I have so far attempted to sketch what may be called the statics of bodies: the phenomenology of bodies as solid existences occupying space, and of the space they occupy, and which may very well exist unoccupied. Solid bodies have a privileged position in the phenomenal world: they provide the fixed points of reference in the phenomenological picture, around which the impalpable and fluid elements circulate, and to whose foursquare concreteness various types of entia rationis have their main moorings. Without some such fixed mooring-posts, there would be nothing for us to grasp, to lay hold of in the realm of phenomena: phenomena would involve nothing that we could busy ourselves with, make the object or theme of our consideration. Such considerability solid bodies have in virtue of their persistence, their maintenance of their existence, of their form and their character, all properties that will concern us in the present lecture, but they have it also in virtue of their hard exclusiveness coupled with close internal cohesion, and with their sheer separability, their frangibility or Sprödigkeit, to use Hegel's term, which carries their hard exclusiveness yet further. Solid bodies illustrate the side of mental life which Hegel called the ‘understanding’, and which is evident in all rigorous logical analyses, all separation of subject-matters into clear-edged elements or factors, alternatives, characters, etc., whose contribution can be separately assessed. Whatever is discussed in this manner, whether it be the Trinity or the psyche or the continuum of real numbers assumes a certain high-grade corporeality. Some would, in fact, regard this sort of corporeal thinking as the only thought worthy of the name, and, while we utterly question this opinion, we adhere to the view that it represents the foundation, the first steps of all thought worthy of the name, just as solid bodies are the foundation of the phenomenal world. Solid bodies have, further, the capacity to appear in a variety of ways, all stamped with a reference to the point of view from which they appear, and with a vague index of angle and distance therefrom: even immediate contacts involve differences in side and sensitiveness. But solid bodies impress us as holding all this wealth of appearances together, and an infinity of further explorable appearances, in the various simple faces of their solidity: all this apparent variety, often highly unrepresentative, is given us as springing from a relatively small, unchanging nucleus to which with more or less success we penetrate or dig down. The idea of this nucleus is also to be independent of and prior to the appearances in which it announces itself. All this is so complex and so profoundly interwoven, that it is only with great care that we can set it all forth and expound it connectedly, yet it is part and parcel of our most elementary experiences, presupposed throughout by every rudimentary exploration or manipulation. The simplicities that some philosophers treat as elements of this intertwined complexity are all artificially carved out of it and are not really its primitive building-stones.
Solid bodies have, further, their complement and foil in the unresistant emptiness of space, whose very nature it is to oppose nothing whatever to bodily occupancy, to be the very type of the self-effacing, the accommodating, the impartially unfavouring, the boundlessly permissive and the quite unrestricting and undistorting, whose full working-out is to be found in the axioms of Euclidean geometry, and of which all other types of regular or irregular geometry represent larger or lesser fallings-away. Space as so conceived is not given as a mere negation and absence of bodies, but as superior to body in its Anselmian character: it cannot be removed from existence, whereas its bodily occupants readily can, and it comes before us as having its own deep individuality, which is not dependent on that of the bodies that flicker through it, even though it may be endlessly problematic whether we are keeping grip of it in a given case. We use the main background of mutually quiescent bodies as an index of it—the immense solid witness of earthly objects first serves to fix it but yields to the better witness of the sun and then of the fixed stars—but we do not feel that its identity and individuality is constituted by any such standard. It is through bodies and their movements that we pin it down, but they are only its tests, not its essence. It is, in fact, in essence a rational idea, one not identical with any standard set by bodies and their mutual motions and other relations, but one that will come out more and more clearly as those motions and other relations are investigated, and one which, in yielding us the least involved picture of bodily movements, also sketches for us the most authentic portrait of itself. The respect for space which bodies show by quietly resting in it, or by moving uniformly through it, and by not sporting about in it, is the feature of bodily behaviour through which space and its regions declare themselves most plainly, whether in the simple percepts we enjoy from moving bodies or in the most elaborate astronomical or dynamic reasonings. And in relation to bodies, space further exercises a unifying as well as a separative function: it makes a continuum out of bodily separateness and mutual exclusiveness, it unfurls its unbroken routes between the most disconnected existences, it makes them all coexist, be members of a single cosmos. If any proof is required that the universe is not merely the sum total of all there is, it is to be found in the contemplation of space.
