Academic journal article Philosophy Today

On the Verge of Being and Time

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

On the Verge of Being and Time

Article excerpt


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There are few thinkers in the history of philosophy for whom the issue of time is more central than it is for Henri Bergson, who argues forcefully that philosophical thinking "is not a question of getting outside of time" but of "getfting] back into duration."1 Bergson's first efforts to challenge the way time is understood in philosophy and the sciences in Time and Free Will,2 preceded not only Heidegger's interpretation of temporality in Being and Time,3 but even Husserl's early analyses of time-consciousness.4 It is unfortunate that more of a dialogue did not occur between Bergson and his German contemporaries in phenomenology, because of their mutual influence on some of the most important French thinkers of the twentieth century, but also because of their deep and abiding interest in the issue of time. Also unfortunate is the way that the shadow of Heidegger, a thinker for whom, according to David Wood, "the question of time is not merely one of great philosophical interest as a topic for philosophical inquiry, but one that bears on the nature of that inquiry itself,"5 has fallen over Bergson, to whom the same description surely applies.

Heidegger bears some responsibility for the relative silence surrounding the relationship between his thought concerning time and Bergson's. In Being and Time he calls into question "the traditional concept of time, which has persisted from Aristotle to Bergson and even later" (BT 17/39). Heidegger credits Aristotle with the formulation of this concept of time in Physics IV, chapters 10-14, where he systematizes the "ordinary understanding of time" as an infinite, irreversible sequence of "nows."6 More boldly, he proposes that "Aristotle's essay on time is the first detailed Interpretation of this phenomenon which has come down to us. Every subsequent account of time, including Bergson's, has been essentially determined by it" (BT 49/26). As such, according to Heidegger, Bergsonism is mired in traditional ontology, and it fails to escape the metaphysical interpretation of being that dominates the history of philosophy.

Not until the final chapter of Being and Time, in the course of examining Hegel's philosophy of time, does Heidegger attempt to justify treating Bergson as an heir to the concept of time formulated by Aristotle. There, in the footnote to §82 made famous by Derrida - in the margins, as it were - is Heidegger's only substantial discussion of Bergson in Being and Time.1 Initially, the focus of the note is Hegel, whose concept of time, Heidegger claims, "was drawn directly from Aristotle's Physics" (BT 5007432?). Passing to Bergson, he levels the same criticism:

In its results, Bergson's view is in accord with Hegel's thesis that space "is" time, in spite of the very different reasons they have given. Bergson only turns this around, saying: Time (temps) is space. Bergson's view of time has also obviously arisen from an interpretation of the Aristotelian essay on time.. Having regard to Aristotle's definition of time as the a???µ?? ????se??, Bergson prefaces his analysis of time with an analysis ?? number. Time as space (Cf. Essai, p. 69) is quantitative Succession. By a counter-orientation to this conception of time, duration gets described as a qualitative Succession. (BT 500-01/432-33n, translation modified)

For readers puzzled by Heidegger's previous remarks about Bergson's association with Aristotle, this offers some clarification. However, rather than making the connection between Bergson and Aristotle explicit, he stalls, insisting "This is not the place for a critical confrontation [Auseinandersetzung] with Bergson's concept of time" (BT 501/432n).

It is tempting to conclude from his hasty dismissal that Heidegger was not terribly interested in Bergson, or that he was only interested in preventing his readers from confusing his view with Bergson's. …

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