Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Something For Advanced Reflexive Metaphysics...

.:Here's What I Wrote...:.

While it's a big deal to me that I got a good score in Mr. Calasanz's midterm exam, it still makes one wonder what it takes to get an A, since I only got an A-, and nobody got an A or better. Given open notes, open discussion, and internet access, it's very understandable why sir's standards are extremely high, but I do wonder what it takes to meet those standards satisfactorily.

In any case, here's my answer in full...

Write a clear, coherent, and comprehensive essay answering the following question:

What does Heidegger mean by the “onto-theological constitution of metaphysics?” Would Hans Un von Balthazar's fourfold difference be characterized by this onto-theological constitution?

Metaphysics is of great import to Heidegger's philosophical itinerary. Whether he is attempting to explain it or he is attempting to “overcome” it, there is much that remains untouched in the realm of metaphysics since the fundamental and pivotal metaphysical question implied by Parmenides' poem, as succinctly expressed by Leibniz, “why is there something rather than nothing?” Has been asked. Heidegger trudges along and away from the path of metaphysics in a genuine attempt to answer why there is. While a value judgment on Heidegger's body of work in this regard is up for much debate, it cannot be denied that his thinking has provoked a radically different way of seeing metaphysics: now, metaphysics is being turned on its ear by Heidegger as he now studies Being more extensively than being, while consciously ensuring that he does not fall for the same traps other thinkers have fallen for, particularly in their own ways of discussing or even defining Being.

There is much difficulty in attempting to follow Heidegger's line of thinking in this sense, particularly of his vacillating regard for metaphysics. While metaphysics at its most basic definition is the study of being as being, according to Heidegger, metaphysics inquires about beings with respect to Being, but in it the question of Being as such is disregarded and Being itself is obliterated. He finds much to critique with the way other thinkers in the past have reduced Being into a being the way that chairs and people and dogs are beings, mainly because he believes this is not the way to understand the question of Being: be it idea in Plato, substantia and actualitas in Medieval philosophy, objectivity in modern philosophy, and will to power in Nietzsche and contemporary thought, to name a few reductions. Heidegger's struggle was for him to make his way back into primordial thought, thus bypassing Nietzsche all the way to Socrates in favor of a closer look at the Pre-Socratics, not merely to rehash their thoughts regarding Being, but to look at them in a new and revolutionary manner, hence the revisitation of Parmenides' poem.

It is clear at this point, by making a point to criticize subsequent attempts to characterize Being by thinkers from Socrates onwards, that Heidegger emphasizes that Being is not itself a being. In his attempt to find a formative way of looking at metaphysics, he employs a “step back” from the very framework he is immersed in, from the realm of what is unthought or taken for granted, into what gives us thought. Heidegger, at this point, confronts a very fundamental relationship in metaphysics, which he believes to be very constitutive of the import of metaphysics: the relationship between Being and beings. The relationship is investigated as rigorously as Being and beings themselves, and in doing so, Heidegger asserts that the source of the relationship or difference between Being and beings is also Being itself. Heidegger's line of thinking can easily be followed here. Once the implication that the source is Being itself, he logically arrives at his conceptual ground for beings, as it were: Being itself, all the same.

Thus, we arrive at his formulation of an onto-theological constitution of metaphysics: metaphysics is ontological, according to him, because it is an attempt to account for beings through the use of a conceptual ground, whether it be the cogito, the Will to Power, the Will to Will, and the like. Metaphysics is theological, because at some point, metaphysics can and will have to address a notion of the deity, i.e., the highest, especially when we begin to note how Being for Heidegger grounds beings, is the source for the relationship of Being and beings, yet beings account for Being by being (verb) there as testament to Being. The deity enters metaphysics through the holding fast to what we think initially as the approach to the active nature of the difference between Being and beings. Because the thinking of metaphysics, in doing the step back we described, remains in the difference of what is perceived to be the same, that which is unthought, i.e., the difference between Being and beings, we can thereby say that metaphysics is an ontology and a theology in a unified sense.

Indeed, metaphysics has an onto-theological constitution, given these premises, yet with much irony, Heidegger is still guilty of skirting the issue of a thorough discussion of God. It is not that Heidegger was being atheistic in his discussion on the deity by using the less loaded word, “Zeus”, but rather, that he was postponing this question as it was, to him, not as important as the more pertinent matters he was trying to address in the essay, mainly, the relationship of Being and beings, and how this could be constitutive of metaphysics. Heidegger attempts to deantropomorphize his conception of God by calling him merely causa sui, or the uncaused cause, making the highest less of a grandiose God and more of a brute reality that must be in order for all beings to come to be, thus, in his words, a god that one cannot pray to or sacrifice to.