We now turn from this static, spatial side of bodily existence, to its dynamic temporal side, where a similar array of interconnected, pre-empirical truths confronts us. Here phenomenological courage is necessary: one must dare to break free alike from the sensationalism which is a travesty of empiricism, as from the arrogant trammels of an unduly simplified logic. Time, as it presents itself to us, has properties which a man who loves palpables can readily find incredible, and its satisfactory symbolization readily goes against the grain of our simpler ideals of communication. It requires Kant's readiness to acknowledge features, given in intuition, which seem to go out of their way to flout conception, and it requires the descriptive flair of a Hegel or a Bergson, with their almost identical account of many odd features of time, as well as all the tangled mastery of Husserl's superb 1905 Lectures on the Phenomenology of our Inner Consciousness of Time. Even Newton, with his talk of the ever equal flow of true and mathematical time, has a place among the genuine phenomenological seers, a place to be denied to his ingenious contemporary Leibniz, who had little sense for a phenomenon that did not lend itself to a misleadingly clear symbolization.
What we may here first claim is that time is a feature of our experience, of the phenomena, which sits lightly upon their diversity and their detail, which is as it were indifferent to and independent of any of them, and it is this feature, rather than anything peculiarly impalpable and interior, which has led certain philosophers to tie it up more closely with the flux of our own inner states, than with anything public and external. Time elapses and time goes on, ever subtly mixing passage with persistence, whether we look to the right or the left, whether we shut our eyes or open them wide, whether the stage of our experience is crowded or thinly populated, whether things rush swiftly or slowly through its focus or become quite sluggish and arrested, and whether we live ecstatically among real objects or become absorbed in our own inward attitudes to or mirrorings of such objects. And though it is never without content of some sort, even if only of our own amorphous expectations and impressions, it is manifestly indifferent to all such content; it is given as being what we lay hold of by way of such contents, without itself being deeply wrought up with them or dependent on them.
Time, as it is given to us, is, in fact, so far from being some abstract aspect of objects and happenings, that it is rather what objects and happenings contingently occupy. We can, as Kant said when the clear vision of the Dissertation or the Transcendental Aesthetic was as yet unclouded by later criticism, very well imagine time as going on in the absence of things and happenings, whereas we cannot imagine things and happenings without the time in which they are or take place. That such imagination of pure time does not amount to having a gross image of it is of course evident and irrelevant: we feel it with our bones, with the whole of our conscious being, our existence. If space affords us an early instance of absolute aseity, of necessary and ineliminable existence, time has by a paradox an aseity even more absolute, for though space, being ineliminable, necessarily persists in the ineliminable continuum of time, time extends its application to things which have only a secondary, equivocal relation to space. Even when we pass into regions where space becomes a thing of small moment, time retains its immense relevance: it is in time that all so-called unextended phenomena arise, last and pass.
I am fully aware how shocking all this substantial talk of time will be to those who have been led by Moore's famous indictment of Bradley's doctrine of the unreality of time, to see in our temporal talk no more than a vast restatement of such facts as that breakfast has been eaten, lunch is yet to come, etc. While not deprecating Moore's examples as putting time through its paces, and bringing out many of its aspects, I should yet deprecate the view, not in fact held by Moore, that there is nothing more to time and to temporality than breakfasts, lunches and the like. However strange we may find it, and however much we may perhaps ultimately be led to revise our notions on the subject, we must yet confess it to be part and parcel of the temporal appearances as set before us, that there may well be times in which breakfasts and lunches have alike passed away and nothing in fact is happening at all. The possibilities of things are part of what we see in them in many cases—we see men that could cross the street and are in fact about to do so—and it is part of what we see when we contemplate a happening in time that the time in which it happens could do and be without the happening in question.
If time rather represents the real possibility than the actuality of states and happenings, the question then arises what it does actually represent. Here we may follow Kant and recognize three ‘modes’ or aspects, roughly brought out by the words ‘permanence’ ‘succession’ and ‘coexistence’. Time is, on the one hand, a pure permanence, a constancy and a lastingness which is not as such the permanence or constancy or lastingness of anything else whatsoever, but only of time itself, though it is also secondarily the permanence, the constancy, the lastingness of the solid bodies, the experient personal minds, the spatial regions and the more or less enduring manifestations and characters which persist temporally, through whose concrete persistence, as Kant rightly observed, the pure permanence of time is itself pinned down and given concreteness. Time is always as much a going on as a passing, as much one and the same thing as it is always another and another, it is, if one likes, always this time or now or the present time that one picks out and holds, an unbrokenly existent variable, as it were, of which there are ever new values. But time also is, and in the imagination of men most prominently is, a pure successiveness or passingness or flux, which is not as such the successiveness or passingness or flux of anything else whatsoever, but which also is secondarily the successiveness or flux of the ever varied states, acts and manifested characters of bodies and experient personal minds, etc., by which it is pinned down and given concreteness. And time is also, thirdly, a coexistence of such possible things as may persist in it, as well as a more precisely pin-pointed simultaneity of such possible states, acts and manifested characters as may flit through it. It has, as it were, places for indefinitely many of these permanents or transients, which become occupied and fulfilled by concrete things or states and so identifiable by us, but which are given as having a shadowy status and a sort of non-spatial spread which covers, without arranging, the range of places in question, whether occupied or not.
