The Space of Time

A Sensualist Interpretation of Time in Augustine, Confessions X to XII


From Robert Grosseteste to Jean-François Lyotard, Augustine’s suggestion that time is a “dilation of the soul” ( distentio animi) has been taken up as a seminal and controversial time-concept, yet in The Space of Time, David van Dusen argues that this ‘dilation’ has been fundamentally misinterpreted.
Time in Confessions XI is a dilation of the senses—in beasts, as in humans. And Augustine’s time-concept in Confessions XI is not Platonic—but in schematic terms, Epicurean.
Identifying new influences on the Confessions—from Aristoxenus to Lucretius—while keeping Augustine’s phenomenological interpreters in view, The Space of Time is a path-breaking work on Confessions X to XII and a ranging contribution to the history of the concept of time.
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Biographical Note

David van Dusen, M.Phil. (Trinity Saint David), M.Phil. (Leuven), is a doctoral fellow of the De Wulf-Mansion Centre at the University of Leuven, and a former visiting research fellow of the Augustinianum in Rome.

Review Quotes

"David Van Dusen has succeeded where Augustine never quite achieved stability: in parsing and rationalizing his complex, subtle, and important view of time. Van Dusen's philosophical learning and acuity stand him, and Augustine, in good stead." James J. O'Donnell, University Professor of Classics, Georgetown University.

"Van Dusen examines subjectivist and objectivist accounts of Augustine's concept of time, proposing in their place a novel reading of Confessions X to XII. His comprehensive analysis - lucid and stimulating - advances our understanding of Augustine's views on time, temporality and memory." Gerard O'Daly, Emeritus Professor of Latin, University College London

"David van Dusen uses philosophical “outsider” perspectives on Augustine as point of departure for a complex, philologically cautious and profoundly contextualized reading of the Confessions that is of high originality. This new reading also opens onto recent re-appraisals of Augustine’s anything but “dualistic and disembodied” theological anthropology." Johannes Hoff, Professor of Systematic Theology, Heythrop College, University of London

"David van Dusen's book The Space of Time continues a new approach by philosophers, such as Lyotard, to read Augustine philosophically. Van Dusen enacts a detailed and masterly reading of the seminal sections of the Confessions on time and temporality. It is through such a reading that we realize the debt that Kierkegaard, Husserl, Heidegger and others have towards Augustine." James Luchte, Senior Lecturer of Philosophy, University of Wales, Trinity Saint David

“A ‘post-phenomenological’ reading of Augustine on time, The Space of Time … argues through close engagement with the Latin text that, when Augustine says that time is distentio animi, he means that it is a ‘dilation’ not of the mind, but of one’s sensory experience.” – George Boys-Stones, Durham University, Phronesis. A Journal for Ancient Philosophy 60.4 (Sept. 2015)

“David van Dusen has been able to offer up an inventive reading of Augustine on time […] Most striking is his distinction between time (tempus) and times (tempora). Much of the confusion surrounding Augustine’s account of time has resulted from inattention to the difference between this singular and that plural. […] Van Dusen’s book deftly applies its broad intellectual scope and erudite sense for detail to a refined – yet undoubtedly central – section of Augustine’s oeuvre. While some of its bolder claims may yet require further attention, the originality of the interpretation on offer here demands that we take it seriously.” – Sean Hannan, University of Chicago, Louvain Studies 38 (2014)

“[A] highly erudite and enthusiastically written account … Although Lucretian influence has been observed in Augustine before, its extent and depth in Confessions have never been studied in this intensity … Augustine takes the material constitution of reality much more seriously than, for example, Neoplatonists of a more Alexandrian persuasion. Van Dusen has clearly demonstrated this for the concept of time in Confessions. … [A] fine new study on Augustine’s concept of time in Confessions, which should be heeded by all who take an interest in the philosophical study of time.” – Josef Lössl, Cardiff University, The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 9 (Oct. 2015)

Table of contents

List of Abbreviations
Note on Citations

Dilation and the Question of Time

To Recover Augustine’s Time-Question

0 Proem

1 Augustine and the Temporal Intrigue
1.1 Against a Truncated Interpretation of Confessions XI
1.2 Preliminary Remarks on the Term ‘Sensualist’
1.3 Axiology and Temporality in Augustine’s Confessions
1.4 Time in Augustine’s Triplex Division of Philosophy

2 Augustine and the Physical Question of Time
2.1 Time and Augustine’s Rerum Natura
2.2 Time in the Confessions: A Typology of the Received Interpretations
2.3 Confessions XI and Typologies of Time in Antiquity

Anticipations and Clarifications

3 Remarks on the Genre and Sources of Augustine’s Confessions
3.1 Preliminary Remarks on Genre
3.2 Sallust’s Conspiracy of Catiline: A Source for the Confessions?
3.3 Confessio Ignorantiae: Cicero and Augustine’s Confessions
3.4 Confessio Scientiae: Epicurus and Lucretius in Augustine’s Confessions
3.5 Confessions X to XII: Dialectics and Song
3.6 Concluding Remarks on Genre

