Just as Epistemology studies ‘Knowing’ while already in a state of Knowing, Ontology studies ‘Being’ while firmly resident in a state of Being.
It is the Elephant in the Room, the one we all agree to ignore.
Existence, from the Latin ‘ex-sistere‘: ‘to stand forward, manifest’. We are making an implicit ontological assignment, granting the status of ‘Being’ [Existence, ‘Is-ness’] anytime and every time we use the little word ‘Is’.
‘Is’ is arguably the most used grammatical link in the English Language. The clutter and gossip of the world would die down nicely if a rule was passed that no man or woman on the planet may use the word ‘Is’ for a period of 24-hours.
Try it. Try and speak on your cell-phone for 10 minutes without using the word ‘Is’. Try and write a page in English without using any of its variants [was, will be, etc].
Its hard; but here is the strangest thing. This ubiquitous word, this word we use a hundred times a day in all its variations, has no formal definition, is in fact undefinable.
Very wise men have been trying to define it for a few thousand years and no one has scored anything more than a Wise-Gentleman’s ‘C’.
But that has not stopped our enterprising Universities from building a Subject out of it. A Subject called Ontology. In the same way that not having an honest definition for ‘Know’ did not discourage them from starting a Subject called Epistemology.
The single most frequent short-stop throughout history and across the world’s religious literature is the conceptualization and reification of True Nothing as ‘Being’. The centerpiece of Model is that on which the word ‘Is’ can be assigned.
Its sort of like the last Gas-Station on the highway before you go over the Abyss. Most drivers stop right here, gaze admiringly at the view, and turn back.
Philosophers, Men of Religion, Mystics and the like tend to break into song and verse and solemn lecture on what a grand affair it really is. But this is not the final destination.
‘Being’, like ‘Thought’ and ‘Voice’ is very, very close to our skin. And the only way to get to it is through extended Meditation Practice. An illustration like what was possible with ‘Know’ is not possible with ‘Be’.
Relevant excerpts may convince you as to how fundamental this idea is to the best of thinkers. A little incentive to get on the Mat.
How does reification encroach? Here is a representative example:
The Sanskrit Mantra ‘AUM‘ [the ‘Queen of Mantras’] is made-up of four elements. The beginning vowel ‘A’, the ending consonant ‘M’, and the middle ‘oo!’ They, between their stretch capture all of spoken sound and symbolically mark all ‘Expression’.
But the heart of the Mantra, the fourth element Turiya, is the unheard silence that surrounds the sound and thus makes audible the sonant expression itself [Turiya, literally, ‘The Immaculately Pure’].
Over the course of centuries, Turiya becomes conceptualized and reified to take life as a mysterious, unmanifest Being. Inscrutable connotations are imputed to ‘AUM‘ and secret formulas devised to reveal it.
In time Turiya the Silence is raised up the flagpole as the source of Sound itself. And from there it is just a hop, skip and jump to formal divine status. Which is largely how it is today.
[Properly interpreted the meaning of the symbol perfectly complements the meaning of the Symbol ‘0’. But that’s a hard sell if you have elevated AUM to a high heaven. Just as the symbol ‘0’ acquires ‘properties’ in the hands of Mathematicians.]
‘Being’ is at the heart of Classical Logic.
Aristotle and the Lyceum philosophers proposed ten categories among which Substance was ontologically primary. In other words, Substance is; and the world with its million features revolved around it.
The idea had been around awhile. In the first elements, Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Space [or ‘Sky’], a list found in most early literate cultures, Earth [Prithvi] was the primary substance, the grounding element.
Get to ‘Substance’ and you get to the heart of the matter. It was the locus to which all attributes attach. ‘Matter’ remained unchanged as ‘Form’ evolved from Acorn to Oak, from Embryo to Man, in natural teleological fulfillment.
The material world matched the propositions of the propounded Logic. And Aristotle’s Logic in turn reflected the lines and contours of the propounded, modeled material world.
‘Being’ is at the heart of Religious Text.
The opening command, the first of the Ten Mosaic Commandments, is a categorical statement of Ontological Presence:
‘I AM the Lord your God who brought you …out of the house of Bondage…thou shalt have no other Gods before Me.’
In Exodus, Moses asks The Presence Its name and The Presence replies: Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.
‘I am that I am…thus you shall say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you‘.
[Of course, Theologians, the intellectuals of the Faith, proceeded to unwrap all this in the only way they knew how.
A reified concept of ‘Being’ was developed extensively first by medieval, later by modern Theologians, which was tagged with a host of sophisticated abstract features: Eternal, Infinite, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Good-Being, Ground of Being, and such. A list of preferred measurements for Man’s ideal ‘God’. It kept the language above the common riff-raff who it was thought took the Bible literally.]
‘Being’ is at the heart of Philosophical Inquiry.
Here is Friedrich Hegel:
‘It is a natural assumption in philosophy, before we start to deal with its proper subject matter, viz. the actual cognition of what really is, one must first of all come to an understanding about cognition..a certain uneasiness seems justified..
For if cognition is the instrument, [it] sets out to reshape and alter it. If [it] is not an instrument but a passive medium through which the light of Truth reaches us, then again we do not receive this Truth as it is, but only..through this medium.
Either way we employ a means which immediately brings about the opposite of its own end..what is really absurd is that we should make use of a means at all…‘
Martin Heidegger circled in the vicinity of Shūnyam but never broke through.
And he had to invent a whole new terminology with achingly looped language [‘the possibility whose probability it is solely to be possible’] to bridge the sharp divide between where his readers stood and what he saw at the cliff’s edge.
‘The indefinability of Being does not dispense with the question of its meaning but forces it upon us. Being..is the self-evident concept..in all our knowing and predicating.
Everyone understands ‘The sky is blue’, ‘I am happy’.. but this average comprehensibility only demonstrates the incomprehensibility. An enigma lies a-priori..
We do not know what Being means but already when we ask: ‘What is Being?’, we stand in an understanding of the ‘is’ without being able to determine conceptually what the ‘is’ means..‘
‘Being’ is at the heart of Science.
Here is Albert Einstein:
‘Science is the endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought, the perceptible phenomena of the world, into as thoroughgoing an association as possible.
To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of Existence by the process of conceptualization…‘
Later, in a less declarative, more reflective moment, he modified it. ‘There is neither Evolution…nor Destiny: only Being’.
Logic, as the ancient Philosophers [before Aristotle] knew and warned, begins in Ontology. If your ontological assumptions aren’t transparent and verified, the Logic will sooner or later buckle.
Logician’s, like Prophets and Politicians, have long cherished the idea of a mystical, divine origin for their calling. But the rules of Logic are not on stone-tablets nor have they fallen from the sky. They are rooted in a set of rarely reviewed, implicit and unstated ontological assumptions.
I have over viewed Logic in the section labeled: ‘Logic and Mathematics’. The longer elaborations are taken up in the posts.