Being as Place: Introduction to Metaphysics – Part One

Based on the new translation of Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics (2000), this article, aside from presenting Heidegger’s metaphysical discourse on Being, aims at elucidating the ground for my reinterpretation of the traditional concept of place and the related concepts of space, time, and matter. This ground has many intersecting threads with Heidegger’s elucidation of the notion of Being, as elaborated in the lecture course he delivered at the University of Freiburg, in the summer semester of 1935; on the base of that lecture, the book An Introduction to Metaphysics, translated by Ralph Manheim, was published in 1959: that was the first book-length work by Heidegger translated into English.[1]

I shall follow the structure of Heidegger’s metaphysical discourse by making a resume of the most important passages of the book, through which he tried to recover the originary sense of Being — a basic and powerful notion, which, according to the philosopher, today still conditions and dominates our understanding of reality. Where and when appropriate for the context of this website — the reinterpretation of the concepts of space and place — I will offer my point of view on the subject to show the continuity between Heidegger’s metaphysical discourse and the concepts of place and space in the revised form I’m thinking about them, here, at RSaP-Rethinking Space and Place. The resume of Heidegger’s arguments is introduced by headlines written with bold and italics characters, announcing the specific chapter and section of the book; my commentaries are introduced by headlines written with bold characters on a light-grey background.

To offer the readers an overall vision of the book and help them follow Heidegger’s articulated development of the arguments, Gregory Fried and Richard Polt — the translators of the 2000 edition of Introduction to Metaphysics, which is the edition I’m going to refer to — suggested a possible outline of the entire work, preserving Heidegger’s original division into four main chapters, and adding further divisions and subdivisions into sections. Chapter One is titled ‘The Fundamental Question of Metaphysics’ and is developed around the following themes: Section A. The why-question as the first of all questions; Section B. Philosophy as the asking of the why-question; Section C. Phusis: the fundamental Greek word for beings as such; Section D. The meaning of ‘introduction to metaphysics’; Section E. Unfolding the why-question by means of the question of Nothing; Section F. The prior question: How does it stand with Being? Chapter Two is a discussion ‘On the Grammar and Etymology of the Word “Being”’, which is also the title of the chapter. It is divided into the following sections: Section A. The superficiality of the science of linguistics; Section B. The grammar of ‘Being’; Section C. The etymology of ‘Being’; Section D. Summary. Chapter Three is about ‘The Question of the Essence of Being’, and is divided into three sections: Section A. The priority of Being over beings; Section B. The essential link between Being and the word; Section C. The inclusion of the various meanings of ‘is’ within the Greek understanding of Being as presence. The final Chapter Four is the most conspicuous and articulated:  it defines the different paths the question of Being can be handled by comparison with other basic notions that delimit the essence and the meaning of Being itself; accordingly, the title of this chapter is: ‘The Restriction of Being’. An introductory section — Section A. Seven points of orientation for the investigation of the restriction of Being — offers an overall indication concerning the directions that Heidegger’s arguments will follow; then, in the other sections, Being is confronted with those characters that delimit its essence, that is: Section B. Being and becoming; Section C. Being and seeming; Section D. Being and thinking (this section has special relevance since ‘thinking’ is the decisive limitation, or restriction, that gives a final orientation to the current interpretation of Being); Section E. Being and the ought. A final section — Section F. Conclusion —  presents a brief review of the arguments discussed.

Given that my text, including resumes and commentaries, is quite extended, I’ve decided to split it into two successive articles: this article — Being as Place: Introduction to Metaphysics – Part One — covers the arguments discussed in the first three chapters of Introduction to Metaphysics, while Being as Place: Introduction to Metaphysics – Part Two (the Limitation of Being) covers the final chapter.

Let’s start this inquiry into the nature of Being and beings, and let’s see how a reformed interpretation of place can be considered as an alternative ground with respect to Heidegger’s metaphysical discourse on Being.[2]

Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?

That question Heidegger also calls ‘the why-question(Warumfrage): it is the fundamental question he raises to begin his articulated journey concerning the elucidation of the Being of beings — the metaphysical ground upon which everything else stands. Following the indications given by the translators of the 2000 edition of Introduction to Metaphysics — Gregory Fried and Richard Polt — an important clarification concerning the adopted terminology is immediately necessary: here, the term ‘beings’ — in the plural form — stands for ‘what is’, or ‘that which is’; it translates Heidegger’s originary German expression ‘das Seiende (or the equivalent Seiendes)’ — an expression ‘broad enough to refer to any entity, physical or otherwise, with which we may have dealings, whether real, illusory, or imagined.[3] Later, in the text, Heidegger offers some examples, concerning the special characteristics of the particular domains of beings:  from ‘the things that we can grasp with our hands right away’ — like tools and vehicles —, to ‘land, sea, mountains, rivers, forests, and the individual things in them: trees, birds and insects, grasses and stones’;[4] from mighty beings like the earth, the moon, or a planet, to people on the street, we ourselves, the Japanese, criminals, or the madmen in a madhouse; from the cathedral of Strasbourg to Bach’s fugues and Hölderlin’s hymns.[5] Those are beings. Other than referring to those particular beings, the expression ‘das Seiende (or the equivalent Seiendes)’ also refers to beings in general — that is ‘beings as a whole and as such’ — as when we ask ‘Why are there beings [Seiendes] at all instead of nothing?’ While that which characterizes beings as beings, in general — their ‘beingness’ — is expressed by the German term Seiendheit.[6] A small aside, here: in the original 1959 translation by Ralph Manheim, the recurrent term ‘beings’ to denote some particular being or beings (Seiendes) is rendered by the term ‘essents’.[7]

the term ‘beings’ – in the plural form – stands for ‘what is’, or ‘that which is’; it translates Heidegger’s originary German expression ‘das Seiende’ – an expression ‘broad enough to refer to any entity, physical or otherwise, with which we may have dealings, whether real, illusory, or imagined.’

So, after this gradient of meanings expressed by the term ‘beings’, from particular to universal, we come to the term ‘Being’, which expresses the most universal character of beings, or, I would say, the processuality (in the sense of event) behind them. As the translators say in their introduction, the term Being — which they render in the capitalized form to avoid confusion with ‘beings’ (I will follow the same mode of expression) — is the translation of the German ‘das Sein’, which, literally translated, would be ‘the to be’;[8] to appreciate the meaning of Being we should not intend it as mere ‘beingness’, but, more extendedly, we should understand the question of Being as an inquiry ‘into the happening, the event, in which all beings become accessible and understandable to us as beings.[9] According to Heidegger, ‘much of the history of philosophy has focused on this beingness rather than inquiring into the happening of Being itself.[10] So, in this sense, Being is the constant presence concealed by beings — the ultimate ground for beings — and the scope of Heidegger’s discourse is to remove the veils behind which Being is concealed, and explore the different phases through which the unconcealment of Being is attained.

the term ‘Being’ – in the capitalized form – is the translation  of the German ‘das Sein’, which, literally translated, would be ‘the to be’ … we should understand the question of Being as an inquiry ‘into the happening, the event, in which  all beings become accessible and understandable to us as beings.’

Chapter One — Section A. ‘The why-question as the first of all questions’

For Heidegger, this question — Why are there beings at all instead of nothing? lays at the ground of any other possible and imaginable question. This question is ‘the broadest in scope’, in the sense that it embraces all that is, and its domain is only limited by what is not, that is: by Nothing. Moreover, it is ‘the deepest’ question: we are investigating the originary ground of all that exists, the foundation, the ultimate limit; so, we are striving for depth,  taking a distance from the superficial. Finally, it is ‘the most originary’, that is: our interest is removed from any particular or individual being, not even the human being, and is directed to beings in general — ‘we are not interrogating this being or that being, nor all beings, each in turn; instead, we are asking from the start the whole of what is, or as we say for reasons to be discussed later: beings as a whole and as such’.[11]

we are not interrogating this being or that being, nor all beings, each in turn; instead, we are asking from the start the whole of what is, or … beings as a whole and as such

This ‘whole of what is’, these ‘beings as a whole and as such’, this universal character of beings understood as happening or event unfolding through different phases, and without which no beings could exist, can be resumed by just one word: Being. Then, contrarily to what it may seem by a literal reading of the why-question, Heidegger is telling us we are not primarily interested in a particular entity or entities (beings); rather, we are investigating the ground of beings as beings, that is Being. Heidegger is quite explicit in rejecting a narrow interpretation of Being (as mere ‘beingness’) by stressing the investigation of Being as a methodological endeavour through different historical phases rather than a search for a definition; his continuous questioning or asking the why-question time and again, in different parts of the discourse, is an indication in that sense: ‘this questioning in itself is … a distinctive occurrence that we call a happening’.[12] This is so typical of Heidegger’s style: the continuous interrogation of the same subject, from many different perspectives, and from always different and new starting points, so to have the widest possible vision of the subject under investigation; a rich narrative, an always moving perspective around a subject, made of continuous references through times, authors and languages (the first Greek poems, thinkers like Parmenides and Heraclitus, classical Greek and German languages — we are going to see), rather than a definite and synthetic perspective, or a fixed picture of Being.

Place: a companion or a substitute concept for Being and beings?

Let’s take a pause from Heidegger’s discourse, since I would like to linger on the possibility  to consider ‘place’ as a substitute concept, or, at least, a companion concept for Being and beings, and say that the meaning of place can be as extended,  far-reaching, and primordial as Being itself.

Introducing the question of place as the ultimate ground: the Archytian Axiom. A place for ‘gathering’, ‘emerging’, and ‘abiding’: the ‘presence’ of Being and the ‘appearance’ of beings. Place as ‘domain of existence’.

Reminding the various formulations of the Archytian axiom with which I have inaugurated this website — ‘to be (at all) is to be in (some) place’— [13] we could say that there can be no Being without a place where Being can gather, develop and, eventually, be defined as Being — the Being of beings — and actualized in the guise of beings, eventually. To attain more closely to the Heideggerian arguments and terminology we will soon introduce and elucidate, we could say there can be no Being without a gathering place where  ‘the emerging abiding sway’ — this is one of the ways Heidegger characterized Being —[14] can unfold, hold itself and unveil in its constant presence; or, using a processual terminology around which I am developing a reformed notion of place, there can be no Being without a gathering place, understood as the common region were the basic forces that drive processes can be related to each other, unfold, and reveal their constant presence as Being (thereby, contrasting the opposite forces that can lead Being back into not-Being), or appear as beings in consequence of the actualization of such processes. Isn’t place a necessary requirement for Being to be conceived, either in thought or as a constant presence behind beings, real or imaginary? Isn’t the domain of thinking a place itself — the place where thoughts exist in the form of ideas, language, assertions, questions, symbolization, etc.? Isn’t the physical or the ideal/mental realm where beings can appear in the guise of concrete or abstract entities a realm of place too? Isn’t the occurrence of Being as a constant presence, an occurrence that necessitates a place for that constant presence to unfold as a gathering force, emerge, and present itself out of concealment? Isn’t place a necessary co-presence for Being to be called a happening or event, like Heidegger does?

Being Place Time-as-duration (of Processes).

Not a secondary question, it is out of such constant presence, which can be eventually actualized into beings (whether real, imagined, or illusory), that we also derive notions of  ‘time’ in the sense of definite duration of specific processes (this is what we should intend as actualization of processes into specific beings), or, by contrast, in the sense of an infinite or indefinite duration of processes, related to Being or beings as such.

Place: the ground for Being and beings. Different domains,reciprocal belonging, and the question of time.

In the origin, there is the possibility to see them — Being and place, or beings and place (for the present, I consider the different nature of processual temporality that is part of Being and beings intrinsic to their existence) — as one unique event or presence, considered from different perspectives: if we refer to ‘Being (or to beings, in general, as in the opening why-question), and place’, the domain of existence they share is unaffected by particular timely contingencies (this is the sense of the constant presence of Being concealed behind beings) and, since Being exists and is not Nothing,  it is a localized Being, albeit we should intend that localization as the contour of the domain itself, within which Being exists and which it fills with its own presence (any domain is a region, and any region is a place). Conversely,  if we refer to ‘beings and place’, what appears has a specific, limited duration, whether we speak of real or imaginary beings/domains. In both cases, where there is one (either Being or beings)  there is the other — place. ‘Being and place’, or ‘beings and place’, but we could even exchange the terms and say ‘place and Being’ or ‘place and beings’, given that we are speaking of a co-presence.  To express the meaning of this ‘and’ as a ‘co-presence’, a simultaneous presence of two terms forming a unity, I sometimes use the notation of two brackets opposing each other: Being(  )place, or beings(  )place is the definition of a unique event where Being and place — or beings and place — are equally determinative of that which exists (as I said before, for the moment I am omitting the component ‘time’ as processual entity intrinsic to and characteristic of any event, the same way Being and place are). Therefore, concerning this simultaneous appearance and co-belonging of terms it is as if the ideal or substantial views to which we may refer Being and beings (the ‘what-content’) are inherently built together with the spatial/placial view (the ‘where-content’), or vice versa (that is: place and/or space, afford events or entities of any kind — either physical or ideal — the possibility to exist, that is they offer them an existential domain without which no-thing could exist). We cannot think of Being without a place, or space, as much as generic that place or space can be (in the case of Being, that place, or space, simply refers to its localization-as-domain of existence, and not to its localization-as-position with respect to another Being or beings). Analogously, we cannot think of a place, or space, without Being, or beings, given that place or space are not Nothing. So, Being is not nothing: it is the place where the emerging abiding sway comes into appearance and preserves itself as a constant presence defeating (the abyss of) Nothing. The same holds for place: place is not Nothing — it is not the Void: it is Being itself fighting against Nothing — against the Void. So, ‘Being is the place where the emerging abiding sway comes into appearance…’ while ‘place is Being itself fighting against Nothing’, that is: Being is place and place is Being. Being and place are built upon each other (and, I repeat, together with them there is always a temporal component, in the form of indefinite or definite duration of processes). It is because they are so difficult to discern in their co-belonging (a simultaneous appearance) that they can be seen con-fused into one single presence, or unity (this is why, following Heidegger’s example, I have omitted the commas or conjunctions between Being, Place, and Time, in the headline above).[15] Anything, any entity, any presence, any phenomenon or event can be seen as a place having certain characters, or a place where certain processes occur. At the same time, what is the essence of place and processes if not Being? What are beings if not the place of actualized processes? There is a reciprocal belonging between Being and place, or between beings and place: if the two appear for an indefinite or infinite duration, we will speak of Being and place, or beings as such and place; if the two appear for a definite duration, we will speak of beings and place.[16]

There is a reciprocal belonging between Being and place,

or beings and place

Place: the broadest, the deepest, the most originary concept.

In a passage before, I have spoken about the possibility for the concept of place to be as extended,  far-reaching, and primordial as Being itself. Not only is place a natural companion for Being, but it is also a natural companion for beings. That’s why I use the double assertion ‘Being and place’, or ‘beings and place’: the same concept — place, with no capital letters or plural forms — may adapt to all that exists, and carry out its grounding function in actuality or potentiality, in thought or physical action, in the realm of the concrete or of the abstract. Place itself is the realm. Due to my profession as an architect, which is inherently built upon a continuous oscillation between the actual and the potential, the concrete and the abstract, I consider the term place easier to handle than Being; that’s why I would like to consider the possibility to take Being, beings and place — and the different forms of temporalization intrinsic to them —, under the overarching embrace of place only. This is my bet, which is also the scope of my research: to show the possibility to rethink the concept of place starting from its usual understanding (most notably, as a physical notion, a geographical notion, or even a socially-constructed notion), but extending its meaning to include many different dimensions to embrace all that exists: from biological and ecological dimensions (which are so important for the present time, and not yet explored as thoroughly as the other dimensions I’ve just mentioned), to its metaphysical dimension or other symbolic dimensions. So, place, analogously to the narrative of Being (and beings) drawn by Heidegger, has the potentiality to be the broadest, the deepest, the most originary concept.

Place and language.

In Section A of Chapter One (The why-question as the first of all questions), Heidegger has introduced the metaphysical argument via the why-question and speaks about ‘the broadest in scope’, ‘the deepest’, and ‘the most originary’ question; at the same time, he has introduced notions that have a more or less direct reference with questions of place and/or space. Speaking about the broadest scope of the why-question, Heidegger has introduced the notion of ‘limit’, the notion of ‘domain’, and the notion of ‘Nothing’, when he says: ‘The domain of this question [Why are there beings…] is limited only by what simply is not and never is: by Nothing’.[17] Directly or indirectly, those are all spatial or, better, placial notions; concerning the notion of limit and its relevance for the concept of place, I redirect the reader to the article Limit Place Appearance. Where Heidegger speaks about the why-question as ‘the deepest’ of all questions, he says that the question corresponds to a search for ‘the ground’: ‘Why — that is, what is the ground?… This why-question does not just skim the surface, but presses into the domains that lie “at the ground”, even pressing to the ultimate, to the limit.[18] Again, questions of ‘limit’ and ‘domains’, and, in addition, another place-based concept: ‘the ground’. By posing the why-question, it seems inescapable the necessity to refer to spatial and/or placial notions. Isn’t this a confirmation that the spatial and/or placial perspective is as fundamental as the ideal or substantial perspectives concerning Being and beings? Analogously to what we have just pointed out regarding Being (and beings), and the possibility to ground them on place, it seems language itself cannot escape the power of spatial or placial notions (this should be quite obvious: isn’t the language itself a being? How can a being exist without a place, how can it exist without a constant reference to what determines its existence?). When we introduced the question of place from a linguistic perspective (in the article Back to the Origins of Space and Place) we already noted that the linguistic root on which notions of place were elaborated, was included in a basic vocabulary of few words like I, You, We, This, That, etc. which are considered constitutive of the Proto-Indo-European language, the primordial language on which European modern languages were formed.[19] The question of Being and language is a primal topic for Heidegger to investigate the domain of metaphysics; in due time, we will get back to the intimate connection between questions of Being, language and place.

