What Is a Thing?

What Is a Thing? Photo by Aaron Blakeley on Unsplash

One of the main tenets of my inquiry into the concepts of space and place can be synthesized by the following assertion: at fundamental level, for me, things and places are the same. It is as if there is just one substance, which I can also call place (or even space), according to the modes of knowledge through which we are engaging with reality; if that fundamental substance kicks us back, it is an actual entity — a thing, or place. Conversely, if that substance does not kick us back, we can speak about it in spatial terms, since we are in the imaginary or ideal domain of abstract space or spaces. This is not an extravagant position or without any historical precedent: just think of Descartes and, with even more opportune distinctions, Baruch Spinoza, or Samuel Alexander. In the first articles, by relying on common-use terminology, I have always intended places as ‘concrete things’ or entities, to begin with. This fact allowed me to neatly differentiate the ground on which place and space should be considered: I have said that place could be conceived of as the arena of things, while space is the arena of thought, even if this is merely a starting point for elaborating on those notions, which are for me correlated (the sense of one notion is implicated, as a condition of difference, in the other notion, and one notion carries foreword the other to reach for an encompassing — choral — understanding of reality, thereby recomposing that which differs — the actual and the ideal domains — into a seamless unity; moreover, when I say ‘the arena of things’, that arena must be understood as a thing in itself, or as a thing among things). So far, I have only superficially dealt with the question concerning the ‘thing’ in a few articles, especially (Places Everywhere, The Τόπος of a Thing, Place Kicks Back, Space Does Not); now, the time is ripe for inquiring into the nature of the ‘thing’ more in detail and to go beyond the common use of the term ‘thing’, since by investigating the meaning of the ‘thing’ we may gain some insights on the meaning of place and space. For me, Heidegger’s text — What is a thing? —[1] was a starting point for reasoning about the meaning of the ‘thing’ beyond common sense. My position diverges a bit with respect to the way Heidegger used the terms ‘thing’ and ‘space’ (and the way he described their relation) in that text. Nonetheless, given that my position is indebted with many aspects of Heidegger’s treatment of the ‘thing’, ‘space’ and ‘place’, I’ve thought it could be useful, for the overall structure of this website, to propose Heidegger’s argumentation.

At first, I approached Heidegger’s What is a Thing? by reading Eugen T. Gendlin’s Analysis, which closes the book edited by Gateway Editions, in 1967. I want to spend a couple of words on Gendlin’s work. He was a contemporary Austrian-born, American philosopher and psychologist, whose work was focused on the notion of process, which is a notion deeply connected with my concept of place (which is also a processual notion). He wrote a brief and specific article on space — The Derivation of Space —[2] in which he revealed the limits of the notion of location space (for me, this is roughly another name for what it is often called background space), which is the most common way people understand the notion of space and its relation with things, that is: space understood as the container where things are located, or, to put it differently, space as the gap between the here and there of things, which are considered separated among themselves, separated from space, and separated from us (as he explicitly says in the Analysis of What is a Thing?, just like Heidegger, Gendlin was against the prevailing view of the ‘thing’ understood as existing ‘in space, located over there, subsisting separate from and over against us and having certain properties of its own’).[3] This is an approach I also agree with, even if I believe that this vision should imply the abandonment of the traditional understanding of space in favour of a conception that, for me, is closer to the concept of place rather than to another version of space (or at least it is closer to the reformed vision of place and space that I sustain in this website). Gendlin’s Analysis has the merit of pointing out some vital passages of Heidegger’s text; that’s why its reading can also be regarded as a useful introduction, other than as an insightful analysis of the text.

There is an important issue touched upon by Gendlin, in his Analysis of Heidegger’s text, that I also want to introduce you before proceeding: this aspect regards the role that history has in determining the meaning of things and concepts. By reading What is a Thing? we discover that things are historical since, given our common-sense perspective, ‘one is always in a given situation, at a particular pass in history. The choices confronting us are choices in our current historical context’.[4] To put it bluntly, history says what things are, and this also means that history says what the meaning of a concept is. This is exactly my belief concerning the meaning of space and place: that’s why the etymological and historical analyses of those words deserved such a prominent position in my theorization about place and space (e.g., see the articles Back to the Origins of Place and Space, Place and Space: A Philosophical History, Space and Place: A Scientific History – Part I and Part II). The very way I think about the notion of place reveals that its nature is historical, given that, for me, place is created and structured on temporality — in complementarity with materiality and locality — and given that, among the five basic characters of place that I have enumerated, I have said that place is processual and evolutionary — thereby intrinsically structured on temporality —, other than relational, systemic, and choral (see the article What Is Place? What Is Space?). Therefore, — Gendlin continues —, Heidegger’s special merit is to have reopened some of the crucial decisions that made ‘things’ as we know them, now; decisions set in advance for us by Plato and Aristotle, Galileo and Newton, Leibniz and Kant. This is the same spirit that inspired my inquiry into the concepts of place and space, moving away from mere architectural considerations: the discomfort with the traditional understanding of those notions — a kind of understanding we have inherited from history, and we generally do not discuss anymore — caused me to search for the fundamental questions that those men had also posed and answered before we could get to our current understanding of those terms. We need to go back to those fundamental questions to reopen those issues (either we are questioning the meaning of the thing, place or space), which seem to be settled once and for all, and propose some different interpretation or answer, more in tune with our epoch. That’s what Heidegger did in the book What Is a Thing?: he reopened questions that seemed to be settled once and for all. This is the method of philosophy, after all. As we learn from Heidegger, this approach has the following important implication: ‘only philosophy builds the roads that create and alter what things are’.[5] To begin with, Heidegger’s philosophical attitude towards the ‘thing’ was to consider (i) the common sense and (ii) science as the starting points for his inquiry. That’s how Heidegger introduces us into the nature of the ‘thing’.

The text — What is a Thing? — is based on a lecture course held by Heidegger in the winter semester at the University of Freiburg (1935-36), almost ten years after the publication, in German, of the well-known Being and Time (1927). The course was focused on the question of the ‘thing’, taking the theory of knowledge expressed by Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason as a reference.  The book is divided into the following sections: the first — A — is titled ‘Various Ways of Questioning About the Thing’, and is a preparatory section that aims at getting rid of all the preconceptions about the meaning of the ‘thing’; here, Heidegger illustrates the basic argumentation after which it is possible to understand how the thing-model is structured. The second and main part of Heidegger’s inquiry — B — is concerned with ‘Kant’s Manner of Asking About the Thing’, and is subdivided into two sections: B.I. — ‘The Historical Basis on Which Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” Rests’, in which Heidegger examines how that thing-model is historically-determined and how modern science conditioned the basic assumptions of that model; B.II. — ‘The Question About the Thing in Kant’s Main Work’, ‘which presents the way Kant fundamentally altered the grounds on which this scientific assumption system was based and the limits within which it can be valid’.[6]

Before introducing the argument of the book, I would like to draw the attention of especially young scholars and researcher to the following methodological approach, which is the one used by Heidegger: the exposition of an unorthodox idea, corroborated by a linguistic and a historical analysis, in addition to its confrontation with the idea of some relevant author of the past. In this case, the exposition of an unorthodox idea — Heidegger’s understanding of the ‘thing’ — is dealt with in Section A, while linguistic and historical considerations are specially dealt with in Section B.I. Finally, in Section B.II., there is a confrontation with a major author of the past — Kant (in this case an indirect confrontation concerning the question of the ‘thing’).[7] This is also the same scheme that I have intuitively followed in my current research: the unorthodox model of place-and-space that I’m presenting here — in the article What is Place? What is Space? and in other articles: Places Everywhere, The Τόπος of a Thing, Body Place Existence, Place, Space, and the Fabric of Reality, Place Kicks Us Back, Space… —, was corroborated by linguistic analyses and historical considerations —  Back to the Origins of Space and Place, Place and Space: A Philosophical History, Space and place: A Scientific History – Part I and Part II, respectively —  and, as you have probably noted by reading those and other articles, it was corroborated as well by the frequent appeal to, and confrontation with those authors of the past who, for different and specific reasons, influenced my thinking on place and space: I’m especially thinking about Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Heidegger, and Whitehead (in future, I intend to dedicate specific articles to these and other authors to show the continuities and discontinuities between their thinking and my theorization about place and space).

A. Various Ways of Questioning About the Thing

In the previous article — Place Kicks Us Back, Space… —, we have already seen the important content of one of the first paragraphs of Section A. Very briefly, in the paragraph entitled ‘Ambiguous Talk About the Thing’, Heidegger sets the limits of his inquiry: among the three possible senses of the ‘thing’ enounced by Heidegger (a narrower sense — which concerns the things present-at-hand like  ‘a rock, a piece of wood, a pair of pliers, a watch, an apple and a piece of bread. All inanimate and all animate things such as a rose, shrub, beech tree, spruce lizard, and wasp…’ —, a wider sense — which concerns ‘whatever is named but which includes also plans, decisions, reflections, loyalties, actions, historical things’ —, and, finally, the widest possible sense of the ‘thing’— which includes the previous meanings and ‘anything else that is a something and not nothing’)[8] he will only deal with things understood in physical sense, that is: ‘what is most immediate, most capable of being grasped by the hand.’[9] Of course, we are not interested in one specific thing: we are not interested in ‘what makes it a stone or wood’— Heidegger says —, but we are interested in what makes the ‘thing’ a thing: ‘we do not ask concerning some species but after the thingness of a thing.’[10] Heidegger next discusses how such ‘things’ are rendered by common sense and science: while common sense is more concerned with things as ‘particulars’, science is especially concerned with the meaning of ‘universals’. From a couple of examples given by Heidegger, we understand that the sun of the shepherd is different from the sun of the astrophysicist: they understand the thing-sun in different ways, according to the different practical approaches and scopes of their lives. In the end, he is saying that the table I’m writing these notes on, this solid-wood entity which common experience says it is almost solid as a rock and full of material qualities — hard, brown, polished, etc. (i.e. a plenum) —, ‘according to the atomic physics of today’ is conceived in the guise of an inconsistent void, or an empty space.[11] This different approach or attitude toward the same thing seems to entail that ‘things’ are not independent entities, that is, they are not independent of us, of our approach with them (if this is true, there is not an entity such as the ‘thing’ in itself). Therefore, it appears that ‘things stand in different truths’, Heidegger says.[12] Which ‘thing’ is the true one? The ‘thing’ of ordinary experience or the ‘thing’ of science? And most of all: how these different approaches come to be? What is behind that difference? Is there a common origin? Indeed, there is. Two major considerations are taken up by Heidegger to unveil the common origin after which we have an understanding of the ‘thing’. Let’s see.

(i) By considering the ‘things’ of ordinary experience Heidegger says that their particularity depends upon their spatial and temporal disposition, that is: space and time are implicated in determining what a ‘thing’ is, or, by using Heidegger’s own terminology, space and time are ‘determinations of Things’ (we will discover that this characterization of the ‘thing’ also belong to universals, not just to particulars). The table I’m writing these notes on is not simply ‘the table’ or ‘a table’, but it is ‘this table’, precisely; it is ‘this one’, this particular table. The primary difference between this one and another table is that they occupy different places; and if they occupy exactly the same place, they can do that in virtue of a different time-point. Therefore, ‘that basic characteristic of the thing. i.e., that essential determination of the thingness of the thing to be this one [and not another] is grounded in the essence of space and time’, Heidegger says.[13] I want you to pay attention to the fact that Heidegger introduces this basic determination concerning the nature of the ‘thing’ — I mean the spatiotemporal differentiation between ‘this one’ and another thing — using the word ‘place’ and not ‘space’: in fact, he introduces the argument saying that ‘even assuming that two single things are simply alike, each is still this thing because each of these two pine needles is in another place’.[14] Fundamentally — and debatably, I would add —, in What Is a thing?, place is grounded on space, as in the Newtonian tradition (this is a position I do not agree with, since, for me, the sum of places is another place, a bigger place, eventually, and not space);[15] or, to  put it differently: place is not a particular portion of space, as it is also suggested by Heidegger, when, by replacing the word place with the expression ‘particular space’, he says that ‘through its particular space and time point, each thing is unmistakably this one and not another’[16] (for an overview of Heidegger’s different treatment of space and place in the evolution of his thinking see section 1.4 of the article Place and Space: A Philosophical History, which is based on Edward Casey’s The Fate of Place). I have said it since the very first articles of this website: the spatial or, better, the placial and the temporal are included in the material, and vice-versa. This is explicated by Heidegger’s words: ‘our question “What is a thing?” includes, therefore, the questions “What is space?” and “What is time?”.’[17]

our question ‘What is a thing?’ includes, therefore, the questions ‘What is space?’ and ‘What is time?’

