The “Consummation” and “End” of Metaphysics

Analyses in a recently published book, Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time, serve to speculate on reasons why Martin Heidegger might have abandoned his 1927 magnum opusBeing and Time. As is well known, at the inception of Being and Time, Heidegger promises to answer “the sense of being”. His claim is that time must be brought to light as the horizon for all understanding of being and for interpreting it. “Time must be understood primordially as the horizon for the understanding of being.” Regarding the history of philosophy, Heidegger’s reasons for the abandonment of Being and Time are surely important. To restate this simply, let us repeat from Braver’s introduction,

“[Heidegger’s] general commitment to holism and the hermeneutic circle means that each part of the book affects how we understand all of it, but surely this must apply with special force to its conclusion. What Heidegger would have said there affects how one understands the book as a whole, and how one understands Being and Time determines a great deal about how one understands Heidegger in general, and how one understands Heidegger has vast implications for the entire history of philosophy.”

Braver himself offers three possible reasons for the abandonment. He titles them “Subjectivity”, “History”, and “The Forgetfulness of Being”. Also included in this volume are analyses from several contemporary academic scholars, including Alain Badiou, Daniel Dahlstrom, and Charles Guignon. However, we do not intend to recapitulate any one analysis in detail here in this article. Rather, we will highlight that which is unavoidable in each analysis — namely, (and in Heidegger’s own words) “the end of metaphysics”. For Heidegger, this “end” follows from “the consummation”. We chose to animate this “consummation” and “end” of metaphysics in order to consider the consequences of each to contemporary political activity — particularly as manifest in the postmodernist aesthetic, which has maintained from before then until now. Finally, we will consider the possibility and potential value of a future metaphysics. But first, in order to do so, we must recapitulate Heidegger’s own announcement of the “consummation” and “end” of metaphysics.

Heidegger’s announcement of the consummation and end of metaphysics

To consider Heidegger’s announcement, we will draw from his lecture material on Friedrich Nietzsche — that which comes down to us by way of David Farrell Krell and Frank Capuzzi’s English translations of material first presented in 1936 at the University of Freiburg. (The last of which was completed in 1947.) In this material, Heidegger attempts to defend Nietzsche’s philosophy from moral and biological interpretation by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Baeumler. (Notice the dates of his compositions.) Heidegger does so by interpreting Nietzsche’s philosophy through the lens of metaphysics. Of course, this exercise may appear as quite shocking for devotees of Nietzsche’s own words (certainly if we consider Nietzsche’s own expressed distaste for metaphysics). Yet, what is produced by way of Heidegger’s interpretation is a highly original interpretation of Nietzsche’s thought as a whole. Included in this interpretation are metaphysical interpretations of Nietzsche’s revengewill, and power. However, important to our purpose here is that Heidegger’s interpretation also produces a frame by which to understand the tradition of metaphysics. Heidegger places Plato on one end and Nietzsche on the other. Heidegger’s narrative of “the consummation of metaphysics” is carried out by way of Nietzsche’s supposedly failed attempt to invert Platonism,

“For Plato the suprasensuous is the true world. It stands over all as what sets the standard. The sensuous lies blow, as the world of appearances. What stands over all is alone and from the start what sets the standard; it is therefore what is desired. But as long as the ‘above and below’ define the formal structure of Platonism, Platonism in its essence perdures. [Therefore, Nietzsche’s attempted inversion of Platonism] does not achieve what it must, as an overcoming of Platonism in its very foundations. Such overcoming succeeds only when the ‘above’ in general is set aside as such, when the former positing of something true and desirable no longer arises, when the true world — in the sense of the ideal — is expunged.”