Chapter One — Section B. Philosophy as the asking of the why-question

Coming back to the resume of other important passages in the first chapter of Introduction to Metaphysics, in Section B. Philosophy as the asking of the why-question,  Heidegger says that the why-question lays at the ground of any form of understanding, not merely of philosophic understanding; any form of understanding is derivative from that original question, scientific problems included: ‘No questioning, and consequently no single scientific “problem”, understands itself if it does not grasp the question of all questions, that is if it does not ask it.’ [20] Here, I spend a couple of words more on the important question of the relation between physics and metaphysics quoting a passage from Heidegger’s essay ‘On the being and conception of φύσις in aristotle’s physics B, 1’ , where Heidegger dismisses as irrelevant the question concerning the precedence of Aristotle’s book Physics with respect to the Metaphysics: ‘it makes little sense to say that the Physics precedes the Metaphysics, because metaphysics is just as “physics” as physics is “metaphysics”.’ [21]

This Section B is also the occasion for Heidegger to explain what philosophy is about and what is not: first, genuine philosophy is untimely since the questions it raises are not influenced by the contingencies of the times, quite the contrary: ‘philosophizing… imposes its measure on the times’.[22] Then, Heidegger considers two frequent misrepresentations regarding philosophy: ‘one misinterpretation consists in demanding too much of the essence of philosophy’, which means that this kind of knowledge should be regarded as ‘a thoughtful opening of the avenues and vistas of a knowing that establish measure and rank’ rather than a specific investigation of the forces and related mechanisms ‘that bring about a historical state of affairs.[23] The other misinterpretation ‘involves a distortion of the sense of what philosophy can achieve’, in the sense that while ‘one expects philosophy to promote, and even accelerate, the practical and technical business of culture by alleviating it, making it easier’ the reverse is true: ‘philosophy never makes things easier, but only more difficult.’[24] Then, this is the burden of philosophy according to Heidegger: to give ‘back to things, to beings, their weight (Being).’[25] Needless to say, one thing is the business of those involved in transmitting a certain educationally appropriate acquaintance with philosophy (e.g., professors of philosophy) — this is scholarship about philosophy, Heidegger says; another thing is genuine philosophy, that is philosophizing as the ‘questioning about the extra-ordinary’.[26] nature and place

The following section — Section C. Phusis: the fundamental Greek word for beings as such — has far-reaching consequences for our understanding of the nature of reality and the spatial concepts through which we interpret it; or, at least, this Section C has far-reaching consequences for the possibility of interpreting spatial concepts — the concept of place, especially  —  away from the false presuppositions of modernity, and, it seems to me, more in line with their originary meanings, which is based on the Greek understanding of phusis as nature, according to the interpretation offered by Heidegger. I will address this question more extendedly.

‘Why are there places at all instead of Nothing? Why are there places at all instead of the Void?’ That’s where my mind has gone, as soon as I’ve read for the first time the why-question posed by Heidegger —Why are there beings at all instead of nothing? The same way Being, or beings as such, is delimited against Nothing, so place is delimited against the void. Yet, dealing with spatial and/or placial concepts, we use to call that Nothing, “void” or “vacuum”. Isn’t the tagline “NATURA ABHORRET A VACUO” (vacuum is the Latin word for the void), which I placed just below the site title of this website (see Image 01, below), another way to affirm the originary sense of the why-question in the form of an indirect answer — an assertion — to that question? Why are there beings at all instead of nothing? Heidegger asks. Because nature abhors a vacuum — I say, like many have said before me, starting with Aristotle. Nature contrasts not-Being. Right now, we are going to introduce the connection between Being and nature, through the old Greek term ‘phusis’.

Image 01: NATURA ABHORRET A VACUO, tagline of the previous RSaP WordPress theme

For me, the negation of the void is one thing with the question of reality, understood as a plenum, or place. Very soon, I’ve considered my investigation into the concepts of space and place a metaphysical question, and not merely the elucidation of physical, geographical, socially-based or architectural notions (see the article Places Everywhere). With that common assertion — NATURA ABHORRET A VACUO — we are right at the core of the metaphysical question dealt with in Section C of Introduction to Metaphysics: natura is the Latin term for the Greek word phusis, which is a key concept to elucidate the question of Being and beings. Let’s see Heidegger’s discussion about that.

Chapter One — Section C. Phusis: the fundamental Greek word for beings as such

Here, Heidegger introduces the concept of “phusis”, φύσις, a fundamental Greek word, which, in the origin, was used to denote beings as such and as a whole. We read: ‘among the Greeks, when questioning about beings as such and as a whole received its true inception, beings were called “phusis”.’ [27]

among the Greeks, when questioning about beings as such and as a whole received its true inception, beings were called ‘phusis’

This word was later translated by the Romans as ‘natura’, that is ‘nature’ (the Latin term ‘natura’ means ‘to be born’, or ‘birth’), and this is the definitive way the term phusis reached us — as nature —, passing through Christianity and the Middle Ages, Heidegger tells us. Yet, already with the Latin translation the originary content of the Greek term phusis was thrust aside — Heidegger says — and ‘the authentic philosophical naming force of the Greek word is destroyed.[28] What happened? What was the original sense of that term? ‘What does the word “phusis” say? — Heidegger asks — It says what emerges from itself (for example, the emergence, the blossoming, of a rose), the unfolding that opens itself up, the coming-into-appearance in such unfolding, and holding itself and persisting in appearance—in short, the emerging-abiding sway.[29]

‘Phusis’ … says what emerges from itself, the unfolding that opens itself up, the coming-into-appearance in such unfolding, and holding itself and persisting in appearance—in short, the emerging-abiding sway

Image 02: According to Heidegger, the Greek term ‘phusis’ — commonly translated as ‘nature’ — in the origin said ‘what emerges from itself… the unfolding that opens itself up, the coming-into-appearance in such unfolding, and holding itself and persisting in appearance—in short, the emerging-abiding sway.’

To elucidate the question concerning phusis, Heidegger also focuses on the originary meaning of the cognate Greek word ‘phuein’, which means ‘to grow’, ‘to make grow’ and asks: ‘Does it just mean to increase by acquiring bulk, to become more numerous and bigger?[30] Heidegger gives some examples to have a better focus on the question: phusis as emergence — the emerging-abiding sway — is experienced every time we see these processes of nature unfolding: the rising of the sun or the moon, the growth of plants, the birth of animals from the womb, humans included, etc. But phusis cannot be directly identified with those processes actualized in the forms of beings, phenomena or events; rather, it is what is behind those processes, that is the force, or the forces, behind those processes that allow processes themselves to unfold,  become and remain observable, in the guise of Being or beings — this is ‘the emerging-abiding sway’ of phusis, precisely (here, Heidegger does not make any explicit reference to the term ‘force’, which is my choice). So, when Heidegger defines phusis as ‘Being itself, by virtue of which beings first become and remain observable[31]  he is telling us that phusis — in the originary Greek meaning — is the intimate connection between Being and beings: if we look behind the Being of beings, we find phusis.

Phusis is Being itself, by virtue of which beings first become and remain observable

Then, phusis is at the same time the emerging sway and the enduring over which it holds sway, allowing beings to become and remain observable.[32] This also means that phusis, in the origin, is such a wide concept to embrace ‘becoming’ and ‘Being’ — the latter intended ‘in the narrower sense of fixed continuity’, and signified by the expressions enduring and holding sway;[33] that’s how Heidegger arrived at the formulation of phusis as ‘event’, that is: ‘Phusis is the event of standing forth, arising from the concealed and thus enabling the concealed to take its stand for the first time.[34]

Phusis is the event of standing forth, arising from the concealed and thus enabling the concealed to take its stand for the first time

Place as phusis (nature) — the domain of existence of Being and beings. Phusis as ‘event’: ‘emergence’, ‘standing’, and ‘appearance’ as place of processes.

Before considering how phusis narrowed its meaning to be identified directly with nature and the natural beings (in the sense of physical beings, especially), I will spend a few words on the closeness between this originary, understanding of phusis, and the concept of place I’m arguing for at To show that I will focus on some keywords and key phrases used by Heidegger in this Section C since those keywords and phrases are all basic determinants around which it is possible to rethink the structure of the concept of place, going beyond the traditional presuppositions of modern interpretations, which limit the power and intelligibility of the concept. Those keywords are: beings and Being as phusis, phusis as nature, emergence, standing, process, appearance, Being and becoming, and event. I have cited those terms respecting the order of presentation in which they appeared, following Heidegger’s discourse.

In Section C, the terms ‘Being’, ‘beings’, ‘phusis’ and ‘nature’  are interlaced to explicate this fundamental conceptualization: nature should be understood as the event of Being and becoming of beings — this is how we should understand nature, according to the original meaning of the Greek term phusis.  This event — phusis — involves Being and becoming. Being( )becoming, to use the pictorial expression I’ve already introduced elsewhere on this website.[35] The unfolding of this basic event, which narrates the structure of the domain of nature and its sub-domains, is represented by means of concepts such as ‘emergence’, ‘appearance’, and ‘standing’. This event unfolds as a basic process (Being) which is the ground for a chain of other processes to occur, after which beings become and remain observable (and, with them, Being remains as well). So, at the same time we have: Phusis = Event = Being( )beings. If I’m not too far from Heidegger’s interpretation, this narration has many intersecting threads with my understanding of the concept of place, understood as a system of processes (see the articles From Space to Place and What is Space ? What is Place?). The terms or keywords I listed above, which were used by Heidegger to delineate the event of phusis (nature) as the occurrence of Being( )beings — an occurrence which includes both Being and becoming  —  are the same terms and concepts that I have often used in my articles to delineate the event of place; therefore, these terms and concepts can be used to show how Being and place (or beings and place) can surmount each other until we almost arrive at a complete superposition that suggests a fundamental identity: as we anticipated in a paragraph above, where there is one, there is the other. Let’s see this question more in detail.

Processes, phusis, Being and beings; the nature of reality-as-place. The domains of nature.

Heidegger establishes the generous contours of the domain of existence of all that exists (beings) including the processuality that offers ground to existence as such (Being): this is phusis. This generous domain of existence and the processuality out of which everything emerges and presents — either Being or beings — I understand as ‘place’. This same domain I have also expressed by the terms ‘reality’ (‘reality is a place’, ‘reality is place-based’ etc.), or ‘nature’. The term ‘reality’ refers to the Latin word ‘res’ (thing), and as we already showed in the article What is a Thing?,  its originary meaning bypasses the difference between that which is present at hand (or that which is actual — the thing intended as a physical entity) and that which is not present at hand (or that which is ideal, potential, imaginary, illusory, etc.). What the word ‘reality’ defines is the nature of the thing, its character or essence, that is the what-content, and not its presence or absence; so, the domain of reality is wide enough to house all that exists, in any of its possible states: from Being (in the sense of processuality necessary to instate any subsequent form of existence) to beings (which can be either present at hand or not, actual or potential, concrete or abstract). Since the beginning of my presentation (in articles like Preliminary Notes, Places Everywhere, What is Place? What is Space?, or in the paper From Space to Place), I’ve said that reality is a place: the place where processes occur and can be actualized in the guise of physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic entities, to begin with.  Then, the occurrence of processes — which also means ‘presence’, in the sense that processes must be acting, must be present — is a way to describe the emergence of Being, as something that is; at the same time, the actualization of processes can be a way to define the appearance of beings as entities, from physical to symbolic — hence abstract or ideal, potential, imagined, illusory, etc. This fact — the processuality intrinsic to reality at large, whether we speak of Being or beings in the Heideggerian sense — reconnects to my understanding of nature as I described it in ‘On The Structure of Reality’: by means of simple images on a text by Robert M. Pirsig I evoked natural and artificial processes substantiating all that exists in the domain of nature (from inorganic to symbolic domains, from beings to Being — the delineation of Being as a metaphysical structure finds its opportune place in the symbolic or intellectual domain, which is anyway related to any other domain); albeit roughly, the same structure of nature is narrated by means of words in Image 2 of the article Preliminary Notes or Table 1, in the article From Space to Place; again we can find it described in Image 16 of the article Being as Place: Introduction to Metaphysics  – Part Two (the Limitation of Being). To give even more substance to this vision of mine (which I started to develop on the base of systems thinking), an analogous outline, still based on ‘a rough division… of six types of occurrences in Nature’,  was also sketched by Alfred N. Whitehead in his 1933 lecture Nature and Life (see the article The Place of Processes: Nature and Life).[36] These divisions are a simple, direct and synthetic way to characterize the processes of nature and nature itself as an encompassing/all-embracing place: the place of beings and Being (respectively, beings as the place of actualized processes, and Being as the place of processes, in general, or universal terms). In the same way Heidegger is delimiting the domain of existence (phusis  — nature), by means of Being and beings, I am delimiting it, by means of the concept of place, which is always a place of processes, whether actualized into specific forms/entities/beings, or not; the divisions and continuity intrinsic to the domain of place are based on an intrinsic processuality and have a fair degree of correspondence with the conceptualization of beings and Being, and their understanding as nature (in the original Greek sense of phusis) narrated by Heidegger. For me, processes substantiate reality (a position I mediated from Whitehead) — process and reality or, better, process(  )reality —, either in its most abstract and universal essence (Being) or in its concretion into particular forms (beings)—the place of actualized processes (physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic processes, to begin with).

Place, the domain of existence as an ‘event-process’: ‘emergence’, ‘coming into appearance’, ‘standing forth’.  The observables. Being and becoming.

Even if Heidegger prefers to use the term ‘event’ instead of ‘process’, he accords Being a fundamental kind of processuality: on one occasion, he directly says that Being shouldn’t be ‘taken as just one process among others that we observe in beings…’ (the reference is to the processes of nature, the rising of the sun, the growth of plants, etc.);[37] it is in consequence of this primal form of processuality that everything is opened up in a chain of processes that eventually disclose as beings. That’s how phusis can be identified with Being or beings, at the same time, and that’s why we are representing the instances of an ‘event’, ultimately: ‘Phusis is Beings itself… the event of standing forth…’. This event initially discloses and reveals as an emerging power — ‘the emerging sway’ Heidegger calls it — which holds, persists and endures in its powerful action; this is a necessary condition for Being to exist (to emerge, hold, persist…) and beings to appear contrasting the opposing forces of ‘Nothing’. This coming into existence of Being is defined by Heidegger, at first, as ‘unfolding’ and ‘emerging’, then, as ‘holding sway’, ‘persisting’, ‘enduring’, or ‘abiding’ in that sway (later on in the lecture, he will also introduce the notion of ‘gathering’, as a moment of continuity and transition between these two forms of processuality — ‘emergence’ out of concealment and ‘standing forth’); this second series of terms — ‘holding’ (sway), ‘persisting’, ‘enduring’, and ‘abiding’ — which are frequently used by Heidegger to delineate the contours of the event ‘Being’, or phusis, can be referred to the more basic condition of ‘standing’ or ‘taking a stand’, which are conceptualizations based on the notion of place, we have seen in the past articles;[38] only if Being takes a stand (that is only if Being has a ‘spot’, ‘site’ or, more generally, a place where it can exercise its power and discloses itself) can beings come into appearance and become ‘observable’. In this passage, the reciprocal relation between Being and beings is unveiled, as well as their understanding as phusis, that is nature in the originary Greek sense. In this overarching domain of existence, where at the inception processes appear as Being, endure in existence defeating the opposite forces that would reduce Being into Nothing, and eventually become and remain observable as beings (actualization of processes), Being and becoming are reciprocally included; one oscillates into the other. It is because of this fundamental processuality, which sustains Being and beings, that phusis as nature can be called an event. This fundamental structure veiled under the originary meaning of phusis, where Being and beings, Being and becoming oscillate into each other, presents many analogies with my understanding and tentative description of nature (or reality) as place. The terminology and related conceptualizations used by Heidegger also characterize my notion of place, and some of its characters: first of all, its emergent character, which, looking at the entangled complexity of nature, I have derived at first from systems thinking (General System Theory, especially), but soon, I discovered that it had important philosophical antecedents in the pioneering thinking of Samuel Alexander or, for certain aspects, Whitehead. Concerning this aspect, this is one of the first tentative definitions of the reformed notion of place I gave: ‘Place is any real entity emerging from inorganic, organic, social and symbolic —  or intellectual — processes’ (see What is Place? What is Space?; see also From Space to Place, where, very similarly, I defined place as a system of processes, that is ‘a phenomenon emerging from physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic processes’).

The concept of emergence: a place to conquer (for the Being of beings). Being and beings understood as ‘place of processes’. The phenomenon of place. The primacy of Place.

The concept of emergence is particularly important for Heidegger’s elucidation of Being (and beings), as well as for my interpretation of place: with the term ‘emergence’ is narrated the manifestation/presentation and presence of either Being and beings, other than the different properties of beings (physical beings especially, if we are in the realm of the observable). Using my usual placial jargon, by means of the concept of emergence I express the coming into existence of Being and beings, understood as the place of processes: these (Being and beings) are the ‘real entities’ behind the definition of place I gave above. Being and beings are places or, better, the place of processes.

Being and beings are the place of processes.

This is an important point: as Kant showed, and as I have pointed out in some past articles, what is ‘real’ refers to the character, the essence — the what-content — of an entity and not to its physical presence;[39] so, this means that processes sustain any phase of the existence of Being as well as of beings. Not only the emergence of processes is the first line of attack of Being against Nothing, (here, there is the ultimate battle — I would say the battle between contrasting forces to conquer a stand, that is, a place: only if a place is conquered existence begins); processes are also necessary for beings to appear. While Being, is ‘the place of processes’ as such and as a whole (to use a Heideggerian terminology),  in the case of beings we should speak of them as ‘the place of actualized processes’, where, by the term actualization I would like to render the final process of ‘formalization’ (appearance with a certain form) of any specific entity either that formalization results in beings present at hand or present in mind (abstract, conceptual, ideal, illusory, imagined, etc. beings). According to the type of processes that occur and eventually actualize, we may have physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic Being or beings (what I define as ‘symbolic’ pertains to thinking, human thinking precisely; henceforth, a human domain, exclusively).

