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According to Heidegger philosophy has never really asked what we mean by "Being"

According to Heidegger philosophy has never really asked what we mean by "Being". According to him we ask what the essence of this or that form of being is but we never concern ourselves with being proper. Perhaps what Heidegger means or alludes to in this question is the idea that the very fact of being is in some way the very essence of being. This reminds me of Fichte's idea of the fact of consciousness rather than a principle of consciousness as the starting point of philosophy. And yet this fact of being just like the fact of consciousness is mysterious and elusive, while paradoxically present, and hence suppressed by a reductive urge within philosophy. Yet, I'm kind of skeptical about Heidegger claim of a suppression within philosophy of the question of being. It seems as if the question of being was first made problematic far further in the German tradition than Heidegger, as early as Kant, if its not something that has always been with philosophy. Kant argued very much like Heidegger, I think,...

Well, you raise a whole series of fascinating issues in your question. I'll just focus on the claim Heidegger makes, and not direct myself to either Fichte or Kant.

What does Heidegger mean in claiming that the question of the meaning of Being has rarely if every been asked? I wouldn't say that he means that the question has been 'supressed' -- in the way free speech is supressed in a totalitarian regime. Rather, he means that the question has always been raised only with respect to some limited frame of reference, where that frame is determined by other philosophical commitments. A theological frame of reference understands Being only as either creator or created; the frame of reference of mathematics yields a conception of Being as substance; a technological frame of reference understands Being (including the human) only as the availability or otherwise of resources; and so forth.

The other point worth making is that although the above discussion makes Heidegger sound as though he is profoundly dismissive of previous philosophers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of Heidegger's work comprises very careful and scholarly (though often enough controversial) workings through of texts from the history of philosophy, from the pre-Socratics through to the relatively recent. In each case, the name of the game is to find those moments when the question of Being itself is indeed asked, but then gets immediately covered-over or interpreted away according to the demands of the frame of reference (as we termed it above). This is what Heidegger, in an unfortunate choice of words, calls the 'destruction' of the history of ontology. This procedure is a kind of reading philosophy against the grain, so as to bring into relief questions that were nearly asked, and types of thinking that were not, but could be, used to raise the question in the present.

Is "exist" an overburdened word? We say that ideas exist, processes exist, and

Is "exist" an overburdened word? We say that ideas exist, processes exist, and substances exist, but doesn't "exist" mean something different in each case? When we say a particular apple exists, we mean the apple takes up space in the world. When we say the sport of baseball exists, we mean there's this process that people could enact. When we say the color red exists, we mean that there's this shared subjective experience that arises from certain stimuli. When I think about whether or not certain things exist, e.g. mind, time, morality, etc., it's really tricky to know which standards to apply, that of processes, materials, or ideas. Might it be more useful to say that substances exist, processes occur, and ideas arise? Then whether or not the mind exists wouldn't even be a valid question, any more than asking whether apples occur or baseball arises. I suggested this to a professor of philosophy who's dating a friend of mine, and he said he didn't think reserving a special meaning for "exist"...

Great question! Some philosophers have actually disparaged the term "exist," possibly for similar reasons. They have thought that "exists" may be redundant, as the sentence "There is a baseball game today" seems more tidy and less odd than a sentence like "A baseball game exists today." A similar point is sometimes made about the term "true" --it appears that the sentence "Snow is white" gains little if we add "It is true that snow is white." And yet other philosophers (like Meinong) even introduced the term "subsist" to refer to things that hover between existence and non-existence. All that to one side, I suggest the terms "exist" and "true" are perfectly respectful, even if they may sometimes appear redundant. It would be apt, for example, to say that an atheist thinks God does not exist, whereas a theist believes that God exists. What you are on to with the terms you suggest (something occurs or arises) also can play an important role in articulating what it is we are talking about. There is a difference, for example, between a concrete individual thing (like a baseball) and an event (a baseball game) and it would make more sense to say "Here is a baseball" rather than "A baseball is occurring." One more point is worth noting: to say that something is the case or something exists may need a frame of reference. In ordinary contexts, the fame is evident, e.g. Bush thought there was evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But we sometimes refer to what is the case in novels, short stories, theater or in our dreams and so on. So, one can say truly that Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts, but the framework is in Rowling's novels or the movies based on them.

