Time, it will turn out, is a kind of intuiting, indeed the matrix of all intuiting, but it is not therefore to be intuited, that is, looked at, rather than thought out. The moving pictures that Hegel himself suggests to illustrate the emerging determinations of thought are only concessions to our ordinarily representational minds.

This note is written in memory of David Lachterman, who was an alumnus—using the term in its fullest significance—of St. John’s College, Class of 1965, when I was a young tutor. He was in my classes only in his junior year: in a preceptorial entitled “The Fragments of Parmenides and Heraclitus,” and in the mathematics tutorial, where texts are studied that would continue to preoccupy David, texts pertaining to early modern mathematics and physics. Over his four years in Annapolis, we did, however, see each other continually and for various purposes. He was editor of the student journal I advised, we read together, and we discussed his annual essays. We continued this friendship sporadically but persistently over all the places where he spent his life.

An inquiry into so crucial a question as that of time in Hegel’s system would have been welcomed by him, whether or not it told him anything new. And he would have liked the fact that it was meant to help students.

This paper on time in Hegel’s texts is conceived in three parts.*

I. I will begin with an exposition of the paragraphs on time in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature .(¶ 257-61) The exposition is meant to be helpful to a reader new to this text. The first and central paragraph is very difficult; in fact Heidegger intimates that it might have no “demonstrable sense.”(Being and Time ¶ 82a) Of course, no Hegelian meaning is ever demonstrable. It can be followed out in thought as it unrolls, but in a dialectical rather than a demonstrative mode. What I mean is that we can allow the concepts in question to develop their implications, but that when we participate in this spontaneous motion we are not driving home an argumentative conclusion in which some propositions entail others.

Consequently an exposition of a stretch of Hegelian dialectic will employ less argument and more quotation, paraphrase, and illustration. In the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, of which the Philosophy of Nature is the second, middle part (1830, with later additions from lecture notes by Hegel and students), Hegel usually begins with a succinct and purely conceptual text, which is then sometimes expanded in Remarks and Additions. The best an explainer can do is to choose key sentences, re-say them in various ways, and finally find an illustrative figure. It follows that the explanation might be longer than its text, though somewhat easier. But it will also be a kind of degradation of Hegel’s endeavor, for it will re-present the concept in figural garb, imaginable schemata, and intuitions, and such representations (Vorstellungen, Enc. ¶ 3) are mis-representations. They are not what Hegel means, and the reader should see them only to un-see, to think them. Representational thinking is falsifying even in our case, the case of Nature, where the Idea, the cosmos of thought, appears “as intuition.”(Anschauung, Enc. ¶ 244; last paragraph of the Logic) For Nature is still the Concept, and to be intuition is not the same as to be intuited. Concepts are always to be conceived.(Koyré, p. 280)

Time, it will turn out, is a kind of intuiting, indeed the matrix of all intuiting, but it is not therefore to be intuited, that is, looked at, rather than thought out. The moving pictures that Hegel himself suggests to illustrate the emerging determinations of thought are only concessions to our ordinarily representational minds, and our real effort must be, as I said, to make these sensuous fixities evanesce, leaving their conceptual life behind.

Nonetheless, in the realm of Nature concepts are somewhat more legitimately intuited than in Logic; at least the recovery of the concept from the figure is less wrenching. The broad reason is that in Nature the Idea gets away from itself and sets itself up for being “looked at”—angeschaut.

There is something very unclear in what I have just said. How do we deal with the claim that in Nature the Idea is intuition? When the Idea of Logic turns itself into Nature, who is left over to think Nature?

Of course, we, the readers, are left over. In studying the science of logic and the philosophy of nature we ourselves are not, in that respect, Concept and Nature, but we are recapitulating their development. We are asked to watch from the outside the birth of our thought, our world, and ourselves. Hence each moment of the development is an autonomous activity and also our thinking. In the case of Nature, this dual character means that we think about Nature conceptually while participating in Nature’s intuitivity. Thus, we can at once think time and illustrate that thought with our temporal experiences, both physical and psychological.

There is a less approachable difficulty, beyond the present exposition in scope: the turn of Logic to Nature. Through this turn thought becomes spatial, and on the plausibility of the transition depends the answer to the question of questions: How can thought contact the extended world? If Hegel’s transition is properly dialectical the great mystery of the Idea become Nature, of the Incarnation, is solved. If, on the other hand, the transition is an abrupt leap into a new realm, from thought to non-thought, the old quandary stands. Hegel himself seems to intimate that there is such a leap, that the Idea does not just pass—thoughtfully—into Life, but resolves—willfully—to release itself freely out of itself as Nature, its image or “counterfeit.”(Wiederschein, Enc. ¶ 244; Findlay, p. 270) If the transition is indeed abrupt, then we have a problem that will show up most immediately in the Hegelian genesis of time: If nature is abruptly the other of thought, where does its conceptual motion come from? In particular how will utter otherness, Space, generate the primeval self, Time? But more of this below.

II. The second part of the paper will consist of a brief inquiry into the reason why, within the System (the account of the developing concept), time first appears in Nature, that is, in the Philosophy of Nature, and where else it might be expected to appear—in the Encyclopedia or out of it. In particular, I shall argue that Hegel’s natural time, a narrowly abstract concept, is not different from the much grander Time of the last chapter, called “Absolute Knowledge,” of the Phenomenology of Spirit. In an anticipatory word: Natural time, or Negativity in Extension, is identifiable with phenomenological Time, or Spirit in the World.

III. In the third part I shall, finally, attempt a brief critique of two readings of Hegel’s passage on time that are given in two books: Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927, ¶ 82) and Alexandre Kojève’s Introduction to a Reading of Hegel (Eighth Lecture, 1938-39). Heidegger criticizes Hegel as standing in the “vulgar” tradition that interprets time as an aggregate of nows. Kojève praises Hegel because his primary temporal phase is the future. I shall argue that, to begin with, Hegel does not understand time from the aspect of its phases at all, but that, if any phase is primary, it is the past of psychological time set out in the Philosophy of Mind.(¶ 450 ff.)