4 Towards a Lexical Clarification of ‘Time’ ( Conf. XI.22–24)
4.1 A Distribution of Augustine’s Time-Investigation ( Conf. XI.14–29)
4.2 “We Say ‘Time,’ We Say ‘Times’” ( Conf. XI.22–24)
4.3 Towards Augustine’s “Power and Nature of Time” ( Conf. X.6–7, XI.23–24)

5 Towards the Speculative Terrain of Confessions XII ( Conf. XI.30–31)
5.1 Temporal Presence: Varieties of ‘Impresence’
5.2 Temporal Dilation: A Preliminary Characterization
5.3 Expectatio Is Never Praescientia ( Conf. XI.31)
5.4 A Discarnate Mind and a Dilation of the Senses ( Conf. XI.31)

Time Is Illuminated by Timelessness

6 What Is and Is Not in Question in Confessions XII
6.1 Time and the Prophetic ‘Letter’
6.2 How Timelessness Will Illuminate Time

7 Cohesion to God, Inhesion of the Flesh: Augustine’s Caelum Intellectuale
7.1 Axiology and Temporality Revisited
7.2 Augustine’s Hyper-Heavenly ( Caelum Caeli)
7.3 Timelessness and the Root-Verb Haerere
7.4 More on Augustine’s Root-Verb Haerere

8 Corpus et Anima: The Duplicity of Praesens from Confessions X
8.1 “A Body and a Soul Are Present in Me” ( Conf. X.6)
8.2 The Sense of Anima, the Sense of Animus ( Conf. X.7)
8.3 “Cattle and Birds Possess Memory” ( Conf. X.17)
8.4 Excursus: Time Is in the Beasts
8.5 The Root-Sense of Anima and Animus ( Conf. X–XII)

9 Physical Movement and Mutive Times: Augustine’s Materia Informis
9.1 Informitas and Timelessness ( Conf. XII.6)
9.2 “Times are Produced by the Movements of Things” ( Conf. XII.8)
9.3 The Register of ‘Mutive Times’ in Confessions XII
9.4 The Evidence for ‘Mutive Times’ in Confessions XII
9.5 Excursus on Logical Precedence ( Conf. XII.29)
9.6 Excursus on Sensual ‘Outness’ ( Epist. 137)

A Sensualist Interpretation of Confessions XI

10 Intimacy with the Flesh Is Intimacy with Time ( Conf. XI–XII)
10.1 “Words Begun and Ended, Sounding in Times” ( Conf. XII.27)
10.2 Familiaritas Carnis and Familiaritas Temporis ( Conf. XI.14)

11 Times and Time from Augustine’s Eternity-Meditation ( Conf. XI.3–13)
11.1 Time, Times, and a Proto- Distentio ( Conf. XI.11–13)
11.2 Imago, Affectio and Distentio in the Confessions,
11.3 “Sense Roves” and “Sense Dilates” ( Conf. XI.13, XI.31)

12 A Preparation of Augustine’s Time-Investigation ( Conf. XI.11–29)
12.1 The Soul’s Capacity to Sense Time ( Conf. XI.15–16)
12.2 “A Long Time Cannot Become Long ...” ( Conf. XI.11)
12.3 The Production of Times as a Condition for Time ( Conf. XI.11, XII.8)

13 From a Sense of Passing Time to a Dilation of the Senses ( Conf. XI.15–28)
13.1 Praesens Tempus and a Sense of Temporal Intervals ( Conf. XI.15–16)
13.2 Times Are Not ‘Times’ and Presence Is Not ‘Presence’ ( Conf. XI.20)
13.3 “As I Just Said, We Measure Times as They Pass” ( Conf. XI.21)
13.4 Vagaries of Motion and the Introduction of Dilation ( Conf. XI.24–26)
13.5 Sensation and Originary Temporal Mensuration ( Conf. XI.27–28)
13.6 “The Verse Is Sensed by a Clear Sensation” ( Conf. XI.27)
13.7 “Something Remains Infixed in My Memory” ( Conf. XI.27)
13.8 “These Are ‘Times,’ or I Do Not Measure Times” ( Conf. XI.27)
13.9 “Songs and the Dimensions of Movements” ( Conf. XI.27–28)

Time Exceeds Us because Time Is in Us

1. Remarks on Plotinus, Aristotle, Sextus Empiricus and Augustine
2. Augustine and the Paris Condemnations of 1277
3. Pierre Gassendi’s Metaphysical Confession of Time
4. Thomas Hobbes’s Physical Confession of Time

Select Bibliography


Those interested in Augustine’s Confessions, and De Musica; the philosophy of time in antiquity; philosophical cross-currents in late antiquity; phenomenological interpretations of Augustine; and the history of the concept of time.