It is exactly in virtue of this coming into appearance (emergence) and abiding presence (standing forth) that Being and beings share with place, that place is a phenomenon (from the Greek etymology of the word phainestai which means ‘to appear’).[40] An event is an occurrence (phusis is the occurrence of the Being and beings), and an occurrence is always an occurrence of processes: given that any occurrence is always a ‘taking place’ of certain processes, the place taken (or ‘conquered’ — that’s why we also speak of place as ‘domain’: any domain is a dominion) by Being or by beings is something they have in common: however, it is not the same place, given that the processes that sustain Being and beings are of a different degree. Given that place accompanies both Being and beings (they both ‘take place’, as occurrences of nature-phusis), every time they appear and are present, a place also appears and is present with them: so, we come back to place as the constant presence without which no Being or beings can emerge/manifest/ and abide/resist in their manifestation, and vice versa (Archytian Axiom). ‘Emergence’, ‘manifestation’, ‘abiding in presence’ as place of processes. One might think that place is a substrate (hupokeimenon) for Being and beings; but since place appears whenever Being and beings appear and is not precedent to them (place is always the place of their emergence/appearance/manifestation, that is, place is always the place of processes sustaining Being and beings) it means that place, Being and beings together (and together with time-as-duration, which is intrinsic to the processuality of place, Being and beings), constitute the metaphysical and physical ground of any form of existence (here my view diverges from Heidegger in the sense that I am also considering the ultimate ground, like Heidegger, but I do not ascribe it to Being: I ascribe it to place, which is common to Being and beings, this fact paving the way for a multilevel ontology).

Place as standing forth. The stability of Being and place.

Continuing with the analogy between the terminology and conceptualizations used by Heidegger and some of the characters of the reformed notion of place I call for here, another aspect which is common to Being and place (but also to beings and place) is the character of stability. Without stability, no process could be eventually actualized into stable entities (beings), which means that no place could even exist, actually! (I usually speak of physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic entities-place, as the actualization of their corresponding processes). Concerning the relation between place and ‘stability’ — ‘standing forth’ is the term used by Heidegger in this Section C, especially — which is characteristic of Being (and beings), I’ve also spoken at some length in the article Body, Place Existence, which was based on the phenomenological analysis of the gestures on the pitch of the notorious Portuguese football player, Cristiano Ronaldo: I have shown that his famous motto ‘eu estou aqui’ (that is: ‘I am here’ — which is a genuine as well as naïve way to communicate the absolute necessity of a ‘here’ for Being or beings to exist; in this case the ‘being’ is his powerful body) to celebrate his outstanding presence on a football pitch, was reified by means of certain gestures or stances of his body, assuming the semblance of a statue, denoting stability or a constant presence, something you can always refer to. As I’ve already said elsewhere, these are all terms built on the linguistic root ‘sta’, which refers to a spot or place, ultimately. We should intend this place as the necessary requirement for any beings (and, before beings, Being) to exist: it is place that offers a stable/constant spot, site or place for Being and beings to appear, ultimately; without place there would be no Being at all. In this way, we have returned to the principle established by the Archytian Axiom.

Returning to the resume of  Introduction to Metaphysics, Heidegger closes this Section C of Chapter One on phusis by explaining the reasons why the original understanding of Being and beings as ‘emerging abiding sway’ later degenerated into ‘nature’, where natural beings were especially understood as physical, that is material beings. This narrowing of meaning in the sense of the physical happened when the domain of phusis entered in contrast with the domain of techne, a human domain, ultimately, an abstract domain, as abstract as it is any domain of human knowledge (this is what distinguishes human beings from other living beings). Let’s hear directly from Heidegger:  ‘Phusis  gets narrowed down by contrast with techne — which means neither art nor technology but a kind of knowledge, the knowing disposal over the free planning and arranging and controlling of arrangements.’ [41]

‘Phusis’  gets narrowed down by contrast with techne — which means neither art nor technology but a kind of knowledge…

Here, Heidegger is quite elusive with his explanation and says: ‘it would require a special study to clarify what is essentially the same in phusis and techne’. [42] Therefore, I will directly refer to that ‘special study’ to elucidate somewhat this question: I’m referring to Heidegger’s commentary on Aristotle’s interpretation of phusis, in the essay ‘On the being and conception of phusis in aristotle’s physics B, 1’.[43] In that essay, Heidegger showed how the Stagirite elaborated the interpretation of phusis, which was also based on the contraposition between phusis and techne. In its basic sense, this contraposition is between what is made by nature (phusis) and what is made by humans, that is artefacts (this is techne,  in the sense of ‘producing know-how’, or the ‘knowing disposal…’ Heidegger referred to in the aforementioned quotation): in fact, beings made by nature — planets, sea, mountains, rivers, trees, birds insects, etc. have in themselves the originating principle of birth, growth, development, being-moved or standing still that is, an internal force as the cause of their change. Conversely, beings made by men — e.g., the cathedral of Strasbourg, Bach’s fugues, Hölderlin’s hymns, etc.have in an external force (the human beings and their ‘producing know-how’) the reason for their existence. This fact, this contraposition of domains between phusis and techne had the following limiting consequence for men’s subsequent understanding of nature: the division of the physical from the psychical — mind or soul, understood as that which is ‘ensouled’, or what is ‘alive’ against what is merely physical, in the sense of inorganic —, which, instead, for the Greeks belonged to phusis as a whole.  In brief, according to Heidegger, with the transformation of phusis into ‘nature’ (in the narrower sense) the greatness at the inception of the Greek philosophy came to an end, and phusis turned into a ‘philosophy of nature, a representation of all things according to which they are really of a material nature’ — e.g., atoms and electrons in modern physics.[44] This transformation was already at work in the academies of Plato and Aristotle, Heidegger explains; yet, in Aristotle, there was still an echo of the originary understanding of phusis, when, for instance,  he speaks of ‘the grounds of beings as such’, in the Metaphysics.[45]

Strasbourg cathedral
Image 03: Strasbourg and its cathedral.

Reality and Nature: ‘phusis’ as the place of processes.

A brief note in regard to what we have just said, and my interpretation of the concept of place. It seems to me, understanding reality (nature) as the place of processes (physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic processes, to begin with) is in agreement with the originary understanding of phusis, as the domain where the physical and the psychical are included and complementary, beyond any subsequent division or dualism. For me, this inclusive domain of Being and beings, which the ancient Greeks expressed through the term phusis, is the domain of place, since place is the common ground that allows all divisions to be recomposed within an all-embracing unity. Place substantiates that unity. Whether we speak of physicochemical processes and related beings (planets, rocks, sea, etc.), biological and social processes and related beings (grass, trees, insects, birds, men, football teams, institutions, etc.), or cultural/symbolic/intellectual processes and related beings (the cathedral of Strasbourg, Bach’s fugues, Hölderlin’s hymns, or I would add to Heidegger’s examples concerning the domains of techne Einstein’s field equations), they are all part of the same placial structure, which is One and is shared by any beings, even if at different levels of existence (see On the Structure of Reality): Being, is the place of processes, the common ground for all that exists. Any subsequent differentiation into beings starting from the originary place as the Being of beings, and any possible form of reductionism to a specific level existence of place as beings, either ‘physical’ or ‘psychical’ (objective or subjective interpretations of reality), is surpassed if we pose place at the origin of any possible differentiation: beings are place, ultimately, and any place is related to other places, in a chain of solidarity, which results in all that exists as One, single nested place: the Cosmos as an ordered system (see the article Places Everywhere). Rocks, insects, men and equations or hymns are fundamentally the same: they are all places, the place of processes, not just in the metaphorical sense, but in the strict sense. Place and what always accompanies place — that is, processes — allow me to say that I am in rocks, I am in the sea, I am in a tree, or in a poem, the same way those beings are in are me; it is place, it is the reality understood as place — the place of processes — that allows to recovering the fundamental solidarity or ‘withness’ between the many different beings, human beings included, until we reach their originary, common source of existence: place as the Being of beings.  Look at the Image 9 or Image 10 of the article Places Everywhere: aren’t those curved and straight lines, representing relations and, as such, processes, the common ground for all that exists? Aren’t those forms a way for Being and beings to come out of concealment, either in the form of a human being (represented by the face of Pollock — Image 9), or a model that anticipates the structure of an architecture (Image 10)? Here, beyond appearances, the solidarity between the physical and the psychical (the domains at the extremities of all that exists, which square the circle of reality as One encompassing domain, from physicochemical to symbolic or intellectual, from phusis to techne) comes out of concealment in the form of relation: place is their trait d’union, place is what allows those relations to exist. Within this hypothesis, the dualism between phusis (in the narrower sense of natural beings) and techne (in the sense of what is typically human, ‘the producing know-how’, which belongs to the symbolic or intellectual domain), or the dualism between the physical and the psychical is recomposed within the encompassing embrace of place — the place of processes. This fact, this re-composition of the existent by way of place means that place, understood in this way, acquires an encompassing dimension, very close to the original sense of phusis that Heidegger is delineating. So, the fundamental message I’m giving here is that by way of place, by way of a reformed notion of place, we can recover and rediscover our relationship with nature, in the original sense of phusis.

by way of ‘place’, we can rediscover

and recover our relationship with nature 

Coming back to the resume of Introduction to Metaphysics, the brief reference to Aristotle and the seeming difference between physics and metaphysics, in Section C, is the occasion for Heidegger to elucidate the meaning of that important term — metaphysics and to affirm the priority of philosophical thinking with respect to scientific thinking in the next section:

Chapter One — Section D. The meaning of ‘Introduction to Metaphysics’

To ask about Being, in general, is to ask beyond specific beings; then, this form of asking wants to go beyond the natural things understood in the narrower sense. These ‘natural things’, or ‘what naturally is’, in Greek is ‘ta phusika’; so given that when we are asking about Being we are not interested in any particular domain of nature — inanimate, bodies, plants, animals… all these are natural beings —, that is we want to go on beyond ‘ta physica’. This way, we are entering the domain of metaphysics: in fact, ‘beyond’, or, more precisely, as Heidegger says, ‘away over something’ and ‘over beyond’ in Greek is ‘meta’, hence we have the expression ‘meta ta physica’. Then: ‘Philosophical questioning about beings as such is meta ta phusika; it questions on beyond beings, it is metaphysics’;[46] therefore, to ask ‘Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?’ — to ask about the Being of beings — is to enter the domain of metaphysics. The why-question ‘is the fundamental question of metaphysics. Metaphysics stands as the name for the enter and core that determines all philosophy.[47] Then, phusis as ‘physics’ in the ancient sense, is already beyond beings, the natural beings (is already metaphysics, ‘meta ta physica’), and we can understand why Heidegger says: “Physics [as phusis] determines the essence and the history of metaphysics from the inception onward.’ [48]

Concerning the lecture course (and therefore, the book — Introduction to Metaphysics), Heidegger points out that it is not specifically focused on metaphysics, rather it is an introduction to metaphysics. By way of the term ‘introduction’ Heidegger wants to put focus on the path that leads to metaphysics, the path that leads ‘into the asking of the fundamental question’;[49] then, Heidegger says, ‘the lecture course asks about the disclosedness of Being. Disclosedness means: the openedness of what the oblivion of Being closes off and conceals.’ [50]

Chapter One — Section E. Unfolding the Why-question by means of the question of Nothing

How the question of Being (and beings) is intuitively connected to the question of Nothing, I’ve already anticipated in a passage above when I made reference to the tagline that accompanies the title of this website: NATURA ABHORRET A VACUO (Image 01, above). Let’s see how Heidegger elucidates this metaphysical question, more in detail.

What seems a superfluous addition in the formulation of the Why-question — that is the final part ‘instead of nothing’ in the question ‘Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?’ — is not superfluous at all: it is an integral part of the question. Rather, according to Heidegger, this formulation of the Why-question shows that the question of Being and the question of Nothing are reciprocally connected and went side by side since its inception. Even if according to traditional thinking it seems illogical to speak about ‘nothing’ (talking about ‘nothing’ implies making it into something) and its inclusion in talk leads apparently to ‘pure nihilism’ (‘Talking about Nothing is illogical… Such talking about Nothing consists in utterly senseless proposition… Talking about Nothing is not only completely contrary to thought, but it undermines all culture and all faith. Whatever both disregards the fundamental law of thinking and also destroys faith and the will to construct is pure nihilism’) [51] Heidegger wonders if this traditional way of thinking rests on a misunderstanding: ‘what if both the concern for the proper respect for the fundamental rules of thinking as well as the fear of nihilism, which would both like to advise against talk of Nothing, rested on a misunderstanding?’ [52] The answer is immediate: ‘This is in fact the case… This lack of understanding stems from an oblivion of Being.[53] The elucidation of the question of Being in its connection with the question of Nothing is the background subject of the remaining parts of the book, and is introduced in the Section E.5., below; but, before passing to that specific question, this is the occasion for Heidegger to affirm the superiority of philosophy (and poetry) over logic and science, in Section E.3.: ‘it is only an illusion of rigor and scientificity when one appeals to the principle of contradiction, and to logic in general, in order to prove that all thinking and talk about Nothing is contradictory and therefore senseless… One cannot, in fact, talk about and deal with Nothing as if it were a thing, such as the rain out there, or a mountain, or any object at all; Nothing remains in principle inaccessible to all science… But this is a great misfortune only if one believes that scientific thinking alone is the authentic, rigorous thinking, that it alone can and must be made the measure even of philosophical thinking. But the reverse is the case.[54] Heidegger concludes his attack against logic and science: ‘All scientific thinking is just a derivative and rigidified form of philosophical thinking. Philosophy never arises from or through science. Philosophy can never belong to the same order as the sciences. It belongs to a higher order’.[55] Belonging to the same ‘higher order’, aside from philosophy, we find poetry. According to Heidegger,  the poet can also talk about Nothing ‘and not because the procedure of poetry, in the opinion of everyday understanding, is less rigorous, but because, in comparison to all mere science, an essential superiority of the spirit holds sway in poetry’.[56] An example of such poetic talk of Nothing is given by Heidegger in Section E.4., taking the case of The Road Leads On, 1934, by theNorwegian author Knut Hamsun, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920.

Now, Heidegger introduces the important question concerning the relation between Being and Nothing (Section E.5.), which will be the background subject for the rest of Chapter One especially, in the attempt to offer some stable ground to the fleeting essence of Being.

Chapter One — Section E.5. The wavering of beings between Being and the possibility of not-Being

This is a passage of capital importance to understand Heidegger’s metaphysical discourse: it is to understand the threshold that divides beings (and Being, which is intrinsic to them) from not-Being, the event that allows Being and beings to pass that threshold that leads into the domain of existence, and, in parallel, the event that prevents Being and beings to fall back, behind that threshold, into the abyss of Nothing. Reasoning about that threshold makes us realize that what seems a mere addition to the why-question (the assertion ‘instead of nothing’, which follows and completes ‘why are there beings at all’), is actually a mode to point out that beings are not unquestionably given: they are just a possibility, as not-Being is. So, Heidegger, by way of that question is actually asking: ‘Why are beings torn from the possibility of not-Being? Why do they not fall back into it constantly with no further ado? Beings are now no longer what just happens to be present at hand; they begin to waver…’.[57] Heidegger continues: ‘From now on, beings as such waver, insofar as we put them into question. The oscillation of this wavering reaches out into the most extreme and sharpest counterpossibility of beings, into not-Being and Nothing. The search for the Why now transforms itself accordingly. It does not just try to provide a present-at-hand ground for explaining what is present at hand — instead, we are now searching for a ground that is supposed to ground the dominance of beings as an overcoming of Nothing. The ground in question is now questioned as the ground of the decision for beings over against Nothing’.[58] This statement from Heidegger may explain why it is opportune to speak about a domain of existence when we are speaking of Being and beings: a ‘battle’ is in act every time Being prevails over not-Being — a battle to conquer a place, a dominion, hence a domain under the sunlight (‘…a ground that is supposed to ground the dominance of beings’). In this case, to speak about place as a dominion, as the ultimate ground (for being), is evidently an opportune metaphor.

It is now clear that the seeming superfluous addition ‘instead of nothing?’ is not superfluous at all; rather, it is an essential component of the question which is focused on the possibility of the oscillation between beings and nothing. This reminds us of what Heidegger said in a previous section: the main argument of the lecture course (Introduction to Metaphysics) is about the disclosedness of Being, that is the event that takes Being to the fore, the event that introduces Being and its unfolding into beings. So we are speaking about ‘beings, in their wavering between not-Being and Being. Insofar as beings stand up against the extreme possibility of not-Being, they themselves stand in Being’,[59] yet, we still have to elucidate what is the relation between Being and beings (‘how what we call Being is related to beings themselves’), and this, in turn, takes us back directly to Being, to the elucidation of its character, its status and precise meaning:  ‘How does it stand with Being?’,[60] Heidegger asks. That is: What about Being? What is its status? — the translators Fried and Polt say.

How does it stand with Being?

This is the subject of the next section, Section F.

The threshold of reality.