I. Time in Nature

Logic presents the development of the Idea, or the concept-world, in itself, in its own element, in thought. Nature is the same Idea in the form of its own Other, or Other-being.(Anderssein) It is the idea as a negative of itself.(¶247) As David Lachterman puts it, the Idea “begins [its career in the sciences of the real] by exfoliating itself into external Nature.”(p. 154)

There seem to be two moments in the Otherness of Nature. First it is simply thought negated, non-thought. And then, more determi­nately, it is externality, outsideness. The Idea outside itself is not another Idea negatively signed, the non-A of the A, but a true Other. For just as the Idea in itself expresses its self-involvement in conceptuality, so this Idea for itself—the Idea in a confronting mode—expresses its alienation from itself as self-externality. But the Idea that is external to itself is in itself external; it has a new feature: spatiality.

¶ 254. The common name for abstract self-externality is Space. Hence the Philosophy of Nature begins with space. Ideal or mere space is the first determination of nature as “the abstract generality of its being outside itself,” its “immediate indifference.” As such, Space is continuous; no parts are missing and none are discernible; thought has no foothold yet. What is being conceptualized is the traditional understanding of space as “parts outside parts,” or continuous extension.

What is all-important here is that space precedes time in thought. Space is the absolutely least mediated (which means least thought-developed) appearance of nature. Hence space antecedes both world and soul. It is neither a receptacle for matter (Timaeus), nor a form of human sensibility (Critique of Pure Reason), but a dialectical beginning: thought gone outside itself as the thought of outsideness. (In Hegel’s earliest philosophy of nature, Jena 1803-4, time precedes space, Harris, p.244. The Jena systems are not taken into account here.)

¶ 255. Space has internal differences, indifferent, quality-less differences—the three directional dimensions. They remain in space and are intrinsically indistinguishable from it, and from each other.

¶ 256. But it develops also qualitative differences, its own negation, the same dimensions as generative of volume. The negation of space is a point. For the point is not space, not extended or continuous. Yet as the negation of space, it remains spatial. Thus it cancels itself and in getting away from itself it becomes a line. A line is the extensivity or spatiality of the point. And thus, on to the ideal volume, a delimited part of space.(¶ 257)

* * * * * * * *

Now enters time. Time is once and for all a dialectical second. It is the negation of space and therefore forever space-related. Or, more purely, more conceptually, spoken: Time is the first mediation of outsideness.

In view of the importance of the dialectical order, it is useful to set out the dialectical framework of the Philosophy of Nature. It is, of course, a major triad of moments: Mechanics, Physics, Organics. Mechanics, the moment in which time appears, is nature as implicit. Here externality is merely ideal; nature is apart or asunder without any explicit unity of form. Here space develops time, and both together place. At this stage arise motion and then matter. (Note, once again, the order.) The eventuation of matter is the dialectical passage into reality, and it is somewhat like that of Concept to Nature: “inconceivable for [undialectical] understanding.”(¶ 261) In any case, it is outside my present scope.

¶ 257. The point that, as related to space, developed into volume also appears as itself indifferent, that is, unrelated to the quiescent next-to-one-anotherness of space. It marks itself off: “Thus posited for itself, it is time.”(die Zeit) Note well: not a point of time, but Time itself, not a now in time, but a principle of time. That the point is “posited” ”for itself” means only that, in the usual dialectical movement, it becomes thought-determined (or mediated) as an other. But because the point negates the indifference of space in the sphere of self-externality, it leaves space, in its inert side-by-sideness by the way. Thus arises time as distinct from space, as the other of space.

¶ 257, Addition. Space is mere quantity: All its parts, even the termini, subsist—have only relative being—on the same footing. That is its defect. Its negativity is ineffective since it keeps falling indifferently apart: “Time is precisely the existence of this perpetual self-cancellation.” Here “difference has stepped out of space;” the point has actuality. Whereas in space, which is externality through and through, difference is always attached to the other, time is the “negation of negation,” the “self-relating negation.” It negates the indifferent negations of space and therefore becomes actually distinct from space. Space is “paralysed;” time is difference in its living unrest.

These are the dialectical terms regarding time in nature. What is meant?

Let us recall briefly what negativity is. It is the inner life of concepts, their motion, through which concepts determine themselves by reaching beyond themselves to their negative. What makes dialectic self-generating is that conceptual thought spontaneously out-thinks itself, goes beyond itself. Indeed, the German word for concept says as much, for Begriff first meant “periphery,” and an encirclement determines inside and outside almost simultaneously.

Hegel says clearly that space itself goes outside itself to make the transition to time; the transition is not made subjectively by us. That transition is logically primeval in the sense that it has occurred in thought before we came on the scene. We must therefore think the beginning of our habitation before even in thought it has developed subjective thinking. We must think through space to time, not from its outside but from its inside. Hegel’s formula for this development from space to time as we follow it is that “the truth of space is time.” Truth for us is what is not immediately known but has been thought through; truth in the concept itself is what it eventually returns to after having been driven by its own life beyond itself. In thinking space through in its own terms, we must refrain from “pictorial thinking,” from representing a model of space to which we then also add the dimension of time: “Philosophy fights against this ‘also.’” But I think we cannot help using some representation.

Imagine then, the life of a point in space. It rejects the indifferent difference that it possessed as a part of the paralytic continuum and raises itself out of space. For it insists on its own qualitative negativity and so it overcomes or negates its indifferent spatiality. I propose that the meaning for us of this formal event is: Space develops glimmers of consciousness. For us to think of space means to represent to ourselves a wide field in which, willy-nilly, some location holds our attention. But our attention wanders, from this point here to that point there. ”Time is spacing.” (Derrida, p.43) By that “here—there—there” space calls forth time. It is, one might say, the space-point’s capability of being attended to. Space attended-to generates, or more radically, is time. This representation of the relation of time to space is humanly plausible, I think. But what happens when we are out of the picture, when there is no one to do the attending? I think we must, by hook or crook, picture the same situation minus the observer. Now space localizes itself, points pick themselves out and up: “Time lifts up space,” as Derrida puts it;(p.43) relever, “to re-lift,” is his translation of Hegelian aufheben, literally “to lift up,” as well as “to save” and “to cancel.” Space, although it is the other of thought, is enough of a relative to thought to wish to come to life, to differentiate itself. And space actively differentiated is certainly unthinkable without time, if time is understood as the differentiation of difference, or variability in extension. 

