Franco Volpi - Heidegger and Aristotle

Translated by Pete Ferreira


We don't find what time is — Heidegger asserts — even if we mark each point in the path of the pointer with a number and in the pointer's passing we find there the numbering of its movement. Yet — Heidegger continues — when we look at our watch, on whose face the path of the second hand is marked by numbers, and we follow the movement of the second hand, we say that the second hand indicates the time. We say we read the time from the movement of the hand on the clock and the numbers underneath. We say that the clock measures time and that it indicates it.

But beyond the everyday use we make of it, not even the measurement of time using clocks actually says what time itself is, it doesn't tell us where it is, what is its ontological status. Of course, you say, this location is not on the clock, although the common everyday attitude is that it is from the clock that we know the time, as in the past — before there were clocks — it was obtained by measuring the movement of the Sun. But where is time then? Where's its 'place', if it appears and is always experienced where we follow the movement of a body, without it ever being where the body itself is in motion?

If in saying that time is the number of movement Aristotle takes a basic truth of the common experience of time, the brilliance of his definition for Heidegger lies in the fact that it also defines the horizon within which we can derive, from the numbering of movement, an indication of a temporal character; the Aristotelian definition of time indicates what is the foreknowledge within which we have to consider the movement (of the Sun or of the clock hands), if we want to extract the indication of time. This horizon we seek is defined by the determinations of the before and the after: we experience time when we follow a movement and we number it in relationship to the before and after.

However, even Heidegger objects, before and after are already time determinations. To say then that time is the number of movement according to before and after, amounts to saying that time is time. And the Aristotelian definition seems to be undermined by a petitio principii, it seems to be a tautology.

A page from Franco Volpi's Heidegger and Aristotle