David Corfield
Some Perplexities about Time

In ‘Some Perplexities about Time: With an Attempted Solution’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 26 (1925-1926), pp. 135-150, Collingwood is trying to find another way to think of time other than

“spatially,” as something existing totum simul

or as

a ceaseless flow in which the present, perpetually changing, sloughs off its states into the abyss of the past and acquires new states from the abyss of the future.

His solution is as follows:

The ideal is that which is thought, but not thought as real or existing; and in this class fall the future, which is possible but not necessary, and the past, which is necessary but not possible. The real is the present, conceived not as a mathematical point between the present and the past, but as the union of present and past in a duration or permanence that is at the same time change: the possible parting with its unnecessariness and the necessary parting with its impossibility in an actuality which is at once possible and necessary, not (like the abstract mathematical present) neither. Within this present there are, as really as you like, two elements (necessity and possibility), each of which taken singly or in isolation characterizes a being which is not real but ideal—the past and future respectively. Thus the past as past and the future as future do not exist at all, but are purely ideal; the past as living in the present and the future as germinating in the present are wholly real and indeed are just the present itself. It is because of the presence of these two elements in the present (not merely psychologically or illusorily, as in the doctrine of the specious present) that the present is a concrete and changing reality and not an empty mathematical point.

That which is ideal is for a mind, and has no other being except to be an object of mind. But the ideal and the real are not mutually exclusive. A thing may be ideal and also real. An example of this would be a duty, which is absolutely real in spite of the fact that it only exists for mind. But some things are merely ideal, and under this head fall the past and the future; unlike a duty, which exists only for thought but, for thought, really does exist, they have being for thought, but, even for thought, have no existence. Hence, if there were no mind, there would at any given moment be no past and no future; there would only be a present in which the past survived transformed and in which the future was present in germ. The past as past and the future as future, in contradistinction from their fusion in the present, have being for mind and only so. We do call the past, as such, into being by recollecting and by thinking historically; but we do this by disentangling it out of the present in which it actually exists, transformed, and re-transforming it in thought into what it was. Hence time, as succession of past, present and future, really has its being totum simul for the thought of a spectator, and this justifies its “spatialized” presentation as a line of which we can see the whole at once; it also justifies, so far as they go, subjectivist views of time like that of Kant. But time, as the ceaseless change of the present, is “transcendentally real,” and the logical presupposition of any thought whatever; and this justifies the “pure flux” view of time and its treatment in philosophies like that of Bergson and Mr. Alexander.

But this conception, though the only one I can discover which gives any hope of escape from my perplexities about time, is only open to a logic which conceives the real as a synthesis of opposites and a metaphysic which has abandoned the hopeless attempt to think of all objects of thought as existent. If we must regard the real as a collocation of elements each of which is real by itself and in its own right, we must give up the solution which I have attempted to sketch and find another, if we can.

Plenty of resonances there, such as adjunctions as ‘synthesis of opposites’ and maybe a whiff of the kinematics/dynamics distinction of higher category theory and physics?.

Created on October 9, 2019 at 16:57:35. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.