‘Transcendence & Temporality’

The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic

*Section 12: Transcendence and Temporality*
(nihil originarium)

by Martin Heidegger

Final Continental Philosophy Paper turned in to Professor Matt Halteman by Mary Kathryn Gough (Katie Huffman) PHIL 140 // Spring 2004

Time is a central theme for Martin Heidegger, recurring often in his philosophical writings. One of his goals is to properly link our conception of it with our conception of the nature of our own Being, and he therefore spends quite a bit of time attempting to discern and describe its nature. His various works show the development of his thought on this subject (the title of Being and Time seems to be more deeply significant when seen in this light). One good example of this development is found in his Metaphysical Foundations of Logic: leading up to and centering around the twelfth section is a condensed and careful exploration of the idea, within which it is easier to get a bird’s-eye view of the interconnectedness– and meshing– of the multiple naming concepts involved. “Time,” Heidegger says, “claims a central systematic function in metaphysics as such” because it has “some relation, however obscure [that relation] may still be, to the understanding-of-being as such” (p.197). The metaphysical notion of time must therefore be interpreted with that in mind.

The unity of the various aspects of Dasein’s character are very important to Heidegger, who holds that we are only (freely) existing when these aspects are fully integrated and thus applied (world-entry). The structure of the integration should be quite clear once the eleventh section is briefly reviewed and the text of the twelfth expounded upon. Following that, the question of responsibility is examined in light of Dasein’s free, transcendent being-bound-to-time and it is asked what this clarified understanding of time might demand of us in order that we may be Being authentically. A speculation on a theological approach to understanding the ecstatic character of time as related to Being will conclude the paper.

Martin Heidegger spends the eleventh section of his Metaphysical Foundations of Logic laying out the importance of freedom and world in their connection to the transcendence of Dasein. In fact, he shows that Dasein itself is the bridge, or conduit of the act of transcendence, or crossing over: that “to be a subject means to transcend” at the most basic, organic, or primordial level one can imagine (p.165, emphasis added). In the same way that Dasein does not ‘achieve’ a crossing over every once in a while, transcendence does not consist in crossing a barrier, per se between itself and an object.1 Dasein is already factically IN the world, ‘thrown’ amidst nature: beings to which it belongs (p.166), and the only way it is able to perceive the objects within nature at all as bodily existent is if it is already and has already/always transcended, or surpassed objects because it is in the very nature of its being to do so. Heidegger de-specifies the ‘object,’ stating that anything which can be encountered is surpassed (p.166) and “that towards which the subject transcends is what we call world” (from ‘Being-in-the-world’) (p.166).

Freedom is bounded; always it is bounded by Others, and thus it is rooted in responsibility. If we look at nature all around us we see this; every shape is held together as a shape by being collected within lines, every body of water is water, free to flow only because of its surface tension and the extent to which its constituent molecules obey chemical laws, evaporating slowly rather than all at once. We are sadly mistaken, according to Heidegger, if we think we understand “freedom most purely in its essence” if we “isolate it as a free-floating arbitrariness” (p.196). We ought to understand it in a way that is “precisely the reverse, to conceive freedom in its finitude and to see that, by proving boundedness, one has neither impaired freedom nor curtailed its essence” (p. 196, emphasis added).

Heidegger moves forward to address transcendence and temporality in section twelve. The common conception of time has these qualities: a) it passes, b) it is dependent upon its relation to the internal subjective world of an observer, making our idea of the soul (or our exact conception of the nature of Being) very important, c) it is not singular or central to Being because it is tied to space, and therefore our senses become involved in its perception, and d) it is contrasted with theological eternity, thereby causing the temporal to be defined by a conception of the heavenly (p.197). Yet according to Heidegger, “none of th[ese kinds of conceptions] touches exactly on the metaphysical essence of time” (p.198). He therefore introduces several new conceptions, naming five but then proceeding to examine only the first two:

    1. Time’s essence has what Heidegger calls ‘an ecstatic character/structure’, its three ecstasies being expectancy (then), retention (formerly), and making-present (now)

    2. It also has a horizontal character 2

First: the ecstatic character of time is threefold and unified. “Temporality in its temporalizing,” according to Heidegger, “is the primordially self-unifying unity of expectancy, retention, and making-present” (p.204). The names “then,” “formerly,” and “now” are used to designate things expected, things retained or remembered, and things held in attendance.

