The Concept of Time

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Wiley, Apr 8, 1992 - Philosophy - 62 pages
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The Concept of Time presents the reconstructed text of a lecture delivered by Martin Heidegger to the Marburg Theological Society in 1924. It offers a fascinating insight into the developmental years leading up to the publication, in 1927, of his magnum opus Being and Time, itself one of the most influential philosophical works this century.


In The Concept of Time Heidegger introduces many of the central themes of his analyses of human existence which were subsequently incorporated into Being and Time, themes such as Dasein, Being-in-the-world, everydayness, disposition, care, authenticity, death, uncanniness, temporality and historicity. Starting out by asking: What is time?, Heidegger proceeds to radicalise the concept of time and our relation to it, ending with the question: Are we ourselves time? Am I time?

William NcNeill is currently British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Warwick England. He has published several articles on Heidegger and is at present co-translating Heidegger's 1929/30 course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World - Finitude - Solitude.

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The startling fact about the 1924 lecture "The Concept of Time" is not just its foreshadowing of difficult and hard to understand concepts that would emerge in the 1927 masterpiece Being and Time: namely Dasein, Care, Being-in-the-World, Historicality, Temporality, Resoluteness, etc. That great work of 1927, which changed continental European philosophy forever, practically had to invent a whole new set of terms within an already flexible German language and its philosophical resources. Yet in the 1924 lecture we get a straight forward presentation by arguably the most significant figure in twentieth century philosophy, which certainly puts him in the canon of the history of Western philosophy with other greats who pondered the mystery of time, namely Heraclitus, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche. Heidegger for his part says he is not revolutionizing philosophy by providing a revolutionary answer to the age-old question- "What is time?" Rather, his undeniable and breathtaking originality comes from the simple fact that he has utterly changed the very structure of the question by restructuring our relation to it so that it is no longer like any other question- say a question in science - what is an atom? - or a question in the social sciences- 'how do social movements arise and occur?' Rather, we humans become the question in so far as the question of time inhabits our very essence in as much as we inhabit the question. And so pursuing the question of time separates philosophy from any other branch of human inquiry, say the natural and social sciences. By asking about time, we are asking about ourselves, but without either metaphysics (a concept or notion like Spirit or the Absolute) or theology (the revelation of God) as a readily available answer to the question. Hence revolutionary interrogations begin to flow such as 'Are we ourselves time? and "Am I time?' in the 1924 lecture. The great shift that Heidegger's thought catalyzes (at least in the history of Western thought) is the creation of this distinction. The history of metaphysics (Plato to Hegel) separated the human subject from the question and thought of time as an object to be probed, and therefore 'what' becomes the proper subject of the question's object, namely time; whereas in Heidegger, 'who' is substituted for 'what' and so by asking about the very 'who' of time it forces a reorientation in the very way philosophy must proceed with its greatest question (what will become the question of the meaning of being in Being and Time) and a way for this project to ground itself with its own rationale for turning away from the history of metaphysics. This is precisely the future project of 'Dasein's analytic,' or that entity that has to pose the question of Being anew (arising from the destruction of the history of metaphysics and how the latter tried to answer what time is through various great thinkers' efforts). Furthermore, Dasein does so with a 'radical individuation' in which the 'who' of Dasein itself is at root the mystery of time; but the root is one of radical transcendence, i.e. beyond anything ever conceived or intuited. Time therefore has to be the horizon for any understanding of Being, and Dasein is not like any other subject (man, God, angels or animals) asking or revealing what time 'is.' The very Being of Time is what Heidegger's thought captivates precisely by freeing it from any previous relation between beings and time, how beings relate to time and how time has been conceived by beings-- be it gods or men like the tragedies of ancient Greece. The great thing about "The Concept of Time" is that it is arguably the clearest and most concise indicator of where all the early works of Heidegger was tending prior to his massive breakthrough articulation of a problem that had haunted him along: to understand being one must reckon the mystery of time... 

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About the author (1992)

Martin Heidegger was born in Messkirch, Baden, Germany on September 22, 1889. He studied Roman Catholic theology and philosophy at the University of Frieburg before joining the faculty at Frieburg as a teacher in 1915. Eight years later Heidegger took a teaching position at Marburg. He taught there until 1928 and then went back to Frieburg as a professor of philosophy. As a philosopher, Heidegger developed existential phenomenology. He is still widely regarded as one of the most original philosophers of the 20th century. Influenced by other philosophers of his time, Heidegger wrote the book, Being in Time, in 1927. In this work, which is considered one of the most important philosophical works of our time, Heidegger asks and answers the question "What is it, to be?" Other books written by Heidegger include Basic Writings, a collection of Heidegger's most popular writings; Nietzsche, an inquiry into the central issues of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy; On the Way to Language, Heidegger's central ideas on the origin, nature and significance of language; and What is Called Thinking, a systematic presentation of Heidegger's later philosophy. Since the 1960s, Heidegger's influence has spread beyond continental Europe and into a number of English-speaking countries. Heidegger died in Messkirch on May 26, 1976.

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