Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Splitting Time: Bergson's Philosophical Legacy

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Splitting Time: Bergson's Philosophical Legacy

Article excerpt

Tout moment de notre vie... se scinde en meme temps qu'il se pose. Ou plutot it consiste dans cette scission meme. . .

Bergson. L'Eneyie Spirituelle Elle [la m&moire] cree ainsi a nouveau la perception presente, ou plutot elle double cette perception en lui renvoyant soit sa propre image...

Bergson, Matiere et Memoire Je pense que toutes les nouveautes de la philosophic du temps moderne et postmodeme, et en particulier la venerable nouveaute de Heidegger, ne seraient pas possible sans Bergson.

Emmanuel Levinas1

The treatise on chronos found in Book IV of Aristotle's Physics remains the point of departure for all subsequent attempts to give a philosophical account of the phenomenon of time. One such account which seeks to repudiate Aristotle's determination of time's nature is developed by Bergson. His critique of the tendency to conceptualize time on the basis of the assumption that it is a measurable phenomenon appears to have as at least one of its main targets Aristotle's definition of time as the number, or measure, of motion [arithmos kinesos]. Heidegger recognized this objective when he spoke of Bergson's "attempt to overcome the Aristotelian conception of time." However, Heidegger goes on to claim that the notion of duree that Bergson develops out of his "direct critique of the Aristotelian concept of time" is in fact based on "a misunderstanding of Aristotle's way of understanding time."2 Whether or not he is right in making this assessment, Heidegger further argues that both Aristotle and Bergson are compromised by their inability to twist free from their metaphysical inheritance, an inheritance that compels them to think time from the perspective of presence-to-hand [Vorhandenheit]. This line of thought has led Stephen Crocker to conclude in a recent essay that: "If Bergson's distinction between duration and spatial time does not overcome the Aristotelian interpretation of time, it must be because he thinks the being of time on the basis of being as presence."3

The history of the philosophical tradition that "thinks the being of time on the basis of being as presence" is determined by the privilege that it accords to the now, and the difficulties which it has encountered in seeking to account for time's phenomenal qualities while simultaneously maintaining the sanctity of the now.4 The status of the now in philosophical discourse stems from the fact that our conscious experiences seem always to be lived through `in the now'. This being-in-the-now accounts for the feeling of `presentness' which accompanies our experiences. In turn, such experiences, and the objects to which they are directed, derive from this quality of presentness a certain privileged being-status, namely reality. Reality ensues from the certitude which we feel accompanies present experiences of things which are present to hand. All this then, from the fact that each of our present experiences is temporally the same, that is, (in the) now.

This last assertion however is certainly not as straightforward as it may appear. How, for instance, are we to square this apparently universal, unchanging, form of the now with the equally fundamental phenomenological datum that each of our experiences appears as new, as well as now? It is not simply that the content, so to speak, of each experience is different; it is, rather, that each now, while still being now, is also a new now.5 In order to discern what is at issue in making this claim, we have to shift perspective slightly. We have thus far talked of the now in isolation. Clearly, however, the presentness of the now derives, at least in part, by way of its relation to what is not now. The newness of each now is, in truth, a mark of its difference from the now which preceded it, and indeed, from all the other previous nows which preceded each other in turn. Equally, the being-now of this experience distinguishes it from the nowness of any of those experiences which we may be about to live through. …

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