The “then” emerges from the ecstatic structure in the form of expectancy. Dasein is always living in expectancy of possibility– possibility generated by its own essence– and in light of its having-been, which brings us to the second ecstasy. The ecstatic character or structure of time stresses the historicity of Dasein, its “formerly” aspect, in which the things of its past are retained or remembered. And so we are always moving forward, from out of the past toward the possibility of the “then,” expectant. It is this movement in which the aspect of the “now” resides. Right in the center of time’s ecstasis is a temporalizing point in motion– an identifying motion in which time is truly defined. The “now” is not necessarily now-at-this-very-moment but is like taking the moment spoken of into one’s being in the now. It is a “holding something in attendance” or causing its presence by naming it in the now. In addition to being the primordially self-unifying unity of the three aspects of temporality, Heidegger continues, “the unity of the ecstasies is itself ecstatic. It needs no support and pillars, as does the arch of a bridge… we must say that [the] being [of the ecstases] lies directly in the free ecstatic momentum” (p.207, emphasis added).

Second: time has a horizontal character as well as this ecstatic character. We tend to think of horizon as the stretch of what our eyes are able to see,3 but actually it means ‘the enclosure’ as Heidegger is quick to point out here. It is just in the momentum, or the oscillation of the ecstases, that they are enclosed and horizon exists; thus, time has a horizontal character. Time as ‘the enclosure’ does not exist, exactly, but rather it temporalizes itself (p.208). The enclosure is nothing exactly definite, as Heidegger notes: “of itself the ecstasis does not produce a definite possible, but it does produce the horizon of possibility in general, within which a definite possible can be expected” (p. 208).

We also see that it is in horizon’s temporalization of itself that world-entry occurs, because the “ecstematic unity of the horizon of temporality is nothing other than the temporal condition for the possibility of world and of world’s essential belonging to transcendence” (p.208). If Dasein carries time with it, and Dasein’s essence is transcendence, then world-entry happens when transcendence happens (i.e. always already), in the oscillation of the ecstases of time. Time only exists as temporality is temporalized and world-entry occurs.4

Care is here a key element of transcending Dasein. Because of its expectance, Dasein is continually encountering itself in its interactions. Heidegger explains that expectance

implies a being-ahead-of-oneself. It is the basic form of the toward-oneself, or more exactly, it enables the like as such. Expectance means to understand oneself out of one’s own capacity-for-being; one’s own capacity for being is in turn understood in the essential metaphysical breadth to which belong being-with and being-by. Expecting one’s own capability-for-being as mine, I have also come toward myself already and precisely through expecting. This approaching oneself in advance, from one’s own possibility, is the primary ecstatic concept of the future,5

and yet the past is not left behind, for “the having-been-ness, rather, of what-has-been becomes the having-been, first of all and constantly, in the respective future” (p.206).

Thus, any Dasein that is taking its having-been forward into its expectance temporalizes phenomena by means of the concern integral to its being.

Since we are always encountering ourselves in the world, and care, or concern, is the metaphysical essence of the way we approach the world as a result; only through our concern for our own Being are we able to approach the world in such a way at all. That we are thus bounded and defined by this care is precisely what enables us to exist as an Other– separate and yet connected to other Daseins. Heidegger compares Dasein to Leibniz’s monad, saying that the monad “is a substance enclosed in its sphere” and the whole world exists within it, causing it to not need windows (p.210). Heidegger says that it is not because it contains everything already that it needs no windows, but because the enclosure is of a different nature than Leibniz envisioned. There is no inside or outside, he says, though it is still defined (p.210). This is because of the nature of Dasein’s transcending interaction with its world (“the ecstatic happening of world-entry” (p.210))means that time is not a “mundus concentratus” but a “self-opening and expanding into the world” (p.210).

