PhD dissertation


Meaning Takes Time to Unfold : Towards a Heideggerian Ontology of Temporal Differentiation

Link to McGill’s Thesis Depository

Presentation at the oral defense / Backup link


This dissertation operates at the intersection of three concepts: Being, time, and the human being (Dasein). Its aim is to prepare a transcendental framework in which time, interpreted as the horizonal structure of local-differentiation-in-original-unity, is the condition for the possibility of any being insofar as it ‘is’, i.e., is singularized, distinguished from other beings, while participating in an overarching order/organization that allows their difference to matter or ‘make a difference’.

The dissertation takes three steps to expose this transcendental framework, which I call “the ontology of temporal differentiation”. The first is to problematize its alternative, “the ontology of the extant”, which considers beings as simply ‘existing’ and fully determinate, while taking for granted the ontological differentiation of the horizon of Being from which alone beings may manifest themselves as beings. The second is to show that this ontological differentiation is essentially temporal in that the time-horizon offers the most originary grasp of local-differentiation-in-original-unity, a structure necessary for the gradual manifestation of any being. The third is to problematize a risk of subjectivism in this transcendental inquiry and thereby to reinterpret subjectivity in light of temporal differentiation.

The research I carry out makes two main contributions to transcendental philosophy with a phenomenological orientation. The first is a highlighting of the ontological significance of time—more precisely, of the time-horizon. I show that what distinguishes the ‘now’ from the ‘no-longer now’ and the ‘not-yet now’ is also what unifies them originally. It is this structure, borrowed from our own temporal Being, which allows multiple aspects of a being to take turns to emerge while remaining aspects of the same being.

The second is a reversal of the order of (a) the finitude of Being in its manifestation in beings; (b) the temporality of experience, (c) disclosedness at the site of a singularized ‘there’, and (d) the reflexivity of the subject. While it is customary to assume (d), derive (c), derive (b), and finally derive (a), this approach bases the finitude of Being on a contingent deficiency of the subject. By contrast, I assume (a) and seek to derive from it (b), (c), and finally (d). In this way, no assumption is made regarding the ‘incapability’ of the subject, while the essence of subjectivity, i.e., locality and individuation, are interpreted as necessitated by the finite, temporal unfolding of Being in beings—always gradually and alternately, never ‘all at once’. Personality, freedom, and agency are thus seen as derivative of the finitude of Being as such, leaving open the question whether the locus of happening must be coextensive with a biologically individuated body, or whether the locus can also be a community in ‘synchronization’, operating in a singularized temporal ‘wave’ or rhythm.

Table of contents

1. Occasion of the work
2. Methodology
3. Synopsis of the Chapters

Chapter 1 Temporal Synthesis and the Finitude of Being
1. Introduction
2. The problem: indifferent Being-extant
3. The event of truth from out of undifferentiatedness
4. The finitude of Being and the problem of unity
5. The temporal synthesis

Chapter 2 Time-Horizon in Heidegger’s Kant-Interpretation
1. Introduction
2. From the threefold synthesis to time-horizons
3. The now-horizon in the synthesis of apprehension
4. The past-horizon in the synthesis of reproduction
5. The future-horizon in the synthesis of recognition
6. The unity of the horizons and the finitude of Dasein

Chapter 3 Temporalität in Heidegger’s Interpretation of Kant’s “Transcendental Time-Determination”
1. Introduction
2. The inadequacy of the time-concept in the intra-/extra-temporal dichotomy
3. Temporality in the Schematism
4. The “unthematic” and the withdrawal of Temporality
5. Methodological postscript: thematizing the unthematic

Intermezzo The Method of Transcendental-Ontological Inquiry

Chapter 4 The Origin of the Cosmological Surplus of Time
1. Introduction: the subjectivism controversy of time in Ricœur’s aporetics
2. Heidegger’s putative forgetting of the cosmological surplus
3. The merits of Ricœur’s critique
4. A ‘Heideggerian’ response to Ricœur
5. Conclusion: the root of aporetics