This is the immediate question Heidegger has to answer: in which sense space and time are determinations of the ‘thing’? We learn from Heidegger that if we take a piece of chalk and we keep on dividing it into pieces of smaller size, we will never arrive at a situation in which space coincides with the physical essence of the thing; we will never get to the space ‘inside’ the chalk, but we will always find external relations between the parts we have divided the chalk into. Even if we say that the chalk takes up space, when we break the chalk into pieces, even if pieces have infinitesimal size down to chemical and physical constituents, space is always external to the parts: ‘we never reach beyond […] such a spatial sphere wherein matter moves from place to place or rest in one place’.[18] By breaking down the chalk we find that what we expected to be interior is always exterior for the smaller and smaller particles. Moreover, our piece of chalk has become a pile of powder, which is a different thing from the original piece of chalk. I stop here, just one moment, to point out that we are assisting at an important turn concerning Heidegger’s conception of space: this way of reasoning leads to an abstract, or mental understanding of space, which is different from the way Heidegger considered space in Being and Time (which dates back to 1927): as we have learnt from Casey’s analysis of Heidegger’s models of spatiality, the space in Being and Time was related to the physicality of the things present-at-hand, therefore, it was not a mental space (see the article Place and Space: A Philosophical History); while this space — the space in What is a Thing? — turns out to be more relational than absolute and certainly more mental than physical (this turn towards the mental was probably influenced by Heidegger’s careful study of Kant, whose Critics of Pure Reason is the core argument of Section B in What is a Thing?). While this turn is certainly sympathetic with respect to the way I understand space — which is for me a mental, or ideal notion —, the risk for place is to follow the same direction, which is contrary to my position; it will take time to Heidegger to avoid that risk and to hypothesize a conception of place more physical (linked to the corporality of Being) and standing on a different ground with respect to space (a mental notion), like I think place and space should be thought of, ultimately. Coming back to Heidegger’s text, the externality of space is tantamount to the externality of time with respect to the ‘thing’: ‘Still more exterior to things is time’, Heidegger says, when he wants to find ‘Where is time?’ in things.[19] Things, at best, can show the passage of time but we will never find the ‘entity-time’ within a thing, even if we analyse a clock and all of its pieces. Therefore, ‘the impression is renewed more strongly than before that space and time are only perceptual realms for things, indifferent toward these, but useful in assigning every thing to its space-time position. Where and how these perceptual realms really are remains open’, is Heidegger provisional conclusion of the important paragraph 5.[20] Only when Heidegger analyses more in detail the question regarding the specific character of the ‘thing’ —  in paragraph 6, ‘The Things as Just This One’ —, can he show that ‘space and time [which — Gendlin says in the Analysis — are systems of external relations between things that allows the possibility of their arrangement — in, out, next to, etc.] are generated in the encounter between man and the things that humans point out, locate, and make specific.’[21] The issue concerning ‘pointing at’ or ‘pointing out’ things is the first major consideration that allows Heidegger to unveil where the ‘thing’ and its spatiotemporal determinations — i.e. space and time — originate.

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Image 1:Things [as well as space and time, which are determinations of things] arise only in the context of their relation to us and our pointing them out’, we learn from Heidegger.[22]

The thing character of being this one or that one is traceable to the action of pointing at things: we build relations with things before we give them a name. What we call pronouns — this, these, that, those — come before nouns, actually; they are more primordial, not merely a substitution for a name (pro-noun), we learn from Heidegger.  This one (thing, here), that one (thing, over there): it is only after such ‘earliest mode of saying anything, selecting and determining a thing’ that a web or a cloud of relations between us and the ‘thing’ arises.[23] The ‘this’ belongs to us, it is not a character of the ‘thing’; however, it is precisely this subjective attribution (a demonstration, that’s the function of a demonstrative pronoun) that also allows the ‘thing’ to acquire a stand on its own, to be identified as something different from us. It is in the interplay between man and the ‘thing’ that space and time are generated as a condition of distance — that’s why we think of space anytime we think about the ‘in-between’, the interval or gap between objects.

It is in the interplay between man and the ‘thing’ that space and time are generated as a condition of distance

Few lines above, I have used the formula ‘web or cloud of relations between us and the thing’ to suggest the extensive, almost volumetric, dimension of the interplay between us and the things present-at-hand: it is such volumetric extension/expansion that we usually — and somehow improperly, I say — call space or even spacetime.

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Image 2:  Heidegger traces the distinctive character of the ‘thing’ of being ‘this one’ to the relation between man and the ‘thing’: we point at things and we call them ‘this’ or ‘that’, ‘this one’ or ‘that one’.
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Image 3: According to Heidegger, space and time are generated after the continual interplay between man and the things that man points out.

(ii) The spatiotemporal determinations that emerge after the interplay between man and the ‘thing’ are still not enough to unveil the thingness of the thing. A second major consideration is needed: this regards the role that language has in determining the ‘thing’ as a bearer of traits (the redness of the house, the roughness of the chalk, the bitterness of the lemon, etc.).[24] Were it not for the words that we attribute to the ‘things’ we have pointed at or pointed out, we would live in a world of floating sensations; through words, concepts, and assertions, language offers things a lasting stand: they ‘stabilize the flow of sentience; they make it into something. They bring it to a lasting stand’,[25] that is, they transform the transient flow of sensations into the permanent things we all know (then, this mechanism determines how both particulars and universals originate). Then, now, with respect to the question ‘what is a thing?’ Heidegger can answer that ‘a thing is the existing bearer of many existing yet changeable properties’.[26] Sensations, arising from external data, on the one side, and concepts, as the product of cognition, on the other side, are the two poles of the dynamical interplay between man and the world around, after which the thing, space and time arise.

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Image 4: In addition to the spatiotemporal determinations, language, through assertions, gives the ‘thing’ a lasting stand amid floating sensations; this way, according to Heidegger, the thing emerges as a bearer of traits.

I remind the reader that Heidegger’s use of the term ‘space’, in these circumstances, is different from the use I make of the same term: for me, the entanglement between man and the ‘thing’ — in terms of the complementarity between sensation and cognition — is before all a ‘placial’ event: it is something we should understand in term of place (which, for me, is a concept intrinsically, or internally structured on physical extension, location and duration, which are the common traits that substantiate any physical entity, as also Heidegger is saying with different terms) and not in term of space and time, as Heidegger does. In fact, for me, space and time are two times external determinations: first, in the sense explained by Heidegger with the example of the chalk and the clock; second, by ‘external’ I mean a posteriori, in the sense that they are added by man as highly abstract rational layers — therefore, as highly abstract and conscious mechanisms of knowledge — to explain the fundamental traits of the ‘thing’, which is, for me, the place of actualized processes. To put it bluntly, I’m saying that I recognize the fundamental determinations of the ‘thing’ Heidegger is speaking about, but, for me, space and time — for etymological and historical reasons, before than scientific and philosophical reasons — [27] are not the appropriate terms to describe such basic determinations. As far as I know and understand the work of Heidegger, his turn, from transcendental positions regarding concepts of space and time to the growing importance that he ascribed to place, in later works, is compatible with the position I have just expressed in favour of an encompassing notion of place, as basic notion to understand the determinations of the ‘thing’. In comparison to the model of the thing that Heidegger elaborated in What is a Thing?, for me, there is a precedent state of reality which is implicated in the thing-model and is common to any physical entity: this is the fundamental state where any entity that exists can be considered as a place of (actualized) processes (see Image 5, below). While I agree with Heidegger (and Kant) that the ‘thing’ is the bearer of certain traits or changeable properties (i.e. the redness of the house, the roughness of the chalk, the bitterness of the lemon, etc. resulting from the interplay between sensation and cognition as complementary phases of human perception),  I say that the ‘thing’ has within itself certain fundamental traits that also bodies have — I mean localization and duration other than physical extension —, but which cannot be traded for space and time. Since this is a decisive passage, I repeat it: I use the terms ‘space’ and ‘time’ to identify those highly symbolic traits that are brought by the human mind in the attempt to explain those really existent traits — localization and duration — that are constitutive of ‘place’ (or of the ‘thing’, which is, for me, the place of actualized processes), in correlation with its extensive or intensive physical traits. I believe this model of mine is more consistent with Heidegger’s later spatial models, where he recognized the fundamental role of place for questions of implacement concerning Being or Dasein (see section 1.4 of the article Place and Space: A Philosophical History), rather than with the model Heidegger is illustrating in What is a Thing?

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Image 5: This is my model of knowledge where things, bodies, and anything in-between them is considered a place (of processes). While I agree with the reciprocal role that sensation and thought have in determining the traits of the ‘thing’, I sustain that the physically — i.e. materially — and temporally extended, and the located traits of things and bodies — i.e. in/ex-tension, location and duration that roughly correspond to the characters of ‘matter’, ‘place’ (or ‘space’ according to many), and ‘time’ — come before the human intervention; therefore, they cannot be traded for space and time  (or, more simply, they cannot be termed space and time), since I believe these concepts are highly abstract or derivative concepts, concocted by the human mind, which lead to a separation of the basic traits of things and bodies (location and duration separated from themselves and separated from extension, or intension — see the article Place, Space, and the Fabric of Reality for details on the terms ‘in/extension’); for me, these traits are intrinsically entangled, and their unity I try to recompose under the encompassing embrace of a reformed understanding of the concept of place.

It is important to point out that the way we understand things and their distinctive properties, which arise after our active engagement with them, is not definite once and for all, quite the contrary. Things are not natural, they are a historical product (we have seen with Heidegger that conceptualization, in complementarity with sensation, determines some traits of the ‘thing’, since concepts and words offer things a lasting stand through language, which is structured through propositions, assertions, etc.).[28] The fact that we understand things located or movable in space, lasting through time and bearers of universal traits is the result of decisions already taken by those who reasoned about the ‘thing’ in precedent epochs. The thing as a bearer of traits was already said by Plato and, most of all, by Aristotle, or even by Kant, with different terms; that’s why Heidegger says that ‘The question “What is a thing?” has long been decided with general satisfaction’.[29] It is especially Heidegger’s second major argumentation concerning the thing as bearer of traits, articulated on language, which takes us to the second section of the book concerning Kant’s Manner of Asking About the Thing. In fact, the decisive question introduced in the first section concerning the truth about the thing (which thing is true? The thing of common sense or the thing of science?) becomes a historical question concerning the truth behind the way language is structured, through propositions, sentences, assertions etc.; ‘Perhaps… the structure of the thing adjusts itself to the structure of the proposition, rather than the contrary’, Heidegger says.[30] This fact — the importance of language and its structure for the definition of the meaning of the ‘thing’ — reveals the power of reason in determining the truth of the ‘thing’. That’s why Heidegger refers to Kant to prosecute his inquiry into the meaning of the ‘thing’:  in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant tried to limit to the power of reason at the expanse of experience. As Gendlin explicitly says in his Analysis, the excess of reason denounced by Kant, and the related scientific approach which — we will see it — conditions the thing-model Heidegger has just unveiled, apart from generating a mechanistic, lifeless, and rigid model of the thing (and knowledge), implies too many separations that Heidegger wants to avoid  — above all the separation between mind and body, between inside and outside between subject and objects, which — I say — in these decades, if not in the past few centuries, we can also read as a separation between man and nature, with all the consequences that are now in the public eye: I especially refer to the ecological crisis with all its biological, social, economic, political and cultural implications. Concerning the thing-model Heidegger has just unveiled, the first step to avoiding the risk behind the limitless power of reason, at the expense of experience, is to study the historical origin of that model (this implies the analysis of the way language and expressions are structured) and consider the conditioning role that modern science had in developing that model. This is the scope of the Section B.I. of the book, precisely.

