Time Psychologized

Time Psychologized

Augustine is famous as the originator of a psychological conception of time: “tempora sunt tria, praesens de praeteritis, praesens de praesentibus, praesens de futuris. Sunt enim haec in anima tria quaedam et alibi ea non video, praesens de praeteritis memoria, praesens de praesentibus contuitus, praesens de futuris exspectatio” (Conf. 11.20.26). Future and past don’t exist out there somewhere; nor indeed does the “present” really exist, since the present is merely the extensionless horizon across which the future gives itself over to the past. Each of the three tenses is rather a stance the knower adopts to the world: what I see now, I see as present; what I remember, I remember as past; what I anticipate, I anticipate as future. Augustine even says, “In te, anime meus, tempora metior” (Conf. 11.27.36). Time’s measure isn’t in the external world; rather, as Pegueroles glosses this passage, “Cuando medimos el tiempo, lo que medimos es la resonancia que causa en la conciencia las cosas pasajeras” (Pensamiento filosofico, 63).

This has quite radical consequences for his metaphysics of creation. We might construe it in either a Kantian or a Berkeleyan sense. Perhaps, you might say, what Augustine means is that there is a fully mind-independent world of sensibles that is spatially extended, but whose temporal extension is a (mind-dependent) secondary quality. Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic (at least on the two-worlds reading) is essentially a radicalized version of this thesis, now taken (as it inevitably must be) to link together space and time. In a letter in 1792, Kant wrote, “Herren Eberhard’s and Garve’s opinion that Berkeleian Idealism is identical to Critical Idealism (which I could better call ‘the principle of the ideality of space and time’) does not deserve the slightest attention. For I speak of ideality in reference to the form of representation while they construe it as ideality with respect to the matter, i.e., ideality of the object and its existence itself” (Gersh & Moran, 250). About this passage, Karl Ameriks comments: “It is hard to imagine a more direct expression of a clear understanding on Kant’s part of the fundamental point that his idealism allows, where Berkeley denies, the existence of representation independent entities” (Ibid.). But, on this picture, it’s quite easy to see why Kant would insist that we cannot say anything at all about these representation-independent Dingen an sich, except that they constitute a “bare something = x.” It’s also hard to imagine a better recipe for skepticism.

We might, however, take Augustine’s psychological account of time in a Berkeleyan sense. In his notebooks, Berkeley suggests that time is nothing more than the mind’s successive acts of apprehending objects. Two entries are particularly relevant: “Time is the train of ideas succeeding each other” (58). From this, he concludes, “The same τὸ νῦν not common to all intelligences” (58). Interestingly, Pegueroles draws a similar conclusion about Augustine’s theory of time: “El presente solo se da en una conciencia. La realidad del presente es de orden psicologico, no espacial” (63). (There are difficulties here about how to explain our ordinary “clock-time,” by which we fix temporal reference in everyday life. Cf. Grayling for discussion of this in relation to Berkeley…)

On this Berkeleyan reading of Augustine (or properly Augustinian reading of Berkeley), we might say that sensibles attain to the status of unities (sc. beings) at all only by virtue of being unified by the mind’s apprehension of them – the mind is the activity of unifying sensibilia, in finite and approximate instances in the case of creaturely persons, but infinitely and perfectly in the case of the LORD. As Pegueroles comments, “El espiritu creado esta a medio camino entre el instante fluyente del cuerpo y el instante pleno del Espiritu infinito” (64). Berkeley returns again and again to this theme, not least in Siris, where he writes, that if the physicist “ascends from the sensible into the intellectual world, and beholds things in a new light and a new order, he will then change his system and perceive, that what he took for substances and causes are but fleeting shadows; that the mind contains all, and acts all, and is to all created beings the source of unity and identity, harmony and order, existence and stability” (§295).

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