Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of Philosophy - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

Antonio Luis Costa Vargas

Antonio_Luis_Costa_Vargas_Foto.jpgThesis: "Periodicity and the Division of Time in Ancient and Late Ancient Philosophy"

Are parts of time such as years, days and epochs intrinsic features of time or merely conventional divisions imposed by us? This is a puzzling issue, which, however, receives hardly any attention in contemporary philosophy of time. If time is continuous, as it is most often taken to be, it seems that it cannot be intrinsically divided into parts. Furthermore, if time can only be present in an instantaneous now, then no extended part of time, no day or year, may ever be truly present. I propose to motivate philosophical interest in the notion of time's parts by studying ancient and late ancient debates on the subject.

I will concentrate on the contributions of Plato, Aristotle, Proclus and Damascius, which can be connected as follows: Plato famously defined time as an image of eternity moving according to number, and further said that days, months and years were “parts of time” (Tim. 37e). When Aristotle criticized Plato's view of time, he also proposed an understanding of time as continuous and in some way mind-dependent that seriously calls into question its intrinsic division. Later, the mind-dependent character of time was emphasized by Plotinus. Plotinus' theory was criticized by  Proclus, who developed a view of time as an intelligible entity with a complex structure existing independent of the soul. In his Timaeus Commentary, Proclus claimed that the periods of time, such as the day and the year, existed within time's intelligible nature. Finally, in Simplicius' Corollarium de Tempore, we find a report of a perplexing theory of Damascius', who appears to have gone one step further than Proclus and said that not only that the parts of time existed within time's intelligible nature, but that time did not flow continuously in the world, but was a sequence of discrete indivisible units. These units have been understood til now as small, atomic quanta of time (Sorabji, Sambursky), but there is good reason to think that Damascius has astronomical periods in mind. Therefore, this research will not only teach us much about the division of time, but will also be an opportunity to look at a number of ancient texts from a novel perspective.


I earned a bachelor's degree in Philosophy at the University of Brasilia (Brazil) in 2008, where I mainly studied phenomenology and german idealism. In 2009 I came to Berlin and in 2012 I completed a masters degree in Philosophy at Humboldt Universität, during which I studied mainly Neoplatonism. I concluded my MA with a thesis on Proclus' contribution to the study of pure multitude.