When discussing kinds of terms, there are certain kinds that come up often.

When discussing kinds of terms, there are certain kinds that come up often. Singular entities such as Queen Elizabeth II are one kind, categories such as cats are another, and properties such as blue are a third. However, what about substances like "gold"? Is a gold watch an instance of the property of being gold, or being made of gold? Or does the watch simply contain trillions of elements in the category "gold (atoms)"? Or is "gold" a singular entity that exists scattered throughout the Universe? Or are substances an entire category to themselves?

Very difficult and interesting question! Those of us who are Platonists and believe in abstract properties would acknowledge (maybe with some qualifications) properties like being a monarch, being feline, being blue, being a mineral, being gold, being a mineral with a certain atomic number, being a watch, being an artifact, and so on. On this view, properties can certainly be constituitive of individual objects: hence the gold watch instatiates the property of being made of gold. What might be deemed relational properties like (being a gold watch owned by a monarch) may not be constituitive, however, and may be accidental (the monarch may give the watch to a duke). While I am in the Platonist camp (I think there are truths about gold, even if there were no actual instances of gold in the world), probably more sober philosophers gravitate to some form of what is called nominalism or conceptualism. On one version, "gold" refers to a scattered object (all the gold that exists) but would lack a referent if there happens to be no gold (just as the title "The King of France" lacks a reference in the case that, as it happens, there is no King of France).

If under possible world semantics one was to assert 'it is possible that there

If under possible world semantics one was to assert 'it is possible that there be an orange elephant'. Is one to be understood as saying that there is an object which does not exist in this world but does in another that is an orange elephant. Or is one to be understood as saying that an object in this world (presumably an elephant) is orange in another?

Of course actuality entails possibility too, so another reading would be consistent with there existing an actual orange elephant (in 'this' world, the actual world), whether or not there exists one in any other possible world. The most direct response to your question (I think) might be to say that the original english expression is ambiguous between the two readings you give (and the third I offer). Although I think even a fairly loosely speaking philosopher would be inclined to disambiguate, and use an expression such as this -- "it is possible that this object,t his elephant x, be orange' -- to indicate your second reading, leaving the original English expression to pick out the first reading you give ...


In describing Kant's idea of the "thing-in-itself" Thomas Pogge (in response to

In describing Kant's idea of the "thing-in-itself" Thomas Pogge (in response to a recent question on this site) recently wrote that "According to this explanation, space and time are then features only of objects as they appear to us." I'm having a difficult time deciphering this statement. To me when you speak of a feature of an object you are referring to that object in-itself almost by definition. It seems like space and time could be either a feature of the world or a feature of our mind/cognition or psychic tendencies which we project onto the world but not both. To say that space/time is a feature of the world as it appears seems to involve a confusion of how language is used to speak about being. Appearances can reveal or distort being but I don't see how they can contribute to being. We don't speak of colors as features of the (outer) world as they appear to us do we? We try to figure whether colors originate in the mind or in the world and though we allow that there is some degree of interaction...

You are quite rightly puzzled by the distinction that Pogge, following Kant, draws between appearances and things-in-themselves: it's caused trouble for Kant's readers since the publication of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason. The distinction is, however, at the heart of Kant's project in the first Critique, and indeed, I would go so far as to claim that it's crucial to underpinning the entire Critical philosophy. (I see the first Critique as setting the foundations for Kant's overarching project, which I take to be aimed at ethics rather than at metaphysics and epistemology. This is a somewhat idiosyncratic view, but it is, I think, defensible; in any event, nothing in what follows turns on it.)