Instead of allowing something outside of the relationship between Being and beings to be the source of the relationship or the difference, Heidegger plays safe by not addressing that implication and instead ascribing it to Being itself. As such, Heidegger's refusal to answer the question of God with any conviction has, with his death, become tantamount to a denial of God in the eyes of his critics. Yes, Heidegger could not be called an atheist in the strict sense, but in his deliberate attempt at skirting the issue, he is as good as one already.

In Heidegger's defense though, it was really only an external imposition upon him to address the question of God, and moreover, he never made an attempt to shut out any further discussion on God within his framework, albeit he was not particularly compelled to truly engage the discussion himself to begin with. If he were to subject himself to the whims of those who clamored for theology in his work, or those who clamored for ethics in his work, he would still meet much opposition regardless, thus illustrating how one simply can't please everyone.

There is an implicit and logical progression in Heidegger's line of thinking, when it comes to speaking about the difference between Being and beings, and of the seemingly generative ability of Being to perdure the relationship it shares with beings, and how this ontological difference is, at the surface, the most general of differences spanning from the existential difference, that is, the difference between the self and the other; to the essential difference, that is, the difference between the human being and other modes of being; all the way to the ontological difference, that is, the difference between Being and beings.

While Heidegger hardly if at all invests any length of discussion into the first two differences, it is very clear that these differences are indeed a logical progression, and that the onto-theological constitution of metaphysics is, in some ways, a fairly succinct illustration of the third difference, the ontological difference. Heidegger himself does not make note of these three differences, but this is where Hans Un von Balthazar comes into the picture both as a continuation of Heidegger's work and as a critique of what Balthazar perceives to be Heidegger's shortcomings in his refusal to truly address the question of the deity rather than to merely discuss it in such brute terms as “causa sui”, or such sterilized vocabulary, as “Zeus”.

As such, Balthazar elucidates on the three differences as metaphysical distinctions, and subsequently attempts to make the apparently logical leap that Heidegger, by his refusal, never made: the leap into a fourth difference, the difference between being and Beings together and God. In adding this fourth distinction, the question, “why is there something rather than nothing?” Becomes less a question on what is, but rather, a question on that it is. In adding the dimension of God, Balthazar turns his focus away from a moribund journey towards death in Heidegger's mortality, to one of love and joy in Balthazar's natality.

For Balthazar, there is love and joy because we all came into existence without having done anything to merit such an existence. While it's obviously impossible to do something, let alone something worthy of existence before even existing, it cannot be denied that all of us who exist, exist out of the goodness of God. As such, we are born in love and joy, a priori to whatever circumstances we may be thrown in, such as poverty or political strife. In making a categorical stake on a good and loving God, Balthazar steps beyond but also criticizes Heidegger, but still works mostly within the same framework. For Balthazar, the now fourfold distinctions sum up the economy of metaphysical distinctions: from existential to essential to ontological and finally, to the theological difference.

Balthazar takes umbrage to Heidegger's refusal to take the step into the theological distinction, instead insisting on dwelling only in the ontological one. This is because Balthazar believes that Heidegger's own reflections give rise to the inevitability of coming to this conclusion, that it is a logical and sensible leap to make from the third distinction, and from entertaining notions of the deity in “The Onto-Theological Constitution Of Metaphysics”. Heidegger's non-committal, almost begrudging, assent to the necessity of a brute causa sui that is heavily emphasized as nowhere near the anthropomorphic Judeo-Christian God, is, for Balthazar a tremendous deficiency that he sought to address, and looking at Balthazar's metaphysics, his enterprise is unsurprisingly relentless in stressing the importance of the theological distinction.

With all these objections to Heidegger, Balthazar expounds on the notion of God's love as freely given to all beings, who are all undeserving of such a boon, and for no reason whatsoever. This unconditionality of making something that is even though it could very well not have been is the very crux of Balthazar's call to a metaphysics whose starting point is natality. After all, is it not a comforting thing to know that no matter how bad our life may turn out to be, we were still given a life despite the fact that we never earned it at all to begin with? In Heidegger's framework, this is absurd and unthinkable: we were thrown into this world. Balthazar's vocabulary is a far more optimistic one, and it is only possible if the fourth distinction is established, because the fourth distinction precludes the existence of a loving God, and as such, it is a logical assent to make that our existence came from His goodness.

This contrast between Heidegger and Balthazar may seem like night and day, but in truth, they approach radically similar goals, albeit from different starting points. Because Heidegger's starting point is the human person's mortality, man's thrownness and fall, he enjoins thinkers to not fall into calculative thinking: to attempt to represent Being as if it were merely a being, in order to be faithful to what Being would reveal itself to be. Because Balthazar's starting point is natality, being born in joy and the presence of a loved one, he stands against the objectification of Being and insists on a loving God as the source that connects Being and beings, and in doing so, Himself relates to Being and beings, all the same. In each case, they object to the tendency of thinkers to trivialize Being or to undermine the relationship of Being and beings, and in doing so, despite their different starting points, they are striving for practically the same thing. To paraphrase a song, they are “letting Being be”, rather than attempting to frame it in a limited scale, and they are simply imploring others to let Being reveal and conceal itself on its own accord, which is unthinkable especially for the modern age where everything is objectified.

