Heidegger and `the concept of time'

History of the Human Sciences 15 (3):117-132 (2002)
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This article explores the extent to which Heidegger promises a novel understanding of the concept of time. Heidegger believes that the tradition of philosophy was mistaken in interpreting time as a moveable image of eternity. We are told that this definition of time is intelligible only if we have eternity as a point of departure to understand the meaning of time. Yet, Heidegger believes that we are barred from such a viewpoint. We can only understand the phenomenon of time from our mortal or finite vantage point. Contrary to the tradition of philosophy, Heidegger argues that time does not find its meaning in eternity, time finds its meaning in death. The article takes Heidegger's position to task. It argues that it is not evident why Heidegger's account of time should in any way be superior to the traditional conception of time. Drawing on the criticism raised by Lévinas and Blanchot, that death — like eternity — is never at our disposal to understand the phenomenon of time, it shows that although Heidegger is aware that death is never an event in our life, he nonetheless claims that it is the awareness of our finitude that informs our understanding of time. Yet if Heidegger does not see it as a problem that death is never at our disposal, then it becomes questionable whether Heidegger's initial critique launched against the tradition of philosophy still holds, because it is no longer evident why it matters that eternity, as a point of departure, is never at our disposal to understand the phenomenon of time



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Lilian Alweiss
Trinity College, Dublin