Before coming to that section, concerning this question — the relation between Being and not-Being — I want to make a brief pause, and say that, albeit in very broad terms and without knowing yet the details of Heidegger’s discourse on metaphysics as elaborated in Introduction to Metaphysics, in the past, I tried to imagine and visualize that kind of oscillation between not-Being and beings, that moment of passage, which, a few lines above, I have called ‘a threshold’ (see the article  Place, Space, and the Fabric of Reality). At that time, my references were especially Plato’s and Whitehead’s cosmologies: the Platonic chōra (Image 08 of that article represented the threshold as a sieve-like structure, the ‘in-between’) as the moment of transition between the world of sensible, mutable forms and the immutable world of ideas (a domain of thinking); at the same time, a moment of union and division: that is the way I have tried to imagine the ‘bastard’ nature of the chōra-concept. In parallel, with a view of Whitehead’s metaphysics, I also imagined that passage like a passage from a domain of pure processes (intended as an abstract ‘substrate’) to a domain understood in physical/material sense especially, generated by the actualization of such processes (yet, we should not limit ‘actualization’ to physical entities only: that which is in act, can be in act either in an abstract or in a concrete domain — I’m actually thinking at the red chair I’m currently sitting on: a domain of thinking is in act the same way the domain of concrete entities is in act). In the end, a horizon of co-existing binary oppositions: abstract and concrete, potential and actual… Is it possible to save the appearances of that schematic model, (Image 8 of Place, Space, and the Fabric of Reality) and adapt it to Heidegger’s metaphysics of Being and beings, against not-Being? That is: can the metaphysics of Plato and Whitehead coexist within the structure of Being that Heidegger is presenting? How? Our understanding of ‘the physical’ in the way Heidegger is explaining to us (what is a physical entity? What is phusis?), is necessary to admit the coexistence of such seemingly different models.

Chapter One — Section F. The prior question: How does it stand with Being?

How does it stand with Being? Heidegger asks; that is: What is the status of Being? What about Being? What is its meaning? What does Being consist in/of, precisely? The scope of these questions is to elucidate the difference between beings and Being, which still escapes us. Then, it’s time for some examples to elucidate this question. Let’s take a piece of chalk, Heidegger says; it is extended, it is relatively stable, that is, it has a stable form and colour, while we are looking at it, and, most of all, it is here. But it also has the possibility of not being here, and being there; the possibility not to be so big, and be drawn along the blackboard, etc. All these possibilities belong to the essence of the chalk, to its ‘nature’: ‘the chalk itself, as this being, is in this possibility… Every being, in turn has this Possible in it.[61] This possibility between Being and not-Being is exactly what we referred to in the Section above when Heidegger spoke about the ‘wavering of beings’; and ‘insofar as beings stand up against the extreme possibility of not-Being, they themselves stand in Being.[62] It seems Being is ‘wider’ than beings since it can hold them: in Being are beings. Still, we do not know their difference: ‘The distinction![63] Heidegger asks with emphasis: we are looking for their distinction. To cultivate this ambiguity that seems inherent in beings and Being, we have just seen two different ways for a being to be (we have taken the piece of chalk as a specific example of beings), or to stand in Being: first, as actually present, that is in the situation of being present-at-hand with a specific disposition, colour, form; then, as a potential presence, a ‘possibility’ which is always present in beings as far as beings stand in Being, instead of not-Being. This ambiguity concerning the meaning of the word ‘being’ is reflected in the Greek term to on. Let’s directly hear this important passage from Heidegger: ‘On the one hand, being means what at any time is in being, in particular this greyish-white, light, breakable mass, formed in such and such away. On the other hand, “being” means that which, as it were, “makes” this be a being instead of nonbeing <nichtseiend>, that which makes up the Being in the being, if it is a being. In accordance with this twofold meaning of the word “being,” the Greek “to on” often designates the second meaning, that is, not the being itself, what is in being, but rather “the in-being,” beingness, to be in being, Being. In contrast, the first meaning of “being” names the things themselves that are in being, either individually or as a whole, but always with reference to these things and not to their beingness, ousia. The first meaning of “to on” designates “ta onta” (entia), the second means “to einai” (esse).’ [64]

On the ambiguous meaning of ‘being’:

ENTITY (Gr. ta onta, Lat. entia) and/or

ESSENCE (Gr. to einai, Lat. esse), that is ‘beingness’ (Gr. ousia)

We made some steps forward in the definition of beings and Being, yet something is still missing: where is Being situated? and how Being stands in its distinction from beings?  Heidegger asks again. So, to sum up, this is what we are asking about, fundamentally: 1) ‘We are asking about the ground for the fact that beings are, and are what they are, and that there is not nothing instead’,[65] which takes us to the why-question with which we opened this inquiry into Being: Why are there beings at all instead of Nothing? 2) ‘We are interrogating beings in regard to their Being’, that is we are asking about their distinction.[66] To do that, we cannot avoid the prior elucidation of the character of Being; hence, the following question comes to the fore: 3) ‘How does it stand with Being?’, that is ‘What is the status of Being? What about Being?[67]

Again (we are still in Section F.1 of Chapter One), this is the time for Heidegger to make some examples, to shed some light on the mysteriousness of Being, which, for the moment, seems to be a flatus vocis, that is ‘no more than the sound of a word’ to say it with Heidegger. ‘Everywhere we find beings’, Heidegger says (to continue the analogy between Being, beings and place, analogously to Heidegger’s assertion, introducing this website I’ve said that ‘everywhere we find places’ in the article Places Everywhere); a building, including everything we find in it, like people, stairs, classrooms, furnishings, etc., is a being; a heavy thunderstorm is a being; a distant mountain is a being, a Romanesque portal is a being, as well as a state (German, England…) or a painting by Van Gogh. But this is the point: What is the Being of (those) beings? ‘Everything we have mentioned “is”, after all, and nevertheless—if we want to lay hold of Being it is always as if we were reaching into a void. The Being that we are asking about is almost like Nothing’.[68] This is Heidegger’s provisory conclusion: ‘Being remains undiscoverable, almost like Nothing, or in the end entirely so. The word “Being” is then finally just an empty word. It means nothing actual, tangible, real. Its meaning is an unreal vapor. So in the end Nietzsche is entirely right when he calls the “highest concepts” such as Being “the final wisp of evaporating reality”.’[69] This puzzling question Being as a vapor? An error? is further elaborated in Section F2. Nietzsche: Being as a vapor.

Yet, now we ask: Is it really so? Is Being really a vapor, an error? To instil some doubts on that provisory conclusion, Heidegger advances some other interrogatives: ‘What if the fault is not our own, we of today, nor that of our immediate or most distant forebears, but rather is based in a happening that runs through Western history from the inception onward…? What if it were possible that human beings… have a relation to beings but have long since fallen out of Being, without knowing it, and what if this were the innermost and most powerful ground of their decline?[70] These questions introduce the final section of Chapter One

Section F.3. Our destroyed relation to Being and the decline of the West

Here, Heidegger tries to elucidate the sense of the aforementioned questions and see how they condition the present situation for the Western world Europe in primis (the present situation and time for Heidegger, but, sadly enough, within a historical perspective that is still timely). Very briefly, Heidegger sees a connection between our incapacity to grasp the sense of Being and beings and the darkening of today’s world here,  the term ‘world’ is mainly considered in its spiritual sense and its darkening mainly contains a sense of ‘disempowering of the spirit, its dissolution, diminution, suppression, and misinterpretation’;[71] the essential happenings concerning such a ‘darkening’ Heidegger enumerates in this way: ‘the flight of the gods, the destruction of the earth, the reduction of human beings to a mass, the preeminence of the mediocre’;[72] asking about beings as such and as a whole, asking the question of Being is one of the essential conditions for awakening the spirit, Heidegger says.[73] Such a ‘disempowering of the spirit’ is evidently a specific condition of a particular type of being: the human being. A being which, now, we should better render with the original Heideggerian term Dasein, not used in an anthropological, psychological, or biological sense to define the human being, but, rather, used to describe ‘a condition into which human beings enter, either individually or collectively, at a historical juncture when Being becomes an issue for them’;[74] and this is exactly the case: we, human beings, have lost any trace of the original sense of Being. This loss is a historical loss the fruit of a historical happening that Heidegger referred to when he was wondering if our incapacity to grab the sense of Being (the vapor… the void word – here is the loss!) was the consequence of a happening that runs through Western history from the inception onward. As a consequence of that historical juncture, and, more acutely, in modern times, ‘Dasein began to slide into a world that lacked [that] depth… All things sank to the same level… The prevailing dimension became that of extension and number. To be able… means only practicing a routine in which anyone can be trained, always combined with a certain amount of sweat and display… this all intensified until it turned into the measureless so-on-and-so-forth of the ever-identical and the indifferent, until finally this quantitative temper became a quality of its own. By now… the predominance of a cross-section of the indifferent is no longer something inconsequential and merely barren but is the onslaught of that which aggressively destroys all rank and all that is world-spiritual, and portrays these as a lie. This is the onslaught of what we call the demonic [in the sense of the destructively evil]. There are many omens of the arising of this demonism… One such omen is the disempowering of the spirit’.[75] Then Heidegger enumerates some aspects regarding this ‘misinterpretation’ or ‘disempowering’ of the spirit, which, very briefly and, inevitably, roughly, I summarize in the triumph of quantity and number over quality and poetic image, of the intellect (as intelligence) over the spirit and body. The way for recovering the originary power of the spirit intrinsic to Dasein (Heidegger speaks about the ‘awakening of the spirit’), happens by way of ‘asking the question of Being’.[76]

For the moment, the provisional conclusion of this introductory discourse on Being was that Being appeared to us as a void word, a vapor, an evanescent meaning. This question coincides with the fact that many essential words are in the same situation; this is the consequence of our misrelation to language, which ‘in general is used up and abused’.[77] But this is not a particular case of the general abuse of language, quite the contrary: ‘the destroyed relation to Being as such is the real ground for our whole misrelation to language.[78]

The conclusion of Chapter One concerning the intimate relation (a distorted relation…) between Being and language takes us to the second chapter which is devoted to the elucidation of the question of Being from the linguistic perspective: will we be successful in determining the meaning of Being on the base of its grammatical and etymological analysis? This is Heidegger’s next step. But before that allow me a couple of considerations to show you how these latter remarks by Heidegger on the disempowering of the spirit can be intertwined with the spatial/placial question.

The disempowerment of the spirit and the empowerment of space. The triumph of space over place. On void words and evanescent meanings: space misplaced for place. Place: a way to recover the originary spirit of Being and beings as phusis. The complementarity between place and space.

When Heidegger spoke about the darkening of the world and the misinterpretation of the spirit, in a few strokes he depicted a happening running through Western history from the inception onward, culminating in the current modern epoch, where — he says — the prevailing dimension [of all things] became that of extension and number. THOSE WORDS HAVE A TERRIFIC DESCRIPTIVE POWER, for me: no one better than Heidegger, and in such a concise manner, was able to describe with just one stroke the history of mankind over the last 25 centuries.

the prevailing dimension [of all things] became that of

extension and number

I take those ‘extension and number’ as the icons of modernity, icons of quantity and measurability, icons of what the human being’s spirituality became. ICONS OF SPACE. Space, the modern concept of space —what is space if not pure extension, pure measurability and quantity (i.e., number)? is certainly one of the decisive concepts functional to this running happening through Western history depicted by Heidegger; functional to the disempowerment of the spirit, where I take ‘spirit’ to be the vector force of qualitative values, which seem to be little keen to, or no keen at all to quantification, mass production/diffusion, and seriality, which, instead, are all distinctive characters of modernity.  

From the perspective of spatial and/or placial concepts I have reviewed that happening running through Western history in a couple of articles (Place and Space:  Philosophical History and Space and Place: A Scientific History – Part One and Part Two): very briefly, the transformation of men’s understanding of nature (phusis, in the narrower sense) from being place-based to being space-based is an underlying characteristic trait that accompanies that happening. That transformation — ‘from place to space’ — is not a coincidence or a side-back effect: adapting Heidegger’s words to this circumstance, I would say that the destroyed relation to Being as such is the real ground for our whole misrelation to ‘spatial concepts’ (here, the expression ‘spatial concepts’ replaces the one used by Heidegger, that is ‘language’). This is totally consonant with Heidegger’s pronunciation: after all, what space and place are if not ‘words’, that is, elements of language? The same way ‘Being’ was deprived of its original meaning and driving force, so ‘place’ was: from a metaphysical agent, the place of Being — this is the powerful message behind the Archytian axiom —, and from an active physical agent — this is the powerful message behind Aristotle’s conception of place as topos (which, indeed, had also a metaphysical connotation, given that there was not a strict separation between the two dimensions, at the time of Aristotle) —, place, through Western history, transformed into a passive background, eventually it took the semblance of a ‘site’ or ‘location’ dispersed within space: a metaphysical and a physical loss, as Edward Casey already noted (‘Without place, things would not only fail to be located; they would not even be things: they would have no place to be the things they are. The loss would be ontological and not only cosmological: it would be a loss in a kind of being and not merely in the number of beings that exists’).[79] Both senses of place — its originary interconnected metaphysical and physical characters — I want to recover: place understood as a system of processes, from physicochemical to symbolic/intellectual, is a way to do that. The gathering-where of the forces unfolding, standing forth, and presenting as Being (this is the place of processes, in its most universal sense) and eventually coming into beings (this is the place of actualized processes, physicochemical, biological, social and intellectual/symbolic processes, to begin with) represents the complementary metaphysical and physical sides of place. The where is one thing with the when (precessuality in the form of duration) of what exists, in actuality and/or potentiality, in particular and/or universal sense. This all-embracing structure of place (a domain or dominion of existence), is where the Being of beings recovers its originary meaning as phusis, in its most encompassing sense.

Having proposed a way to recover the originary sense of place, as the grounding domain of Being and beings, of being and becoming, (in due time, in parallel with Heidegger’s discourse, we will add a couple of ‘properties’ more, to this domain of place), allow me a couple of consideration more, on ‘space’. After years of observations and thinking about this subject, I believe few words have the same evanescent meaning or empty sense that  ‘space’ has — I mean ‘evanescent meaning’ and ‘empty sense’ not in regard to its originary meaning, but with respect to the explosion of modern interpretations and the importance we have attributed to this concept in the last few centuries to the detriment of other spatial (or placial) concepts, e.g., the concept of place, or the field-concept: ‘this is the consequence of our misrelation to language, which “in general is used up and abused” — here, Heidegger’s reflection on language and the meaning of many important words is more than a warning. ‘Space’ or the constant reference to space — I say — is one of those cases in which language is ‘used up and abused’. What is almost incredible for me is that, in spite of that evanescent meaning, in the course of history men tried to fill that evanescence in many different ways: not just in a metaphorical or linguistic/symbolic sense, but in a physical sense, especially! Space is an abstract concept: no ‘physical space’ exists; that expression is just an unwarranted oxymoron. Those modern attempts were successful… It was the world turned upside down, with nobody protesting for that or, at least, with a few eminent thinkers protesting for that, and many of them changing their minds on the subject more than one time, e.g., Kant and Einstein (I redirect you to the histories of place and space I already reviewed in the past articles), to point out how subtle the question of space (and place) is. Today, we are still far from a shared understanding of the nature of space (or place). I just say that its (or ‘their’, if we also refer to place) concealed meaning is one thing with the question of Being, as elaborated by Heidegger: the ‘unconcealment’ of the originary meaning of space and place happens simultaneously with the ‘unconcealment’ of Being and beings. We must grasp the originary sense of Being to grasp the originary power of place, and the originary sense of space, which is another powerful notion, complementary to place, and, as such, it cannot subsume place, contrarily to the happenings that we already analyzed through the history of western thought. This complementarity between place and space I want to reinstate, when I say that the concrete and the abstract are complementary parts of one and the same reality: to begin with, place is concrete, even if place is an overarching concept and, as such, it also has an abstract dimension; this is the consequence of the definition I gave: ‘place is any real entity emerging from inorganic, organic, social and symbolic — or intellectual — processes’; space, contrarily to place, has no physical dimensions, it only has abstract dimensions. And as I’ve said elsewhere, we should be cautious with its use across domains, because, in virtue of its terrific metaphorical power, we tend to be entangled in it and lose orientation/direction, misplacing what is abstract (space) for what is concrete (place, to begin with). This is the appropriate moment to recall this quote from Middlemarch, by George Eliot: ‘… all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them’.

A final consideration regarding the disempowerment of the spirit and the empowerment of space. I associate that to the overturning of the meanings of place and space: while place in the origin had ‘felt qualities’, that is physical/concrete qualities in line with the Aristotelian conception (that’s why I often repeat that place, ‘to begin with’, has a physical and concrete character), with the time passing by that physical connotation pertaining to place by has been totally obscured, and finally replaced by the evanescent character of space. The apical moment of this millenary process of transformation was the invention of the concept of absolute space, by Newton. Space,  which is the representation of ‘dimension and number’ — typical traits of modernity — allowed the substitution/transformation of quality and spirit (which are characters intrinsic to place) with quantity. Today, this transformation is observable in the ever-present use of the term ‘space’ whose numerical and quantitatively measurable character has become the Trojan horse for today’s market economy and industry: space has a market value, space is easily amenable to organization and quantification; these characteristics finally determined its triumphant use in any sector of the modern society. The sign of this triumph of the concept of space, which has conquered the mind of people and substituted the name of places, I have tried to show in the photographic report The Feeling for Space and Place.

Image 04a,b: What we used to call ‘shop’, ‘store’, ‘boutique’, ‘showroom’, ‘office’, ‘park’, ‘flowerbed’, etc., — which are all different typologies of place — we have flattened behind a single representative word: ‘space’. ‘SPACE AVAILABLE (for) SHORT TERM RENTAL’ the sign says. Photos from the series ‘The Feeling for Space and Place’: photographic report on how the terms ‘space’ and ‘place’ are perceived and used with communicative intent through the streets of Milano – Alessandro Calvi Rollino Architetto. 

That photographic report has the scope to render how the concepts of space and place are perceived and used with communicative intent, through the streets of Milano. Sometimes used interchangeably and in the same context, sometimes not, from the report, it results that the ratio between space and place is 5:1, that is: the term ‘space’ is 5 times more recurrent than ‘place’, in signs, billboards, shop windows, public banners, warnings, communications, etc. This is a clear sign that the mind of the modern man seems to be more attracted by the vacuity and indeterminateness of space rather than by the plenitude and determinateness of place.

