Some Characteristics of Some Philosophers

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“The other characteristic of philosophers is no less dangerous; it consists in confusing the last and the first. They place that which comes at the end — unfortunately! for it ought not to come at all! namely, the “highest concepts,” which means the most general, the emptiest concepts, the last smoke of evaporating reality — in the beginning, as the beginning. This again is nothing but their way of showing reverence: the higher may not grow out of the lower, may not have grown at all. Moral: whatever is of the first rank must be causa sui. Origin out of something else is considered an objection, a questioning of value. All the highest values are of the first rank; all the highest concepts, that which has being, the unconditional, the good, the true, the perfect — all these cannot have become and must therefore be causes. All these, moreover, cannot be unlike each other or in contradiction to each other. Thus they arrive at their stupendous concept, “God.” That which is last, thinnest, and emptiest is put first, as the cause, as *ens realissimum*. Why did humanity have to take seriously the brain afflictions of these sick web-spinners? We have paid dearly for it!”

―Friedrich Nietzsche, from Twilight of the Idols, “Reason” in Philosophy, IV

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“Everything we have mentioned is, after all, and nevertheless—if we want to lay hold of Being it is always as if we were reaching into a void. The Being that we are asking about is almost like Nothing, and yet we are always trying to arm and guard ourselves against the presumption of saying that all beings are not.

But Being remains undiscoverable, almost like Nothing, or in the end entirely so. The word “Being” is then finally just an empty word. It means nothing actual, tangible, real. Its meaning is an unreal vapor. So in the end Nietzsche is entirely right when he calls the “highest concepts” such as Being “the final wisp of evaporating reality” (Twilight of the Idols VIII, 78). Who would want to chase after such a vapor, the term for which is just the name for a huge error! “In fact, nothing up to now has been more naively persuasive than the error of Being. . .” (VIII, 80).

“Being”—a vapor and an error? What Nietzsche says here about Being is no casual remark, jotted down during the frenzy of labor in preparation for his authentic and never completed work. Instead, it is his guiding conception of Being since the earliest days of his philosophical labor. It supports and determines his philosophy from the ground up. But this philosophy remains, even now, well guarded against all the clumsy and trifling importunities of the horde of scribblers that is becoming ever more numerous around him today. It seems that his work hardly has the worst of this misuse behind it. In speaking of Nietzsche here, we want nothing to do with all this—nor with a blind hero worship. The task is much too decisive and, at the same time, too sober for such worship. It consists first and foremost in fully unfolding that which was realized through Nietzsche by means of a truly engaged attack on him. Being—a vapor, an error! If this is so, then the only possible conclusion is that we should also give up the question, “Why are there beings as such and as a whole instead of nothing?” For what is the point of the question anymore, if what it puts into question is just a vapor and an error?

Does Nietzsche speak the truth? Or is he himself only the final victim of a long-standing errancy and neglect, but as this victim the unrecognized witness to a new necessity?”

—Martin Heidegger, from_The Fundamental Question of Metaphysics

“Philosophy is metaphysics. Metaphysics thinks beings as a whole―the world, man, God―with respect to Being, with respect to the belonging together of beings in Being. Metaphysics thinks beings as being in the manner of representational thinking which gives reasons. For since the beginning of philosophy and with that beginning, the Being of beings has showed itself as the ground (*arche*, *aition*, principle). The ground is that from which beings as such are what they are in their becoming, perishing, and persisting as something that can be known, handled, and worked upon. As the ground, Being brings beings to their actual presencing. The ground shows itself as presence. The present of presence consists in the fact that it brings what is present each in its own way to presence. In accordance with the actual kind of presence, the ground has the character of grounding as the ontic causation of the real, as the transcendental making possible of the objectivity of objects, as the dialectical mediation of the movement of the absolute Spirit and of the historical process of production, as the will to power positing values.”

―Martin Heidegger, from The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking

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“I do not think this very likely or even desirable. Yet before we begin to speculate about the possible advantages of our present situation, it may be wise to reflect upon what we really mean when we observe that theology, philosophy, and metaphysics have reached an end―certainly not that God has died, something about which we can *know* as little as about God’s existence (so little, in fact, that even the word “existence” is misplaced), but that the way God had been thought of for thousands of years is no longer convincing; if anything is dead, it can only be the traditional *thought* of God. And something similar is true of the end of philosophy and metaphysics: not that the old questions which are coeval with the appearance of men on earth have become “meaningless,” but that the way they were framed and answered has lost plausibility.

