The Passing Present
Temporal reality is separated into the modes of being in the past, present and future. In order to construct identity from these three categories of experience, there must be continuity between them, allowing the ability to connect one experience to the next. It is through memories, or recognition (the ability to recollect past experiences), that an individual can attain what the Greeks call, “sophrosine– know they self.” For an individual to have sophrosine in the present, they must also maintain a sense of sophrosine in the past. With each present moment, comes a passing present, forming a systematic relationship between our being, and our past. It is through the looking glass of this relationship, that I will explore, connect, and contrast, primarily the theories of George Herbert Mead and Jean-Paul Sartre. There varying opinions while both holding the present as the locus of reality, respectively suggest how the past enters the present mode of being, and thus how the present enters the past mode of being. It is the mutual intention of understanding the present through the past, in order to ultimately understand the future through the passing present; and for Mead, to understand and interpret the past, by the continual emergence of novelty in the future.
Jean-Paul Sartre is a French Existentialist, writer, and dramaturge. He was born in 1905, in Paris. The early death of his father marked his childhood- resulting in the close relationship with his grandfather. He finished high school at the LycÈe Henri IV in Paris, and after two years of preparation, he was accepted to the prestigious Ecole Normale SupÈrieure. While in admittance, from 1924 and 1929, he met such notables as Raymond Aron, Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. To pass the ‘AgrÈgation’ on his second attempt, he adapted the content and style of his writing to the traditional requirements of his examiners. This provided access to the necessary means for his teaching career. He began teaching philosophy in a lycÈe in Le Havre, before moving to earn a grant allowing him to study at the French Institute in Berlin. It was there that he discovered phenomenology in 1933 and wrote The Transcendence of the Ego.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Biography:
Sartre was a professor of philosophy when joined the French Army at the outbreak of World War II. Captured by the Germans, he was released, after nearly a year, in 1941. He immediately joined the French resistance as a journalist. He joined the Communist Party because of the need to take active part in the fight for the proletarian. During the war, he wrote his existentialist magnum opus Being and Nothingness (my primary focus), published in 1943, while also teaching the work of Martin Heidegger in war camp. He remained teaching in a lycÈe until the end of the war, and then had his study of Baudelaire published in 1947. Throughout the thirties and forties, Sartre also contributed many pieces of literature such as the novel Nausea and plays like Intimacy, The Flies, and more. In 1960, after three years working on it, Sartre published the Critique of Dialectical Reason. In the Fifties and Sixties, Sartre traveled to the USSR, Cuba, and was involved in turn in promoting Marxist ideas, condemning the USSR’s invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and speaking up against France’s policies in Algeria. He was a high profile figure in the Peace Movement. In 1964, he turned down the Nobel Prize for literature. He was actively involved in the May 1968 uprising. His study of Flaubert, L’Idiot de la Famille, was published in 1971. In 1977, he claimed no longer to be a Marxist, but his political activity continued until his death in 1980. Sartre’s personal and professional life was greatly enriched by his long-term collaboration with Simone de Beauvoir.
For-itself (‘pour-soi’), in-itself (‘en-soi’).
For Sartre, there are two types of being which he identifies using Hegel’s terminology as, the For-itself, and the in-itself. This division of the self and consciousness, combined with his rejection of the self as self consciousness, create the foundation for his greatest work, Being and Nothingness. Being in- itself, is free, it does not need to be what it is and can change into what it desires. It is self contained and fully realized being of object. Being for- itself, is consciousness, a personal, incomplete, strive to define ourselves. It is man’s being For-itself, that causes man to strive for identity over time. In the second chapter of Being and Nothingness, Sartre explains his theory of temporality, the phenomenology of the three temporal dimensions; the past, the present, and the future. To introduce the chapter, Sartre explains, “the three so-called ‘elements’ of time… should not be considered as a collection of ‘givens’ for us to sum up- for example as an infinite number of ‘nows’ in which some are not yet and others are no longer- but rather as the structure moments of an original synthesis.” Time cannot be conceived by stringing together a number of given moments, independent of other moments. For time to have continuity, or an “original synthesis,” each moment must reflect the moment which it follows. If time were simply a number of given moments, the past would no longer be, and the future would not yet occur, thus creating a paradox.
To understand this “original synthesis,” we must start from its beginning, which is in the past. In doing this, Sartre posits the question, “what is the being of a past being?” This question is seeking to discover the ‘being’ of a past ‘being’, in the present. For Sartre, the past is longer, and for this he attributes ‘being’ to only be considered as a quality of the present. Describing the past, and the recognition in the present Sartre claims, “Since the past is no more, since it has melted away into nothingness, if the memory continues to exist, it must be by virtue of a present modification of our being.” With this Sartre is claiming that a memory of the past in the present, or the recognition of a memory in the present, can only be attributed to present, because it is the temporal element in which the thought is recollected. Although the memory was derived from the past, because it was derived in the present Sartre claims it is only a condition of the present. For this reason, he claims that past melts away into nothingness, as he states it independently non-existent in the present.
Although the memory is revisited, Sartre holds that, “If the memory is reborn, it is in the present as the result of a present process, as a rupture in the protoplasmic equilibrium in the cellular group under consideration.” He maintains a strong claim that focuses not on the memories themselves, but on the physiological processes that enable a memory to occur. Further reinforcing the function of the body as claim to a seizing past, “…everything is present: the body, the present perception, and the past as a present impression in the body- all is actuality; for the impression doest not have a virtual existence qua memory; it is all together an actual impression.” This claim suggests that memories have no existence on their own- rather they have been imprinted upon the mind to be presently read, rather than recalled from the past. Sartre makes reference to Henri Bergon’s philosophy which makes use of this idea: “on going into the past an event does not cease to be; it merely ceases to act and remains ‘in its place’ at its date for eternity.” This idea varies from the prior, in that the past does not dissolve into nothingness, rather it remains it the time that it occurred for all eternity; as to honor it in so far as reorganizing and interpenetrating as determined by the present. It grants ‘being’ to the past, whereas before ‘being’ for Sartre, was a quality only associated with the present. Although he grants it such ‘being’, he affirms that, “But for all that we have provided any reason for this organization and this interpenetration; we have not explained how the past cant “be reborn” to haunt us, in short to exist for us.” Acknowledging that the past happened, and can be reorganized over time, is not the same thing as making it exist in the present. Because of this distinction Sartre decides that, “the past must be for us as not-being.”
