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.
14 thoughts on “Metaphysics after Heidegger”
Thanks for your involved post. I would just have to comment that you supposed dichotomy:
“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.”
…is a false one. That is, Heidegger’s overcoming of metaphysics is distinctly and in a wholecloth way derived from Cartesian assumptions which he inherented from Husserl. And that there are metaphysics that escape his categorical assumptions.
When someone under an Heideggerian presumption such as:
“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. ”
…it is good to realize that the very “ontological difference” is a product of the Heideggerian notionalism of Being and non-Being as categorically distinct, something that Spinoza refutes. Spinoza’s Substance indeed is not a particular Being, but rather a methodology of investigation and explanation.
Because the criticism of Spinoza via this “ontological distinction” itself flows from the Cartesianism that Spinoza made his turn from, (ultimately a refusal of the optically construed categories of Being of Plato and Aristotle from which Heidegger likes to extract his authority – for instance see how he inappropriately extracts a notion of “truth” from the Greek: http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/heideggers-confusion-over-truth/ ) it is a kind of bootstrapping. Spinoza is guilty of Onto-theology because Heidegger is guilty of Cartesianism. In a certain way Heidegger is important because he represents a branch of philosophy that simply cannializes itself, but its much easier (and important) to simply by-pass this branch of philosophy altogether, as something of a dead-end species.
I find it very hard to respond to your comment, because you seem to be so aggressively anti-Heidegger that you end up occupying a couple very confused positions.
Firstly, you note that the dichotomy between doing pre-Heideggerian metaphysics and abandoning metaphysics for Heideggerian ontology is a false one. I entirely agree. That is the point of this post, to show how a third option – genuinely post-Heideggerian metaphysics – is possible. Indeed, I want to claim that this is where Deleuze’s philosophy falls.
However, as far as I can tell, you want to reject Heidegger whole-cloth, and you seem to imply, both here and elsewhere, that all of Heidegger’s insights flow from a certain Cartesianism from which they can’t be extricated. This seems to imply (though I could be wrong here) that you think one can’t accept a little bit of Heidegger (e.g., the ontological difference), without ending up being committed to the rest of it. If this is the case, then you do accept the dichotomy, you just think that the former side (the pre-Heideggerian metaphysical side) is the right one, and also the one where both Deleuze and Spinoza are to be found.
Secondly, you claim that, as I’ve just noted, the ontological difference is something which follows from Heidegger’s Cartesian heritage, and can as such be ignored as unimportant, AND then claim that Spinoza doesn’t violate it anyway. I won’t reiterate my reasons for taking it that Spinoza’s Substance is a being (I take them to be pretty conclusive), but it seems that one should defend Spinoza either by claiming that the ontological difference is unimportant (championing pre-Heideggerian metaphysics) or argue that he actually does respect it (that Substance is not a being). I suggest that you pick one and stick to it, though I disagree with both.
I will tackle two of your specific points though: 1) that the ontological difference follows from a categorical distinction between Being and non-Being, and 2) that Substance is not a being because it is a ‘methodology of investigation and explanation’.
On the first point, it’s very hard to see why this claim could be right. It is true that there is a link between the ontological difference and non-Being or Nothing (as Heidegger talks about in ‘What is Metaphysics?’), insofar as Heidegger thinks that because Being is not a being, then it must be Nothing. He takes Being and Nothing to be identical, and he elaborates an interesting (if entirely flawed) existential theory of Nothing on its basis. However, one must note that Heidegger derives the claim that Being and Nothing are identical (which he compares with Hegel’s similar claim at the beginning of the Logic), from the ontological difference, not the other way around. Accepting the ontological difference (which there is very good evidence to say that Deleuze did, e.g., his discussion of Heidegger’s ‘Identity and Difference’ in D&R) need not entail any of Heidegger’s musings on the Nothing. Moreover, such acceptance certainly needn’t be justified by appeal to any considerations regarding non-Being, but as I showed in my earlier post on Deleuze and Spinoza, can be justified by appeal to the strong version of the principle of univocity.
On the second point, this kind of defense of Spinoza against the ontological difference is incredibly weak, insofar as it makes the central posit of Spinoza’s whole metaphysics (the existence of a single substance of which all else is a modal expression), into a mere ‘methodological’ posit, rather than a properly ontological or metaphysical one. Spinoza’s metaphysics is powerful and incredibly impressive. One should defend it on its own terms rather than weaken it in this way.
