27 February 1998
Thank you for your letter of 19 February. This morning I shall be making last minute revisions to my paper, 'The Ethics of Dialogue' for the Shap Conference before driving up to the Lake District. I shall be taking the A Roads — to give me more time to think!
Yes, there is a point to be made about time as defined by 'relations between events' vs. an absolutist theory which would allow for the logical possibility of an empty time, in other words, the idea of time as a 'container' within which events occur.
Interestingly, the same or very similar debate can be played out between relational and absolutist notions of space. The classic example is the Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence, where Samuel Clarke defended Newton's absolutist view against Leiniz's criticisms.
It's worth also making the point that the philosophical debate about space and time is to a large degree independent of Relativity Theory, which is meant to be empirically testable. (So far as the experimental evidence goes, Newton's physical theory might, in a different possible world, have been the theory that most closely 'corresponded with the facts'. But the philosophical problem concerning absolutism versus relationism would have remained just the same.)
I find these issues exceedingly difficult. However, I have been helped by reading Richard Swinburne's Space and Time (3rd edn Macmillan).
By the way, I seem to have acquired a title to which I have not yet earned the right! I am very flattered. However, I have heard of individuals changing their first names by deed poll to 'Lord' or 'Sir'. What do you think?