Time in Whitehead and Heidegger: A Response

by Peter B. Manchester

Peter B. Manchester lectures in the Religious Studies Program, University of California, Berkeley.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.106-113, Vol. 5, Number 2, Summer 1975. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


The author responds to David R. Mason’s article in this Journal entitled Time In Whitehead and Heidegger: Some Comparisons. Mason’s notion of ‘temporality,’ taken from his claim that is parallel to Whitehead’s ‘concrescence’, is simply that of time and misses the force of Heidegger’s careful distinction between temporality and time.

If "derived time" follows from something more primordial (for Whitehead, creative advance as constituted in the subjective immediacy of concrescing actual entities; for Heidegger, the truth of Being as disclosed in the ‘openness’ which pervades Dasein on the basis of its ecstatic-horizontal temporality), that something must not itself be time-like, or talk of "derivation" is otiose. What David Mason says about the concrescence of the Whiteheadian "primitive entity," the actual entity in subjective immediacy, convinces me that for Whitehead time is not derived at all but only presupposed with unique thoroughness.

But I cannot assess Mason’s presentation of Whitehead in itself; my concern is with the fact that by interpreting Heidegger in the image of his reading of Whitehead, he produces an account of the temporal problematic of Sein und Zeit that seems fundamentally mistaken at key points. In particular, Mason’s notion of ‘temporality,’ taken from his claim that is parallel to Whitehead’s ‘concrescence’ (p. 85f), is simply that of time and misses the force of Heidegger’s careful distinction between temporality and time. This coheres with a subjectivized reading of the phenomenology of Dasein which is far from being sufficiently ‘reformed,’ that is, in relation to the real target of Heidegger’s dismantling of the tradition.

I shall treat each of these general areas of concern in the two short essays that follow.

I. Temporality and Time

To be ‘temporal’ seems to mean for Mason to "become" (p. 85f), to be "essentially active" (p. 100), to be "dynamic" (p. 89f). Concrescence, for example, takes place in a series of phases (p. 89); it involves sensed passage" (p. 91); it is the droplet of a reality which is "a creative process rhythmically alternating (p. 88). The concepts of becoming, activity, phase-series, passage, process, rhythm, and alternation all seem to be time-sensed, i.e. to involve the distinction ‘before/after.’ Ordinary usage would allow us to say that they are all ‘temporal,’ but it is just such use of ‘temporal’ that Heidegger excludes in Sein und Zeit -- coining instead the term ‘innerzeitig’ for that purpose. To be temporal in Heidegger’s sense is to have a complex unity disclosed against the background and in the pattern of unity of the three temporal horizons, past, present, and future.1 It is essential to his whole argument to realize that temporal unities are not time-like nor defined in relation to time, or to put it another way, that past, present, and future are neither ‘times’ nor ‘parts of time.’

None of the past, the present, or the future come ‘before’ or ‘after’ any of the others, nor does time ‘flow’ -- if this metaphor makes sense in any context2 -- from one of them to another. We sometimes identify time with the present and talk of the present as flowing, yet are stymied if asked whether it flows from the past forward into the future or from the future back into the past. In fact it does neither. The present stays, not moves; and in just the same way the past and the future stay, so that there is constantly and abidingly a full past/present/future structure to the disclosedness of the world. To be sure the ‘content’ of the time which is discovered (in different ways) in each of past, present, and future varies; but the fact that there is a temporal structure to all disclosed being-in-time does not. It doesn’t ‘take time’ for there to be a past, for example. I don’t have to wait several days before I have a past; nor does the future start tomorrow, a week from Tuesday, etc.

