Tag Archives: philosophy


Polis, Politeia, Politika

In the circle around Socrates, there were men like Alcibiades and Critias … who had turned out to be a real threat to the polis, and this not because they had been paralyzed by the electric ray but, on the contrary, because they had been aroused by the gadfly….Not content with being taught how to think without being taught a doctrine, they changed the non-results of the Socratic thinking examination into negative results…

The quest for meaning, which relentlessly dissolves and examines anew all accepted doctrines and rules, can at any moment turn against itself, produce a reversal of the old values, and declare these contraries to be “new values.”[1]

In his notes to his translation of Plato’s Republic, Allan Bloom traces Politeia, the Greek term which Cicero translated to Latin which has come down to us in its English equivalent as “Republic”, as derived from polis, by way of politēs, i.e., “citizen”.[2] While the polis in the context of Plato’s Republic is commonly understood as “city-state”, Bloom focuses on its being a “city”, specifically “the community of men sharing a way of life and governing themselves, waging war and preserving the peace … the natural social group, containing all that is necessary for the development and exercise of the human powers.”[3] This is already a rich definition, which shall be detailed in this paper. But, before that, some more definitions of the terms derived from polis need to be introduced. Politēs (citizen), obviously, is one who belongs to the said community. Another term derived from polis is politikos, the “statesman”, “one who knows the things of the city.”[4] Politika (politics) “is merely what has to do with the city.”[5] Further,

The central political concern is the proper organization of a city, and the politeia is that organization. The politeia can largely be identified with the class of citizens who rule, for they impress their way on the city and are the source of the laws. The politeia is, as it were, the soul of the city, [i.e.] related to the individuals who compose the city as form is to matter.[6]

In his Parmenides lecture, Heidegger stresses that “Plato’s Politeia is a recollection of the essential and not a plan for the factual.”[7] As for polis (πόλις, πόλος) it is, simply,

“the pole, the place around which everything appearing to the Greeks as a being turns in a peculiar way. The pole is the place around which all beings turn and precisely in such a way that in the domain of this place beings show their turning and their condition….The essence of the Greek πόλις is grounded in the essence of άλήθεια.”[8]

Heidegger takes us back to a grounding in the πόλις, commonly known as the Utopia, the no-place which is Plato’s Republic. But, restoring the term to its context, for him, the πόλις is not a city, not a state, not a city-state, but “the abode, gathered into itself, of the unconcealedness of beings.”[9] This is in his lecture on the Greek άλήθεια, ordinarily translated as truth, which for him, “[s]trictly speaking, the word ‘truth’ does not give us anything to think and still less anything to represent intuitively.”[10] Thus, he turns to a “borrowed definition” of the word which flows to a literal translation: “unconcealedness” which opens to a fourfold directive: First, un-concealedness, i.e., drawing attention to “concealedness”, where a concealing must occur or must have occurred. Second, un-concealedness, i.e., of a taking away, cancellation, or annihilation of concealment. The first two directives reveal a conflict, where “the essence of truth as unconcealedness stands in some sort of opposition to concealment,”[11] which reveals, that “‘Truth’ is never ‘in itself,’ available by itself, but instead must be gained by struggle. Unconcealedness is wrested from concealment, in a conflict with it.”[12] Third, truth, on the basis of its conflictual essence, stands within ‘oppositional’ relations,”[13] e.g., the counter essence of άλήθές (the true), ψευδος, which “involves a covering that simultaneously unveils.”[14] The openness of the πόλις and the security in the proximity with άλήθεια, brings us to the fourth directive: unconcealedness as “open” and “free”. Finally, here, it is important to note that when Heidegger drifts into the political, the saying is always rooted in the political thinking of the polis[15] as that in Plato’s Politeia.


Political Truth, Truth in Solitude, Organized Lies

Well … people say that there is no need to be solemn about all this and stretch out to such lengths. For the fact is, as we have said … that one who intends to be an able rhetorician has no need to know the truth about the things that are just or good or yet about the people who are such either by nature or upbringing. No one in a lawcourt…cares at all about the truth of such matters. They only care about what is convincing….“the likely,”… you must not even say what actually happened—you must say something that is likely instead….you should pursue what is likely and leave the truth aside…[16]

Truth and the way to it in politics is different from the truth and its attainment in political thinking. First, as said earlier, the polis is “the community of men sharing a way of life and governing themselves, waging war and preserving the peace.” Immediately, there are problems here. In order for men to constitute a community and share a way of life, they must first have a common knowledge of things, raised to a level of convention such that they can be on equal footing and of like minds. If we go by Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, commenting on Hobbes, we can distinguish between man as savage in the state of nature, where he was self-sufficient, and man with cultivated reason who has only what he needs to live in society, accustomed to its ways “and knows how to live only in the opinion of others.”[17] Thus, “[t]he first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, [who] took it into his head to say this is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.”[18] It would take either violence (waging war) or persuasion (preserving peace)[19] to impose on, or influence others with whatever he says, establishing it as his order, agreed to as common knowledge, the convention, and their constitution. Enhanced with an assertion of power, a ruler can secure his domain, and with more violence can enlarge his territory; one can maintain his position through continuous persuasion, or better, infiltrate other thoughts, making them believe that they are with one mind.[20] Arendt observes,

Lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician’s or the demagogue’s but also of the stateman’s trade. Why is that so? And what does it mean for the nature and the dignity of the political realm, on one side, and for the nature of truth and truthfulness, on the other? Is it of the very essence of truth to be impotent and of the very essence of power to be deceitful?…Finally, is not impotent truth just as despicable as power that gives no heed to truth?[21]

In contrast to political truth is the truth in solitude, that which is not from popular opinion, whether by force or persuasion, i.e., that which stands against and in solitude from that which is illusory. However, as Arendt also observes,

Throughout history, the truth-seekers and truthtellers have been aware of the risks of their business; as long as they did not interfere with the course of the world, they were covered with ridicule, but he who forced his fellow-citizens to take him seriously by trying to set them free from falsehood and illusion was in danger of his life: “If they could lay hands on {such a} man…they would kill him,” Plato says in the last sentence of the cave allegory.[22]

For Arendt, it is significant yet rather odd that in the long debate between the “antagonism of truth and politics, from Plato to Hobbes, no one, apparently, ever believed that organized lying, as we know it today, could be an adequate weapon against truth.”[23] Historically, she says, the conflict arose out of the opposition of the philosopher, first interpreted by Parmenides, then by Plato, about the truth of “those things which in their very nature were everlasting and from which … principles could be derived to stabilize human affairs,” to “the citizen’s ever-changing opinions about human affairs, which themselves were in a state of constant flux.”[24] This degrading of opinion gave rise to the political conflict between truth and opinion,

for opinion, and not truth, belongs among the indispensable prerequisites of all power. “All governments rest on opinion,” James Madison said, and not even the most autocratic ruler or tyrant could ever rise to power, let alone keep it, without the support of those who are like-minded. By the same token, every claim in the sphere of human affairs to an absolute truth, whose validity needs no support from the side of opinion, strikes at the very roots of all politics and all governments.[25]

Some facts are publicly known, “and yet the same public that knows them can successfully, and often spontaneously, taboo their public discussion and treat them as though they were what they are not—namely, secrets….What is at stake here is this common and factual reality itself, and this is indeed a political problem of the first order.” In the definition earlier, the polis, waging war and preserving the peace, is the natural social group, containing all that is necessary for the development and exercise of the human powers. A common opinion, enshrined as constitution, preserves the foundation of the community, and unites them in the preservation and security of the formed image of the community from destruction by external forces. Any other thought not in the spirit of the held truth, not aligned with the rule of law named by the constitution established by their convention is deemed alien, unconstitutional, and un-political. By the standards of “politics”, political thoughts, disinterested from the aspiration of like minds, transcending common opinion and critical to popular truth, is deemed, “by nature”, anti-political. This is the most-likely scenario, as it had always been. But then, going further back in time, law, from “nomos”, which “can also be translated as “convention”, as Bloom notes, “can be understood as the opposite of physis, ‘nature,’”[26] such that we also have the derivative “nomina”, from nomos, which means “the customary or lawful.”[27] However, in any case, the truthteller, “the reporter of factual truth is always worse off,”[28] and the “commitment even to factual truth is felt to be an anti-political attitude.”[29] There is no place anymore for the enlightened man back in the cave, as there was no place anymore for Joseph the dreamer among his brothers, as there is no place also for a madman in the marketplace. “Philosophical truth, when it enters the market place, changes its nature and becomes opinion.”[30]

One can understand that the philosopher, in his isolation, yields to the temptation to use his truth as a standard to be imposed upon human affairs; that is, to equate the transcendence inherent in philosophical truth with the altogether different kind of “transcendence” by which yardsticks and other standards of measurement are separated from the multitude of objects they are to measure, and one can equally well understand that the multitude will resist this standard, since it is actually derived from a sphere that is foreign to the realm of human affairs and whose connection with it can be justified only by a confusion.[31]

In order to survive as a private individual in a community, it is better to just mind one’s own business and not interfere with the flow of the ever-changing opinion in the public sphere. Since in all efforts to protect what they have at present in order to survive in the future, the citizens in the flow hold on to narratives that not only will preserve the whole community, city, or country, but, most especially, their own interests, one must make sure that one acts, as though with the same mind, for the sake of the general welfare.

Should one wants to be the ruler, or one of the rulers, he must align his political agenda to the shared opinions, such as of national security, job security and individual financial security—by such alignment he can gain loyalty, and secure for himself high trust ratings from well-positioned viewpoints and reliable satisfaction surveys—and exercising utmost diplomacy and observing protocols to maintain his position in the public sphere.

Factual truth … is always related to other people: it concerns events and circumstances in which many are involved; it is established by witnesses and depends upon testimony; it exists only to the extent that it is spoken about, even if it occurs in the domain of privacy. It is political by nature. Facts and opinions, though they must be kept apart, are not antagonistic to each other; they belong to the same realm.[32]


Political and Anti-political

It makes no sense to say that Plato, Aristotle, or Kant is surpassed. There is no presumption or disdain in our intention to understand an author better, in that this intention expresses nothing other than our appreciation of what wants to be understood better. For when we comprehend properly what “understanding better” means, we realize from the first that such understanding is possible and meaningful only where something intelligible is already there which contains in itself the possibility of being traced back to its foundations.[33]

We have come a long way from the polis, the place grounded in the essence of truth: the polis, that is, “the abode, gathered into itself, of the unconcealedness of beings;”[34] and truth, that is, “the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.”[35]

Plato’s political positions are reduced to just lawgivers, comfortable with protocols rather than reciprocities. Instead of a common preserving of a common dwelling, the Moderns have altered the understanding of the self and the understanding of the world: Descartes introduced the cogito, and with it has declared man, the ego, as the special subject, and everything that surrounds him, by principle of contradiction, have no right to name or describe him, they are just there, the objects, standing ready for control and manipulation by the subject. Hobbes introduced the Leviathan, because for him there is nothing more beyond man, a machine, no such thing as metaphysics, just motion, and so we need a Leviathan, an artificial man, who we can agree can direct traffic so we can avoid collision. If we can all just obey, then all would go well. Rousseau introduced the noble savage, but then, he may just be deceiving us with his insincere social contract which flows from the idea of invincible isolation of the noble savage, concerned mainly with protecting his private property. And so humanity, along with a grandiose global diplomacy run by egotisms, has fallen deep into the pit. The political has turned anti-political.


Solution: From Political Thought to Action

Behold! I am weary of my wisdom, like a bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it.

I should like to give it away and distribute it, until the wise among men have become happy in their folly and the poor happy in their wealth.

To that end, I must descend into the depths: as you do at evening, when you go behind the sea and bring light to the underworld too, superabundant star!

Behold! This cup wants to be empty again, and Zarathustra wants to be man again.

Thus began Zarathustra’s down-going.[36]

In a world where evidence is suspected to be forged, where testimonies may be fabricated, and witnesses to factual truths may be sponsored, and events staged before the world may just be deceptions, we can still remain optimistic with the idea that factual truth, which is political (in both senses) by nature and although dealt with an anti-political attitude, exists as long as it is spoken about, but in continuous dialogue, not in emotive persuasions of Rhetoric.

The philosopher can still respond to the call to action—but he must commit to it, and get ready for the risks he is going to face. The tellers of falsehoods have already gone ahead—for they are men of action, they are actors, whose ultimate goal is total substitution of lies in the place of factual truth, they are consistent in their movement to change the world. The philosopher, meanwhile, in the realm of impartial political thoughts, has seen all these from a solitude outside the political realm.

Now, he must come back like Zarathustra: to agitate, as in Heidegger’s Angst, to disturb, as in Nietzsche’s madman, perhaps to annoy, as the gadfly, Socrates[37]. This is going to be risky, but there is, perhaps, no other way, but to move from political thought to action, and to do it by a Socratic example.

One has to get rid of the bad taste of wanting to be in agreement with many….In the end it must be as it is and has always been: great things are for the great, abysses for the profound, shudders and delicacies for the refined, and, in sum, all rare things for the rare.[38]




Ivan Richard Deligero

May 2018




[1] H. Arendt, The Life of the Mind: One Volume Edition (1: Thinking; 2: Willing), (New York and London: First Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 175-176.

[2] Allan Bloom, Notes to his translation of The Republic of Plato, 2nd ed., trans. 1968, (U.S.A: BasicBooks, 1991), 439.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 440.

[6] Ibid.