B.I. The Historical Basis on Which Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” Rests

The way we conceive of things — moveable/resting in space and time, located in a specific place, separated from us, separated from other things, separated from space, and having certain traits or properties — is a model that goes back in time. But the model was not always like that. Heidegger distinguished between an old and a modern model of the thing: one model, ‘the Greek model’, goes back to Aristotle; the other model, ‘the modern model’, goes back to Newton (I’d say that Heidegger’s division, into Greek and modern models, is another confirmation of the apical positions that we have already attributed to Aristotle and Newton in the past articles, about the philosophical and scientific histories of place and space narrated by Edward Casey and Julian Barbour — Place and Space: A Philosophical History, Space and Place: A Scientific History – Part I; moreover, it is also another confirmation that place, space, and matter, or substance, which, we are going to see, is implicated with the meaning of the thing, are connected notions; therefore, we cannot theorize about one without including the others, and without including time). As we have already anticipated, the consideration of the ‘thing’ as a bearer of certain traits is deeply connected to the structure of language, which, at a basic level, is constructed using assertions (‘the structure of the thing is connected with the structure of the assertion’ Heidegger explicitly says).[31] When we say that ‘the house is red’ we are asserting that the thing-house has a certain property, we are attributing it a specific trait; as Heidegger says, in this attribution, ‘something is said from above down to what underlies’:[32] redness is what underlies the house. ‘What underlies’, in Latin, is rendered by the term subject  (literally sub-ject is that which is thrown under or lies under, therefore ‘redness’ is a trait or property lying under the house: redness underlies the house), while, in Greek, ‘what underlies’ is ὑποκείμενον (hypokeimenon); in both cases, were are speaking about that which is or stays under (i.e. substance in Latin). Heidegger continues: we can also say that ‘the house is high… is smaller (than that one beside it)… is on the creek… is an eighteenth-century one’ so that any attribution becomes a determination of the thing, which is already present when the assertion is done (determinations and the ‘thing’ are co-asserted).[33] ‘That which is spoken down’ to the thing in Greek is said category, from kata, down to, + agoreuein, to harangue, to declaim (in the assembly), from agora, public assembly’.[34] Literally, it is the speaker who attributes traits (down) to the thing, when he says that the house is red (quality), high (extension), smaller than… (relation), on the creek (place/location), an eighteenth-century one (time); these traits (quality, extension, relation, place, time…)  are categories, that is, modes of assertion, general determinations of the ‘thing’. As determinations of the ‘thing’ —  ‘spoken down to the thing’ —, these traits underlie the thing: literally, they are the subject (that which lies under) with respect to that which lies (or is thrown) in front of them (in Latin object, from ob, in front of + iacere, to throw), that is the ‘thing’. Then, in the original structure of the assertion, the subject is connected to the thing as follows: the subject is a property, trait or category — quality, extension, etc. — that underlies the thing, therefore it is a kind of substance in virtue of its character of ‘staying under’ or ‘laying under’ the thing — that’s why it is a subject. For the moment, nothing is said by Heidegger, with respect to the role of the object and of the one who makes the assertion.[35] Suffice to say that the structure of the thing is connected to the structure of the assertion and that out of assertions, categories emerge as basic elements for ontology (‘in Western thinking, the determinations of being are called categories’).[36] The next step of Heidegger is to unveil the correspondence between language and reason: again, this is done by showing that the assertion is a modality of saying (something) — ‘addressing something as something’ —, in Greek λέγειν (legein); in Latin, ‘considering and expressing something as something’ is expressed by the verb reor, whence the noun ratio. Then ratio, reason, is the translation for the Greek logos.

Heidegger’s exceptional hermeneutics ability suggested me a brief etymological digression concerning the possible intimate relation between place (locus, in Latin) and reason (logos, in Greek): even if in a past item (see the article Back to the Origins of Space and Place) I was not able to find any accepted legacy between logos and the ancient Greek term for place (topos) through the Latin locus, I believe ‘the PIE root *log-o- suffixed form of the root *leg-, which means “to collect, gather” with derivative meaning “to speak”,’[37] could be the appropriate common source of meaning to understand the basic role of place for both concrete and abstract matters. As for that which is concrete, we already know that place, since its ancient Greek meaning, is the embracing entity that offers things a concrete standing (a seat) to be: the Aristotelian place ‘topos’ in Greek — is the first unchangeable limit ‘peras’ in Greek — of that which surrounds;[38] according to this definition, place offers things a seat to be (a presence), against that which is unbounded, unlimited, or indistinct — this is the meaning of the apeiron, that which has not a limit  (the ‘a-’ in Greek is a negation, therefore the ‘a-’ in apeiron is the negation of that which has a limit, that is, the negation of topos, place). As for that which is abstract, place enters the realm of basic abstract meanings through the term logos understood as primary form of collecting and gathering: according to this sense, reason is the place of gathering (the place where the subject and objects gather, in agreement with the Kantian and Heideggerian models of knowledge), the fundamental process after which things acquire a precise, ordered, and intelligible sense. Then, reason — logos — is the place — locus — of understanding; not only are concrete things place-based for definition (the definition given by Aristotle); the same holds for understanding (reason), which is place-based even in virtue of its etymology (the literal definition of logos as ‘speech’ and ‘reason’, depending on the root *log-o- > *leg-,‘to collect, gather’; therefore, to have a limit in the Aristotelian/placial sense also means that such limit collects and gathers something within it, either this ‘something’ is a thing or a thought). Then, everything — both concrete and abstract entities, both concrete things and reason — is placial in its fundamental constitution (which inevitably depends on language). I’m not merely saying that everything is in place; I’m saying that everything (every intelligible entity) is a place, a place of processes (this is, after all, the title of one of the first articles I posted here, Places Everywhere): when processes become actual we are in the realm of concrete place or places (objects and things are places — this is reality as a fact: the place of actualized processes); when processes fail to be actualized we are in a domain of abstraction, or a potential domain (an ideal/abstract/potential place, or space).

Coming back to Heidegger’s text, the first chapter (1st) of the history concerning the question of the ‘thing’ ‘is characterized by the mutual relation of the thing and assertion’,[39] which is the linguistic modality through which we ‘address or express something as something’  (i.e., ‘the house is red’); as we have just seen, this ‘expressing something as something’ is rendered by the Latin reor, whence the noun ratio, corresponding to the Greek term logos (reason). Then, the concatenation of the ‘thing’ (as the bearer of traits) and assertions (language) expresses the mutuality between the ‘thing’ and man, ultimately. The traits underlying the ‘thing’ or ‘that which is spoken down’ to the ‘thing’ is rendered by the Greek term category, precisely; through categories — the universal determinations of being, as Heidegger calls them — we access the intimate structure of the ‘thing’: this is the ‘Greek model’ of the ‘thing’, that is the Greek mode to understand the ‘thing’. Aristotle was the champion of this model, the one who formalized it. This model is intrinsically different from the modern model for what concerns: (i) the physical understanding of the ‘thing’; (ii) its knowledge in strict epistemological sense — Heidegger will show how the role of the subject of the ‘thing’ changes, in the linguistic and rational structure of assertions; in this shift, assertions concerning the ‘thing’ passed from categorial (where meaning is founded on categories), which we have just examined, to mathematical and axiomatic (where meaning is founded on mathematical language and axioms). In the passage from the Greek to the modern model of the thing, the very meaning of the term ‘reason’ (logos) changed, passing from what we could call a ‘categorial meaning’ structured on assertions addressing something as something, that is reor, whence the Latin ratio, the Greek logos — to a ‘mathematical meaning’ structured on judgement in the Kantian sense (we will see it), that is, reason as ‘knowledge from principles and, therefore, itself the faculty of principles and axioms’.[40]

(i) As for the physical understanding of the ‘thing’, the issue can be introduced by the following question: What is the essence of a thing in nature? The answer Aristotle (and the Greeks) gave to this question marks a strong discontinuity with respect to the modern times, and especially with respect to Newton’s answer to the same question. ‘Those bodies which belong to “nature” and constitute it are, in themselves, movable with respect to location’ — Aristotle says.[41]  ‘How a body moves, i.e., how it relates to the place and to what it relates all this has its basis in the body itself’.[42] Here, bodies (in the end, our use of the term ‘thing’ leads back to the ancient use of the term ‘body’), motion and place/location are the key-concepts; hidden behind (or within) those terms, there is the notion of ‘force’ — the cause or principle of motion. In the interval of time between Aristotle and Newton, all of these concepts changed their meanings. First of all, as also Gendlin explicitly noted in his Analysis (and as we also have said in many previous articles), the modern notion of uniform space, which is everywhere the same, was lacking among the Greeks: in fact, they believed that ‘each thing had its own proper place, and that the movement of a thing was always back to its proper place. Unless externally restrained, an earthen thing tended “downward” and a fiery one “upward”. Each thing thus tended to move in a certain way of its own accord, and this was termed each thing’s “internal principle of motion”. Greek things were not mere bodies that had to be moved. If allowed to do so, they moved themselves back to their own places. Thus, there were different kinds of places in the Greek model. We realize that our own everywhere-uniform space, too, is very much a model, perhaps better than the Greek, perhaps not, but at any rate not self-evident.’[43] Things, in the modern model (the Newtonian model) changed radically: Heidegger lists a total of 8 points of discontinuity between the old and the new model. Given the perspective of this website, I’m especially interested in the shift from place to space and the shift from a notion of place which had ontological value (the original Aristotelian topos) to a ‘reduced’ notion of place, understood as location or simple position (this is place in the Newtonian model; while the ancient model of place had an implicit metaphysical value in addition to a physical value, with the modern model of place only the physical denotation as ‘location’ remained — a true reduction of meaning —, while the metaphysical connotation that place had was, somewhat improperly, assigned to space, with a completely different role with respect to the original notion of place). The most remarkable difference between the two models is explicated by the First Law of Motion — ‘Every body left to itself moves uniformly in straight line’—,[44] which implicitly contains all of the different understanding concerning the notions of place/space, motion, force and body, with respect to the past: the old distinction between celestial and earthly bodies is no more valid; and the same holds for to the distinction between circular and rectilinear motion, which has now the priority over any other derived form of motion. As we anticipated, the concept of place radically changed: ‘place no longer is where the body belongs according to its nature, but only a position in relation to other positions’,[45] therefore distinguished places are not recognized anymore; now, place, as simple position for bodies, implies motion to be understood in terms of positions and distances between positions: this leads to a quantification of motion in terms of uniform distances, therefore in term of space (space, according to the Greek origin of the term —spadion or stadion — was a linear distance: the distance covered by a single draught by the plough, properly  —[46] see the article Back to the Origins of Space and Place); given that bodies left to themselves move uniformly in a straight line, the inner principle of motion that caused a body to reach its own proper place is no longer valid and ‘force must be determined as an external factor that results in a declination from rectilinear motion’ (a sensational shift of vision is especially evident, here: the essence of a force is no longer contained in the phenomenological behaviour of a body, as it was supposed in the ancient tradition — as an internal principle of motion —, but is determined by the fundamental law of motion, which is posed like an axiom, a basic rational ground for knowledge); therefore, there is no ‘natural force’ that determines the motion of the body towards its ‘natural place’, rather force is only ‘a measure of the change of motion, and is no longer special in kind’;[47] a remarkable consequence of this shift of vision is that the whole concept of nature changes: nature does not follow the ‘inner principle out of which the motion of the body follows; rather nature is the mode of the variety of the changing relative positions of bodies, the manner in which they are present in space and time, which themselves are domains of possible positional orders and determinations of order and have no special traits anywhere.’[48] Then, Heidegger’s conclusive remark concerning the differences implicated in the Newtonian model, with respect to the Greek model, is just a consequence: ‘the manner of questioning nature also changes and, in a certain respect, becomes opposite.’[49] These lines of argumentation, suggested by the application of the First Law of Motion,  conceal a different understanding of the structure of the ‘thing’, which is now almost exclusively determined by reason, rather than by experience as it happened in the past: in fact, it is the axiomatic power of the Law that determine what things/bodies, forces, motion and space/place are.

the structure of the ‘thing’ is now almost exclusively determined by reason rather than by experience as it happened in the past

This important consideration takes us to examine (ii) the structure of the ‘thing’ in the linguistic and rational structure of assertions; we will see that, parallel to the shift concerning the physical understanding of the ‘thing’, another important shift of meaning is undergoing the thing: specifically, we will see how the meanings of the subject and the object in assertions changed, thereby changing the meaning of the ‘thing’. Then, after having analysed, from a physical point of view, how the ‘thing’ (or body) shifted its meaning, now, we enter the important epistemological issue concerning the structure of language and knowledge, which introduces us to what Heidegger termed ‘the second chapter’ (2nd) of the history of the thing model.

