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logo    The Self-Destruction Of Metaphysics


John Kozy, Jr.

According to [Metaphysics], all being . . . has been conceived as coming from a "Being in Repose." Heidegger: The Question of Being.

Whether or not being idealistic makes sense ultimately depends upon the character of reality. Is reality pliable to man's touch? Is Being adaptable to his ideals? Or does the character of reality have a hand which is too heavy to be moved by man's efforts?

Of course, the study of "Being qua Being" has since Aristotle's time been the subject matter of metaphysics. Yet, as Heidegger writes, "Being remains mysterious." What is its character? Why after all of these years has the question of Being remained unsolved? Why have the properties that Being has "inherent in it in virtue of its own nature" never been settled upon?

Is this mysteriousness due to metaphysical blindness or must we conclude that some property inherent in Being in virtue of its own nature insures this continuing mystery? Have we by chance failed to discover this property because of the way in which we usually think of Being?

Generally, philosophers think of Being in terms of a gerund, for the gerund is, so to speak, the vehicle within which the concept is carried. But the gerund is only one of the concept's nouns: "essence" is a noun which is part of the concept, so is the infinitive "to be," and two participial nouns—the been and the being—are also parts of the concept. So one might say that Being's three essences, its states of Being, are the been, beings, and the to-be.

If one wanted to reveal Being qua Being, it would seem he would have to study Being's essences, for where else would the character of Being be revealed than in its states? If one seeks, thus, to reveal Being itself, he must first reveal the been, beings, and the to-be, and this revelation has always been the goal of metaphysicians.

Philosophers have, of course, philosophized about history to reveal the been in its character as Being, and the present is here before us to be observed. The future, however, is a barrier that hides the to-be. In order to overcome this barrier, philosophers have often thought that the to-be is what must be, and as what must be, that it can be known in advance. They have argued that "What is reasonable is actual; and, What is actual is reasonable."1 So to know the to-be, one need merely know what reason requires. Since the been and beings are already knowable, the question of Being is thus reduced to a question of logic: What does reason require?

Plato, himself, initiates this theme in philosophy:

the ancients, who were our betters and nearer the gods than we are, handed down the tradition, that . . . things are . . . composed of one and many, and have the finite and infinite implanted in them: seeing, then, that such is the order of the world, we too ought in every inquiry to begin by laying down one idea of that which is the subject of inquiry; this unity we shall find in everything. Having found it, we may next proceed to look for two, if there be two, or, if not, then for three or some other number, subdividing each of these units, until at last the unity with which we began is seen not only to be one and many and infinite, but also a definite number; the infinite must not be suffered to approach the many until the entire number of the species intermediate between unity and infinity has been discovered,—then, and not till then, we may rest from division, and without further troubling ourselves about the endless individuals may allow them to drop into infinity. This, as I was saying, is the way of considering and learning and teaching one another, which the gods have handed down to us.2

Underlying Plato's words is this argument: if the world is ordered, and if logic, the logos, is the world's explanation, the world's underlying thought, then logic must be order itself. As Jevons points out,

All thought, so far as it deals with general names or general notions, may be said to consist in classification. . . . [Since] reasoning has been plausibly represented to consist of affirming of the parts of a class whatever may be affirmed of the whole. . . . [Thus] it would hardly be too much to define logic as the theory of classihcation.3

So Plato tries to find the order of thoughts, i.e., of concepts. A description of this order constitutes a description of that supersensible reality which is the underlying, logical basis of sensible reality. The "one idea of that which is the subject of enquiry" is Being, and Plato shows us how to use the logic of division to divide this universal idea into its hierarchy of species, as Porphry recognizes in the array commonly known as the tree. This array should eventually include every concept, and the order of the array should be the order of sensible reality. Plato's philosophy divides the cosmos into two realms: the one and the many, the ideal and the real, the universal and the particular, the mental and the physical, and his array is an ideal explanation of the real. So because every been, being, and to-be can be known, Being as Being can be known.

Aristotle, in a smaller way, also tries to find a way of knowing the to-be in advance so that Being as Being can be known. He too asks, what is the relationship between the universal and the particular, ho logos and ho cosmos, logic and the world, form and matter, the ideal and the real? And most students of philosophy know that he tries to answer this question by developing what has come to be known as the science of logic; for in the syllogism, one deduces statements of less generality from statements of more generality. Aristotle, however, never presents an ultimate array of syllogisms which is meant to be a description of reality as a whole.

