04 April 2009

Why someTHINGS and not noTHINGS at all?

Way back a hundred years ago, I made a "D" in ECON 202. That's when I decided that perhaps International Banking wasn't the right major for me! When I announced--quite proudly--to my family that I had changed my major to philosophy, my Banker Mom and Real Estate Dad asked, "What the hell is philosophy?" I'm sure my answer then wasn't very reassuring, but now I would say, "Philosophy teaches us to ask questions like: 'what the hell is philosophy?'" Reassuring? No, not really.

However, this question--on the nature of philosophy--is as common to philosophers as diverse in temperament and style as Joseph Pieper (Thomist) and Martin Heidegger.

Here's the opening paragraph to Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics:

"Why are there beings at all instead of nothing? That is the question. Presumably it is no arbitrary question. 'Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?'--this is obviously the first of all questions. Of course, it is not the first question in the chronological sense. Individuals as well as peoples ask many questions in the course of their historical passage through time. They explore, investigate, and test many sorts of things before they run into the question 'Why are there being at all instead of nothing?' Many never run into this question at all, if running into the question means not only hearing and reading the interrogative sentence as uttered, but asking the question, that is, taking a stand on it, posing it, compelling oneself into the state of this questioning."

People who ask this question--why is there any at all instead of just nothingness?--are philosophers. . .even if they think themselves Bankers or Real Estate Agents.

Heidegger continues:

"In great despair [. . .] when all weight tends to dwindle away from things and the sense of things grows dark, the question looms. Perhaps it strikes only once, like the tolling of a bell that resounds into Dasein* and gradually fades. The question is heartfelt joy [. . .] The question is there in a spell of boredom, when we are equally distant from despair and joy, but when the stubborn ordinariness of beings lays open a wasteland in which it makes no difference to us whether beings are or are not--and then, in a distinctive form, the questions resonates again: why are there beings at all instead of nothing?"

And I would say: in that open wasteland--there, right there--is exactly where we make our stand for or against Christ! Our "being here" is either being perfected in Being Himself (i.e., growing in holiness). or we are wasting as beings and making no difference at all.

*Dasein: an insanely complicated concept to translate. . .a human being who has become aware that his/her existence is a site where Being is made present to other existing things and all the subsequent weirdnesses of anxieties, etc. that accompany this awareness.


  1. hubby mentioned that I hadn't left you comments in awhile. sorry. posts like this hurt what's left of my brain, making it hard to come up with a comment...but I AM here and I DO read all your posts.

    Easter is approaching and all the storms we predicted lo those many months ago are crashing over my head.....forgive me while I batten down the hatches and prepare my celebration despite the thunder.

    oh and prayers are always appreciated.

  2. Oh, why must you bring up Heidigger and why cannot I not escape Heidigger? In the first quote you use I am reminded of Heidigger's authenticity concept. Which brings me to your conclusion. Heidigger would say that by allowing Christ in we are being inauthentic and not facing the fact that we are finite beings.

    Anyway, I cannot do anymore Heidigger tonight or my head will explode. I cannot wait to see you this summer. Hope all is well.


  3. Emilie,

    Heidegger cannot say that we are being inauthentic by following Christ! By his own definition of Dasein, what it means to be the Opening for Being for Others is not determined externally! Herr Heidegger has opened more than one Door to Being, my dear.

    This summer: fasten your seatbelt!

  4. Emilie: Herr Heidegger can not logically open himself or us as an opening for Being for Others and then close the opening using a definition that then closes the door behind him to whatever else wants in the room!

    Wish I could be there this summer...have fun..both of you..and all...from this 1967 UD graduate

  5. I was about six years old when the question griped me and I felt I couldn't hide anywhere. (I was always deep in my own thoughts even since childhood, the typical seemingly distracted kid that likes to be alone and read)) In the simplicity of a child's mind (my own) that question was so obvious and impossible to ignore as the proverbial elephant in a glass store; Unavoidable. That question caused at that time for me an anxiety the kind of which I was unable to explain (angst?). It was as if the everything had just exploded right in my face, and the prospect of an absolut nothingness semt somehow untenable: -There is a something and not just "nothing". I could see that this "something" (and not necesarilly only that which I could see nor touch) was strangely independent of the passage of time; and when I thought of the infinite forward and backwards a new wave of anxiety rushed over me, one I could not bear: "What is going to be like in a gazillion eons from now? There will still be one more moment to go!" It was enervating, how can we bear it? How can I, me, this whatever me is just keep on going and going and going...This question was so perplexing that It trully never left me, even though I tried to lull it and just went on getting more interested in secular and more amiable things. When I got to high school and we started reading philosophy, more especifically when I came to Aristotle and in his impossible infinite regresion I felt a rush of blood to my temples: Yes! That's right! I thought, and it kinda clicked: The buck must stop somewhere! An unmoved mover, uncaused, pure being, transcendent and eternal. Even though I had not read St Thomas Aquinas, I immediately said inside of me: God!!

    My dear mom told me all the time that I should study philosophy, instead I chose the temporal, the finite, the perishable and the practical. (in the exact reverse as you father)
    You have made me think one more time that to be a philosopher all it really takes is to have an inquisitive mind, the honesty to inquire and be faithful to the truth we find and the audacity to seek for the answer: A love for wisdom: Truth.

    Call me crazy, but I speak the truth.
    Blessings in Christ and in St Dominic in this holy week 2009

  6. Anonymous11:15 PM

    Goes to show you don't have to be a Philosopher to be a philosopher.

  7. Heidigger also says, on a page very close to the pages you are citing, that Christians cannot really ask this question. They can ask it hypothetically, discuss it "as if" they were asking it, but they cannot truly ask it experientially.

    And I say , thank God!
    I used to be so aware of that abyss yawning before me, that I would feel the sidewalk falling away beneath my feet, and reeling in groundlessness I would literally experience nausea.

    When I was able to consider that there might actually be a God after all, and one who knows us and cares about us, I was suspicious that I was being tricked and deceived, as those thirsting in the desert see mirages of water. (The waterless desert where the confines of thought have been reached, to quote another philosopher.)

    Praise the Lord for giving me what I needed to transcend my suspiciousness of the alltogether too good to be true news of His existance!
    Susan Pterson

  8. Susan,

    Yes, he does assert that...but for no good reason that I can see. There's no reason why Christians can't become aware of the fact that they are sites where Being become evident to others...but, then again, maybe I'm missing something.