Eternity of the world

The question of the eternity of the world was a concern for both ancient philosophers and the medieval theologians and philosophers of the 13th century. The question is whether the world has a beginning in time, or whether it has existed from eternity. The problem became a focus of a dispute in the 13th century, when some of the works of Aristotle, who believed in the eternity of the world, were rediscovered in the Latin West. This view conflicted with the view of the Catholic church that the world had a beginning in time. The Aristotelian view was prohibited in the Condemnations of 1210–1277.


The ancient philosopher Aristotle argued that the world must have existed from eternity in his Physics as follows. In Book I, he argues that everything that comes into existence does so from a substratum. Therefore, if the underlying matter of the universe came into existence, it would come into existence from a substratum. But the nature of matter is precisely to be the substratum from which other things arise. Consequently, the underlying matter of the universe could have come into existence only from an already existing matter exactly like itself; to assume that the underlying matter of the universe came into existence would require assuming that an underlying matter already existed. As this assumption is self-contradictory, Aristotle argued, matter must be eternal.[1]

In Book VIII, his argument from motion is that if an absolute beginning of motion should be assumed, the object to undergo the first motion must either

(A) have come into existence and begun to move, or
(B) have existed in an eternal state of rest before beginning to move.[2]

Option A is self-contradictory because an object cannot move before it comes into existence, and the act of coming into existence is itself a "movement," so that the first movement requires a movement before it, that is, the act of coming into existence. Option B is also unsatisfactory for two reasons.

  • First, if the world began at a state of rest, the coming into existence of that state of rest would itself have been motion.
  • Second, if the world changed from a state of rest to a state of motion, the cause of that change to motion would itself have been a motion.

He concludes that motion is necessarily eternal.

Aristotle argued that a "vacuum" (that is, a place where there is no matter) is impossible. Material objects can come into existence only in place, that is, occupy space. Were something to come from nothing, "the place to be occupied by what comes into existence would previously have been occupied by a vacuum, inasmuch as no body existed." But a vacuum is impossible, and matter must be eternal.

The Greek philosopher Critolaus (c. 200-c. 118 BC)[3] of Phaselis defended Aristotle's doctrine of the eternity of the world, and of the human race in general, against the Stoics. There is no observed change in the natural order of things; humankind recreates itself in the same manner according to the capacity given by Nature, and the various ills to which it is heir, though fatal to individuals, do not avail to modify the whole. Just as it is absurd to suppose that humans are merely earth-born, so the possibility of their ultimate destruction is inconceivable. The world, as the manifestation of eternal order, must itself be eternal.

The Neo-Platonists

The Neoplatonist philosopher Proclus (412 – 485 AD) advanced in his De Aeternitate Mundi (On the Eternity of the World) eighteen proofs for the eternity of the world, resting on the divinity of its creator.[4]

In 529 John Philoponus wrote his critique Against Proclus in which he systematically argued against every proposition put forward for the eternity of the world. The intellectual battle against eternalism became one of Philoponus’ major preoccupations and dominated several of his publications (some now lost) over the following decade.

Philoponus originated the argument now known as the Traversal of the infinite. If the existence of something requires that something else exist before it, then the first thing cannot come into existence without the thing before it existing. An infinite number cannot actually exist, nor be counted through or 'traversed', or be increased. Something cannot come into existence if this requires an infinite number of other things existing before it. Therefore, the world cannot be infinite.

The Aristotelian commentator Simplicius of Cilicia and contemporary of Philoponus argued against the Aristotelian view.[5]

Philoponus' arguments

Philoponus' arguments for temporal finitism were severalfold. Contra Aristotlem has been lost, and is chiefly known through the citations used by Simplicius of Cilicia in his commentaries on Aristotle's Physics and De Caelo. Philoponus' refutation of Aristotle extended to six books, the first five addressing De Caelo and the sixth addressing Physics, and from comments on Philoponus made by Simplicius can be deduced to have been quite lengthy.[6]

A full exposition of Philoponus' several arguments, as reported by Simplicius, can be found in Sorabji.[7] One such argument was based upon Aristotle's own theorem that there were not multiple infinities, and ran as follows: If time were infinite, then as the universe continued in existence for another hour, the infinity of its age since creation at the end of that hour must be one hour greater than the infinity of its age since creation at the start of that hour. But since Aristotle holds that such treatments of infinity are impossible and ridiculous, the world cannot have existed for infinite time.[8]

Philoponus's works were adopted by many; his first argument against an infinite past being the "argument from the impossibility of the existence of an actual infinite", which states:[9]

"An actual infinite cannot exist."
"An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite."
"Thus an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist."