We may here advert particularly to the objections of those who see only confusion in speaking of time and temporality on an analogy with a flowing river, in which ‘ever new waters are always flowing in upon us’. This mode of speech it is objected, assimilates temporality to a process which itself presupposes temporality. Temporality cannot be the flow of anything, since, if it were, we should have to ask where the elements came from that made it up, and where they afterwards went to, and, above all, we should have to ask absurdly at what precise rate these elements were flowing by, all questions unanswerable and also presupposing the temporality that they seek to analyse. These objections have a certain justice, since in the basic flux of temporality any existence we may attribute to the states that were or that will be, is essentially a modally qualified existence, whereas the water that will flow under a bridge, or that has flowed under it, exists without modal qualification, whether upstream or downstream. The flux of temporality is, of one likes, a flux restricted to the present, and having only an indirect coverage of past and future times and states; it is the pastness of and the futurity of such times and states that alone enters into the flux, and is part of its living reality, whereas the flux of a river is of parcels of water that go on existing elsewhere before and after they pass a certain point. Certainly there is a profound puzzle in the way in which, without the conscious reference of memory or retention, there now is a pastness of certain definite contents and a futurity perhaps of certain others: it is as if time involved a sort of quasi-intentionality or mental reference in virtue of which, like straightforward mental reference, it can preserve ‘in brackets’ what does not exist.
We may say, meanwhile, that the flux of temporality is no more than an eternal passage, sometimes full, sometimes quite vacuous, through a focus of presentness which it does not make sense to speak of as changing, since it is presupposed by all changes, and which may, accordingly, in a special sense, be spoken of as unchanging. This flux of temporality is not the flux of a particular process, not even the non-flux of a particular constancy, but a flux which all particular processes and constancies presuppose, and to which they give a concrete colouring and filling. It is a flux which we can only speak of rather misleadingly, by a particularly difficult act of abstraction, in virtue of which the inescapable features of experience become, as it were, factual and contingent. But it is a flux which shows itself in the whole of our ordinary diction, in the fact that we are prepared to say ever differing things are happening now, and in the fact that we employ ever varying tenses in speaking of the same happening or existence.
The flux and permanence of temporality being thus the presupposition of all constancies and processes, it makes no ordinary sense to ask at what rate time flows, any more than it makes ordinary sense to ask whether the regions of space preserve their size or position. In order that bodies may expand, contract and move freely, space must itself admit of none of these things, and in order that processes may be speeded up or slowed down or remain constant the pure flux of time must itself admit of no such things. One may, however, permit oneself to say, in a special truistic sense, that spaces are immovable and of constant size, and one may, in the same sort of truistic sense, say that the flow of time never alters in rate. It is not absurd, but at a certain level of abstraction even suprising and illuminating, to say that it takes exactly one hour of time for an hour of time to elapse, and that the rate of time's flow is therefore necessarily constant. Such a ‘tautology’ equates something seen in one light with the same thing seen in another light, and is as noble and useful as any other such fundamental truism.
