The unreality of ‘Being’

Now that we have seen what our ideas are like, it follows to ask what is the nature of physical elements? And here we shall leave a psychological problem to enter into a philosophical (ontological) problem. A problem, not about the how we think on things, but about the reality of things.
When we form the idea of elements we treat their physical differences as sameness and unify them through their common and invariable qualities. The question is, do these common and invariable qualities represent the real nature of elements? We know that physical elements are different and are changing all the time. And yet, they seem to have common qualities which are invariable. This invariable common qualities of things forms their being. The being of things would be the invariable essence behind all their physical difference and variation. So the question is, do physical elements have a real being? This is an ancient problem and opinions on the subject depends on what is considered to be real: the difference between or their common qualities. Those who see as real the physical difference don’t believe in the being of things, and those who see as real their common qualities believe in their being. The negative posture can be traced back -at least- to Heracleitus, who sustained that all things are in constant flux regardless of how they appear to our senses. It is of ordinary experience that physical elements are in permanent change and variation, meaning that the same physical element is actually never the same. And if something is never the same then it doesn’t have an invariable being. But there is a problem with things not having a being – a problem that was recognised as early as Parmenides: things cannot be something and at the same time not-being. If things don’t have a being then the world couldn’t be known or expressed, and it would become unintelligible.

So can we tell what the nature of physical elements is like? Well, we have no way of knowing it directly. Objects are only known indirectly through their idea, and the idea of elements are mental representations of their reality. On a naïve interpretation of the world we would consider our ideas as true representations. But as we have seen, representations are approximations to reality. So the physical nature of elements can only be known indirectly through approximations to their reality. If we want to know better the physical nature of things we cannot dissociate this study from the nature of our ideas.
So, do physical elements have an invariable and individual being or do they not? Are the common qualities real, or is the difference between elements what is real?
For the moment we don’t have the necessary elements to say what the nature of the physical world is like. Eventually we are going to propose one. But, as an anticipation to the theory, we are going to sustain that the only real physical common quality that elements posses is their spatiality. Any other qualities that we associate to elements are mental attributes that don’t have any physical reality. The only being elements have is their spatiality, which is not individual but common to all elements. It is our mind, that when it perceives physical elements creates their idea and treats them as if they would have an individual being. Physical elements, not only are in permanent motion and transformation, but they also exist in a continuity of space with no finite boundaries or empty spaces between them. So physical elements are not finite and invariable elements in-themselves. The problem is, that from the moment we perceive them we can’t avoid thinking on them; and when we do, we can’t avoid treating them as if they would be objects in-themselves (Notice that we are saying ‘as if’, for eventually we’ll see that our ideas also have a physical nature and themselves are not finite and invariable elements in-themselves). This is how our thought is framed. Physical things don’t have a being, but when we perceive them we create their being by treating them as if they would be in-themselves. Furthermore, we cannot think of them otherwise. So from the moment of perception we already face an insurmountable obstacle in our understanding of Nature.
But if this is so then there is still a problem remaining: if physical elements don’t have a being then they are unintelligible. And regarding this problem we are going to sustain that indeed, physical elements are in rigor unintelligible to us. The unintelligibility of the physical world is part of its reality. The world remains intelligible only through our ideas, and the best we can expect is to form from these ideas better approximations to its reality.


One Response to “The unreality of ‘Being’”

  1. Human subjectivity « Natural Philosophy Says:

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