The Development of the ‘Specious Present’ and James’ Views on Temporal Experience

In Dan Lloyd Valtteri Arstila (ed.), Subjective Time: the philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience of temporality. MIT Press. 25-42 (2014)
Abstract
This chapter examines the philosophical discussion concerning the relationship between time, memory, attention, and consciousness, from Locke through the Scottish Common Sense tradition, in terms of its influence on James' development of the specious present doctrine. The specious present doctrine is the view that the present moment in experience is non punctate, but instead comprises some nonzero amount of time; it contrasts with the mathematical view of the present, in which the divide between past and future is merely a point or a line with no thickness. The anonymous source for the term 'specious present' is revealed as a retired businessman-turned-amateur philosopher. The more likely source for the idea itself is a little-known philosopher, Shadworth Hollway Hodgson, who was not merely a significant influence on James but also on Husserl's development of the tripartite account of internal time consciousness. I conclude by demonstrating how James' changing views on the relationship between concepts and experience meant that by the later period of his writings, including those in which he develops his own views on pragmatism, James would have not merely noted the contrast between a mathematical conception of the present and our actual experience of it, he would have taken a further step and condoned the thick experience of the present as demonstrating the inadequacy of the intellectualized mathematical characterization.
Keywords specious present  temporal experience  time consciousness  William James  Husserl  Scottish Common Sense  Thomas Reid  Shadworth Hollway Hodgson
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