In Platonism, ειδος or ιδεα sets the standard by which the sensuous world is to be measured. There is nothing particularly novel in Heidegger’s interpretation. Likewise, there is nothing particularly novel in the interpretation of Nietzsche’s attempted inversion. For Nietzsche, the sensuous is true and the suprasensuous is μιμησις (mimesis, “representation of the world in art”). Therefore, for Nietzsche, the Platonic ιδεα and other such creations of “man” (and other such types of rulers of measurement) are subordinate to life; they are subordinate to one’s pursuit of life — and, importantly, their perspective. Hence, we speak of Nietzsche’s perspectivism. However, for Heidegger, this relationship between “above and below” is what constitutes metaphysics. Therefore, an inversion does not overcome metaphysics, but rather, and through the inversion, metaphysics perdures. No doubt, we can agree with Heidegger. Perspectivism must be a pronounced expression of subjectivity. The subject/object dichotomy is the bedrock of modern metaphysics. Therefore, Nietzsche’s perspectivism manifests as something of a completion of Western metaphysics by way of a culmination of modern subjectivist metaphysics,

“No matter how sharply Nietzsche pits himself time and again against Descartes, whose philosophy grounds modern metaphysics, he turns against Descartes only because the latter still does not posit man as subiectum in a way that is complete and decisive enough. The representation of the subiectum, is still not subjectivist enough for Nietzsche. Modern metaphysics first comes to the full and final determination of its essence in the doctrine of the overman, the doctrine of man’s absolute preeminence among beings. In that doctrine, Descartes celebrates his supreme triumph.”

However, for Heidegger, that final determination of modern metaphysics also suggests a dark period for Western history. Once the Platonic ιδεα is subordinated to life and has become merely one value among many in the project of living, “the inversion of Platonism becomes a ‘revaluation of all values’”,

“All that is left is the solitary superficies of a ‘life’ that empowers itself to itself for its own sake. If metaphysics begins as an explicit interpretation of beingness as ιδεα, it achieves its uttermost end in [Nietzsche’s] ‘revaluation of all values’.”

For Heidegger, metaphysics has been preoccupied with the rulers of “above and below” — whether those rulers are our highest values (as evident in Plato and Christianity) or “man” (as evident in Rene Descartes and Nietzsche). However, in order to answer the question of philosophy — namely, the truth of Being — we require a thinking beyond “the above and below”. Inasmuch, metaphysics has been unable to ask the all-sustaining questions regarding the truth of Being and, “for this reason, the consummation of metaphysics becomes an end.” Finally, we should remark that, for Heidegger, Nietzsche’s extreme subjectivism, and his failure to overcome metaphysics, stands as a milestone which marks an event in Western history — namely, nihilism.

“Western history has now begun to enter into the completion of that period we call the modern, and which is defined by the fact that man becomes the measure and center of beings. Man is what lies at the bottom of all being; that is, in modern terms, at the bottom of all objectification and representability.”

Yet, despite this seemingly unfortunate state for metaphysicians, Heidegger acknowledges that in this end, there “is the need of the other commencement”.

“Preparation of [the second] commencement takes up that questioning by which the questioner is handed over to that which answers. Primordial questioning itself never replies. For primordial questioning, the sole kind of questioning is one that attunes man to hear the voice of Being. It is a thinking that enables man to bend to the task of guardianship over the truth of Being.”

Of course, and despite Heidegger’s promise of a “second commencement” for philosophy, we could still question his apparent dramatics. After all, such an announcement is nothing new within the tradition. Already, Immanuel Kant had made a similar claim in his time. Yet, this fact withstanding, there is still something prophetical about Heidegger’s announcement. Its truth lies in the fact that metaphysics does, indeed, seem to have failed to produce any impact in social, political, or scientific matters following Being and Time. To be sure, Sartre’s existentialism and Adorno’s negative dialectics did attempt to fix and correct Heidegger’s metaphysics for the liberal palette. Yet, neither have left an impression comparable to Derrida’s deconstruction. And while it could be argued that Judith Butler’s performativity has changed the social and political landscape, it is to be admitted that performativity is only a narrow reading of Heidegger’s being. Therefore, it does appear as if Heidegger’s metaphysical architectonic, as presented in Being and Time, may be the last in a long tradition reaching at least as far back as the seventeenth century and to Rene Descartes’s substantiality. Of course, if this is in fact the case, then it may be for good reason. So, let us consider the historical, social, and political situation in the decades following the publication of Being and Time.

