Husserl's Account of Our Consciousness of Time

Marquette University Press. Edited by James Mensch (2010)
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Having asked, “What, then, is time?” Augustine admitted, “I know well enough what it is, provided that nobody asks me; but if I am asked what it is and try to explain, I am baffled.” We all have a sense of time, but the description and explanation of it remain remarkably elusive. Through a series of detailed descriptions, Husserl attempted to clarify this sense of time. In my book, I trace the development of his account of our temporal self-awareness, starting with his early 1905-1909 lectures on time consciousness and proceeding through the 1917-18 Bernau Manuscripts, the Analyses of Passive Syntheses of the 1920’s and ending with the C, B and E manuscripts on time and instincts of the 1930s. Although my book covers all the stages of Husserl’s account of temporality, it is nonetheless systematic in its approach. It is organized about a number of basic topics in the theory of time and presents and critically appraises Husserl’s positions on the issues pertaining to each. • THE ONTOLOGICAL STATUS OF TIME: Is time objective or subjective? Is it “out there,” a part of external reality or does it have a merely subjective existence, residing only in our memories and anticipations? Does Husserl’s “subjective” account presuppose ob-jective time? • THE “PRESENCE” OF THE PAST AS PAST: Memory, if it is to be distinguished from a direct, sensuous perception, must grasp the past as past. It must somehow “see” what no longer exists as no longer existing. The issue is: how do we do this? The same question arises with regard to our grasp through anticipation of the future as future. • THE TEMPORALITY OF OBJECTS: For Husserl, the apprehension of any sort of extended event, such as a melody, involves the synthesis of the “retentions” (the short term memories) of its notes and the anticipations these retentions awake in us. The question, here, is: what exactly is involved in this synthesis of retentions and anticipa-tions? How can these elements come together to present a single, individual object rather than presenting us with merely a collection of disparate presentations? In other words: How does temporal synthesis accomplish this presentation? • THE TEMPORALITY OF CONSCIOUSNESS: Husserl asserts that consciousness, in placing its object in time also places itself in time. How does it do this? What is the relation between the consciousness that places itself in time and the consciousness that is placed in time? How do we unify them? • THE ONTOLOGICAL STATUS OF TIME-CONSTITUTING PHENOMENA: Husserl claims that “time-constituting phenomena are evidently objectivities fundamentally different than those constituted in time. They are neither individual objects nor individual processes, and the predicates of such objects or processes cannot be meaningfully ascribed to them.” This assertion raises a number of questions about the ontological status of these time-constituting phenomena. If we cannot apply the predicates of individual objects to them, what is the nature of their being? Given that such phenomena com-pose the field of consciousness, what is the ontological status of consciousness? Furthermore, if our apprehension directs itself towards individual objects, how can our consciousness grasp the pre-individual, time-constituting phenomena that make it up? At issue here is the status of Husserl’s own descriptions of consciousness and the temporal process. Does his theory undermine the possibility of the evidence he presents for it? • THE RELATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS TO THE EGO: Our sense of self involves more than our consciousness, more than the memories, perceptions, and anticipations that give it its content. It involves our sense as the subjective referent of every act, as the person to whom the world appears, as the one who is affected by the world and who acts with regard to it. What is the relation of this sense of self to our time consciousness? How does the simultaneous constitution of consciousness and its object result in the presence of the I that is the subject of consciousness?



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James Mensch
Charles University, Prague

Citations of this work

Bodily and temporal pre-reflective self-awareness.Constantinos Picolas & Nikos Soueltzis - 2019 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 18 (3):603-620.
The Origin of the Phenomenology of Instincts.Thomas Byrne - 2023 - Husserl Studies 39 (1):69-83.
Motivation and the Primacy of Perception.Peter Antich - 2017 - Dissertation, University of Kentucky
Phenomenology and Perceptual Content.Kristjan Laasik - 2019 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 57 (3):402-427.

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