[7] M. Heidegger, Parmenides, trans. by André Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 95. A translation of Heidegger’s lecture course, winter semester 1942-43 at the University of Freiburg, published as vol. 54 of Gesamtausgabe, 1982.

[8] Ibid., 89.

[9] Ibid. More on this point, Heidegger comments, “…we still think the Greek πολις and the ‘political’ in a totally un-Greek fashion. We think the ‘political’ as Romans, i.e., imperially.” (Ibid., 43) “What is Greek about it now is only its sound.” (Ibid., 45)

[10] Ibid., 13.

[11] Ibid., 15-16.

[12] Ibid., 17.

[13] Ibid., 18.

[14] Ibid., 36.

[15] E.g.: First, Heidegger’s 1929 letter (“Letter to Victor Schwoerer.” For the full text in English, see translation by M. Stassen in M. Heidegger, Philosophical and Political Writings, 1.) was both a recommendation along the lines of refusing a Jewish contamination and, at the same time, a presentation of the choices, whether to make Germany take roots again on its native soil, or be dominated and at the mercy of other cultures and influences. Second, his 1933 rectorial address (See “The Self-Assertion of the German University,” trans. by Karsten Harries in M. Heidegger, PPW, 2-11) echoed, for those who wanted to hear it, “nationalism”, while at the same time, surreptitiously, spoke to the faculty and students advocating for a “profound and far-reaching thoughtfulness” with a foundation grounded and built on ancient Greek wisdom. (PPW, 11.) Third, his 1934 welcome speech (See “Follow the Führer!” Trans. by D.D. Runes, PPW, 12-15) as 600 who were previously unemployed were then even received into the largest hall of the university, wherein he concluded by calling for a threefold “Heil!” to the Führer, but also, and just before that, elevated the workers (“Every worker is a learned man in his own way, and only as such he can work.”) through distinguishing knowledge and appearance of knowledge (“On the other hand, the learned man may totally deceive himself by what is only the appearance of knowledge.”). (PPW, 14)

[16] Socrates in the discussion of Rhetoric in Plato, Phaedrus, trans. by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Co., Inc., 1995), 75.

[17] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” in Basic Political Writings, trans. by Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 1987), 81.

[18] Ibid., 60.

[19] Cf. Two Laws of Nature in Hobbes in the Leviathan:

[sic] And because the condition of Man … is a condition of Warre of every one against every one; in which case every one is governed by his own Reason; and there is nothing he can make use of, that may not be a help unto him, in preserving his life against his enemyes; It followeth, that in such a condition, every man has a Right to every thing; even to one anothers body. And therefore, as long as this naturall Right of every man to every thing endureth, there can be no security to any man, (how strong or wise soever he be,) of living out the time, which Nature ordinarily alloweth men to live. And consequently it is a precept, or generall rule of Reason, That every man, ought to endeavor Peace, as farre as he hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre. The first branch of which Rule, containeth the first, and the Fundamentall Law of Nature; which is to seek Peace, and follow it. The second, the summe of the Right of Nature; which is, By all means we can, to defend ourselves.

– T. Hobbes, Leviathan (1950), 107.

[20] See Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics” (originally from “Between Past and Future” in The New Yorker, Feb. 25, 1967), in The Portable Hannah Arendt, edited by Peter Baehr (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), 545-575.

[21] Ibid., 545-546.

[22] Ibid., 547.

[23] Ibid., 549.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 549-550.

[26] A. Bloom, Notes to his translation of The Republic of Plato, 446.

[27] Ibid., 461.

[28] H. Arendt, “Truth and Politics” in The Portable Hannah Arendt, 553.

[29] Ibid., 554.

[30] Ibid., 553.

[31] (Arendt’s parenthetical remark.) Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] M. Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans. by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), 3.

[34] M. Heidegger, Parmenides, 89.

[35] H. Arendt,” Truth and Politics,” 574.

[36] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. by R.J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 2003), 39.

[37] Socrates as “gadfly, midwife, electric ray.” See H. Arendt, The Life of the Mind: One Volume Edition (1: Thinking; 2: Willing), (New York and London: First Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 172-174.

[38] F. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans. by R.J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 71.

And from the solicitude of the sublime act we are led directly to its communicability by a pre-reflective and immediate grasp of its relation of agreement with the situation: in this given case, here and now, we are certain that this is exactly what had to be done, in the same way that we consider a given painting to be a masterpiece because right away we have the feeling that it realizes the perfect adequation of the singularity of the solution to the singularity of the question.[1]


A Singular Experience

There is a shared singular experience with the artist and the spectator, the writer and the reader, and the composer and the listener, when the listener suddenly hears music in the silence between the notes, when the reader unknowingly begins reading the text between the lines, and when the spectator falls silent and is drawn deep into a painting. The artist, the writer, and the composer on one hand; the spectator, the reader, and the listener on the other—at one point they all experienced a shared singular moment with the configured work: they were drawn into it, began gazing into space, and began seeing images coming together in their minds. And they knew exactly what to do next.

A unique, singular moment has been captured through an artistic genius, encapsulated in a work of art and is left on its own, no tricks, no hard-selling. Then somebody comes by and picks it up from there. Suddenly, it explodes—bursts of colors and images of a singular moment come flooding out into his imagination, losing him in thoughts, drowning him. Just then, it becomes too large to be left unnoticed, and too deep to be left forgotten. Then it begins to talk, communicating, passing on that “unique gesture to be done.”

In one singular moment, those at the either side of the configuration share a unique experience with it. It doesn’t matter if it is only an adequation, but they both know, and in that same moment meditate on a singular question, and agree, though without yet a language for it, on a singular solution.


An Implied Intention

             No one knows exactly what the intention of the artist is, usually not even the artist himself. In the same way, no one also knows what exactly is the intention of the spectator before walking in to a gallery, or when just passing by a painting, and exactly what happens when his gaze falls upon it for the first time and almost immediately recognizes it as a masterpiece.

In “Aesthetic Experience,” Ricoeur talks about the great difficulty of reflections on art:

For the aesthetic experience involves each time a spectator, a listener, a reader who is also in a relation of singularity with the singularity of the work; but at the same time, it is the first act of communication of the work to others and, virtually to all. The work is like a trail of fire issuing from itself, reaching me and reaching beyond me to the universality of humanity.[2]

There really is a great difficulty because art in this sense broadly includes all art. From the classic and high-class art to graffiti and protest materials, even perhaps to furniture pieces, mass produced articles, the little stamps, or even trinkets: one could never know, nor perhaps imagine, which of these would turn out to have more people being drawn to. Of course there are pieces which have been intended explicitly for a specific purpose, such as the books in a bookstore’s inspirational shelf which one could just grab for inspiration, rave music and laser lights set up in bars so the party could sweat out a dance in an electric beat, or a protesters’ ugly effigy which is obviously going to be burned to actualize its end. However, we cannot also say that one is just confused when he gets inspiration from the mystery fiction shelf, feels stillness in rock music, or experiences tranquilizing peace while running his fingers on some carvings on an armchair, not finding it crude or artless, but just beautiful.

When the work finds itself being looked into and not just being seen; listened to, not just being heard over; and read closely, not just being leafed through—that singular moment becomes a complete aesthetic experience. It is when the Ricoeurian three panels overlap, as though a Venn diagram: it becomes the meeting point of the artist, the artwork, and the spectator. Perhaps, despite each of them existing in different time, space or dimension, they meet in a unique, single instance. With the drawing of the three elements, a spark ignites, a trail of fire is set forth, reaching, sharing the experience to the universality of humanity.[3] The previously unseen and unheard of artistic expression interpreted roughly in a mere adequation gets communicated, gets understood, and gets grasped immediately, and also, with surprisingly perfect eloquence, immediately becomes the perfect solution to the one great problem at hand.


The Ethical Aim

            Thus far, we have not yet fathomed deep into the elements’ individual intentions before the convergence took place. At either side of the completed, but still non-thinking, art piece, we have the artist and the spectator. Both, at different times, with the same pace, taking two, three steps back: one finally seeing it completed and is satisfied, while the other seeing it for the first time and is fascinated; both immediately recognizing it as a masterpiece, both straight away declaring that this is just the way it is to be done.

Whatever their previous intentions were, they now have become unnecessary, or, at the least, secondary. Now, they turn around, armed with a purpose, with a single ethical aim, to do good, i.e., with and for others in just institutions.[4]





Ivan Richard F. Deligero

January 26, 2013

[1] Paul Ricoeur, “Aesthetic Experience,” in Critique and Conviction: Conversations with François Azouvi and Marc de Launay, trans. Kathleen Blamey (1998), Cambridge: Polity Press, 182.

[2] Ibid., 180.

[3] See quotation above.

[4] See further Paul Ricoeur (1994), Seventh Study: “The Self and the Ethical Aim” in Oneself As Another, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), 169-202.

The work of art can have an effect comparable to that of metaphor: integrating levels of sense that are overlaid, preserved and contained together.[1]


Pre-determined Configuration

             Sometimes people get impatient looking at a painting. It draws them towards it, moves them to a distance, disturbs them, throws them into confusion. There is just that peculiarity in it: with the way a moment is captured, the way figures, and colors are brought together, how its depth and textures reveal the elements more clearly for the spectator. “But what does it mean?” One may ask. “Its title doesn’t seem clear enough.” “What does the artist mean?” “Oh, there it is! I think I see the outlines of a figure.”

            On better days, such painting, silent as it is, communicates with a spectator, who doesn’t just see, but feels it all over in a silent, ecstatic experience. Then, either the spectator gets lost in the work of art, or it gets bought by him.

When we look at a picture, we do not suddenly become one big eye, for we have two eyes that make a single gaze, which the whole body brings to bear upon that which presents itself, and upon that in front of which the gaze, too, presents itself….. It is not with one’s eyes but rather with all one’s being that one looks upon a picture. In a manner opposite to the other sensory faculties, the wake of our gaze precedes our movements, and precedes them only when it moves. In order to look, it is necessary to draw near, to back away, to draw near and to back away again, and to be quiet and to stay still, which is for us yet another action.[2]

But what has just happened there? Apparently, someone just walked towards a painting, liked it, so he bought it (or he could come back again and again if his means couldn’t allow him). But is it worth his time, is it worth his while, is it worth the money, is it worth investing? Obviously, he thinks it is.

Perhaps, the question left to ask is: How did it become all worth it?


Creative Prefiguration

Ah! My life as a child, the open

road in every weather; I was unnaturally

abstinent, more detached than the best

of beggars, proud to have no country,

no friends….

Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell[3]

There are a lot of things we can imagine that the artist did or went through—imagining, turning images over and over in his mind, breaking them apart, mixing them, turning them again, feeling them, tasting them, wondering, starting to stretch a canvas, doubting, fixing a frame, wandering out in the streets, drinking some shots, coming home nauseated, crouching in a corner, lying in bed but unable to sleep, turning, rising up, getting his tools, sanding his canvas, propping his easel, staring at the empty canvas, perhaps noticing the dripping of some linseed oil but not minding it, looking at his palette, his brushes, his choice of colors, turning his canvas, his canvas—before applying his first stroke on what would later become his masterpiece. And the artist himself is drawn in the work of art in progress—sometimes unaware that his full day has already stretched to three days, weeks, months—sometimes happening even before his first brushstroke, and all he planned to do was to finish it just before lunchtime. His creativity has enslaved him, and he is enjoying it.

The artist and his creativity are drawn together. Although he seemed passive before he actually began painting, he was actively on it. He has spent so much time, energy, all the resources, all the means he has, he doesn’t forget but doesn’t mind eating, sleeping, taking a break, saving his energy—but it was all worth it.

What was his intention?

A familiar reply would be: (Silence), or later, “I don’t know. Nothing?”


Varied Refigurations

            There are also a lot of things, unimaginable things, that critiques (or everyone) would imagine and loudly say about a work of art: an imagined artist’s intention, that it may have something to do with his past, his personality, his advocacy, and, sadly, sometimes in the direction of defending as to why it is not a work of art.


An aesthetic experience with the other, a giant, 

an old man, the northern gods, and a hobbit

            It was a sunny December day, a no-longer-unlikely phenomenon especially of the rumors that the world is going to end (again) but apparently is still unlikely, and, despite the summer feel out in the streets, the holiday spirit is just around somewhere. With my mother and my siblings’ Christmas vacation at my place still unannounced, which I anticipated is going to be a surprise which really did happen a few days later, I planned ahead. So the itinerary for the pre-Christmas date with the significant Other (a must for any human being in a relationship, even for philosophy students in order to not fail at love) was set: the Ateneo Art Gallery[4] first, the UP Vargas Museum[5] next, then maybe dinner somewhere, then maybe to watch a movie much later (although by then, if it happens, I was thinking it should be the prequel to the Lord of the Rings in 3D). The gigantic Spolarium still had traces in our minds, very huge Juan Luna footprints in fact, although it was already four years ago when we had a date at the National Museum, such that despite the scorching sun that high noon, we still went out, excited about what the promising galleries would offer us.

            It was almost 3 o’clock when we registered at the Ateneo Art Gallery. There was a David Medalla coffee-table book at the registration counter, it was in plastic shrink so I thought of just going ahead left towards the Gallery’s permanent collection which I was then going to see for the first time, so much for Medalla’s welcoming book which can’t be leafed through. Immediately there was an Amorsolo, then another Amorsolo, and those just grabbed us. They are just portraits, but there are just mysteriously, distinctly Amorsolo in them. There were of course other paintings and a few installations by other artists, but sad to say, just honestly, they are not Amorsolo’s, let alone Amorsolos. Juan Luna and Amorsolo are just giants, and it feels good to stand on their shoulders and enjoy a wonderful sight.