This argument defines event as equal increments of time. Philoponus argues that the second premise is not controversial since the number of events prior to today would be an actual infinite without beginning if the universe is eternal. The first premise is defended by a reductio ad absurdum where Philoponus shows that actual infinites can not exist in the actual world because they would lead to contradictions albeit being a possible mathematical enterprise. Since an actual infinite in reality would create logical contradictions, it can not exist including the actual infinite set of past events. The second argument, the "argument from the impossibility of completing an actual infinite by successive addition", states:[9]

"An actual infinite cannot be completed by successive addition."
"The temporal series of past events has been completed by successive addition."
"Thus the temporal series of past events cannot be an actual infinite."

The first statement states, correctly, that a finite (number) cannot be made into an infinite one by the finite addition of more finite numbers. The second skirts around this; the analogous idea in mathematics, that the (infinite) sequence of negative integers "..-3, -2, -1" may be extended by appending zero, then one, and so forth; is perfectly valid.

Medieval period

Avicenna argued that prior to a thing's coming into actual existence, its existence must have been 'possible.' Were its existence necessary, the thing would already have existed, and were its existence impossible, the thing would never exist. The possibility of the thing must therefore in some sense have its own existence. Possibility cannot exist in itself, but must reside within a subject. If an already existent matter must precede everything coming into existence, clearly nothing, including matter, can come into existence ex nihilo, that is, from absolute nothingness. An absolute beginning of the existence of matter is therefore impossible.

The Aristotelian commentator Averroes supported Aristotle's view, particularly in his work The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-tahafut), in which he defended Aristotelian philosophy against al-Ghazali's claims in The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasifa).

Averroes' contemporary Maimonides challenged Aristotle's assertion that "everything in existence comes from a substratum," on that basis that his reliance on induction and analogy is a fundamentally flawed means of explaining unobserved phenomenon. According to Maimonides, to argue that "because I have never observed something coming into existence without coming from a substratum it cannot occur" is equivalent to arguing that "because I cannot empirically observe eternity it does not exist."

Maimonides himself held that neither creation nor Aristotle's infinite time were provable, or at least that no proof was available. (According to scholars of his work, he didn't make a formal distinction between unprovability and the simple absence of proof.) However, some of Maimonides' Jewish successors, including Gersonides and Crescas, conversely held that the question was decidable, philosophically.[10]

In the West, the 'Latin Averroists' were a group of philosophers writing in Paris in the middle of the thirteenth century, who included Siger of Brabant, Boethius of Dacia. They supported Aristotle's doctrine of the eternity of the world against conservative theologians such as John Pecham and Bonaventure. The conservative position is that the world can be logically proved to have begun in time, of which the classic exposition is Bonaventure's argument in the second book of his commentary on Peter Lombard's sentences, where he repeats Philoponus' case against a traversal of the infinite.

Thomas Aquinas, like Maimonides, argued against both the conservative theologians and the Averroists, claiming that neither the eternity nor the finite nature of the world could be proved by logical argument alone. According to Aquinas the possible eternity of the world and its creation would be contradictory if an efficient cause were precede its effect in duration or if non-existence precedes existence in duration. But an efficient cause, such as God, which instantaneously produces its effect would not necessarily precede its effect in duration. God can also be distinguished from a natural cause which produces its effect by motion, for a cause that produces motion must precede its effect. God could be an instantaneous and motionless creator, and could have created the world without preceding it in time. To Aquinas, that the world began was an article of faith.[11]

The position of the Averroists was condemned by Stephen Tempier in 1277.

See also


  1. ^ Physics I, 7
  2. ^ Aristotle in Physics VIII, 1, 251a, 8-20
  3. ^ Dorandi, Tiziano (1999). "Chapter 2: Chronology". In Algra, Keimpe; et al. (eds.). The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 50. ISBN 9780521250283.
  4. ^ Lang, Helen (2001). Introduction. On the Eternity of the World. By Proclus. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-520-22554-6.
  5. ^ Simplicius, in Arist. de Caelo, 6, b, etc., 72; in Phys. Ausc. 257, 262, etc., 312, etc., 320.
  6. ^ Davidson, Herbert A. (April–June 1969). "John Philoponus as a Source of Medieval Islamic and Jewish Proofs of Creation". Journal of the American Oriental Society. Journal of the American Oriental Society. 89 (2): 357–391. doi:10.2307/596519. JSTOR 596519.
  7. ^ Sorabji, Richard (2005). "Did the Universe have a Beginning?". The Philosophy of the Commentators, 200–600 AD. Cornell University Press. pp. 175–188. ISBN 0-8014-8988-1.
  8. ^ Daniels, Mark. "What's New in Ancient Philosophy". Philosopny Now.
  9. ^ a b Craig, William Lane (June 1979). "Whitrow and Popper on the Impossibility of an Infinite Past". The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 30 (2): 165–170 [165–166]. doi:10.1093/bjps/30.2.165.
  10. ^ Feldman, Seymour (1967). "Gersonides' Proofs for the Creation of the Universe". Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research. Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research. 35: 113–137. doi:10.2307/3622478. JSTOR 3622478.
  11. ^ Cfr. his De eternitate mundi

