Saturday, December 30, 2006

INTRODUCTION
from here

"With the philosophy of Nicolai Hartmann we once again enter a world of sober, objective and impartial inquiry, which presses beyond man's self and seeks to grasp the universe of being so far as it is revealed to our limited capacity to know. The basic mood of Existence philosophy, as might be expected, is altogether missing from this universal way of viewing matters. (...).

The true concern of his philosophy is to discover the structural laws of the real world, of the world of being, not of some `world of mere appearances' set out in front of the real world. Traditional philosophy, according to Hartmann, has sinned a great deal in this connection and in a double manner. First, it has always believed that it faced two basic alternatives - to accept an absolute knowledge of being, or else to assume the total unknowability of the `things in themselves'. The latter course means rejecting the possibility altogether of objective knowledge of being, the former results in closed metaphysical systems that dismiss the irrational aspects of being and hold that the whole of being may in principle be grasped rationally. What has been overlooked is the middle possibility, namely, that being may be partially comprehensible conceptually despite the irrationality of the infinite portion that remains.

The second error of traditional philosophy is the propensity, stemming from the monistic need for unity, to transfer the categories or principles of one province to another that differs from it in kind. Illustrations are the application of mechanistic principles to the sphere of the organic, of organic relationships to social and political life, and, conversely, of mental and spiritual structures to the inanimate world. This infringement of categorial boundaries, as Hartmann calls the theoretical encroachment of one province of being upon another, must be eliminated by rigorous critical analysis; yet the categories must preserve their relative validity for the domain from which they were taken originally. From the standpoint of a critical ontology, the totality of beings then turns out to be a far more complicated structure than finds expression in the traditional metaphysical formulas of unity.

Knowledge belongs to the highest stratum with which we are acquainted, that of spirit or culture. Consequently only an ontology of spiritual being (geistiges Sein) can comprehend the essence of knowledge. At the same time, however, the problem of cognition must already have obtained at least a partial solution if ontological inquiry is to be admissible at all. For to begin with we do not even know whether there is any such thing as objective knowledge of being or a transcendent object independent of the subject of cognition. This fact necessarily places epistemology in a dual position. On the one hand, it must create the foundation for all ontological inquiry; but at the same time it can reach its goal only within the framework of an ontology of spiritual being. Hartmann attempts to do justice to this twofold aspect of knowledge by prefacing his works in ethics and ontology with an investigation of knowledge, by including in this investigation the ontological viewpoint, and by discussing in his ontology the consequences of his findings for the phenomenon of cognition."

From: Wolfgang Stegmüller - Main currents in contemporary German, British, and American philosophy - Dordrecht, Reidel Publishing Co. , 1969. pp. 220-221.



"It is not easy to tell what exactly Hartmann understood by his 'ontology,' which he wanted to oppose to the old Pre-Kantian form of ontology. He certainly did not identify it with metaphysics. In this respect Hartmann's enterprise differed fundamentally from the many more or less fashionable attempts to resurrect metaphysics, attempts which have rarely led to more than tentative and precarious results. Superficially Hartmann's 'ontology' may seem to be nothing but what it meant to Aristotle: the science of being qua being in its most general characteristics. In order to determine its actual content, however, it will be best to look first at the type of topics and problems which Hartmann took up under the time-honored name. They comprise not only being qua being, i.e., the most general concept of what is (das Seiende), but existence (Dasein) and essence (Sosein), which he calls Seinsmomente, and the types of being designated by the adjectives 'real' and 'ideal,' named Seinsweisen, all of which are discussed in the first volume of the ontological tetralogy. The second volume deals with the modes of being (Seinsmodi) such as possibility and actuality, necessity and contingency, impossibility and unreality -- particularly impressive and perhaps the most original part of the set. The next major theme is the categories, first the general ones applying to all the strata (Schichten) of the real world and explored in the third volume (Der Aufbau der realen Welt), then the special categories pertaining only to limited areas, such as nature, which Hartmann takes op in the final work.

Finally, there are the categories peculiar to the realm of cultural entities (geistiges Sein) which he discussed in a work whose publication actually preceded the ontological tetralogy.

The mere mention of these topics will make it clear that such an ontology differs considerably from what had passed as ontology before Hartmann. It covers more and less. It adds the spheres of being which have been opened up by the sciences and the new cultural studies as well as by the theory of values. But it omits the traditional metaphysical problems, i.e., the ultimate questions dealing with God and immortality, which were the prize pieces of speculative metaphysics. The fact that Hartmann abandoned this earlier metaphysics did not mean that he denied its problems. Their insolubility even provides the very background for his new ontology. Hence we have no right to simply ignore them.

Ontology thus conceived constitutes really a segment of a metaphysics which is no longer simply a field for speculative treatment by a priori methods. To Hartmann metaphysical problems are those which form the horizon of scientific knowledge, and which are inescapable because of their connection with what we can know scientifically, yet which cannot be solved by the methods of science alone. Some of these problems he considered to be impenetrable and 'irrational' on principle, even though they too contain an ingredient (Einschlag) which can be explored by the rational methods of critical ontology. This 'least metaphysical part' of metaphysics is the proper field of the new ontology."

From: Herbert Spiegelberg - The Phenomenological Movement. A historical introduction - Martinus Nijhoff - The Hague, 1963 (third edition). pp. 309-310.

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