P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 160
16th February 2011
I. 'Metaphysics as defining metaphysics' by Peter S. Borkowski
II. 'Humanism and the Ecstatic' by Martin Jenkins
III. 'Objectification and the Other' by Sim-Hui Tee
IV. Two events: Searching for Immortality and Socrates Dissatisfied
The theme of Metaphysics a couple of issues back (Philosophy Pathways
158) has provoked a response from three authors who have all
previously published articles in Pathways.
Citing as his inspiration the article by Adebayo Ogungbure, Peter
Stefan Borkowski tackles the vexed question of how best to introduce
students to metaphysics. He offers seven 'pathways' designed to
overcome the 'facile relativism' of students schooled in the Western
tradition, an attitude which finds difficulty in coming to grips with
the historical tradition and the questions of metaphysics.
Yet leaving aside relativist and materialist tendencies which largely
account for the loss of interest in metaphysical thinking, not to
mention the trenchant attacks by logical positivists, a more radical
train of thought arose in the 20th century which put metaphysics and
its historical tradition into question, not by dismissing it but by
actively seeking out and engaging with its fundamental assumptions.
Two thinkers in particular epitomize this process, Heidegger and
Martin Jenkins' exposition of Heidegger on humanism, and Sim-Hui
Tee's account of Levinas on the 'other', each shows the historical
tradition of metaphysics in a less than favourable light. What
metaphysicians have sought to do is, in the eyes of each of those
original and radical thinkers, a form of desecration.
For Heidegger, it is the very world we inhabit has become a mere
resource, the Greek philosopher Parmenides' sense of awe and mystery
at the very presence of Being is almost impossible for us to recall,
so lost are we in the world of beings and our project of gaining
mastery through knowledge and technique. Heidegger's term 'productive
metaphysics' sums up this form of thinking. For Levinas, the
irresistable urge towards 'totalising' knowledge leads us to lose
sight of the metaphysically fundamental ethical dimension of our
nature, wherein the Other stands in a sacred space infinitely removed
from our grasp, beyond all knowledge and control.
One might say that Heidegger emphasizes the solitude of the
'authentic' subject in touch with the Being of the universe, while
for Levinas when I look out at the world the first thing I see is the
'face' of the other, the face that forbids murder, that reminds me of
my perpetual ethical debt. Perhaps, the philosopher one feels more
drawn to shows the kind of thinker you are, or aspire to be?
I would liked to have seen some attempt to assess the relative
achievements -- or shortcomings -- of Levinas and Heidegger. In the
eyes of many academic philosophers, Heidegger's achievements are
tainted by his tryst with National Socialism in the 30s. While
Levinas is a survivor who bears witness to the appalling acts
perpetrated by that same regime. I draw no conclusions from this, but
it is something that needs to be said.
Finally, I am delighted to announce two events, one taking place in
London (and online) next Monday, and the other being held in May
amongst the very groves that Parmenides walked two and a half
thousand years ago. Full details below!
I. 'METAPHYSICS AS DEFINING METAPHYSICS' BY PETER S. BORKOWSKI
This paper is written in response to several points raised by Adebayo
A. Ogungbure in his interesting discussion concerning what metaphysics
actually studies ('Does metaphysics deal with something or nothing?'
Philosophy Pathways, Number 158, December 20 2010). His goal, he
states, is 'to raise certain skeptical questions about the subject
matter of metaphysics' for the purpose of illustrating how, for the
metaphysician, 'even nothing is something because nothingness is the
domain from which things come into being and unto which they become
extinct'. With several additions and applications, this much-needed
position or outlook can be beneficial for helping to introduce
students to metaphysics. Following Ogungbure's discussion, we will
outline seven pathways to 'something'.
Metaphysics is demanding for students, particularly at the
undergraduate level, but this is preceded by an even more serious
problem. Comparing students from other parts of the world with his
own at the University of Chicago, one of my colleagues remarked that,
Western students often have a sort of facile relativism as
the dark side of their superior critical thinking skills.
For example, when I taught Plato's Phaedo in Chicago, it
was very rare to see students take arguments for the
immortality of the soul seriously. They seemed to view the
Phaedo as a sort of historic document reflecting the spirit
of an age and never really came to grips with it as a work
making true or false statements about the soul... There may
have been a few students at Chicago who viewed all of the
arguments as a waste of time relating to subjects whose
ultimate answer was unknowable anyway.
This kind of attitude is not a superior brand of reasoning at all but
an intellectual handicap insofar as it can be a form of
anti-intellectualism, or at the very least a limited imagination.
Only metaphysics can help, but we will need to erect an edifice upon
which students can begin to see that there is 'something rather than
nothing' to it all.
The abstract summary in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
article on the subject begins with the statement 'It is not easy to
say what metaphysics is' and just below it the first paragraph begins
with 'The word metaphysics is notoriously hard to define'. As
evidence, many people tend to offer general, unspecific descriptions
such as 'metaphysics is the study of reality', but so are many other
things. Others add some phrasing like 'essence of reality' or 'nature
of the world', but this does not get rid of obscurity. We also meet
obscurity when predicating a statement as 'philosophical' like 'the
philosophical study of the nature of the world'. We might find that
in trying to define metaphysics we are doing metaphysics, and this
puts us in the trees only to lose sight of the forest.
Ogungbure cites A.J. Ayer: 'Metaphysical utterances are due to the
commission of logical errors, rather than to a conscious desire on
the part of their authors to go beyond the limits of experience'
(Language, Truth and Logic, London: Penguin Books, 1971, p.13). But,
as Ogungbure points out, this is still a study of metaphysics as
something for we cannot know 'what is not' until we have come to
understand what we mean by it. This is his concept of something-ness.