(ii) As Heidegger explicitly puts it, ‘the second chapter conceives the assertion, the proposition, in a mathematical way, as principle; and accordingly sets forth the principles which lie in the essence of thinking, of the proposition, as such, i.e. the I-principle […], the principle of contradiction, [and] the principle of sufficient reason, which is already co-posited in the essence of a proposition as a principle.’[50] In a certain sense, we have already introduced the argument when, in a passage before, we said that, the ‘modern’ conception of the thing was no longer due to the direct and immediate grasping of the phenomena of the world, rather, the derivation of those phenomena from universal laws posited by reason (in axiomatic form, according to mathematical language) is the true guidance for the intellect to unveil the secrets of nature. Reason before than direct experience. According to modernity, the physical model of the ‘thing’ was especially centred on externality — outer principle of motion — and uniformity — uniformity of matter and space (or place): at fundamental level, all bodies were considered the same (atomism), and space, with any location within it, was everywhere the same; this allowed man to derive the behaviour of nature from a few basic principles or laws; differences in terms of appearance were the result of different arrangements of the same basic elements. This mode of understanding the ‘thing’ (i.e. the behaviour of bodies) is everything but immediate: as Heidegger says, the First Law of Motion ‘speaks of a thing that does not exist. It demands a fundamental representation of things which contradict the ordinary.’[51] Newton’s ‘corpus quod a viribus impressis non cogitur’ is an abstract body: that’s why the First Law speaks of a thing that does not exist. How far we are from the world of the ancient Greeks. Heidegger notes that the antecedent of this Law (and mode of thinking), is to be found in the experiments of Galileo where the ‘thing’ is posited in advance by the mind and not by experience or direct evidence. There is a prior grasping (of the thing) with the mind: ‘Mobile mente concipio omni secluso impedimento… I think in my mind of something movable that is entirely left to itself’, Galileo says in his Discorsi (1638).[52]

the ‘thing’ is posited in advance by the mind and not by experience or direct evidence… Mobile mente concipio omni secluso impedimento – Galileo says

As Gendlin says in the Analysis, this approach — the modern scientific approach — is termed ‘mathematical’ by Heidegger, ‘not because it so widely employs mathematics but because this basic plan of uniform units makes it possible to quantify everything one studies. It makes everything amenable to mathematics.’[53] Most important, Heidegger shows that the term mathematics (as well as its derivative forms — i.e. the term mathematical) are linked to the Greek măthēsis (μάθησις) — the act of learning or getting knowledge — which Plato characterizes as ‘bringing up and taking up above and beyond the other taking the knowledge itself from out of himself’;[54] then, Heidegger says, ‘the mathematical is a project of thingness which skips over the things’;[55] in this projection things are evaluated beforehand. ‘Evaluation’ in Greek is a derivative form of the verb axioein (ἀξιόειν), meaning ‘to deem worthy’, whence the noun axiom — axĭōma in Greek (ἀξίωμα) — also derives as ‘estimation, requirement’, while the ‘anticipating determinations and assertions in the project are ἀξίωματα’ (axiomata), Heidegger says.[56] There is a circularity or continuity between the mathematical and the axiomatic given that the axiomatic is an estimation or proposition taken in advance as true (remember the origin from the verb ‘to deem worthy’) and is taken as a foundation for the mathematical — the essence of the mathematical method is axiomatic precisely because it ‘is of a such kind as to set things upon their foundation in advance’, Heidegger says.[57] Basically, axiomata are propositions that we take for true: therefore, now, in the modern model, what a thing is, the thingness of the thing, is said in advance —, that is, it is said mathematically (‘As axiomatic, the mathematical project is the anticipation of the essence of things, of bodies; thus the basic blueprint of the structure of every thing and its relation to every other thing is sketched in advance’).[58] The development and use of mathematics in the narrower (and common) sense — i.e. the use of numbers — is the effect of the mathematical in the fundamental sense unveiled by Heidegger, that is, learning and knowing things in advance.[59] There is an entire subsection of paragraph 5 — i.e. 5.b. The Mathematical —, dedicated to the elucidation of the meaning of the mathematical, and mathematics as a derivative and a particular form of the Greek form Mάθησις (mathesis).[60] Numbers are a basic form of mathematical thinking — in the sense of learning in advance or learning what one already knows; for, in counting, the procedure of learning in advance is especially evident: ‘we always keep in mind the units already counted’, Gendlin says in the Analysis, so that when we add units we already have with us the unit counted (we already know them in advance) and we base on them — that is we base on what we already know — to continue the series. In this way, ‘our own continuity, as we count, gets us to the higher number. As Kant phrased it, without the unity of the “I think,” there would be only the one unit counted now, and no composition of numbers. […] Thus, our activity of thinking provides both the series of uniform steps and the uniting of them into quantities. These units and numbers are our own notches, our own “another,” our own unity, and our own steps’, Gendlin concluded.[61] And this is exactly how our procedure of thinking works, according to Heidegger, either we use numbers or words: ‘mathematical [is the] character of the thinking.’[62] And this is also the reason why ‘everything so viewed becomes amenable to mathematics.’[63] It is only in virtue of this proclivity of the mind to the mathematical that the new mathematics of Descartes, Newton, and Leibniz became possible (analytical geometry, infinitesimal calculus, and differential calculus, respectively). Analogously, only in virtue of this innate procedure of thinking and learning in advance could Descartes imagine his Regulae ad directionem ingenii according to which ‘only a method of reducing everything to the clear and distinct steps of rational thinking grasps nature’.[64] The particularity of the axiomatic method is that it is self-founded, it is reflexive: ‘the axiomatic method lays its own ground’.[65] Reason posits the ground upon which rational thought can deduce any truth. Concerning this, let’s see Descartes’s Regula V: ‘Method consists entirely in the order and arrangement of that upon which the sharp vision of the mind must be directed in order to discover some truth. But, we will follow such a method only if we lead complex and obscure propositions back step by step to the simpler ones and then try to ascend by the same steps from the insight of the very simplest propositions to the knowledge of all the others.’[66] This is the blueprint of modernity revealed by the Descartes. The necessity to find propositions ‘absolutely first, intuitively evident in and of themselves, i.e. absolutely certain’, (i.e. axioms), which ‘must establish in advance, concerning the whole of what is, what is in being and what being means, from where and how the thingness of things is determined, brings us back to the analysis of propositions.[67] Here, we are at the core of the epistemological question we identified through (ii) the different role of the subject and of the object in propositions, which is also a direct consequence of Descartes’s ground-breaking philosophical work. Descartes is usually considered the watershed between medieval and modern philosophy, in virtue of his ability to set up the science of knowledge — i.e. epistemology —, which liberated thinking from the dominion of theology, we learn from Heidegger. Through the Cartesian doubt, Descartes put the ‘I’ — human subjectivity — at the centre of thought: ‘From here originated the I-viewpoint of modern times and subjectivism. Philosophy was brought to the insight that doubting must stand at the beginning of philosophy: reflection upon knowledge itself and its possibility. A theory of knowledge had to be erected before a theory of the world’;[68] and this is what Descartes did before Newton came. Then thinking (reason) became the principle of all positing: ‘Cogito, sum this is the highest certainty lying immediately in the proposition as such’, Heidegger says.[69] The Latin sum — specifically, the ‘I’ of ‘I am’ —  is the foundation after which anything can be determined; therefore it is the foundation of any proposition as well; the ‘I’ is the one who posits, the fundamentum, or, as Heidegger says: ‘I posit: I am the one who posits and thinks. This proposition has the peculiarity of first positing that about which it makes an assertion, the subjectum. What it posits, in this case, is the “I.” The I is the subjectum of the very first principle’.[70] Remember when, in a passage before, in Section A, we said: ‘The house is red’. We called ‘red’ (redness) the subject of the proposition since redness is the trait which ‘underlies’ or is ‘thrown under’ (i.e. subjectum, in Latin) the thing-house. Now, in the modern model of viewing things, where everything depends upon reason (everything depends upon the ‘I’ who posits him/herself beyond redness, as well as beyond any other determination of the thing), ‘redness’ is just an attribute of the house, an attribute of the thing, and the truth underlying redness is truth only in virtue of the new subject, the ‘I’-subject. Let’s see what Heidegger’s says at this respect: ‘The ‘I’ is, therefore a special something which underlies — ὑποκείμενον, subjectum — the “subjectum” of the positing as such. Hence, it came about that, ever since then, the “I” has especially been called the subjectum.’[71] But this is the decisive passage to understand the sense of what Heidegger is saying: ‘This “I,” which has been raised to be the special subjectum on the basis of the mathematical, is in its meaning nothing “subjective” at all, in the sense of an incidental quality of just this particular human being. This “subject” designated in the “I think” this I, is subjectivistic only when its essence is no longer understood. i.e., is not unfolded from its origin considered in terms of its mode of being.’[72] Heidegger is saying that it would be a mistake to frame this question as a mere dispute about subjectivism (and its reverse, objectivism): here, the real question is the absolute power of the mind  (reason) — Cogito, sum, that is, I think — which, according to the modern mode of knowledge, gives foundation to knowledge itself, changing our image of the world by changing the way we understand things, the sense of language and propositions as well.[73] Moreover, in the modern model, with the change of meaning of the subject (subjectum) in propositions, ‘the word objectum now passes through a corresponding change of meaning — Heidegger says —. For up to then the word objectum denoted what was thrown up opposite one’s mere imagining: I imagine a golden mountain. This thus represented an obiectum in the language of the Middle Ages is, according to the usage of language today, merely something “subjective”; for “a golden mountain” does not exist “objectively” in the meaning of the changed linguistic use.’[74] This is why, as a conclusive remark of the long and important paragraph 5 of section B.I., — The Modern Mathematical Science of Nature and the Origin of a Critique of Pure Reason — Heidegger speaks of ‘the reversal of the meaning of the words subjectum and objectum’.[75] Then, with reason posited as the ultimate ground for knowledge, the way we understand the structure of language (through propositions and the new mode of understanding the meaning of subject and object) changed. As in the past, Logos remains a guideline for the determination of ‘being of what is’, but now, contrarily to the past acknowledged reciprocity between thought and sensation (see Image 3 and Image 4, above), reason, through the ‘I think’-principle is the absolute ‘guideline and court of appeal for the determination of being.’[76] As Gendlin says in his Analysis, ‘with the rise of modern science the axiomatic method of purely logical steps of thought has replaced the underlying matter that holds the traits together and explains how they change.’[77] And this is exactly where Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason comes into play: after Galileo, Descartes and Newton, the power of axiomatic thought, which posits itself as ‘the fundamentum’, is almost limitless. Now, according to the modern model of knowledge, the trait under the thing is our own thought! Pure reason can determine what God, Man, and the World are (at this regard, Heidegger speaks of rational theology, rational psychology and rational cosmology). It is properly this unlimited power of reason that Kant tries to limit with his work. The mathematical character of thinking (according to the sense elucidated by Heidegger) is still retained in his Critics, yet Kant limited it ‘by showing how thought legitimately participates in the formation of anything we experience… [and] by showing the roles of thinking in the experience of things, the generating of space, time, units, the unity of anything, and the lawfulness of events.’[78]

it is this unlimited power of reason that Kant wants to limit with his Critique

So, now, to use Heidegger’s own words, it remains to show (3rd) the third chapter in the history of the question of the thing — which is especially elucidated in the final section of What is a Thing? —, i.e. it remains to show ‘how a critique of pure reason could and had to develop from this determination of things out of pure reason, [which is] the authoritative court of appeal for the determination of the thingness of all things as such it is this is “pure reason” that Kant places into “critique”’, Heidegger says just before introducing the final section.[79]

B.II. The Question About the Thing in Kant’s Main Work

Kant’s fundamental task in the Critique was to set ‘the boundaries for the entire domain of pure reason’.[80] According to Heidegger, Kant’s philosophical project is a ‘surveying’ project, which synthesizes the steps of thought out of which knowledge is generated and out of which the thingness of the thing can be determined as well. According to Heidegger, by appealing to Kant’s Critique, and especially to that part called Transcendental Analytic, we can have insight into the question of the ‘thing’: that’s why Heidegger is presenting Kant’s work in this final Section. In order to know how knowledge works according to Kant, Heidegger analyses certain Kantian concepts and relations between concepts, on which the structure of Transcendental Analytic was built. These concepts, and relations between concepts, are: (i) experience, (ii) thing, (iii) understanding and judgement, (iv) intuition and thought, (v) object (the German ‘gegenstand’), (vi) sensibility and understanding, (vii) aesthetics and logic, (viii) judgement and apperception, (ix) analytic and synthetic judgements, which can be  (x) a priori and a posteriori, (xi) synthetic judgements a priori, and, finally, the analysis culminates in the (xii) synthetic principles of pure understanding — distinguished into (xii.i) mathematical and dynamical principles, which are subdivided into (xii.i.i) axioms of intuition, (xii.i.ii) anticipations of perception, (xii.i.iii) analogies of experience, and (xii.i.iv) postulates of empirical thought.