Also, because of the fact that in encountering its world Dasein always encounters itself, one cannot truly say that time ‘flows away’ or ‘passes’. The stream of time is not a collection of nows but a continuum6— not passing, but temporalizing itself (motion) through the aspect of Being called care. Care temporalizes objects into experience, bringing them fully into Being within Dasein by completing the oscillation of time’s ecstatic continuum or raptus: unifying them.

So what does this new understanding of time and the relation of our own Being towards it require of us? It is not so obscure now as it was, and we can see clearly why the unity of these various aspects of Dasein’s character are so important to Heidegger: Dasein as transcending, Dasein as Free, Dasein in world-entry, Dasein as finite, Dasein as participating in time’s ecstatic and defining horizontal characters, Dasein as expectance, retention, and making-present, as temporalizing, as caring, as self-opening, as bounded. What do these things indicate is needful? The structure of the integration should be quite clear now, yet there is another aspect which cannot be overlooked, or all falls to pieces. If we are to be Being authentically, we must recognize the stuff of responsibility in our very essence.

Simply by being what it is, “every Dasein reveals time itself” (p.199). Time is so essentially a part of Dasein’s being and freedom– its transcendence– that it is imperative for us to realize our responsibility to grasp it firmly in each of its three ecstasies and make good use of it. We have to understand that time does not pass us by; we take it with us. We are so fundamentally interconnected with time– it is in us– that as a result we metaphysically are responsibility; we are made of the stuff of responsibility because we carry time with(in) us. We are free with a freedom maintained over and against freedom itself. Heidegger states that it is “only seldom [that] we take possession of time, which possesses our very selves in a metaphysical sense; only seldom do we become master of this power which we ourselves are; only seldom do we exist freely” (p. 199).

If one thinks of stewardship, one cannot help but think that we are accountable to something. But we are accountable only to be whole and holy: unified. We are accountable only as Christ was accountable: for the maintenance of his hidden, inward life and the outward-spilling of the fruits that carefully tended garden grew. He knew his father’s voice and was able to know and responsibly react to right and wrong because he was internally at one in his being: unified in all ways.

If transcendence is “defined essentially by the formulation and notion of that to which [it] transcends,” then our acting essence is as well, since it belongs to Dasein’s being to be always already transcending (p.162). Epistemologically that to which transcendence transcends is object, theologically it is inaccessible because it is infinite. The theological understanding poses the transcendent as the Absolute, that which is beyond us and sometimes (more specifically) the divine—“the infinite difference of the created from the creator, were we to substitute God, as understood by Christians, for the transcendent” (p.162). This understanding leads to an acceptance of the idea that this sort of transcendence is unnecessary, as its object ‘exceeds us’ it seems obvious that we were not meant to engage in it, in the end.

However from a Christian perspective it would seem that perhaps our inward relationship with Christ might call us to recognize that Mystery which is beyond us in the present moment and transcend, as we can with what we are given in each moment, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to commune with God and be at one with Him even as Christ and He were one while he walked this earth. Perhaps the triune God, to whom we are to be as little children, ‘opening up with child-like questioning,’ is in Heideggerian terms, our vital connection to Bying, and our escape from the devivification of ‘stopping with what is present’.

Stopping with what is present amounts to a retreat from the responsibility of being. It takes the life out of things– the life that Christ came to protect! Let us accept our finitude without losing sight of the Mystery we now have the means to connect to.

1See box example on p. 160 (MFoL)

2p. 198 MFoL

3p. 208 MFoL

4p.210 MFoL

5p.206, MFoL, emphasis added

6see p. 202 MFoL


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