Metaphysics after Heidegger
I’ve mentioned Heidegger a twice already on this blog, once in relation to Deleuze and Spinoza, and once in relation to my own work on Being and normativity. Kvond recently posted a question on the former post, asking why I take Deleuze’s reworking of Spinoza’s metaphysics to be a specifically post-Heideggerian one. I think it was fairly clear in that post why I take it to be post-Heideggerian, but I feel that I could reiterate the basic point, and in the course of it examine what it is to do genuinely post-Heideggerian metaphysics.
The phrase ‘post-Heideggerian metaphysics’ is meant to have an important resonance, given that metaphysics is usually taken as the name of that philosophy which came before Heidegger, whose inadequacies he correctly diagnosed and overcame. We are often told that we can either accept Heidegger’s insights regarding Being and metaphysics and abandon metaphysical thinking, or revert to a pre-Heideggerian metaphysics, and that there is no middle ground. To do genuinely post-Heideggerian metaphysics would be to embrace certain of Heidegger’s insights but nevertheless reject his turn away from metaphysics, pursuing metaphysics in a way that is at least partially characterised by Heidegger’s portrayal of it. In short, it would be to pursue a metaphysical project through an explicit concern with Being (and thus, I would add, the question of the meaning of Being).
1. Heidegger’s Overcoming of the History of Philosophy
It is important to separate out three different tendencies in the history of philosophy that Heidegger takes himself to be overcoming in his philosophy:-
1) Presentism: understanding time primarily in terms of the present, and the related understanding of Being in terms of substance.
2) Onto-theology: understanding Being in terms of a particular being (e.g., God). My earlier post indicated that Spinoza falls into this category, along with scholastic theologians such as Duns Scotus.
3) Abstraction: understanding Being as beingness, or the essence of beings. This is treating Being as the common genus of all beings, which is understood by abstracting from the specific features of all beings to find what is common to them.
These tendencies are distinct but often overlap. Heidegger claims that each of them prevents us from thinking Being properly. Specifically, he thinks that the latter two prevent us from thinking Being in its difference from beings. It is only via the ontological difference that we can think Being properly. However, it is the third tendency which is properly characteristic of metaphysics. As Heidegger himself says:
“Metaphysics… says what beings are in bringing to a concept the beingness of beings. In the beingness of beings, metaphysics thinks being, yet without being able to ponder the truth of being in the manner of its own thinking“
Heidegger takes it that metaphysics thinks Being, but not as Being (beings qua beings, as opposed to Being qua Being). Rather, it thinks Being through thinking beings as a whole. Indeed, Heidegger thinks that it is through asking what metaphysics is that we begin to think Being properly, as that which grounds metaphysical thought without itself being thought explicitly by it (this is the premise of ‘What is Metaphysics?’).
In effect, Heidegger thinks that metaphysics cannot think Being because it thinks beingness (‘what beings are’, or the essence of beings), and beingness is not Being. Fundamentally, its problem is that it identifies Being and beingness. There is more to Being than beingness. However, the relevant question is whether or not beingness is an important element of Being. Can we think Being but ignore beingness?
2. Deleuze as a Post-Heideggerian Metaphysician
A post-Heideggerian metaphysics would be one that agrees with Heidegger about any or all of his complaints against presentism and onto-theology, and his insistence on the ontological difference between Being and beings, up to and including denying the identity of Being and beingness, but nonetheless takes it that thinking Being demands that we also think beingness. It would be to say that we cannot do ontology properly without doing metaphysics, or that ontology becomes metaphysics of its own accord.
As I have elsewhere noted, Spinoza is a good example of a metaphysician who (arguably) avoids presentism, but falls foul of onto-theology, and thus fails to abide by the ontological difference. This is because Substance is a being, and the Being of beings is understood in terms of it. On the other hand, Nietzsche is an example of a metaphysician who rejects both presentism and onto-theology and yet (on Heidegger’s account) fails to think Being proper, because he merely thinks beingness. Nietzsche takes it that because beings are becomings that Being itself is becoming, which Heidegger rejects as simple abstraction.