In a room far back at the other side of the gallery is another exhibit which seemed either was still being set up or had been abandoned. At a distance is a sight of an old man, inside the room, solitary, moving back and forth. Moving closer, one could begin to hear classical music playing at the background and an old man with a big, already drying up and almost totally stiff brush in one hand and a tin of wall paint in the other. He was standing on a high, makeshift platform working on a mural. Whenever he needs another color he had to come down to get it, then back again to his mural. He seemed unmindful of just being alone in the room, unaware, or just not minding at all of anyone who comes by to peek in, but he was just like a child, playing, as though splayed with a large sheet of paper on a floor, gripping comparably oversized crayons in his small hands, freely enjoying what he was doing. Then he looks like the one on the cover of the coffee-table book at the counter—it was David Medalla himself!

The next destination for the day was the exhibit at the UP Vargas Museum, “Watching the Watchmen” by Ronald Ventura. I have read about him and have seen photographs of his works in the November 2012 issue of Rouge, but I was still excited to see them scaled to their actual sizes, and so had to hurry up to catch them before the museum closes for the day. Immediately noticeable is how the regular, miniature representations of the northern gods as undernourished Bulul figures ordinarily available at souvenir shops have not only gained weight but also grew up to become huge sculptures of high quality material, which could also mean really expensive, not to mention that the artist is now one of those whom international critiques recommend investing on. Again another artist who only played with his imagination (and ours too), and is so creative at it that he is able to configure his art pieces to have lives of their own, then to work for him, by coming up with their own sales pitch, and selling themselves. While his current, and along with them the previous, art pieces are generating passive income for him, and agents working with the transactions in the market here and abroad, he just goes on enjoying, playing, or, for an observer, creating more art.

The museum was already closing when we finished viewing almost its entire collection. After discussing, digesting the artworks that we have seen over coffee, we headed to a food bazaar not too far off for a quick dinner, we still had to catch a hobbit in 3D. So we were just in time for a last full showing of The Hobbit on its first day on big screen. But at the time while we were following Bilbo’s journey with dwarves, elves and a gray wizard, what loomed in our glasses were the images of the Spolarium and the Amorsolos. They kept coming back in our minds. The movie should have been set on some other regular day.



           “Perfect eloquence is almost always mute.” This is a line I have read and one of those brilliant quotes I can still remember from many years ago. Silent as they are, what paintings always do is silence us. It is a good feeling to stand in front of a painting, a sculpture, a work of art, and be silenced by it. There is a genius in the way an artist prefigures a configuration, in his cryogenic way of capturing a moment, freezing it, until someone comes by, looks into it, and gets immersed in that unique, singular experience of that exact moment.

Silence! Behold the painting.



Ivan Richard F. Deligero

January 12, 2013

[1] Paul Ricoeur, “Aesthetic Experience,” in Critique and Conviction: Conversations with François Azouvi and Marc de Launay, trans. Kathleen Blamey (1998), Cambridge: Polity Press, p. 172.

[2] Jean-Louis Chrétien, “Silence in Painting” in Hand to Hand: Listening to the Work of Art, trans. Stephen E. Lewis (2004), New York: Fordham University Press, p. 18. See also quotation of the same passage in Leovino Ma. Garcia, “Listening to Lao’s Silence,” Philippine Daily Inquirer (2 October 2006), p. D1:

“In looking, it is necessary ‘to draw near, to back away, to draw near and back away again, and to be quiet and to stay still.’ There is silence in painting. There is a silence of art. Art has to be listened to…. if one is to hear its silence.”

[3] Opening lines in Second Season: The Open Road, in Arthur Rimbaud, Complete Works, trans. Paul Schmidt (2000) New York: Harper Perennial Classics, p. 41.

[4] Ateneo Art Gallery, Rizal Library Special Collections Building, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Philippines.

[5] UP Vargas Museum, Roxas Avenue,  Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines



We begin with traumatisms to reveal man’s struggle in his journey for self-knowledge since time immemorial. In the Pre-Socratic period, man began asking himself “What am I?” With Socrates the struggle continues with the imperative statement: “Know thyself.” Throughout the stretch of the history of philosophy, man has continued to journey on, reflecting, struggling to know himself.

In the struggle to know himself, man spent time to wrestle with beasts to prove himself and establish dominion over them, declaring himself as the rational animal. Man spent time enjoying this power to dominate, hardly had the time to think about it but just went on dominating other men, becoming political, social, sometimes artificial. By becoming such political, social, artificial body, man has become confident to have gained so much virility that he, as a collection of hungry men, becomes a force that rushes towards dominating all others, not even minding perhaps if all of those others have stepped out of the way to make space for him.

Once it had been the cosmos, then man became the center, became the measure of all things. He was put aside again—and pinned down—with the theocentric view of the Medieval Ages. He broke free once again in the Renaissance and its undefined Idealism: man’s “I think” putting an end to the Medieval thought. It didn’t matter that he was no longer a rational animal, that he was reduced to an idea, that he only had existence but no fixed essence. But that was all at that time what he basically needed; man became free to define himself, to work his way to create an essence he can rightly say as his own. Man enjoyed the pleasure of this newfound freedom that he went on pushing himself farthest to both extremes while at the same time firmly keeping hold of this his secure, center position.

With all those struggles, although he has totally outlived all of them, has persevered in being,  and has survived to this day, we still can see in man stains, traces of bruises, wounds, traumas, all of them visible in the nakedness of his face. But for man, the question remains: “Who am I?”



Escape from Totality

We have now come to the recent thoughts in Western Philosophy, the period when we are invited to a tour, “back to the things themselves.” Beyond all his needs, man desires to find the answer to this disturbing, perennial question. Our recent great thinkers have not lost hope, but have also struggled to provide man with the final answer.

Nausea and pour-soi. We first undergo with Sartre (La Nausée) in his analysis of the emotional experience. “’If anyone had asked me what experience was, I would have answered, in good faith, that it was nothing, simply an empty form which was added to external things without changing anything in their nature. And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself.’”[1] “’I want to vomit—and suddenly there it is: the Nausea…now I know: I exist.’”[2]

Shipwreck and Existenz. For Jaspers, man has to undergo utter defeat, failure, “a veritable shipwreck” “to take stock of what he is. And then, only then, does he become Existenz.”[3] “One has to experience defeat before one gets hold of his own existence. The common man, the one who goes through his daily routine never really understands himself. He does not even pause to question whether he exists.”[4]

Reflection about the broken world. Existence, says Marcel, can only be arrived at through reflection, reflection about the modern world.[5]

Distinction of Da-sein. For Heidegger, man is entangled in everydayness and “does not really exist authentically. He vegetates, he ruminates, he lives, but he does not exist. He is lost in the crowd of anonymity. He could be anyone but he is no one. He has no face, no personality.”[6]  Da-sein is initially entangled, lost even, in average everydayness. In the unawareness of being lost, one is in the manner of dependency and inauthenticity.[7] “Da-sein has initially always already fallen away from itself and fallen prey to the ‘world.’”[8] “Initially, factical Da-sein is in the with-world, discovered in an average way. Initially, ‘I’ ‘am’ not in the sense of my own self, but I am the others in the mode of the they….Initially, Da-sein is the they and for the most part it remains so.”[9] “Da-sein is dispersed in the they and must first find itself.”[10]

Thus far, we have toured throughout the history of ideas in philosophy, have seen man asking the same question, and certain thinkers in certain periods attempting to answer it by way of Ontology, the study of being as be-ing. And just when we thought we have transcended through the recent thoughts in philosophy, we have fallen back to square one. And, so far, we are lost.

Il y a and Separation

The subject transcends itself’? Either we have a true transcendence, but in that case the subject is carried along in its transcendent movement, and in that adventure, the subject, ceasing to be itself, loses its identity, or its substance; or the subject remains itself in its movement of transcendence, but then there may be doubt as to whether or not there is true transcendence.[11]

Earlier we have seen Heidegger attempting to distinguish between the being (as noun) and be-ing (as verb). Levinas admits that this distinction is for him the most profound thing about Heidegger’s Being and Time.[12] But he comments on such fact that in Heidegger there is distinction, not a separation.[13] He then proposes to get out of being by a different path: to approach existing without existents, now inviting us to imagine first all things, beings and persons, returning to nothingness.[14]

What if, suddenly, we all go back to nothing?  In this situation, beings fall back into nothing, but not completely nothing. There would be no thing, but not nothing[15].  Il y a is indeterminate, impersonal, anonymous.  In the state of il y a, you are not yet an I, you have not yet come out.

What remains after this imaginary destruction of everything is not something, but the fact that there is (il y a). The absence of everything returns as a presence, as the place where the bottom has dropped out of everything, an atmospheric density, a plenitude of the void, the murmur of silence. There is, after this destruction of things and beings, the impersonal “fields of forces” of existing. There is something that is neither subject nor substantive.[16]

Thus, ‘the celebrated project of the modern philosophers, in which the subject surpasses itself by creating,’ returns the subject to itself, without making a true transcendence, a going out from self, possible.[17]

Levinas tries to describe subjectivity from the absence of subjectivity, to show us a new way of understanding the subject, by making us imagine the absence of the subject. In order to become a particular being, Levinas imagined it must have taken a certain amount of effort to be in being. For Levinas, to continue to be is to fight for your space. We have to rise up from anonymity and impersonality. We have to have a strong effort to be unique, singular, and different. Levinas makes Heidegger’s Being more dynamic by showing us that it takes great effort to truly exist.

Indeed it took us great effort to truly exist. Now that we have escaped the state of il y a, what immediately comes to mind, and, yes, even unthinkingly, is to just dig in. This is jouissance!—a naïve, innocent enjoyment. We dig in, we exist, and we arrive at the peak of pleasure, a process of departing from being. It is a pleasure to have escaped from il y a, and a pleasure to truly exist! But while pleasure “appears in a constant surpassing of oneself, it breaks just at the moment where it seems to get out absolutely. It develops with an increase in promises, which become richer the closer it comes to its paroxysm, but these promises are never kept.”[18] Pleasure is, in fact, a deceptive escape, it is an escape that fails.

And after some time while we are at it, another question comes to mind, we just are not contented: Is this all? And then: Is be-ing the reason for be-ing? And while all these come to mind, we become unconsciously conscious that pleasure has deceived us, our vision blurs, and nausea kicks in.

Nausea is the state that precedes vomiting, and from which vomiting will deliver us, encloses us on all sides. Nausea does not come from outside to confine us, but rather revolts from the inside—“our depths smother beneath ourselves; our innards ‘heave’.”[19] There is in nausea a refusal to remain there, an effort to get out, of being riveted, enclosed in a tight circle that smothers. “We are there, and there is nothing more to be done, or anything to add to this fact that we have been entirely delivered up, that everything is consumed: this is the very experience of pure being.[20]

Nausea reveals to us the presence of being in all its impotence. It is the impotence of pure being, in all its nakedness. In the state of nausea, shame appears purified of any admixture of collective representations. Even when nausea is experienced in solitude, in isolation, the sick person, “who was taken ill” and who has no choice but to vomit, is still scandalized by himself, even instead wishing for the presence of another because then the scandal of nausea could be brought down objectively to the level of “illness”.

It was a shame. It was shameful, painful, a shipwreck. But there it is, we have wished for the presence of the Other. Just then, the Other shows up. Then we ask: Where did he come from? Why is he here? Is he here for me?

Just when we have thought we have dominated, totalized everything, have enjoyed the pleasure of domination, of totalization, and have failed, we see the face of the Other putting into question our perseverance in being, leading us to escape totality.



Rethinking the Other 

With the arrival of the Other, we again look back at the history of philosophy, but now beginning to realize that the study of being has all been an enterprise of domination, that the history of being is a history of conquest, that subjectivity has been always understood as virility. The Other is totally other, but is also being. The Other could be the feminine, but the human being comes first before the sexual differences, so there must be an equal relation between the two different beings. The Other could also be a son or daughter whom the I, by receding, should create a space for, for the creativity of the Other. The Other could also be a neighbor, but that the relation of person to person precedes all relation, then the Other’s just being a neighbor is just secondary. And we ask: Is to be subject to be at the base?

To all these, Levinas would say that being subject is not being on top, but being subjected to the Other, who is saving me by drawing me out. Humanism is not me, myself, but humanism of the Other. The usual view is what we see first, but we must view them “back to the things themselves”, that is, to experience the Other as face. Subjectivity, therefore, is responsibility, a responsibility already incumbent on the I. And the pre-ethical jouissance is towards the recognition of the Other, not as a competitor, but to whom one can readily say “Me here for you!”



Infinite Ethics

‘Infinite’: “…It designates the property of certain contents offered to thought to stretch out beyond all limits. It is used in the first instance in cases in which limit has its apparently original meaning. It is appropriate to magnitudes of extension: to space, stretching out of sight, beyond the place we inhabit or look at; to time [le temps], from which the time of day [l’heure] is always torn loose; to the number of series, none of which is the greatest–quanta making up a series. But the term infinite is also appropriate to magnitudes of continuity–to extensive or intensive quanta continua, in which no part of the whole is the smallest possible.[21]

There is a need to get out of Being, but that which is neither a lack nor a privation. It is also important to distinguish between self-cultivation and responsibility: the former as a movement which goes out, takes, and comes back (pris – grasping), and the latter as a movement which goes out but not a taking that wants to go back (sur-pris), there is an Other who takes me out, I am taken out.