(i) Experience.The domain of the established and establishable knowledge’ is what Kant also calls ‘experience’.[81] The Chapter selected by Heidegger to get some insight into the nature of the ‘thing’, ‘is nothing other than a sketch of the essence and essential structure of experience.’[82] To know is to have experience; therefore, Kant’s scope is to define the procedures through which human experience is carried out. This affects the way we understand things, or, to put it bluntly, this affects the thingness of the ‘thing’. Experience, for Kant, has a double sense: on the one hand, it is everything that happens to the subject, including the acts of the subject (therefore, we could say that experience is that which relates the subject to objects — the object is nature); on the other hand, experience is everything that is experienced (therefore, experience is also that which ‘internally’ happens to the subject). Then, the land of experience is a vast territory, indeed. To take possess of this land we need to establish a system of principles in advance (this is the sense of the mathematical that is retained in Kant’s Critique) since experience can only happen by way of (or, it is grounded on) such principles. Kant says: ‘experience itself is possible only by means of certain synthetic a priori principles’ that need to be introduced as quickly and concisely as possible.[83]

(ii) Thing. Given the aforementioned relation between knowledge and experience, and given that experience is the experience of the subject, this implies that the truth about the ‘thing’ — the knowledge of the ‘thing’ —  is necessarily related to the experience of the subject: the ‘thing’ is ‘the object of our experience’, we read.[84] Kant distinguished between the ‘thing’ as ‘appearance’ and the ‘thing’-in-itself; however, only things that appear can be accessible to us and determinable in truth and knowable; that’s why a thing for itself is not possible and the ‘thing’ is only definable in a relational context (that includes the subject): ‘asking the question of the thing is nothing less than the knowing man taking a decisive foothold in the midst of what is’.[85] Kant’s interest for the ‘thing’ is primarily an interest for the thing in nature — he speaks of the thing as natural thing —, the thing as an object of mathematical-physical interest, and not merely as an object of phenomenological interest concerning that which surround us. He is interested in the conceptual value of the ‘thing’.

(iii) Understanding and judgement. Setting in advance a ‘system of all principles of pure understanding’ is the Kantian requirement for determining the thingness of the ‘thing’, according to Heidegger.  But what is understanding? ‘Understanding is the faculty of thinking. But understanding is the uniting of representations in one consciousness. “I think” means “I combine”. Representationally, I relate something represented to another: “The room is warm”; “Wormwood is bitter”; “The sun shines.” The union of representations in one consciousness is judgment. Thinking, therefore, is the same as judging or relating representations to judgments.’[86]  Kant uses the term judgement instead of understanding — ‘pure understanding’ and ‘judgment’ refer substantially to the same thing, we read —[87] therefore, when Kant speaks of analytic and synthetic judgements, he is speaking of analytic and synthetic modes of understanding, or thinking. But before going into details concerning the different meaning of these two modalities of judgement, it is necessary to presents other essential concepts pertaining to the vast territory of knowledge.

(iv) Intuition and thought (concept).  We have already said that experience, which is a process that relates subject and object, is a mode of knowledge. Therefore, knowledge always implicates the knowledge of objects. ‘In whatever manner and by whatever means a mode of knowledge may relate to objects, intuition is that through which it is in immediate relation to them and to which all thought, as a means, is directed’:[88] Kant is saying that intuition and thought are the two components of knowledge; specifically, intuition is the component that is in direct and immediate relation to the object, while thought is the component that ‘stands in the service of intuition’. Therefore, intuition has a basic, fundamental role (it is a basic principle on which everything else is structured): ‘All our knowledge relates, finally, to possible intuitions, for it is through them alone that an object is given’, Kant says, while Heidegger specifies that ‘this “finally” amounts to “first”, in the first place.’[89] How can be intuitions and thought possibly related? They can be related in virtue of the fact that they are both ‘representations’: one — intuition — is the immediate object re-presented (presented again) within one’s mind after its presentation before the subject (the object presented before the subject, as something outside the subject, becomes related to the subject only when it is re-presented — that is presented again — in the mind of the subject as the first mode of appropriation of such object; the immediate representation of the object as this particular one, within one’s mind, is called intuiting). After this immediate process of appropriation of the object has been established by the subject, as an intuitive representation, another form of representation enters into play: this is a mediate form of representation by means of which thought represents the object as universal (this is a necessary step because of which there can be agreement, or even disagreement, on the nature of the same object between different subjects, that is: we can agree or disagree on the nature of a thing but we all know that we are speaking of the same thing). Heidegger uses the example of the ‘blackboard’ to explain the difference between these two modes of representation: if I say ‘this blackboard’ I mean this specific blackboard that is in front of me; however, at the same time, everybody who hear, or read, the word ‘blackboard’ can have an idea of what I mean since everybody can understand the meaning of ‘blackboard’ as a universal thing having a certain flat extension, colour, hardness etc. This universal form of mediate representation is a concept (we understand each other when we speak about ‘blackboards’ since the concept of ‘blackboard’ is common to everybody, i.e. universal) or, to put it another way, ‘thought is the representation of something in general, i.e. in concepts.’[90] Since this is a mediate form of representation, that is, since ‘concepts are not immediately found in advance’ Kant’s programme is to explain the passages through which concepts form from intuition. But before that final passage, other important concepts are presented.

(v) Kant’s notion of object (in German gegenstand). We have just said that intuition is the first ground for knowledge since it is through intuition that an object is given to the subject and conceptualization begins. For an object to be an object — in order for the appropriation by the subject can happen — it is necessary that ‘what we are supposed to be able to know must encounter us from somewhere’.[91] Then, the object must be something that is opposite to us or something that stands against us: this is literally the meaning of the word ‘object’ according to the German language, that is, ‘gegenstand’, where the ‘gegen-’ is the against of that which stands (‘Literally, “Gegenstand” means “standing against”, we read).[92] Other than being ‘against’ us, that which encounter us, to be an object, needs to have a stand, so that it can be a constant appearance, and not a floating one. So, the object, to be an object, needs to have a double determination: it must be ‘against’ (gegen) us and it must have a ‘stand’ (stand) for being stable and constant — that’s why object as ‘gegenstand’.

I make a brief digression to tell you that this double determination of an object to be ‘against’ us and to have a ‘stand’ helped me in confirming that my intuitive understanding of objects (or things) as places was not so bizarre as it may seems. I have extendedly used this intrinsic ‘placial’ determination of objects (or things) in other articles — see especially the articles Places Everywhere, The Τόπος of a Thing, and Body Place Existence.

There is still a long way before we can answer the fatal question What is a Thing? in the Kantian sense; up to now we have seen that an object (Gegen-stand) is at first represented in intuition as something particular ‘standing against us’, and successively represented in thought as something universal (what is given — the object —  ‘is determined in a necessary universal way’);[93] knowledge, given the interplay between object and subject, is necessarily human knowledge: the activity of the subject is correlated to the object.

(vi) Sensibility and understanding. The process of knowledge/experience we are describing, as a dynamo, is powered by the magnetic poles of what is sensed and what is thought: ‘through the intuition, the object is given; through the concept, the object is thought’ — this is ‘the twofold character of human knowledge’.[94]   The intuition of an ‘object’ only happens when the sense organs (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) are stirred by the object itself, or, better, by that which stands against the subject; given that the senses are affected by that which stands against us and attracts us, Kant speaks of ‘sensation as affection’ and calls sensibility ‘the capacity for human intuition’.[95] On the other hand, ‘the capacity of thought… wherein the object as object is brought to stand, is understanding.’[96]

 (vii) Aesthetics and logic. The unity of knowledge is composed of the joint action of intuition (sensibility) and thought (understanding). Kant calls the doctrine of intuition ‘aesthetics’ (from the Greek aisthanesthai, perceptible), while the doctrine of thought, or judgement, ‘logic’ (from the Greek logos).[97] Even if intuition is the basis for ‘pure understanding’, Kant will dedicate the great part of his work — the Critique of Pure Reason — to understanding (reason): about 70 pages for the doctrine of intuition, more than 650 pages for the doctrine of thought, or logic. However, Heidegger notes, this does not mean that intuition (aesthetics) should be downgraded; its founding role for human knowledge remains, but, now, it doesn’t have any priority, since — we have just seen it — knowledge has a twofold character: one driving force is intuition; the other, logic, is so extendedly considered since Kant’s aim is ‘to define and ground anew the essence of thought’.[98]

This is also the occasion for Heidegger to come back to the definition of the term ‘pure’, which characterizes the very title of Kant’s work — the Critique of Pure Reason.Pure’ means ‘mere’, ‘unencumbered’, ‘being free from something else’.[99] We have seen that thought is founded on intuition, which is pure intuition only if it is free from sensation. Therefore, we have the circular sequence: object (gegenstand) → sensationintuitionthoughtobject (objekt as thing), where intuition is free of sensation and reason (thought) free of intuition. But, given that understanding (thought/reason) relates to intuition, ‘the determination “pure understanding” can only mean understanding based on intuition and, indeed, on pure intuition. The same is true concerning the title “pure reason”. It is equivocal. Pre-critically it means mere reason. Critically, i.e., limited to its essence, it means reason which is essentially grounded in pure intuition and sensibility. The critique of pure reason is at once the delimitation of this reason which is founded upon pure intuition and, at the same time, the rejection of pure-reason as “mere” reason.’[100]

(viii) Kant’s definition of judgement and apperception.To define and ground anew the essence of thought’ (of reason, in the end) means to define anew what judgment is. We have already seen the relation between understanding, thinking, thought and judgement: according to Kant, judgement is the function of thought, the second component of knowledge after (related to) intuition.[101] But, what is Kant’s new definition of judgement? ‘A judgment is nothing but the manner in which given modes of knowledge are brought to the objective unity of apperception.’[102] This definition needs some elucidation. The ‘given modes of knowledge’ are nothing but intuitions; this implies a new concept of understanding (understanding is the faculty of knowledge, Kant expressly said), which ‘consists in the determinate relation of given representations [i.e. intuitions] to an object’.[103]  Knowledge as the unity of intuitions, therefore, knowledge as the unity of the ‘I’ (that thinks and judges) to the object, that which stands against us (gegenstand). The entire processual relation between the object and the subject is called apperception. While perception percipere is the term used by Heidegger is the simple apprehension and grasping of the objective. In apperception, the relation to the I is grasped and perceived in a certain way along with the object.’[104] To understand this new definition of judgement we also need to elucidate the following distinction between:

