The philosophy of religion is a subject that hinges upon the answering of questions of human existence; answering the questions of ontology. Central to ontology, and, thus, the philosophy of religion, is the question of being. Charles Kahn put it best when he wrote:
the systematic development of the concept of Being in Greek philosophy from Parmenides to Aristotle, and then in a more mechanical way from the Stoics to Plotinus, relies on the pre-existing disposition of the language to make a very general and diversified use of the verb eimi. Furthermore, insofar as the notions expressed by on, eimi, and ousia
in Greek underlie the doctrines of Being, substance, essence, and existence, in Latin and Arabic, and in modern philosophy from Descartes to Heidegger and perhaps to Quine, we may say that the usage of the Greek verb be studies here forms the historical basis for the ontological tradition of the West, as the very term "ontology" suggests. (Kahn, 1)
By being, the philosopher means the innate state in which one exists, their personal character. If the question of being were to be shown as a nonsensical question, then ontology and the philosophy of religion will become based on nonsense.
In fact, the question of being can be shown to be nonsense, based on the fact that it is a distortion of the verb to be. This is, of course, contingent on the idea that ordinary language is the proper framework for understanding language as used in philosophy. Additionally, it has to be shown how the verb to be was distorted into the noun being.
Ordinary language is indeed the way to look at language as used by philosophers. This is due to how a word gains its meaning. A word obtains its meaning through its use in a social interaction. Words cannot obtain their meaning through some a priori knowledge of the words, for it that were true then words meanings would not change over time. Rather, by existing through human interaction, words meanings can begin to change over time. Further, people assimilate words through social interaction. How else does a child learn to speak? It can only be through hearing the words and seeing the context in which they are spoken. As one learns more of the language, then words can be used to describe the meaning of other words.
Considering this to be the case, ordinary language is the basis for all other forms of language. Specialized languages, like those used in the sciences, expand ordinary language to suit their specialized needs. This is most often done by creating new words through Greek or Latin roots. It is also done by expanding an old concept to a modern form, as was done with the word “atom.” Atom originally was just the small thing that made up everything else and the word was then used, by physicists, to describe the tiny building blocks of all material things so far observed.
Other than ordinary and specialized languages, there is a third type of language used; philosophical. Philosophical language is a language created through the nominalization of verbs and then, as nouns, giving them a life of their own. By changing the verb to a noun, the philosopher can change the meaning of a word and give it a new meaning. This can be demonstrated through a simple analysis of the words themselves.
Concerning the question of being, the distortion through nominalization occurred in Ancient Greece. From the Greek on
using the Greek alphabet, one can see how being stopped being an action and became its own topic. When looking at on
, "it is in nominalized form, as articular participle and abstract noun, that the verb be serves not only to express but also to thematize the concept of Being as a distinct topic for philosophical reflection." (Kahn, 453) Thus, we must look at its nominalized forms in order to understand in what way it has been changed.
The first nominalized form of on
, which is its articular participle. In this form, “the denotation of the participle is highly ambiguous, as Aristotle observed. In the first place ta onta
or “what is” means what is the case, facts or events that actually occur or will occur… In the second place, ta onta
means what is in the locative-existential use of eimi
, things which exist, things which are present, or which are to be found somewhere.” (Kahn 457) Here it can be seen that by exploiting the ambiguity of onta
, philosophers are able to take the existential use of the word and treat it like it has a life of its own. This will be discussed in depth later, for now it is sufficient to see what part of the word is distorted.
The second nominalized form of on
, the abstract noun. This form has a much clearer change made to it by philosophers, due to being able to trace the history of the words actual distortion. “Ousia
occurs in Herodotus and is common in Attic prose but only in the sense of ‘property’… There is no direct connection between this idiomatic use of ousia
(reflecting on the possessive construction of eimi
with the dative) and the more technical sense of ousia
which [one] find[s] in Plato and Aristotle.” (Kahn, 458) If there is no direct connection between the two uses of the word, then one would have to have been made up. In fact, ousia
had been distorted by Plato in order to answer “what is” sort of questions. As it is understood, Plato’s use of ousia
can only be used for his Forms or Aristotle’s Essences. (Kahn 461) Plato changed ousia
from being a word that reflects possession to being an actual quality of human possession, such as possessing a soul. This is a new use of a word that was abstracted by philosophers.
