Time-Consciousness and Transformation: On Modernity’s Relation to the Future
Jürgen Habermas introduced the term of art, ‘modernity’s time-consciousness’, in order to elucidate modernity’s distinctive orientation to the future. Taking advantage of Reinhard Koselleck’s historical investigations, Habermas shows how modernity’s open, expectant stance to the future, reconfigures the relationships between past, present, and future, opening up the meaning of history to ongoing reinterpretation. Modernity’s time-consciousness enjoins each generation to respond to the question of how to ‘go on’, how to continue, and that question is tightly entwined to the question of how self-critically to inherit the past. The stance towards the future which constitutes modernity’s time consciousness not only places possibility ontologically higher than actuality; it also places an almost unbearable sense of responsibility upon the present. If we are to respond authentically to our consciousness of historical time, we are compelled to take the ethical perspective of a historically accountable ‘future present’.