But during the Renaissance, this ancient theme is considered again. What is the relationship between mind and matter? becomes the dominant question. And rationalism's proposal of two distinct but coordinated realms of mind and matter leads naturally to the question of epistemology: If our thoughts are restricted to one realm, how can one ever know the other? Of course Kant's answer is that one cannot and that one need not. Kant thus gives us a description of human experience which does not require two realms, and his description depends upon the concept of order. Furthermore it is Kant too who, in the transcendental dialectic, tells us how to construct the ultimate array of syllogisms that Aristotle fails to present, and logic is again the basis of an ontological view.

Since Kant has shown that knowledge of two realms is unnecessary, philosophers no longer have had two questions to answer: The question about the relation between logic and reality, mind and matter, is no longer appropriate. What is logic? is the only question that remains. As most students of philosophy know, Hegel, in response to this question, creates the philosophy of absolute idealism, because he sees this reduction most clearly: all is mind; Being is mind. Since Being is mind, it thinks logically; its thoughts constitute the development of logic and thus the development of the world. In other words, everything develops in accordance with the Idea.

Hegel also sees most clearly the difficulty that is inherent in P1ato's dialectical array, for it assumes the use of a concept that does not appear in the array itself—the concept of negation. So Hegel develops a new logic, a new dialectical array, in which the concept of nothing definitely appears:

Pure Being makes the beginning: because it is . . . pure thought, and . . . immediacy itself, simple and indetermined. . . . But this mere Being, as it is mere abstraction, is therefore . . . just Nothing . . . [But] the distinction of course implies two things, and that one of them possesses an attribute which is not found in the other. Being however is an absolute absence of attributes, and so is Nought. Hence the distinction between the two is only meant to be; it is a quite nominal distinction, which is at the same time no distinction. . . . Nothing, if it be thus immediate and equal to itself, is also conversely the same as Being is. The truth of Being and of Nothing is accordingly the unity of the two: and this is Becoming.4

The flaw in this scheme is readily apparent, however, for all the concepts in Hegel's array are equivalent to one another: Hegel's array only gives the appearance of distinction. Thus, he fails to solve the problem of logic. Heidegger's writings, however, suggest a solution to this problem:

Nothing . . . does not attract: its nature is to repel. This "repelling from itself" is essentially an "expelling into"; a conscious gradual expulsion into the vanishing what-is-in-totality. And this total expulsion into the vanishing what-is-in-totality . . . is the essence Nothing: nihilation. Nihilation is neither an annihilation of what-is, nor does it spring from negation. . . . Nothing "nihilates" itself.

Nihilation is not a fortuitous event; but, understood as the expulsion into the vanishing what-is-in-totality, it reveals the latter in all its till now undisclosed strangeness as the pure "Other"—contrasted with Nothing. . . . Nothing is neither an object nor anything that "is" at all. Nothing occurs neither by itself nor "apart from" what-is, as a sort of adjunct. . . . Nothing not merely provides the conceptual opposite of what-is but is also an original part of Being. It is in the Being of what-is that the nihilation of Nothing occurs. . . . 

"Pure Being and pure Nothing are thus one and the same." This proposition of Hegel's is correct.5

 In [Being] is hidden the essential source of nihilation. What nihilates, is manifest as nothing-like. . . . Nihilation is essentially in Being itself. . . . The nihilating in Being is the essence of . . . the Nothing.6

Without the original manifest character of Nothing there is no . . . freedom.7

These passages suggest that Nothing, whose essence is negation, expels beings from itself by negating itself. The solution to the problem of logic can be encapsulated in the following logical array:

Nothing = Being


living - nonliving


This array avoids Plato's difficulty, for Nothing is the first concept in the array; so no concept is utilized before it appears, and Hegel's difficulty is avoided by Plato's array itself, for it presents real rather than apparent distinctions. Although beings always are, the Nothing which is not a being never is, for Nothing as pure Being is pure abstraction.

Heidegger, of course, denies that "Being" signifies an abstraction, and what he means is right in a sense. Yet, in another sense, etymological studies (perhaps more objective than his) seem to rebut him. Of the three proto-Indoeuropean roots (es, bheu, wes) from which the concept of Being is formed, etymological studies indicate that "wes" was the only perfect one, "es" and "bheu" having been defective. Since "wes" meant to dwell, in proto-Indoeuropean one could say I dwell, I dwelled, I will dwell, etc. However, "es" seems to have possessed only the present tenses in the indicative and subjunctive moods; consequently, in proto-Indoeuropean one could say only I am, I sie, etc. (where the Old English sie is used as a stand-in for the original subjunctive form), and studies seem to indicate that when one used these expressions, he meant something like I am here, since the original meaning of "es" seems to have been something like to occupy a specific place. Since the verb "es" had no past tenses, the use of the past tenses of "wes" to convey meanings like I was here is not difficult to understand, for having been here is merely a slight abstraction of having dwelled here. Similarly, the root "bheu" seems to have lacked any past tenses, and if the history of the process of the abstraction of this root goes from to be born to to come to be to to become, to see how the future tenses of this root could have come to stand for the absent future tenses of "es" is easy. Subsequently, the obsolescence of the infinitive, participial, imperative, and present subjunctive forms of "am-was" (the verb formed by the amalgamation of "es" and "wes") and their replacement by the respective forms of "bheu" account for the forms of the present defective verb "am-was-be."