The positivist's strident confidence, or loyalty perhaps, in the
notion that factually empty statements = 'nothingism' is not a
pronouncement about metaphysics but an epistemological stance about
what is and is not to count as a fact. Ogungbure's thesis is that
'even if we think that metaphysics is about nothing, even that
nothing, by its very definition, and in the final analysis, would
amount to something'. We will list seven pathways towards
something-ness that will provide students, it is hoped, with a more
mature attitude to philosophy than the impressions my colleague had
at the University of Chicago.
The first pathway is to study is the historical evolution of the term
itself. The word is simple to trace. It comes to us from the
classification of Aristotle's works that followed his studies on
nature ta meta ta phusika, such subjects as first principles, first
philosophy, wisdom, theological tenets, and existence (e.g., primary
beings, protai ousiai). We see that the medieval period was engaged
in a highly rigorous and formal examination of concepts of substance,
essence, and the signification of these and other such terms from a
linguistic and logical point of view. The end of scholasticism,
however, saw the defeat of universals and metaphysical realism by
nominalism, a world view which had implications on all fronts,
particularly with how we approach metaphysics. Students can be
assigned to examine how the victory of Ockham's nominalist thesis led
to disparaging attitudes towards metaphysics.
The second pathway to metaphysics assigns students the task of
identifying which themes in metaphysics are handled empirically
(quantifiably). In the typical textbook, we observe that the themes
of metaphysics are: existence/ being, substance, time/ space, cause/
effect, free will/ determinism, and sometimes mind-body dualism.
However, space-time is largely handled by the physicists, ideas about
substance are taken for granted as material (why?), concepts of
identity are well within the domain of psychology. For each of these
themes, students can be assigned to identify in some detail how
metaphysical topics are and are not treated empirically. A related
task might be to find examples of metaphysics in New Age books and to
consider whether and on what basis people count them as philosophy.
The third pathway to metaphysics has students labeling the kind of
reasoning that is employed in a particular metaphysical work. St.
Anselm's arguments concerning God ('that than which nothing greater
can exist') can be looked at as a study in categories. Theories of
being can be approached as taxonomic attempts at classifying reality.
Students might investigate the problems involved in the coinage of
terms such as 'essence' and 'nature' based on their translations in
the early-medieval period and their etymologies. The scholastic
question 'How many angels can stand on the head of a pin?' is a
perfect example of the prejudice against speculative reasoning as a
kind that tends to futility. This question, in fact, represents a
profound conceptual revolution which paved the way for modern
science. Students can investigate what the conceptual relevance is to
abstract scientific thinking in this question.
The fourth pathway approaches metaphysics as a means to integrating
facets of experience into a holistic worldview. One of my favorite
definitions is that by Anthony Quinton; he defined metaphysics as
'the attempt to arrive by rational means at a general picture of the
world' (The Nature of Things, 1973). A general picture implies parts
and their integration. An excellent task is for students to list
features of experience which would need to be integrated (and provide
an argument justifying their lists) and then propose a way for doing
so, following the examples of selected readings provided by the
The fifth pathway examines what metaphysics is in the manner of
muthos (i.e., revealed or received tradition) as opposed to a
rational account (logos) based on empirical observation. Students can
try to justify just how a 'scientific' account of the world is said to
be 'better' than the one of muthos-traditions; how this can be
'objectively' so; and how public education systems can ethically
impose a science-logos account of reality upon a society which they
simultaneously describe as having its essence in diversity of
The sixth pathway to metaphysics concerns quasi-religious texts or
various 'books of wisdom', such as the I Ching, where we can read
such statements as 'that which is above matter is the Tao'; the
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy tells us that this particular
phrase can be rendered as 'that-which-is-above-matter-ology'. But
this metaphor 'above' raises suspicion. Students could attempt to
explain what the term here is to mean. Lakoff and Johnson would be an
excellent text for preparing a response (Metaphors We Live By, 1980).
Can we substitute 'above' with 'beyond', 'outside', or 'not' and
obtain the same linguistic significance? The logical positivists
concluded that metaphysical statements are meaningless, not really
statements at all, 'statements that look like other statements but
are just imitations in meaningful dress'. But the meaning in
'meaningful' is something on Ogungbure's account. Students can be
called to explain how the positivists can make this claim.
Our seventh pathway to intellectual recovery is verbal imagery.
'Nature is a book written by the finger of God' (Hugh of St. Victor)
and 'In every creature is the refulgence of the divine Exemplar,
though mixed with shadow' (St. Bonaventure) have, if nothing else, a
poetic value or quasi-intellectual force, such that these kinds of
statements do affect the mind in ways that our normal reading
experiences do not. What is that way exactly? If such statements have
no empirical value, then what is it about them that can give an
argument in which they are employed additional force? To use
Ogungbure's phrase, that something is not 'nothing' and students will
be tasked with an explanation.
Ogungbure asks, 'Does metaphysics deal with something or nothing?'
and 'Does the study of metaphysics afford us knowledge of something
worthwhile about the nature of reality and the fundamental principles
of human life?' Taken together, we see three questions:
1. Does metaphysics study something or nothing?
2. Does metaphysics produce knowledge about reality and principles?
3. Is that knowledge worthwhile?
There are many pathways that can demonstrate to students that the
answer to all three is Yes. I have outlined here only seven possible
ones. Metaphysics studies something rather than nothing: 'All that is
(c) Peter Stephan Borkowski 2011
II. 'HUMANISM AND THE ECSTATIC' BY MARTIN JENKINS
With its central concept of the human 'subject', Humanism originating
in the Abrahamic Religions and having its furthest derivatives in
Western Liberalism, Marxism and Existentialism, is taken to be the
epitome of what it is to be truly human. For the German Philosopher
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), it is, on the contrary, the latest
determination of historical Metaphysical thinking moving humanity
further away from its essence.
In the first part of the paper, I intend to outline the account
proffered by Heidegger of the history of Being as Metaphysical
thinking. In the second part, I highlight Heidegger's perceived
consequences of this thinking and his solutions to remedy them.