Of course, just claiming that the words are abstracted from the ordinary words is not damning evidence. What is more important is the process behind the actual abstracting of the words. “This they do by re-writing predicative sentences as propositions expressing identity, and it this which transforms the general terms they contain into the names of abstract particulars.” (Lichtenstein) Philosophers do this because, as Plato and all philosophers have since argued, the only words that have any meaning are names and for a sentence to make sense, all words must be names. Then, through a use of philosophical nominalism, they argue that the word or concept must exist independent of the word itself. For what is a name without a subject? Ergo, philosophers have argued that words such as on
must exist independent of the word itself. There are multiple flaws with this line of reasoning.
If all words are names, then what are sentences? A sentence would then be a list of names with no actual content. Its lack of content would have to do with lists of names having an inability to express particulars. Take this list of proper names: Wittgenstein, George Bush, Barack Obama, Tina Fey, Bill Hicks, Venus, Paris. Who do these names refer too? No one can say as they are just names, not particulars. Tina Fey could have been a coffee shop girl or a comedian that appears on television and movies. If all words are names then this list should be a sentence: Indicative, Paris, Fresh, Fudge. However, it is clearly not a sentence. A sentence requires words that are not names and, therefore, do not exist independent of the word. (Lichtenstein)
Further, the nominalist position is untenable. The line of reasoning for the nominalist framework is that on
is a name because names are the only words that mean anything. Therefore, ousia
is describing a real possession of on
(or being). Now ousia
can be used to answer question like “what is a chair” and giving the chair some metaphysical quality or, as Plato put it, form. This is then used to support the idea that words have some form or essence independent of the word itself. The argument is circular. One begins by claiming that words are names and therefore exist independent of the word itself and then proves the argument by using a word. This clearly cannot be the case, as one cannot use a word as a name to prove that words true form is that of the name.
Finally, as has already been argued, words gain their meaning through their use in a social context. Believing that words only gain a meaning by referring to a thing falls into the problem of changing words. If words all names for something in particular, then that particular must be what the word already refers to. Yet it is well known that if one were to look at words from two hundred years ago, some have changed in meaning. Dictatorship in the 1850’s often meant a direct democracy (Draper, 58). Now dictatorship means despotic rule of the minority. This change would not have occurred if dictatorship was a name referring to a proper form of dictatorship. Thus, words cannot exist outside of themselves and they cannot all be names.
Having taken apart the nominalist position, it becomes clear that the Greek verb on
was abstracted to be an existential quality inherent to humans. As this is the case, then the question of Being falls apart. There is no question of Being, because there is no such thing as Being. Thus the question is pseudo question based on nonsense. By abstracting the word in its nominalized forms, philosophers have created a quality that does not exist in reality. With no question of Being, there is no need for a god to have created Being.
By looking at the word on
and how it has been abstracted, one can see how philosophers have distorted the word and created something that does not exist. By dissolving the word into its ordinary usage, the question of Being simply goes away as being a non-question. In exposing the question of Being as being a nonsense question, the foundations of the philosophy of religion, nay ontology itself have been ripped out from beneath them.
Draper, Hal. [I]Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution Volume III: The "Dictatorship of the Proletariat"[I]. 1st. III. New York City, NY: Monthly Review Press, 1986. Print.
Kahn, Charles. The Verb "be" in Ancient Greek.
Reprint. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co., 2003. 1-261. Print.[/FONT]
Lichtenstein, Rosa. "Essay Three Part One: Abstractionism -- The Heart Of The Beast." Anti Dialectics. Rosa Lichtenstein.