External links

Ancient Commentators on Aristotle project

The Ancient Commentators on Aristotle project based at King's College London and under the direction of Richard Sorabji has undertaken to translate into English the ancient commentaries on Aristotle. The project began in 1987 and in 2012 published its 100th volume. A further 30 or so volumes are planned. The project is now co-edited by Michael Griffin (UBC).


An astrarium, also called a planetarium, is the mechanical representation of the cyclic nature of astronomical objects in one timepiece. It is an astronomical clock.

Boetius of Dacia

Boetius de Dacia, OP (also spelled Boethius de Dacia) was a 13th-century Danish philosopher.


Chronometry (from Greek χρόνος chronos, "time" and μέτρον metron, "measure") is the science of the measurement of time, or timekeeping. Chronometry applies to electronic devices, while horology refers to mechanical devices.

It should not to be confused with chronology, the science of locating events in time, which often relies upon it.

Common year

A common year is a calendar year with 365 days, as distinguished from a leap year, which has 366. More generally, a common year is one without intercalation. The Gregorian calendar, (like the earlier Julian calendar), employs both common years and leap years to keep the calendar aligned with the tropical year, which does not contain an exact number of days.

The common year of 365 days has 52 weeks and one day, hence a common year always begins and ends on the same day of the week (for example, January 1 and December 31 fell on a Sunday in 2017) and the year following a common year will start on the subsequent day of the week. In common years, February has four weeks, so March will begin on the same day of the week. November will also begin on this day.

In the Gregorian calendar, 303 of every 400 years are common years. By comparison, in the Julian calendar, 300 out of every 400 years are common years, and in the Revised Julian calendar (used by Greece) 682 out of every 900 years are common years.


Critolaus (; Greek: Κριτόλαος Kritolaos; c. 200 – c. 118 BC) of Phaselis was a Greek philosopher of the Peripatetic school. He was one of three philosophers sent to Rome in 155 BC (the other two being Carneades and Diogenes of Babylon), where their doctrines fascinated the citizens, but scared the more conservative statesmen. None of his writings survive. He was interested in rhetoric and ethics, and considered pleasure to be an evil. He maintained the Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity of the world, and of the human race in general, directing his arguments against the Stoics.


The word eternalism may refer to:

Eternalism (philosophy of time), the philosophical theory which takes the view that all points in time are equally "real", as opposed to the Presentism (philosophy of time) idea that only the present is real

Positive belief in the eternity of the world or the law of conservation of energy

Eternalism is the common translation of sassatavada, the doctrine of unchanging being rejected by Buddhism

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While sometimes this station is described as defunct, reception reports of this station on 3.81 MHz appear regularly at the Utility DX Forum.

Hendrik Wyermars

Hendrik Wyermars (early June 1685 – 27 September 1757) was a Dutch radical Enlightenment thinker from Amsterdam who in 1710 published a philosophical book defending the eternity of the world and rejecting the literal version of the Creation story from the book of Genesis. For contradicting fundamental Christian doctrine the book was condemned by the local church authorities and the author subsequently jailed for 15 years in the Amsterdam Rasphuis. He was considered an adherent of Spinozism, proclaiming atheist and materialist views.

Henry Harclay

Henry (of) Harclay (Latin: Henricus Harcleius, also Harcla or Harcley; c. 1270 – 25 June 1317) was an English medieval philosopher and university chancellor.

Intercalation (timekeeping)

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John Philoponus

John Philoponus (; Ἰωάννης ὁ Φιλόπονος; c. 490 – c. 570), also known as John the Grammarian or John of Alexandria, was a Byzantine Alexandrian philologist, Aristotelian commentator and Christian theologian, author of a considerable number of philosophical treatises and theological works. A rigorous, sometimes polemical writer and an original thinker who was controversial in his own time, John Philoponus broke from the Aristotelian–Neoplatonic tradition, questioning methodology and eventually leading to empiricism in the natural sciences. He was one of the first to propose a "theory of impetus" similar to the modern concept of inertia over Aristotelian dynamics.