But how to grasp the notion that this activated space is time? Well what else would it be? Whence would time be added? Time is nothing but space beginning to come alive, becoming self-conscious as it goes forth on the road of recollecting itself out of its alienation from thought.

Why space becomes time through its points, why time is to be conceived as the punctuation of space, was one question. Another might be: Which point is time? This point, that point, any and all points? Hegel says in a general singular: “Negativity, as point, relates itself to space.”(¶ 257) Eventually time must, no doubt, acquire “the points of time,” the nows. But, I think, the general point of space in which time originates is not a now or a here, not a here-and-now. It is the abstract principle of time. Hence even the picture without persons was misleading: Even in its own terms, space is not yet punctuated but has only developed to the point of being capable of punctuality; it is in principle punctual.

¶ 258. Space sprawls while time is “the negative unity of self-externality.” Space, whose parts are each outside its indistinguishable other, has developed an opposing unifying principle. What, next, is meant by unified different difference in the most abstract, formal sense? It is becoming, in which being and its own not-being are transiently at one. In becoming, differences are ever self-canceling. Here we are asked to recognize the formal identity of time and becoming. This becoming is not, however, the mere logical category of Becoming, the unity of Being and Nothing.(Logic ¶ 88) Becoming in externality is directly intuited: angeschaut, looked at. Here we are certainly asked to think of time in a Kantian mode, from the point of view of a cognizing subject: Time is adumbrated as becoming in the intuitional mode of representation, of Vorstellung.(Philosophy of Mind ¶ 446 ff.) Time, one might say, is the as yet unfulfilled condition of having something placed immediately before us, an unfilled form of sensibility.

¶ 258 Remark. As Hegel puts it, “Time, like space, is a pure form of sense or intuition,” “the non-sensuous sensuous.” But whereas space is confronted as an object, time is abstract subjectivity, in principle the same as pure self-consciousness. It is the I, I, I, the monotonous continuum of mere self-awareness. Because of the abstractness, time is, for all its punctuality, like space, continuous. Thus begins, so to speak, the coming-to of Nature—right away, in the second dialectical phase.

How did we get from time as becoming-in-space to time as self-consciousness? Their formal principle is identical, that of double negativity or self-negation. But this identification can also be made intuitive by an exercise of abstraction: Take from self-awareness all that is diversified and inward and you are left with something pure and external. One might call that product of negative intuiting an external subjectivity. As Hegel puts it: “pure being-within-self as sheer coming-out-of-self.”

It is useful to point out here that the human subject is, in fact, described in terms identical to the “external subject,” time, namely in the Aesthetics.(Third Part, Third Section, Second Chapter, 1c, p. 277) The subjective inwardness of a listener—the topic is music—is there charged with doing exactly what the point did in nature: It “eradicates the indifferent side-by-sidedness of the spatial and draws its continuity together into a point of time.” In this psychic context that point is the now. Later in the chapter (2a, p. 283) time is the negative externality; “as canceled asunderness, [it is] the punctual, and as negative activity [it is] the canceling of this point of time for another…”

Here, in the psychic realm, Hegel insists on two simultaneous negations: The point eradicates the indifference of extended space by concentrating it into a time-point. But it also negates itself as this now in favor of the next now. In nature, however, the flux of nows is derivative from the first negating activity.

The danger in trying to get at time through abstractive intuition is the false representation of time as a container in which things come to pass and to pass away. Not so: “Time itself is the becoming… the actually existent abstraction.” The real that fills time is, of course, in a sense distinct from time but it is also identical. For, like time, it lives in the element of self-externality. It is limited, and so negated by an other: “The abstraction of this externality and unrest of its contradiction is time itself.”

Note that whereas in ¶ 257 the self-negativity or thought-likeness of time was emphasized, in the Remark on ¶ 258, its still strong space-likeness is brought out.

Here, by way of contrast, Hegel enters the eternal Concept or Idea, which is outside the power of time. Or rather, it is beyond the restless imperfection of time. The Concept has this relation to time: It is totally what time is prevented from being by its birth in externality—negative through and through, having completely brought all determinations within. The Concept is neither an abstraction from time nor “out of ” time. Indeed it is “out of” nothing but totally inside itself. Nor is it after time as a futurity.

Eternity and Nature are more extendedly considered in ¶ 247, Addition. The most illuminating sentence says that Nature is essentially related to a First, and that First is the Idea or concept-world. For Nature is the Idea in the form of the Other. Hence Nature is not eternal-temporal as a Standing Now, though it is temporally infinite, and it is not eternal-uncreated for it has its own “before.”

¶ 258, Addition. Hegel reiterates that time is not a something or a power, but only the “abstraction of destruction.” It is not because they are in time that things perish; time is their perishableness. He gives an ironic account of the now: It has a tremendous right—that of being nothing individual. But of course it is not universal either. It “struts” momentarily and “falls into dust.” The universal of the now is duration. In duration the now-process is canceled, and what is universal, that is, identical in all the nows, prevails. But this extended status is only relative. If everything stood still, even our imaginations, there would be no time. However, things are finite and do change. The reference to our representational faculty, intuitive mind, will reveal its significance in Part II of the paper.

Hegel returns to eternity. Eternity is not the universal now of duration but absolute Presence. It is not duration in extension but, so to speak, duration “reflected into self” or self-collected, when all process has come to completion and its phases are fully present.

Two beings are out of time: the best and the worst. The worst is relatively out of time. It endures. Such is space and the now, universal duration itself, for these are too abstract to live. Such also is inorganic nature and static art, like the pyramids. The best is out of time in truth: the Idea, Spirit. These transcend time because they are themselves the Idea—the First—of time. In the world the truly alive, an Achilles, an Alexander, die; only the mediocre endure.

