time measured by motion. The theory of time proposed in 1597 by the Spanish Jesuit Franciscus Suarez in Disputationes C H A P T E R F O U R The Concept of Simultaneity in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries 60 Concepts of Simultaneity Metaphysicae1 illustrates this point and shows its relation to the notion of simultaneity . He distinguishes between a time measured by motion, which he calls “intrinsic successive duration” (duratio successiva intrinsica) and a mental time, “imaginary continuous succession” (successio continua imaginaria). All times of the former kind, measured by motions of physical objects, are brought into coalescence by being immersed into the latter kind of time. Such a coordination introduces the concept of simultaneity either directly between the two kinds of time or indirectly through the intermediation of the moving body whose motion measures the “intrinsic duration.” This latter alternative would have led to a novel conception of simultaneity, for it would correlate one event with two times and not, as usually, two events with one time. Yet Suarez avoids this complication by claiming that the “intrinsic duration ” is “coexisting and, so to speak, filling (“replens”) a part of that imaginary duration.” That only duration (duratio), in contrast to succession (successio ), constitutes the nature of time is the basic assumption in the theory of time proposed by the anti-Aristotelian physician and alchemist Jan Baptista van Helmont in his tractate De Tempore.2 This work refers to the notion of simultaneity in so far as it describes a synchronization procedure of a pendulum with a sundial. The next step toward the introduction of absolute time with its concomitant notion of simultaneity was the total abolishment of the “intrinsic duration ” in favor of the exclusive survival of the “imaginary succession,” which is unaffected by physical processes. This stage is displayed in the writings of Pierre Gassendi who at the end of his intellectual career professed an absolutist theory of time. “Time,” he wrote, “is not something dependent upon motion or posterior to it, but is merely indicated as something which is subject to some measurement. For otherwise it would be impossible to know how much time we spend doing something or not doing it. Therefore we raise our eyes to the celestial motion and say that time fled in proportion to its quantity . And since the observation of this motion was commonly found to be difficult, the movements of readily familiar objects such as water, sand, wheels, or pins of sundials were adapted to the celestial motion so that since it was easy to glance at them, it was possible to take count of them and of 1 F. Suarez, Metaphysicarum Disputationum Tomi duo (Maguatiae [Mainz]: 1600), Disputatio 30 (“De rerum duratione”), p. 955. Cf. M. Čapek, “The conflict between the absolutist and the relational theory before Newton,” Journal of the History of Ideas 4, 595–608 (1987). 2 W. Pagel, “J. B. van Helmont: De Tempore and biological time,” Osiris 8, 346–417 (1945). Simultaneity in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries 61 time. This is the reason why I said a short while ago that the heavens are a sort of general clock (“quoddam generale horologium”) for they are inasmuch as all our clocks imitate them as closely as possible and are called upon to help us when we cannot see them.” Although, as just mentioned, the heavens are a sort of general clock they are not time itself; for “time would continue...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780801889530
Related ISBN
9780801884221
MARC Record
OCLC
213306047
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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