Transcendence is born of the intersubjective relation.[22] In such a relation, the I does not put itself in question; it is put in question by the other.[23]

The Other becomes my neighbor precisely through the way the face summons me, calls for me, begs for me, and in so doing recalls my responsibility, and calls me into question.[24]

Before I conclude, I would like to quote a beautiful passage from “Infinite Responsibility for the Other: The Ethical Basis of a Humane Society According to Emmanuel Levinas”, an early essay on the Philosophy and Ethics of Levinas by Prof. Dr. Leovino Garcia:

We must now show the ethical dimension of the Face-to-Face encounter. In Levinas’ phenomenology of the Other’s appearance, the Other is primarily experienced as one who addressed me, as a Face who looks at me and speaks to me. In contrast with objects, the I does not give the Face its meaning. The Other’s Face resists characterization and classification. The Other’s Face appears as something new. The Face informs me about the Other’s radical otherness. In this sense, the Other is my Teacher. It is too often repeated that we only know what we really virtually know, that we discover everything in ourselves by ourselves. This is not true; we learn from the others, from the outside, I am taught, i.e., truth comes to me from elsewhere.[25]

What makes the resistance of the Face ethical? As radical otherness, the Face is not only an irreducible resistance but an extreme vulnerability. The Other comes absolutely from elsewhere. He is literally a stranger in the biblical sense of poor, widow, orphan, foreigner. Now, it is just the stranger’s misery which makes the Face’s command ethical. As strangeness, the Other demands my recognition. But as destitution (misery), helpless poverty, it can not compel me. The Other is not only my superior but also my subordinate. The Other can only beg me to come to the aid of his misery. Only through this begging does the demand become ethical. A demand is only ethical when it calls upon, begs a freedom which can not be forced. But this begging is only ethical when it includes an absolute ought. In short, the Face is ethical because it is simultaneously demand and begging command and plea. The relation with the Face is a relation with “the resistance of what has no resistance—the ethical resistance.[26]

Responsibility comes “through the Other.” It is an “occupation” by the Other, an inspiration by the Other, a “substitution” for the Other, in the sense that ethical action is first of all the passivity of having been called and only afterwards the activity of personally accepting this responsibility. The Other, in addressing me, makes me absolutely inalienably responsible. No one can answer for me. When the Other calls me, I must answer.[27]

Lastly, and as a conclusion, a quote on self-constancy from Paul Ricoeur’s Oneself As Another, quoting from Levinas’s Otherwise than Being:

Self-constancy is for each person that manner of conducting himself or herself so that others can count on that person. Because someone is counting on me, I am accountable for my actions before another. The term “responsibility” unites both meanings: “counting on” and “being accountable for.” It unites them, adding to them the idea of a response to the question “Where are you?” asked by another who needs me. This response is the following: “Here I am!” a response that is a statement of self-constancy.[28]



Ivan Richard F. Deligero

March 21, 2012


[1] E.S. Quito, “The Meaning of Existentialism” in F.H. Hornedo, ed. (2003), “Back to the Things Themselves”: Selected Essays in Recent Western Philosophy Originally Published in Unitas, Manila: University of Santo Tomas, p. 24.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., pp. 24-25.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., pp. 25.

[7] Being and Time (BT), Martin Heidegger (MH), p 128; J. Stambaugh (JS) trans., p. 120.

[8] BT: MH, 175; JS, 164.

[9] BT: MH: 129; JS, 121.

[10] Ibid.

[11] E. Levinas (1999), Alterity and Transcendence. M.B. Smith, trans. New York: Columbia University Press, xi. From E. Levinas, Totality and Infinity (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, n.d. [1969]), p. 274.

[12] See E. Levinas (1979), Time and the Other, trans. Cohen, R., Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, p. 44.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., pp. 45-46.

[15] Heidegger, “What is Metaphysics”: “Pure be[ing] and pure no-thing is the same.” This proposition of Hegel’s (Science of Logic) is correct. Be[ing] and no-thing belongs together, not because both of them agree in their indeterminacy and immediacy, but rather because be[ing] itself in essence finite and revealed only in the transcendence of existence enduring no-thing [in das Nichts hinausgehaltenen Daseins].

[16] Time and the Other, p. 46.

[17] E. Levinas (1999), Alterity and Transcendence. M.B. Smith, trans. New York: Columbia University Press, xi. From E. Levinas, ‘Philosophy and the Idea of Infinity,’ Collected Philosophical Papers, edited and trans. by A. Lingis (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987), p. 54.

[18] Levinas, E. (1982), On Escape/ De l’évasion, trans. Bergo, B. (2003), Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 62.

[19] Ibid., p. 66.

[20] Ibid., pp. 66-67.

[21] E. Levinas, “The Other Transcendence” in Alterity and Transcendence, p. 53.

[22] E. Levinas (1999) Alterity and Transcendence. Smith, M.B., trans. New York: Columbia University Press, xii.

[23] Ibid., xiii.

[24] E. Levinas, “Ethics as First Philosophy” trans. S. Hand and M. Temple, in S. Hand, ed. 1989, The Levinas Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., p. 83.

[25] L.M. Garcia, “Infinite Responsibility for the Other: The Ethical Basis of a Humane Society According to Emmanuel Levinas” in F.H. Hornedo, ed. (2003), “Back to the Things Themselves”: Selected Essays in Recent Western Philosophy Originally Published in Unitas, Manila: University of Santo Tomas, pp. 268-269.

[26] Ibid., pp. 269-270.

[27] Ibid., p. 270.

[28] P. Ricoeur (1994), Sixth Study: “The Self and Narrative Identity” Oneself As Another, trans. K. Blamey, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 165. From E. Levinas, Otherwise than Being, A. Lingis, trans. (1974), The Hague: M. Nijhoff, p. 180.

De-distancing[1] Da-sein

(Towards the Phenomenon of Care)

             We begin with “de-distancing” to free Da-sein from being initially, and always, overlooked, that is, in relation to the spatiality of being-in-the-world, hoping to let it be encountered anew, lest it be lost once again in translations, commentaries and in its tempting entanglement. Once such objective has been achieved, the next movement would be towards, through Angst, the phenomenon of care—the primordial unity of the structure of which lies in temporality.

            “Things at hand are encountered within the world….World is always already “there” in all things at hand. World is already discovered beforehand together with everything encountered.”[2] The being-in-the-world sees them as tools which may be relevant to his project or work, or these may be of no significance at all or for the time being and in which case such things at hand are just there, lying around, in his surrounding world. But in either case, they are discovered as things at hand in their nearness, together with the world in which they are, to the being-in-the-world who sees them as useful or useless things.

Together with the useful things, found in work for example, others are also “encountered” for whom the work is to be done. The kind of being, however, of the existence of “the others” encountered within the surrounding world is distinct, completely different from handiness and mere objective presence of things at hand. “They are there, too, and there with it.[3] “The others” are “those from whom one mostly does not distinguish oneself, those among whom one is, too.”[4] “The world is always already the one that I share with the others. The world of Da-sein is a with-world. Being-in is being-with others. The innerwordly being-in-itself of others is Mitda-sein.”[5] “The other is encountered in his Mitda-sein in the world.”[6]

Da-sein is always oriented towards discovering and circumspectly interpreting beings in the sense of a familiar and heedful association in its encounter with them in the world. It can approach, flee, or make room for beings unlike Da-sein, that is, it can, by distancing, set remoteness with regard to useless or deficient things to make room for more useful things to be at hand, or let beings be encountered in nearness through de-distancing. “Initially and for the most part, de-distancing is a circumspect approaching, a bringing near as supplying, preparing, having at hand.”[7]

However, the handiness of things at hand has, in a primordial sense, the “character of inconspicuous familiarity.” “Thus we initially always overlook and fail to hear what is measurably ‘nearest’ to us.”[8] For one who is wearing spectacles for example, that which is “sitting on his nose” would be for him the farthest in his mind when he is so concerned with seeing clearer what is farther away; or a telephone receiver would easily be inconspicuous if one is deeply engaged in conversation with another at the other end, one would only care to look at it if it becomes defective; or a street which is useful for walking is easily not noticed in contrast to an acquaintance that one sees further on.[9] Like the defective phone, things can only be looked on with concern in the discovery of their deficiency.

The case for things at hand, unfortunately, happens also, and for the most part, to Da-sein. “Taking care” of food, clothing, nursing of the sick, is “concern”. But, sadly, this “concern” has been understood in a way which corresponds to our use of “taking care” of things. Here, Heidegger gives an example of welfare work, where “its factical urgency is motivated by the fact that Da-sein initially and, for the most part, lives in the deficient modes of concern.”[10] He continues, “being for-, against-, and without-one-another, passing-one-another-by, not-mattering-to-one-another, are possible ways of concern.”[11] In such case, concern can take the other’s “care” away from him and put itself in his place in taking care, “it can leap in for him.”[12] “In this concern, the other can become one who is dependent and dominated even if this domination is a tacit one and remains hidden from him. This kind of concern which does the job and takes away ‘care’ is, to a large extent, determinative for being with one another and pertains, for the most part, to our taking care of things at hand.”[13]

Now, tacitly and inconspicuously, Da-sein has already been dominated by others, taken over unawares. The they presents every judgment and decision as its own, takes the responsibility of Da-sein away from it, and reduces, levels it down to averageness. The they always “did it.”[14]

            Everyone is the other, and no one is himself. The they, which supplies the answer to the who of everyday Da-sein, is the nobody to whom every Da-sein has always already surrendered itself, in its being-among-one-another.[15]


Da-sein entangled in everydayness

Being-in-the-world is always already entangled. The average everydayness of Da-sein can thus be determined as entangled-disclosed, thrown-projecting being-in-the-world which is concerned with its ownmost potentiality in its being together with the “world” and in being-with with others.[16]

             Da-sein is initially entangled, lost even, in average everydayness. In the unawareness of being lost, one is in the manner of dependency and inauthenticity.[17] “To the unprejudiced ontic-ontological ‘eye’, it reveals itself as the ‘most real subject’ of everydayness.”[18] Da-sein is initially, and for the most part together with the “world” that it takes care of.[19] “When one is absorbed in the everyday multiplicity and rapid succession of what is taken care of, the self of the self-forgetful “I take care of” shows itself as what is constantly and identically simple, but indefinite and empty.” One goes along with this oversight and forces an inappropriate “categorical” horizon upon the problematic of the self.[20] “Da-sein has initially always already fallen away from itself and fallen prey to the ‘world.’”[21] “Initially, factical Da-sein is in the with-world, discovered in an average way. Initially, ‘I’ ‘am’ not in the sense of my own self, but I am the others in the mode of the they….Initially, Da-sein is the they and for the most part it remains so.”[22] “Da-sein is dispersed in the they and must first find itself.”[23]

Idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity characterize the way in which Da-sein is its “there,” the disclosedness of being-in-the-world, in an everyday way. As existential determinations, these characteristics are not objectively present in Da-sein; they constitute its being. In them and in the connectedness of their being, a basic kind of the being of everydayness reveals itself, which we call the entanglement of Da-sein.[24]

Saving Da-sein from inauthenticity and from its entanglement[25] in everydayness is a difficult task. As thrown being-in-the-world, Da-sein is initially thrown into the publicness of the they. Da-sein is initially and for the most part immersed in the they and is mastered by it.[26] Inauthenticity constitutes precisely in this distinctive kind of being-in-the-world which is completely taken in by the world and the Mitda-sein of the others in the they.[27]

“The they, which is nothing definite and which all are…prescribes the kind of being of everydayness.”  “The they is essentially concerned with averageness.” It maintains itself factically in the averageness of what is proper, what is allowed, and what is not. “The care of averageness reveals, in turn, an essential tendency of Da-sein, which we call the leveling down of all possibilities of being.” This publicness, constituted by averageness and leveling down, obscures everything, and then claims that what has been thus covered over is what is familiar and accessible to everybody.[28]


Da-sein entangled in philosophers’ everydayness

Idle talk discloses to Da-sein a being toward its world, to others and to itself—a being in which these are understood, but in a mode of groundless floating. Curiosity discloses each and every thing, but in such a way that being-in is everywhere and nowhere. Ambiguity conceals nothing from the understanding of Da-sein, but only in order to suppress being-in-the-world in this uprooted everywhere and nowhere.[29]

We admitted earlier that saving Da-sein from entanglement is a difficult task. Those who know better, or at least are expected to, must take up the task of leaping ahead, that is, not in order to take “care” away from Da-sein, as in leaping in, “but to first to give it back to him as such. This concern which essentially pertains to authentic care; that is, the existence of the other, and not to a what which it takes care of, helps the other to become transparent to himself in his care and free for it.”[30] Thus, it is imperative that we be led to the statement of our objective, that is: to be able to care to look a little closer at Da-sein.

Before we look at Da-sein as being-in-the-world, or, specifically, before we merely pass words along as in idle talk’s gossiping, we need first, or, we need to look again (if this is not the first time as in most cases) at how the important terms developed in our primary source, Heidegger’s Being and Time (Sein und Zeit), or earlier in the young Heidegger’s early lectures, or later in the later Heidegger, or much later when Sein und Zeit, and his other writings began to be translated and commented on (or, otherwise, scribbled). We can’t discuss all of them at length here, but we will attempt to demonstrate de-distancing by using one of the indented quotations (from Chapter VI of Division I of Being and Time) we saw earlier in the introduction of Part I.