For Heidegger, past, present, and future are first of all horizons, a term he accepts from formal phenomenology and uses to name structures of disclosedness. Mason somewhat artificially narrows "the ordinary concept (or interpretation) of time" against which ecstatic-horizonal temporality is counterposed to the point-set interpretation of the time-continuum required by Newtonian mathematical mechanics. What is troublesome ontologically about this interpretation is the ‘vanishing’ magnitude of the ‘now,’ which would suggest that physical being were infinitesimally ‘thin’ along one of its axes of extension; it is surely correct to rejoin, as Whitehead does, that such a ‘now’ is abstract and ideal and that what is ‘concrete’ about time involves "perception through a duration" (PNK 8), so that only the "specious present is a primitive entity" (p. 87). But the ordinary interpretation of time supposes also -- and here makes an ontological commitment in which Mason clearly joins -- that however the ‘analytic geometry’ of the now is construed, it is only now, i.e., in the physically present, that being is. On this properly ontological level of this originally Aristotelian treatment, which Mason does not seem to put in question, Heidegger would point out a naive and inexplicit" commitment to disclosedness against the horizon of ecstatic-temporal presence (Anwesenheit, parousia) -- which is something very different from believing in the ‘instantaneous now.’3

Heidegger’s characteristic claim in Sein und Zeit is that there are always three horizons of the disclosure space called temporality which could have this kind of fundamental role in determining what to mean by ‘be’. The Fundamentalontologie of Sein und Zeit ‘goes deeper’ than existing ontology (if it does) precisely by restoring to the traditional role of temporal presence the larger context of the problem of the unity of all three horizons.4

One way to illustrate the full scope of this problem would be to look more closely at the horizonal character of the ecstatic past in contrast with the past of the ordinary interpretation of time, which is only understood by negative contrast with the present.5 Here Mason, apparently following Whitehead, allows us to make a particularly striking contrast: we can never change the past" he says (p. 95), meaning to evoke what Heidegger calls Dasein’s ‘facticity’ and to compare it with the objectivity with which perished actual occasions confront the concrescing actual entity in Whitehead. But there is a sense in which ‘change the past’ is just what Dasein does and must do if it is to sustain an authentic self-disclosure.

Dasein ‘has a past’ not by being located at the expanding edge of a field of ‘facts’ with which it entertains ‘relations’ (prehensions), which makes the past external and the present related to it in a time-like way (i.e., as ‘coming after’ it, in sequence with it), but by itself ecstatically opening the very ‘having-been-ness’ (Gewesenheit. corresponding to Anwesenheit) in which such things as ‘distance in time’ and ‘past facts’ are discoverable. Dasein is its own having-been-ness, which Heidegger tries to bring out with his treatment of ‘repetition.’ As ‘having a past, Dasein comes ecstatically vor ihm selbst, ‘before itself’ in the double sense of ‘face to face with itself’ and ‘already there.’ In line with Sein und Zeit’s general thesis, it is only as possible that so-called ‘past facts’ enter into an authentic disclosedness of Dasein, for Dasein is in general a possibility of itself. Hence it is wholly consistent of Heidegger to propose as authentic interpretations of, say, Presocratic philosophy what seem at first to be wholly novel assertions.6 The seeming voluntarism, not to say willfulness of Heidegger’s treatment of history may not commend his philosophy to our objectivist-empiricist temper, but it is clearly reflected in his analysis in principle of Dasein’s authentic having-been-ness and makes a resounding contrast with Mason/Whitehead.

Common sense thinks that ‘there is’ first time, ‘then’ location in time, and only then a looking-forward and backward (and ‘at’ the location itself) from which future, past, and present arise. As an ordered set of such quasi-places, time comprises a field of peculiarly unbridgeable distances, and the account I have just given of Heidegger’s notion of Dasein’s ‘free past’ will seem to require a metaphysically preposterous ‘action at a distance.’ But Heidegger denies that Dasein has ‘location’ in time, denies that its having a past, present, and future is consequent upon such location, and above all denies that the structure of Dasein’s unity is time-sensed even, when that unity is projected on time by the ecstatic stretching along’ of its ‘historic taking place (Geschehen).