Because the past exists as not-being, in juxtaposition with the law of being of the intra-mundane instant, which states, being is; being as Sartre put it, “exhausts it self in being;” has nothing to do with what is not, or what is no longer. For this reason, Sartre claims that past can exist in its own way, but the bridges are cut, there is no connection. He even goes to the length of saying that being does not forget the past, because forgetting the past would still posit a connection, rather, “the past has slipped away from it like a dream.” Because it has slipped away, (quite conveniently I must say), it erases the connection from the ‘being’ in the present, to the not ‘being’ in the past. After eliminating any connection with the past, Sartre explains that Descartes’ and Bergson’s concept can be dismissed; because after isolating the past from the present, attempting to either annihilate the past in respect to Descartes, and preserve and honor it for Bergson, their attempt to reconnect the present with the past fails, as their theories would have the present completely reject the past. Where Sartre feels he succeeds in this respect, is that my imprinting the past memories, as they were his memories, his past- upon his ‘being,’ he can reunite them as they are part of the functional being that he is. To elaborate on what terms the temporal phenomena in its totality, “The past is noting; neither is it the present; but at its very source it is bound to a certain present and to a certain future, to both of which it belongs. That ‘myness’… is not a subjective nuance which comes to shatter the memory; it is an ontological relation which unites the past to the present.” This is saying that because the past and the present are only that in respects to his ‘being’, neither of them have any meaning without his ‘being,’ hence the “myness” that brings together the melted away nothingness, and his present “being”. He continues to affirm that his past never appears isolated in “pastness;” for it would be absurd to imagine that I can exist completely isolated from his ‘being’. He maintains that the connection is made because it is the past, of this present.
As Sartre recognizes memories simply as a function of a ‘being’s’ psychological processes, he looks for a recollecting syntheses that will allow remembering to remain possible. Regarding the existence of such a synthesis, Sartre believes, “it is impossible to conceive if it is not a mode of original being.” He claims without this mode of original being, the past would abandoned in its superb isolation. Once again, reinforcing that the synthessis by which the present and past meet, lies in the present of ‘being’, and that ability has always lied in that ‘being’. He transitions into permanence, and its dependancy on the past, and not to justify time, rather to presuppose it to reveal itself and change along with it. Change cannot be conceived with the concept of permanence, and past; without these concepts we resort to a string of ‘nows’ with no connection to other ‘nows,’ thus breaking continuity. To paint this picture Sartre writes, “If nothing comes to turn the flow of the ‘nows’ backward and so constitute the temporal series and permanent characteristics within this series, then permanence is nothing but a certain instantaneous content without even the density of each individual ‘now.’” This instantaneous content, lacking the individual now, is similar to an omniscient, all seeing, all experiencing, god like channel which occurs in one moment. Within this channel nothing can be separated, no individual ‘nows,’ or ‘beings;’ although Sartre is not alluding to this, it helps demonstrate why there is a need to turn the flow of ‘nows’ backward, to separate one moment from all moments.
This separation of all passing ‘nows,’ for Sartre, “occurs as the past of something or of somebody;” hence once has a past. He claims, “There is not first a universal past which would later be particularized in concrete pasts. On the contrary, it is particular pasts which we discover first.” As stated prior, for Sartre, past belongs to my ‘being,’ it is my past. Because of this, one ‘being,’ does not share a past with another ‘being.’ As past is imprinted on one’s ‘being;’ as past is connected by the ‘myness’ of that being; for Sartre it would be impossible to share the connection in the present with other ‘being’s’ pasts. He continues to say, “On the contrary, it is particular pasts which we discover first. The true problem- will be to find out by what process these individual pasts can be united so as to form the past.” Since particular pasts belong to particular ‘beings,’ there must be a synthesis that constitutes the past, without this synthesis, would be to suggest there are unlimited realms, and within each one, one ‘being’ is the center and only ‘being.’ This synthesis for Sartre however, is not implying a ‘passage’ from instant to next, rather an irreverisble relation between the contents of two instants of physical time. As he states it, “The present molecular state is at each instant the strict result of the prior molecular state, which for the scientist certainly does not mean that there is a passage from one instant to the next within the permanence of the past.” This relationship can be understood as being, and no longer being. In saying that a present‘being’ ‘was,’ for Sartre is to support that the present being is the foundation of its own past; and it is the present’s character a foundation which the ‘was’ manifests. If not for the present being, there would be no manifestation of the ‘was’ of that being. Sarte elaborates in saying, “‘was’ means that the present being has to be in its being the foundation of its past while being itself this past.” The manifestation of the past depends on the ‘being’ in the present, while at the same time the being in the present is infact his past. To support this Sartre claims, “I am my past and if I were not, my past would not exist any longer either for me or for anybody. It would no longer have any relation with the present.” This supports that the past does not exist independent of a present being, and can only be connected in the present with a being as a locust for which the past is derived. Sarte focuses on the term ‘was,’ as it represents the ontlogical leap between the present and the past. It becomes the synthesis for two temporal modes. Was reflects both the past and the present; therefore it cannot be separated from the past or the present, allowing it to be the synthesis that brings them together. I was something, in the past, but since it is only in the present that I was something, it takes place in both temporal modes.
For Sartre the in-itself exists in the past, as an unchanging totality of what a being is. Being is found in the For-itself , but is not possible without the synthesis to the totality of the past found in the in-itself. A being, For-itself, acts as a witness upon birth of both its being, and not being. To be, is to be conscious of that which you are not. Like the For itself’s dependance on the in itself, without the for itself, a being is unable to be; the For- itself recognizes that this being is my being, my blood, my consciousness. Sartre credits Hegel in saying, “Wesen ist was gewesen ist. My essence is in the past; the past is the law of its being.” A persons essence, is essentially who they are, or the being that they are conscious of being. For Sartre, the present being cannot exist without the past, and the past being cannot exist without being in the present. The For itself does not exist, being For itself, because it only is For itself in the present. Once passed, or once it is not, for Sartre, “it is sustained by the in itself, and as a result it appears to us in its pure contingency.” For this reason, our past cannot be defined, or limited to this or that, rather our past appears as a totality of its series as the pure fact for which we must account qua fact, as the the “gratious. Once the For itself is not, once it passes, it becomes the in itself, and no longer exists as a witness to being or non being. Rather is a constant indication that the For-itself being in the present, is both reflecting in the in-itself past, while also being and not being a reflection of the in-itself past. It is only in the passing from the For-itself to the in-itself that a being can flee from aguish. As Sartre proclaims to transition, “Thus as we might have forseen, the study of the Past refers us to that of the Present.”