This leaves you in an interesting position from my perspective. You seem to want to maintain a much closer proximity between Deleuze and Spinoza than I do. This isn’t because I don’t think there is such proximity, just because you reject what I take to be the only major point of divergence. However, the best way you have of defending Spinoza against my criticisms is to maintain that the ontological difference is unimportant, when there is good evidence that Deleuze himself takes it to be important. This seems to force you to champion Spinoza over Deleuze. Your other alternative – showing that Spinoza in fact abides by the ontological difference – seems to force you to weaken the whole character of Spinoza’s metaphysics considerably (unless there is another defense you haven’t yet put forward).
Finally, as I’ve been trying to show in this post and others, one need not accept Heidegger’s philosophy whole-cloth. As I noted at the bottom of this post, there is indeed a certain Cartesianism that Heidegger never manages to get away from, which ultimately forces his philosophy into the dead-end it ends up in. However, there are aspects of his philosophy that can be separated out from this. Many of his methodological considerations regarding how it is that we should question Being are incredibly insightful and operable independently of any concern with givenness. As is his insistence on the ontological difference. If you want to argue otherwise you need to show how specific aspects of his philosophy cannot be separated out in the way I am advocating, rather than treating his philosophy as some form of gordian knot that is better cut in two.
To be brief…
De: “it seems that one should defend Spinoza either by claiming that the ontological difference is unimportant (championing pre-Heideggerian metaphysics) or argue that he actually does respect it (that Substance is not a being).”
Kvond: No, simply, the ontological difference is an error. That is, from Spinoza’s position, it is merely an ens rationalis. To say that Substance is “a” Being is to not grasp what Spinoza means by Infinite, or to play the One/Many game (and not not have read Spinoza’s much neglected letter 12 on the imaginary status of mathematics closely enough). In otherwords, simply to remain in the Philosophy of Presence of Cartesianism (and its inappropriate interpretations/distoritions of Greek Philosophy which Heidegger carried out to an extreme degree. Heidegger simply starts in the wrong place, and starting in the wrong place is, as Deleuze often warned, is determinative of the series.
De: “it makes the central posit of Spinoza’s whole metaphysics (the existence of a single substance of which all else is a modal expression), into a mere ‘methodological’ posit, rather than a properly ontological or metaphysical one. Spinoza’s metaphysics is powerful and incredibly impressive. One should defend it on its own terms rather than weaken it in this way.”
Kvond: A very strong case can be made from WITHIN Spinoza’s philosophy that NONE of the propositions in the Ethics are completely adequate ideas. Finite Beings simply cannot hold completely adequate ideas, and ideas in their linguistic form simply are not adequate (Spinoza is pretty clear on this). Few people consider the consequences of this, but what it does do is turn the entire Ethics into one great methodological pursuit, a causal attempt to produce intution, the third kind of knowledge. This actually does not weaken his philosophy, but strengthen it. It strengthens it perhaps not as an absolute argumentative form but as a praxis, and I suggest that it is was this to which Deleuze as most attracted to in Spinoza.
But yes, I find the idea of breaking philosophical time into two parts, before and after Heidegger to be determinatively Cartesian and Idealist, and that there is very little of interest in Heidegger that could not readily and more powerfully be found in other strains of thinking. In short, Heidegger’s Cartesian/Idealism, the optical analogy of mind, is the wrong vehicle for whatever one might think is best in him. Really, Heidegger’s in an alienated world, an alienation that does not serve us very well.
The Spinozan Branch is not taking one of two dichotomized choices (again, too much faith in binarization), but rather a divergence in species. Spiinoza’s departure from Descartes is genetic. And, in a certain sense, I have very little faith in Heidegger’s offspring. And yes, I take Deleuze to be a Spinozan much more than you do, or at the very least, his Spinozan thinking is not somthing that has to be corrected.
I’ll let you have the last word on this if you like. Aside from that I will look forward to reading your future posts.
It is rather amusing to find another ‘Heideggerian’ who wants to do metaphysics. As you may or may not know my dissertation makes more or less the same point albeit without the hat tip to Deleuze (whom I’m not all that acquainted with). My own conclusions, in a paper I am working on, is that it is not all that difficult to discover metaphysics in Heidegger and that we are currently in precisely the age of post-Heideggerian metaphysics (or as I call it Re-Structuring). On an unrelated note I had intended to submit that paper to Pli but I’m not sure it fits the current CFP. I’ll likely hang on until the next issue.