Now the distinction that Kant wants and needs to draw is between the world as it is independently of human cognizers, and the world that appears to human beings. Yet Kant does not want to claim that the way things appear to human beings is merely a way that they appear, as if they could appear to human beings in some other way: hence he wants to resist the idea that space and time are merely "features of our mind/cognition or psychic tendencies which we project onto the world." (Hence Kant says that space and time are "empirically real," thereby implying that they are not mere projections.) But Kant also wants to maintain that space and time are not features of objects considered apart from the human cognitive faculties, as if space and time, for example, conditioned God's understanding of objects: this is why he wants to maintain that space and time do not apply to things-in-themselves. (Hence Kant says that space and time are "transcendentally ideal," which means that they are not features of objects-in-themselves, apart from "the human standpoint," as he puts it in the Transcendental Aesthetic.)

Now it might seem that Kant here is trying to have his cake and eat it too. On the one hand, he says that space and time are forms of intuition, in which the world appears to human cognizers, and hence not conditions of things-in-themselves, apart from human cognitive capacities; on the other hand, he wants to claim that the way that the world appears is not some sort of illusion, to be contrasted with a veridical cognition of the world as it is in itself. I am inclined to think that the key to understanding these positions is to see that, on the one hand, Kant means to claim that only insofar as an object is conditioned by space and time can it be cognized by human beings, but that there nevertheless is a conception of objects independent of human cognitive capacities that remains open, even if objects cannot themselves be cognized by human beings apart from these cognitive capacities. By leaving open this way of conceiving of objects, Kant thereby means to reject the two options that you propose, which in fact fit together, according to which space and time would either be features of objects in themselves or mere ways in which objects appear to us.

Whether Kant is successful in making out this distinction is quite another matter, one about which his readers have been arguing since the eighteenth century. As you try to grapple with this distinction, I recommend that you reread the Prefaces and Introductions to the first Critique, the Transcendental Aesthetic, and also the Antinomies of Pure Reason. I wish you good luck in working through this thorny nest of issues!!

There is a child that is

There is a child that is 5 years old, 4ft tall, likes toys, is of average intelligence, and believes in santa clause. 40 years pass and the child is now a man 45 years old, 6ft tall, doesn't like toys, is a physicist, and does not believe in santa clause. are the child and the man two distinct beings. or are they the same being? if they are two distinct beings then could the 5 year old child be classified as "dead" since he is now non existent (replaced by a completely different individual).

Good question, and space is of course too short for any serious arguments about it --BUT one classic line fo thought is that you decide whether entities x/y are identical by comparing their properties, and if they differ in properties they must be NON-identical ... This is the line you hint at in the way you frame your question: since the child and man are so different in their properties, they must be distinct. (Then whether the child must be declared 'dead' I don't address -- but that might just come down to how we choose to stipulate our use of the word 'dead'.) ... But now another line of thought, rather popular in recent years, is that we can think of an entity as having a set of time-indexed properties: i.e. it's not that you 'like toys', but that you 'like toys at time t'. On this view you can say that the child and the man are just two stages or parts of one entity, an entity who 'likes toys at age 5 and does not like toys at 45'. Note, this view need not quite identify 'man' and 'child', but could rather hold that they are distinct parts of one more encompassing entity (like your hand and foot are distinct parts of your one body). Or you might interpret this view AS identifying man and child, by recognizing that they are the same person (who timelessly has both time-indexed properties). This doesn't quite answer your question, but lays out the three main possible answers -- and then the arguments must begin as to which is the best answer ...hope this is a useful beginning ...


I've always thought it odd that rivers are said to have a single "source". Isn

I've always thought it odd that rivers are said to have a single "source". Isn't a river the result of all its tributaries? What gives one source priority over the other tributaries to a river? Isn't the distinction mostly made-up?

An interesting question. Start with an artificially simple example: a stream system with the branching structure of a simple "Y." If the two upper parts were equally wide/deep, equally far from the intersection point and at more or less opposite angles to the lower stream, it's hard to see why we'd say that one was a mere tributary and the other the main stream. If one of the upper branches started much farther from the intersection, and was much wider/deeper at that intersection we'd likely say that the other branch was the tributary. Other cases might be harder to classify.