In this Addition Hegel chooses to speak of time as destruction, as Chronos devouring his children. But it is the destructiveness of life, negativity at work. It is therefore identical with fruition. To pass away in time is to have lived out the Concept.

¶ 259. Hegel finally comes to the phases of time, which are the dimensions of present, future, past. He connects them formally to the moments of becoming. They are “the becoming of externality as such,” meaning that we are to conceive how externality, being what it is, becomes temporal, namely in terms of becoming. Recall that in formal Becoming, Being passes over—logically—into Nothing (and Nothing reciprocally into Being). Hegel deliberately determines at first only the Now and leaves the other phases for the Addendum.

In this passing into each other the different moments vanish “into a singularity,” and this is the Now. It is exclusive of these moments and yet continuous with them; indeed it is nothing but their vanishing into each other. What this means is that Becoming, in being temporalized, or better, externalized, begins by collapsing its two logical moments into one: The Now both is and is not; it is separably formed yet belongs to the universal Now. It is a singularity because it is an individual differentiated from its universal, but an unstable one because of its evanescent, dual nature.

¶ 259, Remark. This Now has affirmative being insofar as it is distinguished from the negative moments of past and future. In nature, ”where time is a Now,” the other two dimensions do not properly exist. Insofar as they do, they are space, for space is negated time, as conversely, time was negated space. In other words, time gone and time to come in nature mean having left or having not yet arrived somewhere. We are coming close to the concept of place and motion. It is only for the soul, for the subjective representational mind referred to above, that the dimensions exist in their difference: in remembrance and in expectation.

Hegel now launches into an attack on mathematics similar to the one in the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit. The point is to show why time, the moving externality, has no extensive science, though space, the paralyzed externality, does. The reason is, of course, precisely that space has three-dimensional configurations which hold still. Time, when similarly paralyzed by the understanding, is reduced to the repeating unit, to arithmetic.

¶ 259, Addition. The other two dimensions arise when the unity of becoming is seen under two opposite aspects. If being is the foundation and non-being secondary, we have passing-away, or rather “passed­-away,” “in Hades,” Past. The past has been actual, as history or nature, but it is posited under the category of non-being. For the Future the reverse holds: “Non-being is the first determinant while being is later, though of course not in time.” From this point of view the present as middle term is the indifferent unity of the preponderant moments of past and future: It is, because the past is not, and it is not, because the future is. The present is an indifferent unity because in it neither being nor non-being is the determinant, and it is a negative unity because it lives by the no-longer and not-yet of the other phases.

The determination of the phases completes the positing of the content of the concept of time for intuition, namely as real becoming, or becoming-in-externality.

* * * * * * * *

Space was what is often called the thesis of the mechanical triad, and time the antithesis. The reunion of both, their synthesis, finally yields what the point rising out of space had only adumbrated: The here-and-now, space-time, or Place—and right away, with only a momentary lag, Motion and then Matter, the real filling of space.

¶ 260. The dialectical moments so far are these: Space in its indifferent asunderness was the concept of Otherness in itself or implicitly. Time was its truth, the same concept thought for itself. Now time collapses back into space because the unity of the negated point does not hold. For as becoming it is constituted of opposing moments that cancel each other. The point cannot maintain its exclusive negativity and finds itself back in space, so to speak. But this returned point is now posited, that is, thought through and made explicit. It Is at once in and for itself. It is a point that much the richer in determinations or, as Hegel says, concrete. This concrete space-time point is Place (Ort).

¶ 260, Addition. The exposition of the concept of duration as near-changeless time already presaged the collapse. For time, in the absence of change, is not concentrated somewhere in space but is indifferently everywhere and nowhere, and that indifference is just space. The point becomes, as we saw, universal. It is always but also everywhere Now.

¶ 261. Place is the singularization or individualization of the durational universal. Place is the posited identity of space and time. If you think it through, to be now is to be here and to be here is to be now. But this identity is also contradictory: Insofar as place is a singular here it is so only as a spatial now. Hence the spatiality of Place is indifferent, and external to it: “Place is simply the universal Here” (Addition). Any particular place negates itself and might as well be another place. ”This vanishing and self-regeneration of space in time and time in space…is Motion.” Humanly understood, the intuiting mind turns every point of attention into a place, but no abstract place offers a way to hold the attention, so that the indifferent here is immediately turned into a passing now. Place is the reciprocal relation of space and time, and that is just what motion is: Now here, Now there.

¶ 261, Addition. The essence of motion is “to be the immediate unity of Space and Time,” such that time now has real existence in a space truly differentiated by it. In motion, time and space first become actual; this means that what they are in concept and what they are in appearance coincide. In motion we first legitimately intuit the time and space we have previously only conceived. Nature is beginning to be animate: ”Time is the purely formal soul of Nature…”

* * * * * * * *

Here ends the exposition of time in nature. If time, as the abstract principle of life in space, is the formal soul of Nature, we might expect it to reappear in the subjective soul of Mind. And so it does.

II. Time in Soul and World

The next project after the exposition of time in nature is to figure out whether the time that occurs in other contexts—either within the System developed in the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences or without, especially in the Phenomenology of Spirit—is the same as or different from the time of Nature. The question arises because on the face of it they certainly sound different: “Time [is] the negative unity of self-externailty” (Philosophy of Nature)—”Time...is the existent Concept itself.” ](Phenomenology of Spirit) I will argue that time is one and the same in all of Hegel’s thematic passages, though the dialectical stages are different. The possible value of this inquiry cannot, however, be in the claim itself, which is apt to meet little resistance, but it is merely in the descriptive comparison offered.

Where does time appear in the Encyclopedia? Not in its first part, the Science of Logic. For there the Concept is developed as it is in itself, immediately. That is not to say that the Logic is not full of mediation. Indeed, it belongs to the course of the dialectical development to unfold every conceptual simplicity, to interpose thought between every category and itself, to make its truth explicit. But throughout the Logic the Concept that is being drawn out stays nevertheless entirely in its own element, the ideational realm. No thought of anything other than thought is at home here. Since time develops from space, and space is the Other of thought, it stands to reason that time should not appear in the Logic. Its ideal prototype, however, does appear: Becoming. And it appears roughly in the Logic just where time enters in Nature—in the very first dialectical triad. (In fact, Becoming in Logic is its triad’s third stage, whereas time in Nature is the second stage of its triad. However, Hegel calls time the truth of space, and the moment of truth is usually the third.)

