Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: Philosophy of Time

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

Learn about philosophy the smart way with Philosophy courses at the University of Sydney.

Improve your understanding of the philosophy of time and learn to discuss key concepts relating to time with confidence. In this course we consider many approaches to understanding the issue of time and what it means for us in our everyday existence. We use philosophy, chronobiology, psychology, neurobiology and the arts in our investigations.

During the course, we will discuss: objective and subjective experiences of time; time travel; time in human reasoning; time in physics; neural mechanisms and our experience of time; art, literature and temporal experience.

Aims

This course aims to improve your understanding of the philosophy of time. It will also equip you to discuss the perspectives of modern philosophers and schools of thought with confidence.

Outcomes

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • discuss key concepts in the philosophy of time
  • discuss ancient philosophical perspectives in contrast to modern philosophical perspectives
  • identify the many approaches to understanding concepts of time, including: chronobiology, psychology, neurobiology and the arts
  • relate the phenomenological aspects of the course to your own experience of memory and identity
  • apply these phenomenological considerations to your personal decision making and choices.

Content

What is time?

In this introduction to the philosophy of time, we consider the following:

  • presentism
  • eternalism
  • does time has a definitive direction?
  • the paradox of modern physics and our ordinary experience of time
  • memories and influence on the past and future.

Ancient ideas of time

'What was God doing before he made heaven and earth……he was preparing hell for those that would pry into such profound mysteries" - Augustine, book X1 of the Confessions.

Augustine’s probing analysis of time influenced many later attitudes toward the nature of time. We will consider:

  • the Old Testament
  • Chinese and Islamic ideas
  • clocks and calendars.

Modern philosophers on time

We will look at a range of views from all the great modern philosophers, including Descartes.

Time and life

This week we will discuss chronobiology, the recent science which studies living things in time. We will discuss biological time in human and non-human species.

Einstein issues

This week we will consider the impact that Einstein had on theories of time, relativity and the connection between space and time.

Psychological time

Past, present and future are all crucial to our sense of self and identity. How we unify ourselves as temporal beings is a key issue in psychology. We will discuss Jay Lampert’s The Many Futures of a Decision (2018), a text that deals with the impact of decision-making alongside the philosophy of time.

A phenomenological perspective

‘A full and interesting content can put wings to the hour and the day’ - Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain.

Mann expresses nicely the internal aspects of time perception. Philosophers such as Bergson and phenomenologists such as Husserl thought deeply about subjective time.

Time in literature

This week we will take a range of poems and literary works written about time, from both the cosmic and the human point of view. Examples to be discussed include T. S. Eliot and his poem Burnt Norton.

Time in the arts

We will consider a range of artists and their representation of time through art.

This includes Salvador Dali and his work In search of the Fourth Dimension – a meditation on Einstein’s theory of a temporal fourth dimension.

Time and the brain

Neuroscientists agree that the brain takes an active role in building a mental temporal picture of reality. In considering neuroscientific perspectives, we will consider the following:

  • the neural mechanisms that account for our experience of time
  • our awareness of change
  • our ability to anticipate the future
  • our sense of time’s flow
  • our ability to place events into the correct order of temporal succession.

Intended Audience

Anyone with a general interest in philosophy and the topic of time

Delivery Style

Lecture/seminar

Materials

Handouts are provided in class

Features

  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion
Philosophy Course: Philosophy of Time

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