International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   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 Levinas.

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!

Geoffrey Klempner



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 instructor.

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 accounts.

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 the case'.

(c) Peter Stephan Borkowski 2011




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 of Being.

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'.[1] 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.[2] 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 Plato.

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]
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.

Imperium Romanum

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.[6]

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 theology.


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...[7]
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. Heidegger continues:

     ... 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
     certain representation.[8]
German Idealism

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.[9] 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.[10] The passage written by Hegel 'All that is actual is rational and all that is rational is actual' captures this position.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] Existentialists found a universal human existence in the subjects unavoidable, terrible freedom of choices in its life.[14] 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.[15] 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 Being.

Heidegger's Letter on Humanism was a response to issues raised by one of his students Jean Brefet.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]
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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22] 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'.[23] If so, Dasein closes itself off to the primordial disclosure of Being. Heidegger describes this as Dasein's falling (Verfallen) into inauthenticity.[24] 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.[25]
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 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'.[26] 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 perspective.

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.[27] 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').[28]

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
     itself absolutely.'
     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 Alliance. 1998.

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.

16. ibid.

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.

22. 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




1. Introduction

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 (phenomenological) light.


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 University Press.

Valevicius, Andrius. 1998. Afterword: Emmanuel Levinas, the multicultural philosopher. In Continental Philosophy Review. 31. Pp 11-14.

(c) Sim-Hui Tee 2011


Sim-Hui Tee Multimedia University Persiaran Multimedia, Cyberjaya 63100 Selangor, Malaysia



(a) Humankind's Search for Immortality

Subject: Upcoming philosophy event live in London and live-streamed From: Anna Gaskell To:

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:---. And if you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards,

Anna Gaskell


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?


John Gray Writer and Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics

Adam Phillips 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 8:30pm.


25 standard tickets and 12.50 student tickets from: http:---

Anna Gaskell INTELLIGENCE2 LTD Newcombe House 45 Notting Hill Gate London, W11 3LQ

Tel: 0207 221 1177 Mob: 07967 107588

Twitter: http:--- Mail: Web: http:---


(b) Better to be an unhappy man than a happy pig?

Subject: Conference in May From: Habeeb Marouf To: Geoffrey Klempner

Dear Geoffrey,

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 proceedings.

Best regards Habeeb Marouf


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:

Timothy Chappell Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Ethics Centre, The Open University

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', concluding that,

     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 http:---

Full directions for air or road travel http:---

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 The Parmenideum Via La Chiazzetta 27 I-84046 Ascea (SA) Italy

Tel: +39 0974 978 005
       +39 329 408 4127

Email: Website: http:---

© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020