Rene Descartes was born this day in 1596

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ETRE (EH-truh)

Common clues:
Raison d'_____; French 101 verb; Being in Bordeaux; To be, in Toulon; Irregular French verb
Crossword puzzle frequency: 9 times a year

I think, therefore I am ~ Rene Descartes

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being ~ Carl Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”

In philosophy, being is the object of study of metaphysics, and more specifically ontology. In its most indeterminate sense, being could be understood as anything that can be said to be, which is opposed to nonexistence. For example one could ask: “why is there something instead of nothing?” Where “something” implies being. For a metaphysician the main problem is not the scientific question of how the universe works, but why the universe (or anything such as a rock) is.

As speech utterances in the English language, questions such as the above only have meaning if the utterer and the hearer both can code and decode its words into concepts understood by both of them, raising questions of how they acquired such understandings. One is the concept of nothing. As nothing cannot be known by any means or method it must mean, in the context of the question, that a specific named object is present or not present in the observer's experience of a set of objects, conditions for which English uses "is" or "is not." The object therefore cannot be the same, at least in language, as its being present, as it may or may not be present. French Academy member Étienne Gilson summarized this long-known characteristic of the experienced world as follows:

"...the word being is a noun ... it signifies either a being (that is, the substance, nature, and essence of anything existent), or being itself, a property common to all that which can rightly be said to be. ... the same word is the present participle of the verb 'to be.' As a verb, it no longer signifies something that is, nor even existence in general, but rather the very act whereby any given reality actually is, or exists. Let us call this act a 'to be,' in contradistinction to what is commonly called 'a being.' It appears at once that, at least to the mind, the relation of 'to be' to 'being' is not a reciprocal one. 'Being' is conceivable, 'to be' is not. We cannot possibly conceive an 'is' except as belonging to some thing that is, or exists. But the reverse is not true. Being is quite conceivable apart from actual existence; so much so that the very first and the most universal of all the distinctions in the realm of being is that which divides it into two classes, that of the real and that of the possible."

Whether or not an object is present in a set; that is, exists there as a being, is based on universal experience or evidence of it. Existing objects are present to the experience of anyone. It is a legitimate goal therefore for philosophers of being to try to find a principle or element – a "something" – accounting for the presence of the object over the other possibility, its non-presence. Instead, the philosopher encounters a problem:

"Now, if the 'to be' of a thing could be conceived apart from that which exists, it should be represented in our mind by some note distinct from the concept of the thing itself .... In point of fact, it is not so. There is nothing we can add to a concept in order to make it represent the object as existing; what happens if we add anything to it is that it represents something else."

Where being, the noun, is readily accessible to experience and classifiable, being, the participle, is not:

"In short ... philosophy may perhaps be able to tell us everything about that which reality is, but nothing at all concerning this not unimportant detail: the actual existence, or non-existence, of what we call reality .... If he himself [the philosopher] did not exist, he would not be there to ask questions about the nature of reality ... on the other hand, this fundamental fact, which we call existence, soon proves a rather barren topic for philosophic speculation ... It certainly looks like a waste of time to speculate about an object which is clearly recognized as inconceivable"

This is not a rejection of existence by Gilson, a leading modern metaphysician in the classical tradition: "philosophers are wholly justified in taking existence for granted ... and in never mentioning it again ...." In Gilson's view, the participial being is a given, a primitive of experience, not subject to proof or investigation, as it is the grounds of proof. A thing must be real, or exist, before anything true or proved can be said about it.

However, Gilson concedes some doubt on the possibility of being wrong: "yet, this is taking a chance, for, after all, being itself might happen not to be existentially neutral. In other words, it is quite possible that actual existence may be ... an efficient cause of observable effects ...." He then launches into a history of attempts to conceptualize the inconceivable from the ancient Greeks to the present. Some philosophers who have had more noteworthy theories are Parmenides, Leucippus, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Plotinus, Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hegel, Heidegger, and Sartre.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Being"