Chapter 5 Explaining It Away?
1. Introduction
2. The enigma of time in Husserl’s melody-example
3. Absolute time-consciousness: a solution to the problem of infinite regress?
4. The specter of foundationalism and the dogma of completion
5. Theorizing incompletion in light of retention

Chapter 6 Three Interpretations of Freedom in Sartre’s Being and Nothingness
1. Introduction
2. Ontological freedom: “choice” as particularization
3. Psychological-practical freedom in pre-reflective doing
4. The psychologistic interpretation underlying free “will”
5. Conclusion: the temporal finitude of human freedom

Chapter 7 Sartre’s Godless Theology
1. Radical freedom
2. Dualist monism
3. Godless theology
4. The temporality of a finite theos
5. Conclusion: the limit of theo-logy
6. Supplementary remarks on the relevance of the discussion above

Chapter 8 Locality of Differentiation and the ‘Da’ of ‘Sein’
1. Introduction
2. The challenge of activity-subjectivism in Being and Time
3. Henry’s charge of circularity
4. Blattner’s charge of temporal idealism
5. Senses of Dasein
6. Locality, singularization, and disclosedness
7. The derivative status of reflexivity

Chapter 9 Reinterpretation of Subjectivity in a Non-Subjectivist Transcendental Philosophy of Time

1. Reconstruction of the dissertation in propositional form
2. Significances of the ontology of temporal differentiation


Reconstruction of the dissertation in propositional form


  1. beings: that which ‘is’ in the colloquial sense. A being can refer either to a thing (e.g., a tree) or an event (e.g., growth of a tree). There is no definite boundary between the two.
  2. manifestation / emergence / event of truth: the event of arising, as distinct, from an otherwise undifferentiated ambiguity.
  3. Being / horizon of Being: that from within which alone beings may emerge and thanks to which beings emerge as beings, i.e., as be-ing.
  4. differentiation: when applied to a being or an aspect of a being, it means getting distinguished from its other, i.e., from what it is not. When applied to a horizon, it means begetting an organization or ‘topography’, so that elements arising from it are distinguished from one another.
  5. original unity: the structural character of having multiple aspects, while all these aspects emerge from the same undifferentiated ground and are defined with respect to one another. Original unity is not a contingent product of the act of unification but makes any such act possible.
  6. intrinsic finitude: having limits which are not imposed from the outside but which issue from the unitary character of an original unity.
  7. locality: claiming an intrinsically finite ‘here’ in contradistinction to its respective ‘elsewhere’.
  8. time-horizon: the structure of time in which every ‘now’ is locally differentiated from its respective ‘no-longer now’ and ‘not-yet now’, while all participate in an original unity.
  9. subject: that to whom beings manifest themselves.
  10. individuation / singularization: constantly becoming, and thus remaining, one among other kindreds.


  1. The horizon of Being is intrinsically finite. This means the horizon from which beings manifest themselves as be-ing is limited, not from the outside, but in the very way this horizon unfolds as a horizon.
  2. Apparent completeness of beings. In daily experience, a being seems to already ‘have’ all its aspects; the ‘world’, understood as the totality of all there is, seems to already ‘have’ all those beings within it. The mode in which all these beings and all their aspects already ‘are’ or ‘exist’—whether they are manifest or not—is called “Being-extant”.
  3. Every difference must have arisen from, and remain supported by, an ongoing event of differentiation. Without differentiation, all there is would be undifferentiatedness.
  4. The horizonal structure of local-differentiation-in-original-unity is most originally and richly grasped in the time-horizon.