(ix) analytic judgements, synthetic judgements. We read from Heidegger: ‘Analytic means analysis, dissolving, taking apart …; synthesis, on the other  hand, means putting together.’[105] According to Kant, when we think ‘in general’ using concepts that are ‘universal’ (that is, without any temporal and placial/spatial determination) we are expressing analytic judgements. Heidegger says: ‘In analytic judgments, the object is thought only according to its concept and not as an object of experience, i.e., as a temporally determined object. Therefore, the ‘principle of these judgments in its formula does not need to contain any temporal determination.’[106] The assertion: ‘All bodies are extended’ is an example of analytic judgement: ‘the predicate “extended” lies in the concept itself: a mere dissecting of the concept finds this element’, that is, extension.[107] Even when we say ‘the board is extended’ we are using an analytic judgement, since ‘extension’ lies in the very body of the board, of any board. Conversely, if we say ‘the board is black’, according to Kant, we are expressing a synthetic judgement since the predicate ‘black’ is a particular trait of a board, which ‘could just as well be gray, white, or red.’ In this case the predicate black, or red, or gray does not lie in the concept of ‘board’, as in the case of extension: ‘black’, ‘red’ or ‘gray’, is a particular’ trait (that is, a trait depending on a specific time and place — I would say), which is added to the concept of object. This means that ‘in addition to the concept of the object [our idea of the board as an extended body, therefore a universal trait], the object itself must be represented [the specific black board, whose blackness according to Kant and Heideggerrequires the interplay between object and subject to be determined]. This additional representation of the object is a synthesis. Such a judgement [the board is black], where the predicated [black] is annexed to the subject [the board] via passage through the X [that is the I-subject, whose pronouncement ‘the board is black’ is called judgement] and recourse to it [that is, a judgement requires the interplay between the I-subject and the object so that a determination of the object – black – can be expressed or attributed] is a synthetic judgement.’[108] To put it another way: ‘if the object itself participates as the foundation and grounds, then the judgment is synthetic […]. If the basis for the determination is contained in the concept as such, the judgement is analytic […]. From out of the object itself this judgement adds something to the erstwhile knowledge of the object; it extends. The analytic judgement, however, is only clarifying.’[109] Analytic and synthetic judgements are also characterized by the following aspect: they can be a priori or a posteriori.

(x) A priori, a posteriori. To put it bluntly, a judgement that is not referred to a specific thing can be said a priori. Newton’s laws of motion or Galileo’s law of falling bodies are examples of anticipations — in Latin ‘a priori’ —  concerning the behaviour of bodies: as Heidegger says, such laws ‘leap ahead of what verification and experience, in a literal sense, offer.’[110] Few lines later:‘ The “a priori” is what belongs to the subjectivity of the subject. Everything else, on the contrary, which first becomes accessible only by going out of the subject and entering into the object, into perceptions, is as seen from the subject later, i.e., “a posteriori” […]. An analytic judgment, which has the fundamental determination of the truth of its subject-predicate relationship solely in the concept, remains from the outset in the sphere of conceptual analysis, i.e., the sphere of mere thought. It is “a priori”. All analytic judgments according to their essence are a priori. Synthetic judgments are “a posteriori”. Here we must first move out of the concept to the object, from which we “afterward” derive the determinations’.[111] But there can also be synthetic judgements a priori.

(xi) Apart from the aforementioned distinction, there can also be Synthetic judgementsa priori’. At first, it seems nonsensical — an inherent contradiction —that ‘a posteriori’ judgements (synthetic judgements are ‘a posteriori’, we have just seen it above) can be ‘a priori’ as well; however, under exactly determined conditions they are possible, other than necessary (‘namely, they are necessary to make possible human knowledge as experience’).[112] As the title suggests — Systematic representation of all synthetic principles of pure understanding — Kant’s third Section of the Chapter we are considering (System of all principles of pure understanding) is dedicated to the systematic presentation and grounding of these synthetic and yet, at the same time, a priori judgements.[113] ‘Synthetic judgements a priory necessarily lie at the basis of all knowledge’, we learn from Heidegger;[114] they contain the spatial, the temporal and other modal determinations ingrained in the knowledge we may have about any object or thing; that’s why they are principles or, better, ‘synthetic principles of pure understanding’. Only by way of these principles can we understand the thingness of the thing.

Following Heidegger’s exposition, before proceeding with this final step — the presentation of these synthetic principles — a recapitulation may be useful. The ‘thing’, which is the main point of our investigation, is the ‘thing’ accessible to us, actually; it is the object of experience or the human possible knowledge of what it is. Knowledge consists of the active combination of the complementary poles of sensibility and understanding (their unity is a unit of experience). It is by means of sensations that an object may encounter us; specifically, an object is that which stands against us (Gegenstand), and, it is determined as an object by the unity of what is intuited in intuition, and thought in thought. As Heidegger explicitly says, ‘to the essence of an object belongs the ‘against’ (gegen) and the ‘standing’ (stand)… “againstness” and “constancy” constitute the objectivity of the object.’[115] The unity of the object apprehended because of its constancy and againstness is only possible with the participation of pure understanding, or of certain steps of the mind, that is, connections between intuitions and thought; therefore, it is only possible because of the presence of the I-think, the subject of experience — and these connections are possible because are founded on principles (synthetic principles). These principles can be fundamentally distinguished in mathematical and dynamical principles.

(xii.i) mathematical and dynamical principles are intended in the metaphysical sense, before than mathematical and physical sense, that is, they have to be intended in the sense of anticipation (a grounding territory for thought) that Heidegger has already explained in the Section B.I. of What is a Thing? Mathematical principles are concerned with the ‘against’ (gegen) of the object (gegen-stand), its inner possibility of being in space and time, with a certain intensity (quantitative measures). While dynamical principles concern the ‘standing and constancy’ of the object (the ‘stand’ of gegenstand), its presence (dasein) as determined from the force (dynamis) that keeps occupied some space with a certain intensity for a certain duration. As Heidegger says: ‘The principles of pure reason lay the groundwork for the objectivity of objects. In them namely in their connection those modes of representation are achieved in virtue of which the “against” of the object and the “stand” of the object are opened up in their primordial unity.’[116] Then we could say that the mathematical principles regard the appearance of that which is ‘against’ us in space and time (extensive magnitudes) and with a certain intensity (intensive magnitude). On the other hand, the dynamical principles regard that which keeps occupied that space — ‘what fills a space keeping it occupied, extending, dividing, and maintaining itself in this occupying’, that is, the force that is necessary for the ‘against’ to stand and to be present (presence, dasein) for a certain duration.[117] On the one hand, the determinations of that which stands against us — its possibility of quantification as movable in space and time and having a certain intensity, therefore its amenability to mathematization — ‘belongs first of all to the definition of the thingness of the thing’.[118] As Heidegger says, ‘If the possibility of the thing is to be metaphysically grasped, there is need for such principles in which this mathematical character of the natural body is grounded. For this reason, one group of the principles of pure understanding is called “the mathematical principles”. This designation does not mean that the principles themselves are mathematical belonging to mathematics, but that they concern the mathematical character of natural bodies, the metaphysical principles which lay the ground of this character.’[119] On the other hand, the presence or dasein of the ‘thing’ is determined by the force (dynamis) that keeps a space occupied: ‘those principles of pure understanding which determine the possibility of the thing with respect to its Dasein’ are called ‘the dynamical principles’.[120] With mathematical and dynamical principles, there are under discussion the following categories: quantity (elucidated employing the so-called axioms of intuition), quality (anticipations of perceptions), relation (analogies of experience) and modality (postulates of empirical thought).

RSAP_012_06_Kant's Theory of Knowledge
Image 6: Sensation, Intuition and Thought in Kant’s Theory of Knowledge; according to Heidegger, these steps or connections between sensation and thought — that is the ‘mechanism’ of knowledge (or experience) — offer special insight on the question of the ‘thing’.

(xii.i.i) Axioms of intuition. As anticipated, the First Principle of Pure Understanding regards the wherein-character (i.e. the spatial character, therefore space) and the when-character (i.e. the temporal character, therefore time) of what is against us (the object in the sense of the German term Gegenstand), that is it regards the spatiotemporal determinations that are necessary for us to understand that which is against us as an object. We have said that an object is determined by intuition and thought. To be represented in intuition the object must appear in front of us (therefore, we speak of appearance, properly), that is, it must have an extensive character. Specifically, the First Principle of Pure Understanding is stated as follows: ‘all appearances are, in their intuition, extensive magnitudes’.[121] Such ‘extensive magnitudes’ concern space and time, which, for Kant, are ‘forms of pure intuition’.[122] Space (and the same holds for time) is not simply a concept:  more basically, it is the condition of possibility for a body to be here or there. Heidegger says: ‘These extensions [which we are inclined to attribute to the appearances of the physical bodies that are ‘against’ us] do not depend upon appearances, upon what shows itself, since we can imagine all objects omitted from space, but not space itself. In all cases of things showing themselves in perception, space as a whole is represented in advance necessarily and as immediately given. But this one, general given, this represented, is not a concept…’.[123]  That’s why, ‘Space is something intuited, and it is something intuited and standing in view in advance of all appearing of objects in it. Space is not apprehended through sensation, it is something intuited in advance a priori i.e., purely. Space is pure intuition […]. Space, according to Kant, is neither a thing present-at-hand (Newton) nor a manifold of relationships which results from the relations of things that are themselves present-at-hand (Leibniz).’[124] Our mind is ingrained in space and time (or space and time are inherent in our modalities of intuiting and understanding), which are the priori conditions for the spatiotemporal appearance of any body. As an anticipation of understanding (remember the mathematical?) after which everything is founded, space thus acquires a metaphysical status. This is the reason for the primacy of space (and of time as well).

I make a brief digression concerning the use of the terms ‘space’ and ‘time’ in the ‘Axioms of intuition’ (which belong to the category of Mathematical Principles). In the paragraph Axioms of intuition contained in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant always uses the term ‘space’ along with ‘time’, to express their equally-fundamental role as forms of pure a-priori intuitions. Thus, we read: ‘all appearances contain, as regards their form, an intuition in space and time’, or ‘the appearances are all magnitude, and indeed extensive magnitudes, since as intuition in space or time, they must be represented through the same synthesis as that through which space and time in general are determined’, or ‘Since the mere intuition in all appearances is either space or time…’, or ‘Empirical intuition is possible only through the pure intuition (of space and time)’, or, again, ‘the synthesis of spaces and times, as the essential form of all intuition, is that which, at the same time, makes possible the apprehension of the appearance’.[125] In the corresponding paragraph of his book Axioms of Intuition’ as well as in the paragraph ‘The Mathematical and Dynamical Principles as Metaphysical Propositions’, Heidegger often refers to ‘space’ without mentioning ‘time’, and using the formula ‘the corresponding holds good for time’ in one occasion.[126] Therefore, we read from Heidegger that ‘The axioms of intuition and the anticipations of perception concern the againstness of an against from a double point of view: first, the wherein of what is against, and second, the what-character of the against’;[127] here, Heidegger makes the important omission concerning the when of what is against (time, as well as space, is an extensive magnitude, therefore this would be a ‘triple point of view’) as the other determination that must be considered in the Axioms of Intuitions as mathematical principles. The formula I have used concerning the temporal character of appearances the when of what is against’ (in the wake of Heideggerian formula for space: ‘the wherein of what is against’) may generate some perplexity with respect to the double determination of time through which I have characterized the ob-ject as gegen-stand in Image 6 (above). Here, I have said that ‘time’ characterizes both the ‘against’ and the ‘standing’ of the appearance of the object (time as extension and duration). It seems to me that in Heidegger’s analysis of Kant there is an intrinsic differentiation (not sufficiently explicated, in my opinion) between a seemingly ‘external time’ that goes along with space, as extensive magnitudes (mathematical principles), and an ‘internal time’, understood as ‘duration’ of the appearance, which pertains the dynamical principles that are responsible for the constancy of the appearance (the ‘standing’, or permanence of the against that is inherent in the ob-ject).

