Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ontology Festival

Being and Nothingness (L’Etre et le neant) and Being and Time (Zein und Zeit) are two of the seminal tomes of modern philosophy, the former being a baedeker to existentialism and the latter to the phenomenological project. Without Sartre you might not have had Camus but without Heidegger there definitely would have been no Merleau-Ponty and that’s not the name of a wine. What both tomes have in common of course are a concern with being. Orthopedics deals with bones, nephrology with kidneys, urology with the bladder and cardiology with the heart but ontology is the specialty when deals with the Gesamtkunstwerk. Hamlet was famously tortured by this problem and he framed his symptom in a famous question. But being is really a simply matter. Descartes thought it had to do with thinking, but that's too limiting. There's a branch of philosophy actually dedicated to the question of non-existence called “noneism.” However, being itself is a rather simple matter. You either are or you're not. When a branch falls in the forest and there's no one there to see it is a famous formulation, yet it’s actually a no brainer. You don’t have to exist for someone else to be or vice versa. Radioactive elements have unstable nuclei and hence relatively short half-lives. Perhaps the question of being should simply be stated as “here today gone tomorrow.” Something comes out of nothing and then returns to nothingness like the biblical ashes turned to dust. Human beings uniquely possess consciousness, but their being is just a footnote in the history of the universe. Before they're conceived they're not even a Platonic  ideal, then they magically announce their presence with a cry at birth, the crying continues, until life finally leaves the body and the human, animal or plant ceases to exist, with the last of these losing their petals.

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