Being-in-the-world is always already entangled. The average everydayness of Da-sein can thus be determined as entangled-disclosed, thrown-projecting being-in-the-world which is concerned with its ownmost potentiality in its being together with the “world” and in being-with with others.

(BT: MH, 181; JS, 170)Accordingly Dasein’s “average everydayness” can be defined as “Being-in-the-world which is falling and disclosed, thrown and projecting, and for which its ownmost potentiality-for-Being is an issue, both in its Being alongside the ‘world’ and in its Being-with Others”.

(BT: MH, 181; M&R, 225)


At the left side is Stambaugh’s translation, while at the right is Macquarrie and Robinson’s version of the same passage from Heidegger’s Being and Time. Both are set in italics which immediately gives the impression of emphasis. However, in this comparison, M&R’s version is not that as emphatic as JS’s because of their choice to start it off with an adverb. Next, where M&R opts to put an end to the “can be” as a whole by defining it, JS just settles with just determining what is nearest to it. The hyphenated compound words (entangled-disclosed, thrown-projecting) that JS uses to modify “being-in-the-world” carries more, or at once, double weight, compared to M&R’s choice to separate the modifiers with conjunctions. With regard to “ownmost”, JS’s “potentiality in its being” is closer to a potentiality which one already owns in its being, rather than M&R’s “potentiality-for-Being” that connotes a potentiality which is not yet. “Together with the world” also means closer and more involved than just “Being alongside”. What JS is “concerned about” in her literary interpretation is “an issue for” in M&R’s literal translation. More importantly, we should not also fail to see Da-sein (hyphenated) in JS and just Dasein in M&R. “Dasein” could simply mean “being-there”, or when hyphenated, the emphasis on the “Da” could mean either “here and now” or “there and here”. In some later works, such as Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning), the translation presents it as “t/here” [Da], that is, pulling “there” and “here” into a single word.

JS and M&R also have different interpretations with regard to care:








taking care





Lastly, in their Translators’ Preface, M&R state that Being and Time “is a very difficult book, even for the German reader, and highly resistant to translation, so much so that it has often been called ‘untranslatable’.” While at the back cover of Stambaugh’s translation, it says that it, the Stambaugh translation, “captures the vital relation to language that animates Heidegger’s original text.” It then ends with a striking statement: “The new translation of key notions here should serve as the standard for Heidegger studies to come.” Being one of Heidegger’s students, she was able to enumerate in her Preface the reasons that Being and Time poses special problems for its translator and for the readers of an English language translation. She also notes that the translation “‘was begun some time ago,’ in point of fact before Heidegger’s death in 1976, such that we have had Joan Stambaugh’s translation of the two Introductions, as edited by David Krell, in the collection of Basic Writings since 1977. Permission for it was granted by Heidegger himself along with the ‘express wish’ that the now English word and central topic of the book, ‘Da-sein,’ be hyphenated throughout the new translation. He at the same time graciously gave the translator the hand-written poem on the grace of thought that now graces the frontcover of this translation.”[31]

We now leave the concern, or issue, on the interpretations of Being and Time, not being conclusive about which translation the reader should prefer, as there are also other various versions out there, but just hoping that the reader would now be drawn to appreciate the book, or care to read it, or care to read it again a little closer, and therefore save Da-sein or as many Da-seins as he possibly can.

            Still, in the end it is the business of philosophy to protect the power of the most elemental words in which Da-sein expresses itself from being flattened by the common understanding as a source for illusory problems.[32]



Towards Care: Angst

            Being thrown, Da-sein feels uneasy, not at home—an uncanny feeling—so that it flees from itself towards falling prey to innerwordly beings. In being engrossed with taking care of them, he is absorbed, entangled, and just lingers on in tranquilized familiarity. With this dominance of falling prey and publicness, “real” Angst is rare.[33]

The uncanniness, however, is a primordial feeling, there is already a disposition[34] of Angst, before Da-sein, consciously or unconsciously, chose to fall prey and be-at-home with it, than not-being-at-home with the uncanny feeling of Angst, which initially finds expression in the “nothing and nowhere.”[35] This uncanniness pursues Da-sein and “threatens” its everyday lostness in the they. As usually the case, Angst can arise in the most harmless situations. But, unfortunately, when one feels it, immediately, more often, or as soon as it occurs, it is dismissed.

When Angst has quieted down, in our everyday way of talking we are accustomed to say “it was really nothing.”…Everyday discourse aims at taking care of things at hand and talking about them. That about which Angst is anxious is none of the innerwordly things at hand. But this “none of the things at hand,” which is all that everyday, circumspect discourse understands, is not a total nothing….[T]hat about which Angst is anxious is being-in-the-world itself.[36]


Angst fetches Da-sein back out of its entangled absorption in the “world.” Everyday familiarity collapses. Da-sein is individuated, but as being-in-the-world. Being-in enters the existential “mode” of not-being-at-home. The talk about “uncanniness” means nothing other than this.[37]

In Angst lies the possibility of a distinctive disclosure, since Angst individualizes. This individualizing fetches Da-sein back from its entanglement and reveals to it authenticity and inauthenticity as possibilities of its being. “Da-sein is a being which is concerned in its being about that being.”[38] That for which we have Angst is our potentiality-for-being-in-the-world. “This potentiality is that for the sake of which any Da-sein is as it is…. Being free for its ownmost potentiality-for-being, and thus for the possibility of authenticity and inauthenticity, shows itself in a primordial, elemental concretion in Angst.[39]


Care and Temporality

            Heidegger takes Angst as an indicator of three interrelated aspects of Da-sein that belong together in “care”.[40]

First, as he mentioned in his preparatory analysis of Da-sein: “It is being about which this being is concerned.”[41] Angst reveals the task of choosing who one can be: it can inspire a change of course, or one can choose to remain as he is, but in such a way that he chooses his identity, instead of just letting it happen. Heidegger refers to our need to determine our own identity as Da-sein’s existentiality or its being-ahead-of-itself. We can think of this dimension as our having a future.[42]

 Second, one is not pure possibility; one already has a life. One is already familiar with an established identity and world—the very world that Angst is calling into question. This feature of one’s Being is his facticity, thrownness, or being-already-in-the-world. We can view this dimension as our having a past.[43]

Third, Angst can help one realize that he is normally absorbed in his daily tasks, oblivious to both his existentiality and facticity. From one’s anxious feeling of alienation, one can recognize that he is normally at home in a world that he takes for granted. Being at-home-amid entities is our usual way of having a present.[44]

Heidegger hopes that the experience of Angst will help us see how the three dimensions fit together into a single structure: “The being of Da-sein means being-ahead-of-oneself-already-in (the world) as being-together-with (innerwordly beings encountered). This being fills in the significance of the term care, which is used in a purely ontological and existential way.”[45]

We call the unified phenomenon of the future that makes present in the process to having-been temporality. Temporality reveals itself as the meaning of authentic care.[46]


Authentic Potentiality-of-Being and Anticipatory Resoluteness

            For Heidegger, care should be conceived as a being that occurs and elapses “in time.” “The primordial unity of the structure of care lies in temporality.”[47] “The self-project grounded in the ‘for the sake of itself’ in the future is an essential quality of existentiality. Its primary meaning is the future.[48] “Resolute, Da-sein has brought itself back out of falling prey in order to be all the more authentically ‘there’ for the disclosed situation in the ‘Moment’ [Augenblick].”[49] Care is being-toward-death. Heidegger defines anticipatory resoluteness as authentic being toward the possibility that he characterizes as the absolute impossibility of Da-sein.[50] “In this being-toward-the-end, Da-sein exists authentically and totally as the being that it can be when ‘thrown into death.’ It does not have an end where it just stops, but it exists finitely.”[51] When this happens, one is no longer being there.

“The primordial and authentic future is the toward-oneself, toward oneself, existing as the possibility of a nullity not-to-be-bypassed….Primordial and authentic coming-toward-oneself is the meaning of existing in one’s ownmost nullity.”[52] It is in having an attitude of anticipatory resoluteness that makes one go beyond merely overcoming everydayness, or care only for the day after tomorrow, and be concerned about one about one’s lifetime and therefore will even to do today what can be done the day after tomorrow.

Ivan Richard F. Deligero

January 26, 2012





Kisiel, T. (2002). Heidegger’s Way of Thought. New York and London: Continuum.

Polt, R. (1999). Heidegger: An Introduction. New York: Cornell University Press.

Emad, P. and Maly, K. trans. (1999). Martin Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning). Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Stambaugh, J. trans. (1996). Martin Heidegger, Being and Time: A Translation of Sein und Zeit. New York: State University of New York Press.

Guignon, C. (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Macquarrie, J. and Robinson E. trans. (1962). Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.


[1] Joan Stambaugh’s translation of Ent-fernung, an existential: when unhyphenated, “removal” (See Theodore Kisiel’s Lexicon included in Stambaugh’s translation of Heidegger’s Being and Time.) “De-severing”, in Macquarrie and Robinson’s translation.

[2] Being and Time (BT), Martin Heidegger (MH) 83; J. Stambaugh (JS) trans., 77.

[3] BT: MH, 118; JS, 111.

[4] Ibid.

[5] BT: MH, 118; JS, 112. In his Lexicon, T. Kisiel translates Mitda-sein as “co-existence”.

[6] BT: MH, 120; JS, 113.

[7] BT: MH, 105; JS, 98.

[8] BT: MH 107; JS, 99.

[9] Ibid.

[10] BT: MH, 121; JS, 114.

[11] Ibid.

[12] BT: MH, 122; JS, 114.

[13] Ibid.

[14] BT: MH, 127; JS, 119.

[15] Being and Time (BT), Martin Heidegger (MH) 128; J. Stambaugh (JS), 120.

[16] BT: MH, 181; JS, 170.

[17] BT: MH, 128; JS, 120.

[18] Ibid.

[19] BT: MH, 175; JS, 164.

[20] BT: MH, 322; JS, 296.

[21] BT: MH, 175; JS, 164.

[22] BT: MH: 129; JS, 121. The M&R translation uses “proximally” instead of “initially”. This paper manifests preference to Stambaugh’s “initially” because it would later on render more sense in the movement from initially to Da-sein’s possibility of being. “Proximally”, on the other hand, has the connotation of nearness, which may only render confusion to the explanation on and usage of terms in spatiality.

[23] Ibid.

[24] BT: MH, 175; JS, 164.

[25] Verfallen. While M&R consistently uses “falling”, JS uses falling prey and entanglement interchangeably whenever either of the terms fit the literary sense. This paper opts the JS translation because of the more frequent use of entanglement, which connotes a sense of “already” and “in the state of being entangled”, where one can be freed from. Also, “falling prey” is better when the sense is about a prey’s always being fated to a predator, rather than just the progressive case of mere “falling”.

[26] BT: MH, 167; JS, 156.

[27] BT: MH, 176; JS, 164.

[28] BT: MH, 127; JS, 119.

[29] BT: MH, 177; JS, 165.

[30] BT: MH, 122; JS, 115.

[31] Theodore Kisiel (2002), Heidegger’s Way of Thought, New York and London: Continuum, 64. Chapter 3 of the book is devoted solely to discuss the Lexicon and JS’s translation of Sein und Zeit.

[32] BT: MH, 220; JS, 202.

[33] BT: MH, 190; JS, 177.

[34] JS: “attunement”. Richard Polt (1999), Heidegger: An Introduction, notes (p. 65) that “‘Disposition’ would be another good way to render  Befindlichkeit, because it helps us think of our mood as what ‘positions’ us in the world, giving us an orientation. Others have tried ‘situatedness’, ‘disposedness’, ‘affectedness’, ‘so-foundness’, ‘attuned self-finding’, and even ‘where-you’re-at-ness’. Macquarrie and Robinson’s rendition of the word as ‘state-of-mind’ is inappropriate. After all, Heidegger consistently tries to avoid giving the impression that Dasein exists inside a subjective sphere, such as mind.

[35] BT: MH, 188; JS, 176.

[36] BT: MH, 187; JS, 175.

[37] BT: MH, 189; JS, 176.

[38] BT: MH, 191; JS, 179.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Richard Polt (1999), Heidegger: An Introduction, New York: Cornell University Press, 78.

[41] BT: MH, 42; JS, 39.

[42] Cf. Polt, 79.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] BT: MH, 192; JS, 179-180.

[46] BT: MH, 326; JS, 300.

[47] BT: MH, 327; JS, 301.

[48] Ibid.

[49] BT: MH, 328; JS, 301-302.

[50] BT: MH, 329; JS, 303.

[51] Ibid.

[52] BT: MH, 330; JS, 303.

Beginning is made heavy by itself; it is the present of being and not of a dream. Its freedom is immediately limited by its responsibility. This is its great paradox: a free being is already no longer free, because it is responsible for itself.[1]

Levinas begins “On Escape” with the discord between human freedom and the brutal fact of being that assaults this freedom, from which originates the revolt of traditional philosophy against the idea of being. As he points out, however, “the conflict from which the revolt arises opposes man to the world, not man to himself.”[2] As the young Levinas observes, “these struggles do not break up the unity of the “I,” which—when purified of all that is not authentically human in it—is given to peace with itself, completes itself, closes on and rests upon itself. His criticism of the romanticism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (the individual’s assurance of the full flowering of its own identity) opens his argument for the first section of the essay.


The conception of the “I” as self sufficient is one of the essential marks 

of the bourgeois spirit and its philosophy.