There emerge from what we have said several conclusions that might seem startling in a contemporary setting. The first is that moments of time, and states momentary in duration, have a genuine experiential and phenomenal status: the second is that, in a quite valuable sense, only states momentary in duration have a genuine experiential and phenomenal status. This must not be taken to mean that temporality, whether filled or unfilled, is ever anything but continuous, only that its continuity is not that of some congealed space-like extension in which a number of successive elements contradictiously coexist, though such a way of picturing the situation has an indispensability which, as Kant showed, makes it more than an ordinary picture. The continuity of temporality consists rather in the unbroken flow of the phases which represent its successiveness through a ‘focus of presentness’ which represents its permanence, the latter being unextended in the sense that it does not seriously make sense to credit it with the space-like extension with which, none the less, by the indispensable figure just mentioned, we do in a manner credit it. This focus of presentness, with all its content, can at once be opposed to its former or subsequent states, whether full or empty, but it is also given as containing them, and as in fact all but consisting of them, though it contains them or consists of them only as having been or as about to be. If states A, B, C, D, E succeed one another continuously, then though it makes no more than a diagrammatic, pictorial sense to suppose A going on when B is occurring, and so on, and though, despite much confused testimony to the contrary, experienced succession shows nothing of the sort, still the just pastness of A is a living, present issue when B is occurring, and is as much a present issue as B's own existence, and the less immediate pastness of A, and the just pastness of B, are both present issues when C is occurring, and are just as much present issues as C's own existence, and so on. And similar things can be said about the futurity of D and E, in so far as these are definite facts or issues at all. It is curious, no doubt, and repugnant to many, to acknowledge floating issues and objective modalities as being part and parcel of the phenomenology of time: such an acknowledgement seems, however, forced on us by the phenomena themselves.
The statement that only states momentary in duration have a genuine experiential and phenomenal status is not therefore the paradoxical, argumentative statement that it appears to be. It does not contrast existence on some imaginary ‘knife-edge’ with some other type of less absurdly restricted existence: it only contrasts the intensive, changing, modally comprehensive point of presentness on which, like the dancing Shiva, we pivot and caper, with a vast range of points that it encapsulates, whether as past or as future, and which are readily projected on to a spatial diagram. Future events and past events are not, except by an inevitable pictorialization which deeper reflection suffices to undo, events at all, though the pastness of certain events and the futurity of others is undoubtedly part of what is now happening. Only when modal distinctions are blurred, and past, present and future put on a level, does it seem a sorry restriction to live on a mere boundary between past and future, and it becomes doubtful whether any character or feature can be manifested there at all. Whereas all the richness of the past, and whatever content may be attributed to the future, are assembled there, modally bracketed and put out of action, but still adding boundless inner dimensions to what is present.
Almost all, in fact, but a vanishing limit of the present is given as bearing the signature of the past or the future, the present mainly consisting of the having been of what has been and the being about to be of whatever is about to be, as a glance at any newspaper will suffice to show. In a perfectly correct sense, in fact, anything can be described as present that has begun and does not wholly lie in the future, but that is also not wholly over and done with, no matter how much of it may lie in the future or the past. Thus this hour, this day, this century, this historical epoch, etc., are all present, since all have begun and all have some part of their course to run, nor is there anything confused or false in such a mode of speaking. We only regard briefer events and existences as more truly present than longer ones in that they incorporate less of the past as past, and of the future as future; no genuine event or state can incorporate none of the past qua past, and none of the future qua future, and this is the real point made by those who confusedly object to a ‘knife-edge’ present.
We may here, in passing, advert to all those theories which make of it a wonderful feat that the mind should be able to retain a segment of the immediate past, as if without such a feat the past would have no connection with or presence in the actual state of things. Whereas the present state only defines itself in relation to the pastness and futurities that it incorporates, and which give it content and position. The wonderful feat of the mind consists not in creating this incorporation but in becoming aware and sure of it over a small range, for neither the pastness of a state nor even the pastness of an awareness amounts to the awareness of that pastness. Equally, the awareness of a pastness, no matter how immediate, never makes it into a presentness, and so even our retention of the successive stages of the just past does not really make them seem coexistent. We are aware of them together, but they do not appear to exist together.
All that we say involves the paradox that the past, the modified form of a happening, is, from one point of view, prior to the present, the unmodified form of the same, since it gives the latter its definite content. This paradox we may bravely swallow. The phenomena themselves compel us to recognize that whatever we speak of as present has its definiteness of character only as a limit to countless ordered past presents that it incorporates qua past. We may not have begun by recognizing the presence of past and future in the present, but usages once framed move to an inevitable outcome. This is impressively a case where what we unthinkingly say counts for little or nothing, and where the inherent force of the phenomena is felt in what on reflection we feel we ought to say.
