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Apophatical Metaphysics of a Subject

Igor D. Nevvazhay
Saratov State Academy of Law

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ABSTRACT: In this paper, the inevitability of the metaphysics of a subject for the philosophical understanding of a person’s being in the world is established, and the apophatic character of this type of metaphysics is discussed. Analysis of the categories of being and non-being which allow the interpretation of a subject as transcendent and as transcendental being that is characterized by uniformity, spontaneity and irreversibility is also mentioned. The suggested interpretation of a subject discloses both the rational sense of the classical points of view on the absolute, unconditional, timeless and spaceless character of the subject of knowledge, and the compatibility of the notions of the absolute character of a subject and the ontological condition of a human being in society and culture. The main idea of the suggested conception of a subject is the fact that the subject’s being cannot be "housed" into the world, nor can it be characterized as impossible existence for the world. The world can be understood only from the point of view of being impossible (symbolic) existence. The discussion of the problem of identification of a subject shows that the presumption of a subject as one of the existing structures of the world leads to paradoxes and contradictions in the interpretation of the processes taking place in the world. To understand the process of education, it is necessary to bear in mind that it is not only cognitive, but also moral: education is the process of the formation of a subject of knowledge through identification with transcendental symbolic existence, which fact demands making efforts to be on the part of the thinking person.

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I. Introduction

Some schools of modern philosophy buried the notion of a subject in oblivion. Criticism of the classical reason that began in the second half of the XIX century has come to an end in postmodemism of the XX century with the declaration of the principles of pluralism, relativism, contextuality and decentration. These principles are incompatible with the classical view on a subject, an object, truth and objectivity of cognition. The characteristic feature of the classical conceptions criticism of the 1-conceptions was the fact that it was aimed at opposing the consequences of the classical conceptions. These consequences include theories of the ideological forms of consciousness, theory of social progress, scientism, understanding of truth as a function of power, violence, etc. We must not understand this criticism of consequences as sufficient ground to reject the notion of subject. In my opinion the notion of subject remains one of the fundamental metaphysical notions. Modern philosophical interpretation of this notion should take into account those deep ideas that were expressed by the critics of classical reason. These ideas include: the idea of finiteness of human existence, the idea of historicity and sociocultural determination of a person's subjectivity.

No doctrine about moral and law which admits the freedom and responsibility of a person can do without the idea of a subject. Not less important in this idea for the philosophical understanding of the phenomenon of person's education. Thus, if we speak about education not only as about some process of transmitting of information from the instructor to the student, but as about the process of the formation of a knowledgeable person, then thelatter must be viewed as one of the subjects of communication who has the right to say "I know," "I understood". Nobody can say that "he/she understood," "he/she knows", but he/she. Without the corresponding acts of self-consciousness the person who is being taught can not be a repository of knowledge, value and skills.

My report is devoted to the analysis of the conditions of the possibility of man's being. This interpretation of the problem of a subject is metaphysical. Future I shall try to substantiate the point of view according to which metaphysics of a subject based on the rational sense of ideas of classical conception of a subject and its criticism in contemporary postmodernism has apophatical or negative character. This approach will help us solve a number of the fundamental problems of being a subject of creation, cognition, understanding and education.

II. Being and nonbeing of a subject.

Paul Tillich was right saying that "non-being is one the most difficult and and most widely-used notions in philosophy". This is true not only, as it is usually considered, for Eastern philosophical doctrines, but for the whole European philosophy beginning with ancient times and up to now. My analysis of the categories of being and non-being is based on the works written by M.Heidegger, J.-P.Sartre and Russian philosophers-S. Frank, M. Mamardashvili and others.

As it was shown by M.Heidegger, the human existence includes nothingness as a loss by a man of some support in his being. In this formula being is not identical to existence, the presence of a man in the world. This differentiation is the basis for understanding of non-being as a special kind of existence about which we can reason and say something only in terms of being. This circumstance is sometimes understood in the following way: the notion of non-being is empty, it is identical to nothingness, and that is why it is unnecessary. However it is not so. If there is no non-being, they why is it present in our consciousness?

Both in New Times and nowadays scientific understanding of the world is based on the interpretation of being as some entity of the existing objects and phenomena. Being is identical to existence. But in ancient times in the doctrine developed by Parmenides being was understood as being of the existing. The existence could be given in the experience from this or that side. Being of the existing is not given in the experience. Being of the existing is something more than the given, it is extraempirical. Being is intelligible in the sense used by Parmenides: being and thought, that helps to recognise being are identical, both of them belong to each other. Let us consider a simple example, which was often used by E.Husserl. We can view a cube from different sides, and though in our perception only one projection of the cube is given to us, we consider it a cube, but not anything else. In reality there is no any point of view from which the cube could be seen from all sides at one and the same moment as a whole. The cube is existence as a whole, which is given only in our mind. Being is not a thing in itself, but something which includes understanding and thought about itself Being is connected with thought, it exists in its openness to understanding and is fixed by the act of understanding. As far as being is not a thing or substance, a person cannot regard it as some basis of his existence in the world which once and for all exists independent of the person.

