I’ve taken it upon myself to write up this week’s topic for Tapping Philosophy. We’re dealing with time; I’ve given plenty of quoted material and some questions to get us started.
In his work “The Idea of History,” R.G. Collingwood challenges the traditional conceptions of time, concluding that any attempt at a visualization of time at all is a futile undertaking.
This first quote deconstructs the idea of time as a mobile stream.
“Time is generally figured or imagined to ourselves in a metaphor as a stream or something in continuous and uniform motion. … The metaphor of a stream means nothing unless it means that the stream has banks, relatively to which it is in motion; but when we apply this to time it is impossible to say that the lapse or process of time is relative to something else which does not proceed or move: for this other thing could ex hypothesi only be another time, a time which remained stationary instead of moving. Nor can we strictly say that time moves, or lapses, or proceeds; for all motion presupposes time, and whereas a moving body moves in time, time itself cannot move in time, unless there are (as foresaid) two times, and it certainly cannot move except in time.”
A subsequent excerpt destroys the concept of time as a fixed line, and our present as a single point on this line.
“We are not really better off if we concentrate on the image of a straight line. If we think of time as a line, we think of the present as one point in it, with the past on one side and the future on the other; the present, I suppose, is imagined as traveling into the future so that what was the future becomes by degrees first present and then past, and then more and more remote in the past. But this figure only seems appropriate so long as we forget that the line is really regarded as consisting of events arranged in a temporal series, and that therefore we are thinking of all events, not as happening, but as existing from eternity to eternity and merely waiting to be revealed by a kind of searchlight or pinhole called the present, when it reaches them. Unless we think of them thus, the figure of a line has no applicability whatever; for the events of the future do not really wait their turn to appear, like the people in a queue at a theater awaiting their turn at the box office; they do not yet exist at all, and they therefore cannot be grouped in any order whatsoever. Similarly about the events of the past; which, because they have happened, and therefore are not now happening, do not exist and therefore cannot be arranged along a line. The temporal series regarded as a line, therefore, is in reality a line consisting of one point only, the present.”
Collingwood’s point is that any conception of past and future is merely ideal, and that only the present exists. Even to say that the past exists because it is known is wrong to Collingwood; “The past as such is not known, either in historical thought or in memory, in any sense in which knowledge could guarantee real existence.”
With Collingwood’s destruction of the idea of an ‘existent’ past and future, we are left with the past and future as merely ideal. In this context, what does it mean to think of the past? What is the significance of memory? Can there be meaning to conceiving of the future?
We can also deal with whether or not Collingwood’s criticisms here are justified; authors such as Wilhelm Dilthey have essentially argued that the manner in which our conception of past and future affects our actions makes it real ‘enough.’ Is this a good enough way to deal with these problems? If not, how should we proceed?
Or, if you're lazy and skipped over all the big quotes, just consider the simple [sic] question: What is time?
Hope to see you Thursday.
Villanova University 2011
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