Truth and Being

Even if I don’t agree with some bits of Sartre’s philosophy, I can’t help but love every word he writes just for the sheer passion and occassional wit. In Transcendence of the Ego, he rejects the transcendental ego Husserl and the phenomenologists posit. And rightfully so, as a transcendental ego contradicts phenomenology’s claim to examine objects in and of themselves. “It renders objects dependent for their various characteristics upon the activity of the ego”, Sartre explains. There is no ego “in” or “behind” consciousness, but only outside in the world as an object itself, as the unity of actions and states when they are reflected upon in the mind. Consciousness is never isolated from the world and being-in-itself is reveiled in every single act of consciousness. (Which, if I understand him correctly, seems like he is in so many words getting at a similar idea as the Buddha, that the truth of reality and our experience is already appearing to us in every moment, that we have only to open our eyes to our interconnectedness with those experiences and other beings in the world.)

From what Sartre argues, the old critique of phenomenology as being an escapist philosophy that places the focus on man rather than on the “real” problems in the world can be dismissed because the I is no longer a transcendental structure but exists in and has the same essential characteristics as the world. In his conclusion, Sartre writes, “The World has not created the me, the me has not created the World. These are two objects for absolute, impersonal consciousness, and it is by virtue of this consciousness that they are connected”. This idea seems to me to point more toward the heart of what many indigenous world views and spiritualities have already found to be true: simply that human beings are part of a greater, interconnected system of various forms of life and consciousnesses, that our particular existence and consciousness/ego emurge as one manifestation of many possibilities. So yes, reflecting on the nature of Being and the Self and their connection to the surrounding world are not at all disconnected from the “practical” problems of human life, but rather at their very essence. The way humans construct their societies and develop their cultures and world views become profoundly different when human beings and the surrounding worlds are understood to be interdependent. This is why indigenous communities have endured for millennia and so-called Western civilization is facing its inevitable defeat.

Regarding truth and its relation to Being, Heideggar in “On the Essence of Truth” makes what I find to be a rather compelling case for the idea that truth is not originally found in some material proposition about correspondence (as in the correspondence theory of truth) nor in the “correctness” of some statement. These confuse material knowledge for essential truth. Because the epistemological question is one that presupposes a particular understanding of what truth is, the two cannot be equated in such a way.

He claims that the essence of truth (i.e. “the ground of the inner possibilitity of what is initially and generally admitted as known”) is found in freedom, freedom meaning “letting beings be” — and to do so, in fact, means to engage oneself with beings, to be present in the openess of Being. His perspective on the human propensity for errancy (as the counter-essence of truth) I found to be pointed as well. “Errancy is the open site for and ground of error. Error is not just an isolated mistake but rather the realm (the domain) of the history of those entanglements in which all kinds of erring get interwoven”. In other words, it’s not only a matter of minor mistakes or miscalculations, but extends to people’s fundamental attitudes and decisions. As I see it, it lays the groundwork for the Taker mentality, for example — it can transform cultural narratives and thus determine the destiny of human societies.

For Heideggar, as for Sartre, Dasein is “in” truth; the two are interrelated. Dasein is the “site of disclosedness” to the world, and its abiility to be open is possible because Dasein is by nature in the world itself. Truth is thus also an event in that truth is revealed of its own accord. Heideggar’s “Letter on Humanism” expanded a bit on what is covered in this lecture “On the Essence of Truth”, and in it he made some shifts from Sein und Zeit, placing emphasis now on thought and poetry (i.e. language as the “House of Being” that enables us to become “custodians of Being”), rather than on pursuing mastery or dominance over the world by imposing our will. Basically, he explains that man does not determine Being, but rather Being reveals itself to and in man through language. By virtue of language, man is the “sentinal in the clearing” of this truth. Man does not have a disembodied mind imposing his will on the world (which in turn makes freedom the freedom strictly to act upon and manipulate objects, rather than the freedom of being in the presence of “letting being be”). At another level, an emphasis is also placed on the humility and “everydayness” of Being (insofar as Being is a non-cohersive disclosing and the essential connection to Being permeates all aspects of human life), as well as on appreciating the “privilege”, so to speak, of living and dwelling in this “clearing” of Being.

The whole idea is admittedly somewhat vague, and Heideggar writes his concern is less with “practical” action. But i think one can gain at least some intuitive sense of what he is positing. I would have to agree that nothing gets more at the fundamental beauty of experience on this planet and as part of this universe than poetry and silence – and music, I would add. In his writing, Heideggar definitely gets strongly metaphorical in his use of language, but much of it seems to be, again, a reiteration of what humans beings have been discovering and honoring since time immemorial — through ceremony, plants, shamanistic practices, etc. — about the cyclical nature of life/time, interconnectedness, and so forth. Even his mention of silence in man’s experience of Being reminds me of Taoism, that the moment you speak of the Tao, it is no longer the true Tao.

Though it was still a bit unclear to me when reading, his description of the seemingly paradoxically notion that the negations of non-essence (i.e. the deformation of essence) and untruth are essential to essence seemed another representation of old knowledge. In Buddhism and other indigenous spiritualities, reflected in ceremonies, rites of passage, etc., the unity of opposites is thoroughly embraced and respected. We can even look to the physics of the universe – like antimatter particles – to see that the fundamental structures of the universe contain this unity. And with quantam theory, we know even the universe itself can be ambivalent about its own so-called laws. It is not a far stretch at all to imagine that what relationships and brain chemistries have evolved on the earth until now still reflect that essential nature in terms of what our minds – or other beings’ minds – experience as truth.


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