By Dr. Sang Hun Lee
Chapter I - Traditional Ideas of Existence
Throughout the development of history the concept of Being, which is the object of ontological study, has changed. That is to say, in the ancient, Medieval, modern, and current times, the objects which were dealt with in ontological study, and all the concepts of those beings, have differed.
1. Objects Of Ontological Study In Ancient Times
In ancient time s there was no actual term ontology, but the main object of philosoical study was the ultimate cause of the universe or arche. This was considered by different philosophers to be many different things. For example, the ultimate cause was considered to be water by Thales, fire by Heraclitus, einai by Parmenides, number by Pythagoras, atom by Democritus, idea by Plato and eidos and hyle by Aristotle.
2. Medieval Concepts Of Existence
In the Middle Ages as well, there was no term ontology, because Christian theology dominated all the spiritual aspects of man's life. However, Thomas Aquinas, the great Medieval theologian, after studying Aristotle's logic, combined it with theology and formed the scholastic philosophy. Thus during the Middle Ages, men rationally regarded God as the cosmic substance (ousia or esse), and all other things as finite beings created by God. Thomas Aquinas, in particular, demonstrated how to prove the existence of God rationally, and he clarified the relationship between the existence (esse) of God md-essence (essentia) of God. Thus, although the Middle Ages was a theological age, toward its close, philosophers began to deal with the ontology of God in the rational and logical Greek way, rather than in the intuitive and mystical way of Augustine.
3. Modern Concepts Of Ontology
Coming into modern times, the concept of existence came to have chiefly epistemological contents. That is to say, existence itself was dealt with as the object of epistemology. The Medieval superhuman and supernatural view of the world was discarded, and a world view was established which originated in the Renaissance and which was based on natural science and centered on reason. In the formation of this modern thought or philosophy, the new methods of philosophical cognition played the most fundamental role. The methods of cognition of scholastic philosophy such as the deductive and probable methods developed by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas were rejected, and both the inductive and rational methods were asserted. The inductive method, based on experimentation and observation, developed into empiricism in England; while the rational method, aiming for mathematically "clear and distinct" understanding developed into rationalism on the continent. Accordingly, epistemology came to be the main part of modern philosophy with "existence" or "being" considered most significant as objects of cognition.
Thus, each philosopher's view of existence varied according to his view of epistemology. Locke considered cognitive objects as objective things; Berkeley thought that beings were perceived ideas (esse est percipi); Descartes regarded both mind and matter as final cause; Leibnitz saw monade as the cosmic substance, while Hegel thought that reason (Absolute Geist) was the final cause (Substanz).
4. Current Concepts Of Ontology
Modern rationalism and the ideas of the Enlightenment reached their climax in the German idealism of Kant and Hegel. German idealists were convinced of the harmonious order of the real world, and they emphasized human dignity and freedom. However, in our own times, as the defects of capitalism came to light, social unrest spread, and as natural science developed to a high degree, the influence of idealism lessened. To fill the gap that idealism left, contemporary philosophies appeared such as Marxist philosophy, which rationalized the theory of violent social revolution; existentialism, which objected to the leveling of human beings by the development of science, and dealt with the essential human self as solitary; logical positivism which analytically treated only logic as part of philosophy and transferred most of what had previously been dealt with in philosophy to the different branches of science, and pragmatism which claimed that the standard of truth should be whether or not a thing is useful in daily life.
Because of these philosophies, the view of beings of final cause (ouisa) changed in comparison to the views of the medieval and modern times. Karl Marx and his followers thought that matter alone was existence or the final cause. Within existentialism, Karl Jaspers dealt with the natural world (Welt) as objective beings, with human beings as "I-beings" (Ichsein) and with transcendental being (Transzendenz) as "Itself-being" (Ansichsein). Martin Heidegger saw the essential self (true being) as "being" (existing modality, Sein) and real or actual man as the present actual being (Dasein); while he called the average human being, common man (Mann). Logical positivists reject problems concerning beings or final cause because to them, these problems have no real meaning in philosophy, but rather belong to the realm of metaphysics. Pragmatism also rejects the problems of essential nature because they are transcendental. The pragmatists' view of God is that one can recognize the existence of God if using that concept gives one some practical effect of moral or emotional satisfaction.
It seems good to introduce here the concept of "beings" in phenomenology, which is another contemporary philosophy. Husserl's phenomenology analytically describes the structure of the phenomenon of pure consciousness (Reine Bewussein). In Husserl's phenomenology, we have to exclude all preconceived ideas about the concept of recognition, and have to deal with the object itself as real fact. We have to use the method of phenomenological epoche. In this case Sache Selbst (things themselves) become the object of epoche. This Sache Selbst is dealt with as the concept of being by Husserl.
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