What the consideration of time and temporality enforces upon us is an ever increasing admiration for the wonderful system of ever changing tenses in which we discourse of the world with such effortless smoothness and competence. We recognize the propriety of first saying that something will be the case, then that it is the case, and then that it was the case, without implying absurdly that the same state of affairs continues with slight nuances of difference on all these different occasions. We recognize further that futurity and pastness live encapsulated in all points of time, and in modalities themselves encapsulated in such points. There is the pluperfect pastness of having had one's dinner and the future perfectness of being about to have had it: there are yet more complex situations of having been about to have been about to have had one's dinner, etc., etc. There are also the strange contrafactual situations where the uncertainties of present futures are transferred to past ones, and we say that a man or thing might have done or been something. There are also running commentaries marvellously adjusted to the changing states they report. All these usages are understandable to peasants, but have aroused the dismay and passionate hostility of certain philosophers, who have moved towards an ideal of non-modal diction, where events will be placed in relation to impersonal co-ordinates, and tenses will be dispensed with altogether. We shall have to say as schoolboys say when committing dates to memory: ‘Napoleon defeated at Waterloo 1815’, while omitting as unimportant the very vital circumstance whether this defeat is merely anticipated, or is actually taking place, or already belongs to the storied past. To talk tenselessly raises one above temporal provincialism, and enables one to address and to be addressed by persons of every period, but it encourages the view that there is no real difference between the situations sketched above, or that the difference lies solely in the subjective point of view of the speaker. Whereas there is no difference more obviously absolute than the difference between actually happening and having happened and being about to happen, and it is part of their essential idea that they have nothing to do with anyone's special point of view. The present time and present state of the world is not some time or state selected by us as speakers or thinkers, and having no importance for anyone but ourselves: it is given as the time or state reached by the world itself, in which the world's whole reality is summed up and concentrated.
We have been going fairly deep into the phenomenology of time and temporality; we must now return to the main theme of this lecture, the moving, dynamic face of bodies. Bodies are given to us as having a number of fundamental categorial features, our awareness of which is shown in our whole manner of exploring them and handling them practically, which categorial features are all bound up with time and temporality. All of them made themselves evident to the piercing insight of Kant, to whom they appeared, not as casual, empirical curiosities, but as features of bodily reality essentially bound up with our life and experience in time. Kant's only error lay in giving these all-pervasive constitutive features of phenomenal being a character too rigid and clear-edged, too much, in fact, dictated by the gloriously successful, rationally satisfactory physical science of his time. We who have lived to see all that beautiful certainty dissolve in theories that play fast and loose with every category, must be content with much less insight. The categorial features that we are now about to study are those mentioned by Kant in his Analogies of Experience: the necessity that bodies should have a discoverable, persistent, substantial identity in time, the necessity that they should at any point in their development have more or less definite, regular, discoverable lines of development of the kind called ‘causal’ or originative, and the necessity, lastly, that they should in some degree affect the existence and state of other bodies around them, and be similarly affected by them, so as to give concrete meaning to their coexistence in a common world. To these three categorial conditions one may add a fourth, also mentioned by Kant in another context: that bodies should fall into a small number of recognizable kinds, whose persistent essence, whose regular lines of development, and whose influence on and from other bodies are very closely the same.
We may first draw inspiration from one of the more cryptic teachings of Kant and hold that, just as pure time has an aspect of selfsameness or permanence, the permanence, it would seem, of a pure framework of time-determinations extending from the remotest futurity through presentness to the remotest pastness, with which lasting framework the endless flux of successive, transient times is contrasted, so the contents of time must manifest a parallel contrast between identifiable, substantial backgrounds that remain constant, and states that succeed one another upon them. The two contrasted aspects of pure time, the abiding and the flowing, may, in agreement with Kant, be held to be marked out, given a full phenomenal sense, by the substantial and attributive side of phenomena, by enduring reidentifiable bodies, on the one hand, and by their fleeting states, on the other. Though we feel pure time with our bones, and do not collect or abstract it from concrete phenomena, yet its focus of presentness is always for us the possible seat of permanent substantial presences, as its flitting instants are the possible seat of equally transient states.
We must here avoid the temptation, begotten of the strange craving for wholly rigid identities, which is to be found in thinkers as unlike as Hume and Whitehead, to turn persistence into a sort of flux, a succession of states which merely happen to exemplify constant characteristics, and which are therefore dignified with the special title of ‘thing’ or ‘substance’. Whoever thinks in this manner does not, we may maintain, really understand time, and its living realization of permanence-in-change, neither of whose aspects makes any sense without the other. The bodily world, which is the only world now under consideration, may contain many loose, detached processes within which no abiding identity can be laid hold of. Such loose processes are, however, interstitial among lasting bodily identities from which they radiate or in which they terminate, and without which they could not hold together at all. How far all this may be transmogrified in the paper world of microphysics is not anything that concerns us: that world either has analogues of the permanences in our world, or is parasitic upon them.