In the present For-itself, being is the attempt to divide what I am, what I am no longer, and what I could be. This process is the attempt to negate from the present all that is not. In doing this as Husserl explains, “an ideal limit is reached- that when pushed to infinity- is nothingness.” Thus the present, is not. That exisiting in the present is distinguished from all other existence, “by the character of preseance,” as appears in Sartre’s text. Present is opposed to absent, as well as the past. To be present- a being must be in the presence of something, or being. The past is not the present because it is no longer present to being. The past is only present in reflection by the reflecting, or being.; but presence involves a physicality. Sartre proclaims, “Present to- indicates existence outside oneself near to-.“ This forms a relation between being- and being. This synthesis is given unity only in if I am united to the pen, in that I am there in the being of the pen as not being the pen. Being is the ability to negate non being within the synthesis between other beings. For Sartre, “The For-itself is defined as presence to being.” For-itself is presence to all of being in-itself. With the presence of the For-itself, the in-itself could not exist as a totality. It is from the in-itself that the For-itself is derived, however it is only through the For-itself that in itself can be recognized and manifested. In Sartre’s words, “Even though the facticity of its existence causes it to be there rather than elsewhere, being there is not the same as being present.” Present being is not being, it, is not. Being there, as the For-itself is, simply determines the perspective by which presence in the totality of the in-itself is realized. This meaning, the in-itself must be paired with the For-itself, or it would be lost. Without the For-itself being, without consciousness, there can be no awareness to the in-itself, to the past. It is the For-itself that is able to recollect the totality of its past. It is this recollection of the For-itself for Sartre, “that causes beings to be for one and the same presence.” Without this unity of a single presence, a skyzophrenic like being would be in place, as a being had conflicting in-itself’s for the For-itself being in the present.
Presence in its very nature when united the blood of the For itself, is a sacrifice of the self for Sartre. Because of this, prior to the sacrifice of the For itself it would have been impossible to say that beings existed together or separated. As Sartre explained, “the For itself is the being by which the present enter into the world; the beings of the world are co-present, in fact, just in so far as one and the same For-itself is at the same present to all of them.” The in-itself can only exist in the present in so far as their co-presence in so far as a For-itself is present to them. It exists solely as the synthesis by which being For-itsel, and being in-itself come together. Sartre discusses that this co-existence of two existents, cannot simply be conceieved as a realtion of exteriority, for if it was, it would require a third term to establish this synthesis. If this process existed exterior to being, it would require something- a third term, to bring the For-itself and the in-itself together. This would be to suggest that something outside of the For-itself is both awate, and responsible for our existence, or being. To dampen this suggestion, Sartre claims, “This third term exists in the case of the co-existence of things in the midst of the world; it is the For-itself which establishes this co-existence by making itself co-present to all.” Therefore, since it is the For-itself by which consciousness arrives, it is the For-itself that synthesizes both itself, the For-itself, and the in-itself. Sartre continues, “But in the case of the presence of the For-itself to being in-itself, there cannot be a third term. No witness- not even God- could establish that presence; even the For-itself can know only if the presence already is.” His allusion to God- reinforces that the in-itself cannot be derived without the For-itself. For even if there is a creator, it is only consciousness in the For-itself that can bare witness to its own present being. This is why presence cannot be in the mode of the in-itself.
Because the For-itself is witness to being, it and only it can adhere or connect with a being as closely as possible without identification of itself in other being. Earlier it was stated, I am what I am not, it is this negation of itself as not being that being. To further demonstrate present For-itselg being, Sartre claims, “Due to this fact it is outside that being, upon being and within being as not being that being.” It is not internal relation that brings presence to being, rather an internal negation of external being by the For-itself. This is why Sartre then defines presence to a beings as, “an implication that one is bound to that being by and internal bond; otherwise no connection between present and being would be possible.” If For-itself being in the present was strictly an external negation, no connection would be made. Without the negation of being which is not my being, the internal bond known as consciousness for Sartre, “would dissolve into pure and simpled identification.” For-itself being for an individual would then be indistuingishable from For-itself present being of all beings, thus chaos, or nothingness. The For-itself is now responsible for synthesizing the two modes of being into co-presence, as well as negating all being that which is not. Sartre describes this as, “the negation rests not on a difference in mode of being which would distinguish the For-itself from being but on a difference of being. This can be expressed briefly by saying that the present is not.” This demonstrates both functions of the For-itself; being that unites mode of being, and being that negates being. The present is not, because its being is only recognized through the negation of that which it is not.
To better pain this picture, Sartre illudes to an example of a clock;“concerning the For-itself as such we should never say, ‘it is’ in the sense that we say for exmaple, ‘it is nine o’clock;…” rather, “the For-itself can be present to a hand pointed at nine o’clock.” This is because the For-itself has existence through an appearance paired with a witness. The For-itself is an observer of being, it is not being, because its being is always at a distance. Sartre elaborates, “its being is there in reflecting, if you consider appearance, which is appearance or reflection only for the reflecting; it is there in the reflection if you consider the reflecting, which is no longer in itself any thing more than a pure function of reflecting this reflection.” Because the For-itself finds being in the negation of being, its consciousness is based soley on observation of other being. In itself, it is nothing, it is not, but through the fucntion of reflecting reflection, negation occurs and the For-itself forms its being in itself. More precisely, as Sartre wrote, “It is consciousness of – as the internal negation of -.” Thus, the For-itself’s relation with the being in itself is negation. Because the present is this negation of being, for Sartre, “The present is a perpetual flight in the face of being.” For this reason, the present, is not. The present then, is being to which the present is presence. The present is no instantaneous reduceable moment, if it were, would be to claim the present, is, but the present, is not, and only in that its not, does it come to be. Sartre however, does not limit the present to the non-being of the For-itself, rather “as For-itself it has its being outside of it, before and behind.” Behind it, the For-itself has the past, and before it, the future.