The difficulty to grasp the sense of Being — its meaning — took Heidegger to the next step: the linguistic analysis of the word ‘Being’, to see if it was possible to surmount the obstacles to its comprehension. This linguistic analysis consists of two parts: first, the investigation of the formal character of the word ‘Being’, that is its ‘grammar’ — this is the subject of Section B. The grammar of ‘Being’. Second, the investigation of the originary meaning of the word ‘Being’: this is the subject of Section C. The etymology of ‘Being’.

Before those two sections, in the introductory Section A. The superficiality of the science of linguistics, Heidegger warns us about the fact that linguistic forms (present indicative, imperfect, infinitive, substantive, etc.) are mere technicalities or mechanisms that we have used ‘to dissect language and establish rules [so that, in the end] language and the study of language have gotten stuck in these rigid forms as if in a net of steel.[80] Language and its rules contributed to transforming words into empty shells. All our attention to language will prove to be hopeless for our scopes (either the comprehension of Being, in our specific case, or the comprehension of language, in general) if we do not succeed in reconstructing the spiritual world within our schools, instead of the currently prevailing scientific atmosphere, Heidegger says. Finally, he reminds us that what is at issue with the forthcoming linguistic analysis ‘is an essential clarification of the essence of Being as regards its essential involvement with the essence of language.[81]

Chapter Two — Section B. The grammar of the Word ‘Being’

Let’s start with the analysis of the word ‘Being:

Chapter Two — Section B.1. The derivation of the noun “das Sein” [Being] from the infinitive “sein” [to be]

Heidegger introduces this question by noting that ‘Being’ <das Sein> corresponds to other verbal forms like ‘going’, ‘falling’, ‘dreaming’, etc., which behave like the words ‘bread’, ‘house’, ‘thing’, etc., which are names. It means the verb has been transformed into a substantive, it is used like a name: this has been done ‘by way of a definite form of the verb (the temporal word) that in Latin is called the “modus infinitivus”,’ Heidegger says.[82] So, ‘Being’ is a kind of hybrid form in the sense that it is a derivation of the two basic forms of language, that is the verb and the substantive: that’s why the grammatical form ‘Being’ is also called a ‘verbal substantive’.[83] So, we have: 1) the verb (which denotes the most general form of expression of an action, including different temporal modes: present, imperfect, past, etc.); 2) the infinitive (which denotes a specific mode of the verb: in our specific case, ‘to be’); and 3) the substantive, or name, which denotes an ‘a-temporal’ mode of expression. To begin the analysis of ‘Being’, we must go back to the modus infinitivus  — that is the form ‘to be’— since in the formation of the word ‘Being’ the decisive precursor is the infinitive mode ‘to be’; it is ‘that grammatical form which provides the transitional phase in the development of the verbal substantive Being.[84]

With the question about the essence of the substantive and of the verb — Heidegger observes — we find ourselves in the midst of the question about the essence of language’.[85] We often wonder about the order of precedence between verbs and names in regard to the originary character of speech and speaking  ‘whether the primordial form of the word is the noun (substantive) or the verb[86], but Heidegger postpones the answer to that question.

Chapter Two — Section B.2. The derivation of the Latin term modus infinitivus from Greek philosophy and grammar

The term ‘infinitive’ for a verb (to go, to come, to fall… to be) comes from the Latin ‘modus infinitivus’, which is ‘the mode of unboundedness, of indeterminateness, regarding the manner in which a verb exercises and indicates the function and direction of its meaning.[87] But the real ground for that grammatical form is not Latin, but Greek: it stems from the work of the Greek grammarians, so we must turn to the analysis of Greek language (and philosophy).

Chapter Two — Section B.2.a. ‘Onoma’ and ‘rhema’ as examples of the dependence of Greek grammar on Greek philosophy

According to Heidegger, the development of Western grammar began with the meditation of the Greeks on language. One of the first and decisive sources of the division of language into nouns and verbs (in the Greek form of ‘onoma’ and ‘rhema’) stemmed from the work of Plato (in the Sophist), a division ‘worked out and first established in the most immediate and intimate connection with the conception and interpretation of Being.’ [88]

One of the first and decisive sources of the division of language into nouns and verbs (in the Greek forms of ‘onoma’ and ‘rhema’) stemmed from the work of Plato (in the Sophist), a division ‘worked out and first established in the most immediate and intimate connectionwith the conception and interpretation of Being’

While before Plato those two terms, ‘onoma’ and ‘rhema’, indicated all speaking, that is they both indicated the linguistic name of the thing (as such, distinguished from the named thing) and the speaking of a word the action (which, later, was exclusively conceived as ‘rhema’), ‘Plato provides the first interpretation and foundation of the distinction… [and] proceeds from a general characterization of the function of words. “Onoma” in the wider sense is “deloma tei phonei peri ten ousian”: a revelation by means of sound in relation to and in the sphere of the Being of beings.’ [89]

Concerning the specific association between onoma, rhema, and the sphere of beings with respect to our possible dispositions with them (in the sense of: 1. the things we have something to do with in Greek pragma; 2. our doing and acting in the broadest sense in Greek praxis)[90], we may have beings as ‘deloma pragmatos (onoma)’, that is ‘a manifestation of things’; and beings as ‘deloma praxeos (rhema)’, that is ‘a manifestation of doing’. When a construction weaves both together (that is when a construction puts together the name referred to a thing and the verb or action direct to that thing), there is ‘the shortest and (at the same time) the first (real) discourse’, in Greek: ‘logos elachistos te kai protos’.[91] I call your attention to the introduction of the term ‘logos’, here,  in the primordial sense of ‘putting together’ or ‘gathering separated parts’ since this conception is essential, not just for the interpretation of Being, as Heidegger is going to show, but also for the interpretation of the concept of place I’m arguing for here (there is a semantic affinity between the Greek ‘logos’, and the Latin ‘locus Italian ‘luogo which means ‘place’: in due time, I will return on this question to show that the two meanings are strictly connected).

Chapter Two — Section B.2.b. ‘Enklisis’ and ‘ptosis’ as based on the Greek understanding of Being as constancy

We are talking about the ‘modus infinitivus’ of the verb (that is, ‘to be’): this entails there is also a ‘modus finitus’, or, as Heidegger says, ‘a mode of limitedness and definiteness in verbal meaning.’ [92] Now, Heidegger asks: ‘what is the Greek prototype for this distinction?’ [93]This is a very important passage since this question of the ‘distinction’ between different linguistic forms somehow reconnects to the question of the ‘wavering’ between the different possibilities of beings Being or not-Being  that what we have already introduced in Chapter One — Section E.5. The wavering of beings between Being and the possibility of not-Being thereby connecting the question of language to the question of Being (as anticipated above, the two questions were first elaborated together by Plato, in the Sophist).  In the case of language, the verbal and nominal expression of such ‘wavering’ between different possibilities (modes for verbs, and cases for nouns), in Greek was designated by the terms ‘enklisis’ and ‘ptosis’. In the beginning, ‘ptosis’ designated any kind of inflection, or deviation both for nouns and verbs; when the differences between these forms had been worked out more clearly, the inflection of the noun was called ‘ptosis’ (‘casus’, in Latin), while the inflection of the verb was called ‘enklisis’ (‘declinatio’).[94] Now, pay attention because these are very important passages: they are central for the comprehension of the relation between Being and language. We have said that ‘ptosis’ and ‘enklisis’ are deviations from the principal part of words and verbs;  literally, those terms mean ‘a falling, tipping or inclining. This implies a dripping-off from an upright, straight stance’, Heidegger says.[95] This is elucidated in the following section:

Chapter Two — Section B.2.b.i. Standing and phusis

The passage we have just mentioned here and the following one are decisive to understanding the connection between the forms of language (as we have introduced them so far),  and the original interpretation of Being, by the Greeks. After having said that ‘incliningimplies a dripping-off from an upright, straight stance’ Heidegger continues: ‘this standing-there, this taking and maintaining a stand that stands erected high in itself, is what the Greeks understood as Being.[96]

Image 05: Even if the column present-at-hand in Aquileia is a real being, the image suggests the conceptualization concerning the ‘wavering’ of a being (i.e., the Roman column in the picture) between ‘Being’ and ‘not-Being’: Being, as taking and maintaining a stand an event which is eventually actualized and concretized within the limits of the erected column existing on-site; not-Being, as a possibility for Being an ‘inclination’, or an ‘enklisis’ from a linguistic perspective; this is an alternative to its actual/present state, an event for which actualization would mean a falling column.

standing-there [as] taking and maintaining a stand that stands erected high in itself, is what the Greeks understood as Being

Heidegger continues introducing another decisive concept, that of ‘limit’, in Greek ‘peras’ (it is decisive to interpret the concept of ‘Being’, and I say — to interpret the concept of place, going beyond the false presuppositions of modernity, which is an issue I will deal with immediately after the resume of this important Section): ‘Whatever takes such a stand becomes “constant” in itself and thereby freely and on its own runs up against the necessity of its limit, “peras”. This “peras” is not something that first accrues to a being from outside. Much less is it some deficiency in the sense of a detrimental restriction. Instead, the self-restraining hold that comes from a limit, the having-of-itself wherein the constant holds itself, is the Being of beings; it is what first makes a being be a being as opposed to a nonbeing.[97]

‘the self-restraining hold that comes from a limit [peras], the having-of-itself wherein the constant holds itself, is the Being of beings;it is what first makes a being be a being as opposed to a nonbeing

This is also the occasion for Heidegger to introduce other important philosophical concepts, around which many discussions arose in the history of Western thought, concerning the status, agency (internal? External?), form, appearance and presence of physical bodies, if not of the Cosmos as a whole: I’m speaking of the concepts of ‘telos’, ‘entelecheia’, ‘morphe’, ‘eidos or idea’, and ‘ousia’, which are related to each other in a logical chain of reasoning, and, all of them, based on the concept of limit peras’. In this long and decisive passage which I report in its entirety, let’s see how Heidegger relates ‘peras’, ‘telos’, ‘entelecheia’, ‘morphe’, ‘eidos-idea’, ‘ousia’ and the question of ‘Being’, after having said that a limit… is what first makes a being be a being as opposed to a nonbeing:

Let’s see how Heidegger relates ‘peras’, ‘telos’, ‘entelecheia’, ‘morphe’, ‘eidos-idea’, ‘ousia’ and the question of ‘Being’:

For something to take such a stand therefore means for it to attain its limit, to de-limit itself. Thus a basic characteristic of a being is its “telos”, which does not mean goal or purpose, but end. Here “end” does not have any negative sense, as if “end” meant that something can go no further, that it breaks down and gives out. Instead, “end” means completion in the sense of coming to fulfillment <Vollendung >. Limit and end are that whereby beings first begin to “be”. This is the key to understanding the highest term that Aristotle used for Being: “entelecheia”, something’s holding-(or maintaining)-itself-in-its-completion-(or limit). What was done with the term “entelechy” by later philosophy (cf. Leibniz), not to mention biology, demonstrates the full extent of the decline from what is Greek. Whatever places itself into and thereby enacts its limit, and thus stands, has form, “morphe”. The essence of form, as understood by the Greeks, comes from the emergent placing-itself-forth-into-the-limit. But from an observer’s point of view, what stands-there-in-itself becomes what puts itself forth, what offers itself in how it looks. The Greeks call the look of a thing its “eidos” or “idea”. Initially, “eidos”resonates with what we mean when we say that a thing has a face, a visage, that it has the right look, that it stands. The thing “fits.” It rests in its appearing, that is, in the coming-forth of its essence. What grounds and holds together all the determinations of Being we have listed is what the Greeks experienced without question as the meaning of Being, which they called “ousia”, or more fully “parousia”. The usual thoughtlessness translates “ousia” as “substance” and thereby misses its sense entirely.In German, we have an appropriate expression for “parousia” in our word “An-wesen” (coming-to-presence). We use “Anwesen” as a name for a self-contained farm or homestead. In Aristotle’s times, too, “ousia” was still used in this sense as well as in its meaning as a basic philosophical word. Something comes to presence. It stands in itself and thus puts itself forth. It is. For the Greeks, “Being” fundamentally means presence.’ [98]

Something comes to presence. It stands in itself and thus puts itself forth. It is.For the Greeks, ‘Being’ fundamentally means presence.

Nature and Language: changing the meaning of concepts.

Just one important observation, here, before continuing with Heidegger’s decisive passage, which is not over yet. I want to call your attention to the concepts of ‘idea’ and ‘substance’ — which more than other concepts have characterized the development of philosophy and physics (this is the subject of a forthcoming article: The Concepts of Place, Space, and the Nature of Physical Existence) — and let you note how our modern understanding of those concepts is completely overturned with respect to the original meanings of the Greeks, through the words ‘eidos’ and ‘ousia’; moreover, as if this overturning of meanings were not enough, we are here at the inception of any future dualistic understanding of nature: we have split the Being of beings into ‘idea’ in the sense of something immaterial (a mental product, something subjective, which is a meaning not consonant with what we have just apprehended from Heidegger), and ‘substance’, in the sense of something material (a product of nature, something objective — again a meaning which is not consonant with the originary Greek understanding of ‘ousia’). We have split a unity (the unity of nature, or phusis in the originary Greek sense) into parts, without any possibility to reconstruct that unity given that we have changed the meanings of the words and concepts that originally gave a sense to that unity (‘eidos’ and ‘ousia’). This overturning of meanings is also what happened at first, with the concept of place, and, soon after, with space. The difficulty for us, modern people, to reconstruct a genuine relationship with nature starts from here: from our misconceived relation with language (and by means of language, with the terms that gave a sense to what is within and without us) which is the human way to belong to nature, as an ingrained part of it, and not as something above or apart from it (though sharing the same starting point of Heidegger, with this final statement I part ways with Heidegger’s general project concerning the human Being depicted in Introduction to Metaphysics, and, even more, I take a distance from his highly debatable – unacceptable? – assertions concerning the metaphysical value of a people. Regarding the relationship between human beings and nature, I rejoin Heidegger when he revised his positions in Letter on Humanism — the German text was first published in 1947), but let’s get back to Heidegger’s Section on ‘standing’ and ‘phusis’.

The chain of logical passages that started with the concept of ‘limit’ (peras) and passed through ‘telos’, ‘entelecheia’, ‘morphe’, ‘eidos’, and ‘ousia’ closes itself turning back to the meaning of Being (and beings) as ‘phusis’. Heidegger says: ‘What we have said helps us to understand the Greek interpretation of Being that we mentioned at the beginning, in our explication of the term “metaphysics”—that is, the apprehension of Being as phusis. The later concepts of “nature,” we said, must be held at a distance from this: “phusis” means the emergent self-upraising, the self-unfolding that abides in itself. In this sway, rest and movement are closed and opened up from an originary unity. This sway is the overwhelming coming-to-presence that has not yet been surmounted in thinking, and within which “that which” comes to presence essentially unfolds as beings. But this sway first steps forth from concealment—that is, in Greek, “aletheia” (unconcealment) happens—insofar as the sway struggles itself forth as a world. Through world, beings first come into being.[99]

‘phusis’ means the emergent self-upraising [i.e., sway], the self-unfolding that abides in itself. This sway is the overwhelming coming-to-presence… within which “that which” comes to presence essentially unfolds as beings. But this sway first steps forth from concealment — that is, in Greek, “aletheia” (unconcealment) happens

Here, there are a couple of terms more that deserve special attention, and will lead Heidegger to the next sections concerning the elucidation of Being: I refer to the concepts of ‘sway’, especially, and to ‘unconcealment’ (aletheia), both of them referred to the event of Being and beings as ‘phusis’. Phusis is characterized as the emergent self-upraising, the self-unfolding that abides in itself: ‘this powerful upsurge of the presence of beings’ is what the expression ‘sway’, used by Heidegger, wants to suggest.[100]

Aletheia’ and ‘standing’ as processuality of Place; place and  the Being of beings as presence.

Another brief stop, here, to comment on how some of the concepts used by Heidegger to clarify the original conception of phusis, in Section B.2.b.i. Standing and phusis, may relate to the revised notion of place I’m arguing for in the pages of this website. Such a revised notion can be thought of as the ground upon which it is possible to build a new sense of nature which recovers the original sense of phusis.  Very important to this question is the concept of ‘unconcealment’, or aletheia. Regarding place,unconcealment’ of what? What is that which is concealed, obscured, and, then, taken into the light and emerging as ‘place’? Processes. How the processuality that sustains the structure of place is taken to the light? By means of limits: it is ‘limits’ that let place or places appear and stay present, that is, stand within those limits. The same way Heidegger says that limits allow Being to emerge out of concealment and persist, I say that limits allow place to emerge and persist. Before all Being, for Heidegger, and place, for me, mean ‘presence’ within limits. In the articles Limit Place Appearance, and The Place of a Thing, I’ve specifically addressed the question of (the formation and presence of) ‘limit’ and ‘aletheia’ as the placial events that leads to the disclosure of beings as ‘standing’ there in place, and, therefore, as ‘presence’ (I have intended ‘aletheia’ as the unconcealment of processes — physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic processes — that sustain the structure of the Being of beings as place). While I have addressed the question of the existence of beings, in the sense of ‘presence’ as a placial modality of ‘standing’ and ‘appearance’, in the article Body Place Existence, especially.

The concepts of ‘sway’, and, indirectly, that of ‘unconcealment’ (aletheia) introduce us to the next Section:

Chapter Two — Section B.2.b.ii. Polemos and phusis

I’ve said ‘indirectly’ with respect to the term/concept ‘aletheia’ because, from now on, we should keep in mind this modality of Being, which is always present, even if it is not explicitly mentioned in the event of Being. Being can only emerge if ‘something’ is taken to the light — this is the sense of unconcealment, or ‘aletheia’. Now Heidegger deals with the modalities through which this ‘something’ is taken to the light:  these modalities are that of war, confrontation, struggle — in Greek ‘polemos’; that is the sense of ‘the sway’ Heidegger refers to with respect to phusis or Being. Heidegger introduces this question by quoting Heraclitus (fragment 53).[101] According to Heidegger, that fragment says that without struggle, or confrontation, there can be no Being and that it is such a struggle, or confrontation, that preserves Being. The ‘polemos’ named in the fragment ‘is a strife that holds sway before everything divine and human.[102] Then, it is a metaphysical concept before all, an originary struggle which regards Being before it degenerates into beings: ‘struggle first and foremost allows what essentially unfolds to step apart in opposition, first allows position and status and rank to establish themselves in coming to presence. In such a stepping apart, clefts, intervals, distances, and joints open themselves up. In con-frontation, world comes to be. [Confrontation does not divide unity, much less destroy it. It builds unity; it is the gathering (logos). “Polemos” and “logos” are the same.[103]

Confrontation does not divide unity,much less destroy it. It builds unity; it is the gathering (‘logos’). ‘Polemos’ and ‘logos’ are the same.

