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Emanuele Severino: taking philosophy seriously

Date:24 January 2020
Author:Andrea Sangiacomo
Emanuele Severino (1929 – 2020)
Emanuele Severino (1929 – 2020)

‘Being’ is not being a nothing. ‘Being’ is the ‘force’ that pushes nothingness away. Since it is impossible for being to be nothing, ‘nothing’ is just the positive content of a contradiction (the content ‘nothing’ that wants to signify its own not being a positive content, while positively signifying it). Any positive content, any positive meaning, any positive determination, anything that can be experienced, insofar as it is not ‘nothing’, it is a being. Insofar as anything is, in virtue of its being a being rather than nothing, that thing is necessarily its own being. Being ‘necessarily’ means to be always, eternally: it means that it is impossible to cease to be, to arise out of nothing, to revert into nothingness. Being is a destiny to which all positive contents that are not ‘nothing’ necessarily belong. Being is the ‘Destiny of necessity’ (Destino della necessità), which indicates the essence of any possible positive being in these terms: whatever is it necessarily is what it is, and it is impossible that it will cease to be. What appears as ‘becoming’ is nothing but the arising and vanishing within the circle of finite appearing of these eternal entities, which in themselves exist eternally in the infinite landscape of being.  

Since everything is eternal, the destiny of necessity is the absolute negation of its own contradiction. The negation of the ‘destiny of necessity’ is the assertion that any being might be or become nothing. This negation is a contradiction since it asserts that something that is, is a nothing. Any assertion that pretends to establish that the destiny of necessity is false, is an assertion that pretends to identify being and nothing. Since being is not nothing, the destiny of necessity is the destiny of truth. The truth is: all beings are, their not being is impossible.

And yet, each and every being can be what it is, only because it is not any other being. If a being is not the negation of any other being, its being would be an assertion of the identity of what is not identical, hence a contradiction. However, in order for any being to be the negation of any other being different from it, the totality of these other beings must appear. But this totality cannot ever appear in a finite circle of appearing.

This present circle of appearing allows for something to appear only because many other beings do not appear at the same time in this same circle. This circle of appearing could not be what it is if these other beings would appear here at the same time. This present day (with all its lights and shadows, its fog and smiles, its inhabitants and its sounds...) appears in this present circle only because the past millennia (with their many stories and events...) and the future times (with their hopes and wonders...) do not appear here at the same time.  What appears here could not appear if those other beings appeared here as well (and the destiny of necessity excludes that what is past or future is a nothing, or could arise or revert into nothing). Those other beings, thus, must appear outside of this present circle of appearing and hence this present circle of appearing is finite (because it is not the whole of what appears in the whole domain of being; and at the same time it is an assertion that there must be something else that does not appear here but that exists nonetheless). Since there are beings that exist but do not appear in this present circle of appearing, this finite circle of appearing does not exhaust the whole of being. And yet, in order for any being in this present circle of appearing to be what it is, that being must be a negation of its contradictory identification with any other being, including all those other beings that do not appear here (and that by not appearing here allow also any presently appearing being in this present circle to appear). The totality of being cannot appear within this present finite circle. Within this present circle the totality of being can appear only formally (‘formally’ means: as the indication that there is a totality, but this totality is only pointed out, nothing is said about its content). The totality cannot appear in this finite circle in its concrete nature (in its manifold constellation of beings, discernible one by one as each of them being not any of the others). Hence, the necessary assertion according to which any being is the negation of any other being can be posited only abstractly or formally. Any being is the negation of the totality of all other beingsbut this totality does not appear here, so this negation is only the formal negation of a totality whose content does not concretely appear. In this way, any being is posited (formally) according to the destiny of necessity (as the negation of any other being) but it is also not posited concretely (because those other beings do not appear completely). This is a different kind of contradiction than the bare identification of opposite terms (which would be a normal contradiction). This kind of contradiction is essential to the destiny of necessity itself (call it ‘c contradiction’). If this c contradiction is not resolved, the destiny of necessity would not be established. Since the destiny of necessity must be necessarily established (because being is not nothing; negating the destiny is impossible as negating that being is not nothing), the c contradiction must have been already resolved in the infinite appearing of being. The appearing of its resolution within the domain of finite appearing, however, remains a process, a task, something that is still happening.

When a thought, a way of living, a culture asserts in any explicit or implicit way that any being can revert to nothing, that thought, way of living, culture is asserting the impossible negation of the destiny of necessity. That negation can appear only because it appears within the way in which the destiny itself denies it and shows its being a (normal) contradiction. The negation of the destiny of necessity can only be a will of negating it (the intention of negating it), it cannot obtain what it wants. This will can appear because it is necessarily contained in the structure of the destiny of necessity. The destiny of necessity is the negation of its own negation. The negation of the destiny is the will of denying it. The destiny of necessity posits this will as the content of what the destiny denies. By not hearing the destiny, by forgetting its own nature, this will might pretend to have some power, to be able to obtain what it wants. In this sense, the will is a will of power, but only in its dreams. Actually, any will is a folly. This is the folly of nihilism. This folly is not an accident, but it necessarily belongs to the structure of the destiny of necessity.

When this structure surfaces to language and is expressed, language becomes a witness of the destiny of necessity. However, even this language that witnesses the destiny of necessity is inevitably immersed in the c contradiction. The language tries to assert the incontrovertible truth of the destiny of necessity, and yet it can do so only in an abstract, formal way. Since the whole domain of the destiny does not appear within any linguistic assertion, that assertion can only be the will of someone. This will wants that some words and signs refer to something (the concrete appearing of the destiny) that does not appear in those same words and signs. In this sense, any witnessing of the destiny of necessity is itself a c contradiction.  

Philosophy is the place where one faces these issues. The task is to understand what does it mean to be, what does it mean not to be, what does it mean to uncover the original structure within which the meaning of being and nothing are discernible. This task leads to see how philosophy is the background scenario within which any thoughts, actions, hopes, fears, events, silences can take place. The understanding required for this task involves the courage of constantly framing within the ultimate landscape of being any content that arises within the horizon of experience, by making that landscape the standpoint from which any experience can be fully understood. This is a way of taking philosophy (the philosopher’s task) seriously. Being serious means knowing what comes first, what is the order of priority among contents, and remaining aware that the not-yet-appeared, not-yet-heard, not-yet-experienced, not-yet-overcome is already waiting for appearing, for being heard, for being experienced, for being overcome. Ultimately, even the witnessing of the destiny of necessity must be necessarily overcome. Even that witnessing (the witnessing of the absolute impossibility of contradicting the destiny of necessity) is a contradiction. This is the truth of the destiny of necessity. 

Emanuele Severino (1929 – 17 January 2020) taught me to take philosophy seriously. I will be eternally grateful to him for this teaching.

 PS: if you want to delve more into Severino’s work, a good start is from his Essence of Nihilism, Verso, London 2016.

About the author

Andrea Sangiacomo


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