A Reflection Paper on Martin Heidegger’s What is Metaphysics?

This undergraduate philosophical paper was originally written as a three-page final paper in partial fulfillment of the requirements for PHIL 2173. Semester I, SY 2013-2014.


A Reflection Paper on Martin Heidegger’s
What is Metaphysics?

Heidegger’s inquiry into the realm of metaphysics takes its point of departure in a particular metaphysical question: “What is Metaphysics?” He caters to his inquiry by, first of all, describing a “sketch” out of which will develop a two-fold character of metaphysical interrogation. Heidegger begins by stating that every metaphysical question always encompasses the whole range of metaphysical problems. [1] By this, Heidegger intends that such a metaphysical question encapsulates the entirety of beings interrogated within the question. Aside from this, Heidegger propounds that every metaphysical question can be asked only in such a manner whereby the questioner is also placed within the question. From this, Heidegger concludes that a metaphysical question is that which must be posited (1) as to include the whole range of metaphysical questions and (2) from the position of the inquiring Dasein.

Moreover, Heidegger expounds the influence of scientific thinking in our inquiry into metaphysics. Precisely by the very fact that scientific thinking grounds being as such, science wishes to know beings only, and besides that, nothing. Science wishes to know nothing about the nothing. [2] This ‘nothing’ is what Heidegger seeks to elaborate, for in wishing to know nothing about the nothing we actually delve into the regions most rejected by science itself. But not only that. Heidegger furthermore elaborates that in the attempt to think about the nothing we come to something, and by such an inquiry, we arrive at the exact opposite of that which we interrogate. For when we ask, “what is nothing?” we conclude by answering that “nothing is” this or that particular thing. By this, aren’t we only dragging ourselves in a web of intricate propositions by asserting that “nothing is this or that” when precisely it is nothing? What is it with the nothing?

Deeper into his work, we come to dig into Heidegger’s elaboration of the question concerning metaphysics. For Heidegger, the nothing is the negation of the totality of beings. If this is such, it means that for us to know the nothing, the totality of being must first of all be given in advance. With this, Heidegger comes close to yet another question: “How should we, who are essentially finite make the whole of beings accessible in itself and also for us?

We can think of the idea of the whole of beings, then negate that particular idea, and arrive at the nothing as the negated idea. But this would be all wrong. For Heidegger, what we would have at the end of the negation would only be an idea of the nothing and not the nothing itself.

But hope is not lost in the quest for the nothing. We may not be able to comprehend the totality of beings in themselves by representing ideas but we do experience it in its entirety. We encounter, experience, explore into the whole of beings in our daily struggle in this side of the world, in our existences. Such experience, according to Heidegger, is the coming face-to-face with anxiety. When we feel this overwhelming feeling of anxiety for something unseen, something unthinkable, we come to experience in full blow the totality of beings; that unmistakable feeling of being in the midst of everything, of being enclothed by something far greater than the world, greater than our existence.

The “throwness” of the Dasein that so characterizes our human existence and at the same time robs us of meaning in the world actually becomes the very fertile ground for our experience of the totality of beings. In our everyday crusade against the harsh unforgiving elements of reality, we modern men carry upon our shoulder a plethora of human fragilities and drag them on and on throughout our finite existence — always with the question why, always with a sense of insurmountable fear for the unknown — . We experience as in a sudden explosion a blast of human sentiments that take us back to a realization that we are fragile, we are weak, we are finite and dying with each passing day. We experience a profound sense of boredom in a world that has provided us with every possible and impossible means of entertainment. We experience a tremendous amount of fear despite the many promises of the world for security and safety.

We feel lost in the whole of beings precisely as when we feel alone in the midst of the world with 8 billion men. We feel ourselves drifting in a wave of hopeless air, floating helplessly around our desperation. We feel as if there is nothing but an infinite abyss beneath our feet, ready to consume us, ready to take us away. In the course of changing circumstances in a world where nothing is permanent, we feel lost in the many demands of living that sometimes put us at the brink of surrender. We feel lost in the transition between point A to point infinity, where we, the living x in the equation, will forever remain unknown.

Perhaps it is no easy task to relate a personal experience that would testify to the truth of the matter. Perhaps in trying to probe into the unchartered regions of our existences we would only overwhelm ourselves with too much fear. But I, as the author of this paper, stand bold in the face of such fear. In the midst of cruel circumstances by this life that was never kind and forgiving, this fragile heart had been beaten close to its death. In childhood as much as in the empty years of growing up, there was only one thing that plagued my mind ever so persistently, that even after the years I could still hear that frail voice asking over and over again: “What does it mean to be?”

But of course when I was younger I still don’t have the vocabulary that I do have now. But in the heart of a 12 year old kid, I knew what I was asking for. I wanted an explanation for things and for their being. I wanted to know precisely why, when I close my eyes and think of life, I could feel the sharpness of existence flowing right within me. I felt afraid sometimes, knowing that what lies ahead of me was a vast empty space of nothingness. For years I thought of it only as a strange feeling, an imagination. But reading Heidegger opened me up to a light never before casted upon me. I realized that the feeling that was so clear and vivid in my younger years was not just a feeling, brief and transitory. Neither was it a fleeting moment that would soon pass away. This anxiety was the very condition that allowed me to come in a full encounter with the whole of beings, and by nothing itself. Precisely, as what I have learned along the time, this what was Dasein means: to be held out in the nothing.

Martin Heidegger’s contribution to the history of Western thought was of subtle magnitude. His expedition into the less-travelled roads of metaphysics was monumental in its own way. His recapitulation of the question of Being and his voyage to arrive at its answers proved to be an astounding accomplishment of the 20th century Continental philosophy. If there was one thing that I owe Heidegger, it would be the understanding of the Human Dasein and the many experiences that clearly define its encountering. No words, no language could ever amount to the unmistakable experience of clarity. We may feel lost at times within the restless sphere of human existence. We may feel chained by the hopelessness of our finitude. But even in the night of our fears and uncertainties, Heidegger speaks in the stillness of our being and sings to the core of our hearts:

. . . Go bear without halt
Question and default
on your single pathway bound . . . [3]

[1] Martin, Heidegger. What is Metaphysics? in Basic Writings: Martin Heidegger. HarperCollins Publisher, Inc: NY, New York. p.82.
[2]  Ibid., p. 84. [italics mine]
[3] Heidegger, Martin. (1971). Poetry, Language, Thought. HarperCollins Publisher, Inc: NY, New York. p. 3.


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