All this suggests that there's a strong element of convention in the river/tributary distinction. But there's a caution. If we asked a relevant expert — a hydrologist — s/he might have things to say that wouldn't occur to casual observers such as you and I. Whether there's a more interesting distinction that hydrologists make between source and tributary for real-world rivers is something I can't say; my knowledge of hydrology doesn't go much beyond the meaning of the word. The caution here is just that there could be more to the matter than meets the eye, and an appropriately modest philosopher will admit that, absent some real empirical knowledge, philosophical analysis by itself can't give us the answer.

Dear Philosophers,

Dear Philosophers, We can differentiate between objects by two axii, their form, which is the shape they take, and their "thingness." Thingness refers to the reason for an object, its purpose that it is supposed to achieve. For example, the thingness of a guitar is to make music. We can differentiate it from a similar object like a banjo, because while they share similar purposes, they have different shapes. We hold in our minds this thingness in the form of a Concept. If you were to show me a picture of a guitar, I would match that image (its form and thingness) to my Concept of guitar, and so I could recognize that object. Now if we have a guitar, but remove the strings by this framework we could say that it is no longer a guitar, because while it has a shape of a guitar, it now lacks the "thingness" of a guitar, that is it can no longer be used to make music. So its new label becomes "an object that's almost a guitar." Another example. We have a Bic lighter. A lighter is used to...

Your question calls to mind Aristotle's so-called "four causes," which I prefer to think of as four sorts of explanation.

"Material Cause": explaining a thing in terms of what it is made of (in the case of the Bic lighter, plastic, compressed gas, etc.)

"Formal Cause": explaining a thing in terms of what it is (it's a Bic lighter!)

"Efficient Cause": Explaining a thing in terms of how it came to be (this, I think, is our normal concept of cause--refer to the operations of the factory where the lighted was made)

"Final Cause": Explaining a thing in virtue of what it characteristicallydoes or what purpose it may have. (Ignites cigarettes, cigars, or pipes for smokers to use.)

In Aristotle's system, the Formal and Final Causes are linked, but not so tightly as in your more reduced conception: A thing can still be a Bic lighter, but no longer able to fulfill it's Final Cause, since these are distinct.

So you might find Aristotle helpful here. If you want to see what he has to say (and not rely on my rather compresssed and perhaps imperfect paraphrase), have a look at his Physics Book II.

Would a materialist and reductionist have to reject the phenomena/noumena

Would a materialist and reductionist have to reject the phenomena/noumena distinction? I saw a clip of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson in which Hitchens seems to claim that one could reject the supernatural without rejecting the noumenal. To truly believe in a hidden "thing in itself" wouldn't you have to take a leap of faith, so to speak? You would have to assert that we should believe in something unprovable, which would seem to be the antithesis of Hitchens' normal position. Thanks!

Very interesting question, but as a non-kant specialist I would answer this. It's not clear to me that the p/n distinction is a metaphysical one, i.e. one between two different kinds of objects, one 'out there in itself' and one 'in here, as perceived by our minds." Rather it seems to me more an epistemological one, ie two different ways of thinking about one and the same objects: there's the sun-in-itself, and the sun-as-it-appears, but that is one object (the same sun) thought about two different ways, not two distinct objects. (Perhaps Kant scholars interpret the distinction differently ....) But on htis understanding, the noumenal doesn't seem so exotic or supernatural or require a leap of faith, etc.; it just seems a reflection of the (perhaps obvious) fact that in thinking and perceiving about x we cannot but employ the cognitive apparatus we have, and that that apparatus will influence the process in various ways ... Moreover, "to reject the supernatural" could also be understood purely within the phenomenal realm: one who rejects the supernatural so construed denies that the world-as-it-appears contains any beings or phenomean that override the various laws of that world .... So in both cases (where the p/n distinction is epistemic and where we restrict supernatural to the p world) we could reject the supernatural w/o rejecting the noumenal ....

hope that's useful--