It is a useful thought-exercise to consider, staying within speculative philosophy, what might be the alternatives to Hegel’s development. (By staying within speculative philosophy I mean to exclude views like Heidegger’s, where human temporal existence rather than ideal being stands at the beginning of the philosophical analysis.)

The chief dialectical alternative would seem to be to put Otherness right within the idea-world as an arche, a ruling principle. Then time becomes a mere epiphenomenon of change in the phenomenal world, which change is the reflection of the activity of Otherness in the ideal world. This Platonic way, set out in the Sophist, has the following chief consequence. Since Otherness is not one idea alongside the others, but is by its nature dispersed through them all (254 ff., 258d), it has no dialectical progression to be mirrored in the phenomenal world; it has no history. Consequently phenomenal time, natural or human, is non-directed and unhistorical. There is neither the bad infinity of mathematical linear time, nor good infinity, the fulfillment of time in history by the negation of every finitude. When Otherness is an arche in the ideal world, there will be no rational temporality either progressive or just linear—only cyclical returns. That is one way to see why it is important that Time as a principle of Otherness be absent from the Logic.

We have seen that time makes its appearance in the very first triad of the Philosophy of Nature; it is Hegel’s main thematic passage on time, for here time begins. It appears right after space. The secondness of time is its second most important feature: Time is space, while space is the alienated concept, non-thought. The most important feature is that time is the first appearance of negativity in Nature, the first glimmer of life-in-the-world. So Nature is, almost from the beginning, temporal, dialectically alive, though in a spiritless way. Hence it can work itself up to organic nature, to the living body ready to receive its cognizing soul.

The third part of the System set out in the Encyclopedia is the Philosophy of Mind (better, Spirit: Geist). In Nature, the Concept had reached its perfected external objectivity.(¶ 381) Now Spirit comes into being as the truth of Nature; Nature is the presupposition which has disappeared into Spirit. In Spirit the Concept outside itself as Nature returns for a reunion with itself. Spirit appears first as simple immaterial nature: the Soul.(¶ 388) One might say that it is a first subjectivity, still close to nature. In Hegelian dialectic the major junctures always connect and separate what is closest and farthest. Thus the subjective soul is most opposite to animate nature and yet very close to it.

When does time enter the sphere of subjectivity? If we search, in a perfectly mechanical way, for the dialectical analogue to Nature, we find a disquisition on the soul in its physical alterations and on the natural ages of man.(“Anthropology: the Natural Soul: Physical Alterations,” ¶ 396) In the next phase, “The Feeling Soul,” we find not time but an apology for its absence: Time arises with recollection, and recollection requires self-consciousness. For without a consciousness of self, the individual is a deep featureless mine, a treasury in which memories “are stored without existing.”(¶ 403)

Time comes into its own as subjective human time with the development of “recollection.” The German word is, felicitously, Erinnerung, “inwardization.”(¶ 452) We are still within “Subjective Spirit,” the first moment of the triad comprising the Philosophy of Spirit.

Here is how time, the external subjectivity of nature, becomes inwardly, mentally, subjective: Memory swallows, so to speak, original intuitions, that is, sense impressions, with their space and time attached. We remember objects and events as somewhere and somewhen. How we hold natural time within is a problem treated most notably by Augustine and Husserl. (Confessions, Bk. XI. Chs. xxvii ff.: The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness, Section Two) It is a problem that Hegel does not broach.

The attachment of the internalized intuition to external space and time is, in any case, only a passing moment. The time and space­ bound picture, the photographic impression, is only a brief first step.(¶ 455)

“Intelligence” is Hegel’s name for cognizing Spirit. Here we might adopt one usual translation for Spirit—Mind—which happens to be most applicable for this stage, the stage of representational cognition. Intelligence imposes its own space and time. Or, better, in absorbing intuitions it attends to them, recollects them, and in so attending, it becomes their place, their space-and-time. The pictures of memory adopt the subject’s time, and their existence is in it, whatever their external time may have been. Succinctly: the attending intelligence is the inner space and time of intuitions.(¶ 453)

Consequently the intuitions of memory become contextless and isolated. The original intuitions were bound to natural time and place, but their memory can be formed anywhere at any time. Moreover, intelligence can forget, relegate wholly to the past, what it deems unworthy and also fix in memory what it chooses for survival. Of course, it pays for the imperishableness of its memory-intuitions by a loss of clarity and freshness. The time of intelligence, Hegel observes, is the opposite of natural time in this, that the richness of original Intuitions abbreviates their external time for the subject, while the richness of Images expands their internal time.

Recollection (“inwardization”) proper occurs when a picture is referred to an intuition, such that several particular intuitions are subsumed under one picture as a sort of universal. This reference permits intelligence to recognize feelings and intuitions “as already its own.”(¶ 454) Here arises the Now and the Past for a subject. For, cued by an externally present intuition, the recollected intuition is confirmed as having had existence. And the synthesis of this intuition recollected as existent with the present internal image is a re-presentation proper—an inner presence reconfirmed as existent, an internal presence.

Of course, each such recognition also confirms the depth, the dark pit, where the past lives.(¶ 454) Recall that in natural time the temporal phases remain formal and do not reach existence.(¶ 259, Remark) That existence has now been supplied to the past through the recollection of the subject.

It can hardly be said that subjective time has been either essentially defined or dialectically derived. At best we can say that in the System it makes its appearance just where it should.

Hegel does distinguish subjective time from external time by one word: It is universal. Instead of the abstract linearity and particularity, the ever-collapsing here-and-now to which natural time tends, the time of the mind holds its moments together. Each internalized intuition is, as a picture, liberated from its temporal particularity and able to serve as a universal, a recollectible reference. Perhaps we might say—though Hegel does not—that subjective time is representational mind, the power to bring and keep memory pictures before itself as quondam intuition.

