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Illustrations of Being: Drawing upon Heidegger and upon Metaphysics.

"The thesis of the present book is that we all possess, a priori, an awareness, or even understanding, of being (and other subjects) that guides our daily practice as well as any subsequent philosophical interpretations" (p. 167). The awareness is preontological, and this "pre-ontological awareness [of being] is what does the philosophizing" (p. 95) in each historical epoch. It has yielded a series of interpretations of being as substance, reality, the Trinity, the principles of symbolic logic, dialectical reason, consciousness--to name the most important--which we recognize as the various major grounding concepts of metaphysics. But the interpretations are merely "illustrations of being." None is fundamental and others are possible.

Inspired by Martin Heidegger's Being and Time as well as by his later works, the present work is an ambitious ontological study of yet another illustration of being: existence. But while knowledge of Heidegger's work is essential to appreciate Nicholson's inspiration for his work, the present work is not an esoteric text written in the Heideggerian idiom. The first part of the book is a discussion of Heidegger's thought as the culmination, "for our times at least" (p. 29), of the long history of being's self-revealing (presence) and self-hiding (absence). Here Nicholson reviews the basic concepts of Heidegger's thought and begins his own illustration of being in a study of what he calls the exister, "a being like ourselves for whom the one and only matter at issue is to be" (p. 45). The term "exister" is Nicholson's candidate for a translation of Heidegger's early central term for the being of human existence, Dasein. The term is Walter Lowrie's rendering of den Existerende in Soren Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript. A human being philosophizes because he or she is an exister and therefore a discloser of possible experiences (p. 65).

Part 2 explicates the most important illustrations of being in Western philosophy: the metaphysics of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, the dialectical materialists, and the symbolic logicians. The author discovers behind each metaphysical doctrine an experience of time that has been eclipsed by the very illustration of being for which it is determinative. The epochal experience of time in each instance determines the mode of existence of the exister and, in turn, the character of the exister's fundamental metaphysical figure.

Clearly, Nicholson sees in Heidegger's thought a means of understanding both the history of philosophy and the crisis of the present age. The book begins with a plea for philosophy in an age of disheartening and confusing doubt among many professional philosophers. The author argues against several contemporary trends in the "literary criticism" of philosophical texts, including Jacques Derrida's deconstructions, and against what he calls "Unphilosophy," which claims to have found in writing about being throughout the Western tradition a source of doctrines that can and have been used to control and exploit people (pp. xi-xii).

In the concluding chapter Nicholson advocates what he terms "Green Philosophy." He does not tell us very much, however, about how this is related to the thinking and writing about being that he has undertaken in his book. Whatever the nature of his political engagement may be, his delight in philosophy is as reassuring as his certainty of its value is encouraging.-- Miles Groth, New York, N.Y.
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Author:Groth, Miles
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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