Following WWII, Western thinking had become possessed by the spirit and tools on offer by way of sociologic. The real power of technology, as evident in the atomic bomb, had asked that the human animal problematize the use and application of technology, among other sociological and political concerns. When looking back to the writing during this period, we see that the very project of life—that is, the very prospect of living—must have demanded an unprecedented kind of unity. We find the apparent need to deconstruct authority and decentralize power, for example. Sociologic was used as a weapon in the liberal crusades—an activity which is evident in the McCarthyism of the second red scare. But it is also evident in the later applications of the Frankfort School’s critical theory, which eventually led to woke activists in the early third millennium “punching Nazis”. Here, sociologic was used to take up an attack on patriarchy and “White privilege”—systems which were named according to the most visible demographics which had produced such ugly modernism (even if, in reality, many “White” men living in the late second and early third millennium were equally critical of the modern aesthetic. This is evidenced in the suffering represented by postmodernist works of art—those produced by “White” men, and principally by them). It is because of the pervasiveness of these concerns that we should not be surprised that during this same historical period, academic philosophy too was subordinated to sociological concerns and preoccupied with the tools on offer by way of the sociological toolbox. Perhaps we could say that academic philosophy was demanded to do so. In many cases, philosophy took up an explicit “post-metaphysical” turn after the war (this is something which Jürgen Habermas explicitly admitted too). Therefore, we can conclude, it does appear as though individual and subjectivist metaphysics, as epitomized by the philosophies of Descartes, Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, could no longer wholly address our concerns. Historical and social thinking was required of the post-war project.

The inadequacy of subjectivist metaphysics

Now, what should not be overlooked is that at the “consummation” and “end” of metaphysics, Heidegger had already acknowledged the inadequacy of individualist and subjectivist metaphysics in providing an answer to the philosophical question — namely, the question regarding the truth of Being. In his material on Nietzsche and Western nihilism, Heidegger reflects on his abandonment of Being and Time. This passage sheds light on his position,

“In Being and Time, on the basis of the question of the truth of Being, no longer the question of the truth of entities, an attempt is made to determine the essence of man solely in terms of his relationship to being. That essence was described in a firmly delineated sense as da sein. In spite of a simultaneous development of a more original conception of truth (since that was required by the matter at hand), the past thirteen years have not in the least succeeded in awakening even a preliminary understanding of the question that was posed [i.e., the question of the truth of beings]. On the one hand, the reason for such noncomprehension lies in our habituation, entrenched and ineradicable, to the modern mode of thought: man is thought as a subject, and all reflections on him are understood to be anthropology. On the other hand, however, the reason for such noncomprehension lies in the attempt itself, which perhaps because it really is something historically organic and not anything ‘contrived’, evolves from what has been heretofore; in struggling loose from it, it necessarily and continually refers back to the course of the past and even calls on it for assistance in the effort to say something entirely different.”

“Above all, however, the path taken terminates abruptly at a decisive point. The reason for the disruption is that the attempt and the path it chose confront the danger of unwillingly becoming merely another entrenchment of subjectivity; that the attempt itself hinders the decisive steps; that is, hinders an adequate exposition of them in their essential execution. Every appeal to “objectivism” and “realism” remains “subjectivism”: the question concerning being as such stands outside the subject-object relation.”

While this passage may be interpreted to suit the many different and likely diverse needs of scholars, it must be clear that Heidegger means to say that in order to ask the question regarding the truth of Being (and, hence, encounter the thinking space which characterizes the “second commencement”), we must turn away from subjectivist metaphysics. However, to replace subjectivist metaphysis with “objectivist” or “realist” metaphysics will be just as unsatisfactory. If Heidegger is correct, then this must be because any metaphysics (understood as that which takes as its subject matter a subject) will always remain subjectivist in “attempt and path”. And this is the case, no matter if the human animal is the subject or the object of that metaphysics. It would also be true no matter if the world is defined as ideal or real. In other words, the answer regarding the truth of Being, according to metaphysical questioning, will always be attempted by way of an interpreting subject, and that attempt will follow a path which confronts the danger of becoming merely another entrenchment of subjectivity. The second commencement, as Heidegger conceives it, will not be characterized by a way of thinking in which the I myself accompanies “pure being” (Hegel). Rather, in the clearing of truth, “pure being” may show itself, as it is, of itself.

