Volume 2, 1999
Robert Cummings Neville
Eternity and the Time of Education
Part of the recent neglect of eternity comes from a poor definition of it as static abstraction, as mere form, or even robust form that is not so mere. This, of course, could not be what the ancients such as Origin or Plotinus must have meant when they claimed that God is eternal, and thus more real than things that change. Therefore, my first task here is to develop a contemporary theory of eternity that is worth being an orientation point for time in education. I argue that the importance of eternity for education lies in the fact that true human identity—and the identity of such human affairs as might exhibit the obligations of responsibility—are eternal as well as temporal. Temporally we live day by day, with the date of the present determining the past that is actual and fixed and the future that is open in various structured ways. The temporal structure of life as such is insufficient to account for moral identity with any sense of responsibility for acting through time. In the following, I will illustrate this point and then draw a lesson about eternity from it.