INTRODUCTION TO BEING
ANIL MITRA, © APRIL 2014—June 2014
PURPOSE OF THIS DOCUMENT
Note that while this document introduces and illuminates the concept of being, introduction to being and experience.html defines being but emphasizes the concept of experience and (the nature of) its interwoven-ness with being.
What is being and why is it central to this narrative? It is important to answer these questions to clearly understand the use of being as central and to give clarity to the narrative.
It will be useful to begin by saying what being is not. It is not a special kind—e.g. deity or divinity or personhood; or the essence of some thing or creature or person or god. The use of being often suggests mystery and awe. There are subtleties to our use of being (defined a little later) but it is not mysterious; but being will be used in a sense so general that it contains all mystery and all that may be mysterious. It is not intrinsic to being to generate awe or wonder—or to be incapable of being experienced with awe and wonder. In short our use of being will be very general and will not connote any particular kind—but it will contain all real kinds.
To say what being is and to explain its significance, it will be useful to compare it to matter and mind or any other ‘substance’, ‘kind’, or ‘category’ that, though it is a particular kind, has been thought sufficiently fundamental to be constitutive of all reality. The discussion will be in terms of matter but could be in terms of mind or divinity or other kinds.
If we were to divest matter, mind, divinity and so on of their various special meanings and connotations they would be just as suitable as being for the purposes about to be discussed. However, it would be hard to think of any of these substances without associating them with their usual meanings. However, I would not use ‘process’ for it seems to specialized. In fact it is not so for while process is implicit to substance, substance is implicit to process. Similar remarks could be made about ‘relationship’ (of which an example from physics is force where neither matter nor force is perfectly well established as more fundamental).
Being, too, has special uses. However, the specializations are less common and, further, there is already a tradition of the use of being to avoid special connotations. Therefore being has been chosen as the term for what is fundamental to this narrative. Still, to avoid confusion I will provide a definition for my use of being as I will for all other terms of significance.
A similarity of being to substance such as matter is that just as ‘matter’ refers to the kind of thing that all material objects are but not to any or all specific material objects, being does not refer to ‘beings’ but to the kind of all beings (or, as will be seen in the main narrative, all objects). In he main narrative we will find that being is neutral even regarding this point—that there is an abstract sense in which a kind or genera is not distinct from a ‘thing’ and, further, in contrast to most modern thought, that there is no essential distinction between the abstract and the concrete.
The main dissimilarity is that being is not in its conception a substance. That is, being might turn out to be essentially substance or essentially not substance but this is not explicit in its definition in this narrative. On the other hand matter is very much substance-like in many of its uses even though it too may turn out to not be a substance. There are special uses of ‘being’ in which being refers to the essence of divinity or of personhood. The use of being in this narrative is neutral to personhood and divinity.
Being and matter are not the same idea but they are the same kind of idea in some ways. What is matter? For this discussion it is not necessary to give a precise definition. I could say ‘matter is what we sense’ or ‘matter is what is studied in the physical sciences, especially physics’ (in the latter case the idea of matter generalizes to include energy and force and radiation but it is not necessary to distinguish force from matter for they exist together and it is not clear that one is more fundamental than the other).
Two significant questions about matter are (1) does matter exist and (2) is matter the constitution of all that is real?
A commonsense or practical answer to the first question is ‘of course, why would you even question its existence’? A practical answer is that while asking such questions might not affect immediate use of an idea, it may improve understanding which is germane to future use. However, to really understand why we ask the question we must first understand it—i.e. we enquire into the meaning of the question ‘Does matter exist?’
If matter is a vague but useful notion then whether it exists is also vague (despite usefulness). What is really meant by the question is that we must take some precise definition of matter and ask whether there is something in the world that corresponds to it. Consider matter-radiation as understood in the latest of physical theory. Does it define any aspect of the universe precisely? We know that physics is wonderfully precise but we do not know that it is perfectly so; in fact there is every reason to believe from physics itself that it is but the latest and best physical knowledge so far but that improvements will be found. Therefore, from physics itself we do not know that physics is perfectly precise. Given the usefulness of physics, why is this important? The importance arises in areas where we want perfect understanding. If we want to predict into the indefinite future, if we truly want to understand the nature of the world, and if we want to base this in knowledge of matter, then perfectly precise knowledge of matter—e.g., physics—is necessary. That is, perfect knowledge of matter is necessary for any full understanding based in matter. However, is enormously unlikely that our latest physical theories should happen to be perfectly precise.
It is illuminating to analyze what was done above. To give a precise answer to the question whether matter exists we had to be definite about the concept of matter and then ask whether something in the world was precisely defined by this concept.
In other words we employed a concept-object notion of meaning. This notion of meaning is immensely important and we will meet again below and in the main narrative.
