μόγις ἂν ὁ σοφώτατος ἀποκρίναιτο2 "as to what time may be, then, to this question hardly the wisest would be able to find an answer." Further evidence for the difficulty of apprehending and interpreting time is superfluous. Every attempt we ourselves make to elucidate what we mean by time in our natural understanding of it, every attempt to lay out unveiled and in its purity what is to be understood by time, convinces us of this. At first we are without any orientation at all. We do not know where to look, where to seek and find the like of time. But there is a way that begins to help us out of this perplexity. The common understanding of time very early reached conceptual expression in philosophy. Accordingly, in the explicit concepts of time, we have at our disposal a portrayal of the time phenomenon. This phenomenon need no longer give us the slip completely if we hold on to a conceptual characterization of it. However, even if time becomes more manageable when we comprehend these time concepts, we should not be led by this gain to surrender all methodical foresight and criticism, For, precisely if the time phenomenon is so hard to grasp, it remains doubtful whether the interpretation of time that was laid down in the traditional time concept is thoroughly in keeping with the phenomenon of time. And even if it were, still requiring discussion would be the question whether this interpretation of time, although suitable, reaches the phenomenon in its original constitution or whether the common and genuine time concept only expresses a configuring of time that is indeed peculiar to it but does not lay hold of it in its originality.
Only if we impose these reservations on ourselves is there any surety that we can draw something of use for the understanding of the time phenomenon from a critical discussion of the traditional time concept. Now to understand the fundamental-ontological considerations it is indispensable that the time phenomenon should be brought to view in its original structure. Hence it would be altogether pointless if we simply took note of one or more definitions of time in order simply to take the opportunity to offer our own definition. What we need first of all is a many-sided orientation toward the time phenomenon, following the clue of the traditional time concepts. After that it becomes pertinent to inquire in what way the interpretations of time from which these concepts have sprung themselves took sight of the time phenomenon, how far they took into view the original time phenomenon, and how we can achieve the return passage from this time phenomenon first given to the original time.
For the sake of a synoptic view we shall divide §19 into (a) historical
2. Simplicius, In Aristotelis physicorum libros quattuor priores commentaria, ed. Hermann Diels (Berlin: [G. Reimer], 1882), p. 695, line 17 f.