What is a human being?
Let me start by saying that I don’t know. You might think that this lack of knowledge would disqualify me from pursuing this line of questioning, but you would be wrong. After all, I am a human being. Or, to say it another way, since I am the being in question, there is no one more qualified to ask.
This is the genius of Heidegger’s analytic. First, ontology can only ever really be the phenomenology of ontology. And second, Dasein is always and forever my own.
To put still another way, I am/you are/Dasein is the only one who can formulate the question concerning the nature of being.
So, I put it to you again–what is a human being?
The question of being is perhaps a silly question. Or maybe I just feel silly posing it. I don’t know.
What I do know is that the question is something I want to work towards, or circle around–or at least sit on for a while.
Depending on your -ology of choice (no pun intended), being functions quite differently. Is it an empty signifier? A collection of attributes? Is it fundamental laws of nature?
Traditional philosophy tried to save us from the impossibility of this question by positing a Real behind/beyond the real. Metaphysics.
Essentially, thinkers concerned themselves with the nature of stuff. The what. But what about the that? What about the fact that we exist? What is that?
Heidegger took it one step further, asking a terribly curious question: what is is? Believe it or not, this simple play on words changed everything. It was Nietzsche who proclaimed the end of metaphysics; but it was Heidegger, less than a century later, who brought it about with his silly double verbing. Silly or not, it seems that contemporary philosophy has not yet dealt with the end of metaphysics.
Contemporary thinkers have tended to return to classical ideas looking to erect a scaffolding of being somewhere exterior to the human in question. Badiou has taken up refuge in the analogy of set theory. Zizek in dialectical materialism. Baudrillard in the desert of the hyperreal. Brilliant as their thought is, I think that we have to come to it after we have dealt with Heidegger and his folly.
If we are to move forward, or circle, or sit on the question of being, it begins (as Heidegger suggests in Being and Time) with the one who is concerned with the question. Furthermore, taking into account the mine-ness of Dasien, the question of being belongs to you in the same way it belongs to me.
Putting it another way, the question of being qua being begins with the question of human being.
As we will be approaching this question–at least in part–through language, one caution. When we try to explain the existence of something, we “naturally” try to put it into words. There is a tendency then to confuse the rules of grammar with the way of being.
Ontology…really, all the -ologies have fractured our perception of the world in an effort suture names and patterns to our experience. And if it’s the wonder of experience (or the anxiety of it) that draws us to the question, we should be leery of approaches that break wonder into bits just for the sake of putting it into appropriate categories.
As I close I want to invite all of you to share some of the mine-ness of your being. Don’t bother getting too deep into the question. I’d love to hear your first thoughts and impressions on the question. The more nonsensical the better. I don’t have this all scripted out yet. It’s a little daunting to call this a first installment, or a series of blogs, but I suppose it’s something like that.
I leave you with a quote from Alan Watts:
“I cannot formulate the question that is my wonder…as soon as I open my mouth I find I’m talking nonsense…”