Where I differ with you is the need to look outside Heidegger. We already implicitly remember being as Heideggerians so there is no danger of conflating the ontological difference. This gives us the freedom to speculate on the areas Heidegger suppresses in order to progress with the Seinsfrage. I see no reason why we can’t hold out the difference and still do metaphysics. Plus it frees us from the rather ridiculous history-of-being/Greek-German/High-Romantic nonsense and leave is with the good solid tool-analysis, existential analytic or whatever else you fancy.
Anyway I’ve not got much by way of critique. I just wanted to drop in and say hello to someone on a similar path and I look forward to the upcoming posts.
Paul John Ennis
Kvond: I will try to take the last word graciously.
I’m not exactly trying to correct Deleuze’s Spinozan thinking, but rather to point out where Deleuze corrects Spinoza. I do encounter Deleuzian’s who seem to find NO difference between Deleuze and Spinoza, at which point I have to ask why Deleuze did anything more than write books on Spinoza. You may intensely dislike Heidegger, but you should recognise that Deleuze definitely does draw some influence from him (even if he also intensely disliked him). The ontological difference happens to be something that he does acknowledge.
I will admit not to have read Spinoza’s thoughts on mathematics in incredible detail (though I was most interested by them when I did). However, I would respond to your claim that “To say that Substance is “a” Being is to not grasp what Spinoza means by Infinite”, by saying that to say that Substance is not a being is to grasp what ‘being’ means. Predicates like ‘infinite’ are after the fact, as being a ‘being’ does not imply being finite, or at least, it doesn’t do so without any constitutive assumptions. Nor does this have anything to do with numerical considerations, it is simply about the notion of existence.
Substance is a being in a very minimal sense, a sense that is common to both substances and modes, insofar as both are defined as different kinds of _existents_, those that exist through themselves and those that exist through something else. This notion of existence that is common to them is completely minimal, it implies nothing. Beyond it, substances and modes are two distinct kinds of being that are differentiated in totally different ways (e.g., substances are differentiated only through attributes). This is why Spinoza’s notion of existence is equivocal, rather than univocal – it posits two fundamentally different kinds of existents/beings.
This just leads us back to the point about metaphysics vs. methodology. It might be true that it is impossible to have completely adequate ideas (hell, I agree with this proposition), but this does not allow one to some how magically ignored the actual argument put forward for any given position. Claims like: “well, our modes of thought are imperfect” can play no legitimate justificatory role. You can’t follow a path of argument, drawing certain conclusions (such as that there _is_ a third kind of knowledge), and then use such blanket claims to disavow the implications of that path of argument that you don’t like. You actually need to go back and correct the argument, as that is the only way in which we proceed closer to adequation (even if it is unreachable). The question is whether Spinoza is wrong in saying certain things, not whether he can be excused them because he is trying to generate intuition.
Paul: It is nice to know there are other people who want to take Heidegger in a piecemeal fashion, rather than in the all or nothing fashion of a lot of Heideggerians.
I think most of Heidegger’s value lies in methodological considerations, but I do admit that there are some elements that can be appropriated for metaphysics. For instance, I think that we can appropriate aspects of his theory of Truth in ‘On the Origin of the Work of Art’, before it develops into the fourfold. If we take the relation of Strife between earth and world to not be restricted to a Dasein which projects that world, but take it to provide the structure of a relation between every being and Being itself, I think we end up with a very interesting metaphysical picture (a very Deleuzian one). I also think that a notion of the withdrawal of Being can be incorporated into this. If we see it as split into a temporal withdrawal of the future and a withdrawal of the universal structure of Being, it can indicate the impossibility of us perfectly predicting the future and the impossibility of us elaborating all of the deductive consequences of universal structures like mathematics. This is a very brief sketch, and I don’t expect it to make much sense.
However, I must disagree with you on the status of the existential analytic. I think we have to get rid of it completely. This is because, as I’ve hinted at, I think one can only think Being through beingness if Being is univocal, and Heidegger’s whole approach to Dasein necessitates an equivocal conception of Being. I’ve been working on a post on this for a while, and I’ll get round to it eventually.
