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The Phenomenology of the Nothing: The Hidden Dialogue Between Conrad-Martius and Heidegger

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Hedwig Conrad-Martius

Part of the book series: Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences ((WHPS,volume 8))

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Abstract

This chapter addresses the ontological perspective regarding the issue of the Nothing through the thinking of the realist phenomenologist Hedwig Conrad-Martius (1888-1966). As many of her writings were never fully elaborated, the discussion consults the thinking of her contemporary, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), who shares with her the phenomenological ontological orientation and especially the idea regarding the inception (Anfang) of Being in the Nothing. Based on the analysis of their thinking, the article suggests an outline of a phenomenology of the Nothing in three steps: starting by presenting the point of departure in a fundamental ontological difference, proceeding to establishing the precedence of the Nothing over the real existence, and culminating in unveiling the fundamental bond between Nothing and Being. The discussion demonstrates that the three arguments join and eventually consolidate into one metaphysical argument, according to which the Nothing precedes Being, is maintained within it, and thereby consolidates the essential finitude of reality.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Greek word arché possesses several meanings, including beginning (Anfang), domination, reason, ground, and principle. For further reading, see: Lumpe (1955).

  2. 2.

    The word Anfang in the citation does not imply the complexity to be discussed later in connection with Heidegger.

  3. 3.

    In connection to some of the ideas discussed in the article, though not with their full elaboration, HCM seems to precede Heidegger. In particular in: Real Ontology (Realontologie) (HCM, 1923), Being and Nothing (Sein und Nichts) (HCM, 1963d), while Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics (Einführung in die Metaphysik) (Heidegger 1983) is based on lectures from 1935, Contributions to Philosophy (of the event) (Beiträge zur Philosophie [Vom Ereignis]) (Heidegger 1989) on lectures from 1936–1937, and On Inception (Über den Anfang) from 1941 (Heidegger 2005).

  4. 4.

    Heidegger regarded the related “same” as distinguished from the nihilistic “non” of both the “ontological difference” and the “Nothing” (Heidegger, 1967, 123).

  5. 5.

    In this later thinking, Heidegger identifies epistemology with representative thinking, referred to as the heritage of western metaphysics. See: Heidegger (1989, 217–218).

  6. 6.

    While “being” stands for particular existing things (die Seienden), “Being” (Das Sein) concerns that which determines entities as such or the basis on which entities are already understood (Heidegger, 1962, 25–26). The capitalizing follows the English translation of Sein und Zeit. Likewise, “Nothing” designates the (real) being of the non-existence (that is: the positive idea of the Nothing), differentiating it from the “nothing” that designates negation or not anything.

  7. 7.

    The view of finite being as created by God out of nothingness (ex nihilo) underlies this determination. Likewise, HCM maintains: “There is truth in speaking about boundless beyond measure fullness of Being (Seinsfülle). The Being of God is […] however every height and depth, the external and the internal inexhaustible penetrating ‘element’” (HCM, 1963d, 97).

  8. 8.

    The shift from epistemology to ontology characterizes the realistic phenomenology referred to as “the process of ‘ontologization’ in twentieth century western philosophy”. See Rosenwald (1989, 11).

  9. 9.

    See also: HCM (1963a, 1931dN). At the background of HCM’s criticism of idealism is her early critical view of positivism, see: HCM (1916, 345–347, 352, 357–358, 361–365, 378, 382–386, 390–391, 398–400, 423, 425; 1920).

  10. 10.

    In Sein und Zeit, Heidegger insists on the difference between ontological or existential categories and ontic ones. However, the term “ontological difference” first appears in his lectures from 1927 (Heidegger, 1975, 17), where its relation to the issue of temporality is also elaborated. For a comprehensive survey of the evolution of Heidegger’s study of the ontological difference (see: Dahlstrom, 2017; Philipse, 1998, 35–36, 215). Philipse maintains that eventually the distinction remains obscure. See: Philipse (1998, 97).

  11. 11.

    Philipse designates Heidegger’s distinction as a “bipolar structure,” see: Philipse (1998, 97, 211, 214, 295).

  12. 12.

    See here also: Heidegger (2004, 523).

  13. 13.