Whiteheadians seem able to imagine such ecstatically spanned unities-across-time on the so-called ‘microscopic’ scale of the ‘specious present,’ but give up on the idea as the scope of the temporal disclosure space is widened to the scale of human lifetime and of generations.7 But worse than this from the point of view of Heidegger’s temporal problematic, by submitting the ecstatic unities of their ‘specious presents’ to the before/after ordering and metric properties of linear time, at least in terms of their mutually external relations and arrangements, they give back ontologically every advantage they gained from the use of an cc-static-temporal disclosure horizon in the first place, even though it was only the single horizon of presence.

Authentic Dasein’s temporal disclosedness is never ‘in sequence’ with itself, or with anything else. "Nur solange Dasein ist, ‘gibt es’ Sein" (SZ 212=BT 255). The inner finality of the temporal disclosure space gives the problem of the ‘finitude’ and ‘end’ of Dasein a dimension Mason never sees -- and which seems to have no proper parallel in Whitehead. We will return to the problem after the next section.

II. Metaphysics and the Subject

Mason is exactly right in identifying as a key question in a reciprocal Whitehead/Heidegger interpretation the problem whether Whitehead "is a part of the metaphysical tradition which Heidegger seeks to dismantle" (p. 83). Mason thinks not, assuming that the trouble with metaphysics is its "theory of subjects as enduring substances" which "both men have rejected and replaced" (p. 96).

Unhappily it seems that Mason has in mind a ‘replacement’ that can be formulated as a theory of subjects "as essentially active or primordially temporal in their Being" (p. 100). By thus counterposing an active, ‘dynamic’ (which is what he means by ‘temporal’) subject to the static, substantial’ subject of recent metaphysical tradition, Mason may have taken care of real concerns, but not those that trouble Heidegger. Far from overthrowing metaphysics, Whitehead as Mason pictures him capitulates wholly and explicitly to its temporal presuppositions -- which have to do not with the contrast between ‘enduring substances’ and ‘dynamic processes’ but rather with the insistence on subjectivity and the horizonal schema of temporal presence. A ‘dynamic subject’ is no less a subject (hupokeimenon) than a static one, if to its ‘underlying’ absolute presence phenomenal multiplicities are referred for their unity, as to a synthesizing agent.

Present immediacy . . . is a unified subject which modifies its data. This synthesizing activity constitutes the ‘subjective immediacy’ of the occasion. . . The present, therefore, is the entity in its role as subject; . . . The decisive factor which yields the uniqueness of every present is the free, self-determining activity of the subject itself. (p. 98)

Not just verbally but systematically, it would be difficult to find a closer English definition of Heidegger’s Vorhandenheit than this discussion of ‘present (Or subjective) immediacy.’ If giving an account of how all multiplicities of behavior, appearance, or relationship find their unity in the presence of an underlying unity is equated with portraying the ‘primitive entity’ in its Being, then it is just immaterial to Heidegger’s questions whether the prime instance of such Vorhandenheit is seen in the static structure of extended things or in the dynamism of ‘occasions of experience.’ For in either case the same temporal-horizonal choice has been made, on the basis of the same dire presuppositions about the phenomenology of Dasein.

Indeed Mason’s presentation of the phenomenology of Dasein is everywhere dishearteningly ‘subjectivized’ and ‘psychologized,’ to the point of producing the circular critical procedure where a key objection -- that Heidegger focuses one-sidedly on "psychological phenomena" (p. 101) -- is actually read into analyses which are themselves deliberately non-psychological and even non-anthropological (see SZ 42-52=BT 71-77; also SZ 114-17=BT 150-53).

Despite Heidegger’s urgent insistence to the contrary, Mason seems actively determined to identify Dasein with the epistemological subject, which is to say with the human individual in the subjectivity of his ‘me, here, now.’ Because he believes in the generosity of the ‘reformed subjectivist principle,’ which would not restrict the immediacy of selfhood to human subjects alone, he criticizes Heidegger for unduly restricting human subjectivity to its ‘psychological’ side only, neglecting the ‘physiological’ side 2nd the doorway it provides into a subjectivizing of the physical in general.