Whilst all Metaphysical determinations are disclosures in Being, they
have distanced themselves from a sensitive receptiveness to the truth
of Being. The hallmark of Metaphysics is that Being is thought to be
found in beings. This distancing, identical with the history and
trajectory of Western Philosophy, Heidegger describes as humanity
becoming homeless, as the oblivion and forgetting of its home in
Being. Paradoxically, whilst humanism in its Metaphysical guise
claims to be closest to what it is to be as a human; it is for
Heidegger, the latest manifestation of homelessness and the oblivion
Part One: The History of the Oblivion of Being
Being Is, it gives. It is both near and far. It is, what is.
Heidegger writes that in the time of their greatness, the Greeks
understood this without recourse to conceptual classification,
ordering and schematisation. They did not term such knowing
Philosophy. Parmenides said Esti gar einai: 'for there is Being'.
This statement remains unthought within Western Philosophy
indicating, says Heidegger, its lack of progress. The Greeks lived in
Being and everywhere it manifested itself through physis (allowing
something to emerge from itself) and aletheia (disclosure). Being was
not thematised, categorised or projected before beings in concepts and
categories allowing praxis. It was beheld immediately and purely.
The Later Greeks
From here, its immediate presence (ousia) became divided into
essentia and existentia. Essentia or whatness is the thisness of a
thing regardless of whether it actually exists or not. It is what the
thing is. Existentia as thatness, means that a thing is. Hence the
essentia or whatness of a tree contains all the 'possibilities' of
what it is to be a tree. Existentia means the particular tree as it
exists. From this enunciation, Being is to be found in beings and
Metaphysical thinking appears. It can only think Being in terms of
beings. That an existing tree is -- existentia -- depends on the
actualisation of some or all of the possibilities of its essentia.
This modality of Being is found in the universals or forms (eidos) of
In Aristotle, the enduring (ousia) is permanence and presence. The
presencing that appears in the presence of a thing is its motion and
rest. The permanent lying-present has come forward to unconcealment;
in each case it is a this or that (a tode ti); what is permanent and
lying present is at rest; motion completes itself in rest; what is
brought to the stand and position of presencing is brought in a
bringing-forth. This occurs in the manner of physis or, as poesis
(producing and representing something). The example of a house is
cited by Heidegger.
The house, like all things, is unconcealed. It is established and
stands in its outward appearance. Standing, it rests. The resting is
a gathering. What is gathered is the movements of the production of
the house and its termination in a boundary. Rest preserves the
completion of the movements. As such, the house is as work (ergon).
Work means what is completely at rest in the outward appearance,
presencing in unconcealment. In other words, the house as work is,
the continuous presencing and working of the four causes (efficient,
material, formal and final). This presencing or enduring in
permanence (ousia) is work (ergon). Presencing as work means
energeia: presence-as-work in the work of workness. The work or thing
before us -- such as the house -- 'works' as it were. Energeia is
not to be construed as latent energy, it is the presence (ousia) of
the this and the that (a tode ti). Workness does not mean the end
result or product. It means the continuous presencing, the standing
there in unconcealment of what is set up. The work 'works' before us.
Importantly, pace Plato, the difference between whatness (essentia)
and thatness (existentia) undergoes a reversal. Presence in the
primary sense becomes the thatness of a thing (existentia) as it
shows itself in outward appearance, presencing in unconcealment.
Whereas, what it is, its whatness (essentia) becomes secondary.
Heidegger writes thus of the change:
The same essence of Being, presencing, which Plato thinks
for the koinon in the idea, is conceived by Aristotle for
the tode ti as energeia. In that Plato can never admit that
the individual being is what is truly in Being and that
Aristotle is more truly Greek in his thinking than Plato
that is, in more keeping with the primordially decided
essence of Being. Still, Aristotle was able to think ousia
as energeia only in opposition to Ousia as idea, so that he
still keeps eidos as subordinate presence in the essential
constitution of the presencing of what is present.
Thatness of a thing is conceived as energeia -- what unconceals in
the presence of the work as workness. Being has presencing only in
existentia, beings or things understood as energeia. This movement
already on the way from a primordial understanding of Being,
undergoes a further transformation with the Romans.
Thatness or energeia, becomes actualitas. This Roman Latin term no
longer preserves the Greek understanding of Being as energeia.
That-being as energeia becomes thatness as actuality, as
(f)actuality, as real things before us. Although still moving away
from the original understanding of Being as unconcealment, the
Platonic eidos is revived, characterized by agathon (the good)
conceptualised not in its moral sense but as cause (attia). In other
words, agathon is what actualitas is capable of being: of capacity
for use brought into being by cause; of what it is possible of
presencing understood causally; of being 'fit for purpose'. For the
Romans, beings and things are what is real. They are determined by
working in the sense of causal making of this or that. No
Aristotelian 'workness' applies here. Trees understood as wood (i.e.
agathon), are good for building houses for citizens and colonisers;
for building bridges facilitating legionaries to cross.
Returning to the above cited example of the Aristotelian house, the
house as work is freed to be, in the openness of its presencing. As
workness, as being at work, it gathers into a limit, it presences in
the open. With the Roman view, the house is a product, a work
produced, effected, accomplished in the action. Its essence is now
the reality of a product for a definite purpose -- the building of
houses for occupation. The possibility (agathon) of its being a house
is determined by the correct materials, skills and intentions to the
exclusion of others. All is in service of Rome -- people, materials,
wars and incorporated peoples. The primordial Greek character of
Being is misunderstood and buried under the Roman interpretation of
Being. Under its sway, Being is thought as beings or things that are
defined, determinate and useful.