Thus we conclude with the arrival of Sartre’s facticity, the in-itself, past experience which cannot be changed or altered, as it lies irrevocably in the past. For example, as stated by the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, “The “givens” of our situation such as our language, our environment, our previous choices and our very selves in their function as in-itself constitute our facticity.” Trasncendence on the other hand, is the For-itself, that which lies before a being, the future that exisits as possibility of For-itself experience in the present. Authentic identity, or not being in “bad faith,” is then found in the balance of these two temporal modes of being, in the present. To demonstrate an example of bad faith, Sartre cites a cafe waiter, whose movements and conversation are a little too “waiter-esque”. His voice oozes with an eagerness to please; he carries food rigidly and ostentatiously. His exaggerated behaviour illustrates that he is play acting as a waiter, as an object in the world: an automaton whose essence is to be a waiter. But that he is obviously acting belies that he is aware that he is not (merely) a waiter, but is rather consciously deceiving himself. This is an example of bad faith, because the cafe waiter is denying his tracendance, by living in his facticity. He is allowing the past to determine not only who he is, but also who he is capable of being. He then is assuming a role, as an indiivual playing a café waiter, because he is not even acting as himself, the actualy café waiter, instead taking on the role of a character that can only be a café waiter. To not be in bad faith, this waiter must not deny his tracendance, and realize that he can be something else in the futre, and is not limited to being a café waiter. In doing this he would no longer be “playing” the role of a café waiter, as it was only something he did, his facticity, and not his identity.
George Herbet Mead Biography:
George Herbert Mead is a Pragmatist, born in South Hadley, Massachusetts, on February 27, 1863, and passed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1931. His father Hiram mead was a Congregationalist minister, and pastor, as well as a professor at the Oberlin Theological Seminary. Mead entered Oberlin College in 1879, at the age 16, and graduated in 1883 with his BA. As a student, he was a lover of literature, poetry, and history, while strong opposing the theory of supernaturalism. Mead was motivated by such authors as Wordsworth, Shelley, Carlyle, Shakespeare, Keats, and Milton, and in history, the work of Macauley, Buckle, and Motley. After graduation Mead became a grade school teacher, but was dismissed after only four months for dismissing students from class that were disruptive and disinterested. He earned his MA degree in philosophy at Harvard in 1987-1988, while also studying psychology, Greek, Latin, German, and French. Josiah Royce was one of Mead’s professors, and is said to have influenced him most with his Romanticism and idealism. Although Mead lived in William James’ house, as a tutor to his children, it is ironic that he is one of the major players in the American Pragmatist movement, but never studied under James.
After moving to Leipzig, Germany, mead pursued a Ph.D. degree in philosophy and physiological psychology. He became very interested in Darwinism and studied Wilheim Wundt and G. Stanley Hall, two of the major founders of experiemental psychology. In the spring of 1981 Mead’s Ph.D. degree was interrupted by the offer of an instructorship in philosophy and psychology at the University of Michigan. He replaced James Hayden Tufts, and never resumed his Ph.D. studies. While at Michigan mead came in contact with John Dewey, Charles Horton Cooley, and Alfred Lloyd. Dewey and mead became close friends, finding much common ground between their interests in philosophy and psychology. In 1892 Tufts received an administrative appointment at the newly- created University of Chicago, where he chaired Dewey, on the terms that he could bring Mead along with him. With this string of events, the University of Chicago became the new center of American pragmatism, which had originated at Harvard with Peirce and James. Mead spent most of his life in Chicago, associate professors from 1907 till his death in 1931. His social psychology, his theory of action, and philosophy of nature were very important contributions to his empiricism. He published little of the results of his work, but his students and colleagues have published four important volumes from his manuscripts and student notes. These included, The Philosophy of the Present, Mind-Self- and Society, Movements of Thought in the 19th Century, and the Philosophy of the Act.
Regarding his colleague and friend, Dewey proclaimed, “For him Philosophy was less acquired from without, a more genuine development from within, than in the case of any thinker I have known. I dislike to think what my own thinking might have been were it not for the seminal ideas which I derived from him. For his ideas were always genuinely original; they started one thinking in directions where it had never occurred to one that it was worth while even to look.” Those close to Mead maintained a strong rapport, however those outside of the school though him uncommunicative and forbidding. He always had a ban of devoted followers, while remaining a self-contained mystery to many. His class room style is famous among many generations of students at the University of Chicago. Mead’s reputation in the classroom contributed to his reputation as a remote, unapproachable school. According to a former student, his classes were usually large, and he would not appear until everyone had been seated for some minutes, whereupon he would move swiftly to the front of the room, sit down, take up a piece of chalk- fix his eyes on a corner of the ceiling, and being talking without any sign of awareness that there was anyone else present. According to one student, “Professor Mead conversed with God and allowed the students to listen in.” He would ponder aloud uninterrupted for the duration of the hour; then just before time expired, while continuing his lecture, he walked to the back to the room, stopped talking precisely at the end of the hour, darted out the door, shutting it behind him, then road his bicycle home.
In reflection of his ideas, Mead was involved in the community- in educational, civic, and philanthropic activities in and around Chicago. He was involved with many associations, such as the National Charities and Corrections Conference; he was the vice-president of the Immigrants’ Protective League of Chicago; her served on a committee of the City Club of Chicago to investigate the needs of the Chicago public school system and was for several years president of the club, in World War I, he was named director of war courses in the Student Army Training Corps for Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado; he spoke frequently before civic groups, women’s clubs, and labor organizations. To quote Rucker, “He was thus a paradoxical combination of an almost ivory-tower philosopher and an active man of affairs.” He is a man that derived ideas from his surrounding Chicago community. During the twentieth century the Sociology Department was often referred to as an outpost for George Herbert Mead. As stated in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Through his teaching, writing, and posthumous publications, Mead has exercised a significant influence in 20th century social theory, among both philosophers and social scientists. In particular, Mead’s theory of the emergence of mind and self out of the social process of significant communication has become the foundation of the symbolic interactionist school of sociology and social psychology.” More importantly in respects to the purpose of this paper, Mead’s thought includes significant contributions to the philosophy of nature, the philosophy of science, the philosophy of history, and process philosophy.
