Being and Nothingness

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Pascal, who theorized existentialism, said that man is always in a pitiful state between “Being and Nothingness”. The uncertainty caused by destructions and upheavals is anxiety, distress, nausea, despair. Pascal was an exception in Europe, where religion had fallen off the agenda. He believes that the way to God is through religion.

Kierkegaard said with lyrical trembling: “The self is really intangible, it can only be understood in terms of possibilities, fears, decisions. When I look at my own possibilities, I experience that fear which is the vertigo of freedom, the choice I make is made in fear, in trembling.”

In such uncertainty, Kierkegaard found the solution in getting closer to God. For him, the truth of God, who is Absolute and Eternal, could not be grasped by reason, but only by making leaps with an inner intuition: “For where faith begins is where thinking leaves off.”

The modern paradigm, which transformed philosophy into an institution that investigates knowledge with questions such as what do we know, how can we know what we know, what is knowing, and what are the limits of our knowledge in the process that began with Descartes, questions what it means to exist, or more precisely, what it means to exist once, with existentialist philosophy, and starts its starting point from existence. One-time existence is the zero point of the person.

Bernard-Henri Levy adds: “This subject has no antecedent. It is what it aims at. It is it. It is the aiming of the thing itself, the leap towards it, the move towards it….

A continuum can be placed between these scattered subjectivizations and this continuum can be called character or temperament. To be equipped against this dizziness, we can also embrace the imitation of the subject we call personality.

The ‘I’ is not a place, nor is it a “little god” sitting in this place, clinging to its freedom like a metaphysical virtue. It does not have an interiority, nor does it have a unity that would bring the scattered selves together with a convening horn. Sartre firmly believes that one can only speak of the subject in the plural… Being a subject is not a state but an action, a movement.”

Husserl’s phenomenology deeply influenced this philosophy as a method. Husserl’s phenomenology, which in short means Self-knowledge, adopts the method of going back to essences (reduction); it means knowing oneself as a being by going back to oneself. According to him, this essence is something that does not appeal to the senses, cannot be grasped by the senses and can only be grasped by intuition.

There is a breaking point at which this existence, which starts from the zero point, begins to be felt, and this breaking point appears as an emotion in human beings. This emotion usually indicates a negative, pessimistic, hopeless state of mind such as anxiety, fear, boredom, nausea, nonsense, uncertainty.

In Kierkegaard, one of the non-atheist representatives of existentialist philosophy, this feeling is the absurdity that is felt only intuitively, not through the logical processes of thinking, in a state of uncertainty that causes one to turn to God. He says that truth is experienced subjectively and that divine and religious truths cannot be proven by reason. In response to Descartes’ statement “I think therefore I am”, he, like Nietzsche, will oppose rational traditions and say “What our age lacks is not thought but passion”.

But Kierkegaard does not cut his ties with the divine, whereas Nietzsche sees religion (Christianity in particular) as an obstacle to human self-realization, and breaks his ties with religion

In Karl Jaspers, this feeling is the state of suffering when one reaches the limit where everything is thought to be exhausted. Jaspers stipulates loneliness as a condition for human beings to show the courage of self-realization. In this loneliness, he says that one can make one’s existence real by turning towards that self in longing for the ‘you’ in me.

Jaspers, who says, “I desire everyone to be what I am trying to be, and for him to be his sincerely true self,” meets all other existentialist philosophers at a common point by stating that true existence is an existence that chooses itself by overcoming all kinds of obstacles.

Heidegger‘s philosophy, which begins with Plato and ends with Nietzsche, is a song sung to existence at the call of conscience:

“You, undaunted seekers, seducers, those who sail the raging seas with tricky sails, you, ecstatic with riddles, rejoicing in the twilight, unwilling to grope along a narrow passage with fickle hands, you who follow the melody of your souls and take every twist and turn, you who hate to reason where you can.”

It is a re-breathing of the melody that has been played since Nietzsche ‘in time’ and ‘here’. Heidegger: “Singing in the open is another breath (like the wind) and this breath is for nothing.” For Heidegger this is the forgotten melody of being. Heidegger reveals this forgotten being again in the emptiness of existence. His main problem is how existence can be revealed in human experience.

