Sean Hannan Dissertation Abstract Autumn 2015 1 Belatedness: Augustine on Transformation in Time and History Augustine of Hippo left behind a philosophy of time that was as memorable as his philosophy of history. His two most well-remembered works attest to that fact. In the Confessions , Augustine concludes his reflection on his own lifetime with a meditation on the obscure nature of time itself. In the City of God , meanwhile, he questions our capacity to read the signs of the times that seem to define our own era. In each case, Augustin e is rather skeptical about humankind’s ability to catch up with the present moment and interpret it as it passes by. There arises the strange sensation that we are somehow running late — that we always have to look back on what just happened in order to make any sense of it. This theme of belatedness stretches throughout Augustine’s corpus, from his early confusion about temporal experience to his later call for humility in the face of history’s tumultuous tides. According to Augustine, the difficulty we have making sense of our historical present grows organically out of a similar difficulty we face in our individual lives. The struggles afflicting social time and the troubles plaguing psychological time are two symptoms of the same condition. That condition is what has been called belatedness. By studying it more closely, we can bring Augustine into conversation with a range of debates about the nature of temporal experience and the limits of humankind’s histori cal self-awareness. Before being able to do so responsibly, however, we have to make sure that we are getting Augustine right on the matter of time. Excavating this core theme of belatedness, which lies beneath the arguments of both the Confessions and the City of God , will allow us to see how Augustine carves out a channel connecting the personal time of human experience to the historical time of human society. As early as Book IV of the Confessions , Augustine argues that incarnate experience suffers from being “late” or tardus . It is this belatedness that lends a retrospective quality to our awareness of ourselves and of the world around us. This retroactivity of the human mind is, in turn, a result of
Sean Hannan Dissertation Abstract Autumn 2015 2 its placement in the flux of temporality. As we learn later, in Book XI of the Confessions , time is a confusing condition. Its most basic component appears to be the present, yet upon closer inspection the present instant turns out to be nothing at all. The present has no span, and if we lengthen it out so that it has duration, we find it to be infinitely divisible into past and future spans. Since Augustine
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