Now, granting this, and with a bit of effort, we may be able to imagine a language of pure description without consequence to the projection of an interpreting subject. Yet, even if we could produce such a fantasy, we can be sure that such a language, if it were to be satisfactory, would not be possible as a formal language alone. Rather, and in keeping in line with Heidegger’s metaphysics of being in the world, such a “language” could only be manifest as a robust discourse and form of life (Ludwig Wittgenstein). Borrowing language from Being and Time, we might say that the problem which metaphysics faces in asserting the truth of Being is not merely one of interpretation, which asserts the I along with it, but is also one of understanding, which is prior to any cognitive representation.

In some of Heidegger’s later compositions — namely, The Thing (1950), and Building Dwelling Thinking (1954), Heidegger implements the language of a fourfold (earth, heaven, divinities, and mortals [things that are dying]) which presences Being in negation, by virtue of the mirroring of the fourfold, and is then joined — that is, gathered — by the being itself. And while Heidegger may be right to search for the opening or clearing for truth (αληθεια), and while he is also right to look towards works of art and things of value as vehicles for freeing a space for such encounters, all the same, and because he limits himself to the domain of thought as the means by which to encounter the truth of Being, he prohibits any genuine escape from subjectivist metaphysics. Consider that even “primordial questioning” (as the sole kind of thinking that attunes “man” to hear the voice of Being) must be the wrong activity — that is, if by “listening” we are thinking of that kind of listening with our “mind’s ear”, which puts the listener in the center. Insofar as this is the case, it is doubtful that we can turn towards Heidegger’s claim to “primordial questioning”. For us, we must beware of “overstepping the line” such that we cannot “find our way” to the “necessities reigning within themselves”. (These are words which Heidegger himself wrote while sketching material for that seminar on Schelling!) In doing so, what appears as required is an “aid” towards a post-subjectivist form of life, such that we no longer prioritize the “seeing” and “hearing” of the human animal—a priority which Heidegger fails to ever wrest his own thinking from.

The possibility of a future metaphysics

Let us ask ourselves a question. Is it accidental that post-metaphysical thinking and the philosophical methods of deconstruction appear alongside the political projects interested in disarming and disempowering world institutions, or those interested in dismantling patriarchy, and the remaining after-effects of colonialism? Are not each of these sublimations products of the suffering of their authors? And do they not indicate symptoms resulting from the very ideals of modernism? — namely, alienation, rootlessness, estrangement, and apathy? If we allow ourselves such a narrative, then we are granted mastery over our subjection. In such mastery, we are granted relief from our suffering. And in such relief, we may be liberated — that is, if we are disposed for such a type of liberation. The very appearance of this narrative, our mastery, and relief suggest another aesthetic historical period. Of course, proof for such a history is not easily quantified. While it would be possible to produce graphs, taking into account empirical evidence regarding the popularity of certain types of narratives and political activism (narratives and activism which might reveal that the sociological concerns of postmodernist suffering is diminishing), none of that could count as proof. Any evidence for the end of postmodernist aesthetics can only be found “in the soul”, so to speak. Only once we feel the power of our claim can we know its truth. For those of us who feel it, we see the light past the shadows of post-WWII humanism. The liberal crusades, along with their virtue signaling, have lost their significance. Neither do we fear technology such that it must be problematized. Rather, we keep in mind our relationship to technology — technicity; in doing so, we can also return to metaphysics, and ask after a possible future metaphysics — one which could explain and guide our activity. Yet, to be sure, if we are to construct a metamodern metaphysics, what would be required is a new “subject”.

