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Here's an exegesis on Kenneth F. Dougherty's The Problem of Being. I find the article says much about one of philosophy's biggest questions; the 'meaning of being'. If you're ever considering reading Heidegger this might give some context to his thought; it focuses heavily on the distinction between being and essence, argues that humanity longs for being, as well as arguing that language gives a fundamental insight into our relationship with the world in-itself.
There will be a summary/discussion of Plato's Gorgias by this Sunday.
In the The Problem of Being, Kenneth F. Dougherty discusses the nature of being and its relation to humankind. Dougherty lays the groundwork for the discussion by positing certain metaphysical aspects of being. He then attempts to get closer to being by analysing modern man/woman’s relationship with being through his/her experience of the urgency of the problem of being, the presence of an idea of being within language, and ‘the analogy of being’.
In his opening discussion, Dougherty makes a distinction between the concepts which are applicable to all instances of reality, ‘transcendentals’, and other concepts, such as quantity, which only apply to certain aspects of reality. The concepts that do apply to all beings, i.e. transcendentals, are the following: being, truth, unity, goodness, thing, and something. These concepts share a similarity insofar as they are all flawless aspects of reality and apply to all instances of it. Essentially, anything that can or does exist is not only describable using these terms, but these terms are ontologically inherent in the things themselves. They are called ‘transcendentals’ because they literally exceed all modes of being. While being shares a unity with the other transcendentals, they all derive their being from being itself. Although Dougherty states that ‘(the transcendentals) are virtually contained in (being)’ (Dougherty 1), he explains that explicating them is necessary, as they refer to aspects ‘not made explicit by the notion of being’ (1).
Dougherty then communicates a view held by the French existentialist Gabriel Marcel. Marcel holds that, due to the fact that humanity has transitioned into a world of functionalization, it has lost its intimacy, or relationship, with being. Man, for instance, is pre-occupied with ‘work and play’ and fails to apply an appropriate degree of contemplation to the problem of being (1). Dougherty argues that, instead of trying to make oneself in the image of God, man has instead defined himself by virtue of the social mechanism he is faced with. This state of affairs has lead humanity to an ‘empty, hollow existence’ (1). However, whilst the contemporary individual is pre-occupied with the world of superficiality, the problem of being exists in a latent state in his consciousness.
According to Daugherty, one can only become acquainted with being through recollection, where one transcends the limitations of language and grasps true meaning. In order to do justice to the problem of being, one has to live the life of a ‘recollected mind’; a life devoted to the quest for the ‘meaning of being’ (1). This problem arises when trying to find ‘being’ in things we claim are beings. Martin Heidegger reveals the exigency in the problem of being when displaying that, while we all have a concept of being and are willing to say the library or the university is, we can never, for instance, find the being of the library, or the university. While the problem is apparent in the examples above, Dougherty claims that the problem intensifies when one attempts to find the being of the state, or even God.
Dougherty then describes the two ways being discloses itself through language. Firstly, being is used as a noun to denote what exists. According to Dougherty, the use of being as a noun is equivalent to the transcendental concept of ‘thing’; things are beings because they necessarily possess the property of existence. Secondly, being is used as a participle, where it refers to the act of existing itself. This gives ‘the special insight’ into the nature of existence (2). Hence, metaphysics is concerned with ‘being as being’. Dougherty then foresees an objection from the logical positivist A.J Ayer, who purports that the problems of the metaphysician, namely the problem of being, are simply failures of one to understand language. Dougherty responds that this simply by-product of a ‘hasty reading of the metaphysical treatment of being as noun and participle’ (2). The metaphysician is not interested with grammatical structure, but with the way in which humans use language to communicate their immediate experience of things and events in the world. Being as a noun and participle are ‘reports on reality’, which give one insight into the true structure of being in the world (2).
Another relation between language and being, Dougherty claims, is the appearance of being ‘as a most common and simple predicate’ (2). Whether a subject is a being, an artificial being, or a logical being, one must presuppose the ‘act of existence’ to such a thing (2). Therefore language, as the expression of thought, presupposes being, as any thought presupposes that the thought itself is of something which must be said to be. Being must also be the simplest predicate. Because being can be said of anything, yet does not say anything about the subject of which it is predicated, other than the fact that it is existing, it is unimportant in terms of the logical structure of the thing it is connoted to, yet is necessary to its existence. This leads Dougherty to distinguish between the sciences and metaphysics, as science is a study of essence of the subject (its physical/semantic structure), while metaphysics is a study of the being of subjects. To demonstrate this, Dougherty claims that, while the sciences may be able to give a detailed analysis of the essence of Galaxy M-82, the metaphysician can describe it in relation to being.
Furthermore, the fact that being is in no way definable shows that it operates as the ultimate axiom of language. Dougherty demonstrates this by showing how, in order to define something, one must be able to place it in its ‘approximate genus’ (3). Because being functions essentially as the genus of anything that could be said to be, it cannot be placed in a category and must be understood in opposition to non-being. This is true of all transcendentals because they rise-above all aspects of reality. While the transcendentals are united insofar as they are concepts applicable to all reality, they all work as individual concepts because they show different particular aspects of being. Being is superior because, inherent in the concept of being is ‘subject and form’ (3). Being’s subject and form are what distinguish it from other aspects of being; the subject denotes an existent and the form denotes the act of existing.
Dougherty concludes the article with a discussion concerning the ‘analogy of being’. What the analogy expresses is the inherent uniformity and plurality inherent in the world. This problem is expressed when thinking of something like a human being. While a human being is composed of universals, e.g. skin, hair, cells, he is not merely the sum of these characteristics, but is also a particular, i.e. an individual. While the analogy of being holds that reality is composed of an intermingling between universal and particulars, Dougherty claims that some metaphysicians are blind to this, and become fixated with a strictly monistic or pluralistic view.
In order to illustrate the relationship between man and being, Dougherty displays the ways in which being reveals itself as: an essential aspect of language, the brooding of the problem of being in the subconscious, and through one’s experience of the analogy of being. While being evades man’s search for it, it remains everywhere around him and always within him.
Dougherty, Kenneth F. Being as a Transcendental. New York, Graymoor Press. 1965. Print.