Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

A Sense of Time: Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Heidegger on the Temporality of Life

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

A Sense of Time: Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Heidegger on the Temporality of Life

Article excerpt

The phenomenon of movement in the broadest sense appears to be essential to any and every understanding of life. Movement or kinesis in the broadest sense, as Aristotle explained, means not just movement in space (kinesis kata topon), but encompasses the movement intrinsic to the nutrition, growth, and decay of an organism. These, indeed, are the most fundamental characteristics of everything that lives. "Among bodies of natural origin, some have life, while others do not," remarks Aristotle in the De anima. "By life we mean self-nourishment, growth, and decay" (Soul 412: al3). While the capacity for self-nourishment, growth, and decay may exist separately from other capacities (such as the capacity to move in space), "the others cannot exist separately from this in mortal beings" (413: a32). Birth, nutrition, growth, reproduction, decay, death: these forms of movement, or better, of being moved, are, for Aristotle, the most fundamental marks of the living. Aisthesis, sensation or sensory apprehending, is also a kind of being moved (kineisthai), a being acted upon and affected (paschein) (416: b33); imagination too (phantasia) is a kind of movement (429: a2); and even mind (nous) is a kind of being moved (431: b5). These considerations, emphasizing the centrality of movement for each and every manifestation of life, from the most rudimentary to the most differentiated and sophisticated, would seem to imply that all life is constituted by temporality as its very condition. Yet does the fact that all life is constituted by time, and that life is therefore always and inevitably a temporal phenomenon, entail that everything that lives also has a sense of time?

For Aristotle, this is evidently not the case, for not all living beings have sense or aisthesis (Soul 434: a27). Plants, although they exhibit the movements associated with birth, nutrition, growth, decay, and death, do not have aisthesis, not even the most basic of the senses, the sense of touch (haphe) (435: b1). Aristotle in several places writes of a "sense of time"; yet it is only certain living beings, not all, that possess this sense of time, he claims. That the human being has a sense of time is evident, he thinks, for it is a sense of time that first gives rise to possible conflict between appetitive desire and logos, differentiating what Freud would, a little later, call the reality principle and the pleasure principle. In the De anima Aristotle writes: "Now desires may conflict, and this happens whenever logos and appetite [epithumia] are opposed, and this occurs in creatures which have a sense of time [chronou aisthesin] (for the mind [nous] counsels us to resist with a view to the future [to mellon], while appetite looks only to the present [to ede]; for what is momentarily pleasant appears to be absolutely pleasant and absolutely good, because appetite cannot look to the future)" (433: b5). Here, in the human being, the sense of time is integrated into the deliberative capacity that arises with nous and logos.

Yet it is not only humans that have a sense of time, according to Aristotle. A sense of time is found in living beings wherever there is memory, mneme, for, as Aristotle claims in the De memoria, "Memory pertains to the primary sense-faculty, i.e., that with which we sense time [chronou aisthanometha]" (Soul 451: a17). And yet, the precise relation between memory and a sense of time is difficult to discern. In the De memoria, Aristotle explains that memory presupposes the generation of time: "Memory [Mneme], then, is neither aisthesis nor hupolepsis, but a hexis or pathos of one of these, when time has been generated. There is no memory of the now in the now, as was said in the first place, but aisthesis is of what is present [parontos], hope is of the future, and memory is of what has come to pass. Thus all memory occurs by way of time [meta chronou]. Therefore only those living beings that have a sense of time [chronou aisthanetai] can remember, and they do so with that part which senses time" (449: b25f). …

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