To reiterate, subjectivist metaphysics is unsatisfactory. This form of metaphysics can no longer speak towards solutions to today’s problems; it does not satisfy our concerns. A post-individualistic thinking was not only required of the post-war project, it is also required for us today. However, to approach a post-individualistic metaphysics by way of a “collective-”, “social-”, “national-”, or “identity-” (or even a “dividual-”) subject would be a self-deception. In each one of these approaches, the human animal remains as the subiectum. However, in returning to Being and Time, and the reasons for its abandonment, we can discover an aid towards a future thinking space beyond subjectivity. Consider that once we forgo the metaphysical category “man” as “subject”, then it ceases to be the subject of inquiry, and it also ceases to be the object to be worked upon. And once we forgo this subject, we are also then liberated to raise the question as to what subject remains in its absence. The answer to this question can perhaps be found by looking at that which precedes it. And already at the very inception of the metaphysical tradition (beginning with Aristotle), we find a clue. In Aristotle’s Πολιτικα (Politika, “the things concerning the πoλις”), we read that, “It is evident that the state [πoλις] is a natural growth and a prior condition to the individual”. Of course, immediately this claim might strike us as obnoxious. After all, if this is the case, then Aristotle must be thinking of the state (πoλις) as something other than what we think of today. No doubt, we think of the state as the body of laws as well as the officers and administrators of those laws. In this case, the state (including all of the material which also goes up to constitute the state) must be, without a doubt, a construction of individual human animals working in cooperation with each other. And in this case, the state could not be, as Aristotle claims, “a prior condition to the individual”. However, if Aristotle’s claim — that the state is a prior condition to the individual — produces within us feelings of dissonance, then it must be because we have (and are operating with) two quite different positions, each of which seeming to describe reality with some level of truth. One position says that man is a product of the state, and another says that the state is a product of man — or alternatively, that man produces the state. Note that the difficulty remains even if we substitute the words “state” with “society”. Does “man” produce “society”, or does “society” produce “man”? Or do both arguments retain explanatory power, each within their own contexts and applications?

Let us recall that in Ancient Greece, the πολις is where one found himself at home in a language, already within a λογος, which projects towards a future for that πολις. Within this “project area”, so to speak, we find our λογος (language or logic) — that is to say, we find that which organizes activity towards the ορισμος (horismos, “horizon”) — it organizes πραξις. Πραξις refers to the economic dealings which project towards the ορισμος. Everything before that ορισμος is the πολις. All possibilities (any object of value which projects towards the ορισμος) is what constitutes the “material” of the πολις. This may include hammers, cement mixers, wayfinding signs, or other values such as economic competition and individual liberty. The πολις is the condition for the being of that “material” too. To be sure, this condition is prior to any knowledge about the city or of its productive infrastructures — or even of the goals and results which its administrators seek to achieve. Only on account of this primordial state of being is any articulation of objects possible — and this includes any objectification of any particular you or me. Therefore, and according to Aristotle, it is not the case that a group of individuals (who we might call “man”) produce the state — including the formal laws and other social governing structures. It is rather that this primordial commerce is prior to the being of those individuals. Therefore, in returning to our question at hand, as to what remains in the event of such a collapse of the special priority of the human animal (heretofore, christened with the metaphysical category “man” — a subject over-and-above as uniquely distinct from nature), what we find, as the condition of possibility for “man”, is that which we can identify as a primordial commerce — the commercium. It is this subject which we may place at the foundation of a metaphysical architectonic of the conditions of possibility. The commercium is indicated by the very appearance of the world itself, whether through the human animal, non-human animals, machines, artificial intelligence, or even algorithms. Insofar as this subject grounds even the I myself, we understand this subject as the foundation for the subject of Descartes’s prima philosophia; it is “the center” (E.F. Schumacher), or the foundation for “consciousness, the intellectus archetypus, or transcendental ego” (Georg-Hans Gadamer), or whatever other name we give that object to which every worldly object can be traced back. The commercium is prior to modernity’s “man” — it is a priori, in the language of Kant, or primordial (terminology we have borrowed from Heidegger’s translators).

In thinking of the name of the discipline which treats of the commercium as the subject matter of a metaphysical architectonic, we can turn towards Aristotle’s metaphysics, τα περι της πρωτης φιλοσοφιας (that is, “the [writings] concerning first philosophy”). Of course, the French philosopher Rene Descartes offers a more English-friendly term for this realm of thought; prima philosophia. And so, following the Latinized expression, we might say that we are here doing prima economics — prime economics. However, for ease of translation into English, let us simply name the thinking space of the commercium as first economics. In the thinking space of first economics, we are liberated from the modern individual-subject of “psychological” metaphysics, including even Heidegger’s “anthropological” pattern of thought, and the sociological priority too. We understand that such a subject can be taken up for scoping appropriate projects areas, whereby the truth of Being may show itself, of itself. To be sure, this subject has already been given form publicly, firstly, as announced in Daniel Fraga’s recently published book, Ontological Design: Subject is Project. Already in the subtitle of this book we find the kernel of a novel subjectivity of the commercium — the project.