How old is time?

Philosopher's reply

Dear Dominic,

What a great question! If you mean clock time – like on your phone – it’s as old as the 19th Century*. But Time itself is older – at least as old as the universe. If anything starts – even the universe – there has to be a time when it starts.

So, when did the universe start? Medieval Christians say 6,000 years ago. Hindus say 155 billion years ago. Today, astronomers say it started 16 billion years ago.

But did time start with the universe? Some philosophers think not. If anything starts, it starts in time. There is a time before a thing starts. If time starts, there has to be a time before time starts – which makes no sense. So time can’t start and time is infinitely old.**

Yours,
Dr. Sean Enda Power

*Before that, time could be decided locally. In some towns, one o’clock was when the sun rose.
**However, some philosophers – like Aristotle - think there’s no time if there’s no change. But then, what was changing before the universe started? Was Aristotle wrong?

Philosopher's profile

Sean Enda Power

University College Cork, Ireland

Murdoch’s views on ethics inspired my own thinking, especially her ethical views’ challenges to existentialism, relativism, and behaviourism. My own work - on the philosophy of time - developed out of metaphysics, rather than ethics. However, her general form of argument opened the possibility of such non-reductive philosophical work. Also, her fiction - especially The Sea - forcefully illustrates the value of vivid images and storytelling in philosophical thought.

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