Mead’s Philosophy of the Present:
Mead’s Philosophy of the Present supposes a contrasting theory of time. Unlike Sartre who believes in a Minkowski, linear space-time system, Mead believes in a far more advanced and progressive circular universe. While Sartre claims, “that the bridges are cut,” leaving the past back “there,” Mead holds that the past is both irrevocable, and revocable, meaning it is both settled, and unsettled. As Maurice Natonson explains it, “That a past has occurred is an irrevocable fact; what a past was and signified, both its content and its meaning, is revocable.” The past is unsettled in the sense of the emergent, which is the arising novel conditions of the present, causing the past to be revisited, in the present, thus creating a new past in form of the old. For Mead, “It is idle, at least for the purposes of experience, to have recourse to a “real” past within which we are making constant discoveries; for that past must be set over against a present within which the emergent appears, and the past, which must then be looked at from the standpoint of the emergent, becomes a different past.” This “real” past that Mead alludes to, is the concept of a scroll, or doctrine that acts as an absolute past by which we confirm or deny our individual recollection of the past. This remains idle in that, things, experiences, happened, at this time, on this date, and in this way. Where Mead greatly disagrees with Sartre; he believes that emergence, not only revisits the past but rewrites it upon the readjustments made to novelty in the present. Sartre maintains that past, the in-itself, is unchanged, and only in meaning can it be altered. Mead however, claims that with every emergent in the present, time circles back once over, replacing the old past, with one in accordance to adjustments made to the novelty of the present. Using an example of the research scientist to paint this picture Mead proclaims, “It is that there is and always will be a necessary relation of the past and the present but that the present in which the emergent appears accepts that which is novel as an essential part of the universe, and follows from the past which has replaced the former past.” After the emergent takes place, it circles back to retrace the in-itself, or former past, and imprint upon it the novel conditions of the passing present. It is this idea that the past is never settled, and is being rewritten at every moment that brings great discredit to Sartre’s facticity. For Sartre, facticity is the permanent, unchanging in-itself, the past temporal mode of being; In contrast with transcendence, the For-itself future temporal mode of being. He separates existence into the past, and the future; however it is the novelty of emergence, in the present/future, that brings ever changing character and fact to the past. Once again it is the concept of Sartre’s linear model of time, in juxtaposition with Mead’s circular and overlapping concept of time. The very concept of facticity is faulty in that if our history or past is always being rewritten, it cannot be “othered” into that which is no more.
In discussing this overlapping device of time, Mead writes, “Yet we look forward with vivid interest to the reconstruction, in the world that will be, of the world that has been, for we realize that the world that will be cannot differ from the world that is without rewriting the past to which we now look back.” This speaks to the ever changing nature of the world, and its past, due to the revealing nature of the emergent. If a discovery is made by a research scientist for example, and CO2 gasses are not harmful to the environment, then the emergent, that which has been discovered, will cause a new world to be formed, thus retracing the past world where CO2 gasses were harmful and promoting global warming. It is in this sense the past is rewritten, however the irrevocability of the past, or its settled nature, is never lost. For Mead, “That which has happened is gone beyond recall and, whatever it was, its slipping into the past seems to take it beyond the influence of emergent events in our own conduct or in nature. It is the “what it was” that changes, and this seemingly empty title of irrevocability attaches to it whatever it may come to be. The importance of its being irrevocable attaches to the “what it was,” and the “what it was” is what is not irrevocable.” The original whatever it was, refers to what it was, or the way it was, when first experienced, in the irrevocable past, and that is what is beyond recall. It is in the sense of “what is was,” that changes as interpreted in conjunction with the emergent in the present situation. “What it was,” can be better understood as what it will come to be upon the conditioning reconstruction of the emergent. The revocable “what it was” of being, is where facticity is found. Thus if facticity is more clearly understood as what it will come to be, it completely opposes Sartre’s attempt to put facticity and transcendence as independent modes of being on two sides of a line. Facticity is transcendence, in that the what it was, will always be continually reconstructed by the emergent, the arising novel characteristics of the present. This is why Sartre’s construct of a linear model of time is insufficient to explain even his concepts of the past and future as facticity and transcendence.
This reconstructive nature of the emergent leads Mead to assume that, “cognition and thought as a part of the cognitive process, is reconstructive, because reconstruction is essential to the conduct of an intelligent being in the universe.” Change occurs in the universe, and it is these changes that lead the universe to be a different place, like in the example of the research scientist; intelligence is one aspect of this change. Based on what is known, what has been, or “what it was,” comes to be something else. For Mead, this change, “involves a mutual reorganization, an adjustment in the organism and a reconstitution of the environment; for at its lowest terms any change in the organism carries with it a difference of sensitivity and response and a corresponding difference in the environment.” Change occurs on two levels, within an organism, and in the environment based on the changes in that organism. Mead believes that it is within this process of mutual change that conscious intelligence arises, “for consciousness is both the difference which arises in the environment because of its relation to the organism in its organic process of adjustment, and also the difference in the organism because of the change which has taken place in the environment.” This demonstrates the process of mutual adjustment made by both the organism and environment in change. It is the reflection of the organism in its environment, and the reflection of the environment in the organism. With the continual emergent changes of the environment in the future, an organism is subject to continual change, thus in its transcendence it is altering its facticity.
Mead discusses the concept of the in-itself past, which for Sartre is a past independent of all presents, as presence according to him requires physicality. Mead explores the possibility of the in-itself past as a correct account of events; “I think that the absolute correctness which lies back in the historian’s mind would be found to be the complete presentation of the given past, if all its implications were worked out. If we could know everything implied in our memories, our documents and our monuments, and were able to control all this knowledge, the historian would assume that he had what was absolutely correct.” Therefore such a concept of an absolute past is merely hypothetical, for the past is continually subject to the emergence of new discoveries, because it is impossible to know all meaning implied through our memories and histories. If there is such an in-itself correctness to the account of absolute past, it must for Mead, “be either to that of a reality which by definition could never get into our experience, or to that of a goal at infinity in which the type of experience in which we find ourselves seizes.” This suggestion of a reality beyond our experience is the only sense to which an objective absolute account of time could exist. This illusion to a reality beyond experience hints of the exteriority suggested by Sartre needed to synthesize the in-itself and the For-itself; however it further causes conflict between Mead and Sartre as Sartre claimed such a realm of being beyond being is impossible, as the For-itself is the only witness to its existence, and is thus the only term capable of such a synthesis.