Something of the artificiality of this critique can be seen in Mason’s response to the feature of Heidegger’s temporal problematic that least rewards a picture of Dasein as the subjective immediacy of the ‘specious present’: the notion namely that Dasein is essentially futural. essentially ‘ahead of itself,’ essentially possible. "In Heidegger’s major work," Mason writes, "the elucidation of the character of the present is obscured somewhat by the emphasis given the primacy of the future" (p. 99). One has to rejoin that, in Mason’s reading, the elucidation of the character of the future (and with it the whole of Dasein’s temporality) is obscured by a perniciously metaphysical/subjectivizing emphasis on the present and its ‘psychological’ reality.

But what about ‘Jemeinigkeit’? What about the ‘individuation’ of Dasein brought about by the finitude of Being-toward-death, where death is ‘uniquely mine’; and what about the whole business of being recalled to ‘authentic self-being’ from dispersion into the anonymity and publicity of everyday affairs? Isn’t ‘authentic Dasein’ just an undistracted and courageous acceptance of being ‘me’?

What Mason reports as an ‘emotional response’ to the treatment of Being-toward-death in Sein und Zeit is one source of the assumption that authentic Dasein is a possible ‘me,’ for emotions, in distinction from Befindlichkeiten or ‘dispositions’ as Heidegger treats them, are certainly subjective. But if, as I would insist, authenticity is not a psychological state of the subject, some other positive account must be given of all the talk about Jemeinigkeit -- and, indeed, of Heidegger’s fundamental ‘definition of Dasein’: "dos Seiende, das wir selbst je sind, the being which we ourselves ever/always are" (SZ 7=BT 27).

It is always true of Dasein that ‘I am it’; but in a discussion where what ‘be’ means is precisely what is under question -- above all when made grammatically finite in the first person (see SZ 24=BT 46) -- this tells us much less than we might think. It surely does not mean that Dasein is a formal name for ‘me,’ though it does suggest that the encounter with self, for each of us who say of ourselves ‘I am,’ is somehow bound up with disclosure of Dasein, or made possible by it. It would take us far beyond the limits of this brief essay to provide a full exegesis of the problematic tied up with Heidegger’s talk of individuation and Jemeinigkeit, but perhaps the non-subjectivist and non-personalist direction can he suggested through some (more or less) parallel classical examples.

The doctrine of psyche in Neoplatonism bears some striking resemblances to the phenomenology of Dasein. Psyche is both the introspectively available life-form of the human individual and the disclosure space of the total natural cosmos (the notion of the ‘world-soul’); the former could be called ‘inauthentic’ or ‘fallen’ psyche, the latter authentic’ or ‘true’ psyche. There is no way to get at original, true psyche except though the doorway of individuated psyche, a movement of thought which the Christian Augustine fatefully enough called the ‘turn within.’

Yet what remains striking even in Augustine is that the ‘in’ of ‘inwardness’ is bigger than ‘me’ even though its entry is the ‘in me.’ "For they endeavor to find a path outwardly, and forsake their own inward things, within which is God" (DT VIII, 7, 11). There is for Augustine an ‘in’ further in than ‘my own inwardness,’ which embraces and comprehends in divine freedom everything which prior to the ‘turn within’ seemed only ‘outward.’ ‘God within my inward things’ is not equivalent to ‘God in me’ for Augustine, for God is always first of all creator of the whole world and Lord of all history.