The Roman world view provides the foundation for the Western
theological-metaphysical world view. In fact, modernity still
operates within this paradigm of thinking and being as established by
Imperium Romanum. Reality or actualitas is effecting causality which
of itself, effects the stablising of standing constancy. Things are
made, made constant for use. They disclose themselves as present
before human beings according to pre-existent plans, intentions:
schematisations. The biggest source of continuity is perpetuated by
The view of actualitas as causation is determined in its highest
sense as God, the causal creator. God is the greatest being (summum
ens) and the greatest good (summum bonum). He is actualitas as the
eternal omnipresent ground, cause of all that can possibly be
created, that creates, effects and which is permanent in its
presence. The presence of things is understood as God's omnipotence,
as emanations from Him as the grounding cause. This is onto-theology.
The actualitas of the Romans whereby things in the world are caused
to exist for instrumental reasons and plans, becomes the actualitas
of things in their presence, in existence as caused and sustained by
God. Human beings think within this paradigm. Human thinking seeks
adequate or certain knowledge of God's creation.
As knowing beings, humans seek to attain certain knowledge. Certainty
seeks the truth and, seeks to be conscious of this truth. Initially,
this is performed through fidelity to the scriptures. A divergence
occurs, most notably with the thinking of Rene Descartes (1596-1650),
when the natural light of reason (lumen naturale) -- placed there by
God to know his creation with certainty -- becomes self-sustaining
and self-justifying. As Heidegger writes:
Something true is that which man of himself clearly and
distinctly brings before himself and confronts as what is
thus brought before him (re-presented) in order to
guarantee what is represented in such a confrontation. The
assurance of such representation is certainty...
Representational thinking, free of doubt and ambiguity, offers
certainty of what is constant, of what is real. The criteria of
clarity and distinctness ensures the objective reality of what is
represented in thought. Grounded in the reason of the thinking
subject, the onus for the truth of the Being of beings moves from
received theological doctrine to the individual thinking human
subject.This further presages natural philosophy which will later
furnish science and technology.
Hypokeimenon was for Aristotle, that which was present in itself. In
metaphysics this has now become subiectum, substantia, substance, in
other words the grounding of what a thing is. This includes the human
being -- it is a thinking substance or subiectum which represents
other objects and itself to itself, bringing constancy and continuity
of what is real. As such, it grounds beings as it presences in all
that it represents before itself. Being is defined as the being of a
thing, its essence, its substance insofar as it meets the criteria of
clear and distinct thinking. Representational thinking is the site of
the a priori criteria of the truth of the essence of things.
... What is true in the sense of being certain, is what is
real. The essence of the reality of what is real lies in
the constancy and continuity of what is represented in the
With this trajectory of thinking the subject later becomes the
grounding transcendental ego in Kant, Fichte and Schelling. With
Hegel the historical development of human thought is at the same
time, the reconciliation of the collective human 'ego' with itself
culminating in the Absolute. In repossessing knowledge of itself by
reconciling with its objective other, the subject ego brings itself
before it's other, objective self to achieve identity. This identity
means that what is -- knowledge as thought -- is always implicitly
before the ego, it is a matter of recovering it, making it
explicit. To speak metaphorically, the subject ego is excavating
its objective self to uncover its foundations -- which it itself
laid. Significantly for Heidegger, unlike aletheia, where Being
discloses itself, Being is now mapped out in advance by and for the
subject ego as objects for thought; to be both gathered by and then
constantly stand before the ego as subiectum. The passage written
by Hegel 'All that is actual is rational and all that is rational is
actual' captures this position. Witness how far the early Greek
understanding of Being has been left behind, buried under a
metaphysical understanding of Being as the being of things standing
before the subiectum.
'Humanism' can be seen as prioritising the human subject as the
centre of Being and, of human concerns. Feuerbach inverts the
subject-object relation so that the alienated, objectified 'essence'
of the human -- expressed in Hegel's God -- , becomes reconciled with
the subject resulting in a new identity. Namely, love as the true,
universal human essence. From here, we can see the corresponding
growth of liberal universal human rights premised on a model of what
it it is to be a human being. Humanistic marxism seeks the
reconciliation of the human essence or species being (gattungswesen)
from its alienation under capitalism thereby solving the riddle of
history. Libertarian egoists see the rational essence of beings as
justifying emancipation from statist interference to freely pursue
their concerns and business. Existentialists found a universal
human existence in the subjects unavoidable, terrible freedom of
choices in its life. Freed from ignorance, barbarism and
superstition; humanity is its apparent best, its most appropriate and
highest self in humanism.
Whilst not advocating inhumanism, Heidegger maintained that humanism
did not represent humanity at its highest. It was the continuation of
humanity's falling away from Being, preventing openness and
receptivity to Being. Humanism's universalised essence has in fact
strayed from what it truly is to be human. The history of Being as
metaphysics 'boxes' off humanity from its true essence. Heidegger's
response to this is examined in the second part of this paper.
Part Two: Essence of the Human
In the previous part, I gave a very brief overview of Heidegger's
view of the trajectory or destining of Western thinking. This
destining was set in place by the thinking of the later Greeks
onwards which, announced Metaphysics as the history of being in
Europe. One of the outcomes of this thinking was humanism. Heidegger
traces humanism's origins to the Romans. Here, the Greek zoon
logon echon is translated into Latin as animal rationale. This is not
simply a linguistic translation, it is a Metaphysical reading.
Metaphysical philosophy becomes the grounding for definitions of all
beings including the human. Yet Metaphysics doesn't ask the question
of Being; as it represents Being in beings it is prevented from
appreciating Being. Metaphysical definitions close human being from
Heidegger's Letter on Humanism was a response to issues raised by one
of his students Jean Brefet. Amongst many themes, it also contains
Heidegger's response to the philosophy of existentialism as proffered
by Jean-Paul Sartre. For Heidegger, existentialism claims to be the
continuation of the Enlightenment humanism. As such, the materials it
uses put it clearly in the camp of Metaphysics.
Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) had been a follower of the
phenomenologist Husserl before World War Two. He had published
Existentialism and Humanism to popularise his philosophy of
Existentialism. Basically, Existentialism promulgated the view
that existence precedes essence. There is no pre-ordained human
nature or essence which determines actions and behavior; the human
being is free to create him/ herself in their project of life. To
actualise this freedom is to act with authenticity. To choose to deny
it and accept what prescriptively exists, is to act inauthentically.
Sartre argued that his existentialism was a continuation of
Enlightenment thinking which recognised the dignity of human beings
as free, thinking, autonomous beings, freed from the prescriptions of
ignorance, religion and tyranny. It therefore qualified as a humanism.
Heidegger's response was that despite its protestations,
existentialism remains within the Metaphysical tradition it
ostensibly opposed. He writes:
Sartre expresses the basic tenet of existentialism in this
way: Existence precedes essence. In this statement he is
taking existentia and essentia according to their
metaphysical meaning, which from Plato's time on, has said
that essentia precedes existentia. Sartre reverses this
statement. But the reversal of a metaphysical statement
remains a metaphysical statement. With it he stays with
metaphysics in oblivion of the truth of Being.
The differentiation of essentia from existentia completely dominates
the destiny of Western history and all history determined by Europe.
Sartre's Existentialism is a Humanism is just the latest
manifestation of this destined trajectory.
Humanism first manifested with the Romans. Homo humanitas was
maintained in opposition to homo barbarus. The former enabled virtus
through the Greek practice of education. Homo humanitas was
distinguished by scholarship and good training in the arts (erudition
et institution in bonus artes). There were further significant views
of humanism with the Renaissance. What characterises all definitions
of humanism is that, along with Metaphysics, they foreclose the
essence of the human prescribing it with a definition or description
beforehand so that it already stands before the human being.
Hence the emphasis of Metaphysics to schematise, to prescribe and
then act upon such schematisations is evidenced again. The Humanity
of the human being is to stand in his essence.
Contrary to Metaphysical humanism's existentia as the foregone
conclusion of what it is to be human, Heidegger provides an
alternative analysis. This analyses will permit the human being to
achieve its full dignity by an openness to what is truly fundamental,
to what is primary -- namely Being.
Ek-sistence and Ecstatsis
For Heidegger, Being appears in humans as their essence. Essence is
the clearing (lichtung), the site which permits ek-sistence.
Ek-sistence can be articulated in language. Essence is not therefore,
to be thought in terms of essentia or existentia, neither is it to be
thought in the subject-object relation, neither is Being to be
thought in terms of beings. Essence is to be thought as the
possibilities of ek-sistence.
Essence as ek-sistence found its earliest expression in Being and
Time. Here, refraining from using the traditional term 'subject'
in order to break from Metaphysics, Heidegger instead uses the term
Dasein: there-being of being-there. Being where? Thought later as
ek-sistence but thought here as care (sorge), Care, along with
facticity is the everyday situational context of Dasein's
being-in-the-world. Being-There denotes not the Cartesian subject
distinct from the world, but a being already in the world, constituted
by it its various modes or structures of being. It has an
understanding of these and acts in accordance with this knowing
(directionality and intentional acting for-the-sake-of something).
This intimate concern, solicitude and openness with the world called
care is Dasein's primordial state of being. It is our everyday,
almost overlooked knowing of the world by which and through which, we
negotiate our lives.
As care is the openness of Dasein to the structure of
being-in-the-world, of being with others (Mittsein), this can allow
it to be subsumed in and to conform with the everyday, average being
and the prosaic chatter, outlooks of others: 'The They'. If so,
Dasein closes itself off to the primordial disclosure of Being.
Heidegger describes this as Dasein's falling (Verfallen) into
inauthenticity. Alternatively, care can also permit the openness
of Dasein to the mysterious, to the engaging, the the disclosure of
Being outside of and other to the existing structures of
being-in-the-world. Care provides Dasein with an openness or clearing
for Being. If Dasein is receptive to this and actively pursues it, it
can become authentic. Care as the primordial state of Dasein's being
becomes after, Being and Time, understood as ek-sistence.
The Being of the Da...[Dasein MJ] has the fundamental
characteristic of ek-sistence that is, of an ecstatic
inherence in the truth of Being. The ecstatic essence of
man consists in ek-sistence, which is different from the
metaphysically conceived existentia.
As the human sustains the clearing in care or ek-sistence, Being can
appear through ecstasis. Ecstasis is the openness of the human to
Being by the going beyond, standing outside existing structures and
modes of existing ek-sistence. Engaging with Being in such a manner,
is the highest and proper essence of humanity. Or, Being can be
ignored as Dasein continues to concern itself with the everydayness
of beings perpetuating the concealment of Being (i.e. fallenness).
Philosophically and epistemologically, Metaphysics cuts humanity off
from such ecstasis. As we have seen, it postulates the essence of
humanity as something already prepared before, projecting beforehand
thereby preventing the clearing of receptiveness to Being in
ecstasis. The most recent and distant humanism continues the
trajectory of Metaphysics as destined by earlier thinkers. In other
words, ek-sistence is the open site which can allow Being to disclose
itself thereby allowing alternative, other possibilities of
understanding humanity and the world. Authentic beings must be open
to the solicitations of Being!
Why is Being so important? Why must humanity be receptive to its
calling and how? The forgetting of Being aided by the Metaphysical
philosophy of Western thinkers takes humanity into dangerous places.
Metaphysics schematises beings and the world to lie before humanity.
This existing before, permits humanity to use the categories,
conceptualisations, substantive definitions in a purely instrumental
way -- in the same way one reads a map. This is present in the modern
philosophies of Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and even the avowed
anti-metaphysician Nietzsche. It is means-end governed thinking or as
Michael Zimmerman famously termed it-'productive metaphysics'. The
paradigm of technology arises from this, and reality becomes standing
reserve, reduced to the status of resources waiting to be used by
humanity. More evidence of subjectivism destined from Metaphysics.