Although the in-itself past is the common background of thinking, Mead once more appeals to the research scientist, “it is interesting to recur to the statement that I made earlier that the research scientist looks forward not only with equanimity but also with excited interest to the fundamental changes which later research will bring into the most exact determinations which we can make today.” This again supports that “what it was,” is dependent on what it comes to be, thus again ridding any sort of in-itself absolute past. Each present comes from a previous present, but it is not simply the string of one present to the next that constitutes the past. For Mead, “The picture which this offers is that of presents sliding into each other, each with a past which is referable to itself, each past taking up into itself those back of it, and in some degree reconstructing them from its own standpoint.” Each present passes and gives way to another present; the current present maintains the character of the previous present, while also reconstructing it as necessary in its current condition, or emergent condition. Mead then posits the question, “Whether the necessity which is involved in the relations of the present and the past derives from such a metaphysical necessity, that is, from one that is independent of any present.” This calls into question a possible metaphysical relationship between the past and present that is beyond being, thus independent of the present, the locus of being. Mead identifies it as, “a reality that transcends the present must exhibit itself in the present.” Although a reality exists beyond- or in transcendence of the present, it must still be exhibited in the present or else it is unrealized. Mead believes this concept is found in the attitude of the research scientist, “It is that there is and always will be a necessary relation of the past and the present but that the present in which the emergent appears accepts that which is novel as an essential part of the universe, and from that standpoint rewrites the past. The emergent then ceases to be an emergent and follows from the past which has replaced the former past.” Upon the novelty of emergence, change occurs in the universe, causing the emergence to pass and join the continuity of the events leading up it while also rewriting in the past in respect to the novelty in the universe. The emergent does not change was has happened in the past, but it does call for a reinterpretation of facts which essentially can change the facts. Mead grants the research scientists a complete victory and proclaims, “a wholly rationalized universe within which there is determined order- he will still look forward to the appearance of new problems that will emerge in new presents to be rationalized again with another past which will take up the old past harmoniously into itself.” Here Mead assumes a determined order of the universe, yet cannot deny that new problems will arise, calling for new solutions or discoveries, all of which when solved will encompass the old past with the new. This pairs the settled, and the unsettled, the irrevocable and revocable nature of the past.
Mead on Determination and Mathematical Physics:
Mead next discusses relativity, deemed as the different meanings of time in different time systems, and its role in reaching an accurate understanding of the philosophy of the present. For Mead, “the paradoxes of relativity reveal the hypothetical nature of the ruled schedules of the past into which we are to fit the events which our physical theories unroll behind us.” To elaborate this he suggests recourse to an absolute space-time, and the coincidences of events and the intervals between them. He then questions whether our conception of such a scroll of events is the ultimate structure of the physical universe, or rather just our understanding of complex mathematics and our ability to make exact measurements that are subject to change with the varying history of mathematical physics. To simplify, we understand time only through motion, the passing from one present to the next; therefore in understanding time through applying units, or measurements as they have been created by the history of math and physics, are we growing closer to a true understanding of the structure of the universe, or simply reducing it to our limited understanding consisting purely of measurement?
Even if these measurements of the past do not necessarily signify an understanding of the structure of the universe, they do help predict the future. For Mead, “There is an unalterable temporal direction in what is taking place and if we can attach other processes to this passage we can give to them as much certainty as the degree of attachment justifies.” Time passes, in one direction, thus allowing us to calculate things such as velocity with certainty. When given a certain value for the velocity of a moving body in a certain frame of reference, it can then be determined where that body will necessarily be. For Mead, the problem then arises in, “determining just what it is that has preceded what is taking place so that the direction of temporal progress may determine what the world is going to be.” It is this determination practiced by modern science that allows the future to be predicted as probable with past events. Once more, through measurements derived by mathematical physics, scientists are able to accurately predict the physical structure of the universe, but not necessarily the metaphysical structure of the universe.
Is then the task of philosophy to, as mead claims, “to bring into congruence with each other this universality of determination which is the text of modern science, and the emergence of the novel which belongs not only to the experience of human social organisms, but is found also in a nature which science and the philosophy that has followed it have separated from human nature.” It takes philosophy to orient ourselves to the scientific facts that have happened, the emergent change that is going to happen in organisms, and the emergent change within the nature of the universe. For Mead, even the emergent happens under determining conditions, “especially, from the standpoint of the exact sciences, under spatio-temporal conditions which lead to deducible conclusions as to what will happen within certain limits.” The emergent does not arrive without a path leading to its emergence. It does not exist as an irrational novel condition, with the purpose of forcing change; although it emerged from earlier pasts that did not involve it, hence novelty, new, after emergence they become part of a more comprehensible past that now does lead to it. This portrays the circular progression of time, positing the concept that at the point of emergence a break in continuity is made, or rather a tangential shift causing time to circle back over, reconstructing the past in tune with the emergent.
The emergent can be predicted, but only within certain limits; there can be no certainty that it will happen, rather only a plausible chain of probability that it will happen. After it has happened, it becomes a conditioning factor upon all else that has happened, the past is taken up into its reconstruction. It is for this reason, Mead states, “Even the statement of the past within which the emergent appeared is inevitably made from the standpoint of a world within which the emergent is itself a conditioning as well as conditioned factor.” The emergent occurs, passes, and then conditions the former past in light of the novelty of its emergence; also as the emergent becomes the past, it is subject to the same conditioning upon a new emergent, which then takes up the former past, reconstructing it, and in the scientific way, it is conditioned based on the probability that it will happen within limits based on what has previously past. It is necessary to have the past emergent, or the past present conditioned, or else our recollection of them would simply be presenting them in the exact way they were, thus reliving them. To show this Mead writes, “One present, slipping into another does not connote what is meant by a past.” The past must be conditioned or there is no progression, no taking into account the novelty of the emergent, no recognition that the universe in the present, is not the same universe as in the past. We learn about the past, through conditioning the present to find results about the future. Mead states, “The force of irrevocability then is found in the extension of the necessity with which what has just happened conditions what is emerging in the future.” It is probable, not absolute, that if we discover the past, we can discover the future, but because some aspects of the past are irrevocable, (for example, the idea of a scroll that contains an absolute correct past, which is not possible,) our most exact science determines the emerging conditions of the future, from the emerging conditions of the past, thus bringing us closer to the understanding of the past, based on the emerging in the present. To further demonstrate this as probability, and not absolution, Mead writes, “I am simply indicating that even within the field of mathematical physics rigorous thinking does not necessarily imply that conditioning of the present by the past carries with it the complete determination of the present by the past.” This shows that there is a metaphysical picture beyond that of measurements derived from mathematical physics. No matter how rigorous and advanced our thought processes, we can only suggest at probability of that which emerges, implying that it is beyond our being to understand the absolute history of the universe.
