Technology and Time

Michael Hanby

The question of time is a notoriously difficult one. “If no one asks me, I know,” St. Augustine famously said. “If I want to explain it to a questioner, I do not know.” The difficulty arises not simply from the paradoxical nature of time itself, in which perceptions, things, and events pass from non-existence to non-existence through a present that seems to vanish as soon as one lays hold of it, but also from the fact that seemingly every other question, every other dimension of created existence, is bound up (and bound together) with this one, from the movements and measurements of the heavens, to the cycle of bodily growth and decay, to the “everydayness” of being-in-the world and our co-belonging with other things, to the structure of experience itself. Augustine and Aristotle, who cast a shadow over the entire Western tradition of reflection on time (including Husserl and Heidegger), are often taken to represent opposite poles in approaching this question, the former representing the “psychological” understanding with his description of time as some sort of distentio animi, the latter representing a “cosmological” understanding with his definition of time as “a number of change in respect of before and after.”

It would be an enormous task to elaborate fully either the Augustinian or the Aristotelian conception of time, much less to adjudicate the differences between them or the tradition of reflection that they jointly inspire. Nevertheless, it may be worthwhile to offer a few synthetic remarks about them and about what they have in common in order to set into relief the real concern of this essay:  the lived experience of time within an order or a form of life that is fundamentally technological, that is, an order that conceives of being in technological terms insofar as it can be said any longer to conceive of being at all.


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