Is matter the constitution of all that is real? If physics—or our senses—do not give us perfect knowledge then the answer should be ‘very unlikely’. However, there are other reasons that ‘not everything is matter’. Physics shows what we see but not what we do not see—we seem to always be discovering new kinds of matter but new kinds of matter are still matter: physics does not so far reveal other kinds. Thus clearly we cannot argue that all is matter. Of course it is true that so far we have no reason to believe that all the empirical kinds—matter itself, life, mind—lie outside matter. But, on the other hand, we have no necessary reason to think all aspects of these kinds lie within matter or that there are no other kinds.
What is the significance of this neutrality? It is that we are open to where our investigation and evolution take us. Perhaps all will be found to be matter, perhaps not; in either case, neutrality now when we are not sure will empower better understanding in the future when what does not matter too much now may turn out to have much significance.
That is, perhaps matter is a good basis to understand the real but perhaps not. By not committing to matter in advance we empower the process of understanding.
What will empower this process? The answer has already been given—we need neutrality: the basis of understanding should be some idea that is neutral to what kind of thing the universe is made of.
The idea of neutrality is to be taken seriously. As a ‘kind’ it must be neutral to all specific kinds and perhaps the only kind that it should recognize is ‘everything’. As basis of an approach to understanding the commitment should go only so far as we do not have sufficient understanding to make a commitment to specific kinds.
Being is that which exists.
As such we may see being as the most general of kinds. If there is matter then matter may be a kind. Similarly, mind, interaction, space, and process (time) may be kinds. All these kinds, if real, will fall under being.
If something is immaterial it is not of matter. If something does not exist it does not have being. This is a little troublesome for if, for example, I say ‘Sherlock Holmes does not exist’ you may ask ‘Precisely, then, what is it that does not exist?’ This problem of the non-existent object is well known. A simple response to the problem is that when we talk of things we always have a concept and a possible object (we tend to suppress the distinction for often the concept is so well known as to be implicit and, further, it is efficient in everyday matters to not make the distinction). However, suppression of the concept-object nature of things (rather of meaning) leads to much vagueness, confusion, and paradox (including the well known semantic and logical paradoxes) and unpacking the concept-object confliction is critical to clarity and paradox resolution. Here, the concept ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is as described in Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels: Sherlock is a man who lives (it is not an issue for the present purpose to take the novels as timeless) at 221 Baker Street in London, who has a friend and collaborator called Dr. Watson and so on. Then, ‘Sherlock Holmes does not exist’ means ‘There is no (real) person corresponding to the concept of Sherlock Holmes’.
We saw above that our knowledge of matter was not entirely secure. We have concepts of matter but we do not know, from science, whether there is anything that corresponds to the concepts. Thus, though ‘knowledge’ of matter is of practical importance, that knowledge is quite insecure relative to depending on the knowledge for all purposes.
Thinkers have questioned that we have or can have knowledge of being. However, it is quite easy to see that we do have knowledge of being. If I say ‘that tree exists’ I may be mistaken, not so much because of illusion, but because I do not know that there is something that corresponds precisely—in any sense—to my perception-conception. However, that I have a perception-conception or at least the illusion (or illusion of illusion) of one is given. That is, I know there is something. In other words, I know that there is being.
Clearly, the issue of what has being is likely to be challenging. One aim of the narrative is to show how to respond to this challenge—how to answer the question ‘What has being?’ In fact the neutrality of the concept of being will be pivotal to answering the question.
If I define metaphysics as knowledge of being which is effectively one of the traditional definitions then, if knowledge of being is impossible, metaphysics is impossible. Because of the gap between concept and object which is subject to distortion and illusion many thinkers in the modern, especially since Kant, have thought metaphysics to be impossible. However, we just gave an example of perfect metaphysical knowledge: there is being.
This is of course rather trivial. The overarching knowledge goal of the narrative is (a) to develop a perfect universal metaphysics (b) to critique our systems of cultural knowledge (and action) and (c) to use item a to frame be and so form what will turn out to be an ultimate practical system of knowledge on the way to understanding and realizing ultimates.
I achieving this goal we will develop a potent metaphysics. As an example of its potency it will give a trivial resolution of why there is manifest being at all which Heidegger named the fundamental problem of metaphysics. Instead, as suggested above, the issue of what has being is worthy of now being considered the fundamental problem. The metaphysics of the narrative will of course go beyond such questions of theoretical interest to constituting an ultimate and practical worldview that goes significantly beyond our current standard worldviews.
Conceive experience as awareness which includes conception of which perception may be seen to be a simple case.
