The smallest number, in the strict sense of the word ‘number’, is two. But of number as concrete, sometimes there is a minimum, sometimes not: e.g. of a ‘line’, the smallest in respect of multiplicity is two (or, if you like, one), but in respect of size there is no minimum; for every line is divided ad infinitum. Hence it is so with time. In respect of number the minimum is one (or two); in point of extent there is no minimum.
It is clear, too, that time is not described as fast or slow, but as many or few and as long or short. For as continuous it is long or short and as a number many or few, but it is not fast or slow-any more than any number with which we number is fast or slow.
Further, there is the same time everywhere at once, but not the same time before and after, for while the present change is one, the change which has happened and that which will happen are different. Time is not number with which we count, but the number of things which are counted, and this according as it occurs before or after is always different, for the ‘nows’ are different. And the number of a hundred horses and a hundred men is the same, but the things numbered are different-the horses from the men. Further, as a movement can be one and the same again and again, so too can time, e.g. a year or a spring or an autumn.
Not only do we measure the movement by the time, but also the time by the movement, because they define each other. The time marks the movement, since it is its number, and the movement the time. We describe the time as much or little, measuring it by the movement, just as we know the number by what is numbered, e.g. the number of the horses by one horse as the unit. For we know how many horses there are by the use of the number; and again by using the one horse as unit we know the number of the horses itself. So it is with the time and the movement; for we measure the movement by the time and vice versa. It is natural that this should happen; for the movement goes with the distance and the time with the movement, because they are quanta and continuous and divisible. The movement has these attributes because the distance is of this nature, and the time has them because of the movement. And we measure both the distance by the movement and the movement by the distance; for we say that the road is long, if the journey is long, and that this is long, if the road is long-the time, too, if the movement, and the movement, if the time.
Time is a measure of motion and of being moved, and it measures the motion by determining a motion which will measure exactly the whole motion, as the cubit does the length by determining an amount which will measure out the whole. Further ‘to be in time’ means for movement, that both it and its essence are measured by time (for simultaneously it measures both the movement and its essence, and this is what being in time means for it, that its essence should be measured).
Clearly then ‘to be in time’ has the same meaning for other things also, namely, that their being should be measured by time. ‘To be in time’ is one of two things: (1) to exist when time exists, (2) as we say of some things that they are ‘in number’. The latter means either what is a part or mode of number-in general, something which belongs to number-or that things have a number.
Now, since time is number, the ‘now’ and the ‘before’ and the like are in time, just as ‘unit’ and ‘odd’ and ‘even’ are in number, i.e. in the sense that the one set belongs to number, the other to time. But things are in time as they are in number. If this is so, they are contained by time as things in place are contained by place.
Plainly, too, to be in time does not mean to co-exist with time, any more than to be in motion or in place means to co-exist with motion or place. For if ‘to be in something’ is to mean this, then all things will be in anything, and the heaven will be in a grain; for when the grain is, then also is the heaven. But this is a merely incidental conjunction, whereas the other is necessarily involved: that which is in time necessarily involves that there is time when it is, and that which is in motion that there is motion when it is.
Since what is ‘in time’ is so in the same sense as what is in number is so, a time greater than everything in time can be found. So it is necessary that all the things in time should be contained by time, just like other things also which are ‘in anything’, e.g. the things ‘in place’ by place.
A thing, then, will be affected by time, just as we are accustomed to say that time wastes things away, and that all things grow old through time, and that there is oblivion owing to the lapse of time, but we do not say the same of getting to know or of becoming young or fair. For time is by its nature the cause rather of decay, since it is the number of change, and change removes what is.
Hence, plainly, things which are always are not, as such, in time, for they are not contained time, nor is their being measured by time. A proof of this is that none of them is affected by time, which indicates that they are not in time.
Since time is the measure of motion, it will be the measure of rest too-indirectly. For all rest is in time. For it does not follow that what is in time is moved, though what is in motion is necessarily moved. For time is not motion, but ‘number of motion’: and what is at rest, also, can be in the number of motion. Not everything that is not in motion can be said to be ‘at rest’-but only that which can be moved, though it actually is not moved, as was said above.
‘To be in number’ means that there is a number of the thing, and that its being is measured by the number in which it is. Hence if a thing is ‘in time’ it will be measured by time. But time will measure what is moved and what is at rest, the one qua moved, the other qua at rest; for it will measure their motion and rest respectively.
Hence what is moved will not be measurable by the time simply in so far as it has quantity, but in so far as its motion has quantity. Thus none of the things which are neither moved nor at rest are in time: for ‘to be in time’ is ‘to be measured by time’, while time is the measure of motion and rest.
Plainly, then, neither will everything that does not exist be in time, i.e. those non-existent things that cannot exist, as the diagonal cannot be commensurate with the side.
Generally, if time is directly the measure of motion and indirectly of other things, it is clear that a thing whose existence is measured by it will have its existence in rest or motion. Those things therefore which are subject to perishing and becoming-generally, those which at one time exist, at another do not-are necessarily in time: for there is a greater time which will extend both beyond their existence and beyond the time which measures their existence. Of things which do not exist but are contained by time some were, e.g. Homer once was, some will be, e.g. a future event; this depends on the direction in which time contains them; if on both, they have both modes of existence. As to such things as it does not contain in any way, they neither were nor are nor will be. These are those nonexistents whose opposites always are, as the incommensurability of the diagonal always is-and this will not be in time. Nor will the commensurability, therefore; hence this eternally is not, because it is contrary to what eternally is. A thing whose contrary is not eternal can be and not be, and it is of such things that there is coming to be and passing away.
Aristotle. Physics. Translated by R.P. Hardie and R.K. Gaye. Rendered into HTML by Steve Thomas. eBooks @ Adelaide. 2007. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/a/aristotle/physics/book4.html (accessed Feb 11, 2010)
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