In the following section, Chapter Two — Section B.2.b.iii. The degeneration of phusis,  we see how that original struggle degenerates from Being to mere beings-as-objects — the present-at-hand: ‘Struggle as such not only allows for arising and standing-forth; it alone also preserves beings in their constancy. Where struggle ceases, beings indeed do not disappear… Beings now become just something one comes across; they are findings. What is completed is no longer that which is pressed into limits [that is, set into its form] but is now merely what is finished and as such is at the disposal of just anybody, the present-at-hand… Beings become objects, whether for observing (view, picture) or for making, as the fabricated, the object of calculation. That which originarily holds sway, “phusis”, now degenerates into a prototype for reproduction and copying... The originarily emergent self-upraising of the violent forces of what holds sway, the “phainesthai” as appearing in the broad sense of the epiphany of a world, now becomes reduced to the demonstrable visibility of present-at-hand things.[104]

After these important passages, let’s summarize, following Heidegger, where we stand now with respect to the question of Being and language. Being is ‘constancy’ in the twofold sense of ‘phusis’ (standing-in-itself as arising and standing forth) and ‘ousia’ (the ‘enduringly, abiding’); when the originary struggle that allows Being to emerge ceases, the event of Being is finally reduced to the visibility of beings so that the originary ‘standing upright’ of Being becomes the visible standing upright of beings as opposed to the ‘inclining’ possibility of their not-Being. This condition (‘wavering’) is determined in language by the terms ‘ptosis’ and ‘enklisis’; there is a superposition between the condition of beings and their linguistic definition by means of words: after all, it is the language that allows beings to take a stand. Then, in the end, beings and language, in the form of written words (language is a being among beings), are both an optical question, they are analyzed ‘optically’. In this regard, Heidegger says: ‘In writing what is spoken comes to a stand. Language “is”— that is, it stands in the written image of the word, in the written signs, in the letters, “grammata”…  The standard way of examining language is still the grammatical way. Among words and their forms, it finds some that are deviations, inflections of the basic forms.’ [105]

In writing what is spoken comes to a stand

This question regarding the relation between Being and language, from a grammatical point of view (which, we have seen, is ‘the standard way of examining language’) is further analyzed in the next section.

Chapter Two — Section B.3. ‘Modus infinitivus’ and ‘enklisis aparemphatikos’

The basic elements of language are nouns and verbs; we have already seen that among words and their forms some are  ‘basic forms’, others are inflections or deviations. Concerning nouns (substantives), the basic position is that of the nominative singular, while other positions are inflections (e.g., genitive, accusative, vocative, plural…); ‘ptosis’ is the Greek term for those inflections. Concerning verbs, the basic position is that of the first person singular, present indicative, while other forms, such as the infinitive, represent a particular modus verbi, an enklisis in Greek. Heidegger makes some examples concerning these deviations of verbs: the Greek verb ‘lego’ means ‘I say’—this is the basic position of the verb, the first person singular, present indicative; another form of the verb ‘lego’ is ‘lexainto’, which means ‘they (the men, in this case) could be called and addressed.[106] If we analyze the two verbal forms — lego and lexainto —  we see there is different information concerning the person (first person instead of third person), the number (singular instead of plural), the voice (active instead of passive), the tense (present instead of aorist), the mood (indicative instead of optative). ‘Lego’ refers to an action that is actual or present; conversely, ‘leixanto’ refers to a possibility, a possibility in being, which is not realized, actually — it is not actually present at hand. To generalize: ‘The inflected form of the word makes all of this manifest in addition and lets it be understood immediately.’ [107] In the condition of being ‘actual’, the word stands ‘straight’; in the condition of possibility, the word ‘inclines’ to the side (This is the function of the “enklisis”, in which the word that stands straight inclines to the side’).[108] So the ‘enklisis’ makes different possibilities manifest; an inflected form makes possibilities appear with that inflection. ‘To make something manifest’, ‘to appear with’, in Greek is ‘paremphaino’; the modality expressed by the ‘enklisis’, according to which ‘the word that stands straight inclines to the side’  is therefore called ‘enklisis paremphatikos’.

At this point in the text, Heidegger makes a detour to elucidate the meaning of ‘paremphaino’. I will follow this detour not because it is decisive to follow the grammatical question commenced above, but because it might offer some important insights into the event of Being and its connection with language, other than its connection with questions of place and space. Again, all this is considered from the perspective of Heidegger’s interpretation of the Greek originary experience (for many aspects, I take this interpretation as valid, and as a starting point to elucidate my revised interpretation of the spatial notions in their constitutive metaphysical ground).

the meaning of ‘paremphaino’, as used by Plato in the Timaeus, might offer some important insights into the event of Being, its connection with language, and with questions of place and space

The term ‘paremphaino’ was used by Plato (Timaeus 50e) in an important context — Heidegger says: ‘The question here is the essence of the becoming of what becomes. Becoming means: coming to Being.[109] Concerning ‘becoming’ ‘Plato distinguishes 3 things: 1)… that which becomes; 2)… that “within which” it becomes, [that is] the medium in which something builds itself up while it is becoming and from which it then stands forth once it has become; 3)… the source from which what becomes takes the standard of resemblance’.[110] The second sense of ‘paremphaino’ — ‘that within which something becomes’, that is ‘the mediumis what we usually call ‘space’, Heidegger says. Then, he continues proposing a passage I’ve often partially quoted in other articles to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the way we conceive of space has no correspondence with the Greek way to understand reality as a spatial fact; let’s hear it directly from Heidegger’s words: ‘The Greeks have no word for “space”. This is no accident, for they do not experience the spatial according to “extensio” but instead according to place (“topos”) as “chōra”, which means neither place nor space but what is taken up and occupied by what stands there. The place belongs to the thing itself. The various things each have their place. That which becomes is set into this placelike “space” and is set forth from it. But in order for this to be possible, “space” must be bare of all the modes of appearance, any modes that it may receive from anywhere.’ [111]

The Greeks have no word for ‘space.’ This is no accident, for  they do not experience the spatial according to ‘extensio’ but instead according to place (topos) as ‘chōra’, which means neither place nor space but what is taken up and occupied by what stands there

Heidegger continues his discourse by referring directly to a passage in the Timaeus: ‘For if it were like any one of the modes of appearance that enter into it, then in receiving forms, some opposed in essence to it, some of an entirely other essence, it would allow a bad actualization of the prototype to come to stand, for it would make manifest its own appearance in addition. That wherein the things that are becoming are set must precisely not proffer its own look and its own appearance. [The reference to the Timaeus passage not only intends to clarify the correlation of “paremphainon” and “on,” of appearing-with and of Being as constancy, but also tries to intimate that Platonic philosophy — that is, the interpretation of Being as idea — prepared the transfiguration of place (“topos”) and of “chōra”, the essence of which we have barely grasped, into “space” as defined by extension. Might not “chōra” mean: that which separates itself from every particular, that which withdraws, and in this way admits and “makes room” precisely for something else?]’. [112]

The Place (or Space? or Chōra?) of Being and Language.

If we connect these passages with those examined in the previous sections (Section B.2.b. and Section B.2.b.i especially), we can see that the constitutive event of Being (emerging, unfolding, gathering, abiding, standing-there, etc.) and how the event of Being can be expressed by analogy with language surmount each other: the event of Being requires a place (or space someone would say) to stand and maintain that stand. By analogy, language affords words this place, or space, for standing erected high in themselves through the basic position of nouns — the nominative singular — or verbs —the first person present indicative. In the aforementioned quotation, the ambiguity concerning the use of spatial expressions (place, space, chōra) to account for the Being of beings is intrinsic to Heidegger’s vocabulary:  I consider the expression ‘this placelike space’ a backflip without the safety net — I would have just used the term ‘place’, which, for me, can be the representation of both actual and potential domains; a domain, each time, established by the context; in this way, the ‘regional’ sense of place can vary from the most abstract and generic to the most concrete and specific, from potential to actual, from becoming to being or vice versa. Other than offering a stand for Being, place or space offer the alternative possibility for not-Being in that stand (therefore, an alternative place or space is available): this ‘not-Being’ we should intend as an alternative possibility, in the sense of potentiality, for the actual Being. By analogy, language offers words an alternative space or place with respect to their standing upright in their basic positions; that is, language offers words the place or space for ‘inclining to the side’, an inflection with respect to their basic positions known as ‘ptosis’ andenklisis’ (given that we are referring to Being, a verbal form, to begin with, we will now just refer to ‘enklisis’). This place or space (the attempt made by Heidegger to solve this placial/spatial ambiguity was done, in the wake of Plato,  by introducing the other neither-spatial-nor-placial term: ‘chōra’) is,per sé, devoid of any actual characterization but is available for characterization (otherwise there would be no place or space and no Being at all, not even as a possibility). This alternative space or place is a domain of potentiality, a mode of abstraction, in the end; an abstraction from what is definite and actual that is, on a spatial/placial level, this potential space/place or ‘chōra’ for Being represents what the ‘modus in-finitivus’, as ‘enklisis’, represents on a linguistic level for verbs: there is a perfect correspondence or complementarity between the two levels). To conclude, Heidegger’s detour was useful to show how the question of space and place is intimately related to the question of Being and the question of language (I repeat what Heidegger have said by introducing the argument of Being from a linguistic perspective, in the Section B.2.a: the first analysis of language was done by Plato and it was ‘worked out and first established in the most immediate and intimate connection with the conception and interpretation of Being’).[113] My work, as an architect and as a theorist through the articles on this website, is an attempt in this direction: to explore the connection between the sense of place, space, Being and language (after all, both architectural projects and writings are just different forms of language).

Following this important detour, Heidegger returns to the question of language and the different modes of verbs. After having taken into consideration the main verbal form ‘lego’ and one of the possible inflections — i.e., the form ‘lexainto’ — he goes on with the analysis of the infinitive ‘legein’ — to say. Here, contrarily to the other verbal forms examined, person,  number, voice, tense or mood do not manifest; therefore, this is a particular form of inflection, almost opposite to what was termed ‘enklisis paremphatikos’, where the inflected form makes all manifest (person, number, tense…):that’s why it is called  ‘enklisis a-paremphatikos’, which the Roman grammarians translated as modus ‘in-finitivus’, an inadequate translation, according to Heidegger (Chapter Two — Section B.3.b. The inadequacy of the translation “in-finitivus”). Why inadequate? Because the original Greek sense behind that expression ‘which refers to the look of a thing and the self-manifestation of what stands in itself or inclines itself, has vanished — Heidegger says. Now the determining factor is the merely formal notion of limitation.[114] In this way, the meaning of the Latin expression modus infinitivus has been ‘pulled away (abstracted) from all definite relations of meaning.[115]

Chapter Two — Section B.4. The infinitive as abstract and blurred

The infinitive is an abstract verbal concept: it is generic; as Heidegger says: ‘There is a deficiency, a lack, in the infinitive, in its word form and its manner of meaning. The infinitive “no longer” makes manifest what the verb otherwise reveals.[116] The problematic indeterminacy of this form of verbal abstraction is still augmented if we refer to it as a ‘verbal substantive’ in speaking. When we use this form in speaking, the article in front of the infinitive form (the original reference is to German ‘das’ in the expression ‘das Sein’ —  or even, to the Italian abbreviated article ‘l’ in the expression ‘l’essere’, that is, literally ‘the to be’) which is originally a demonstrative pronoun, implies that what is named so itself ‘is’. In this way ‘Being now itself becomes something that “is,” whereas obviously only beings are, and it is not the case that Being also is…. Can it still be any wonder to us now that “Being” is so empty a word when the word form itself is based on an emptying of meaning…?[117]

only beings are… it is not the case that Being also is… Can it still be any wonder to us now that ‘Being’ is so empty a word…?

So, the next step for Heidegger in order to elucidate the meaning of Being is to see if Being can be understood through some finite forms of the infinitive ‘to be’.

Chapter Two — Section B.5. An attempt to understand Being through finite forms of the verb

In this final section concerning the grammatical analysis of the word ‘Being’, Heidegger focuses on some of its definite forms: I am, You are, He/She/It is, We are…   Concerning the first person singular, we say ‘I am’: there is not a ‘Being-entity’ and an ‘I-entity’: the entity is one and that entity is me — my Being, that is: I am. It seems there is a superposition between ‘I’ and the ‘Being’, between being and Being: What does Being consist of, and where is it situated? Heidegger asks. Similar problems we have regarding the other definite forms, or even with respect to those forms in different tenses (I was, We were…), so that Heidegger concludes: ‘The examination of the “definite” verbal forms of “to be” yields the opposite of an elucidation of Being.[118] Finally, another difficulty emerges: by the analysis of the infinitive mode ‘to be’ and some of its definite forms ‘I am’, ‘I was’, ‘I’ve been’, we see that there are different stems of the word ‘to be’. Here  we are entering the next phase of the linguistic analysis concerning the word ‘Being’: its etymology. This is the subject of the following section.

Chapter Two — Section C. The etymology of the Word ‘Being’

Differently from the previous grammatical analysis of the word Being (which was quite extensive), this section concerning the etymology of Being is quite short and synthetic. Concerning the different inflections of the verb ‘to be’ — Heidegger notes — they are all determined by three different stems: ‘1. The oldest and authentic stem word is “es”, Sanskrit “asus”, life, the living, that which from out of itself and in itself stands and goes and reposes: the self-standing. To this stem belong the Sanskrit verb forms “esmi”, “esi”, “esti”, “asmi”. To these correspond the Greek “eimi” and “einai” and the Latin “esum” and “esse”… 2. The other Indo-Germanic root is “bhu”, “bheu”. To this belongs the Greek “phuo”, to emerge, to hold sway, to come to a stand from out of itself and to remain standing. Until now, “bhu” has been interpreted according to the usual superficial conception of “phusis” and “phuein” as nature and as “growing.” According to the more originary interpretation, which stems from the confrontation with the inception of Greek philosophy, this “growing” proves to be an emerging which in turn is determined by coming to presence and appearing. Recently, the radical “phu” has been connected with “pha”, “phainesthai” <to show itself >. “Phusis” would then be that which emerges into the light, “phuein”, to illuminate, to shine forth and therefore to appear… From this same stem comes the Latin perfect “fui”, “fuo”, as well as our German “bin”, “bist”… 3. The third stem appears only in the inflection of the German verb “sein”: “wes”; Sanskrit: “vasami”; Germanic: “wesan”, to dwell, to abide, to sojourn’.[119]

Heidegger summarizes this brief etymological survey associating three definite meanings to the three stems: 1. Living, 2. Emerging, and 3 Abiding. Therefore, what results from this survey is that these initial meanings are not traceable anymore in the word ‘Being’, and that ‘only an “abstract” meaning, “to be”, has survived’.[120]

Coming back to the initial question ‘Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?’  we have seen that, with it, the prior question of Being is also echoed. Despite the linguistic analysis of the word ‘Being’ and the infinitive mode ‘to be’, we have realized once again the difficulty implicit in these words even if ‘we are incessantly engaged by beings, related to beings, and we know ourselves “as beings”.[121] So, ‘“Being” now just counts as the sound of a word for us, a used-up term’. [122] The last section of Chapter Two is dedicated to an even more synthetic summary of what we got from the grammatical and etymological analyses of the word ‘Being’:

Chapter Two — Section D. Summary

From the grammatical analysis of the word ‘Being’, we’ve got a blurred meaning resulting from the progressive abstraction of basic or definite verbal modes (i.e., present indicative, past, etc.) leading to the infinitive mode, ‘to be’, and to its further degeneration: the verbal substantive, ‘Being’. This is Heidegger: ‘The grammatical examination of the form of the word had this result: in the infinitive, the word’s definite modes of meaning are no longer in effect; they are blurred. The substantivization completely fixes and objectifies this blurring. The word becomes a name for something indefinite’.[123]

From the etymological analysis, we’ve got a blended meaning that levels off the three different originary stem meanings (living, emerging, abiding) contained in the verb ‘to be’. This is what Heidegger says: ‘The etymological examination of the meaning of the word had this result: what we today, and for a long time previously, have called by the name “Being” is, as regards its meaning, a blending that levels off three different stem meanings. None of these is evident definitively and on its own within the meaning of the word anymore.’[124]

From the linguistic analyses of the word ‘Being’,  we’ve got blurred meanings  (from the progressive abstractions of basic modes leading to the infinitive mode – to be – and to its degeneration into the verbal substantive – Being),  and a blended meaning (which levels off the three stem meanings – living, emerging, abiding – of the verb ‘to be’)  

So, Heidegger concludes: ‘This blurringand blendinggo hand in hand. The combination of these two processes provides a sufficient explanation for the fact from which we set out: that the word “to be” is empty and its meaning is evanescent.[125]

The main scope of Chapter Three is to work out the relation between Being and beings to surpass the seeming ‘stall’ generated by the linguistic analysis: can we derive the meaning of One from the other? How?