This conception of the I nonetheless nourishes the audacious dreams of a restless and enterprising capitalism. This conception presides over capitalism’s work ethic, its cult of initiative and discovery, which aims less at reconciling man with himself than at securing for him the unknown of time and things. The bourgeois admits no inner division and would be ashamed to lack confidence in himself, but he is concerned about reality and the future, for they threaten to break up the uncontested equilibrium of the present where he holds sway.[3]

The bourgeois is prosaic and materialistic, “prefers the certainty of tomorrow to today’s enjoyments,” “demands guarantees in the present against the future,” carries “interest or insurance against risks, and his future, thus tamed, is integrated in this way with his past.” The bourgeois sees himself as imperfect and insufficient, and so accumulates things to make himself perfect and sufficient. And worse is that Western philosophy has never gone beyond this, but instead “struggled for a better being, for a harmony between us and the world, or for the perfection of our own being…..The insufficiency of the human condition has never been understood otherwise than as a limitation of being, without ever having envisaged the meaning of ‘finite being.’ The transcendence of these limits, communion with the infinite being, remained philosophy’s sole preoccupation…”[4]

For the young Levinas, “Being is: there is nothing to add to this assertion as long as we envision in a being only its existence.” Being is plenitude. The fact that something is is already perfection. The brutality of being is that simply: it is. It is not about becoming self-sufficient, life is not about surviving.

Il y a

What if, suddenly, we all go back to nothing?  In this situation, beings fall back into nothing, but not completely nothing. There would be no thing, but not nothing[5].  Il y a is indeterminate, impersonal, anonymous.  In the state of il y a, you are not yet an I, you have not yet come out.

What remains after this imaginary destruction of everything is not something, but the fact that there is (il y a). The absence of everything returns as a presence, as the place where the bottom has dropped out of everything, an atmospheric density, a plenitude of the void, the murmur of silence. There is, after this destruction of things and beings, the impersonal “fields of forces” of existing. There is something that is neither subject nor substantive.[6]

Levinas tries to describe subjectivity from the absence of subjectivity, to show us a new way of understanding the subject, by making us imagine the absence of the subject.  in order to become a particular being, Levinas imagined it must have taken a certain amount of effort to be in being. For Levinas, to continue to be is to fight for your space.  We have to rise up from anonymity and impersonality. We have to have a strong effort to be unique, singular, and different. Levinas makes Heidegger’s Being more dynamic by showing us that it takes great effort to truly exist.


 “The escape, in regard to which contemporary literature manifests a strange disquiet, appears like a condemnation—the most radical one—of the philosophy of being by our generation.”[7] Escape, then, which Levinas borrowed from the language of contemporary literary criticism, is the “acute feeling of being held fast [rivé]. The impossibility of getting out of the game and of giving back to things their toy-like uselessness heralds the precise instant at which infancy comes to an end, and defines the very notion of seriousness.”

Escape does not originate only from the dream of the poet who sought to evade “lower realities”; nor does it arise from the concern to break with the social conventions and constraints that falsified or annihilated our personality, as in the romantic movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Escaping is the quest for the marvelous, which is liable to break up the somnolence of our bourgeois existence.[8]

All the motifs by those poets are but variations on a theme whose depths they are incapable of equaling. They hold this theme within but transpose it. They command a flight in search for refuge; not only a matter of getting out, but also of a going somewhere.

“Escape is the need to get out of oneself, that is, to break that most radical and unalterably binding of chains, the fact that the I [moi] is oneself [soi-même].[9] It puts in question the alleged peace-with-self, since it aspires to break the chains of the I to the self.

Therefore, the need for escape—whether filled with chimerical hopes or not, no matter!—leads us into the heart of philosophy. It allows us to renew the ancient problem of being qua being.[10]


The Notions of the Finite and the Infinite

             Levinas anticipates the questions that up to this point may necessarily have to be cleared. The infinite being is not the ideal of self-sufficiency and the promise of eternal contentment, because that would only suppose that need is just a privation. There is in need something other than a lack. The notions of finite and infinite apply to beings but these terms lack precision when it is about being as being. Escape also is not a flight toward death or as a stepping outside of time. “Even if the ground of need were to consist in a lack, then this lack could not affect the ‘existence of the existent,’ to which one can neither add nor remove anything.”[11]


The Phenomenology of Need

            Need appears as an insufficiency in our being, habitually interpreted as a lack, the limitation of our being. Thus it seems to aspire only to its own satisfaction. And the aspiration for such satisfaction becomes the search for the object able to procure it. The psychology of need likewise quickly interprets the insufficiency of need as the insufficiency of being. It assumes a metaphysics in which need is characterized in advance as an emptiness in a world where the real is identified with the full. Thus needs becomes suffering and gets itself to be obeyed. Malaise, or disquiet, is the specific mode that characterizes the need that becomes suffering.

Malaise appears “as a refusal to remain in place, as an effort to get out of an unbearable situation.”[12] It is a movement to go out, a restlessness within us which urges us to move, a “metaphysical unease” (Marcel). But what constitutes its particular character is the indeterminacy of the goal that this departure sets for itself. “It is an attempt to get out without knowing where one is going, and this ignorance qualifies the very essence of this attempt.”[13]

There is a need to get out of Being, but that which is neither a lack nor a privation. It is also important for Levinas (1935) to distinguish between need and desire: the former is a movement which goes out, takes, and comes back (pris – grasping), and the latter a movement which goes out but not a taking that wants to go back (sur-pris – there is an other who takes me out, I am taken out).


The Phenomenology of Pleasure

            To justify his thesis that need expresses the presence of our being and not its deficiency, Levinas invites us to look at the primordial phenomenon of need’s satisfaction: pleasure.

It is certainly not to the materiality of the objects liable to satisfy need that he who feels it is oriented. Their possible use alone interests him. But there is more to this. Satisfaction is fulfilled in an atmosphere of fever and exaltation, which allows us to say that need is a search for pleasure. What does this pleasure signify?[14]

Within pleasure’s specific dynamism the satisfaction of need comes to pass. Pleasure appears as it develops. It is neither there as a whole, nor does it happen all at once, nor will be whole or integral. Progressive movement is a trait characteristic of this phenomenon. It is a “movement that does not tend toward a goal, for it has no end. It exists wholly in the enlargement of its own amplitude, which is like the rarefaction of our existence, or its swooning.”[15]

In the very depths of incipient pleasure there opens something like abysses, ever deeper, into which our existence, no longer resisting, hurls itself. There is something dizzying to pleasure’s unfolding [devenir]. There is ease or cowardice. The [human] being feels its substance somehow draining from it; it grows lighter, as if drunk, and disperses.[16]

We note in pleasure an abandonment, a loss of oneself, a getting out of oneself, an ecstasy: so many traits that describe the promise of escape contained in pleasure’s essence. And in the moment when the pleasure is broken, just when the human being believed in complete ecstasy, he is entirely disappointed, and ashamed to find himself again existing.

Pleasure is a process of departing from being. It does not take on the forms of being, but attempts to break those up. It “appears in a constant surpassing of oneself, it breaks just at the moment where it seems to get out absolutely. It develops with an increase in promises, which become richer the closer it comes to its paroxysm, but these promises are never kept.”[17] Pleasure is a deceptive escape, it is an escape that fails.

Pleasure conforms to the demands of need but is incapable of equaling them. And at the moment of its disappointment, which should have been that of its triumph, the meaning of its failure is underscored by shame.[18]


The Phenomenology of Shame

            Shame appears to be reserved for phenomena of moral order. But shame does not depend on the limitation of our being, inasmuch as it is liable to sin. It is rather on the very being of our being. “It is founded upon the solidarity of our being, which obliges us to claim responsibility for ourselves.”[19] But, again, this analysis is insufficient.

            “Shame arises each time we are unable to make others forget our basic nudity.”[20] But being naked, in this sense, is  not a question of wearing clothes. “Nakedness is shameful when it is the sheer visibility [patence] of our being, of its ultimate intimacy.”[21]

It is therefore our intimacy, that is, our presence in ourselves, that is shameful. It reveals not our nothingness but rather the totality of our existence. Nakedness is the need to excuse one’s existence. Shame is, in the last analysis, an existence that seeks excuses. What shame discovers [découvre] is the being who uncovers himself [se découvre].[22]


The Case of Nausea

            Nausea is a case in which the nature of malaise appears in all its purity, to which the term malaise applies par excellence. Nausea is the state that precedes vomiting, and from which vomiting will deliver us, encloses us on all sides. Nausea does not come from outside to confine us, but rather revolts from the inside—“our depths smother beneath ourselves; our innards ‘heave’.”[23]

There is in nausea a refusal to remain there, an effort to get out, of being riveted, enclosed in a tight circle that smothers. “We are there, and there is nothing more to be done, or anything to add to this fact that we have been entirely delivered up, that everything is consumed: this is the very experience of pure being.[24]

In the state of nausea, shame appears purified of any admixture of collective representations. Even when nausea is experienced in solitude, in isolation, the sick person, “who was taken ill” and who has no choice but to vomit, is still scandalized by himself, even instead wishing for the presence of another because then the scandal of nausea could be brought down objectively to the level of “illness”.

Nausea reveals to us the presence of being in all its impotence. It is the impotence of pure being, in all its nakedness.


Shame, Eternity, Ethics

The experience that reveals to us the presence of being as such, the pure existing of being, is an experience of its powerlessness, the source of all need. That powerlessness therefore appears neither as a limit to being nor as the expression of the finite being. The “imperfection” of being does not appear as identical to its limitation. Being is “imperfect” inasmuch as it is being, and not inasmuch as it is finite.[25]

Limitation is the mark of the existence of the existent. “The paradox of being remains intact when we free ourselves of time and grant ourselves eternity.”[26] It is not because of eternity that escape is made. Eternity is only the intensification of the fatality of that being which is riveted to itself.


Getting out of being by a new path

            Progress has not brought Western philosophy to surpass being entirely. Ontologism remained prisoner of an elementary and simple principle: one could think and feel only that which exists or is supposed to exist. Contemplative thought is at bottom the behavior of him who forever carries the mark of existence: theory is essentially subservient to the existent and, when it does not start from being, it anticipates it. The romanticism of creative activity is animated by the profound need to get out of being, but all the same it shows an attachment to its created essence and its eyes are fixed on being. The idealism of thought modifies the structure of the existent but does not tackle its existence. “Every civilization that accepts being—with the tragic despair it contains and the crimes it justifies—merits the name ‘barbarian’.”[27]

For Levinas, the only path open for us is that on which we measure without fear all the weight of being and all its universality. “It is the path where we recognize the inanity of acts and thoughts incapable of taking the place of an event that breaks up existence in the very accomplishment of its existence.”[28] It is then “a matter of getting out of being by a new path, at the risk of overturning certain notions that to common sense and the wisdom of the nations seemed the most evident.[29]

A “being”, a “something” one could point at with a finger, corresponds to a mastery over the “there is” which dreads in being. I spoke thus of the determinate being or existent as a dawn of clarity in the horror of the “there is,” a moment where the sun rises, where things appear for themselves, where they are not borne by the “there is” but dominate it. Does one not say that the table is, that things are? Then one refastens being to the existent, and already the ego there dominates the existents it possesses.[30]

In order to be, one must push down il y a (hypostasis), dominate, master it, sometimes pushing down also other beings in the struggle for survival, a clinging to being, the ego dominating the things it possesses. Levinas speaks of the “hypostasis” of existents, that is, the passage from being to a something, from the state of verb to the thing. For him, being which is posited is saved. But, he continues, this idea is only a first stage. He proposes, from whence, an entirely different movement: “to escape the ‘there is’ one must not be posed but deposed; to make an act of deposition, in the sense one speaks of deposed kings.”[31] It is not enough to be, there has to be another movement, not just escape from il y a, but also escape from being, depositioning, decentering, by becoming social, ethical.


Ivan Richard F. Deligero

January 4, 2012

[1] Levinas, E. (1979), Time and the Other, trans. Cohen, R., Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, p. 55.

[2] Levinas, E. (1982), On Escape/ De l’évasion, trans. Bergo, B. (2003), Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 49.

[3] Ibid., p. 50.

[4] Levinas ends the sentence with an ellipsis to indicate that the ongoing concern of philosophy with transcendence will be interrupted, here, historically and, as it were, syntactically. The beginning of the following paragraph announces the interruption, which is none other than the possible end of discourses on infinite being, brought about by the “modern sensibility” in philosophy and elsewhere. (p. 114, Notes to Pages 51-52)

[5] Heidegger, “What is Metaphysics”: “Pure be[ing] and pure no-thing is the same.” This proposition of Hegel’s (Science of Logic) is correct. Be[ing] and no-thing belongs together, not because both of them agree in their indeterminacy and immediacy, but rather because be[ing] itself in essence finite and revealed only in the transcendence of existence enduring no-thing [in das Nichts hinausgehaltenen Daseins].

[6] Time and the Other, p. 46.

[7] Levinas interprets Heidegger’s philosophy as paganism. Cf. Rolland’s Annotation 11 on Levinas’s On Escape, wherein he reproduced the final sentences of “The Living Relevance of Maimonides,” a text contemporary with On Escape, published in 1935 in Paix et Droit: “…Paganism is a radical powerlessness to get out of the world. It consists not in denying spirits and gods but in situating them in the world….The pagan is shut up in this world, sufficient unto himself and closed upon himself. He finds it solid and firmly established. He finds it eternal. He orders his actions and destiny according to the world…”

[8] On Escape, p. 53.

[9] Ibid., p. 55.

