Sunday, June 13, 2010
Mu-logy, the opposite of ontology, from Bret W. Davis's article on The Kyoto School.
[T]he fundamental philosophical question of the onto-theological mainstream of the West is, “What is being?” On the other hand, the counter-question which the Kyoto School finds in the East is, “What is Nothingness?” In place of an ontology, first philosophy in the East is more often a “meontology”: a philosophy of non-being or Nothingness.

Perhaps we should say “mu-logy” rather than “meontology”; for, strictly speaking, the Greek meon, “non-being,” should be translated into Japanese as hi-u. What I am translating as “Nothingnesss,” mu, is written with a single character rather than as a negation (hi) of being (u). This is crucial since the Nothingness with which they are concerned is not the simple negation or privation of being. It is closer to Heidegger's “question of being,” which, attentive to what he calls the “ontological difference” between being (das Sein) and beings (das Seiende), asks after that which can only appear as “no-thing” when we think only in terms of things, that is, when we think (or calculate) merely in terms of determinate beings. Heidegger thus calls “the Nothing” (das Nichts) the “veil of being.” Das Sein or das Nichts is for Heidegger that which grants an open place, a clearing (Lichtung), for beings to show themselves. Just as “nature (phusis) loves to hide” (Heraclitus), being lets beings come to presence by itself withdrawing into absence or self-concealment.

Tanabe studied with Heidegger in the early 1920s. (In fact, upon returning to Japan in 1924, Tanabe was the first scholar in the world to write an article on Heidegger's thought.) When he later wrote the following, Tanabe no doubt had Heidegger's 1929 “What is Metaphysics?” lecture in mind: “All science needs to take some entity or other as its object of study. The point of contact is always in being, not in nothing. The discipline that has to do with Nothingness is philosophy”.
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