Chapter — Three Section A. The priority of Being over beings

From the study of the expression ‘to be’ we have seen that language forms ‘infinitives’ and with time ‘verbal substantives’, which cause definite verbal modes to worn down and become ‘indefinite’,  generic. This seemingly negative situation can be overturned if we think that what is generic (Being) can embrace the specific (beings) including it: ‘the meaning of the word “Being” is the emptiest and thus embraces everything’, Heidegger says.[126] Is there an alternative to this situation? Is it possible to turn away from the generic, to turn away from Being as universal, and direct our attention to particular beings so that from their specific meanings we can ‘climb up’ to the meaning of Being and fill its emptiness? This is the project now: ‘Away from the empty, universal word “Being,” toward the special characteristics of the particular domains of beings themselves!’, Heidegger announces.[127] He enumerates these kinds of special beings that can be useful for our attempt: mountains, trees, the moon, the cathedral of Strasbourg… we’ve already listed those beings. Yet, this is not the correct approach, quite the other way around! ‘… how are we to determine that something that is presumed to be, at some place and time, is not—unless we can dearly distinguish in advance between Being and not-Being?[128] We must know in advance what the Being of a thing is to discern it from what that thing is not (‘not-Being’). Then, Being is presupposed by every identification of a specific being as such, given that we are able to discern Being from not-Being (Chapter — Three Section A.1. Being as presupposed by every identification of a being as such). So it seems we are facing a contradiction: from the previous linguistic analysis we’ve said that Being is not definite, it is ‘indeterminate’; now we see that we can define the nature of Being versus not-Being: ‘Being as definite and completely indefinite [and despite] the blurred, blended universality of its meaning, we still mean something definite by it’, Heidegger says.[129] At the same time, Being is the most universal and the most unique of all, given that its universality allows to discerning any particular beings (Chapter — Three Section Section A.2. The “universality” of Being and its uniqueness). To work out the relation between Being and beings, Heidegger takes the example of a tree: ‘Instead of the universal concept “Being,” we will consider, as an example, the universal representation “tree”… How are we supposed to discover the much-invoked particular, the individual trees as such […] unless the representation of what a tree is in general is already lighting our way in advance?[130] Otherwise, we could take the tree for a rabbit or a car, Heidegger says. Now, Heidegger indirectly invokes an important principle of complementarity between the universal (Being) and the particular (beings): ‘Even though it may be correct that in order to determine more precisely the essential multiplicity of the essence “tree,” we must go through the particular, it remains at least equally correct that the illumination of the essential multiplicity and of the essence takes hold and progresses only when we conceive and know more originally the universal essence “tree,” and this then means the essence “plant,” and this means the essence “living thing” and “life”.[131]

Now Heidegger draws some conclusions, in the following section:

Chapter — Three Section A.3. Being as higher than all facts

Being is higher than all facts (‘our representing can no longer rise from it to anything higher, since it is, after all, the most universal meaning’),[132] and is not derivable from other beings, since its genus is different from that of beings; rather, it is even highly questionable whether the generality of Being is that of a genus, Heidegger notes (it is questionable, to begin with, whether the generality of Being is that of a genus… Consequently, it remains questionable whether an individual being can ever count as an example of Being at all).[133] This takes Heidegger to abandon the strategy announced in the opening part of this section (away from the universal towards the particular); on the contrary, the choice is to abide in the universality of Being (‘we should remain there, and raise the uniqueness of this name and its naming to the level of knowledge’ )[134] and, in the light of the new findings, come back again to the relation between Being and language, which, we are going to see, also discloses the essence of the human beings as historical Dasein.

Chapter — Three Section A.4. Being as a precondition for language

The new starting point for the investigation of Being is the newly discovered ‘definite’ character of Being, which is what permits us to discern Being from not-Being, and which contrasts the ‘indeterminate vapor’ that surrounds its character, as it seemed from the previous analyses. This definite character of Being that we derive from the possibility to discern Being from not-Being is not only essential but is decisive to establishing all that exists, attributing specific names to things (beings): in fact without Being ‘there would be no language at all. Beings as such would no longer open themselves up in words at all; they could no longer be addressed and discussed. For saying beings as such involves understanding beings as beings—that is, their Being—in advance. Presuming that we did not understand Being at all, presuming that the word “Being” did not even have that evanescent meaning, then there would not be any single word at all. We ourselves could never be those who say. We would never be able to be those who we are.’[135] Without understanding Being in advance (without the capability to discern Being from not-Being) we couldn’t name beings and, therefore, we wouldn’t be the beings we are: there would be no Dasein at all.The relation between Being and language discloses the specific nature of the human beings as historical Dasein. By means of language the Being of human beings precipitates into Dasein

By means of language

the Being of human beings precipitates into Dasein

Image 06: Dasein as condition at the historical juncture between the Being of human beings and language.

Human beings are yes- and no-sayers only because they are, in the ground of their essence, sayers, “the sayers”. That is their distinction and also their predicament. It distinguishes them from stone, plant, and animal, but also from the gods. Even if we had a thousand eyes and a thousand ears, a thousand hands and many other senses and organs, if our essence did not stand within the power of language, then all beings would remain closed off to us… for our Dasein, this — that we understand Being, if only in an indefinite way — has the highest rank, insofar as in this, a power announces itself in which the very possibility of the essence of our Dasein [which is always a historical Dasein] is grounded ’.[136]

By means of Dasein we can get back to the originary source whence the meaning of Being emerges: given that language decides the essence (Being) of beings and, in particular, of human beings, we should insist with language, and keep on asking about Being time and again, since this is our only possibility to disclose its sense. 

After having elucidated this important question regarding the relationship between language and the Being of human beings as Dasein, it’s time for Heidegger to review what has been said so far concerning the analysis of Being.

Chapter — Three Section A.5. Review

I will briefly repeat the main points, here. At first the infinite mode ‘to be’ was analyzed and found to be an almost ‘empty word’: the definite modes of the verb resulted in blurred meanings when those modes were worn down into the infinite mode (modus infinitivus) or, later, into the substantive verb — ‘Being’; the original root meanings of the verb traceable to the finite verbal modes blended and became undistinguished when those definite modes crystallized into the modus infinitivus ‘to be’, or the substantive verb ‘Being’. We have seen that Being has the most universal meaning, and to find a sense in Being we cannot proceed from beings to Being (from the particular to the universal), since ‘particular beings can “open themselves up as such” to us only if and when we already understand Being in advance in “its” essence.[137] The fact that Being has also a definite character, in the sense that we can discern Being from not-Being in advance, allows us to establish the domain of existence of particular beings, attributing them names: through language — through the possibility to discern the Being of beings in advance, and attribute them different names — we understand beings themselves, and, as a consequence,  we understand ourselves as particular kind of beings (Dasein). Again, we’ve come back to language to understand the nature of Being and beings: ‘then language must be at stake, here and in general, in a special way’,  Heidegger concludes.[138]

The Place of Dasein.

The structure of place that I’m thinking of is particularly appropriate to identify Heidegger’s Dasein as a structure of place, as a structure grounded on place, in the following sense: as an event, place always happen contextually to the processes in it, either those processes are actualized/formalized/crystalized as specific beings (these beings are entities, the place of physical/biological/social/symbolic processes), or remain in their universal latency as Being — the most universal form of presence, which is also a placial state (I take this placial state, which precedes the actualization into specific beings, as the state narrated by Heidegger when he speaks of the basic processes of Being: ‘gathering’, ‘emerging’, ‘abiding’, ‘standing forth’… Without the originary force behind those processes no actualization is attainable). In this latter case, processes refer to a universal, potential domain of existence that extends its dominion on the domain of actuality; there is a complementarity between the two: it is from the congruity/continuity/complementarity of both domains that we can understand the congruity/continuity/complementarity between Being and beings, as place of processes. Dasein understood as place means that a certain number of processes are in act: identifying beings as biological entities (the place of realized biological processes), is one kind of processes; identifying beings as sociocultural entities (the place of realized sociocultural processes) is another kind of processes; again, these latter processes include another kind of processes: linguistic processes. This is in total agreement with Heidegger’s stress on the function of language as a determining factor for understanding what it means to be humans (human beings). In fact, I take the term ‘cultural’ in its most general sense, as the specific domain of human existence (of human beings), and as such, an ‘intellectual’ or even a ‘symbolic’ domain, where language is the constitutive and specific character of that domain. In this respect let’s see some of the images of the gallery in the article ‘On the Structure of Reality’: a painting, an equation, or even a city by means of its architectures — these are all languages, as, of course, are poems, hymns, or even the simple assertion ‘I am, here’; seen in this perspective, the human being is intrinsically a being resulting from a historical sequence of processes, where language is a determining factor; it is this specific factor that offers the possibility to reflect on itself, on Being and on what it means to be a human Being (so, this is the specific quality attributed by Heidegger to language as a historical key to access the meaning of Dasein). As such, ‘human Being’ means being the place of processes where the human, as biological beings, social beings, and cultural beings overlap in one pervasive and all-embracing structure-event (I put stress on the term ‘event’ because the temporal/historical factor is determinative): this structure-event is a place — the place of those mentioned processes. This place — the Being of human-beings — is the ground-place of biological, social and cultural processes (here stands language and, with it, the possibility to investigate the Being of beings, and human beings, as a particular case). This is the place is Dasein.

The interesting question is whether this conception of Dasein as place (of processes) can be extended so far as to abandon the privileged human domain attributed by Heidegger, and embrace a more universal character in a physical, biological, and social sense (these are domains that come before the human domain as historical Dasein, characterized by language—the mode to build symbolic domains). I see no obstacles to understanding Dasein as ‘a universal Dasein’ rather than specifically human, as in Heidegger’s perspective; in this alternative, ‘universal Dasein’, ‘to be there’ recovers its basic meaning of universal association between Being and Place: there’s no Being without place or vice versa. The ‘there’ (‘da’) of Dasein is just the ‘there’ of an infinite and nested chain of ‘standings’ for Being (and beings) that in the end include the ‘here’. ‘Here’ and ‘there’, or ‘here( )there’, define a domain of place, they are ‘placial entities’, ‘placial terms’. So any process that is actualized in the form of beings, either a physical field (a physical state as the realization of physical processes) or a carbon atom, a frog, etc. can be understood as ‘Dasein’: a metaphysical and physical condition at a specific historical juncture. This fact has an important consequence: it puts anything that exists on a common underlying ground — a placial ground, that is a place, ultimately. This common ground, this common place for all that exists surpasses Heidegger’s anthropocentric perspective. From here, from this common placial perspective, it is easier to see and promote the solidarity between beings — their common belonging to nature. As I’ve already said elsewhere, this paves the way for a multilevel ontology of beings which have in place a common metaphysical ground, as well as the origin for the coming into being of their differences.

Chapter Three — Section B. The essential link between Being and the word

Given that the previous grammatical and etymological analyses of Being were not so helpful, Heidegger concludes that ‘the question of Being is not a matter of grammar and etymology’.[139] By mean of words we reproduce the experience we have, or we have had, or we could have:  therefore, language is an experience; the word (language) — Heidegger says — is ‘a reproduction of the experienced being.’ [140] Is it possible to grasp the sense of Being focusing on words? Let’s see what Heidegger means. He takes the example of the word ‘clock’. We can distinguish: 1. the ‘form’, or that which is visible and audible; 2. the ‘meaning’ we give to that form and the sounds emitted, e.g., the ticking, the announcing the passage of an hour, the alarm, etc.; 3 ‘the thing’ as this specific physical thing, this specific clock. While with the earlier analyses we focused on the form (grammar) and on the meaning (etymology), ‘our question of Being has not reached the thing, has not gotten to the point’, Heidegger observes.[141] So, what is the thing behind Being? Yet, immediately after, Heidegger says: ‘But is “Being” a thing like clocks, houses, or any being at all ?’ — and he reminds us that — ‘we have run up against this quite enough: Being is not a being, nor any ingredient of beings that is itself in being. The Being of the building over there is not “another” thing of the same sort as the roof and the cellar. Thus no thing corresponds to the word and the meaning “Being”.[142] But we cannot even conclude that ‘Being’ is merely the word, independently of the fact that it seems to be an evanescent entity, a vapour; this would mean that Being belongs to the category of beings, which is not the case: the word Being has a greater import than (other words referred to) beings, and even if ‘the thing’ behind Being is lacking, and there is a distinctive connection between Being ‘the form’ and ‘its meaning’, we cannot think to pick up the essence of Being out of them. Nonetheless, ‘the question of Being remains intimately linked to the question of the word’, so Heidegger directs his considerations again on that question, in the next section C.[143]

no thing corresponds to the word and the meaning ‘Being’

The vacuity of Being versus the plenitude of Place. A Metaphysics of Place.

Before coming to the next Section C, allow me a couple of considerations I made at the time I was reading these specific pages of Introduction to Metaphysics for the first time(considerations I briefly made in the form of footsteps to the text, which I’m going to elaborate a bit, now). The typical modality of Heidegger to continuously asking questions, offering tentative answers, and, immediately after what seems a convincing possibility negating that answer, tested my patience. So, at this point in the text, after the umpteenth question to see ‘what is behind Being’ , I gave my answer taking into consideration what has been said so far and connecting it to my interpretation of place, which, before all, I understand as the ground of all that exists. This ground implies that it must embrace both Being (yes… but what ‘Being’ is exactly, according to Heidegger, we still don’t know) and beings. While it should be quite clear that beings can be understood as the place of actualized processes, independently of the fact that the product of actualization stands in the realm of physicochemical beings (a rock, a planet, the sea, etc.), biological beings (a tree, a cell, etc.) social beings (a  beehive, a group of hunting wolves, a family, a football team, an association of epidemiologists, etc.), or in the realm of abstract/potential/symbolic beings (a dream, an idea, an illusion, a hallucination, an imagined architecture, an equation, the verse of a poet, etc.), how can we relate Being to place? How can we think about Being as ‘place’? Let’s start from the hypothesis that beings are the place of realized processes: if processes unfold and are ‘satisfied’ reaching a certain threshold (a positive end for those processes) a being emerges beyond that threshold, as the physical/biological/social/symbolic outcome of those satisfied processes (this is a position I elaborated starting from Whitehead). Now, what happens if processes are not ‘satisfied’, if they do not surpass the threshold of actualization? If this is the case, it means they do not reach any end or limit, and may remain active for further attempts of actualization, or may be ‘absorbed’ and ‘drawn back’ into the abyss of Nothing. This ground, territory, region or domain of processes — what is a place if not ground, a territory, a region or domain? — before the actualization of beings, is precisely the generating and nurturing place of Being. In accord with Heidegger’s statement that ‘no thing corresponds to the word and the meaning “Being”, we can only hypothesize its structure in connection with those processes that are the breeding ground for the actualization of beings. This does not mean that from beings we may get back to Being as a matter of fact: Being is not a fact (is not a ‘thing’). It just means that the two are connected. How? Heidegger is going to elaborate on this connection further in the next part of the text, but, here, I try to anticipate this connection on the base of the difference between processes that are actualized and processes that are not. On that base, I say that Being is the place of processes (the universal domain of existence). So far, Heidegger has already given us some instruments to figure out what these processes concerning Being are: ‘emerging’, ‘coming into appearance’, ‘taking/maintaining a stand’, ‘unfolding’, ‘gathering’, ‘abiding’, ‘standing forth’  — these are some of the verbs used by Heidegger in connection with the event-Being. He has spoken of ‘emerging sway’, which is the necessary condition for processes to present themselves as the first and originary alternative to no thing (not-Being). So, the overall processual image/character of place that I’m devising and suggesting is useful to fill the vacuity of Being: to imagine Being as the place of processes opposed to and, at the same time, complementary with beings (as the place of actualized processes) is an immediate mode to give Being a plenitude of meanings that, otherwise, it still has not according to Heidegger. Then, I say, this is the relation we are elaborating on: Being(  )beings, given that this structure is curved in itself like an ‘ouroboros’, the mythologicalserpent eating its own tail, the symbol of endless continuity. This structure curved in itself, this ‘One’ deriving from the joint action of the two opposing brackets — the two halves of the unity, which, at the same time, represents unity and multiplicity — is the place of processes, whether these processes are actualized or not, whether they are actual or potential, particular or universal. This ‘One’ (comprised of many) is place. This is the ground. So, Being emerges before beings as their potentiality to be the beings they are destined to be,  and after beings are actualized, transforming their possibility to be into a fact, it persists in them. Being is the original sway that allows its own existence to come out from the abyss of Nothing and advance towards its realization as beings. This original ‘sway’ and this ‘advance towards’ may help us to understand what is behind the ‘polemos’ suggested by Heidegger in an earlier section. The image I evoke concerning place as the domain of processes comprised between the universal (the place of Being) and the  particular (the place of actualized beings) also recovers the ideal/physical domain of existence known as ‘chōra’, evoked by Plato (again, you see that ‘domain’ is a term that has a natural connection with the term ‘polemos’). That’s why I’ve always said that the concept of place that I’m presenting has many analogies with Plato’s ‘chōra’: the difference — I argue — is that place is an easier concept to handle with than ‘chōra’ (more than two millennia of discussions and there is still a great uncertainty behind that Platonic concept), and than Being itself, which seems ‘a vapour’. So, by means of place,  we are giving this vapour a ‘sub-stance’ — in the originary sense of that which stands behind and sustains (in Greek ‘hupokeimenon’): a ground. So place, in this sense, is that which comes before all, in the sense that it sustains all that exists.

To say ‘place of processes’, does not mean that there are processes as originary forms of existence and then, or after, there is a place where those processes emerge, unfold, gather, stand forth, etc. Place and processes belong to each other, one is curved on the other, to recompose the above-mentioned, unitary structure: ‘( )’. There is no place without processes the same way there are no processes without place. So, this is the originary structure we are hypothesizing: place(  )processes. The metaphysical complexity of place is ‘easier’ to handle than other concepts (i.e., Being, or chōra), provided we go beyond the false presuppositions of modernity that divided the original structure of place into many pieces, without clear connections: place as simple location, geographical notion, social notion, etc. Place has certainly many dimensions but the original relation between those different dimensions can only be elucidated on the base of its fundamental metaphysical structure.