    The issue of overcoming metaphysics is discussed consistently in Heidegger’s writings after 1935, see: Heidegger (1999b, 5–68; 2005, 19–25; 2009, 138–144). See also his reflective essay based on his observations on the ontological difference from 1936–1946, in: Heidegger (1954, 71–99).

  14. 14.

    This negative attitude to the issue of the Nothing underlies also general logic and the common “rule of thinking in general” of avoiding contradiction (Heidegger, 1967, 107).

  15. 15.

    Already in Sein und Zeit, Heidegger established that “ontological inquiry is more primordial, as against the ontic inquiry of the positive sciences” (Heidegger, 1993a, §3, 11), and therefore philosophy is accessible to aspects of reality that are blocked to the scientific method.

  16. 16.

    Heidegger’s idea of the Nothing here has little affinity, if any, with Nihilism as a positive world view that deliberately avoids the question of Being, namely consisting of forgetfulness of Being or regarding it as nothing (nihil in Latin). Heidegger defines nihilism as rejection of the question of Being in favor of triviality and says that “merely chasing after begins in the midst of the oblivion of Being.” Instead, “to take Nothing into the question of Being—this is the first and only fruitful step toward the true overcoming of nihilism” (Heidegger, 1983, 213). However, in his later thinking, his view intersects with nihilism. See his treatise from 1946–1947, “The Essence of Nihilism” (Das Wesen des Nihilismus) (Heidegger, 1999b, 177–256). See also: Heidegger (1961, 31–398).

  17. 17.

    The German verb fangen means to catch, trap, capture, grasp, entrap, seize. Yet the word came to mean to start or begin. Heidegger’s related distinction is meant to ensure the difference between radical beginning and ordinary one (that does not always relate to a temporal aspect). Heidegger considered Anaximander, Parmenides, and Heraclitus as “primordial thinkers because they think the beginning (den Anfang denken)” (Heidegger, 1992a, 10).

  18. 18.

    See here Husserl’s determination that “at first, ‘essence’ (Wesen) indicated that which in the intimate self-own Being (selbsteigenen Sein) of an individual is available as its ‘what’ (Was)” (Husserl, 1952, §3, 13). See here also Polt’s discussion of the evolution element of “belonging” in Heidegger’s thinking in: Polt (2013, 49–54).

  19. 19.

    The related difference between Being and being is a radicalization of insight that “Being is not anymore merely ‘appearance’ (Erscheinen)” (Heidegger, 2012, 31).

  20. 20.

    See here also: Heidegger (1989, 250–251).

  21. 21.

    See here: Miron (2015, 2018).

  22. 22.

    See here also: HCM (1923, 205–206).

  23. 23.

    See here: Miron (2021).

  24. 24.

    One should distinguish between the implied formal condition for addressing the Nothing in HCM’s thinking, which concerns the context of realized being, and Heidegger’s requirement of “preparation” for the task of questioning the meaning of Being (Heidegger, 1992b, 447).

  25. 25.

    See here also the characterization of the I as anchored “forward” (HCM, 1957, 126).

  26. 26.

    HCM argues that despite its peculiarity and incomparability to any other mode of being, “a true ‘comprehension’ (Begreifung)” of the I might be enabled only by accounting for the “ontological foundations” it shares with other beings (HCM, 1931aN, 6).

  27. 27.

    This question culminated in “What is Metaphysics?” (Was ist Metaphysik?) from 1929 and commenced Introduction to Metaphysics from 1935, read as: “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?” (Heidegger, 1983, 3). For the background of this question in Leibniz, see: Nowak (2017, 55–56). For the background of the so-called “why question” and its first explicit raising by Leibniz, see: Polt (2001, 65–66). However, later Heidegger expressed self-critique of the opening question of Introduction of Metaphysics (Einführung in die Metaphysik), see: “For a critique of the Lecture Course” that appeared as Appendix I (Heidegger, 1983, 217–219; 1997, §74 267–277, §109 375–377) (cited from: Fried and Polt (2014, xxvi, xxvi note 21).

  28. 28.

    For a comprehensive survey of the evolution of Heidegger’s study of the ontological difference, see: Dahlstrom (2017).

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Miron, R. (2023). The Phenomenology of the Nothing: The Hidden Dialogue Between Conrad-Martius and Heidegger. In: Hedwig Conrad-Martius. Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences, vol 8. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-25416-1_7

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