(xii.i.ii) Anticipations of perception. The Second Principle of Pure Understanding regards the what-character of the against (we shouldn’t directly associate ‘the what-character of the against’ to the traditional understanding of ‘matter’ if we stick to Kant’s argumentation). As in the case of the first principle, we are dealing with that part of the experience that concerns sensation and appearances. For sensation to be aroused, parallelly to the a-priori intuition of the spatiotemporal determinations of that which appears, that which is against us and appears to us must have a certain intensity, or intensive magnitude (otherwise nothing appears). Therefore, Kant stated the Second Principle like this: ‘In all appearances, sensation, and the real which corresponds to it in the object (realitas phaenomenon), has an intensive magnitude, that is, a degree.’[128] If the first principle regarded appearances as ‘intuitions with respect to the form of space and time’ this second principle regards ‘that which is determined through the determining form… the determinable as matter of the form’.[129] When Kant illustrates the character of appearances using the proposition ‘form of space and time’ (that is, appearance as extensive magnitude in space and time — first principle)  and ‘matter of the form’ (appearance as intensive magnitude — second principle), ‘matter and form are understood as concepts of reflection’, that is: they are not referred to the present-at-hand for itself, but to the present-at-hand as perceived by the human subject. Such intensive and extensive magnitudes are necessary for the givens of sensations — colour, sound, pressure… — to occur. The issue concerning sensation is a difficult one, whose interpretation changed in the course of history: its ambiguity is due to the peculiar intermediate position that sensations has, between object and subject (Heidegger dedicates a few pages to that argument). [130] Does the red colour of the house belong to the house (object) or is it merely a subjective appearance (subject)? To elucidate this question about the nature of sensation which has implications on the second principle of understanding (‘…the real which corresponds to sensation…), Heidegger analyses Kant’s concept of reality. The concept of reality, in the Kantian sense, is a concept I make use of when I have to distinguish between reality, actuality — in the sense of what is concrete against what is abstract — and the nature of place and space: according to the sense of the term ‘reality’ I have taken from Kant, I consider both place and space ‘real’, but only place is actual, that is, only place is concrete, in the sense of that which is present-at-hand or that which kicks us back.

what is reality according to Kant?

What is the ‘real’ mentioned in the second principle of pure understanding? And, more extendedly, what is ‘reality’ according to Kant? I will extendedly quote a couple of passages from What is a Thing?We have to drop the currently familiar meaning of “reality” in the sense of actuality in order to understand what Kant means by the real in appearance. This meaning of “reality” current today, moreover, corresponds neither with the original meaning of the word nor the initial use of the term in medieval and modem philosophy up to Kant. Instead, the present use has presumably come about through a failure to understand and through a misunderstanding of Kant’s usage. Reality comes from [the Latin term] “realitas”. Realis is what belongs to “res”. That means a something. That is real which belongs to something, what belongs to the what-content of a thing, e.g., to what constitutes a house or tree, what belongs to the essence of something, to the “essentia”. Reality sometimes means the totality of this definition of its essence or it means particular defining elements. Thus, for example, extension is a reality of a natural body as well as weight, density, resistance. All such is real, belongs to the res, to the something “natural body”, regardless of whether the body actually exists or not. For instance, materiality belongs to the reality of a table. For this the table does not need to be real in the present-day sense of “real”. Actual being or existence is something which must first be added to the essence, and in this regard, “existentia” itself was considered a reality. Only Kant first demonstrated that actuality, being present-at-hand, is not a real predicate of a thing; that is, a hundred possible dollars do not in the least differ from a hundred real dollars according to their reality. It is the same, one hundred dollars, the same what (Was), res, whether possible or actual […] reality does not mean actuality. […] “Reality” as thinghood answers the question of what a thing is, and not whether it exists.’ [131] With respect to the question of the thing, ‘the real in the appearance, in Kant’s sense, is not what is actually in the appearance as contrasted with what is inactual in it and could be mere semblance and illusion. The real is that which must be given at all, so that something can be decided with respect to its actuality or inactuality. The real is the pure and first necessary “what” as such. Without the real, the something, the object is not only inactual, it is nothing at all, i.e.,without a what, according to which it can determine itself as this or that. In this “what”, the real, the object qualifies itself as encountering thus and so. The real is the first “quale” of the object.’ [132]

To conclude the question concerning the mathematical character of the first two Synthetic Principles of Pure Understanding, Heidegger says: ‘If we now take together both principles in a shortened form, we can say that all appearances are extensive magnitudes as intuitions, and they are intensive magnitudes as sensations: quantities.’[133] And, most importantly, Heidegger points out this unifying aspect of knowledge: ‘the principles are themselves only possible on the basis of the unity and the belonging together of the pure concepts of the understanding with that which intuitively encounters. This unity of intuition and thought is itself the nature of experience.’ [134]

This unity of intuition and thought is itself the nature of experience.

For me, this unity is a place. Experience (or knowledge) is a place or, even,  it is place-based: not only are objects and subjects places; that which results from their encounter, in intuition and thought, is a place too (confront Image 5 and 6): experience — this is the name of the encounter between an object and the subject, in intuition and thought, according to Kant — is a place. In place, in the reformed concept of place that I’m arguing for here, concepts of space, time and matter are included through the more basic aspects of extension/intension, duration and location that are the common ground for objects, subjects and that which results from their encounter, in virtue of the steps of the mind — sensation and understanding, intuition and thought —  that Kant and those who came after him analysed. This position of mine can be summarized by the so-called Whiteheadian ‘reformed subjectivist principle’, which I have already introduced in a former article — Place, Space, and the Fabric of Reality, see note 4.

(xii.i.iii) Analogies of experience. In the previous Principles, we have considered the wherein and the when of what is against (the spatiotemporal nature of appearances), other than the what-character of the against (the intensive nature of appearances that are necessary to ‘materialize’ their spatiotemporal occurrence).[135] ‘The second group of principles — that is, the dynamical principles concerns (relative to the possibility of an object in general) the possibility of an object’s standing, of its constancy, or, as Kant puts it, the existence (“Dasein”) “the actuality”, of the object, or in our words, the being-present-at-hand.’[136] By relying on Heidegger’s characterization of these principles, as I have already sustained above, we are concerned with the when of that which stands (the standing stand , of the object as gegen-stand), while in precedence we were speaking about the when and the wherein of what is against (the ‘against’ — gegen — of the object as gegen-stand). Now, with these principles, the question of time moves into the foreground. The ‘constancy’ that characterizes the permanence of an object is referred to the constancy of appearances concerning that object; specifically, it refers to the modalities of connection (nexus) between appearances, or, more exactly, it refers to ‘what makes such a connection possible in advance.’[137] Not simply a connection of appearances, but their unification, that is, their ‘unified standing together in different time relationships’, according to certain rules:[138] these rules are called ‘analogies of experience’, by Kant. These analogies may be of different types: for instance, I cannot understand what I see as an animal if I have never seen an animal before, or if I have not an idea of what it means to be an ‘animal’. By analogy, I confront the animality of what I already know, with the animality of what I’m encountering, now.   Our understanding of the world necessarily passes through the analogy with past experiences. At even more basic level — the level of analysis in the Critique —, if I see an object, say O1, and I have a perception of this object at a certain time, say T1, how can I say that the subsequent perception of O1 at time T2, is the perception of the same object, O1, and not of another object, OX? By analogy, I make a connection between the two subsequent perceptions, and I know that they are the representations of the same object. This is a unified experience, and that’s what it means when we say that the object displays a certain constancy, permanence, or standing. Only by means of this inherent connection of perceptions is experience possible, or, in Kant’s words: ‘Experience is possible only through the representation of a necessary connection of perceptions.’[139] Without these connections, which are primarily temporal connections, our life, as living beings, would be impossible. To come back to what I have said before, concerning the possible interpretation of the ‘double nature of time’ (I have spoken of ‘external’ and ‘internal’ time), Heidegger says that, if ‘space is the form wherein all outside appearances encounter us’, time ‘is not limited to these; it is also the form of inner appearances, i.e. the appearing and succession of our modes of relation and experiences. For this reason, time is the form of all appearances in general. “In it alone is actuality (i.e. existence, presence) of appearances possible at all” [Kant says]. The existence of each appearance, as existence, stands in a relationship to time.’[140] It is now clear why ‘time’ is the keyword to understand the nature of the analogies of experience: since any object as representational entity (appearance) can stand in relation to time with respect to a) duration (that is the permanence/standing of the appearance),  b) succession (the sequence in which the appearance of an object occurs with respect to another appearance), and c) coexistence (the copresence of an appearance with other appearances), Kant distinguishes three rules concerning the relations of appearances in time: Analogy I – Principle of Permanence; Analogy II – Principle of Succession in time; Analogy III: Principle of Coexistence. Heidegger focalizes his attention on the Principle of Permanence, especially. This principle, which underlies all experience, reads: ‘All appearances contain the permanent (substance) as the object itself, and the transitory as its mere determination, that is, as a way in which the object exists.’[141] This is where our traditional concept of matter (substance) is derived: something permanent in the change of appearances is presupposed; this ‘something’  that stands in time-relation to permanence is the substratum — i.e. substance — of the appearances that relate the object to the subject, as a mode of experience. Time and substance must be deeply related if, as Kant thinks, ‘permanence as continual presence is the fundamental character of time. Time thus plays a decisive role in the determination of the constancy of objects.’[142]  Conversely, alterations from permanence unveil the agency (again, a presence) of  a force  (dynamis): that’s why the ‘the principles which concern the existence of objects are called dynamical.’[143] Now, to complete Heidegger’s analysis of the ‘thing’ with respect to Kant’s theory of knowledge (as explained in the Critique of Pure Reason) there only remains to illustrate the second group of dynamical principles:

(xii.i.iv) the Postulates of Empirical Thought. Summing up the previous points, in the Axioms of Intuitions (PI) we have considered the quantitative nature of the object with respect to the wherein and when of its appearance (extensive magnitudes); in the Anticipations of Perceptions (PII) we have considered the qualitative nature of the object with respect to the what its appearance (intensity as condition for the material reality of the object); finally, in the Analogies of Experience  (PIII) we have considered the constancy of the object with respect to the different temporal relations (duration, succession, coexistence) of its appearance. These three groups ‘determine in advance what belongs to the factual nature of the object [its thinghood] as something encountering and constant […]. These three categories are the realities of the nature of the object. The corresponding principles prove that these categories as these realities make the object (Gegenstand) possible and belong to an object (Objekt) as such. They show, that the categories have objective reality.’[144] The fourth group of principles  — the Postulates of Empirical Thought (PIV) — regards the modalities (the how) through which the quantitative, qualitative and relational determinations of Principles I, II and III, concerning the appearances of an object, can be possible, actual or necessary (Gegenstand → Objekt). Then, differently from the categories of quantity, quality and relation of the previous Principles, the categories of ‘modalities’ do not touch the thinghood of the thing, or, as Kant says, ‘the categories of modality are not real predicates of the object.’[145] They do not belong to the objective nature of the thing, rather, what is involved, here, is the nature of experience, that is, ‘withness’ as the condition of reciprocity between the object and the subject. The nature of experience can be possible, actual, or necessary according to the following requirements — this is what the Postulates of Empirical Thought say: ‘1. That which agrees with the formal conditions of experience, that is, with the conditions of intuition and of concepts, is possible.’[146] This, according to Kant, means that what is not contradictory is thinkable, while what does not stand (i.e. what does not appear) in space and time is an impossible object for us. Second requirement: ‘2. That which is bound up with the material conditions of experience, that is, with sensation, is actual.’[147] Then, according to Kant, actuality is the connection with sensation that shows us something real, having content — ‘The meaning of actuality is fulfilled and borne out for us only in the relation between representing and the encountering of the real of sensation.’[148] Third requirement: ‘3. That which in its connection with the actual is determined in accordance with universal conditions of experience is (that is, exists as) necessary. Kant conceives of necessity — Heidegger continues — as determination by that which, out of agreement with the unity of experience as such, establishes the connection with actuality. […] The necessary is what is unthinkable as non-existent’.[149] If we reconnect to the paragraph where we have presented Kant’s concept of reality, we can integrate what we have said there, by saying that reality is the realm of what is possible, actual and necessary. What is thinkable and not contradictory is real and possible; e.g.: my abstract idea of the red house is as real as the actual red house is. My idea of the red house belongs to the realm of the possible; conversely, only the red house that kicks me back (only the red house that can stir my sense of sight, touch, hear etc.) can be (defined) actual and/or necessary.

