Being and Time are maybe two of the most enigmatic concepts in human history. I had seen these two words side by side on a book when I was at high school. The author was Martin Heidegger, “the greatest philosopher” of the 20th century, or even of the “whole” Western thought after Plato and Aristotle according to the introduction. I was struck by these claims, and had borrowed one Turkish translation of the book from our library. However, I couldn’t understand anything. I still remember the disappointment with the book and with myself. Then in a philosophy class last semester, I encountered Heidegger again. This time, in the waters of a different language, I was somewhat able to understand him! And I want to share his understanding of time in this blog post, as much as I understood it and as best as I can.
As we see from the title, time and being are very intertwined concepts in Heidegger’s view. But before delving into time in his thought, I will try to explain briefly his philosophy.
Heidegger’s main question was “What is it to be?”. He was specialized in ontology as well as phenomenology, and he argued that the question above wasn’t asked or thought properly for a long time in the Western thought.
In his view, Being, for humans, is first of all “being in the world”. Secondly, it is “making sense of things”. In other words, the context, history, discourses, experiences that we live in/with are very crucial elements in our incessant process of making sense of things in the world. Humans are “thrown” into this world, and they gradually, by always using references, interpret things. Another crucial factor that affects our hermeneutical journey is our states of mind. Our state of mind, i.e. mood, is the “primary way in which we feel the significance of sense making”. Death is the opposite of being in his philosophy whereby our interpretive journey ends and nullity begins.
Time, in his system, is a characteristic of human being. It occurs only with the human being; it is the primary determinant of our existence. Time is the ground of our interpretive journey where things are present to us and we are embedded in meaning making process. Time is the interface between human being and things where disclosure, openness or unclosedness of things happen. In this respect, it is quite subjective, personal and relative. Past, present and future are all in our minds, and we go back and forth between them. He doesn’t deny the “clock time” which he calls “ordinary time”. But he points out its relativity, and focuses on mostly the aforementioned human temporality where making sense of things happen in our finite lives. In this sense, he reminds me of St.Augustin who had argued also the centrality of present and human experience regarding time. Heidegger’s understanding of time is also close to Bergson’s duration concept where the human experience of time is very subjective.