Time and causality

A: Causality is real, and therefore time is. That’s all that needs to be said.

B: So you mean objective, really passing A-series time?

A: Exactly. At the end of the day, all Eternalisms are committed to things at diverse times being real all at once, and therefore nothing is responsible for something being real. If everything already is, nothing can cause another to be.

B: But God can be responsible for the existence of the universe without being in A-series time. I’m not saying I think there is a God, just that he allows us a way to conceptualize a division between being a cause and being in time.

A: But you can’t get time out of this altogether – there is still time on the side of the effect. God’s being responsible for the existence of the universe requires A-series time on the side of what comes to exist.

B: Why so? What if God just made the angels? Not that I believe in them either, but is there time for pure spirits?

A: Sure, if you mean that they need more than one incompatible perfection to exist. They can change their minds, for example – think one thing and then another.

B: This is a strange sense of time, though – it’s like talking about the length of time for a syllogism or a mathematical argument. It might take us time to say it or get neurons to fire, but the logical implication doesn’t take any time.

A: But that’s just what sets mere logical implication from time! Sure, the premises cause the conclusion, but you could just as easily run the argument in reverse, as happens when we start taking the argument as a reductio ad absurdum. But you can’t just as easily run the sequence of causality in reverse and, say, generate a father from the son. If my voice speaking now persuades you, you can’t run your persuasion backwards to make the voice that speaks to you now.

B:  Yes, it would be a very strange sort of physics that thought everything was reversible like that – even relationships of coming to know, and we can’t very well have a physics without assuming that various events can cause us to think things.

A: So is that enough? Do we have time now? You can’t very well have a physics without causality in nature too – even if some omelet unscrambled itself into eggs again, it would still just be a cause of them.

B: I’m not sure if it is exactly the same argument that gets run both forwards and backwards, and so there might be a way to say that the father generates the son (as cause) and the son generates the father (as a sign of his existence), but it does seem like there is an asymmetry in any given cause and effect that can’t be run backwards.

A: So is this enough to give us time, at least in the effect?

B: It seems like if you want causality it’s hard to get rid of time. Still, I don’t quite see how mere contingency gives us time’s passage, especially since you grant that there’s no contradiction in a thing being outside of time and still causing things in it.



  1. March 10, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    1. It seems to me that, if there are angels, then if they change their minds, then they are subject to succession, to before and after, and so to time. Time in such cases is or would be, not measurable with respect to before and after, but at least countable: The first angelic thought would give a count of one, the succeeding one a count of two.

    If angels don’t exist, then they ought to.

    2. It seems to me further that both there is time in the activity of a cause if and only if there is change therein and there is time in a passion of an effect if and only if there is change therein, on the assumption that time is an attribute of change.

  2. Jacinta said,

    March 11, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    I thought that angels DON’T change their minds…

    • March 11, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      If you’re thinking about theory that angel cannot repent sins or lose beatitude, then that’s something that we don’t have a very good theory about. I don’t know if we even have that good of a theory about why separated souls cannot repent, except to point to the divine decree that they can’t. In general we might need to do a lot more thought on the impossibility of contrition in the afterlife. I’m not sure we have yet ruled out Apokataphatism that the many Eastern Fathers, Origin, or Isaac the Syrian believed in, though the odds against it are pretty long.

      In the post, however, I was just talking about the fact that no finite mind, whether seraph or man, can know all things perfectly and distinctly by a single concept, and so they need to go from one to another to know all they can know.

  3. March 11, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    Might it not be the case that an angelic intellect, if such there is or such there were, would not know by a single concept, but that, indeed, it would employ not only concepts but also judgments and even science? The difference between that sort of an intellect and our own would still be that it would have its knowledge changelessly while we proceed from concept to proposition to demonstration.

  4. Caleb Neff said,

    March 25, 2015 at 6:54 am

    Well, I wonder what would happen if B added material causation to the discussion? Now suppose there existed a book from eternity past. The book, still made of paper and ink, would be caused to exist by the stuff comprising it. However, further supposing the book never experiences change, would not experience time, at least as A apparently understands it. Surely this would separate time and causality, at least conceptually?

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