These facts indicate that any concrete meaning that is to be associated with the word "Being" is to be found in the concepts of occupying a place, being born, and dwelling. "Being," however, never signified an original concept and never denoted anything concrete; "Being" always has denoted an abstraction. I would like to suggest that this fact is revealing. 

A mere glance at the concrete meanings of "Being" reveals that Being has two characteristics of lesser abstraction: coming and staying. Being born is a concrete form of coming to be which is itself a form of coming; and occupying a place and dwelling are forms of staying. However, numerous other concrete forms of coming and staying are known. For instance, if we consider Being metaphorically as either a stuff or a place out of which beings come, to list words which denote ways by which beings can come out of Being (i.e., come to be) is easy. A being can be born, of course, but it can also merely issue (go out from), exist (step out from), extrude (be pushed out from), emerge (float out from), excresce (grow out from), exude (be sweated out from), be produced (lead out from), be exported (carried out from), be extirpated (pulled or rooted out from), be exhausted (drawn or drained out from), be exposed (put out from), or be exploded (beaten out from). Likewise, a being may stay (stand upon); thus continue (hold together) and persist (be throughout); merely remain (stay back), or live; thus tarry (fatigue), lag, linger (be long in moving), abide (wait for), and endure. These ways of becoming and staying respectively and collectively define the concrete intensions of coming and staying, which in turn constitute the concrete meaning of "Being." The concept of Being has always been abstract because beings come to be and stay in numerous concrete ways which no single concept can denote concretely.

This concept, which can be labeled pure Being or pure Nothing indiscriminately, is in a sense self-contradictory and thus unable to be the conceptual analogue of any being, To be is to come and to stay, and coming and staying cancel each other. Metaphorically, then, in order to be a being, Being must resolve this contradiction by negating its own self-contradictory nature. Since, according to Heidegger, the nature of Nothing is to repel from itself, in negating itself, Being expresses from itself beings which have temporarily consistent ways of becoming and staying. So it would appear that Heidegger's suggestion of a solution to the problem of logic also hints at a solution to the problem of Being. Yet Being remains mysterious. Why? Because the beings of this world are free, for Being, having no characteristics other than coming and staying, can impose no other characteristics on the beings it expresses from itself. Beings, being free, do not issue from Being in accordance with any law of issuance, do not develop in any predetermined way. The to-be can never be known in advance; so the preceding conceptual array does not signify a temporal process. The to-be is novel and thus cannot be foretold. The mysteriousness of Being is insured; but although Being truly precedes essence, this precedence does not mean that a stone of granite can be an elm, that a birch can be a hare, that a hare can be a man, nor that a man can be an elephant or whatever else he may desire to become. This precedence means merely that whatever does issue from this stone of granite or birch or hare or man is not predetermined by the character of Being, for Being, being an abstraction, has no determinative character.

The metaphysical attempt to solve the problem of Being by reducing it to a problem of logic results then in an indication that the problem of Being can never be solved metaphysically. So, Heidegger can write that "future thought is no longer philosophy, because it thinks more originally than metaphysics."8 To be a future-thinker, then, a man must turn away from the question of Being qua Being and turn his attention to that essence of Being in which he has a hand, viz., the to-be. Man can have a hand in the making of reality, since Being can impose no characteristics other than coming and staying on beings. Man's mission is to be liberal, to seek novelty in change, and, as Kant understood, to attempt to realize the yearnings of that moral law within him, for "freedom is nothing but a chance to be better."

East Carolina University




1Hegel, The Logic of Hegel, trans. from the Encyclopedia by W. Wallace (Oxford, 1950), p. 10.

2Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, 2 vols., trans. Jowett (New York, n.d.), II, p. 548 [16c].

3Jevons, Elementary Lessons in Logic (London, 1948), pp. 276-277.

4Hegel, op. cit., pp. 158-168.

5Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics," Existence and Being, ed. Brock (Chicago. 1949), pp. 869-377.

6Heidegger, "Letter on Humanism," Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, 2 vols., eds. Barrett & Aiken (New York, 1962), II, pp. 298-299.

7Ibid., II. p. 570.

8Ibid., II, p. 302.