Deleuze moves beyond Spinoza in denying that Being is a being, in turning Substance into the plane of immanence (which has no intelligible content, be it Idea or essence). This is a post-Heideggerian move, because it introduces the ontological difference between Being and beings into spinozistic philosophy (of which Deleuze’s metaphysics is most definitely a species).
Deleuze moves beyond Nietzsche, by explicitly taking up the problem of Being, thinking Being through beingness, but not as beingness. Deleuze’s metaphysics is very similar to that of Nietzsche, it is a process metaphysics in which beings are becomings. Deleuze’s conception of beingness is thus very close to Nietzsche’s. However, Deleuze thinks Being as eternal return, which is the very fundamental structure of time itself. In this sense, it is both the common form of becoming which each individual instantiates (like beingness as a genus), and at the same time a unitary structure in which all beings are connected – it provides both the form of becoming in each being, and the ungrounding of the totality of all beings. It is the ‘single cast for all throws’ and a ‘universal ungrounding’ all at once.
The point then is that beingness is an aspect of Being. Being is the unitary structure. It includes the eternal return as the universal ungrounding, and the plane of immanence as the purely formal totality of beings. Nonetheless this unitary structure which unites all beings is not itself a being, it is implied by the very character of all beings, by beingness. It is through thinking beingness that Deleuze uncovers the unitary structure of Being that is implicit in each being. The strong principle of univocity is here essential, because it is only on the basis of Being being said of each being in the same way (in the sense of existence, rather than merely in terms of predication) that it is possible to think Being through thinking the common character of all beings, i.e., beingness.
This does not of course justify the principle of univocity, or the choice of a post-Heideggerian metaphysical orientation, but it goes a long way to helping us understand Deleuze’s overall strategy and how it hangs together. Importantly, what has not been shown here is how one goes from initially explicitly questioning after Being (the unitary structure uniting the different ways in which ‘being’ is said) to questioning after beingness (the essence of beings), so that one can then think Being through beingness. For this approach to be methodologically sound it must be that ontology demands metaphysics, which completes ontology, rather than that metaphysics simply stumbles upon ontology. This kind of methodological clarity is not to be found in Deleuze’s own work, and it is the main thrust of my own project.
3. Conclusion: Leaving Heidegger Behind
We can now see the possibility of something like a post-Heideggerian metaphysics, but the question remains as to why we would want to pursue it. Part of this question is why we would want to go beyond Heidegger at all. Why did Heidegger not see this route?Why did he think that one could not think beingness without forgetting Being?
I can’t go into this in too much detail, and I have had a post lined up on the specific character of Heidegger’s equivocal ontology for a little while (but I’m not quite yet happy with it). The main point is that it is precisely the equivocal character of Heidegger’s ontology (which stems from an initial problematic decision that I have already sketched in my post on Normativity and Ontology) which precludes Heidegger from entertaining anything like the renewed metaphysical project I am espousing.
Heidegger is trapped in a certain phenomenological mindset by which he must think Being in terms of givenness, which demands that Being be understood in terms of that particular kind of being to which the given is given. Heidegger’s conception of this particular being (Dasein) changes over the course of his work, and the exact character of the relation of dependence is altered and weakened, but it never goes away. He does his best to de-anthropomorphize Dasein, to the point at which he is simply concerned with an open region in which beings appear, but this openness is still indexed to a certain kind of being, and Being itself is always yoked to the possibility of such a being (if not to its actuality). The privileged character of such a being prevents it from being thought within metaphysics. Metaphysics must rather be thought in terms of it. It is for this reason that metaphysics becomes something which is of Being itself, each metaphysical epoch marked by a ‘sending’ of Being. One grasps metaphysics through thinking the relation between Dasein and Being, and in doing so one is precluded from suggesting that there could be any one metaphysics which could encompass Dasein properly, as one among the whole of beings. The thinking of Dasein is always outside of the thinking of beingness, it is always that which comes before and cannot be incorporated within metaphysics.
However, if we disentangle Heidegger’s methodological trajectories, we can free ourselves from this anti-metaphysical dead-end. And the way to do it is through espousing a strong principle of univocity.
This entry was posted on August 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm and is filed under Exegesis, Theory with tags Deleuze, Heidegger, Metaphysics, Nietzsche, Ontology, Spinoza. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.