Thinking Being (2015-2016)

“And indeed the question which was raised of old and is raised now and always, and is always the subject of doubt, namely what being is, is just the question, what is substance?” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, book VII). As Aristotle himself noticed, “being” is necessarily predicated in different ways, according the different types of “what is?” questions we can ask. For the young Heidegger, reading Brentano’s On the Manifold Meaning of Being in Aristotle (1862), the realisation of the plurality of modes of predication of “being” led to the question: “If what-is is predicated in manifold meanings, then what is its leading fundamental meaning? What does being mean?”  This question of being became the source of Heidegger’s thinking throughout his life. By exposing thinking to it, and – as he believed – retrieving its original meaning from an oblivion cast over it by being itself – Heidegger sought to develop a “thinking of being”, Seinsdenken, based on what he called the ontological difference: in Aristotle’s statement an eliding of the difference between being itself and the sphere of beings (beings as such and as a whole) takes place, one that we have to trace back: this movement is the “exposition of the question of being”: a thinking explication of that question, but also an exposing of ourselves to being as distinct from the sphere of beings. Heidegger’s thought profoundly influenced much of 20th-century philosophy, an influence which still continues. But today, for a variety of reasons, his response to the question of being has become questionable itself. This does not mean, however, that the question of being, “raised of old and always”, is any less important. On the contrary, in the contemporary philosophical landscape it seems again necessary to retrieve this question as it were from the start and to find our own way of thinking in the face of it. In the academic year 2015-2016 the German Philosophy Seminar at the IMLR will be devoted to a historical and systematic investigation of the question of being and its influence on the development of German philosophy. The systematic starting point will be formed by a detailed examination of the most recent sustained attempt to think being, which takes its inspiration from Heidegger’s early retrieval of the question of being, but departs radically, in method and content, from his later Seinsdenken, the Structural-Systematic Philosophy (SSP), as developed in several publications by Lorenz B. Puntel and Alan White. In the SSP the original identity of thinking and being provides the structural stability to a systematic theory of the unrestricted universe of discourse, a philosophical theory of everything. Coupled with a rejection of the subject-predicate analysis of the proposition, a univocal ontology of factings provides the basis for a renewed formulation of the sphere of the transcendental predicates of being: truth, beauty, freedom, oneness, goodness – and perhaps others. Starting from the analysis of SSP, the various phases of the history of the question of being will be considered: phenomenological, dialectical, critical and analogical, in dialogue with the most important representatives of the various stages in the thinking of being, and its critique, in German philosophy. The persistent but nearly invisible undercurrent of the fusion of Aristotle’s metaphysics with Neoplatonist conceptions of absolute being in the theory of the analogical nature of being (and hence of reason), going back to Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, and its influence on the rejection of the question of  being since early modernity (Suarez), in favour of a speculatively conceived conception of reason framed in terms of the relation between Geist and Natur, subject and object, will provide the historical background of the investigation. What is the thinking of being if, as Aristotle suggests, being can never be a highest genus, but always, of necessity, has to reside in an analogically related plurality of modes of being?

As usual, the seminars will be held in English, with texts studied in their original language, with the help of translations where necessary. Alan White, Mark Hopkins Professor of Philosophy, Williams College, Mass., will give a guest seminar in one of the weeks (date tbc).

Preliminary bibliography

Puntel/White:

Lorenz B. Puntel, Struktur und Sein: Ein Theorierahmen für eine systematische Philosophie. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck 2006 (English translation: Structure and Being: A Theoretical Framework for a Systematic Philosophy, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010. Translated by and in collaboration with Alan White).

–, Sein und Gott. Ein systematischer Ansatz in Auseinandersetzung mit M. Heidegger, E. Levinas und J.-L. Marion. Tübingen, Morh-Siebeck 2010 (English translation: Being and God: A Systematic Approach in Confrontation With Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas and Jean-Luc Marion, Evanston: North Western University Press, 2012. Translated by and in collaboration with Alan White).

Alan White, Towards a Philosophical Theory of Everything: Contributions to the Structural-Systematic Philosophy, London: Bloomsbury 2014.

Other:

Theodor Adorno: Negative Dialektik, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1966. Redmond translation: Negative Dialectics, http://members.efn.org/~dredmond/ndtrans.html

Heinrich Beck, Der Akt-Character des Seins: eine spekulative Weiterführung der Seinslehre Thomas v. Aquins aus einer Anregung durch das dialektische Prinzip Hegels, Hüber 1965.

Ernst Bloch, Geist der Utopie, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1985 (facsimile edition of 1918; this edition differs significantly, especially concerning the question of being, from the English translation of the edition of 1962, The Spirit of Utopia, Standford University Press 2000)

G.W.F. Hegel, Wissenschaft der Logik (1832); English translation: Science of Logic, translated by George di Giovanni, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010.

Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, Tübingen, Max Niemeyer Verlag 1927 and later. English translation by Joan Stambaugh, revised edition, Stony Brook: SUNY Press 2010

–, Identität und Differenz, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 11, Frankfurt: Klostermann Verlag 2006. English (partial) translation of an earlier ediction, by Joan Stambaugh: Identity and Difference, Chicago: Chicago University Press 2002.

Max Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason, 1947. Facsimile reprint Martino Fine books 2013.

Gabriel Marcel, Le Mystère de L’Etre, vols. 1 and 2, Paris: Aubier 1951. English translation: The Mystery of Being, St. Augustine Press, 2001 (Gifford Lectures 1949-1950).

Erich Przywara, Analogia Entis I. Metaphysik, Ur-Stuktur und All-Rhythmus, Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1962 (English translation: Analogia Entis: Metaphysics: Original Structure and Universal Rhythm, Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 2014)

Béla Weissmahr, Ontologie, 2nd edition, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer  1991.

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