All phenomena including human beings, are viewed and valued in this
Productive metaphysics dominates globally and we've recently
experienced its consequences financially, militarily, perhaps
ecologically. Social intercourse races like impersonal speeding cars
on the latest built motorways, each 'boxed off' from the other:
speeding, stressing, sometimes crashing. Human beings are viewed as
primarily economic resources to be exploited, categorised, used and
discarded as if they were mere objects in time and space. To use a
word, it 'de-humanises'. But this term presupposes a concept of what
it is to be 'human'. As we've seen, it is not, for Heidegger, to be
found within the Metaphysical worldview, it is to be found in the
openness or ecstasis of human ek-stence to the myriad solicitations
of Being. That is, there are alternative ways of being, of thinking
and appreciating Being. In poetry, art, or the appreciation of the
irruptive 'divine' in the mundane, of phenomenologically appreciating
the familiar in a new way, Being is disclosed. Being is both near
and far. As its shepherds, we must tend away from the consequences of
productive metaphysics and remedy with receptivity to what truly is.
In ecstasis, we must let beings be, to disclose themselves in their
purity, before presence. A clue to this might be found when Heidegger
writes of visitors to Heraclitus who expected to see something grand,
absolute and revelatory.
The story is told of something Heraclitus said to some
strangers who wanted to come to visit him. Having arrived
they saw him at a stove. Surprised, they stood there in
consternation -- above all because he encouraged them, the
astounded ones and called for them to come in with the
words: Einai gar kai entautha theous ('Here too, the gods
[i.e. Being MJ] come to presence').
1. P.238 Martin Heidegger Letter On Humanism. Contained in David
Farrell Krell (ed). Heidegger Basic Writings. Routledge 1993.
2. P.3 Martin Heidegger. Metaphysics as History of Being. Martin
Heidegger. The End of Philosophy. University of Chicago Press 2003.
3. P.5. ibid.
4. The similarities between the 'Humanistic' writings of Karl Marx
and Aristotle's ontological categories are striking. For the former,
the essence of man is that of a creative creator and his essence is
actualised in creative work. This is alienated under the Capitalist
mode of production to be reconciled in the free, creative workings of
the worker in Communist society. See: Scott Meikle. Essentialism in
the Thought of Karl Marx. Gerald Duckworth & Co. 1985.
5. P.9. Metaphysics as History of Being. op. cit.
6. P.12 et alibi. ibid.
7. P.24. ibid.
8. P.24. ibid.
9. See also Martin Heidegger. The End of Philosophy and the Task of
Thinking. P.431 Krell op. cit. Thinking Being must be a matter of
allowing the Clearing for being and not only the Presence of beings
before themselves in definitions and categories..
10. 'With Descartes' philosophy, the ego becomes the measure
giving subiectum, that is, that which is deployed before
'Insofar as the subject knows itself as the knowledge that
conditions all objectivity, it is as this knowledge: the
Absolute itself. Being is in truth, is thought thinking
P.3 Martin Heidegger. Hegel and the Greeks.
11. G.W.F. Hegel. The Philosophy of Right.
12. Ludwig Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity.
13. See for example Dr Chris Tame. The New Enlightenment: The Revival
of Libertarian Ideas. Philosophical Notes No 48. The Libertarian
14. Jean Paul Sartre. Existentialism and Humanism. Methuen. 1974.
15. P.244 Martin Heidegger. Letter On Humanism. David Farrell-Krell.
Heidegger Basic Writings. Routledge 1993.
17. Jean Paul Sartre. Existentialism and Humanism. Methuen. 1974.
18. P.232 Letter On Humanism op. cit.
19. P.224 ibid.
20. Martin Heidegger. Being and Time. Blackwell 1992.
21. Part One, Division One, II. ibid.
23. P.219 ibid.
24. P.304 ibid.
25. P.229. Letter On Humanism op. cit. See also Martin Heidegger On
The Essence of Truth. Krell op. cit.
26. P.30. Timothy Clark. Martin Heidegger. Routledge 2002.
See also Martin Heidegger. The Question Concerning Technology. The
Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Harper & Row. 1977.
27. I wonder at this point whether Being will always always 'other'
to an existing paradigm or representation -- even one recently
established. In the same way, Derrida argues there can never be a
text of pure presence, Heidegger's Being and Derrida's 'otherness' to
the text is like a regulative ideal, a 'groundless ground' so to
speak, which gives. It instructs an ethics of tolerance, openness,
hospitality and opposition to holistic closure and the absolute
assumption of Truth without ever being presence itself,
theologically, a deus abscondicus?
28. P.255. Letter On Humanism. op. cit.
(c) Martin Jenkins 2011
III. 'OBJECTIFICATION AND THE OTHER' BY SIM-HUI TEE
Emmanuel Levinas was dubbed 'a philosopher of four cultures' by
AP-Paris (Valevicius 1998). His philosophical concepts were strongly
influenced by Russian, French, German and Jewish culture. The idea of
'interiority', for instance, was claimed a Russian idea (Valevicius
1998, 12); the idea of 'discourse' can be traced to Platonism and
Heideggerian 'Sprache'; the idea of 'the dwelling', on the other
hand, was borrowed from Heidegger. Of course, as an original thinker,
Levinas has reshuffled and reshaped these ideas with a new meaning.
Along the course of idea repacking, Levinas has introduced new ideas
and terminologies. Some commentators assert that Levinas has gone too
far in his language game by 'massacre[ing] the French language'
(Valevicius 1998, 13) in his writings. Reading Levinas is no easier
task than reading Heidegger and Derrida. One of the hurdles is that
Levinas's works are full of religious metaphors. In addition,
Levinas's philosophical concepts are intertwining strands. It is
sometimes seemed hopeless to even comprehend the bridging concepts.