”For instance, I think that we can appropriate aspects of his theory of Truth in ‘On the Origin of the Work of Art’, before it develops into the fourfold. ”
I’m not so much interested in how Heidegger re-renders truth so much as how Heidegger allows for multiple approaches to different beings. In the Origin of the Work of Art we are given a firm lesson is how one must develop an ontology specific to an artwork that cannot be applied to say a hammer or a human. I think the Fourfold is useful if you are, like me, into spatial issues. Since we are as humans facing the world on some kind of fourfold axis one can render, a la Harman, the Fourfold into a more metaphysical analysis as you go on to show. In fact I’d agree with Harman that this is exactly what the FF is in Heidegger. In this sense you, me or Harman are not radicalizing Heidegger but bringing the FF back down to earth (from the lofty world of the history of being or whatever).
When I mentioned the existential analytic I had in mind Heidegger’s freeing up of worldiness which he does via the tool-analysis as opposed to the rather odd authentic-inauthentic divide, they-self, and other not all too helpful notions that Heidegger drags up from some rather murky historical depths.
I feel I should clarify our differences further, so we know where we stand. Precisely what I’m opposed to in Heidegger is “how [he] allows for multiple approaches to different beings”. The reason I think the existential analytic needs to be expelled, pretty much in its entirety (there might still be some insights into the structure of normativity in there), is that it is the analysis of a peculiar kind of Being. Moreover, it is the methodological status of this particular kind of Being (that it is the Being of that being which can raise questions) which places it outside of and anterior to metaphysics (because metaphysics is itself a questioning).
Equivocity as such is not incompatible with metaphysics, but Heidegger’s particular brand of equivocity precludes him from thinking beingness properly at all, precisely because of the status of one of the ways in which ‘Being’ is said: Existenz (Dasein). I also claimed above that it is only through univocity that metaphysics can actually do what it is supposed to do, and complete ontology proper, but this is a different claim.
The additional point I would make is that I’m very much interested in the world-earth relation _before_ it develops into the fourfold, by which point I think the interesting aspects of it have become muddled with his thoughts on the history of being in precisely the way you identify (though I need to read more into this). I must admit that I haven’t read Harman’s work on Heidegger, but I suspect I see a slightly different potential in the twofold relation than he does. I will have to get on to it when I have the time (sigh).
Keep up the good work, and hopefully we can have more fruitful discussions about Heidegger. One of the problems I have with the general trend of speculative realism (and one of the reasons I don’t identify as a speculative realist) is precisely its reactionary tendency to reject the major figures of philosophy (primarily Kant and Heidegger) without trying to figure out what needs to be salvaged from their work. When it comes to Kant and Heidegger, there is a great deal of worth to salvage, and much of it would prevent speculative realists from repeating some of the mistakes that Kant/Heidegger were themselves reacting to.
Just in response to your last comment here, I wonder if this is really the case:
In the case of Harman, we don’t see the sort of reactionary rejection you’re alluding to here but rather see him grappling carefully with figures like Heidegger, Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, Husserl, and so on. While he certainly critiques all of these figures, he also always liberates an object-oriented kernel from their thought. Echoing Heidegger’s idea of Abbau or a destruction of the history of ontology, I have called for not a deconstruction of the history of ontology, but a re-construction (Paul came up with the word) of the history of ontology along object-oriented lines. Such a re-construction would do the very thing you’re calling for. Like Heidegger’s destruction that simultaneously critiques the ontotheological elements of a thinkers thought while also getting at the genuine ontological kernel in their thought, re-construction would aim at precisely those things that can be salvaged within a thinker. In this connection, Whitehead’s method of reading other thinkers is an exemplary example of what re-construction might look like. Whitehead, an unrepentant object-oriented ontologist and realist never contents himself with denouncing the anti-realism of other thinkers he engages with. Rather, he always liberates some realist kernel from their thought that is integrated into his process ontology. However, the project of re-construction cannot simply leave the history of philosophy as it finds it. A re-constructivist reading of Kant, for example, cannot read Kant as Kant understood himself, following him in the Copernican revolution. Rather, it has to re-construct that philosophy in realist object-oriented terms, taking what can be retained while also drawing attention to the catastrophe of thought that has been anti-realism.
Levi: just posted up a response to your thoughts.