Then, in order to talk precisely of matter and being we had to do so in terms of experience. In the case of matter, knower and known or experience and object, are entangled. For being they are decoupled. Nonetheless it is via experience that we have precise and perfect knowledge of being. And without experience (sentience) being would have no significance.
It is important that we are not saying that without experience there would be no being. However, it is in experience that there is knowledge and significance to being. The connection between being is deep. It is in fact far deeper than this discussion indicates but what form this depth takes and showing the truth of the deep connection is taken up not here but in the main narrative.
We have explained the concept of being and given elementary reasons for its significance. We have given some indication of the power of being—showing that there is being is trivial while showing that there is a specific kind such as matter is not so trivial (we could redefine matter to coincide with being but that would confuse matter with being as well undermine the practical importance of matter); and we have shown that, from being, metaphysics is possible even though what is shown so far is trivial in content though not necessarily so in significance.
In what follows we go beyond the ‘elementary’ and the trivial; we will analyze being and the ideas of ‘all being’ and ‘absence of being’ to derive powerful conclusions.
It is inherent in the definition of being that it includes all actual things and kinds. However, it follows from the discussion just above that—should we desire to—we can even include non-existing ‘objects’ under being. Some philosophers, notably Alexius Meinong, have done so. Thus we can think of Sherlock Holmes and square circles as having being; the former does not exist, the latter cannot exist yet (it will not hurt our system) if we regard them as existing. I will not do this but the point here is that ‘being’ can, if we want, span the existent and the non-existent, or seemingly but not truly paradoxically, being and ‘non-being’. I will not do this. I will use being to refer only to whatever exists. What I wanted to do here is to show just how very neutral being can be.
If all that exists has being then that includes things then perhaps, though all containing, being is trivial and not particularly useful. In fact the triviality would seem to be because being is all containing—i.e. it makes no distinctions of significance. This is one reason that some thinkers have objected to being as a useful idea.
However, it does not follow from triviality or all inclusiveness that being has no potency. It is a case of seeming without investigating. As an apparently minor but what will turn out to be a significant use of being consider the question of the status of laws of nature—e.g., the theories of physics. Are they made of matter? Clearly not. Are they mere conventions or mere descriptions? Surely they are more than mere conventions and while they are descriptions in some sense they are more potent than descriptions of simple fact. To clarify we should ask what a law is. A law is our perception of a pattern. Perhaps we have misread it somewhat and perhaps it is of limited domain but nonetheless there is a pattern that we may call the Law. Is the Law made of matter? Perhaps, if the law is physical, the Law is made of matter; however, this is speculative and not clear. Does the Law exist in the real world? Of course—it is a pattern which exists. Therefore while considerations whether the Law is material or of mind must have a certain vagueness (if we are strict in our interpretations we would say, certainly, there is no reason except analogy to think of Laws as having any such statues), it follows that Laws have Being.
It has been seen via being that perfect metaphysical knowledge, if trivial in its range, is possible. Is it possible to go beyond this range?
Journey in Being.html (as of April 2014 the material is in Journey in Being-detail.html) develops a perfect metaphysics that is ultimate in that its range is the universe which is shown to realize all possibilities. Details of demonstration and development of the metaphysics are in the documents just above.
In fact the metaphysics is shown to frame our tradition and modern knowledge—our local knowledge. The result is a practical system or metaphysics in which the perfect metaphysics frames and illuminates the cultural systems; and the latter in process illustrate and form the best possible instrument for negotiation of the ultimate universe revealed in the metaphysics.
The paragraph above is the main knowledge conclusion of the narrative. It founds the following conclusion regarding realization.
The universe has manifestation and identity in potent and acute, diffuse, and absent phases; it manifests as cosmological systems without limit in variety, number, and law against a transient background against the further background of the void; these powers are conferred on individual being and identity.
But while in limited form realization of the ultimates of manifestation and identity is an endless journey in being that whose efficiency and enjoyment are empowered by intelligent engagement (and the practical metaphysics).
Whereas precise knowledge of matter (and other special kinds) is in question, knowledge of being is given.
Though this may seem trivial, it keys development of a perfect and ultimate metaphysics. On the other hand our sciences of matter and mind are not perfect (of course they are immensely useful).
The pure or perfect metaphysics is potent in principle but remote. However, in framing our local knowledge it forms a practical instrument that is grounded in the immediate and immensely more potent than our local knowledge—what is valid in our ancient through modern traditions—alone. The practical metaphysics though framed by the perfect is not perfect in the sense of perfect faithfulness to its objects. However, while form is limited (e.g. while we are limited) (1) it shows the way while immersed in the (practical) present to the ultimate and (2) there is and can be no better instrument of realization and understanding. The practical metaphysics is perfect in another sense that we may label ‘practical’, or ‘pragmatic’, or ‘good enough’, or ‘being-in-the-world’.