It is putatively agreed that Levinas's main contribution to
philosophy is his efforts in elevating ethics to the height of
metaphysics. Levinasian ethics is construed as the first philosophy.
Prior to Levinas, ethics has a very low status in philosophy as
compared to metaphysics and epistemology. Major philosophers in the
modern and contemporary continental philosophy do not dwell on
ethical issues. We can hardly detect the trace of ethics in the
writings of some important twentieth century German philosophers,
such as Husserl and Heidegger. Take Heidegger for example. He dwelled
on Sein (Being) throughout his life, but left no place for ethics in
his writings. Therefore, Heideggerian beings are claimed to be a
being in solitude. Husserl, on the other hand, focused on the
transcendental ego. Husserlian transcendental ego is not only in
solitude, but prior to existence.
Levinas's thought began from Husserl and Heidegger. However, he took
a different path. Levinasian philosophy is neither orthodox
phenomenology nor Derridarian deconstructivism. It also can hardly be
classified as Sartrean existentialism. For Levinas holds that
ethicality is always prior to the manifestation of being (Caruana
2007, 252). The priority of ethicality was stressed in his first
masterpiece Totality and Infinity. Ethics is established when a man
faces an exterior other, viz., another man whom cannot be reduced
inwardly to an alternative inner ego.
2. The exteriority of the Other
Levinasian ethics as the first philosophy implies that the
relationship with the Other precedes the ontology of Cartesian
dualism. Levinas presents ethics as the manifestation of face -- that
is, the subjectivity is presented as 'welcoming the Other' (Levinas
2000, 27). The Other, his exterior face, is to be welcomed and
maintained as it is rather than be reduced to interiority. The
irreducibility of the face of the Other has its cause in the
metaphysical desire. Such desire is not a matter of degree but
entirely absolute, for a man is eternally unable to reduce the Other
by accounting for his properties.
The other metaphysically desired is not 'other' like the
bread I eat, the land in which I dwell... like, sometimes,
myself for myself, this 'I,' that 'other.' I can 'feed' on
these realities and to a very great extent satisfying
myself, as though I had simply been lacking them. Their
alterity is thereby reabsorbed into my own identity as a
thinker or a possessor. The metaphysical desire tends
toward something else entirely, toward the absolutely other.
(Levinas 2000, 33)
The metaphysical desire that is to keep the other exterior 'is a
desire that can not be satisfied' (Levinas 2000, 34). Levinas means
that the Other can never be absorbed into my own identity. One cannot
come to full comprehension of the Other's mental states by inference.
Similarly, one can never genuinely overpower and rule the Other.
He and I do not form a number. The collectivity in which I
say 'you' or 'we' is not a plural of the 'I'.
(Levinas 2000, 39)
The ontology of Cartesian dualism, on the other hand, treats the
Other as an exterior ego which can be reduced to an inner ego.
Cartesian dualism has many advocates, Husserl being one of the most
important Cartesians in the twentieth century. Levinas regards
Husserl's transcendental phenomenology the most extreme form of
ontology -- the philosophy of totality (Lee 2010, 134-135). In
Totality and Infinity, Levinas holds that totality is long subscribed
in the history of philosophy. Subjectivity was measured in term of
totality in the sense that individuals were subsumed under sameness.
Notwithstanding the fact that the philosophers in the past had
recognized the difference among individuals, they tended to objectify
individuals. The consequence of such objectification is the
accessibility to the Other. The access from self to the other self is
a result of objectification, that is, totalizing the ontological
relationship between two individuals.
However, Levinas claims that the Other is not accessible by any
means. By objectification, the Other is reduced to the sameness but
the former is incomprehensible. Neither the Other can be objectified
through language. For the face of the Other is irreducible. The face
of the Other cannot be totalized. It lies on the plane of infinity,
as opposed to the totality. The irreducible face of the Other is
eternally exterior, which is inaccessible and immeasurable. Hence,
the Other cannot be encompassed as a content, for a content requires
totalizing ethics by objectification.
The face is present in its refusal to be contained. In this
sense it cannot be comprehended, that is, encompassed. It is
neither seen nor touched-for in visual or tactile sensation
the identity of the I envelops the alterity of the object,
which becomes precisely a content.
(Levinas 2000, 194)
The face of the Other is in the light. The light presupposes the
horizon in a somewhat Heideggerian sense. The relationship between
ego and the Other is a face-to-face relationship which constitutes
Levinasian phenomenology of ethics. For he states that 'ethics is an
'optics'' (Levinas 2000, 29). As opposed to the later Heidegger,
Levinas does not confer a negative sense of the phenomenology of
light a significant position in his philosophy. For Levinas, the face
of the Other is eternally exterior and irreducible. The Other is
always in the light. It is nonsense talking of the 'boundary' of
light (as did by Heidegger), for there is no boundary to infinity.
The Other is infinitely remote from the ego, that is, transcending
ego when he and I come face-to-face. The encounter with the Other is
a transcendental event in which the difference lies. Such difference
signifies the exteriority of the Other.
Transcendence designates a relation with a reality
infinitely distant from my own reality... We have called
this relation metaphysical.
(Levinas 2000, 41-42)
As opposed to Husserlian transcendental idealism in which the
difference is internalized to sameness, Levinas asserts that the
difference brought forth by the encounter with the Other is
infinitely great. Such difference cannot be eliminated by
objectification. For the transcendence of the Other allows no entry
point for the objectification to embark.
The Other remains infinitely transcendent, infinitely
foreign; his face in which his epiphany is produced and
which appeals to me breaks with the world that can be
common to us, whose virtualities are inscribed in our
nature and developed by our existence.