Mead on the Emergent within Organism and the Environment:
Although there is this absolute history, implying that each individual is subject to the same absolute past, each individual is not conditioned in the same way by the past. Mead explains this idea, “The past is there conditioning the present and its passage into the future, but in the organization of tendencies embodied in one individual there may be an emergent which gives to these tendencies a structure which belongs only to the situation of that individual.” For an example, if of a thousand individuals under disintegrating social conditions one commits suicide where, so far as can be seen, one was as likely to succumb as another, his past has a certain emotional nature which the others do not, though his committing of suicide is an expression of the past. Tendencies coming from past passage have different influence based on the organized structure of tendencies in an individual. This is why out of one thousand individuals, all of which exposed to the same conditions, only one committed suicide because of its particular structure of tendencies that in passage affect him differently or more severely than the other 999. Although the group was organized to undergo the same conditions, thus giving them the same immediate past, Mead claims, “The organization of any individual thing carries with it the relation of this thing to processes that occurred before this organization set in.” Because the individual that committed suicide experienced a particular emotional or sad past, after being exposed to identical conditions as the rest of the group, that past emerged in passage affecting his structure of tendencies in a much more severe way than the group.
Present does not describe a moment cut from the temporal dimension of passing reality, rather according to Mead, “Its chief reference is to the emergent event, that is, to the occurrence of something which is more than the processes that have led up to it and which by its change, continuance, or disappearance, adds to later passages a content they would not otherwise have possessed.” In the example with the man who took his life, the present is not reducible to his emotional history, or even the disintegrating social conditions imposed on the group, rather it is the emergent event, his committing suicide. This occurrence is greater than the previous processes, though no independent of them, and in passing will reconstruct them with a content that without his suicide, would not have otherwise possessed. Mead references Whitehead to explain the temporal spread of uniqueness that is responsible for a present, “it is a period long enough to enable the object to be what it is.” A period allowing passage from past to the emergent, allows an individual to be what they are, in the case of the example given, the present was a period long enough to be dead. In the present moment, whether that which emerges continues or disappears, is the present passing into the future, in this case it is the disappearance of the man who takes his life, passing into the future.
Through the relationship of the organism and the environment, in mutual dependence as previously stated, Meads claims brings us to relativity and to the perspective in which this appears in experience. Because the nature of environment caters to the habits and attitudes of organisms, for Mead, “the qualities that belong to the objects of the environment can only be expressed in terms of sensitivities of these organisms. And the same is true for ideas. The organism, through its habits and anticipatory attitudes, finds itself related to what extends beyond its immediate present.” This demonstrates the point made earlier that there involves a mutual reorganization between the organism and the environment. If the organism changes then the environment must reflect that change, and if the environment changes the organism must readjust to survive that change. In so far as being related to that which extends beyond the immediate present, an organisms mind is this larger environment that makes able the past and the future. It is only the mind that allows a temporal extension from the present, and it is a social mind for Mead that allows the contemplation of its history through characters found in the present. Examples of these characters found in the present for Mead, “memory images, historical monuments, fossil remains, and.. to that portion of the past which there is passage in experience as determined by the emergent event.” It is in this sense that history, and the past is social, we come to formulate it through the experience of external characteristics in the present. Mead believes that history is revealed in the present, just as how we celebrate it; “To say that the Declaration of Independence was signed on the 4th of July 1776 means that in the time system which we carry around with us and with the formulation of our political habits, this date comes out in our celebrations. Being what we are in the social and physical world that we inhabit we account for what takes place on this time schedule, but like railway time-tables it is always subject to change without notice.” We realize the past by our account for it in the present, which is continually subject being reconstructed by the emergent. Our history becomes official only in so far as our habit in the present, it does not solidify in-itself as an absolute past, rather it simply recognizes it as we presently are capable of constructing it.
History revolves around the constant reinterpretation of facts. Because of this, it is not facticity, or the in-itself that determines who or what something is, rather passage, the conditioning of character over time. Facticity demonstrates the error in our perceived “duty” to explain the past; because we are seeking a constant agreement for the past, or an explanation, it causes the past to be explained out of duty or necessity, rather scientifically or accurately. Sartre is faulty in trying to explain what we are in terms of facticity, what we were, because what we were is subject to change, and becomes what we will be, transcendence, For-itself. Our past, our history, is given solely as an absolute to justify our social necessity to celebrate certain events, people, etc. It is the motive to do so that takes precedent over “more exact scientific research.” If we acknowledged that all histories lie in the interpretation of the present, thus subject to the emergent change, than we could never celebrate any past event, as it would come without certainty.
Mead’s Reconstruction of the Past:
Returning back to the individual account of the past, Mead maintains that the past, or the construction of the past in the present, is not a construction with a reference that lies independent of the present. Rather, as he wrote, “It is of course evident that the materials out of which that past is constructed lie in the present. I refer to the memory images and the evidences by which we build up the past, and to the fact that any reinterpretation of the picture we form of the past will be found in a present, and will be judged by the logical and evidential characters which such data possess in a present.” It is in this sense that there is no conceivable absolute past that can be read via doctrine or scroll. Despite our personal accord or memory of the past, we still look for the official record, or documentation to confirm or deny our memories. Thus our, or this subjective For-itself past, exists in the present, and is subject to reconstruction. Mead reinforces this idea, “We are not contemplating an ultimate unchangeable past that may be spread behind us in its entirety subject to no further change. Our reconstructions of the past vary in their extensiveness, but they never contemplate the finality of their findings. They are always subject to conceivable reformulations, on the discovery of later evidence, and this reformulation may be complete. Even the most vivid of memory images may be in error.” Because our interpretations of the past, through memory, are subject to error, the idea of facticity seems too determinate based on such indeterminacy. That is why what we were, must be retraced and replaced by what we come to be, thus interlocking facticity and transcendence as one mode of being in the present. At great length it has been discussed how the past is revocable, or unsettled, however there are many aspects of the past that are settled, or irrevocable.