To sum up: Being is the event by which beings eventually present, and manifest themselves; place is what they need to manifest. Any event is a place of processes. In Being( )beings co-exist place, processes and time (time is nothing other than the relation between the duration of processes), actualization and potentiality, becoming and being, the particular and the universal. It is especially behind the potentiality of beings and in the processual phases that are necessary for beings to manifest that we can find a meaning for the Being of beings, as place — the place of processes. In agreement with what we have just learned from Heidegger’s teaching so far, Being (which — I suggest — can be imagined as ‘place of processes’) is the highest and most complete manifestation of that which is. It is the highest and most complete because beyond Being there is nothing; it is the most complete because it includes the actuality of beings as well as their potentiality for Being different beings, that is they have the potentiality for growing, developing, perishing, changing colour, form, etc., but maintaining their essential determination (that is, maintaining their Being). All that exists, in whatever/wherever/whenever presence or form and the agency/processuality intrinsic to that presence or form, isone overarching structure: place is the event of processes, and that event can be in act or potency, and, as such, it embraces all that exists. Then, place, aside from being a metaphysical and physical structure, is also a useful metaphor to fill the seeming vacuity of Being and superposing its presence to the ‘vaporous presence’ of Being itself. It seems to me, by way of this reformed understanding of place it is easier to grasp the sense of Being and beings. This is also another reason why it could be taken as an alternative to Being, as the ultimate ground for all that exists: in virtue of its explanatory power.

Chapter Three — Section C. The inclusion of the various meanings of “is” within the Greek understanding of Being as presence

There are manifold ways of Being; Heidegger enumerates a list of expressions to show how many meanings are signified by the verb ‘to be’ (God is… The earth is… The cup is of silver… The book is mine… He is dead… The enemy is in retreat…The dog is in the garden…).[144] In those examples ‘is’ signifies a plurality of meanings: actually present, constantly present at hand, to take place, to come from, to consist of, to stay, to belong, to succumb to, to stand for, to come about, to prevail, to have entered upon, to come forth. In this way, Heidegger has shown that ‘It is only because the “is” in itself remains indeterminate and empty in its meaning that it can lie ready for such a manifold use, and can fill and determine itself ”according to the situation… Being must be indeterminate in order to be susceptible to determination.[145] Here there is an important passage that connects the indeterminate character of Being  (the infinitivus ‘to be’) to the possible determinations signified by the ‘is’ in the examples; Heidegger says: ‘a definite, unitary trait runs through all these meanings. It points our understanding of “to be” toward a definite horizon by which the understanding is fulfilled. The boundary drawn around the sense of “Being” stays within the sphere of presentness and presence, <Gegenwärtigkeit und Anwesenheit>, subsistence and substance <Bestehen und Bestand>, staying and coming forth.[146] So it is possible to delineate the boundaries of the domain of Being, as something determinate, by means of the following traits: presence, subsistence and substance, staying and coming forth.

it is possible to delineate the boundaries of the domain of Being, as something determinate, by means of the following traits: presence, subsistence and substance, staying and coming forth.

Then, in a certain sense, the domain of Being is indeterminate as well as determinate. These new findings point to directions we already met and which characterized ‘the Greek experience and interpretation of Being… the Greek conception of the essence of Being ’.[147]

The universality and particularity of Place, in-between indetermination and determination.

Again, I see a perfect alignment between the ‘indeterminate( )determinate’ character of Being already envisioned by Heidegger,  and the ‘indeterminate( )determinate’ character of place that I’m suggesting. The traditional interpretation wants place to be a de-terminated entity: it is evident the import of Aristotle’s definition of place, which is based on the determination of limits (‘place is the first unchangeable limit (peras) of that which surrounds’).[148] From here derives any future interpretation of place as a mere physical notion, sublimated in its almost fixed geographical character. Yet, this interpretation hides or covers the ‘grounding’ value of place, which, as Edward Casey showed, is still present in Aristotle, even if it seems obscured by the great physical value of that definition.[149] So, it seems Archytas’s originary insight (‘it is obvious that one has to grant priority to place; all existing things are either in place or not without place’)[150] is no more valid, and Simplicius’s assertion, many centuries later (‘place… pervades everything; for everything that happens is in a place’)[151] is of no aid to recover the originary locator power of place (in the metaphysical sense). Despite the traditional presuppositions concerning place, the concept of place I’m suggesting extends its physical meaning  — that which is determined by physical limits — to recover its originary locator power, as that which is not merely determined by physical limits (in this sense, place can also be understood as the ‘in-determinated’ available to determination). Conceiving Being and beings as the place of processes and actualized processes respectively is another way to render the mutuality between ‘indetermination’ and ‘determination’, which are both characters necessary to existence: on the one hand, the ‘in-determined’ available to determination, as that which is universal — Being; on the other hand the ‘determined’, arising from the undetermined, as that which is particular (beings). This mutuality ‘indeterminate/determinate’ is always active in the case of place,  in the same sense Heidegger has explained Being, in the following sense: the concept of place is before all a question of ‘presence’ against absence; if processes are present contextually to their place it means they have a certain degree of determination, otherwise we would stand in front of a mere nothing; but this is not the case, if there are processes active, even if they are in a domain of potentiality (a domain of place); the fact that potentiality my evolve into actualization could be seen as the reaching of another level of ‘determination’: so, from the presence and stability of determinate processes we come to their formalization/reification into de-terminated forms. This can also be seen as an event of passage from indetermination (Being as process, in a universal sense) to determination (beings as realized or actualized processes, in a particular sense: hence, physicochemical, biological, social or cultural beings derive). The threshold between indetermination and determination is that which allows me to discern between the place of processes and the place of actualized processes. The former concerns Being-as-place of processes; the latter, beings-as-place of realized processes. The former domain is unrestricted by time contingencies (this is in accord with its universal and in-determined status), while the latter domain is not: the duration of processes is that which determines the domain of existence of each particular being (that is, processes determine the limits of beings both in spatial/placial and temporal sense).

Turning back to Introduction to Metaphysics, what Heidegger has delineated so far is the preparatory territory for the final Chapter Four, where the structure of Being is finally unveiled. Given that the forthcoming discussion is as extended as the previous three Chapters, I’ve decided to deal with it in a separate article: Being as Place: Introduction to Metaphysics – Part Two (the Limitation of Being)


[1] The book An Introduction to Metaphysics has special importance to the English-speaking world, since it was the first book-length work by Heidegger translated into English (trans. Ralph Manheim, 1959), three years before the first English publication of Being and Time: in Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), viii. For the present article, the 2000 edition of the book is the one I am going to refer to.

[2] The expression ‘the nature of Being’ is pleonastic if we rigorously attain Heidegger’s interpretation of Being: in fact, if we go beyond the figurative use of nature intended as ‘character’ or ‘characteristic’ intrinsic to something, the word ‘nature’, via the Latin ‘natura’, is the translation (a loose translation — we are going to see) for the Greek ‘phusis’, which according to Heidegger is nothing other than Being (Phusis is Being itself, by virtue of which beings first become and remain observable). So, ‘the nature of Being’ corresponds to ‘the Being of Being’, a circuitous expression for Being. 

[3] Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), x.

[4] Ibid., 80.

[5] Ibid., 80-81.

[6] Ibid., x.

[7] In the edition translated  by Ralph Manheim, the phrase  rendered by Fried and Polt  as ‘Why are there beings [Seiendes] instead of nothing?’ has the following translation: ‘WHY ARE THERE ESSENTS* rather than nothing?’ The asterisk at the bottom of page 1 of the original 1959-edition, reports the following explanation: ‘“Essents” = “existents,” “things that are.”  See Translator’s Note, p.ix.’  In that note, the author, Manheim, explains why he did not use the term ‘beings’, preferring to coin a word, ‘essent’, ‘essents’ or ‘the essent’,  from the Latin essens, essentis, present participle of the verb sum, (esse = to be); in Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Ralph Manheim(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), ix.

[8] Ibid., xi.

[9] Ibid., xi.

[10] Ibid., xi.

[11] Ibid., 2-4.

[12] Ibid., 6.

[13] For an interpretation of the meaning and the different formulations of the Archytian axiom see Edward Casey’s book The Fate of Place, or the article Place and Space: A Philosophical History, which is based on Casey’s book. The formula I have used — to be (at all) is to be in (some) place — is the one used by Edward S. Casey in The Fate of Place, page 4. This formulation is slightly modified with respect to the original statement of Archytas which Casey refers to, as reported by Simplicius: ‘all existing things are in place or not without place’, in Shmuel Sambursky’s The Concept of Place in Late Neoplatonism, page 37 (since there are scant traces and fragments regarding the historical figure of Archytas, Sambursky, at page 14 of his book, refers to that statement as attributed to Archytas ‘but in fact deriving from an unknown Neopythagorean philosopher’ — that’s why he attributes that fragment to ‘Pseudo-Archytas’; this is the complete translation of the fragment appearing in Simplicius’ commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, 361, 21-24: ‘Since everything that is in motion is moved in some place (topos), it is obvious that one has to grant priority to place, in which that which causes motion or is acted upon will be. Perhaps thus it is the first of all things, since all existing things are either in place or not without place’).I have used Casey’s slightly modified version since it is closer to my understanding of place as a concept having both metaphysical and physical connotations: that ‘some’ between brackets suggests a relational and pluralistic sense of place which has a more physical connotation, very close indeed to Aristotle’s initial intentions when he gave his famous definition of place (topos) in Physics, Book IV. Conversely, if we minimize what appears between brackets, reducing the axiom to its essence —  ‘to be is to be in place’  —, that axiom may acquire an absolute sense which, in my opinion, has a more metaphysical connotation. One sense of the axiom does not exclude the other if we think that the two levels – the physical and metaphysical – are distinct yet complementary levels of one and the same reality.

[14] Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, 15. See Section C, where Heidegger speaks about the connection between Being, beings and Phusis:phusis is ‘the fundamental Greek word for beings as such’ understood as ‘the emerging-abiding swayPhusis is Being itself, by virtue of which beings first become and remain observable.’

[15] The reference is to the essay Building Dwelling Thinking.

[16] I have said ‘for… a duration’ instead of  ‘in… time’ to avoid any possible reference to ‘time’ (or duration) as an a priori domain with respect to ‘being’ and ‘place’. Any form of existence is an event simultaneously characterized by ‘being place time-as-duration.’

[17] Ibid., 2.

[18] Ibid., 3.

[19] See the article Back to the Origins of Space and Place, notes [85], [86], [87].

[20] Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, 7.

[21] Martin Heidegger, On the being and conception of φύσις in aristotle’s physics B, 1, translated by Thomas J. Sheehan, in Man and World (9, 3, 1976), 224

[22] Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, 9.

[23] Ibid., 10-11.

[24] Ibid., 12.

[25] Ibid., 12.

[26] Ibid., 13.

[27] Ibid., 14

[28] Ibid., 14

[29] Ibid., 15.

[30] Ibid., 15.

[31] Ibid., 15.

[32] Ibid., 15.

[33] Ibid., 16.

[34] Ibid., 16.

[35] This pictorial expression, — (  ) —, which I sometimes use as a substitute for the more conventional copula ‘and’, suggests the complementarity of two parts, whose simultaneous action and appearance define a unity, just like a system made of parts. In this case, the fundamental unity of the event that we call ‘nature’ is the result of Being and becoming.

[36] Alfred N. Whitehead, Nature and Life (London: Cambridge University Press, 1934), 33.

[37] Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, 15.

[38] For instance, we have already seen the root ‘sta’ may be connected with the Proto-Indo-European verbal root *steh2-, a root on which ‘general words for a place’ are constructed —I have dealt with the question in the articles Back to the Origins of Space and Place and Body Place Existence especially.

[39] See the paragraph The Question About the Thing in Kant’s Main Work, in the article What is a Thing?

[40] This means that ‘appearance’ (the result of emergence) or ‘standing forth’ are not exclusive processes of the domain of Being, but also describe the processuality intrinsic to the domain of beings. Both Being and beings come into appearance and stand or persist in that appearance (otherwise they could not exist). In the case of Being, ‘appearance’ is more metaphorical, if by that term we imply visibility, which is an exclusive pertinence of beings (at least of physical beings).

[41] Ibid., 18.

[42] Ibid., 18.

[43] Heidegger, On the Being and Conception of Phusis in Aristotle’s Physics B, 1, 231-235.

[44] Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, 16.

[45] Ibid., 17.

[46] Ibid., 18.

[47] Ibid., 19.

[48] Ibid., 19.

[49] Ibid., 21.

[50] Ibid., 21.

[51] Ibid., 25.

[52] Ibid., 26-27.

[53] Ibid., 27.

[54] Ibid., 27.

[55] Ibid., 28.

[56] Ibid., 28.

[57] Ibid., 30.

[58] Ibid., 31.

[59] Ibid., 32.

[60] Ibid., 35.

[61] Ibid., 31.

[62] Ibid., 32.

[63] Ibid., 33.

[64] Ibid., 33; I will use quotation marks in cases where the original text is written in italics

[65] Ibid., 34.

[66] Ibid., 34.

[67] Ibid., 35; Heidegger’s original expression ‘Wie steht um das Sein?’ could be translated more colloquially as ‘What is the status of Being?’ or even ‘What about Being?’ the translators say.

[68] Ibid., 38.

[69] Ibid., 38.

[70] Ibid., 39.

[71] Ibid., 47.

[72] Ibid., 47.

[73] Ibid., 52.

[74] Ibid., xii.

[75] Ibid., 48, 49. Here, Heidegger’s attack is specifically directed at America and Russia, while he sees Europe as an almost passive spectator of this ‘disempowering of the spirit’ (he speaks of ‘growing perplexity and uncertainty of Europe against it’). I have omitted those parts with specific reference to those countries: all I can say, from the standpoint of an observer in the XXI century is that those aspects regarding the misinterpretation of the spirit Heidegger speaks about are now spread everywhere, with no geographical distinction (or race).

[76] Ibid., 52.

[77] Ibid., 53.

[78] Ibid., 54.

[79] Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 71.

[80] Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, 56.

[81] Ibid., 57.

[82] Ibid., 58.

[83] Ibid., 58-59.

[84] Ibid., 59.

[85] Ibid., 59.

[86] Ibid., 59.

[87] Ibid., 59.

[88] Ibid., 60.

[89] Ibid., 60-61.

[90] Ibid., 61.

[91] Ibid., 61.

[92] Ibid., 61.

[93] Ibid., 61.

[94] Ibid., 62.

[95] Ibid., 62-63.

[96] Ibid., 63.

[97] Ibid., 63.

[98] Ibid., 63-64.

[99] Ibid., 64.

[100] Ibid., xiii.

[101] According to a note of the translators, this is a conventional translation of Heraclitus’s fragment: ‘War is the father of all and the king of all, and it has shown some as gods and others as human beings, made some slaves and others free’. This is the passage, written by Heidegger, which accompanies the Greek citation by Heraclitus: ‘Confrontation is indeed for all (that comes to presence) the sire (who lets emerge), but (also) for all the preserver that holds sway. For it lets some appear as gods, others as human beings, some it produces (sets forth) as slaves, but others as the free’, page 65.

[102] Ibid., 65.

[103] Ibid., 65.

[104] Ibid., 65-66.

[105] Ibid., 68.

[106] Ibid., 68.

[107] Ibid., 68.

[108] Ibid., 69.

[109] Ibid., 69.

[110] Ibid., 69.

[111] Ibid., 69.

[112] Ibid., 69-70.

[113] Ibid., 60.

[114] Ibid., 71.

[115] Ibid., 71.

[116] Ibid., 71.

[117] Ibid., 73.

[118] Ibid., 73.

[119] Ibid., 74-75.

[120] Ibid., 76.

[121] Ibid., 77.

[122] Ibid., 77.

[123] Ibid., 77-78.

[124] Ibid., 78.

[125] Ibid., 78.

[126] Ibid., 80.

[127] Ibid., 80.

[128] Ibid., 81.

[129] Ibid., 82-83.

[130] Ibid., 84.

[131] Ibid., 84.

[132] Ibid., 85.

[133] Ibid., 85.

[134] Ibid., 85.

[135] Ibid., 86.

[136] Ibid., 86-87.

[137] Ibid., 90.

[138] Ibid., 90.

[139] Ibid., 91.

[140] Ibid., 91.

[141] Ibid., 92.

[142] Ibid., 92.

[143] Ibid., 93.

[144] Ibid., 94.

[145] Ibid., 95.

[146] Ibid., 96.

[147] Ibid., 96.

[148] in Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 55.

[149] Ibid., 71: ‘Defined as a bounding container, place in Aristotle’s sure hands takes on a quite dynamic role in the determination of the physical universe. Place indeed “has some power.” It has the power to make things be somewhere and to hold and guard them once they are there. Without place, things would not only fail to be located; they would not even be things: they would have no place to be the things they are. The loss would be ontological and not only cosmological: it would be a loss in a kind of being and not merely in the number of beings that exists.’

[150] See note 13, above

[151] this is the extended quotation: ‘place too, not less than time, pervades everything; for everything that happens is in a place’, in Shmuel Sambursky, The Concept of Place in Late Neoplatonism (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Science and Humanity, 1982), 175.

Works Cited

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

Heidegger, Martin. Introduction to Metaphysics.Translated by Gregory Fried, and Richard Polt. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Heidegger, Martin. An Introduction to Metaphysics. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.

——. “On the being and conception of φyσiσ in Aristotle’s physics B, 1”, trans. Sheehan, Thomas J., in Man and World (9, 3, 1976), 219-270.

Sambursky, Shmuel. The Concept of Place in Late Neoplatonism. Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Science and Humanity, 1982.

Whitehead, Alfred N. Nature and Life. London: Cambridge University Press, 1934.

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  • JE Shirley
    Posted March 2, 2023 5:14 pm 0Likes

    Valuable information and a bit of originality, which is very much appreciated. Thank you!

    • Alessandro Calvi Rollino
      Posted March 2, 2023 7:12 pm 0Likes

      You’re welcome.

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