Time and space, seen as contents of thought, are for Hegel, only possibilities. Both represent self-externalities, that is to say, magnitudes containing within themselves a multitude, a diversity of contents that cannot overlap. This is when we see time and space separately.
Now, if we combine these two structures, the self-externality of space with the flowing self-externality of time, we get the place. The place is a content of space that is also determined in time.
We must recall the specifics of Hegel’s method. Although the place is something resulting from the combination of time and space, this result must be thought of only in hindsight, in the same way in which water is hydrogen and oxygen only from the viewpoint of analysis. As when we want to know the constitution of water we first must have examples of it, in order to understand what a place is we must already know about the place from experience.
The place is different from the pure flow of time and the pure coexistence of space. Place is a concrete, in the sense of a given content of space, and not space in general, in its pure possibility, which space, as the coexistence of all its possible points, is. But you cannot think of that concrete spatial location if you do not associate it with time.
Place negates pure spatiality and temporality in that it makes them concrete; it adds the feature of concreteness, of ‘here’ and ‘now.’
We are accustomed to thinking of the place of things as having nothing to do with time. We look in a room and see that the different pieces of furniture are located in different places of that room. In this perception, we are not aware of the necessary thought-presence of time. However, time is there.
We cannot determine a content of space, a real point in space, independently of time. To locate something in space, you must also be able to trace its position in time. This becomes obvious when we deal with large spaces. It is not enough to say something is located 300 kilometers away from another point. You must cover those kilometers, and you cannot reach the remote point without traveling through time too.
The connection between time and space is present even in the definition of a meter. The latter was recently defined as the length of the path traveled by light in a vacuum in 1/299792458 of a second. Thus, when we locate something as being at a certain distance from something else, we are forced to introduce time into our understanding of that distance.
Coming back to the example of the pieces of furniture in our room, we must note that to locate the bookshelf in front of me and alongside the door, I must turn my sight from the shelf to the door. In this way, in fact, I also give different contents to my time intuition.
I locate the shelf and the door in different moments of my time awareness. My time awareness is no longer a pure sequence of moments without any content flowing into each other. This flow is now made up of different contents too, which are located in space. Thus the reality of a place is based on combining space and time.
Concerning Hegel’s method, we must add that he applies Kant’s and Fichte’s method of transcendental deduction. In this type of demonstration, you start from a given mental structure, trying to find its origin or possibility in our faculties of knowledge or the structure of our thought.
In this respect, Kant spoke about quid juris, borrowing from the science of right not only a specific concept but also the model of proving the right to own the thing in question: namely, the need to justify a certain claim made by someone by showing the documents allowing him to make that claim.
Thus, concerning human knowledge, Kant endeavored to show the structures of the human mind on which the claims of our knowledge were based. But the claims already had to be there.
Later, Fichte explained the content of the finite human consciousness as the result of the self-limiting activity of the pure or unconditioned I. He also started from the empirical content of the human consciousness, trying to find out the initial structure of this consciousness, which made that empirical content possible, through an archeology of the human mind.
Thus, when Hegel analyzes a new content of nature, he applies this method of transcendental deduction, although in a particular way. He no longer starts from an unconditioned I whose self-limiting actions he then presents.
This would equate to starting the philosophical investigation as if from a ‘pistol shot’ because the absolute I is posited in that approach as if you already knew of it. Instead, he tries to explain the present content of human consciousness or a present domain of it by starting from the simplest elements of understanding.
As in archeology, where you can see the present-day edifices grounded on various underground layers and can trace back the history of a community living there to the first, simplest artifacts discovered in those layers, in Hegel’s approach, the different layers of understanding are brought to light successively starting from the simplest elements of understanding. But, as in archeology, the content is there.
This is why, for Hegel, philosophy is first of all a science of the past, as he describes this science in his Philosophy of Right. There he says that the ideal structure supporting the real process can be known by philosophy only when the process ends, making thus visible that structure. ‘When philosophy paints its grey in grey, Hegel says, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy’s grey in grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood.’ (Hegel, p. 16)
G. W. Fr. Hegel, Outlines of the Philosophy of Right, translated by T.M. Knox, Oxford University Press, 2008.