Substantial permanence, however, requires more than continuous residence in space: it requires an abiding framework of determinable features, of which passing states are the determinate specifications. What we may call the essence of a substance is not some hard kernel around which a crust of dispensable accidents collects: it is rather the general variable of which these accidents are the precise values. It is because a permanent thing has the sort of essence it does have, that it can and must have the sort of accidents it does have: an essence is the possibility and the necessity of certain sorts of accidents. What the essential features of bodies may be is of course the theme of exploratory science, and cannot here be considered. We may only stress the relatively narrow limits within which the essence of a natural substance can range in order to be significantly spoken of as an essence at all. The nature of a persistent, reidentifiable thing is not given as having any degree of elasticity one may choose: this would be to make nonsense of its persistence, to make it possible to see anything as a transformation of anything else. Its nature must be fairly strait-laced and simple: it must set fairly strict bounds to variety and variability. Here we come up against the attempt to interpret such simplicity humanistically: the simple, it will be said, is only what toe find intellectually manageable. It has no sort of ontological status, and our belief that we shall find it in the world is merely the heuristic demand that the world shall be adjusted to our understanding. This view is, however, a reflection of an empiricism we repudiate, which thinks that we know little or nothing of the world in general, that we must wait upon detailed experience to tell us of it. But the bodily world in time and space is not a system of which we know nothing, and of which our knowledge depends wholly upon detailed exploration. We can explore the bodily world and fill in its details, only because its general pattern is well-known to us, absurdly well-known we may in fact say. The simplicity we look for in the essences of things has an ontological as much as an epistemological status: it is, one may say, as impossible for things to be very complex and varied as it would be for us to understand them if they were. That all this has little basis in the logical possibilities envisaged in certain theories of chances, and that in terms of such theories all simplicities are and remain infinitely unlikely, only shows how little such theories represent what a world could be and what it is given to us as being.
If the permanence of the temporal framework gets flesh and blood from the strait-laced essences of the persistent bodily presences that occupy it, its successiveness gains flesh and blood by the intrinsic backward and forward references of the states that specify those essences, and that constitute their causality. Kant here saw clearly, as Hume never saw, the inseparability of concrete temporal sequence from causality, the impossibility of there only being states which follow on one another, and which in no sense contain as past certain states out of which they have originated, or as future certain states into which they will or may develop. Hume, with his idle observer's attitude and his absorption in palpables, reduced phenomena to a mere sequence of phases, forgetting that they could only be a sequence by virtue of the preservation, qua past, of earlier phases in later ones, and by the vague pre-figurement, qua future, of later phases in earlier ones. This preservation and this prefigurement were of course given some recognition in the ‘determination’ to pass on from idea to idea which Hume allowed to belong to the observing mind, but he failed to see that a similar determination can as readily be attributed to objects as subjects, and is in fact given as belonging to the former. It is the nature of persistent objects, given us in our longer experience of them, which is given as shaping what they afterwards become, just as it is our own persistent nature and interests which is given as fixing the drift of our later subjective sequences. And while there may be loose, interstitial sequences which gain pasts and futures by proxy, as it were, not properly growing out of anything that went before them, nor developing into anything that comes after them, pasts and futures, like presents, are in the main the prerogatives of persistent realities and their strait-laced simplicities of essence. It is only as held together by persistent identities, that retain and anticipate their successive phases, that such a thing as succession is given to us as being possible to all.
We here come to a point of extreme importance whose ignoring has led to great confusion: it is that a thing's forward reference or pointing towards its future is quite different from its backward reference to its past, and that what we call causality has to do, primarily, with the forward reference here in question, and not with the backward reference. Even when we look back from effects to their causes we are still, we may claim, covertly looking at those effects from the angle of their causes, we are seeing them as their causes' futures. That causes have to do with futurity is of course plain from their practical bearing: causes are what we manipulate to make and shape the future. To look back on the causes of anything is to see what might have been done, or what could not have been done, to produce, modify or avoid that thing.
In pure time past and future do not differ significantly: the pastness of times upon times without end, and the similar futurity of such times, offer no welcome asymmetry that could give their voidness interest. Filled time, however, is, it appears, necessarily the time of one persistent thing or another. A permanent thing's past is not everything that comes before that thing in time, that enters into the past of anything whatsoever, it consists of the things and states that have grown into the present state of the thing in question, in which this lay, as it were, in germ. More narrowly, of course, it consists only of those parts of the wider past just mentioned which are parts of the thing's own history. A thing's future, in the same manner, consists, not of everything that will or may come after it, but only of such things as will or may grow out of it. More narrowly, of course, it consists only of such things as may grow out of its present state which will be parts of the thing's own history.
