Pexels photo 3805644 Kojeve s Hegel Concept and Time HISTORY
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Kojeve’s Hegel: Concept and Time (HISTORY)

The goal of Hegel’s philosophy is to account for the fact of history. We can conclude from this that the Time that he identifies with the Concept is historical Time, the Time in which human history unfolds, or better still, the Time which is realised (not as the movement of the stars, for example, but) as Universal History. Thus, identifying Time and Concept amounts to understanding History as the history of human Discourse, which reveals Being. And we know that indeed, for Hegel, Real-Time, that is to say, universal history, is ultimately the history of philosophy.

In PhG, Hegel is very radical. Indeed, he says (at the end of the book’s penultimate paragraph) that Nature is Space, while Time is History. In other words: there is no natural, cosmic Time; There is Time only insofar as there is History, that is to say, human existence, that is to say, human speaking existence. In History, the man reveals, Being by his Speech is the “Concept existing empirically”, and Time is nothing other than this Concept. Without it, Man, Nature would be Space, and Space only. Therefore, man alone is in Time, and Time does not exist outside Man; Man is, therefore, Time, and Time is Man, that is to say, the “Concept which is there in the spatial empirical existence” of Nature. But, in his other writings, Hegel is less radical, where he admits the existence of a Cosmic Time. But in doing so, Hegel identifies Cosmic Time and Historical Time-Concept and Time. But it does not matter for the moment. If Hegel identifies the two Times, if he admits only one Time, we can apply the human, historical time, nonetheless.

Now, curiously enough, the decisive text on Time is found in the “Philosophy of Nature”. This text was translated and commented on by A. Koyré in an article that arose from his Course on Hegel’s Youth Writings: a decisive article, which is the source and the basis of the following.

The text in question clearly shows that the Time that Hegel has in mind is historical Time (and not biological or cosmic). Indeed, this time is distinguished by the authority of the Future. As for the Time considered by pre-Hegelian Philosophy, the movement went from the Past to the Future via the Present. In the time of which Hegel speaks, on the other hand, the action is engendered in the Future and goes towards the Present while passing by the Past: Future – Past -> Present (- * Future). And this is indeed the specific structure of a proper human Time, that is to say, historical.

Indeed, let us consider the phenomenological (even anthropological) projection of this metaphysical analysis of Time.

The movement generated by the Future – is the movement, which is born from Desire; a specifically human Desire, a creative Desire, a Desire which relates to an entity that does not exist in the actual natural World and which does not exist in any other way, hence not in the given but as potential. Only then can we say that the Future generates the movement: because the Future is precisely what is not (yet) and what has not (already) been.

Indeed, Desire is the presence of an absence: I am thirsty because water is absent in me. It is, therefore, the presence of a future in the Present: of the future act of drinking. The desire to drink means the desire for something (water) to act upon the Present. According to the Future, to act according to desire is to work according to what is not (yet). Therefore, the being who acts in this way is in Time, where the Future takes precedence. And conversely, the Future can only really take precedence if there is, in the real (spatial) World, a being capable of acting in this way. Now, we know that Desire can only relate to a non-existent entity on the condition that it relates to another Desire taken as Desire. In Chapter IV of the PHG, Hegel shows that the Desire that links to another Desire is necessarily the Desire for Recognition, which – by opposing the Master to the Slave, it generates History and moves it (as long as ‘it is not permanently deleted by Satisfaction). So: by being realised, the Time where the Future takes precedence generates History, which lasts as long as this Time lasts; and this Time only lasts as long as History lasts, that is to say as long as the human acts accomplished with a view to social recognition are carried out.

If Desire is the presence of an absence, it is not – taken as such – an empirical reality: it does not exist positively in the natural Present, say spatial. On the contrary, it is like a hiatus or a “hole” in Space: – a void, a nothingness. (And it is in this “hole” that the purely temporal Future is lodged within the spatial Present). Therefore, Desire’s desire relates to nothing, “to realize” It – it is to realise nothing. Thus, by associating only to the Future, we do not arrive at reality, and therefore we are not really in motion.

On the other hand, if one affirms or accepts the Present (or even spatial) real, one does not want anything, so we do not relate to the Future, we do not go beyond the Present, and consequently, we do not move. Thus, to be realized, Desire must relate to reality; but it cannot connect to it positively. It must, therefore, correlate to it negatively.

Desire is, therefore, necessarily the Desire to negate the real or present given. And the reality of Desire comes from the negation of the given existence. Now the real denied – it is the real which has ceased to be: the real past. The Future determines the desire only appears, in the Present, as a reality (that is to say as a satisfied Desire) on condition of having denied a real, that is to say, a satisfied Desire. The Past has been (negatively) formed according to the Future that determines the real present’s quality. And it is only the Present thus determined by the Future and the Past, which is a human or historical Present.

The movement of History, then, is born from the Future and passes through the Past to be realised in the Present or as a temporal Present. Therefore, the Time that Hegel has in mind is human or historical Time: the Time of conscious and voluntary Action that realises in the Present a Project for the Future when the Project is formed from past knowledge.

Let us take as an example a “historical moment”, the famous anecdote of “Crossing the Rubicon”. What is in the Present itself, that is>>> What presents itself? A man is walking at night near a small river. In other words, something incredibly bland and nothing of “historical” consequence. Even if the man in question were Caesar, the event would have nothing to do with history if Caesar walked around only because of some insomnia. But, on the other hand, the moment is historic because the night-loving walker thinks of a coup, a civil war, Rome’s conquest, and world domination. And let us note it well: because he has the project to do it; because all this is still in the Future. The event in question would therefore not be • historical » ‘there was not a real-presence (Gegenwart) of the Future in the Real World (first of all in Caesar’s mind). Therefore, the Present is “historical” only because there is in it a relation to the Future, or more precisely because it is a function of the Future (César walking around because he thinks about the Future). And it is in this sense, we can speak of the importance, even primacy, of the Future in historical time.

But this does not end. Let us suppose that the walker is a Roman adolescent who • dreams • of world domination, or a • megalomaniac • in the clinical sense of the word who hatches a • project otherwise identical to that of Caesar. As a result, the walk ceases to be a “historical event”. It is only so because it is Caesar who thinks while walking about his project (or makes up his mind, that is to say, transforms a “hypothesis” with no precise relation to Real-Time * into a “project of concrete’ future’). Why? Because Caesar has the possibility (but not the certainty, because then there would be no future properly speaking, nor any substantial project) of carrying out his “plans.” Now, this possibility is his whole past and his past alone, which assures him of it. 

According to the project, the past,>>> that is to say, all the actions of struggle and work carried out in the present>>> that is to say, of the Future. This past distinguishes the “project” from a simple dream or a “utopia”. Consequently, there is a “historical moment” only there, where the Present is organised according to the Future, on condition that the Future enters the present not in an immediate way (unmittelbar; a case of utopia), could be mediatised (vermittelt) by the past, that is to say by an action already accomplished, which makes the imagined act a real plausibility, a calling of temptation.

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