Balthazar's attempt at expanding and transcending Heidegger's framework is tempting to characterize as no longer characteristic of an onto-theological constitution of metaphysics insofar as it appears to be fully theological, and with little to no regard for the ontological aspect of the matter. To say this is to merely be caught up in the most general of ideas about Balthazar's enterprise and is unfair to what he has endeavored to accomplish. Balthazar's fourfold distinction, while very blatantly theological in its grounding of a loving and generous God, does not lose sight of ontology, if only for the fact that like Heidegger, Balthazar is attempting to discourage calculative thinking and the objectification of Being. Through this, the ontological distinction is still given importance, and is not at all ignored.

Balthazar's metaphysics is onto-theological because as an ontology, Balthazar has allowed God to be the conceptual framework to investigate beings, and as theology, Balthazar obviously characterizes God as the highest, and ultimately, as the source for both Being and beings, and their relation to each other as well. It is a point of interest to note that Balthazar actually makes the effort to still work within Heidegger's own enterprise, and in doing so, allows those who are familiar with Heidegger see the logical steps he is taking in asserting a fourfold distinction characterized by an onto-theological constitution of metaphysics.

As a professional magician who regards himself to be a “broker” of wonder in what can be characterized as a jaded and cynical world, I take consolation in the leap Balthazar has made from the ontological distinction into the theological distinction. Heidegger's brute reality, his causa sui, as necessary as it might be, does not lend to the wonder that can be found in a loving God who allows what need not be actually be. In Heidegger's own words, the causa sui is not a god one can fall to his knees in worship for, or can sing psalms of praise for, simply because Heidegger's god is a god of necessity, whereas Balthazar's God is a God of generosity. This distinction is a very important one to make between the two because this is precisely why Balthazar believes that Heidegger was wrong for remaining solely in the ontological distinction rather than making the leap to the theological distinction.

There is much to wonder about a God who gives when He does not need to, while there is hardly any need to consider a god who is only there because he must be there as a primary cause. It is easy to take the latter for granted, after all. In Balthazar, I find the kindred spirit of one who leaves much open in choosing to make the fourth distinction, for while Heidegger is indeed an advocate of openness, it cannot be denied that he is severely limited in his refusal to tackle certain issues for the sake of remaining open to either possibility. In Balthazar's assent to a loving and generous God, we find the possibility for a hopeful wonder not only in what is absolutely necessary, but even in what is contingent. Balthazar's efforts allows us to stand still, dumbfounded, and ask, “How could that possibly happen?!?” And appreciate after all has been said and done that it simply did, and it was simply a boon that it was, when it very well could not have been.

There is a point to be made in making a turn into an abbreviated discussion on magic here. In this loving and generous God precluded by Balthazar's fourth distinction, we find the Reason for the absurd: what could be more absurd, after all, than giving the ultimate gift, that of existence, to the myriad beings who certainly never achieved anything to merit such a gift to begin with? When magic attempts to make the absurd plausible, it is, in its own limited way, attempting to approximate the abundant generosity of God, rather than scheming to pull the wool over the eyes of an unsuspecting audience.

Whenever a magician can make the audience momentarily question the limits of the abilities of the mind, or suspend their disbelief in his repeated breaches of the laws of nature, Balthazar's onto-theological metaphysics permeates the very enterprise of the craft: mundus vult decipi. The world invites deception. Let us not immediately cast stones here because ironically, the “deception” of the craft, in its call to wonder and openness to surprises, in its call to the absurdest of the absurd, is far closer to Being than the boxes we attempt to put Being in when we attempt to objectify it can ever hope to be.

As such, Balthazar's metaphysics can be adjudged as onto-theological, and in fact, closely following the very onto-theological framework Heidegger himself has laid out. It is in this subscription to the absurdest of the absurd, a loving and generous God, that Balthazar has given a hopeful outlook to the relationship of Being and beings, from one of thrownness and fallenness to one of abundance and love, because the Source of this relationship Himself is abundant and loving. It is with this optimistic sense of wonder that we find ourselves allowing Being to come-to-presence and conceal itself all at the same time in joy and love, rather than in morbid curiosity of a being who is assuredly moving towards death. This is not to say that Heidegger's enterprise is worthless: to say that is plain ignorance. Quite simply, Heidegger's enterprise, like his god of necessity, was, to a great extent, a necessary component for Balthazar to build upon for his fourth distinction to truly have great merit.

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