The dialectical connection with natural time would be as follows. In the Philosophy of Nature time was expounded as “a pure form of sense or intuition.”(¶ 258) It is the most rudimentary case of a self­ the self-distinguished point—confronting an external object. Thus it is recognizably the primitive prototype of the intuition that starts mind on the way to cognitive representation. That later intuition has, instead of ideal externality, a space-time that is sense-filled.

For in the Philosophy of Mind intelligence begins by defining the immediate contents of its feelings as outside itself and projecting them into external space and time, the two forms in which the mind becomes intuitive (anschauend). In mere intuition we are outside of ourselves in the two forms of asunderness.(¶ 450) It is the “inwardization” of these forms that yields, as was said, recollection.(¶ 451) In capturing Nature, the Spirit internalizes time and negates the externality that space-born time could not escape in nature.

The passage in the Aesthetics (p. 277) cited above corroborates the connection, though it reverses the order of exposition. There inwardness, as the prospective subjective unity, the active negation of indifferent next-to-one-another subsistence, is for a moment abstractly empty, merely marking itself off from the object. But it immediately cancels this abstract confrontation to produce itself as a true subjective unity. Then come the crucial sentences: ”The same ideal negative activity in its realm of externality is time.” ”It is in time and time is the being of the subject itself.”

Dialectically, time has appeared as an abstract form in Nature, and has been differentiated into objective and subjective time in Subjective Mind. There remains the dialectic third (Logic ¶ 163), the individualization of time. We might expect to find it in Objective Mind or Spirit proper. And so we will, as History.(¶ 548-49) In history subjective mind enters the world; it becomes world-mind, and its time world-time, explicit but not merely extended, in the intuitable world but not merely external. However, the exposition is spare.

We find more in Reason in History (“The Progression of World History”): “It is in accordance with the Concept of Spirit, that the development of history falls into time.”(p. 153) For the connection that events which we see as positive have to non-being, to the possibility that their opposite might be—that is time. Time is the abstractly sensual, which means that it is both for thought and for intuition. So both conceivable and visible change are time. Change in nature is a—sometimes cyclical—monotony; change in Spirit is always a progress since the Concept itself develops. But the higher figures of the Spirit are produced by the reworking of the lower figures, which then cease to exit. It is through time that this conceptual sequence appears. “World-history is thus in general the display or exposition (Auslegung) of the Spirit in time, as in space Nature displays itself.”(p. 154)

It might seem that Hegel has here forgotten that the same negating form of sense was already active in Nature.(cf. Kojève, p. 133) What is missing in Nature, though, is the part of memory that makes the science of History possible. Nature is capable of repetition (Wiederholung) but not of recollection. In that sense time leaves space behind.

I think that the stasis of nature in which the individual changes, but never the species, would have been maintained by Hegel even in the face of an established theory of evolution, since he regards long duration as equivalent to stasis.(¶ 258, Addition; but see Findlay, p. 274; Kojéve, p. 146)

And as time was the subjective mind in its phase so Time is the Spirit in its phase. Time and thought are the same negativity: “Time is the corrosiveness of the negative, but Spirit is itself in the same case—it too dissolves all determinate content.”(p. 178)

The book in which this identification of Time and Spirit is made in all its grandeur, most starkly and insistently, is the Phenomenology of Spirit. The reader meets it first in a passage quoted above from the Preface: “As for time …it is the existing Concept itself.”(¶ 46) Here it irrupts into the text out of context, so that a certain commentator, to whom nescience is second nature, takes it for a witticism.

The fuller, climactic passage comes from the last chapter, “Absolute Knowledge:”

Time is the concept itself that is there and which presents itself to consciousness as empty intuition. For this reason Spirit necessarily appears in Time, and it appears in Time just as long as it has not grasped its pure Concept, that is, has not annulled Time.(¶ 801)

Let me turn aside for a moment to the question: Why does time make its grandest appearance in a book that is not strictly speaking inside the System that sets forth the development of the Concept? The answer lies in the project of the Phenomenology, which is to tell the story of the Concept from the point of view of advancing consciousness recollecting the moments of the Concept.(Hyppolite, p.7; Verene, p.3) Now this recollection (Er-Innerung), mentioned on the last page of the Phenomenology, is a version, raised to the second power, of the category familiar from the Philosophy of Mind, the one that generated the past as an intuitable phase of time. Within the System, as set out in the Encyclopedia, time is sparsely and formally treated at the beginning of the major phases and then goes underground. It is absorbed into events as a merely formal motor of change. At the end of the Phenomenology time is again brought back to light and spoken of humanly and dramatically. It is not conceptually developed—”Time is the Concept that is there” is not a dialectical exposition—but instead it is retrospectively presented. In this book the Concept itself and its intuitable motor, Time, is recollected, so that time is viewed from its own beyond, from a point where all is Past. This grand Recollection is an exaltation of the smaller recollective moment in the Philosophy of Mind when human time came into being. In short: In the Phenomenology time gains grandeur from the fact that it is thought as fulfilled and thus ended, and it regains humanity from the fact that it is all past, all for our Recollection.

It remains to state briefly what is said of time in “Absolute Knowledge” and to show how even this Time is formally and really identical with the time of the System. Spirit, as the Concept-in-the­ world, as self seeking itself in Nature, is by its very meaning there, outside in space, intuitable: “It is [to begin with] the outer, intuited, pure Self which is not grasped by the Self, the merely intuited Concept.”(¶ 801, adjoining the quotation above) Therefore Spirit is formally identical with Time, “the Concept that is there.” Or, speaking figuratively, Spirit must appear in time. For recall that time was from way back reflexive negativity at work on its own externality—dialectic active in the element of otherness. Even at the end Hegel does not forget that time, no matter how rich its determinations have become, is, to begin with, pure intuited concept.(¶ 801)

Time must come to an end, namely when its negating activity has mastered its own alienation: When the Concept “grasps itself it sets aside its time-form.” Time is therefore the destiny of the unfulfilled Spirit, not as a destination before but as a direction within—toward that complete self-recognition which is Science.(¶ 801)

Here, too, Time is the “I=I” that it already was, abstractly and rudimentarily, in Nature.(Enc. ¶ 258, Remark) For “I=I” is the formula of self-reflection (Phenomenology ¶ 803), which for the time-point was called self-related negativity. This movement, whether of the abstract point or the concrete Self, always means that a thought that has denied itself has gone on to recognize itself in the denial. It follows that such a self-superseding thought “has to be expressed as Time.”