The ideas expressed above have great importance for the understanding of the character of a man's being. In the classical philosophy a subject is a substantial basis of knowledge, cognition and experience. A subject is absolute and exists outside the space and time, outside history and culture. He is a repository of absolute truth, values and rules of action. A transcendent (in its relation to the world) subject corresponded to the ideal of truth and objectivity of scientific cognition. Transcendent and at the same time transcendental subject of the classical philosophy is an absolute, uniform and unchangeable existence, which does not possess being. The latter fact was clearly expressed by Kant in his work "Critique of Pure Reason", in which he wrote, that thinking about our existence: "I exist", we are only subjects of the judgement, "but this ... judgement does not say anything about the mode of my existence". Kant stressed that being cannot be considered as a predicate of the existence. This means that the judgement "being of the existing" does not make any sense according to Kant. We can say nothing about the transcendental subject, but that he must be. The existence of the transcendental subject is understood by practical reason in the acts of free behavior, in which and by which the subject is born. Kant's doctrine about practical reason contained deviation from the understanding of a subject as an unchangeable substance. He spoke about the fact that the subject is spontaneously born but he limited the sphere of birth to the acts of self-consciousness.

To be a subject is a possibility, any person faces. He is constantly under the conditions of "to be or not to be". One can live, but at the same time he can not be. The formula "being of the existing" means that a man can be. This being is not equal to the existence of a man as part of the world.

A subject is a transcendent being of a man towards the world. Because of the transcendence a man finds himself in some relation to the world: he becomes a subject of the observation, experience, cognition, practical activity, etc. One can say that the transcendent being is a subject. This fact stresses the identity of the transcendent being and subject. Human subject is the result of being that abides in transcendence in which a man feels the actual plenitude of his being and realizes his being as freedom. Being-freedom is determined by itself, but it is not envisaged beforehand and not determined by those positive links which exist between man and nature, society, culture, language. As a self-determined existence being-subject is uniform, single and indivisible. This finds expression in the acts of self-consciousness, expressed in judgements: "I am," "I think," "I used my own discretion" and others. This kind of being is fixed by these acts of consciousness in which understanding of one's own self as an existing being (knowledgeable being, moral being, legal being, etc.) is given. It is important to stress that we can call being only an entity in which there is understanding. That is why it is impossible for a man to reside in being, is e.g., as a moral or knowledgeable creature, if there is no understanding of this being as moral or knowledgeable. In this sense an animal cannot be (even by chance) moral, because it is not a subject.

The interpretation of a man’s being considered above implies the relation to non-being, because as a subject-being a man can both be and not be. Here I mean the non-being of a subject, e.g., unknowledgeable, immoral individual, or a wrongdoer. The category of non-being acquires content if being is understood as something that is being invented or created. The birth of a subject presupposes exit from routine, interrelated and predetermined connections, stereotypes of life, symbolic and cultural systems. To be born a subject means, as Socrates put it, to be dead for others and, thus, to become something that the real world cannot become by itself in a natural way. The subjective being is the existence that is impossible for the world. In this sense being is birth of an absolute from non-being. As far as the subject is born in the world, transcending into the existence that is impossible for the world, is the result of transcendenting into the non-being. Transcendenting is the exit of a man beyond his natural and cultural boundaries, it is overcoming oneself that is "too human" (F.Nitzsche). But a man cannot make an exit from "this" world into some "other" world, that is why transcendenting is directed not towards something or somewhere, but towards non-being.

Non-being is unthinkable, it cannot be expressed, but only till the moment when being intrudes in it. Before the birth of a subject-being we cannot think of it as of some possible entity. On the analogy with the notion of emptiness introduced by Democrites, non-being is that "place," due to the existence of which, being is born, and in which conscious life is created, being-consciousness is exercised.

It is natural to ask a question of how a subjects birth is represented and how a person can be fixed in the world as a subject. In other words, it is the forms. The symbols have not concrete denotative meaning like a sign. The birth of a symbol is the birth of a symbolic being of a subject. These symbols fix the subjective being in the world. An empty notion, a word or some fragment of reality can be symbolic. The examples of such symbolic entities are the World Tree, the God, love, duty, first element, perpetuum mobile, absolute time, absolute space, inert system of co-ordinate, standards of measure, etc.