To demonstrate this co-existence of the past, Mead writes, “Now it is possible to accept all this, with a full admission that no item in the accepted past is final, and yet to maintain that there remains a reference in our formulation of the past event to a something that happened which we can never expect to resuscitate in the content of reality, something that belonged to the event in the present within which it occurred.” For this picture imagine an example of a 40 year old man, who recalls the memory of going to opening day as a boy, and misses that time in his life. The next week this man buys a ticket, and returns to opening day, expecting to relive his boyhood days and the emotions carried with them; but this man cannot relive that game as he once did, he tries to, only to discover there is an irrevocable essence left behind in his past, that cannot be repeated. For this to happen, it would involve the man being in the exact same state of mind, state of emotion, etc, as he was when he was a little boy- in order to relive such an experience in full. The only way this man could experience the game as he did when he was a little boy, is to be the little boy that experienced it, thus making it of no use to him at the age of 40. In this respect for Mead, “there is always a reference to the past which cannot be reached, and one that is still consonant with the function and import of a past.” It is for this reason that we can never reach an in-itself absolute or correct past, it is always subject to change, in our continued search for knowledge and understanding.
Mead on Emergence and Identity
Returning to the concept of form and environment; Mead believes, “that no transformation affects the reality of the physical system. We have reduced matter and mass, in terms of which this presupposition was earlier formulated, to energy, but the essential feature of the doctrine has been that reality does not lie in the form-for there may be endless transformation — but in the matter, mass or energy.” This statement suggests that no emergent can stimulate a change within the organism or the environment that will affect the reality of the physical system. Because there are endless transformations with the arrival of the novel, reality must be independent of such transformations, and conceived only in so far as energy. According to Murphy’s interpretation of The Philosophy of the Present, science grasps the reality of the star only as it conceives of it as energy, which is unaffected whether the form of the body becomes binary or a planetary system. This leads to the idea that it is within the process of change due to the emergent that essential character of organisms is found, rather than just a single transformation.
It is energy that provides the backdrop for the present to emerge, thus presupposing constructed reality for organisms. From energy, matter and mass derived, these provide the essential background for contact experience; the ability for an organism to grasp a substance with qualities of sound, color, taste, and smell. For Mead, “In the immediate perceptual world what we can handle is the reality to which what is seen and heard must be brought to the test, if we are to escape illusion and hallucination.” It is thus by way of energy, perception, and contact experience, that an organism is able to grasp the presence of a physical thing with certainty. This is an essential aspect of constructing reality between form and the environment, between the organism and its surroundings. Energy stands as the presupposition to reality, but without perception, there cannot exist an environment according to mead because, “It lacks the characters that are conferred upon an environment by an organism through its relationship to it.” There is no environment without the necessary organisms to relate to it. Although energy, mass, and matter are responsible for contact experience, and ultimately the environment, they cannot be conceived alone as the nature of the physical thing. According to Mead, “the conception of energy as the nature of the physical thing does not provide us with an environment within which we can build the system.” They are backdrop for such a system to be built, the system must be formed through the social nature of the present; the emergent novelties found between different organisms within an environment.
The Social Nature of the Present:
For Mead, the social nature of the present arises out of its emergence. To demonstrated this idea, Mead explains, “Nature takes on new characters, for example with the appearance of life, or the stellar system takes on new characters with the loss of mass by the collapse of atoms through the processes that go on within a star.” Like the life of a human, the life of a star fades, in both these processes due to the collapse of atoms, mass is lost, thus making a material object in the present moment, slightly different than the passing present. Because a change occurs, even if on the sub atomic level, the material object, the star, a person, must readjust to the novelty of the present. For Mead, “There is an adjustment to this new situation. The new objects enter into relationships with the old. The determining conditions of passage set the conditions under which they survive, and the old objects enter into new relations with what has arisen.” This is where the term “social” comes into play for Mead; he is referring to the process of readjustment that enables a material object to survive the ever changing conditions of the present. In readjustment, the old conditions enter into a systematic relationship with all possible new conditions in the present, in the future.
Mead references an illustration of this example found in ecology: “There is an answer in the community of the meadow or the forest to the entrance of any new form, if that form can survive. When the new form has established its citizenship the botanist can exhibit the mutual adjustments that have taken place. The world has become a different place because of the advent.” This demonstrates that if a being, or material object is able to readjust to the present, then the natural order of things will include it in its system. If the new form is unable to survive, it was unable to make the necessary adjustments to its current situation, and ultimately perished. The social character of the universe for Mead, “is found in the situation in which the novel event is in both old older and the new which its advent heralds. Sociality is the capacity of being several things at once.” This demonstrates that an organism must be both the old, and the new, the in-itself, and the emergent. The king of the jungle must hunt its prey, doing so in a system presupposed by energy that makes able his locomotion possible, and a part of the jungle system which is a part of the life system on this earth. This organism’s energy in locomotion is also dependant on many systems, such as his speed or viciousness due to hunger, or the particular prey that he is being attracted to. This demonstrates perfectly the idea of sociality in form and the environment; in relation to his environment, his prey, his pack, and how according to Mead, we “habitually estimate characteristics that belong to the object as a member of one system by those which belong to it in another.” To understand the energy used in locomotion of an organism, the other systems to which the organism belongs must be also taken into account. Thus causing an organism to be a part of several systems at once, displaying the capacity of being several things at once, the definition of man as a social creature.
The emergent of the novel into the present universe causes man to be a social organism that changes with time. This change overtime, to the For-itself, or transcendent, due to the emergent, determines what a man is going to be, and cannot be conceived in isolation of what a man was, his facticity, or in-itself past. While Sartre maintains that facticity is an irrevocable past, lying “there,” cut off from our present, Mead believes there is both an irrevocability and revocability of the past. Because all accounts of the past are merely hypothetical, it is illogical for Sartre to claim that facticity is independent of transcendence, when in fact with continued emergence, it is the novelty of transcendence in passage that continually conditions the past, and facticity. This circular relation displays Mead’s concept of time, as an overlapping and retracing system by which that past will be forever rewritten, and can only exist as an interpretation of facts subject to continual change in the present. History is thus the proof that man is a social creature, and as a social creature man is obligated in duty to provide a concrete scroll of events, not based on exact sciences, rather the obligatory sense of celebrating history in the present.
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