The burden of the last two pages of the Phenomenology (¶ 807-8) regarding Time is this: The externalization of the Spirit into an intuitable Time-Self, its emptying itself into Time, is a self-negation. Hence just as negating time conquered its space, so negating Spirit now conquers its Time. Thus Spirit redeems the “sacrifice” implied in its externalization, its Incarnation.

* * * * * * * *

Is the Time of the Phenomenology the time of the Encyclopedia? Heidegger answers this question incidentally but sufficiently during his critique of Hegel’s concept of time.(Being and Time ¶ 82b, p. 435) Spirit can appear in time (or as Time) only on the basis of what Heidegger considers an empty formalism: the identity of the formal structure of Spirit and Time as negation of negation. That formalism, recall, defined time from its origin as the self-relating negativity of the spatial point.(Enc.¶ 257, Addition) Heidegger scorns the abstractness of the conceptualization. But it is this very abstractness that allows time to remain self-identical through its whole development. Moreover, though abstract, the determination is not empty. Negation of negation, doubled negation, or self-related negativity—these are all terms for a completed cycle of thought, a small token of achieved selfhood.

* * * * * * * *

To recapitulate. Hegel views time under three formal aspects:

  1. As dialectic motor: Under the aspect of its dialectical activity time is negated negation;
  2. As abstract Concept: Under the aspect of its formal determination it is intuited Becoming;
  3. As eternal Idea: Under the aspect of its annulment, it is absolute Presence.(Enc. ¶ 258, Addition)

It is also useful to tabulate the four contexts in which time is developed:

  1. In Logic as abstract Becoming;
  2. In Nature as externalized becoming;
  3. In Subjective Mind/as internalized intuition;
  4. In Objective Spirit as the Concept in the world.

Are these the aspects and contexts of one and the same Time? Absolutely. It is in the very nature of time as a force of negation that it must appear differently in different phases. For it is itself change, and is changeless only under the aspect of eternity. Since it is neither receptacle, nor flux, nor substrate, nor measure, nor any other accompaniment of events, since it is nothing more or less than the finitude, the incomplete determinacy of things—for their temporality is their objective determination (Enc. ¶ 258, Addition)—time will perforce participate in their variability. Indeed it is their variability. And so it must appear under as many different guises as there are categories of change.

III. The Phases Emphasized by Heidegger and Kojéve.

In accordance with their different agendas in reading Hegel, Heidegger and Kojéve insist on different phases of time as primary in the texts. The one brings forward, with disapproval, the Now; the other, with approval, the Future. I shall try to show why neither of these emphases does Hegel justice.

A. The Now is, according to Heidegger’s exposition in Being and Time (¶ 82a), the ground of Hegel’s interpretation of Heidegger is eager to show that Hegel remains entirely within the “vulgar” tradition started by Aristotle, in which time is understood as a linear series of leveled-out Nows.

To make this point, Heidegger seizes on the central understanding of time as the negation of negation, particularly on its moment of origin out of space, when the point negates the indifference of space and elevates itself into time.(Enc. ¶ 257) Insofar as this argument has any demonstrable sense, Heidegger says, it must mean that each point posits itself as a Now-Here, Now-Here, and so on.

Similarly his interpretations of Hegel’s second view of time as intuited becoming (Enc. ¶ 258) is that it reveals time as understood primarily from the Now. For “becoming” means transition from being to nothing and from nothing to being. And “intuited” means not-thought-out, simply presented to view. But the being of time is the Now, and the Now as always no longer Now can just as well be conceived as non-being. So when these concepts are intuited in extended nature, the two opposite moments of becoming appear equally as Nows, and their extended succession as a mere Now-series. At least that is what Heidegger seems to mean insofar as his argument has any demonstrable sense.

Heidegger concludes by reinforcing his point from the passages where Hegel speaks of the “enormous right of the Now” and where he also refers to time as the “abstraction of consuming.”(Enc. ¶ 258, Addition) This last is the “most radical formula for the vulgar experience of time.” (See also Reason in History, p. 178, on devouring and corroding time.)

In rebuttal: Regarding the space-negating point, I have tried to show that it does not jump out as a “here-and-now” in the first instance, for it becomes a Now-here only afterwards, when it returns into space as place. The first dialectical motion yields only a phaseless punctuality, a standing out from space that is the mere possibility of attracting attention.

Regarding “intuited becoming,” Heidegger begs the question, for his exposition assumes that the Now is the being of time. What Hegel actually says is merely that time is the being which, insofar as it is, is not and insofar as it is not, is.(Enc. ¶ 258) And that is, formally, Becoming. His analysis of temporal becoming is in fact such that the Now is only the indifferent unity of non-being and being, the moment of intuited becoming in which neither the one nor the other predominates. Heidegger has confused the phenomenal now with this dialectical moment. The dialectical Now is by no means primary. Moreover, becoming cannot really be intuited until there is reality, that is, matter. Up to that point it is only the form of intuitability. But once the real enters, time vanishes into things: “Things themselves are the temporal.”(Enc. ¶ 258, Addition) So there is not a trace of a linear Now-series in the text. In fact, Hegel makes it clear that the point of time is not, as are the points of space, amenable to homogenized serialization and to meaningful quantification.

Regarding Hegel’s ironic reference to the “enormous right” of the Now that “struts its stuff” (spreizt sich auf ), he is saying precisely that the Now always bites the dust; it has no being.