  1. (From Postulate 1) Actual incompleteness of beings. It is impossible for a being, not to mention the totality of beings, to manifest itself all at once, with all its aspects or moments.
    1. If beings are actually incomplete in terms of manifestation (Proposition 1) while apparently complete in terms of extantness (Postulate 2), then there must be a synthesis, by which aspects of a being, which necessarily emerge alternately, nevertheless participate in a unity.
    2. This unity must be an original unity (Definition 5), which means its constituents do not first ‘exist’ (i.e., are extant) and then become unified in an additional act. Otherwise, the unity would only be contingent, dependent on the act, and hence unable to account for the apparent completeness of beings (Postulate 2).
    3. The constituents of this original unity must be intrinsically differentiated (Definition 4) from one another.
      Proof. If there were no differentiation, the constituents would be undifferentiated (Postulate 3), and none of them would be individuated (Definition 10). If the constituents were differentiated extrinsically, which means they first ‘exist’ independently and difference is then superimposed on them, then the fact that they first ‘exist’ independently (which means they are at least distinguished from one another) would remain unexplained. Either way, it would be impossible for a constituent of the original unity to manifest itself while neither precluding other moments nor entailing their simultaneous manifestation.
    4. (From Propositions 1.2 and 1.3) The horizon of Being exhibits the structure of local-differentiation-in-original-unity.
  2. Temporality of experience. Since in the time-horizon (Definition 8) the structure of local-differentiation-in-original-unity (Proposition 1.4) is most originally and richly grasped (Postulate 4), the time-horizon is the transcendental condition for the possibility of experience of beings.
    1. Within the time-horizon, temporal differentiation is accomplished when the ‘no-longer now’ and the ‘not-yet now’ are released into the vicinity of the ‘elsewhere’ with respect to the local ‘here’ of the ‘now’, thus highlighting the ‘now’ without cutting it off from the ‘no-longer now’ and the ‘not-yet now’.
    2. Due to the releasement of the past- and future-dimensions (Proposition 2.1), the temporal synthesis undergirding the original unity of the time-horizon does not wait for the simultaneous presence of all aspects of a being; instead, it is an ongoing synthesis driven by the further determination of the never fully determinate being. The manifestation of one aspect of the being does not simply ‘stay’ but passes over into the manifestation of other aspects, even if this entails its own withdrawal.
    3. Temporal synthesis (Proposition 2.2) always goes hand in hand with temporal differentiation (Proposition 2.1); the two are interdependent moments of the unitary structure of local-differentiation-in-original-unity.
  3. Disclosedness of the ‘there’. The subject is a locus for the manifestation of beings, required by the local differentiation (Definitions 4 and 7) of the horizon of Being.
    1. If a ‘now’ may be distinguished from, and prioritized over, its respective ‘no-longer now’ and ‘not-yet now’ (Proposition 2.1); if, accordingly, an aspect of the being may be distinguished from, and prioritized over, all other aspects (Proposition 1.3), then the subject, i.e., that to whom the aspect manifests itself in this ‘now’ (Definition 9), must be intrinsically finite (Definition 6), in the sense that it cannot be everywhere but must be a singular ‘here’ with its peripheral ‘elsewhere’. Otherwise, there would be no genuine highlighting of a ‘now’ or of an aspect of the being; all would co-exist in complete indifference.
    2. The locality of the locus (the subject) therefore entails its singularization or individuation (Definition 10). In order to ‘work’ as a site for events of truth, this locus must not be ‘the whole story’; it must be partial as opposed to all-encompassing (omnipresent and omniscient). In other words, the locus must be a singular individual, leaving room for other individuals, for whom beings would manifest themselves differently, and in different rhythmic alternation of ‘nows’.
    3. The subject is called Da-sein, primarily because the unfolding of Being [Sein] entails a local, singularized ‘there’ [da]. The disclosedness of the ‘there’ is the immediate ontological implication of the finitude of Being; it is the birthplace of subjectivity. Without the radical finitude of Being as such, there would be no need for a singularized and individuated ‘subject’ at all.
  4. Reflexivity of the subject.
    1. The singularization of the ‘there’ of Da-sein (Proposition 3.1) indicates that the subject is distinguished from all other potential ones. This distinction is because things ‘happen’ in necessarily different ways to two differently individuated sites of happening.
    2. (From Proposition 4.1) It ‘makes a difference’ to be this very site in contrast to other sites, that is, to be this very subject in contrast to other subjects.
    3. (From Proposition 4.2) The subject (Da-sein) is a being for whom its own Being is at issue in an irreplaceable way.


(In view of the procession from Postulate 1 all the way to Proposition 4.3)
The subject is an individuated and reflexive “I think”, only because the horizon of Being as such is intrinsically finite.

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