Social Change and the Picture of Time

Term Paper, 2005

20 Pages, Grade: very good (1,0)


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Models of Time
2.1 Time in the Medieval Society
2.1.1 The Concept of Time The Concept of Time in World History The Concept of Time in Life
2.1.2 Moral Values Connected to Time
2.1.3 Summary
2.2 Time at the Advent of the Industrial Revolution
2.2.1 The Concept of Time in the Late Eighteenth Century
2.2.2 Moral Values of the Late Eighteenth Century in Connection with Time
2.3 Summary

3 Conclusion

1 Introduction

The central paradigm of modern society seems to be the increasing speed of the world. Books like “Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit” (Nadolny, 1987) contend that people may not be able to keep up with the pace of time. Taking for granted that people are right with their feeling that time is running faster, what do they mean? How fast is time flowing, anyway? One second per second? The inability to answer this question tends to corrode the notion of flowing time. If time is not proceeding at a certain speed, then what do the people mean who claim that time is expediting? Which object that holds the ability of forcing the pace are they really referring to? Neither have the hours of a day diminished nor are people dying at a younger age than they used to years ago. Again, a helpful suggestion comes from a physicist: Roger Penrose contents that the apparent flow of time may be connected to our conscious perception (Penrose, 1989, 574-5). Hence, it may be our perception of time that has changed, and with it our prerequisite for its organization has changed. Nevertheless, simply stating that not time is quickening its pace, but that perception is changing, does not really give sufficient explanations for the phenomenon. It is important to find out why the sensation of time has altered. In contrast to this concept, Kant formulated that time cannot be perceived anyway; instead it is only a presupposition necessary to understand the world (1998, B46-58 + B176-187). Hence, the different pace of time must either have its roots in changing presuppositions about time (Kant) or in changing perceptions. According to the results of cognitive psychology (e.g. Sternberg, 2005), perceptions are also influenced by mental states, i.e. certain presuppositions. If it is possible to reveal different notions of time predominating in societies of distinguishable eras, this might be a hint where to look for the cause of the sensation of the increasing speed of time.

As a matter of fact, authors described varying theories concerning the construction of the perceived time during the course of history. Could it be possible that these theories were popular enough to affect the time-perception of society? In reality, only a minority of members of the society dealt with these theories, hence they cannot have influenced the picture of time prevalent in their culture. On the other hand, all these theories tried to be descriptive and tried to depict the notion of time according to which people acted and thought. This implies that their theories were influenced by the society they were founded in and that they express some widespread convictions of that era.

My contention is that such theories of time are affiliated with specific moral values of society influencing the way things are handled and the things people strive for. In order to prove this claim, I will compare the theory of time prevalent in the eighteenth century with the medieval picture of time as illustrated by A.J. Gurevich (1985). At the same time I will concentrate on the status of the societies these suppositions belonged to.

2 Models of Time

Since there does not exist a commonly accepted definition of time, it may be possible that the theories the following essay is based on, do not refer to the same object. To avoid a comparison of different things, it is helpful to develop a scheme about what is meant by a theory of time before having a look at the actual theories.

Theories pertaining to time, in the sense discussed in this paper, consist of an image on how time evolves and conclusions drawn from that image. An image of how time evolves hereby refers to assumptions about the course of the development of society.[1] This development may for example be considered static. In this case the corresponding picture of time would be, that time is a homogeneous mass or a point or even a vector with the length of zero. The development may also be seen as cyclic with ever returning stages. Therefore, the matching picture of time would then be cyclic or moving in circles. Additionally, the course of this development may be regarded as preset or as changeable by certain entities ranging from God to the individual human being.

In case the picture of time is in fact a picture of the development of society, it is essential for what people expect for the future, for their lives, and for their possibilities to improve their status quo. Hence, the picture of time is loaded with moral values about progress and conservatism. Therefore, it should be possible to find correlations between the prevalent picture of time in one era and parts of the moral code. Now, the only question remaining is how it is possible to access the moral code of a time period that met its end centuries ago?

According to Branden (1985, 207+209), values are inevitably necessary to come to decisions. Thus, every choice made in a certain era is based on moral values. In this way, even if the moral code were not explicitly set out in writing, the knowledge of typical patterns of decision making still gives an insight that is sufficient to allow the intended comparison.


[1] As pointed out in the introduction time cannot be considered as an independent entity. It is not time that flows, but it is aspects of the world that change. Time is the constituting characteristic of all changes and vice versa. This is the reason, why time cannot be pictured as such, but only in form of changing states of certain objects or perceptions.

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Social Change and the Picture of Time
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg  (Institut für fremdsprachliche Philologien)
Time in Cultures - Cultures in Time (Culture Studies)
very good (1,0)
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ISBN (Book)
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520 KB
This paper compares the pagan and medieval notion of time with the concept of time that was prevalent in the advent of the industrial revolution (specifically Hegel's Philosophy of Time is examined, which implies a linear notion of time as opposed to a circular one). Furthermore, connections are made between these different concepts and the living conditions in the times when they were found.
Social, Change, Picture, Time, Cultures, Time, Studies)
Quote paper
Franz Wegener (Author), 2005, Social Change and the Picture of Time , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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