[10] Ibid., p. 56.

[11] Ibid., p. 57.

[12] Ibid., p. 58. “Malaise is not a purely passive state, resting upon itself. The fact of being ill at ease [mal à son aise] is essentially dynamic.”

[13] Ibid., p. 59.

[14] Ibid., p. 60.

[15] Ibid., p. 61.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., p. 62.

[18] Ibid., p. 63.

[19] Ibid., p. 63.

[20] Ibid., p. 64.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., p. 65.

[23] Ibid., p. 66.

[24] Ibid., p. 66-67.

[25] Ibid., p. 69.

[26] Ibid., p. 70.

[27] Ibid., p. 73.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

The fundamental question for Heidegger is the forgetfulness of Being, so he suggests a transcendence from being (as noun) to Being (as verb). For Levinas, however, the more fundamental question is the forgetfulness of the Other, so his proposal turns Heidegger’s the other way around: from Existence to Existents. He wanted to go beyond Heidegger without ignoring Heidegger’s insight. It is naïve to proceed without acknowledging the ontological difference, but the young Levinas wanted to go beyond Being, even though the destination has not been determined.

See also Rolland’s Annotation 12, pp. 92-94.

[30] Levinas, E., Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo, trans. Cohen, R., (2006), Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, p. 51.

[31] Ibid., p. 52.

“To explain more is to understand better.” This was how Prof. Dr. Leovino Ma. Garcia began his lecture on Paul Ricoeur’s Hermeneutics. Ricoeur has comprehensively and extensively written about various themes in philosophy and in life that would concern any philosopher, or anyone for that matter, in any given era. As Ricoeur’s bibliographer, Prof. Garcia took upon himself the task of passing on his knowledge and understanding he has learned and lived both from reading and from conversing with Ricoeur. This paper, which by reading would take the form of a third generation notes on Ricoeur (the first generation being Paul Ricoeur’s From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics II, and the second, Dr. Garcia’s “Hermeneutics as Understanding Oneself before the Text”) hopes to present itself as an outline and a reflection on Dr. Garcia’s “Understanding” (“Hermeneutics as Understanding Oneself before the Text,” here to be used as the primary source) and Ricoeur’s Text (“The Hermeneutical Function of Distanciation” in From Text to Action, the secondary source).

The Responsibility of Philosophy to Language

“Language is an infinite use of finite means.” (Wilhelm von Humboldt)

There are diverse ways of expressing man’s presence in the world. We first have to acknowledge this creative power of language, then to situate the various expressions in relation to one another. In relation to language, philosophy has a double responsibility: to safeguard the openness of language, at the same time to promote the creative power of language. This is crucial in philosophy because “the very progress of sciences like linguistics, logic, semiotics go hand in hand with the forgetting or ignoring of the creative power of language which is precisely at stake in philosophy.”[1]

The primary task of philosophy is to link language anew to reality insofar as the sciences of language tend to abolish the link, the relation between language and reality. To this primary task I add two other complementary tasks – to link language to the speaking subject, the concrete living person, insofar as the sciences of language give the privilege to systems, structures, codes, cut off from the speaking subject; finally to link language anew to the society, insofar as the loss of the speaking subject, the loss of the personal dimension also implies the loss of the special dimension of language.[2]

Language as Object

Discourse is given as an event: something happens when someone speaks. The notion of discourse as event is essential when we take into consideration the passage from a linguistics of language or codes to a linguistics of discourse or messages. The distinction comes, as we know, from Ferdinand de Saussure and Louis Hjelmslev; the first distinguished “language” [langue] and “speech” [parole], the second “schema” and “use.” The theory of discourse draws all the epistemological consequences of this duality. Whereas structural linguistics simply places speech and use in parentheses, the theory of discourse removes the parentheses and proclaims the existence of two linguistics resting upon different principles.[3]

The sciences of language (structural linguistics, founded by the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure) placed within parentheses the question of the relation of language to reality. Prof. Garcia recalls the methodological postulates of this science from which thus bracketing resulted.

First, in order for language to become the object of the empirical science, it must become an autonomous object. De Saussure introduced the distinction between langue (language as code), where he placed the constitutive rules of the code within the linguistic community, and parole (language as speech), where he placed the external acts, the individual performance, and the free combinations of discourse. Isolating the totality of entities from which we choose the free combinations, we thus have the homogeneous object: langue (language as code).[4]

In language as code, one must still distinguish the system (synchronic linguistics) from its changes (diachronic linguistics). The second postulate therefore is to give primacy to the system of langue at a given moment over its evolution, that is, “behind all change, one must be able to find the system.”[5]

Third: In a state of system, there are no absolute terms, but only relations of mutual dependence. For Saussure: In langue, there are only differences.

Fourth: The totality of signs must be taken as a closed system in order to be analyzed and to be considered as having no external but only internal relations.

With these fundamental postulates, we can already relate the position of the structural linguistics to the three fundamental problems which were evoked: that of reality, that of the subject and that of intersubjectivity. First, the postulate of the closed system results in “the abolition of the relation between language and reality.” Second, in language as code, no one speaks, such that “the notion of the subject, relegated to the side of parole, ceases to be a linguistic question and falls to the domain of psychology.” Third, “this abolition of the relation of language to the subject is accompanied by the abolition of the relation of language to the other…. There can be no second person where there is no first person.”[6]

The Realization of Language as Discourse

Discourse is “the intention of saying something on something to someone. The creativity consists in how you chain the words, pulling together words or sentences to come up with a text.

Our experience of language manifests something of its mode of being which resists this reduction. For us who speak, language is not an object but relation – and mediation, in a threefold way: first it is the mediation of man to the world; in other words, language is that by which, we express reality and, have a world. Language is furthermore mediation between man and man. Insofar as we both refer to the same things, we form a linguistic community, a “we.” Finally, language is a mediation of the self to itself. It is through the universe of signs, of texts, of works of culture that we understand ourselves. In this triple way, language is not object but relation, communication. Speaking is the act by which language is surpasses itself as a sign towards the world, towards the other, and towards oneself.[7]

The character of discourse finds its basis from features of the sentence as act. Moving on from signs which are intralinguistic, avirtual, atemporal, anonymous, and only a potential creativity, we come to the discourse, which is virtual, temporal, and actual. The sentence, which is extralinguistic, is no longer just a group of signs, it now has a predicative function where it can now creatively and infinitely use the finite systems. It is in the instance of discourse that language gets to have a temporal function. It is in this fleeting event of the discourse that it actually exists.

The intention of language is not only the intention of saying something on something, but also the intention of someone who signifies himself in discourse. “When someone speaks, he takes hold of language and posits a relation to the world. In positing such a relation, he posits himself as the responsible subject of his discourse.”[8]

In the instance of discourse, someone says something on something to someone. Although each moment of discourse (every this-here-now) is a fleeting event, its meaning remains. Now, this meaning, which is retained, can be written down. But as soon as it is put down into writing, the meaning of discourse and the intention of the speaker cease to coincide. The world the speaker referred to is lost, and the speaker is dead.

Language as text and work

With writing, things already begin to change. For there is no longer a situation common to the writer and the reader, and the concrete conditions of the act of pointing no longer exist. This abolition of the ostensive character of reference is no doubt what makes possible the phenomenon we call “literature,” which may abolish all reference to a given reality.”[9]

Ricoeur proposed three distinctive features of the notion of work. First, a work is a sequence longer than the sentence, which raises a new problem of understanding relative to the finite and closed totality that constitutes the work as such. Second, the work is submitted to a form of codification (literary genre) that is applied to the composition itself, and that transforms discourse into a story, a poem, an essay, and so on. Third, a work is given a unique configuration that likens it to an individual and that may be called its style.[10]

Concrete language is realized in units which go beyond the sentence in texts and works. At this new level, we must now take up the triple mediation of language between man and the world, between man and man, between man and himself.

Here, the question is to know if the notion of reference characterizing the relation of language to the world can be applied to discourse, understood as text or as work. Furthermore, if it can be applied to all works, more particularly to poetic works, because for the logician, the question of reference only holds for descriptive propositions.

In a broad sense, we call “poetic” those texts whose claim to truth does not fall within the framework of the descriptive proposition. What Prof. Garcia shows in his thesis is that “the power of reference is not an exclusive aspect of discourse, but that poetic works also refer to a world.”[11] He explains that in the poetic work, “discourse manifests its power of reference as second reference, presupposing the suspension of the first reference of discourse.”[12]

Poetry is commonly held to be a discourse without a reference, that its language has no relation but to itself. The thesis here does not deny this but rather build on this. It holds that the suspension of reference, in the sense defined by the norms of descriptive discourse, is the negative condition which enables us to bring out a more fundamental reference.”[13] The positive task of explicating the reference of discourse which is non-descriptive and poetic no longer belongs to the discipline of linguistics but to the discipline of interpretation: hermeneutics, the science of the rules of interpretation of texts, an interpretation which consists in the art of unfolding what Ricoeur and Gadamer call the “world of text.”

Theory of Metaphor

With regard to the relation to reality, metaphor is to poetic language what model is to scientific language.

In scientific language, the model is essentially a heuristic device which aims, by means of fiction, to break up an inadequate interpretation and to clear a way for a new, more adequate interpretation. When the models are not miniature replicas of real thing but more original constructions on which one can read, in a simplified way, the more complex relations of the things to be explained, scientific imagination also becomes truly creative. This consists in seeing new connections in reality by the detour of an object purely constructed. In the words of Mary Hesse, the model is an instrument of “re-description.” The direct deductive explanation describes. The direct explanation by the detour of model, redescribes. The same process is found in metaphor.[14]

The metaphor is a redescription of reality. On the semantic level, discourse manifests itself as a message addressed by a sender to a receiver, as the demand for recognition by the speaker. On the logical level, all-reference is co-reference, that is, the world spoken of is common and each speaker is capable of understanding that his unique view on the world is only a perspective when it intends the same world. On the rhetorical level, language is used publicly in competition with other opinions before an audience. On the poetic level, language appears as a catharsis, where a new vision is being offered to spectators, a view where they can see the same world, with the same reference, in a new light.

This is the ultimate task of metaphor, the ultimate function of a poetic work: to enable us to see the world differently, to suspend our usual way of seeing ourselves, and to transform ourselves in the image of the world that is opened up by the poetic word.

Discourse does not end with its being written down as text. What is written always gets to have a reader, as soon as it is written, it is detached from its writer, and is subjected to a new interpretation in each new reading. The task of philosophy is to be there when the creative power of language opens up a world to a reader, and leaps from text to understanding and moves the reader to action. For the most crucial moment is when the reader puts down the text and looks out into space. In that moment, no one knows what’s going to happen next.

Ivan Deligero

August 9, 2011

[1] Prof. Dr. Leovino Ma. Garcia, “Hermeneutics as Understanding Oneself before the Text,” p. 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ricoeur, P. (1991), “The Hermeneutical Function of Distanciation” From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics II (Illinois: Northwestern University Press), p. 71.

[4] Cf. Garcia, “Hermeneutics as Understanding Oneself before the Text,” p. 1.

[5] Ibid., p. 2.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p. 3.

[8] Ibid., p. 4.

[9] Ricoeur, P., FTA, p. 85.

[10] Ibid. p. 80.

[11] Garcia, “Hermeneutics as Understanding Oneself before the Text,” p. 5.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., p.6.

[14] Ibid., p. 6.

…Ricoeur tells us from the very first page of Freedom and Nature—that a pure phenomenological description is not necessarily an “empirical” description, that is to say, “a picture of the forms of man’s actual voluntary activities”; a phenomenological description can be an “eidetic” description. In this sense, Ricoeur conforms to the Husserlian view of “eidetics” as a description that “can take as its springboard even an imperfect, truncated, distorted experience, or even a purely imaginary one.”[2]

It is a hard task to read Ricoeur, even just a few pages of him in an English translation (let alone all of his works in their original form), not because he speaks too broad and is hard to grasp, but of the way he thoroughly and seriously discusses themes after themes of an immense scope of subjects, leaves no stone unturned, dissecting every word, deciphering and articulating even those that are hidden beneath terms and behind symbols. Reading him leaves (inspires, I think would be more appropriate) a young philosopher wondering how huge could this iceberg of philosophy could be, and how long would it take him to penetrate through the massive ice of knowledge (fifty years perhaps as Plato surmised long ago), and realizing that what he had done so far was chip away only a few splinters of it (splinters? Or should the metaphor be of a forest?) Now this poor young philosopher, wanting to grasp the vast iceberg, is lost in the woods. May Ricoeur find him. Now this is really a “rupture of a blind harmony, the end of a dream.”[3]

The Reciprocal Negation: The Sorrow of Necessity and The Refusal of Freedom

In The Way of Consent, Ricoeur begins with the problem of dualism. “In the background of epistemological dualism there is the practical incompatibility of necessity and freedom. Freedom and necessity negate each other mutually. The negative moment is what must be clarified. This turn of events is not without importance because the moment of the no will always be retained in some way in the yes of consent.”[4] Thus he calls for an understanding of negation which he sees as essential for a consideration of freedom. And for us to understand concretely the philosophy of negation, he also proposes to guide us through a full consideration of “the doctrine of character, of the unconscious, and of life.”[5]

Upon entry into the forest, he cautions us that the journey to understanding negation is too complex and that it is dangerous to try to embrace them too rapidly. So, he suggests a “reciprocal entry”, that is, “following the reciprocity of the voluntary and the involuntary.”[6] Then he orients us that we need to take up “carefully all the signs which testify to the minor key of necessity on the three levels of personality, the unconscious, and life.”[7]

The emotions of joy and sorrow represent the peak of wonder. After the awakening of judgment before the new in wonder, after the amplification of that judgment in affective imagination, a union takes place between the object and myself.[8]

So the imaginary journey begins, first with the dark moments of necessity: three successive paths we have to take “in order to emphasize the double negation, suffered and willed.”[9]

The Sorrow of Finitude. I suffer from being one finite and partial perspective of the world and of values. I am condemned to be the “exception”: this and nothing else, this not that. Character makes me a “someone”. I suffer from being condemned to a choice which consecrates and intensifies my particularity and destroys all the possibilities through which I am in contact with the totality of human experience. Ah! If only I could grasp and embrace everything!—and how cruel it is to choose and exclude. That is how life moves: from amputation to amputation; and on the road from the possible to the actual lie only ruined hopes and atrophied powers. How much latent humanity I must reject in order to be someone! A fear grips me: here before me is all I will not do, all I cannot have, all I will not be. Character is not only a broken growth, but also an impossible metamorphosis. It is unbearable to be unique, inimitable, and condemned to resemble only oneself![10]

The Sorrow of Formlessness. The obscure is non-being: this is so evident that it is difficult to escape the lure of an imagery as simple as that of light and shadows. In terms of the unconscious we are shadows. We shall lose ourselves as in the depth of a forest (Descartes), or as on a vast, starless sea (Kierkegaard and Nietzsche wandering upon the sea of reflection). We are not only sustained by our nature, but also, in another sense, limited by it; it is non-being which gives rise to the fear of the unconscious in which the formless receives form.

