The timeline account of the First Way

Every motion requires a contribution from a mover whose activity cannot be placed on a timeline. 

1.) Motion is change over time. This can be taken in two ways:

a.) A fraction or number. Some enumeration of states is literally put over a line on top of some clock measurement. Meters per second. Meters per second squared. Elephants born per year.

b.) A timeline representation. Baby pig, adult pig, bacon, breakfast. Some timelines are less eventful and might even show stasis, like the 485 minutes of Andy Warhol’s Empire

We’re only interested in (b). This account is orthogonal to (a) but separable in thought.

2.) Motion does not occur at various moments of the timeline, but only so far as anything at one stage can be at another. Aristotle called anything at a stage actual and whatever can be something later (even what was at some stage) potential. 

3.) So everything in motion is potential.

4.) Potentials are multiple. Think of all the places you could be right now. So if potentials sufficed to explain the actual motion, you would be in multiple places at once. Call the thing responsible for the actual motion “something else”. So every potential is (actually) moved by something else.

5.) The conclusion is everything in motion is moved by something else. 

6.) The rest of the proof focuses on the “something elses”. There are probably an indefinite amount of them in any given motion. If you want to butcher a pig you need a whole pile of “something elses”: knives, a butcher, his ongoing metabolism, his desire to kill the animal, etc. In addition to this you need all sorts of realized potentials that would not be “motions” in a familiar sense but count as motions in the context of the proof. The floor of the slaughterhouse, for example, has to realize its potential to stay stable and in place, which counts as a motion in the sense of the First Way: being stable now is not the same as being stable then, and you need this ongoing stability to butcher a pig.

7.) Take all the “something elses”. Either all are in motion or they aren’t. If all are, then, by 5, there is something else and you don’t have all. So some mover is not in motion. 

8.) But this means that motion requires the contribution of something not on a timeline. There is neither dynamism nor stasis, neither the immobility of the floor nor the mobility of the knife. There is simply no diversity of states over time, whether this diversity is like knife here and knife there or floor now and floor later. 

9.) The divinity of the First Way is therefore what causes motion while only being extrinsically describable by it. True, if I act now and not then there is some way in which the divinity acts now and not then. The way is this: there is no one time at which both actions occur – no two coincident time lines. But the divinity of the First Way does not act in time by being on a line that coincides with another.


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