Kierkegaard is often made the source of Heidegger’s alleged individualism and introspective psychologism. But in the treatise which demonstrably had most influence on Heidegger, The Concept of Dread,’ Kierkegaard makes clear that he recognizes only two ‘individuals,’ Adam and Christ, showing that the concept is hardly individualistic in any obvious sense. And he further commends as "the essential characteristic of human existence . . . ‘that man is an individual and as such is at once himself and the whole race, in such wise that the whole race has part in the individual, and the individual has part in the whole race" (CD 26). A review of Kierkegaard’s treatment of the temporal ‘moment of vision’ or ‘instant’ (Augenblick) in this work is probably the best insulation against supposing too quickly that what Heidegger means to bring out about Dasein by insisting that in each case we ‘are’ it is the simple subjective immediacy of psychic life.

Conclusion: The Fruits of Comparison

While introducing his project of comparing Whitehead and Heidegger on time, Mason suggests that the paucity of previous efforts is "a function of the assumption that their modes of philosophizing are so different as to render the thought of the one completely irrelevant to that of the other" (p. 83). Though I have argued that the differences in the systematic role of their theories of time are greater than Mason grants, the two philosophical positions are clearly not irrelevant to one another. Mason’s charge that Heidegger is too ‘psychological’ has an instructive aspect, misleading as it may be if taken strictly. If for the distinction between psychology and physiology we substitute that between history and nature, his critique brings out clearly what I would agree is the deepest theoretical gulf between Whitehead and Heidegger. Whitehead, it seems to me, denies any ontological distinction between nature and history. I understand the ‘reformed subjectivist principle’ as both naturalizing the human/historical and humanizing the natural -- or perhaps better, as seeking an ontological system midway between them and able to account for both.

Heidegger by contrast holds for a radical priority of the historical over the natural, to the point that it sometimes seems that the discovery of nature and the entertaining of theoretical relationships to it are the essence of "fallenness." The categories suited to the interpretation of nature are treated in Sein und Zeit as restrictive and devolved forms of the existentials of Dasein, and in general it is denied that nature has any Being outside of the ecstatic-horizonal disclosure space of human historicality. With respect to the problem of natural time, we have already cited Heidegger’s affirmation that "only so long as Dasein is, ‘is there’ Being." If we should try to escape the force of this by saying that perhaps there could ‘be’ time ‘before Dasein,’ only it would not be disclosed, Heidegger would rejoin that Being is intrinsically disclosed and that Dasein has a privileged role in that disclosure.

The immediate background of Heidegger’s elevation of history above nature is of course German historicism, notably Dilthey and Hegel. In my own judgment, an even stronger role is to be attributed to Christian anthropology as Heidegger knows it from Kierkegaard and Augustine. Indeed the only claim of priority for man in the disclosure of universal Being I know of that is as far-reaching as Heidegger’s is the Augustinian treatment of man as imago Dei, which explicitly holds that among all created natures mans is the most embracing and intimate reflection of divine freedom and that all other natures must be referred to God in the light of that reflection.

Heidegger himself of course resolutely denies anthropological intentions and refuses to let his work be interpreted in relation to Christian theological problems. His account of the precedence of temporality over time must therefore satisfy direct phenomenological probing and prove intelligible to philosophers with a sophisticated grasp of the role of time in traditional metaphysics. No group is better prepared to bring such challenges than students of Whitehead, and if the scale of the contrast is greater than Mason would admit, the fruits of continued pursuit of his project are correspondingly more important



BT -- Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, translated by E. Robinson and J. Macquarrie. New York: Harper and How, 1962.

CD -- Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Dread, translated by Walter Lowrie. Princeton University Press, second edition, 1957.

DT -- Augustine, De trinitate libri XV.

SZ -- Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (1927) 12te unveränderte Auflage, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag. 1972.