In fact, Hegel does not, I have argued, originally construct time from its phases at all. He prepares them through primary Becoming, which contains rudiments of past, present, future. But even on this formal level the Now is secondary, for it is only the indifferent unity of that Becoming, called coming-to-be, in which Being is the (logical) starting point upon which Nothing supervenes with the reverse Becoming, called passing-away, in which Nothing (logically) precedes Being. He does say that in Nature time is Now, but that phrase is merely meant to underscore the fact that the phases of time, past, present, future, do not exist before there is subjective mind.

Finally, regarding the ”vulgar” notion of time as a devourer, it is, of course, only a figure for Spirit’s eating out of the substance of the world, its progressive resorption of Otherness. Hence the difference between Hegel and Heidegger is surely not one between vulgarity and originality. It concerns rather the relation of Spirit to Time and Existence (Dasein). Heidegger says, correcting Hegel: “‘Spirit’ does not first fall into time but exists as the primordial temporalizing of temporality.”(¶ 83b, p. 436) (Hegel, it happens, had not said of Spirit that it “falls” into time, but had used that phrase of the development of history, Reason in History, p. 153.) For Hegel, the Concept passes out into Nature and then, through or as time, starts its slow return journey—whose later stages it travels as Spirit—from being-there (Dasein) in the world to being back with itself, canceling and also keeping its worldly existence in order to enter a new existence, a new world.(Phenomenology, last page) For Heidegger, on the other hand, not thought but human existence is primary, and it comes to an end but not to a consummation; for him the final negation is not a fulfillment. That is the crux of their difference.

Derrida (1982) mounts a fundamental critique of Heidegger’s representation of Hegel’s understanding of time as vulgar.

B. The Future is the primary phase of time in the Phenomenology according to Kojéve in his Introduction to the Reading of Hegel.(Eighth Lecture; he was evidently inspired by Koyre’s account of the Jena systems, 281) Historical time, the time of most interest to Hegel, “is characterized by the primacy of the Future.” In pre-Hegelian philosophy, Kojéve claims, time was directed from the past through the present to the future; this is, I think, false for Christians like Augustine. For Hegel the order is Future to Past to Present.(p. 134)

Kojéve comes to this conclusion because he interprets time from the point of view of the chapter “Lordship and Bondage” in the Phenomenology.(IV A) There Desire is the dialectical motor, and Desire causes action “in terms of what does not (yet) exist—that is, in terms of the future.” The Desire of this chapter is the desire for social Recognition, and this desire engenders History. When it is satisfied Time and History cease, as does the Future.

The Present, Kojéve adds, is the real, spatial moment. Desire is related to it negatively, since it is the locus of its dissatisfaction. The Past, having been equally negatively formed, determines the quality of the Present.(pp. 135-36)

Kojéve’s emphasis on the future is not so much false in the letter as somewhat off the spirit of Hegel’s texts.

To begin with, Hegel himself does not emphasize the future. We would not expect him to. For one thing, the dialectic motion is not primarily drawn on from ahead by the future satisfaction of desire. It is rather driven from within by the self-assertive pressures of implicitness. But even if each concept-moment is to be thought of as big with being-to-come, this being is not future-being, but the Concept itself, whose moments are emerging from ideality into existence. The Concept is a timeless plan; when it enters into existence it is merely repossessing the world, not goading it on. Secondly, it is only the past of which there is phenomenological or historical knowledge. The science of the Concept in existence (= Time) is History. The science of the Concept not yet or no longer in existence is Logic. There is no place for a Hegelian futurology. And third, from the point of view of “Absolute Knowledge” the future has been entirely resorbed; what is left is only Recollection of the past figures of the Spirit.

Broadly speaking, it is the Marxism of Kojève’s interpretation that induces him to put the future forward. For, like Heidegger, he wishes to emphasize human finitude, whereas Hegel thinks that knowledge can be absolute and infinite, in the sense of all-inclusive. Now to a dissatisfied finite being, the temporal future is the only locus of hope. But to the infinite Spirit, the completed and recollected Past is the prelude to the Absolute Present and Presence.

This essay was originally published here in January 2016, and appears again in celebration of Dr. Brann’s ninetieth birthday. It first appeared in The St. John’s Review (Volume 42, No. 2, 1994) and is republished here with permission of the author.

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Derrida, Jacques. “Ousia and Gramme: Note on a Note from Being and Time.” Margins of Philosophy, translated by Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

Findlay, J. N. Hegel: A Re-examinationNew York: Collier Books, 1962.

Harris, H.S. Hegel’s Development: Night Thoughts. (Jena 1801-1806). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich.

Aesthetik. Frankfurt: Europaeische Verlagsanstalt (Second Edition), Third Part, Third Section, Second Chapter,1 c, 2 a.

Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences:

Part I. The Science of Logic (‘The Logic of Hegel). Translated by William Wallace. London: Oxford University Press, 1966, ‘ll 88.

Part II. Philosophy of Nature (with Addenda from Michelet’s text). Translated by A. V. Miller. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970, ¶ 247, 153-261.

Part III. Philosophy of Mind (with Addenda from Boumann’s text). Translated by A. V. Miller. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971, ¶ 449-54.

Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A. V. Miller. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977, pp. 800-808.

Die Vernunft in der Geschichte (Reason in History). Philosophische Bibllothek, Vol. 171a. Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1975.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

Hyppolite, Jean. Genesis and Structure of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by Samuel Chemiakand John Heckman. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974.

Kojéve, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Translated by James H. Nichols, Jr. New York: Basic Books, 1969.

Kojève, Alexandre. “Hegel à Iéna.” Revue Philosophique, Vol. 118 (1934), 275-83.

Lachterman, David R. “Hegel and the Formalization of Logic.” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, Vol. 12, nos. 1, 2, pp. 153-236.

Lauer, Quentin, S.J. A Reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. New York: Fordham University Press, 1976.

McTaggart, John. Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic. New York: Russell and Russell, 1964. Ch. V: “The Relation of the Dialectic to Time”.

Stace, W. T., The Philosophy of HegelDover, 1955.

Stambaugh, Joan. “Time and Dialectic in Hegel and Heidegger.” Research in Phenomenology, Vol. 4 (1974), pp. 87-97.

Verene, Donald P. Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985.

The featured image is a portrait of Hegel by Fredrich Sebbers, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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