(Levinas 2000, 194)
Levinas has striven, in his philosophical career, to demonstrate that
objectification of the Other is an enterprise that is doomed to be a
failure. It is because the Other has a face which is irreducible. The
relationship with the Other is not a plural of the ego, for the
plurality presupposes the collectivity of a multitude of sameness.
The irreducibility of the Other results in the uniqueness of
individuals and maintains the transcendental horizon in the
Caruana, John. 2007. The drama of being: Levinas and the history of
philosophy. In Continental Philosophy Review. 40. Pp 251-273.
Lee, Nam-In. 2010. Phenomenological reflections on the possibility of
first philosophy. In Husserl Studies. 26. Pp 131-145.
Levinas, Emmanuel. 2000. Totality and Infinity. Pittsburgh: Duquesne
Valevicius, Andrius. 1998. Afterword: Emmanuel Levinas, the
multicultural philosopher. In Continental Philosophy Review. 31. Pp
(c) Sim-Hui Tee 2011
Persiaran Multimedia, Cyberjaya
IV. TWO EVENTS: SEARCHING FOR IMMORTALITY AND SOCRATES DISSATISFIED
(a) Humankind's Search for Immortality
Subject: Upcoming philosophy event live in London and live-streamed
From: Anna Gaskell email@example.com
Dear Dr. Klempner,
I am writing from Intelligence Squared to let you know about our
forthcoming philosophy event: John Gray and Adam Phillips in
conversation on humankind's quest for immortality. (We thought it
would be interesting this early on in the New Year to host a
philosopher known (mistakenly?) for his unrelenting pessimism...).
The event will take place on evening of the 21st of February, at the
Notting Hill Tabernacle in London.
The philosopher and the psychotherapist will be discussing the themes
of Gray's new book, The Immortalization Commission: Science and the
Strange Quest to Cheat Death. It will surely provoke a fascinating
discussion, which will also be opened out to the audience. I am
writing to you because I thought students of the International School
of Philosophy might like to attend, and because I'm sure they will
have questions of their own. I have attached a PDF with more details
of the event, and I was hoping you would circulate it -- if you think
this is something your students would like to know about (we have
student tickets available), and equally if you think that other
members of the your department, or other people involved with the
school and with Pathways, would be interested. We will also be
live-streaming the event, so do let me know if it would be more
comfortable and convenient for students to watch it together online,
with the humble aid of an overhead projector. I do understand that
your students are based all over the place!
If you would like to know more about Intelligence Squared, please
visit our website: http://www.intelligencesquared.com. And if you
have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Title: 'Humankind's Search for Immortality'
Monday 21 February 2011
In the late 19th century the implication of Darwin's theories was
that humans were animals like any other, alone in an uncaring
universe. The refusal to accept this and to insist instead on our
immortality resulted in a series of experiments. Gray examines two
major examples: the belief that the science-backed Communism of the
new USSR could reshape the planet, remaking humanity and freeing us
from death (and in the process return Lenin back to life), and the
belief among a group of Edwardian intellectuals that there was a form
of life after death accessed through mediums and automatic writing.
These attempts may seem deluded to us in the 21st century but can we
claim to be no longer gripped by the hope that somehow science can
make us invincible?
Writer and Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics
Psychoanalyst and writer
Cadogan Hall 5 Sloane Terrace, London SW1X 9DQ
Monday 21st February 2011
Doors open at 6:15pm. The event starts at 7:00pm and finishes at
£25 standard tickets and £12.50 student tickets from:
45 Notting Hill Gate
London, W11 3LQ
Tel: 0207 221 1177
Mob: 07967 107588
(b) Better to be an unhappy man than a happy pig?
Subject: Conference in May
From: Habeeb Marouf firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Geoffrey Klempner email@example.com
You may recall our conference in May 'Better to be an unhappy human
than a happy pig'.
Would some of your associates be interested in attending, presenting
and participating in general? We hold some of the talks at the ruins
in Elea themselves, under olive trees, which adds a nice touch to the
Conference on the Philosophy of Ethics : 27-29 May 2011, Elea, Italy
Title: 'Better to be an unhappy man than a happy pig?'
Confirmed key note speakers:
Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Ethics Centre, The Open
Professor Sarah Nooter
Classics, University of Chicago
John Stuart Mill provides a detailed argument as to why unhappiness
as a human is preferable to happiness of the most satisfied 'beast',
It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig
satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool
satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different
opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the
question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (1861) Ch.II.
Participation and papers are invited by all those interested in the
themes broached by the above conclusion and the rather difficult
question it raises: is it actually better to be an unhappy human than
a happy pig?
Papers on related themes such as the substance and purpose of
morality, the nature and utility of happiness, the comparative value
of happiness and contentment, and indeed the question of why a human
who experiences extreme unhappiness would not wish for the ignorance
of a pig or a fool, are welcome. Papers will be reviewed and
published in the Parmenideum journal.
The Parmenideum periodically holds 'philosophy under the olives'
venues, both as formal conferences and informal encounters at the
southern Italian town of Ascea in the Cilento, Italy, close to the
archaeological ruins of the Greek settlement of Elea and once home to
the pre-Socratics Parmenides and Zeno.
Weather permitting, talks may be delivered at the site of the
archaeological ruins, providing an ideal setting for the discussion
and exploration of philosophical issues. Talks are held in English.
Travel to Ascea is straightforward by road or by direct train from
either Rome or Naples without need for changes. Participants can be
met at the station on arrival. Accommodation can be arranged at a
number of agriturismo establishments (Italian country B&Bs) or at
residential apartments and hotels in the area, many of which are
searchable via the internet.
For accommodation details
Full directions for air or road travel
There is a nominal registration fee of £40 per delegate. For further
details and to register, or for language assistance when booking
accommodation and travel, contact:
Lars Aagaard-Mogensen or Habeeb Marouf
Via La Chiazzetta 27
I-84046 Ascea (SA)
Tel: +39 0974 978 005
+39 329 408 4127
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