Looking at things thus, we are at once faced by an immense disparity between a thing's future, at any point in its history and the same thing's past, a disparity generally expressed in terms of ‘definiteness’ and ‘determinateness’. A thing's past, all that has led up to its present state, comes before us always as being wholly definite, as in fact furnishing the definite element in the thing's present state; this past is given as being entirely knowable, whether or not it happens to be known by us. And we look for traces of it in its present state through which, in conjunction with our general knowledge of the things, and of other things, the past in question could be reconstructed. Nicks, scratches, stains, dints, folds, imprints, scars, wounds, and perturbations are the sort of aftermath we expect a thing's past to leave, preserving to indefinite posterity encounters of the most casual kind. Our own memories and habits are given as among marks, stains and imprints of this sort. It seems likely, a priori, that there will always be some present trace of the most trivial past arrangement by which its precise form can be reconstructed. Into this strange truth we have a still stranger insight.
If, however, we consider a thing's future, all that will grow out of its present state both for it and for other things, the position differs by a whole heaven: this present state need include nothing that prefigures the innumerable chance encounters it will have with other things in the future. That I should now bear the scar of some chance wounding twenty years hence would be to make that wounding not a chance one: it would be mystical, predestined, like the instruments and incidents of Christ's passion. The future of a thing in fact comes before us as being in large measure hypothetical and disjunctive, and as involving probability rather than certainty or ascertainability. A thing's past and present situation is felt to have a future in germ within it, but that future is always more or less problematical: it will be A or B, it will almost certainly be A, but there remains a faint chance that something may interfere and make it B, it will be A if X happens, and B if Y happens, and so on. It is in fact in regard to futurity that disjunctiveness, hypothetical conditionality and probability, seem to have their original and appropriate place: they are notions which seem to be part of the essential idea of the future, and are thence exported to other contexts. Such disjunctiveness, hypothetical conditionality and probability are exported to the past in so far as we suppose ourselves back in the past situation facing a now past future: we can then say that an event might have turned out as either A or B, that though it did turn out as A, it could have turned out as B, that, if X had been present, it would have turned out as B, etc. The notion of causation is in fact inseparable from such conditionality, for in saying that X caused A, we are saying that if X happened A was going to happen, and that X did happen, and so brought A about.
What I have been saying will, I am sure, arouse many critical reactions. Many will see in it a dogmatic putting back of sophisticated, philosophical ideas into the structure of primitive experience, so that I idly read them off from the phenomena, instead of strenuously arguing for their presence. And I admit that I could have argued for my positions more elaborately, exploring alternatives and countering objections, were I not engaged in giving Gifford lectures on the wide subject of the human cave. What I do, however, reject is any view of philosophical argument as more than a strengthener of insight: we argue in order to see what things are, and what their being as they are renders neccessary or likely or impossible. And I should say that things like pastness and futurity, like the hypothetical, the disjunctive and the probable, are part and parcel even of unuttered, ‘pre-predicative’ experience. Even animals are adjusted to contrary possibilities, and betray such divided adjustment in their behaviour, where it has been studied by trained psychologists. And our perceptual experience is shot through and through with problematic features that admit of divergent interpretations or developments, and that wait upon circumstances for their full unfolding. What is sophisticated is not the admission of the problematic, hypothetical or disjunctive into the phenomenal world, but their wholesale, resolute extrusion from it, the belief in a world made of simple, definite positive matters of fact of which the problematic, the hypothetical and the disjunctive are merely the remote, misleading representations.
We may here note that the phenomenological openness and disjunctiveness of the future does not even have to fight against those rigorous logical laws on which many other phenomena ultimately come to grief. By the Law of Excluded Middle, it is claimed, what a thing is going to do or be necessarily comes before us as already pre-figured, however difficult it may be for us to find out what it is, for, plainly, it is already the case either that it will do or be B or that it will not do or be B. Here it would appear that pure logic has the power to impose on us an absolute determinism that neither the extant phenomena nor our knowledge of them, has succeeded in imposing. The clinch of this logic is, however, lightly evaded. We have only to distinguish between its not being the case that A will be B, and its being the case that it will not be B, to do the trick. The negation of the settled futurity of something need not, in short, be equated with the settled futurity of that thing's negation, but may be thought of as covering the two possibilities of the settled futurity of the thing's negation and of the unsettled state of the whole matter. If I deny A to be about to be B, I do not therefore affirm A to be about to be not-B or not about to be B, as I should have to affirm A not to have been B if I denied it to have been B. In the case of the future, there is the alternative of the unsettled which is not to be found in the case of the past, and this is precisely what we mean by the definiteness of the past. I am no more obliged to affirm A to be about to be not-B because I have denied it to be about to be B, than I am obliged to hold that, because someone did not say that A was B, he therefore must have said that A was not B. Formal principles are irrefragable, but one must know how to use them, and they neither prescribe nor forbid that we should differentiate the logical behaviour of the future from that of the past.