RSAP_012_07_Postulates of Empirical Thought
Image 7: The Postulates of Empirical Thought, according to Kant’s theory of knowledge (expressed in the Critique of Pure Reason) correspond to the category of modality through which the subject determines the possibility, actuality or necessity of the object.

What is the ultimate meaning of these final series of postulates? Heidegger draws our attention to their formulation: the recurring formula  —  ‘That which agrees with…’ (P I), ‘That which is bound up with…’, (P II), ‘That which in its connection with…’, (P III) — unveils what, in a passage before,  I have called ‘the “withness” between the object and the subject’, or, as Heidegger writes, ‘the postulates […] do not put together the content of the object, but they put the whole nature of the object as determined by the three first principles into its possible relations to the subject […]. The modalities add to the concept of the object its relation to our cognitive faculty.’[150] With respect to these principles, Heidegger does not explicitly speaks about ‘the ‘withness’ concerning the object and the subject, as I have done, but he speaks about ‘the Between’ concerning the object and the subject, or ‘the between’ concerning man and thing, properly: ‘the ground which [the principles] lay, the nature of experience, is not a thing present-at-hand, to which we return and upon which we then simply stand. Experience is in itself a circular happening through which what lies within the circle becomes exposed. This open, however, is nothing other than the between between us and the thing.’[151] Later Heidegger adds: ‘This between is not like a rope stretching from the thing to man, but [we have to recognize and to know that] this between, as an anticipation, reaches beyond the thing and similarly back behind us. Reaching-before means thrown back’.[152] Since the beginning, we have not illustrated a linear relation between man and the thing, rather a circular relation: experience/knowledge is a circular relation between man and the thing.

In conclusion of this long inquiry, with Heidegger, we have discovered that the question concerning the meaning of the ‘thing’ — What is a Thing? —, was newly put by Kant: as we have seen, this is a historical question, which asks about intuition and thought, about experience and its principles. The question concerning the thing becomes a question concerning man: when we ask What is a Thing?, we are asking Who is Man?[153] As Heidegger puts it, ‘it means that man is to be understood as he who always already leaps beyond things, but in such a way that this leaping-beyond is possible only while things encounter and so precisely remain themselves while they send us back behind ourselves and our surface. A dimension is opened up in Kant’s question about the thing which lies between the thing and man’.[154] For me, this dimension, i.e. a realm properly, is a placial realm or dimension: a place, not space and not even spacetime. That’s why I say that experience (or knowledge — this is the way Kant understands experience) is place-based and not space-based.

As Heidegger says ‘a dimension is opened up in Kant’s question about the thing which lies between the thing and man.’ For me this dimension, i.e. a realm properly, is a placial realm or dimension: a place, not space, and not even spacetime.

Place is the encompassing realm of extended quantities and qualities: what we usually call ‘space’, ‘time’ and ‘matter’ are synthesized into place, the encompassing entity that is the ground for knowledge. Given that everything is place-based, man and the ‘thing’ are place-based (they are placial entities); from their encounter a place-based entity results (this is the way I interpret the dimension opened up by Kant). This encounter is possible only in virtue of an ultimate common ground: place. A reformed understanding of place, like the one I’m arguing for, here, @rethinkingspaceandplace.com

Notes

[1] Martin Heidegger, What is a Thing? (South Bend: Gateway Editions Ltd., 1976).

[2] Eugen T. Gendlin, “The Derivation of Space”,  in Exploring the Work of Edward S. Casey: Giving Voice to Place, Memory, and Imagination, eds. Azucena Cruz-Pierre and Donald A. Landes (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).

[3] This quotation is taken from Gendlin’s Analysis, in Heidegger, Martin. What is a Thing?, 250.  

[4] Ibid., 251.  

[5] Ibid., 252.

[6] Ibid., 247.

[7] I have said ‘indirect’ confrontation since Kant’s overall argumentation in the Critique is not that specific like Heidegger’s one; however, according to Heidegger, the Chapter of the Critique he analyzed in What is a Thing? —  System of all principles of pure understanding — on which Heidegger moulded his own model, has a direct relevance on the question of the ‘thing’.

[8] Ibid., 6.

[9] Ibid., 7.

[10] Ibid., 8.

[11] Ibid., 13.

[12] Ibid., 26.

[13] Ibid., 16.

[14] Ibid., 15,16.

[15] Space is not an emergent entity if we conceive that emergence in the same domain or realm of that from which it emerges (in this specific case a concrete entity emerging from another concrete entity, as tissue can be the emergence of a group of cells). Conversely, space can be understood as an emergent entity provided that we understand such emergence as a process where two different domains are implicated: in this case space — an abstract realm, or the arena of thought — emerging from place, or the arena of things — a concrete realm.

[16] Ibid., 18.

[17] Ibid., 16.

[18] Ibid., 20.

[19] Ibid., 21, 22.

[20] Ibid., 22.

[21] Ibid., 257.

[22] The sentence in italics is taken from Gendlin’s Analysis, in Heidegger, Martin. What is a Thing?, p. 258.

[23] Ibid., 258.

[24] I mean language considered as ‘the structure of our speaking to each other about a certain situation’ in terms of words, concepts, sentences, etc. See page 260.

[25] Ibid., 260.

[26] Ibid., 34.

[27] As concern the reference to etymological reasons I specially refer to the concept of space, see Back to the Origins of Place and Space.

[28] The truth about the thing is expressed through words and the way we put words together is called ‘an assertion’ (the house is red); it is the assertion the seat of truth, Heidegger says, and not the ‘thing’: ‘Perhaps… the structure of the thing adjusts itself to the structure of the proposition, rather than the contrary’, p. 47. That’s why Section B.I. of the book is especially focused on disentangling the historical structure of the thing and the linguistic structure that is behind it.

[29] Ibid., p. 35. A few pages later, we also read: ‘this definition of thingness was established in ancient philosophy’, p. 38.

[30] See note 25, above.

[31] Ibid., 64.

[32] Ibid., 62.

[33] Ibid., 62, 63.

[34] https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=category

[35] The careful reader has probably noted that something is missing about the structure of language and assertions or propositions: there is an unsolved conflation of terms — a confusion — between the trait of the thing, which we have called ‘subject’ (‘the redness of the house’), and the author of the assertion who, according to the traditional way of structuring a sentence, is the real subject (‘I say the house is red’), which transforms what we originally called ‘subject’ (redness) into a mere attribute of the object (the thing). Behind this ‘confusion’ there is a shift concerning the meaning of the subject, but — we will see it in this Section — there is also a shift of meaning concerning the meaning of the object, and therefore, a shift of meaning concerning the ‘thing’ itself.

[36] Ibid., 64.

[37] https://www.etymonline.com/word/logos

[38] In Physics (212a 20-21) Aristotle defines place — ‘topos’ in Greek — ‘the innermost motionless boundary of the container’ (W.D. Ross, Aristotle’s Physics. A Revised Text with Introduction and Commentary, p. 376), or, in Edward Casey’s words: ‘the first unchangeable limit — ‘peras’ in Greek — of that which surrounds’ (Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place, p. 55)

[39] Martin Heidegger, What is a Thing?,108.

[40] Ibid., 124.

[41] Ibid., 83.

[42] Ibid., 83.

[43] Ibid., 264.

[44] Ibid., 86.

[45] Ibid., 86.

[46] The Oxford Classical Dictionary, edited by S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth, Fourth Edition, Volume II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 917.

[47] Martin Heidegger. What is a Thing? p. 88.

[48] Ibid., 88.

[49] Ibid., 88.

[50] Ibid., 108.

[51] Ibid., 89.

[52] Ibid., 91.

[53] Ibid., 265.

[54] Ibid., 91; see also the following link to the Perseus Digital Library, according to which măthēsis is the act of ‘learning or getting knowledge’http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0058:entry=ma%2Fqhsis

[55] Ibid., 92.

[56] Ibid., 92.

[57] Ibid., 92.

[58] Ibid., 92.

[59] Given its Greek etymology and sense, the Mathematical is ‘the original sense of learning what one already knows’, Heidegger says, p. 76.

[60] Ibid., 69-76.

[61] Ibid., 266.

[62] Ibid., 94; literally, Heidegger speaks of ‘the basically mathematical character of the thinking.’. See also the note 56, above.

[63] Ibid., 266.

[64] Ibid., 267.

[65] Ibid., 267.

[66] Ibid., 102.

[67] Ibid., 103.

[68] Ibid., 99; it seems the usual reconstruction mentioned by Heidegger — ‘…This story of Descartes who came and doubted and became a subjectivist, thus grounding epistemology, does give the usual picture’ — is too synthetic to give the complete picture, given that Heidegger continues the above-quoted proposition as follows: ‘… but at best it is only a bad novel, and anything but a story in which the movement of being becomes visible.

[69] Ibid., 104;  ‘The “sum” is not a consequence of the thinking, but vice versa; it is the ground of thinking, the fundamentum’, that’s why Heidegger uses the formula ‘Cogito — sum’, rather than the one we are accustomed to — ‘Cogito ergo sum’, which ‘suggests the misunderstanding that it is here a question of inference.

[70] Ibid., 104, 105.

[71] Ibid., 105.

[72] Ibid., 105.

[73] Ibid., 105.

[74] Ibid., 105, 106.

[75] Ibid., 106.

[76] Ibid., 107.

[77] Ibid., 269.

[78] Ibid., 268.

[79] Ibid., 108; 119.

[80] Ibid., 121.

[81] Ibid., 125, 126.

[82] Ibid., 126.

[83] Ibid., 127.

[84] Ibid., 128.

[85] Ibid., 129.

[86] Ibid., 130, 131.

[87] Ibid., 131.

[88] Ibid., 134.

[89] Ibid., 135.

[90] Ibid., 137.

[91] Ibid., 137.

[92] Ibid., 137, see note 27.

[93] Ibid., 140.

[94] Ibid., 142.

[95] Ibid., 143.

[96] Ibid., 143.

[97] Ibid., 144.

[98] Ibid., 146.

[99] Ibid., 147.

[100] Ibid., 148.

[101] Ibid., 149.

[102] Ibid., 157.

[103] Ibid., 157.

[104] Ibid., 158.

[105] Ibid., 160.

[106] Ibid., 175.

[107] Ibid., 161.

[108] Ibid., 163.

[109] Ibid., 164.

[110] Ibid., 165.

[111] Ibid., 166, 167.

[112] Ibid., 169.

[113] Ibid., 169.

[114] Ibid., 179.

[115] Ibid., 184.

[116] Ibid., 190.

[117] Ibid., 191.

[118] Ibid., 190.

[119] Ibid., 190, 191.

[120] Ibid., 191.

[121] Ibid., 194.

[122] Ibid., 196.

[123] Ibid., 198.

[124] Ibid., 199.

[125] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 286-289

[126] Ibid., 224.

[127] Ibid., 206.

[128] Ibid., 206, 207.

[129] Ibid., 207-211.

[130] Ibid., 207-211.

[131] Ibid., 212, 213.

[132] Ibid., 214.

[133] Ibid., 222.

[134] Ibid., 224.

[135] Confront Heidegger’s description about ‘the axioms of intuition and the anticipations of perception’ at page 224 and the digression I made at point (xii.i.i) concerning the Axioms of intuition.

[136] Ibid., 224, 225.

[137] Ibid., 225.

[138] Ibid., 226.

[139] Ibid., 228.

[140] Ibid., 231.

[141] Ibid., 232.

[142] Ibid., 234.

[143] Ibid., 234.

[144] Ibid., 237.

[145] Ibid., 237.

[146] Ibid., 238.

[147] Ibid., 239.

[148] Ibid., 239.

[149] Ibid., 239, 240.

[150] Ibid., 241.

[151] Ibid., 242.

[152] Ibid., 243.

[153] Ibid., 244.

[154] Ibid., 244.

Works Cited

Casey, S. Edward. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Gendlin, Eugen T. “The Derivation of Space”.  In Exploring the Work of Edward S. Casey: Giving Voice to Place, Memory, and Imagination, edited by Azucena Cruz-Pierre and Donald A. Landes. Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

Heidegger, Martin. What is a Thing? South Bend: Gateway Editions Ltd., 1967.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure ReasonThe Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

the Oxford Classical Dictionary, edited by S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth, Fourth Edition, Volume II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.