1There is some uncertainty in Heidegger’s use of the terms ‘time’ (Zeit) and ‘temporality’ (Zeittichkeit) in SZ, and I am enforcing the distinction as it is drawn consistently throughout the second division, "Dasein and Temporality." In the introduction, however, he refers to "time . . . as the horizon for all understanding of Being" (SZ 17 = BT 39) where later he would take care to qualify this as ‘primordial time’ (die ursprüngliche Zeit), which in turn is most frequently called ‘temporality’ pure and simple (cf. SZ 329=BT 377; also SZ 405=BT 457). Again, p riot to his full commitment to the specialized sense of ‘temporality,’ Heidegger in the introduction sometimes resorts to the Latinisn,s temporale and Temporalitat (cf. SZ 19 BT 40) to carry the ‘primordial’ force, adding to the confusion. (After Zeitlichkeit has taken on its full technical force, the locution ‘primordial temporality’ which Mason uses becomes redundant and occurs very infrequently.)

2 The most provocative phenomenological attack on the ‘flowing’ metaphor can be found in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception (translated by Collin Smith, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), pp. 410-14 and ff.

3 On Heidegger’s suggestion that the metaphysical concept of ousia has the temporal-horizontal sense of parousia but only "naively and inexplicitly," see SZ 26= BT 48; also What Is Called Thinking? (translated by Fred D. Wieck and J. Glenn Gray, New York: Harper and Row, 1968). Lecture X, pp. 100-10; and further, The End of Philosophy (translated by Joan Stambaugh, New York: Harper and Row, 1973), "Metaphysics as History of Being," pp. 4-10 and ff. The ‘presence’ that provides the metaphysical tradition with its clue to Being must be distinguished from the fully temporal ‘presence’ that Heidegger discusses in, for example, On Time and Being, which "plays" as a "fourth dimension" of authentic temporality among all three of the horizons of past, present, future (translated by Joan Stambaugh, New York: Harper and Row, 1972), pp. 1-15 and ff. The cognate of this presence in SZ is ‘disclosedness,’ or perhaps the ‘lighting’ (Lichtung) of Dasein’s ‘da.’

4 Restoration of this sense of ‘equiprimordiality’ is one of the core themes of the temporal interpretation of Dasein. "The phenomenon of the equiprimordiality of constitutive items has often been disregarded in ontology, because of a methodologically unrestrained tendency to derive everything and anything from some simple primal ground"’ (SZ 131=BT 170).

5 The past is taken as made up of things and events which ‘are no longer now, ‘.e., are deprived of ‘nowness’ and in that fact alone deprived of ‘being.’

6 His Presocratic interpretations are perhaps the most controversial; in addition to SZ second division, chapter 5 passim, the general principle of his approach to the history of philosophy is implied in his preface to the second edition of Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics: In contrast with the methods of historical philology, which has its own problems, a dialogue between thinkers is bound by other laws" (translated by Tames Churchill, Indiana University Press, 1962), p. xxv. It is also stated forthrightly in Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit (Bern: A. Francke, 1947), p. 5, "Die ‘Lehre’ eines Denkers ist des in seinem Sagen Ungesagte, . . ." -- "the ‘doctrine’ of a thinker is what is unsaid in his sayings, . . .

7 On the microscopic scale, there seem to be Whiteheadian equivalents to horizonal having-been and horizonal advent/future. If it would make sense to speak of ‘empty’ prehension, considered as formally continual apart from any given content, this might be set in parallel with Dasein’s ecstatic having-been. In the same way the sheer capacity to be teleologically ‘lured’ -- which involves anticipated satisfaction and perishing -- might serve as a cognate of Dasein’s ecstatic futurity and anticipatory completeness. The superimposition of the ‘macroscopic’ scale ruins all these parallels, however, by intruding ‘past’ and ‘future’ being outside of the temporal disclosure space.

8 Three separate footnotes mention it; the most important (SZ 235 = BT 494) is a note attached to section 45, the prospectus for the entire second division, and makes it clear that the temporal interpretation of Dasein is directly in continuation of Kierkegaard’s problematic of existence. CD also figures large in the note to SZ 190 (BT 492); and some of the technical parallels are discussed in the note to SZ 338 (BT 497). It would probably overstate the point only minimally to say that SZ in its entirety is an extended meditation on Kierkegaard s discussion of time and eternity in that treatise (CD 73-83).