What we have said has not so far amounted even to a phenomenological endorsement of indeterminism, for we have only been discussing the futures of distinct things in the world. We have left open the possibility that, though the future of X alone may seem indefinite in respect of certain alternatives, and though the future of Y alone may seem similarly indefinite, X and Y together may be given as settling the matter between them. This is in fact the familiar case of the chance encounter, not covenanted in the nature of either of two things, which none the less wholly decides both their futures. It seems to some that every future is given as having some such intrinsic or some such extrinsic settlement: the nature of the thing alone determines now what it will be, or, if it has alternative futures, extrinsic factors must decide among them. A thing cannot, it is held, have a number of distinct possible futures, and then afterwards, by a sheer exercise of spontaneity, decide among them. Spontaneous causation, the kind of causation in which an unsettled disjunction gives way to a categorical decision, without the needed addition of a determining factor, is held to be an absurd, a self-contradictory notion.
We shall consider this question more definitely in a later lecture. Here we need only say that spontaneous causation is an idea which hovers before us in the actual appearances, whether or not it will survive deeper examination. The first idea of living as opposed to lifeless things is that they are, as the Greeks held, self-moving, capable of starting off a line of action or development without incitement or without adequate incitement. The very idea of inert, lifeless things seems to be that for them this kind of spontaneous self-direction is impossible. To claim that all the motions and changes of living things really have some adequate stimulus, whether internal or external, is, on this showing, to deny that the category of living, spontaneous agents really has members. This may well be the case, but here we may argue that the notion of spontaneous agency, the case of an essence fitted to bring definiteness out of indefiniteness without special determining circumstances, is not self-contradictory, and that it positively accords with the categorial nature of time. Such spontaneity will not, be it noted, be a negation but a sub-variety of causation: it will be of the essence of a certain sort of non-inert agent that it can elicit the categorical from the disjunctive, that it can in other words decide. Such spontaneity is an idea infinitely removed from chance, which is an encounter among things or substances which, though permitted, is not necessitated by the nature of any of them.
What we have said is, further, exposed to controversion by all those imaginative experiments, brought to full life on the cinema, in which temporal order is reversed, situations in which footprints slowly assume definiteness until feet walk upon them in reverse, in which ripples slowly begin to move to the centre of a pool until a stone emerges, and so on. These can be supplemented by the less easy fantasies in which men come into the world fully-grown and decrepit, with complete visions, whether rightly called anticipations or delusive memories, of what they will do or undergo, only to lose these visions as things happen one by one, and as they grow ‘younger’ and ‘younger’, until they end up their lives wholly infantile, and without recollection of their long history. We can imagine the situation of these men as knowing exactly what they will do before they do it, and so having no room for choice or deliberation, yet forgetting entirely what they have done once they have done it, and only able to reconstruct it painfully by considering their future actions. Such fantasies seem to show the possibility of a reversal of the content of phenomena, but they only work provided they are not completed, provided some of our old forward-looking outlook is retained, whether in the content of the fantasy or in our own view of it. If the foreknowledge in the reversed world were present in the form of delusive memories which reversed that world's reversal, the reversal would be phenomenologically empty, there would be nothing really to show for it. What I think these exercises refute is not the authority of our basic ideas of time, but the sort of formalism that can violate them, and the imagination to which it gives a licence. What we see when we examine the whole vision, is that, whether or not it remains free from formal contradiction, it still lays before us what cannot be, since it violates principles definitory of the time of any possible experience or existence. At a certain level of abstraction it may be possible, at a more concrete level it is impossible.
There are yet a few points concerning the phenomenology of the bodily world which will concern us in the next lecture. Then we shall have to pass on from phenomenology to dialectic, and to see whether the phenomena of the bodily world contine to hold water or to sustain themselves, when subjected to a peculiarly comprehensive and rigorous examination.