About the Future: What Phenomenology Can Reveal

  • Peter K. McInerney
Part of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 41)


Most contemporary American philosophers would deny that phenomenology can reveal anything about time, and an increasing number would deny that phenomenology can reveal anything about the temporal features of human psychology. The claim that phenomenology can not reveal anything about time might be supported by the evidence for the reality of time.1 Rejecting the Kantian tradition of temporal idealism, most contemporary American philosophers consider time to exist independently of any structures of the human mind or of human societies. If phenomenology tells us anything, the argument might continue, it tells us about how people represent time, but there are good scientific reasons for thinking that real time differs in important ways from people’s everyday representations of it. If we want to find out about real time, it would be misguided to engage in phenomenology.


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  1. 1.
    Chapter 9 of my Time and Experience (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991) examines evidence for the reality of some features of time.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See William Lyons, The Disappearance of Introspection (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1986);Google Scholar
  3. 2a.
    R. Nisbett and T. Wilson, “Telling More Than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes,” Psychological Review, 84 (1977).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    See “How the Brain Might Work: A New Theory of Consciousness” by Sandra Blakeslee, New York Times (March 21,1995); “Trends in Neuroscience” by John Horgan, Scientific American (July 1994).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Jaegwon Kim points out in Supervenience and Mind (New York: Cambridge U.P, 1993) that the most widely held position of the last 30 years, “nonreductive physicalism,” is itself a form of emergentism, as developed by Samuel Alexander in Space, Time, and Deity. Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    I explore the ways in which consciousness is temporally related to nonconscious states of affairs in section 9.4 of Time and Experience. Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Reflective consciousness might provide information that was useful for purposes other than knowing about first order consciousness. If reflection systematically distorted first order consciousness but people regularly acted on the basis of the distorted account, rather than on the basis of first order conscious states and events, then distorted reflective accounts would influence action. It would be valuable to know about the distorted reflective accounts, even though this would not tell us about the real features, including the real temporal features, of human psychology.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    See note 2.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    See Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1991 ), sections 5.3 and 11.5.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    There is no logical contradiction in the idea of a non-happening experience, but all of the experiences with which people are acquainted include happening.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Intentional objects may or may not be experienced as temporally related. When a person is simultaneously imagining and perceiving, what is imagined is normally experienced as not temporally related to what is perceived. See Time and Experience, pp. 192–3.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists have investigated the real temporal extension of such moments with respect to how frequently human systems “update” their information.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    Heidegger emphasized the distinction between the public world of meaning and an individual’s authentic appropriation of it in Being and Time. Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    The type of power to act that I am considering is not a condition such that a behavior will automatically occur if an external event happens. The term “power to act” also has a broader meaning in which it includes such automatically triggered “powers,” such as a stomach’s power to digest food.Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    See Mclnemey, “My Future, Right or Wrong,”Philosophical Studies, 44, September 1983.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Positron Emission Tomography, and Electroencephalogram readings can currently make some of these distinctions.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    Any type of goal-directed system, such as a chess-playing computer, may be described as “considering possibilities but only adopting one course of action.” In nonconscious systems of this sort, there is (obviously) no conscious consideration of possibilities; there is no awareness of possibilities.Google Scholar
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    See Fred Dretske, Explaining Behavior, (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1988), section 6.2 for a discussion of learning new courses of action by observing others.Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    John Searle has argued in several places, including in “Consciousness and Cognition,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13:4 (1990), that the content of a “representation” depends upon its potential accessibility to consciousness. I think that his argument does not succeed. However, if it were successful, the emergent temporal features that consciousness alone provides would be much simpler to establish.Google Scholar
  20. 19.
    Fred Dretske in Explaining Behavior gives an enlightening outline of how nonconscious representations and motives can develop in material systems through evolution.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter K. McInerney
    • 1
  1. 1.Oberlin CollegeUSA

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