Later in life Philoponus turned to Christian apologetics, arguing against the eternity of the world, a theory which formed the basis of pagan attacks on the Christian doctrine of Creation. He also wrote on Christology and was posthumously condemned as a heretic by the Imperial Church in 680–81 because of what was perceived as a tritheistic interpretation of the Trinity.

His by-name ὁ Φιλόπονος translates as "lover of toil", i.e. "diligent," referring to a miaphysite confraternity in Alexandria, the philoponoi, who were active in debating pagan (i.e. Neoplatonic) philosophers.

His posthumous condemnation limited the spread of his writing, but copies of his work did circulate in Greek or Latin versions in medieval Europe, influencing Bonaventure and Buridan. His work was also received in Arabic scholarly tradition, where he is known as Yaḥyā al-Naḥwī (i.e. "John the Grammarian"). His critique of Aristotle in the Physics commentary was a major influence on Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Galileo Galilei, who cited Philoponus substantially in his works.


The minute is a unit of time or angle. As a unit of time, the minute is most of times equal to ​1⁄60 (the first sexagesimal fraction) of an hour, or 60 seconds. In the UTC time standard, a minute on rare occasions has 61 seconds, a consequence of leap seconds (there is a provision to insert a negative leap second, which would result in a 59-second minute, but this has never happened in more than 40 years under this system). As a unit of angle, the minute of arc is equal to ​1⁄60 of a degree, or 60 seconds (of arc). Although not an SI unit for either time or angle, the minute is accepted for use with SI units for both. The SI symbols for minute or minutes are min for time measurement, and the prime symbol after a number, e.g. 5′, for angle measurement. The prime is also sometimes used informally to denote minutes of time.

Sicilian Questions

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On the Sicilian Questions exist, so far, the complete editions of Serefettin Yaltkaya, according to the 534th Arabic manuscript from the Bodleian Library at Oxford; and several complete translations: to Turkish, to Italian, and to Spanish; as well as diverse partial translations: to French, to Italian, to Spanish, and to German.Regarding the author's style, the book has obvious signs of eloquence and elegance, as well as extensive scientific knowledge. But at the same time, it warns, sometimes, a certain monotony, excessive rhetoric, with consequent abrupt interruptions retakes, disjunctions, etc. Through its pages the text shows a peculiar mix of Aristotelian influence and Neoplatonic Sufi mysticism, and an overview of the most important doctrines of the science of antiquity, including for instace, the logic of Aristotle.

Tempus fugit

Tempus fugit is a Latin phrase, usually translated into English as "time flies". The expression comes from line 284 of book 3 of Virgil's Georgics, where it appears as fugit inreparabile tempus: "it escapes, irretrievable time". The phrase is used in both its Latin and English forms as a proverb that "time's a-wasting". Tempus fugit, however, is typically employed as an admonition against sloth and procrastination (cf. carpe diem) rather than a motto in favor of licentiousness (cf. "gather ye rosebuds while ye may"); the English form is often merely descriptive: "time flies like the wind", "time flies when you're having fun".

The phrase's full appearance in the Georgics is:

The phrase is a common motto, particularly on sundials and clocks.

Thomas Wilton

Thomas Wilton (active from 1288 to 1322) was an English theologian and scholastic philosopher, a pupil of Duns Scotus, a teacher at the University of Oxford and then the University of Paris, where he taught Walter Burley. He was a Fellow of Merton College from about 1288.He attacked some of Burley's theses. He wrote on and rejected the theory of motion of Averroes, provoking a reply by John of Jandun. In discussing the eternity of the world, he connects the views of Maimonides and Aquinas.

Tomorrow (time)

Tomorrow is a temporal construct of the relative future; literally of the day after the current day (today), or figuratively of future periods or times. Tomorrow is usually considered just beyond the present and counter to yesterday. It is important in time perception because it is the first direction the arrow of time takes humans on Earth.


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The methods of time transmission from YVTO are very limited. The broadcast employs no form of digital time code. The time of day is given in Venezuelan Standard Time (VET), and is only sent using Spanish language voice announcements. YVTO also transmits 100 ms-long beeps of 1000 Hz every second, except for thirty seconds past the minute. The top of the minute is marked by a 0.5 second 800 Hz tone.The station previously broadcast on 6,100 MHz but appears to have changed to the current frequency by 1990.

Yesterday (time)

Yesterday is a temporal construct of the relative past; literally of the day before the current day (today), or figuratively of earlier periods or times, often but not always within living memory.

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