The unconscious in me is also the spontaneous power of unrecognized tendencies. This power is my impotence, this spontaneity is my passivity, that is, my non-activity. I am always the knight on the point of being unhorsed or the sorcerer’s apprentice faced with a revolt which he had not always called up first. The obscure life for which I am responsible lies between the judgment which depends on me and the external good which does not (Stoics). I am responsible only because I am two and because the second is concealed. I promise something only about which I do not control absolutely; I am my own sagacious elder and my own turbulent youngest son (Marcel). All self-possession is fringed with non-possession. I can be so dispossessed that I become what older language called “possessed”![11]

The Sorrow of Contingence. Life sums up all that I have not chosen and all that I cannot change. I am diverse, I am legion: and here my future as dust announces itself. This negativity is revealed to me by suffering. In suffering, consciousness becomes separated, focused, and sees itself negated. I am subject to pain as extended. Pain reveals the lack of being and the threat included in extension.

If the world exists, it means that all extended bodies function as a horizon of that extended body which I am, which confers on them its own negativity as extension: it is non-self, non-thought, non-willed. Space constitutes my misfortune: it is the exteriority which threatens intimacy, exposing and prostituting the secrecy of consciousness, excluding the here from the elsewhere. Growth includes the same dialectic: a different plurality—that of time—gives rise to it. Time, too, presents itself as negativity and as threat, and it is again affectivity which reveals it. The vague experience of aging reveals time as the “impotence of nature.” Aging is the obverse of growth, the shadow which accompanies it, the sorrow of process.

The sorrow of process is in the first place the sorrow of irreversibility. The future, domesticated by our rational and volitional anticipations, is also what I can neither speed up nor slow down. The past, in another way, negates me in my wish to retain the moment, negates me in my wish to erase it: for the past is what is no longer to be done: it is done. Time is not only the event which happens to us, but also the process which we are. Change constantly makes me other than myself. Anyone who commits himself confronts his own change and discovers the ruinous process. My own metamorphoses are enigmatic and discouraging. Now this change is equally dispersion. My life is naturally discontinuous.

My structure speaks to me of suffering, my growth of aging—of what form of nothingness does my birth speak? Of the nothingness of death! You are not your own, says contingence; you come from nothing, comments my birth. When I have been in turn attracted and repelled by this double thought of the undeniability of fact and its precariousness, I have entered anxiety: I am here, and that is not necessary. Contingence tells me only that I am not a necessary being whose contradiction would imply a self-contradiction; it allows me to conclude at most that I can not-be one day, that I can die—for what must begin can end—but not that I must die. Society continues as a system of vacant places, of hollow roles with provisional, interchangeable occupants. I do not even think of a corpse would incline me particularly to apply the common rule to myself: its presence is so stupefying that it suppresses all reflection. The death of the other, in the triple experience of the funeral, of the corpse, and of dying, illustrating the far too abstract law of mortality, leads me only imperfectly towards a personal conviction of my own mortality. Each man dies alone and each man is left alone on the shore. The anxiety of sensing myself unnecessary, a fortuitous and revocable fact, is aroused by the news of my future death. “You must die!”[12]

We are now in the middle of the forest, enveloped by the canopy of darkness, choked by the unrecognizable forces of nature, tripping over fallen colossal branches, entangled among disturbing twigs and thickets, and plunging, face flat on what could be damp earth with the smell of death. Amidst this our hazy blend of poetic, empiric, and eidetic immersion in the dark forest, in the infinitely foggy and cold night, we see Ricoeur, with rigor and vigor, unhorsed despite the deathly trail. He comes to us with the armor of freedom, and on his hand the banner of refusal. He hurls to us the salvific rope of absolute freedom. Now it is up to us to consent, to grasp and get a firm hold of it and allow ourselves to be dragged through the waking consciousness and into the light, or refuse and be left in the sorrows.

The Refusal of Freedom

 Freedom responds to the no of condition with the no of refusal. What follows are the three wishes of absolute freedom. In lieu of the limited character: totality. I repudiate the constrictions of character. I want to have the full stature of a man. Total transparency: I want to be free of shadows, of passions of the soul. Thirdly, I posit myself as existing—it is intolerable to find oneself existing and not-necessary.

This close connection between the refusal with which freedom arms itself and the self-positing of consciousness undoubtedly adequately also explains why a philosophy of triumphant consciousness contains the seed of a philosophy of despair. Freedom seeks its highest value precisely in refusal and in scorn. Suicide presents itself to it as one of the highest possibilities, it can appear the highest consecration of that act of rupture introduced by consciousness. Thus the no would no longer be a word but an act.

But suicide is not the only expression of refusal. There might be a courage to exist in the absurd and to face up to it, to persevere in the act of affirming—the no of freedom in face of the non-being of necessity. Here, Ricoeur tells us not to stop with refusal, but to go farther beyond it, to transcend it by way of consent.

From Refusal to Consent

             Consent is a choice concerning Transcendence. To consent does not in the least mean to give up if, in spite of appearances, the world is a possible stage of freedom. When I say, this is my place, I adopt it, I do not yield, I acquiesce. This is a question of a movement of deepening in which new insights appear. It is a reflection more than a critique (Marcel). It implies a leap from existence to transcendence (Jaspers).

It nonetheless remains true that though from the point of view of a “poetics” of the will the leap from the self to existence and the leap to the being of Transcendence are but one and the same philosophical act, from the point of view of a doctrine of subjectivity like the one which we are developing in this work the movement of deepening and reflection remains another leap, the leap towards the wholly other. We clearly reject the pretensions of an overly zealous apologetics which would pretend to derive God from nature or from subjectivity by a simple rational implication.[13]

At this point, Ricoeur shows how, by starting with such a philosophy of Transcendence, philosophy of subjectivity is completed as a doctrine of conciliation. In reading it thus from the lower to the higher we shall discover the response of subjectivity to an appeal or a grasp which surpasses it.[14]    He now presents two historical landmarks which “will help us surround, by default and by excess, the conciliation of freedom and necessity under the aegis on an invocation of Transcendence.”[15]

The Imperfect and  The Hyperbolic Consent

Stoicism, on the one hand, represents the pole of detachment and scorn, Orphism, on the other, the loss of the self in necessity.

“Of things, some are in our power, others are not.”[16] Stoic consent seems to destroy itself because it is not reconciliation but rather detachment. “The whole Stoic strategy is tied to two corollaries: reduction of the body to ‘already a corpse’ and of affection to opinion; there are no ‘passions of the soul’ in the fact of the body, there are only actions of the soul: the body is inert, the soul impenetrable.”[17] The Stoic escapes the shriveling of his scorning effort because he knows himself to be a part of the Whole.”[18] “I am not the center of being, I myself am only one being among beings. The whole which includes me is the parabola of being which I am not. I come from all to myself as from Transcendence to existence.”[19] “I love my misery engulfed in the grandeur of the world which Marcus Aurelius called the ‘health of the universe.’”[20] “Contemplation, admiration are the detour of consent.”[21] “The ultimate limit of Stoicism is remaining on the threshold of the poetry of adoration.”[22]

“The poetry of adoration is the soul of Orphism.”[23] In the Orphic incantation (or intoxication), the universe travails under the hard law of “Die and become.” The goodness of the world is the “Die and become,” it is metamorphosis. Nature is majestic in its sheer existence. All non-willed existence is neither a catastrophe nor a prison, but an initial generosity and an initial victory.[24]

For Ricoeur, Orphism remains a limit which he neither can nor dare reach. “It is the hyperbolic consent which loses me in necessity just as Stoicism was the imperfect consent which exiled me from the whole which it nonetheless strove to admire.”[25] Ricoeur suggests an incidence in the relations of admiration to consent. “Admiration (or contemplation) removes me from the center and places me back among the ciphers. Consent gives me to myself and reminds me that no one can absolve me from the act of yes. Admiration and consent are circular: “Consent by itself remains on an ethical and prosaic level; admiration is the cutting edge of the soul, lyric and poetic.”[26] “Admiration becomes a help because it is beyond willing; it is the incantation of poetry which delivers me from myself and purifies me.”[27]

For any being which is not a subject metamorphosis remains a transformation into something other than itself: mortality is transcended in sexuality, the corpse in the flowers of the field. The transformation is really an alienation. For me, to assume my character, my unconscious, and my purposiveness with their being and non-being is to transform them into myself. The transformation is not an alienation but an interiorization. No longer “Become all things!” but rather “Become what you are.”[28]

Ricoeur is obliged to raise the “Die and become” to the level of spiritual transcendence where limitations are transformed into receptivity and patience, no longer perceiving, but willing. Contemplation paves the way to consent by making the tense power of refusal gentle and tender, but it does not take its place: to say yes remains my act.

Yes to my character, whose constriction I can change into depth, consenting to compensate its invincible particularity by friendship. Yes to the unconscious, which remains the indefinite possibility of motivating my freedom. Yes to my life, which I have not chosen but which is the condition which makes all choice possible.

Thus I can remain the only one to say no while all nature in its way says yes, and exile myself for infinity in refusal. But my clarity must be limitless. He who refuses his foundation refuses the absolute involuntary which is also a shadow of the relative involuntary of motives and capacities. He who refuses his motives and capacities annuls himself as act. The no, like the yes, can only be total.[29]

Consent and Hope

If there is a narrow path between exile and confusion, it is because consent to limitations is an act which is never complete.

Who can say yes to the end, without reservations? Suffering and evil, respected in their own shocking mystery, protected against degradation into a problem, lie in our way as the impossibility of saying an unreserved yes to character, the unconscious, and life and of transforming the sorrow of the finite, the indefinite, and of contingence perfectly into joy. Perhaps no one can follow consent to the end. Evil is the scandal which always separates consent from inhuman necessity.[30]

For Ricoeur, we need to understand that the way of consent does not lead only through admiration of marvelous nature focused in the absolute involuntary, but through hope which awaits something else. For us who have allowed ourselves to be brought deep into the forest of negation with the ardent hope of overcoming it are now ushered into the light. Once again we see the same brightness of day, as though seeing it again for the first time, if nature allows such a phenomenon. Consciousness, for us, thanks to Ricoeur, now has a deeper meaning.

And though a fleeting distance always separates freedom from necessity, at least hope wills to convert all hostility into a fraternal tension within a unity of creation.[31]


Ivan Deligero

July 13, 2011

[1] Freedom and Nature, pp. 444-486.

[2] Prof. Dr. Leovino Ma. Garcia (1997) quoting Paul Ricoeur in “The Meaning of Being Human in Ricoeur’s Philosophy of the Will” in Part Two of a series of monographs which appeared in Budhi (published 1997), p. 87. Also reprinted in his collection of monologues on Ricoeur, Paul Ricoeur: Philosopher of Responsibility and Hope (2011).

[3] FN, p.444.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] FN, p.445.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Prof. Dr. Leovino Ma. Garcia (1997), “The Meaning of Being Human in Ricoeur’s Philosophy of the Will” in Part Two of a series of monographs which appeared in Budhi (published 1997), p. 134.

[9] FN, p. 447.

[10] Cf. FN, p. 447-448.

[11] Cf. FN, pp. 449-450.

[12] Cf. FN, pp. 450-462.

[13] FN, p. 468.

[14] FN, pp. 468-469.

[15] FN, p. 469.

[16] FN, p. 469. Ricoeur quotes from Epictetus, “Manual,” in Moral Discourses, trans. Elizabeth Carter (New York, 1910, 1950).

[17] FN, p. 469. Ricoeur quotes Marcus Aurelius, Thoughts, quoting Epictetus.

[18] FN, p. 472.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] FN, p. 473.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Cf. FN, pp473-476.

[25] FN, p. 476.

[26] FN, p. 477.

[27] Ibid.

[28] FN, p. 479.

[29] Ibid.

[30] FN, pp. 479-480.

[31] FN, p. 481.