Poincaré, Sartre, Continuity and Temporality


Jonathan Gingerich, “Poincaré, Sartre, Continuity and Temporality,” Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 37 (2006): 327-330.

ABSTRACT: In this note, I examine the relation between Henri Poincaré’s definition of mathematical continuity and Sartre’s discussion of temporality in Being and Nothingness. Poincaré states that a series A, B, and C is continuous when A=B, B=C and A is less than C. I explicate Poincaré’s definition and examine the arguments that he uses to arrive at this definition. I argue that Poincaré’s definition is applicable to temporal series, and I show that this definition of continuity provides a logical basis for Sartre’s psychological explanation of temporality. Specifically, I demonstrate that Poincaré’s definition allows the for-itself to be understood both as connected to a past and future and as distinct from itself. I conclude that the gap between two terms in a temporal series comprises the present and being-for-itself, since it is this gap that occasions the radical freedom to reshape the past into a distinct and different future. [preprint] [published version]