What has come to an end is the basic distinction between the sensory and the suprasensory, together with the notion, at least as old as Parmenides, that whatever is not given to the senses―God or Being or the First Principles and Causes (*archai*) or the Ideas―is more real, more truthful, more meaningful than what appears, that it is not just *beyond* sense perception but *above* the world of the senses. What is “dead” is not only the localization of such “eternal truths” but also the distinction itself. Meanwhile, in increasingly strident voices the few defenders of metaphysics have warned us of the danger of nihilism inherent in this development; and although they themselves seldom invoke it, they have an important argument in their favor: it is indeed true that once the suprasensory realm is discarded, its opposite, the world of appearances as understood for so many centuries, is also annihilated. The sensory, as still understood by the positivists, cannot survive the death of the suprasensory. No one knew this better than Nietzsche, who, with his poetic and metaphoric description of the assassination of God, has caused so much confusion in these matters. In a significant passage in *The Twilight of Idols*, he clarifies what the word “God” meant in the earlier story. It was merely a symbol for the suprasensory realm as understood by metaphysics; he now uses, instead of “God,” the expression “true world” and says: “We have abolished the true world. What has remained? The apparent one perhaps? Oh no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one.”

This insight of Nietzsche’s, namely, that “the elimination of the suprasensory also eliminates the merely sensory and thereby the difference between them” (Heidegger), is actually so obvious that it defies every attempt to date it historically; all thinking in terms of two worlds implies that these two are inseparably connected with each other. Thus, all the elaborate modern arguments against positivism are anticipated by the unsurpassed simplicity of Democritus’ little dialogue between the mind, the organ for the suprasensory, and the senses. Sense perceptions are illusions, says the mind; they change according to the conditions of our body; sweet, bitter, color, and so on exist only *nómo*, by convention among men, and not *physei*, according to true nature behind the appearances. Whereupon the senses answer: “Wretched mind! Do you overthrow us while you take from us your evidence [*pisteis*, everything you can trust]? Our overthrow will be your downfall.” In other words, once the always precarious balance between the two worlds is lost, no matter whether the “true world” abolishes the “apparent one” or vice versa, the whole framework of reference in which our thinking was accustomed to orient itself breaks down. In these terms, nothing seems to make much sense any more.

These modern “deaths”―of God, metaphysics, philosophy, and, by implication, positivism―have become events of considerable historical consequence, since, with the beginning of our century, they have ceased to be the exclusive concern of an intellectual elite and instead are not so much the concern as the common unexamined assumption of nearly everybody. With this political aspect of the matter we are not concerned here. In our context, it may even be better to leave the issue, which actually is one of political authority, outside our considerations, and to insist, rather, on the simple fact that, however seriously our ways of thinking may be involved in this crisis, our *ability* to think is not at stake; we are what men always have been―thinking beings. By this I mean no more than that men have an inclination, perhaps a need, to think beyond the limitations of knowledge, to do more with this ability than use it as an instrument for knowing and doing. To talk about nihilism in this context is perhaps just unwillingness to part company with concepts and thought-trains that actually died quite some time ago, though their demise has been publicly acknowledged only recently. If only, one would like to imagine, we could do in this situation what the modern age did in its early stage, that is, treat each and every subject “as though no one had touched the matter before me” (as Descartes proposes in his introductory remarks to “*Les Passions de l’âme”)! This has become impossible, partly because of our enormously enlarged historical consciousness, but primarily because the only record we posses of what thinking as an activity meant to those who had chosen it as a way of life is what we would call today the “metaphysical fallacies.” None of the systems, none of the doctrines transmitted to us by the great thinkers may be convincing or even plausible to modern readers; but none of them, I shall try to argue here, is arbitrary and none can be simply dismissed as sheer nonsense. On the contrary, the metaphysical fallacies contain the only clues we have to what thinking means to those who engage in it―something of great importance today and about which, oddly enough, there exist few direct utterances.”

―Hannah Arendt, from The Life of the Mind


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