Re: "Letter on Humanism"--Reading 4

On Fri, 31 Mar 1995, Christopher Rickey wrote:

> On Thu, 30 Mar 1995, Anthony F. Beavers wrote:
> > > I understand the difference of ontic and ontological to be types of
> > > inquiry and not levels of being itself.
> >
> > I see them as levels of being, though certainly the designations refer
> > also to types of inquiry.
> >
> > That which pursues the being of
> > > something is ontological; that which pursues what a thing is as an object
> > > is an ontic inquiry (science).
> >
> > Yes, but as Plato shows with the divided line, isn't it the case that
> > each activity should be related to a different "object". I thought that
> > the doctrine of intentionality required this as well.
> This puts a finger on the point I was trying to make, but did not
> articulate well. They are not different kinds of objects, because this
> would be the sort of inquiry Heidegger (and here he took the impulse from
> Husserl) wants to avoid: an investigation into objects as the object of a
> domain of study. It is not so much the distinction between mathematics
> and say, theology, both which have objects correlate with their domain
> (mathematical objects and God, respectively), but inquiries within these
> domains and inquiry into the distinctions between the domains themselves;
> why do they divide themselves into these, and just these domains?
> Another way of putting it would be the distinction between sciences that
> presume an object of study and philosophy/thinking, which pursues what
> the sciences take as self-evident as questionable.
> Inquiry seems to me to be superior to domain as a distinction because to a
> certain extent a different inquiry allows a different being of the same
> thing. A famous example in Heidegger's corpus occurs in "The Thing,"
> where a jar is the object of analysis. It can be (correctly, with the
> full spite that Heidegger lends to this word) understood as an object
n> existing in mathematical space with certain mathematical dimensions - or -
> it can be understood as the gathering of the mirror-play of the fourfold.
> Only thinking allows us to understand the jar as the latter. In either
> case, the jar is still a jar, the difference seems to be what allows the
> jar to be a jar. On a slightly different twist, the object of analysis
> (or what is being questioned) is different; only thinking expressly
> pursues what makes a jar as such; physics presumes it. The "object" of
> thinking is being (and thereby not really the jar). This could be a
> "level of inquiry", but level might not be a good word.

Admittedly, "object" is the wrong word for me to use. "Being" properly
deconstructed would be better. But doesn't ontological inquiry still aim
at Being (or at least the meaning of it) which is never an entity but
always of an entity. That is to say, I think that ontological inquiry is
more than the aporia of thought. Certainly, it is a different kind of
inquiry; but this still seems empty to me with a different kind of
"object" (properly deconstructed.)

> A little off the subject: Once a semester when I'm teaching, I
> play a little game with my students: I hold up a pencil and ask them what
> this is. (Because I usually teach american politics, they usually think
> I'm really weird). After slow hesitations ("This must be a trick
> question, right?"), they respond, "A pencil," thereby proving themselves
> to be Aristotelians. The cognitive psychology answer is "Blob of
> yellow." Hegelians would answer, "A moment of the speculative unity of
> identity and difference." Heidegger would answer (at least in one
> version): "The gathering of the mirror-play of the fourfold." Trust me,
> your students will think you a tourist from Mars.

I do this too, except that I use a cup. I also point out that the
students' reponse that it is a cup indicates that they are Aristoteleans.
Then--and this is what's relevant to my earlier posts--I point out that
this Aristotelean worldview did not become prominent until the 11th
Century. How then did people live in the world, when it was not a world
of cups but of things we called "cups"? A review of pre-scholastic
theology suggests that even things were signs. For Augustine, for
instance, the "world" itself is a sacred signifier for those who dwell in
the City of God. This period shows a gradual closing of the space between
signifier and signified. With more argument, I suspect I could show that
this is tantamount to a gradual "forgetting" of Being.


Anthony F. Beavers, Ph.D. / Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion
The University of Evansville / Evansville, Indiana 47722 / (812)479-2682
Metaethics, Metaphysics, Existentialism, and the Judeo-Christian Tradition
Visit the Academy of Human Arts and Sciences

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