Returning to the fundamental experience of the forgottenness of being is only possible by making Dasein, where being reveals itself through time, meaningful. And this is only possible through death. “Faced with death as the absolute possibility of man, man can only question the meaning of life.

With death as the last and only absolute possibility that ends all possibilities, the human being who can become conscious of existence through the consciousness of being finite in time and who can think about this existence is the human being who is ‘here (dasein)’. Man is the only being who not only exists but can also reflect on his existence. The being that understands dasein is the basis of its ontological relation to being; dasein will only reveal its being by understanding being in its own being. “Being in the world, existence, is through my projects and my relations with the objects I use and develop as tools.”

Man does not know why he has been chosen to be in the world, what power has decided this and for what purpose. This enigma of coming into being does not make Heidegger, like Sartre, God-less. The I, as the subject of the infinite revealed in finitude, is that whose meaning can be grasped through its presence here and its unity with all others. Heidegger expresses being here and being together as follows:

“My being-in-the-world, in the sense that being is constituted through my projects and through my relations to the objects I use and develop as means, entails my being-in-communion with others who are likewise present in the world. Here, again, the presence of others is not merely accidental but a necessity; it is one of the building blocks of my being and is in it, just as the barber as barber needs to be together with his client, the needle as needle needs to be together with both thread and fabric and tailor. The nature of Dasein is common-ness; human existence is a shared existence and the social interdependence of our daily experiences is originary and constitutive. My full consciousness of myself and my self-affirmation arise from my consciousness of others.”

What makes the I, according to Heidegger, is to be oneself in any case, although it requires the existence of others. In other words, the I is not to be the other or the others. If one loses oneself in others, forgets oneself, and does not search for the meaning of one’s existence, one becomes alienated from one’s ‘dasein’, that is, oneself. Since we did not choose to be here, the fact that we have been thrown into the world by an unknown force creates a sense of insecurity in us. When the sense of being thrown into the world passes into a stage of awareness in the worldliness of dasein that reaches a point of distinction with others, its own existence that is thrown in front of it begins to appear. Dasein’s being thrown into the world turns into being thrown in front of itself through understanding. Thrown in front of itself, dasein begins to design itself as a totality of possibilities (potentiality).

Heidegger expresses this as follows: “The structural unity of Dasein’s unfolding as worldliness, with each of the structures that make up this unity being understood in each case in conjunction with the other, cannot be placed in a building constructed outside of all structures. The meaning of the totality here can only be understood as the design of an architecture. The place and meaning of each structural part in the totality is that the being of Dasein is the possibility of each structural part.” This designing, the unfolding and actualization of potentialities, is the result of a state of anxiety, of worry.

As long as one is with others, as long as one is with them, one is indifferent to one’s existence. Being here, being with the others, separating from the others and swimming to the opposite shore of the world, or rather retreating to one’s own shores, causes anxiety in the person. Because he/she has to face himself/herself who is thrown in front of him/her.

In Heidegger, anxiety is a kind of possibility of fear. However, fear is a condition that occurs against a certain thing, in the threat of a certain ‘thing’. But in the case of anxiety, there is no threat from a specific thing. What is at stake in anxiety is nowhere or nothing. This in itself is a search for meaning in the totality of its possibilities. Heidegger identifies this state of the human being, who is with everything but far from himself, as a fallenness. In this situation, one finds oneself in an intense sense of guilt. This guilty being reveals itself by oscillating between its own possibilities and the state of fallenness. It is precisely at this point that dasein begins to hear the call of conscience. It calls him to listen to the voices rising from his own being. This is also the manifestation of wanting to have a conscience, the time of confrontation. The person withdraws into himself from the world he has fallen into, and tries to hear his own voice(s) by remaining silent.

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Ahmet Turan Esin

-He is interested in theology, mysticism and philosophy. He publishes his writings on fikrikadim.com. He gives seminars and lectures.

-İlahiyat, tasavvuf ve felsefeyle ilgilenir. Yazılarını fikrikadim.com'da yayınlar. Seminer ve dersler verir.-