Space and Time


Space and Time

PHIL 192D and LIBA 205

Spring semester 2012

Prof. Dowden


 Albert Einstein





Catalog description: Introduction to significant philosophical issues involving space and time. An investigation into the current state of these issues. Note: No background or work in mathematics or physics is required. Prerequisite: 6 units in philosophy or instructor permission. 3 units.

Grades for Phil. 192D: Three essay assignments (21% each), one class presentation (10%), and a comprehensive final exam (27%).

  • Essay assignment 1 due Feb. 16 (week 4).
  • Essay assignment 2 due Mar. 8 (week 7).
  • Essay assignment 3 due April 26 (week 13).
  • Final Exam, Thursday, May 17, 12:45-2:45.

Depth of philosophical insight, accuracy, and quality of argumentation are the paramount factors affecting the grades, but English writing skill is also a significant factor. The final exam is open book and open notes.

Grades for LIBA 205: Graduate students must complete an additional graduate essay of seven pages. Here are the percentages: three essay assignments (15% each), one class presentation (10%), one grad essay (21% each), and a comprehensive final exam (24%). The grad essay is due on April 15 (week 10).

Textbooks: The Metaphysics of Time: A Dialogue by Bradley Dowden, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009.

dialogue BOOK COVER

Introducing Time by Craig Callender and Ralph Edney. 2001, 2005. Any edition of this book is OK.


Some other required reading and viewing assignments are available on the Internet, as indicated below in the weekly schedule of assignments. In addition, you will occasionally receive printed class handouts or postings in SacCT, which you should consider to be required reading.

More detailed course description: Our course is about space. What sort of space? Not empty space. If you have a cubic box that is one foot on each edge and you fill it with marbles, then how much space is there left in the box? There are two answers. (1) A cubic foot. (2) It depends on how big the marbles are. Our course is about space in the sense of (1). And what about time? We don't mean free time. We mean the stuff that clocks measure. In this particular sense of space and time, this is a course in metaphysics and the philosophy of science that focuses on issues involving space and time.

Here are four examples of those issues:

  • Time has an arrow. We see this arrow when events "unfold" in a one-way direction. For example unbroken eggs turn into omelets, but omelets never turn into unbroken eggs. A rock leaves your hand and falls into a pond causing expanding waves. However, contracting waves on the pond never reach a point where they eject a rock into your hand leaving a smooth pond surface. What would human experience be like if time's arrow reversed direction in some far off corner of the universe? Would the people there walk backwards up steps while remembering the future?
  • Without minds in the world, nothing in the world would be surprising or beautiful or interesting. Can we add that nothing would be in time?
  • If all the matter and energy were to be removed from all of space, would empty space still be left, or instead would even empty space be gone?
  • Most philosophers of science claim to know there are more points of space on the line between you and the North Pole than there are rational numbers (fractions that are either negative or positive), yet there are infinitely many rational numbers. How do they know this if they haven't themselves counted the points?

These and our other issues will be placed in historical context, but they won't be covered in chronological order. Still, the course's historical range is broad.  For example, we will examine the views of the ancient Greek atomists who invented the concept of space; and we will investigate the oldest metaphysical problem in European philosophy, the problem of change. We will also consider the impact of 21st century theories of quantum gravity on our civilization's understanding of space and time. The relevant scientific theories, such as Einstein's theories of relativity, will be introduced as needed, but only informally.

Regarding the philosophical issue of travel through space, the most important point to remember is that wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story. 

OK, let's get back on track. Our course is a seminar, so it's not wholly a lecture course. You will be required to give a fifteen-minute presentation to the class at some time of your choosing during the semester. In other words, you are the professor for 15 minutes. During this time, you might prepare the other students for our weekly topic by presenting a summary of some of the required reading. Another option is to expand on one idea concerning that week's topic; you can do this by reporting on an unassigned article you've read. These aren't your only options; feel free to be creative, but without presenting biographies of people or merely your personal feelings about the topic. Try to leave some of your 15 minutes for class discussion and questions from other students.

Schedule of Topics and Assignments: The schedule of weekly topics, reading and viewing assignments is here. The schedule of class presentations will be created during the first week and then posted in SacCT.

Instructor: Prof. Bradley Dowden. My office is in Mendocino Hall, room 3022. My weekly office hours are TuTh 9:30-10:30 and 12:00-12:30. Feel free to stop by or call at any of those times. If those hours are inconvenient for you, then we can arrange an appointment for an alternative time. Also, send me e-mail any time at or call my office at 278-7384 or the Philosophy Department Office at 278-6424. The fastest way to contact me is by email. My personal web page is at


picture of Prof. Dowden

click photo to expand

Late work, and make-up assignments: I realize that during your college career you occasionally may be unable to complete an assignment on time. If this happens in our course, contact me as soon as you are able. If you promptly provide me with a good reason for missing a test or homework assignment (illness, accident, etc.), then I'll use your grade on the final exam as your missing grade. There will be no make-up tests nor make-up homework. I do accept late homework with a grade penalty of one-third of a letter grade per 24-hour period beginning at the class time the assignment is due. Examples.  If you turn in the assignment a few hours after it is due, then your A becomes an A-.  Instead, if you turn in the same assignment 30 hours late, then your A becomes a B+.  Weekends count.  No late work will be accepted after the answer sheet has been handed out (often this will be at the next class meeting) nor after the answers are discussed in class, even if you weren't in class that day.

Add-Drop: To add the course, try to do so by using the CMS system. If the course is full, then see me about signing up on the waiting list. To drop the course during the first two weeks, use the CMS system. No paperwork is required. After the first two weeks, it is harder to drop, and a departmental form is required, the "Petition to Add/Drop After Deadline." As with any university course, make sure you are dropped officially (by CMS or by the instructor or department secretary); don't simply walk away into the ozone or else you will get a "U" grade for the course, which is counted as an "F" in computing your GPA (grade point average).

Disabilities: If you have a documented disability and require accommodation or assistance with assignments, tests, attendance, note taking, etc., please see me early in the semester so that appropriate arrangements can be made to ensure your full participation in class. Also, you are encouraged to contact the Services for Students with Disabilities (Lassen Hall) for additional information regarding services that might be available to you.

Honesty: See the University's policy on honesty and cheating. A student tutorial on how not to plagiarize is available online from our library.

Food: Except for water, please do not eat or drink during class time. You are welcome to leave class anytime if the need arises.

Student outcome goals: The goal is for you to acquire a broad understanding of the major philosophical issues that involve the nature of space and time. You will know what is controversial about various important claims that have been made, and you will be able to carefully express and to defend your own views on these topics.

Laptops and cell phones:No photographing or recording during class is allowed without permission of the instructor. During class, turn off your cellphone. Your computers may be used only for note taking, and not for browsing the web, reading emails, or other activities unrelated to the class. If you use a computer during class, then please sit in the back of the room or in a side row so that your monitor's screen won't distract other students. 

Testing protocol: For in-class tests, you may use your books and notes but not your computer or phone.

time flies


Updated: May 3, 2012