Is Time A Reality? An Examination Of Professor Bowne’s Doctrine Of Time -- By: C. M. Mead

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 043:172 (Oct 1886)
Article: Is Time A Reality? An Examination Of Professor Bowne’s Doctrine Of Time
Author: C. M. Mead


Is Time A Reality? An Examination Of Professor Bowne’s Doctrine Of Time

Rev. C. M. Mead

There must always be a fascination for metaphysicians, and even for ordinary men of thoughtful mind, in speculating on the problems of space and time. Apparently the most certain and necessary things, they grow more puzzling and evanescent the more one attempts to analyze the conceptions; so that, in fact, there is nothing respecting which more contradictory ideas have been held. In particular, it is remarkable that in some aspects of the question the drift of metaphysical speculation is quite contradictory of the popular impressions. Some years ago I ventured to make an apology for the popular conception of eternity, as being endless time, in opposition to the ordinary metaphysical doctrine that eternity is timelessness (The Metaphysical Idea of Eternity, in the New Englander for 1875). It was there shown not only that the metaphysical conceptions are no clearer and more self-consistent than the popular one, but are in hopeless conflict with one another. Having recently examined for the first time Professor Bowne’s treatment of the conception of time in his Metaphysics, I find myself tempted to make some comments on his doctrine. His writings in general are so admirably fresh and able, and his views so sensible and sound, that one cannot like to disagree with

him. His crushing demolition of Herbert Spencer’s Philosophy and his Studies in Theism are so full of masculine vigor and convincing logic that one comes to his later work with a prepossession in its favor. It is, therefore, a real disappointment not to be able to accede to his theory of the notion of time.

Professor Bowne’s general doctrine is that time is not an objective reality, nor a relation of objective realities, but a purely subjective conception. It is “purely a product of our thinking” (p. 237). This conclusion, so contrary to the unsophisticated impressions of men, he reaches by exhibiting the contradictions and absurdities which result from attempting to carry out the vulgar conception of the objective reality of time. This is not a very difficult task. “All our representations of time are images borrowed from space, and all alike contain contradictions of the time-idea” (p. 218). Thus, if we conceive time under the form of an endless straight line, “the conception fails to fit, for the points of such a line co-exist, while of the time-line only the present point exists.” Or if we think of time as a flowing point describing a straight line, “we implicitly assume a space through which the point moves” (ibid). So, whether time itself is conceived as flowing, or as that through which events flow, in either case, when we car...

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