No one of these symbolic entities can be represented as a real object. Such kind of being has not a denotative but sense nature. Each of these symbols represents a non-object's being of a subject, that in its respect to the empirical manifestation of human life is unconditional or self-being. The unconditional character of being and its unnecessity in the world means that this being must include care about itself. This care is manifested, first of all, in the efforts made by a person in his attempts to understand the sense of the symbolic being. That is why a subject exists only when some definite symbolic structures have sense, and this sense may be understood, interpreted. The result of the interpretation is the emergence of a denotative meaning or denotative image of the sense. It should be stressed, however, that there can be an infinite number of types such meanings. That is why the sense of being does not allow monosemantic interpretation of being. This polysemy is determined by the variety of culture, historical experience and traditions, language, etc., in which the interpreter exists.

Thus, a subject's being has a sense- nature. This being cannot be described as a part of the world of objects. So, the symbolic entities are transcendental conditions of the possibility of the subjective being in the world, and that is why it is a condition of the cognition of the world, a condition of a free action, morality and law.

In some respect the classical philosophy was right declaring the "outside" character of the subject of cognition. In connection with the above said the subjective being exists outside the space and time of the world of objects. One cannot say that the subject "will be" or "was"; if he is, then he is "here" and now or "everywhere" and "always". This means that subjective being is not an attribute of a man, but a state, which a man can obtain (or lose). A man always obtains this state only at the present moment "now") and there, where he is now ("here"). But one can obtain this state practically always and everywhere. A subject exists there and then, where and when he is formed in the world.

At the same time the act of first birth of a subject (and symbol) is always connected with the concrete historical and cultural context. A necessary him, impossibility for the man to exist in the world in a human-like manner, reasonably. The fact that the man cannot "be housed" in the world given to him is manifested in the situations when a man feels his loneliness, perceives the world as absurd, irrational, etc. Finding himself in such a situation a man lives through his existence as a non-subject one, alien to him, that is as non-being.

The famous dialogues of Plato may be the classical example of the above situation of a man. The dialogues practically never finish with the complete and precise definition of the notion under study. With the help of the questions, addressed to the interlocutors, Socrates just brings us to the truth, but it is never verbalised. The understanding of truth, the good, justice, etc. makes the interlocutors put their efforts to obtain the being of truth, the good and justice through obtaining the sense of the truth, the good, justice. The sense itself cannot be expressed in the final judgements and definitions. Besides that, it should be stressed that very often in the dialogues the interlocutors come to contradictory statements about one and the same thing. This means that destroying the possibility of discourse Socrates points out the impossibility to catch the sense of being, e.g., justice in form of a wording. To understand that one should stop talking, emerge from the discourse, and then, perhaps, the sense of justice will open to us and become obvious, though inexpressible in some single definition.

III. The problem of identification: euthanasia and education of a subject

Human consciousness is not a vessel that can be filled with any information. It is especially true, if we speak about the acquiring of the new uncommon notions and concepts. The first task that the teacher faces in this case is to change the common picture of the world the student possesses. It is necessary to make the former world unrecognisable, not understandable. One of the methods is to disclose the antinomic character of the "old" world. After than, one can suggest for understanding and interpretation symbolic structures. Mastering them the student acquires a new quality of a subject of knowledge. E.g., interpretation of new symbols of being in Galilei's mechanics can be done alongside with the criticism of the Aristotelian picture of the world, demonstration of the fact that this picture of the world contains contradictions.

The process of education of a subject of knowledge may be defined as transition from consciousness "I am" to consciousness? 'I am X", where "X" is subject's being, by joining which "I" acquires new knowledge and understanding of the world. If a man identifies himself with the physical, biological, social forms of the world being, he becomes a repository of the corresponding qualities and functions. A man can identify himself with anything — with a stone, with some other person, etc. With the help of such identification a man considers himself a part of the world where he lives. This identification has the sense of the euthanasia of the subject. In the history of science we can find a lot of examples of such kind of euthanasia. I shall dwell only one a well-known fact. It concerns the paradoxes of the measures in quantum mechanics, about which N.Bohr and A.Einstein had been arguing for a long time. When we try to describe the observer with the help of the physical equations, identifying by that fact the observer with the physical object, the measurement becomes impossible, the act of measurement goes to an infinity.

Thus, teaching of a person as a process of formation of a subject means that a person must identify himself with purely symbolic existence — with the God, the Christ, the Good, Justice, Obligation, the Truth, Love, Perpetuum Mobile, Absolute space and time, etc. These universal symbols are those "organs", with the help of which a person not only exists in the world, but can become a subject in this world. Through these "organs" a man acquires freedom and, as a result, his being becomes non-anonymous, responsible, proper existence. The proper is not deduced from the order existing in the world, it can never appear in the world, but it is the proper that forms the measure, the aim, the authority, the prohibition, etc. Thus a subject is the entity a man must become.

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