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AQUINAS ON THE QUESTION OF “BEING”

AQUINAS ON THE QUESTION OF “BEING”

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Published by Joel Sagut

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Published by: Joel Sagut on Dec 03, 2009
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05/11/2014

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AQUINAS ON THE QUESTION OF “BEING”:A REJOINDER TO JOHN D. CAPUTO’S 1982 TEXT, “
HEIDEGGER AND AQUINAS: ANESSAY ON OVERCOMING METAPHYSICS”
I.INTRODUCTION
One of the breakthroughs in philosophy’s question about
Being
is Martin Heidegger’sintroduction of the term
Onto-theology.
Both disciplines of philosophy and theology wereaffected by Martin Heidegger’s pronouncement that the entire history of metaphysics in theWest is onto-theological. Heidegger says that “The history of metaphysics is therefore ahistory of forgetfulness or “withdrawal”.”
1
 
What is withdrawn or forgotten in the history of metaphysics is the very concern of philosophical investigation itself, the question of ‘Being’.But what has been sad in the western philosophy and metaphysics is that the question of 
Being
has been forgotten.
2
 Such contention affects philosophy because when Heidegger spoke of metaphysics of the West, he meant the entire philosophical tradition of the west. At the same time, it affectstheology because of Heidegger’s insistence that philosophical discussion of 
Being
has to beseparated from the talk about God. This can then be taken to mean that any talk aboutmeaning has to put aside any talk about God. God has become irrelevant in one’s quest formeaning.Heidegger’s argument then has been an issue for the commentators of anotherauthor, namely, Thomas Aquinas. If onto-theology is the character of all metaphysics beforehim, then that would include Aquinas’ philosophical (metaphysical) teachings. This isespecially true because Aquinas’ philosophy is known to be one of the systematicmetaphysical systems in the history of philosophy. But a more urgent concern for thecommentators of Aquinas is the Heideggerian call to separate the talk of Being from the talkof God. This resolution to the problem of onto-theology runs in direct contrast to the Thomistic system of Christian philosophy. Christian philosophy claims for the possibility of knowing God through the use of reason. More importantly, the peak of philosophical inquiryfor Christian philosophers is the knowledge of God.
1
Charles Guignon, ed,
The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger 
. (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1993), 42.
2
Martin Heidegger,
Being and Time,
trans. J. Macquarrie & Edward Robinson, 7
th
ed.(Tubingen: Neomarius Verlag, 1963), 41. This work will henceforth be referred as
BT 
.
1
 
In contrast, Heidegger explicitly criticizes the practice of Christian philosophy. Hesaid that “Christian philosophy is a round-square and a misunderstanding.”
3
This isparticularly clear in his claim to separate God from Being. He says that God is oftentimesused as an alibi in an argument thereby reducing the true quality of a philosophicalargument into a
Deus ex Machina
fallacy. He says in his
Introduction to Metaphysics:
Anyone for whom the Bible is a Divine revelation and truth has the answerto the question, “why are there essents rather than nothing?” even beforeit is asked:
everything that is, except God himself has been created by Him
. God himself, the increate creator, “is.” One who holds to such faithcan in a way participate in the asking of our question, but he cannotquestion without ceasing to be a believer and taking all the consequencesof that step.
He will only be to act as if 
4
Yet, most Thomistic scholars are also insistent in saying that Aquinas has a solidphilosophical system. Josef Pieper writes, “The question is whether we can wholly isolatethe theological from the philosophical elements in the works of Thomas, and can considerthe one apart from the other. Gilson says that the theology of St. Thomas is aphilosopher’s and his philosophy is a theologian’s.”
5
This then calls for a rethinking, if not are-evaluation of the philosophical system set by Thomas Aquinas. Hence, the birth of works, like that of Caputo, which aim at doing a dialogue between the philosophicalsystems of Martin Heidegger and Thomas Aquinas. This present paper then is an attempt, not to directly confront the Aquinas-Heidegger tension on the talk of Being, but to look at one particular book relevant to thisissue:
Heidegger and Aquinas: An Essay on Overcoming Metaphysics
.
6
  This paper then will endeavor to answer the following questions: What is thesignificance of the term onto-theology in the philosophies of Aquinas and Heidegger? Howdid Caputo resolve the Aquinas-Heidegger tension on Being? What are the strengths and
3
Martin Heidegger,
Introduction to Metaphysics.
(London: Yale University Press, 1959), 7.Henceforth, this work shall be referred to as
IM.
4
 
IM,
7 – italics added.
5
Josef Pieper,
Guide to Thomas Aquinas
. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 143.
6
John D. Caputo,
Heidegger and Aquinas: An Essay on Overcoming Metaphysics.
(Indiana:Indiana University Press, 1982).
 
2
 
weaknesses of Caputo’s argument in resolving the tension on Being in Aquinas andHeidegger? What alternative arguments other than Caputo’s can possibly resolve the issueof onto-theology in Aquinas and Heidegger? This paper is then aimed to contribute to the issue about
Being
in both Aquinas andHeidegger. Furthermore, this work will also endeavor to highlight the notion of freedomand voluntariness in the philosophy of Aquinas, arguing that to better appreciate Aquinas’philosophy, there is a need to look into his view on man’s existence on earth: as thisexistence is both man’s tribute to his God, and his own expression of his quest formeaning. Aquinas’ philosophy is an invitation for people to become more authentic in theirchoices, and to become more mindful of the things that they do.Many people nowadays are contented with mediocre living thereby failing tomanifest their full potential in doing their task for the society. This takes note of theHeideggerian call for authenticity. We are all called to evaluate ourselves by looking at ourchoices and measure ourselves up as to whether we have fully utilized our freedom torealize ourselves. Without the development of one’s potential, and the practice of authentic freedom, progress becomes a far-fetched ideal.
II.STATING THE PROBLEMATIC: METAPHYSICS AS ONTO-THEOLOG
a.
Heidegger’s charge against onto-theology 
Before we proceed in our investigation of Caputo’s argument, it would be helpful forus to first define the very word that has caused the tension: onto-theology. What doesHeidegger mean when he criticized metaphysics and philosophy as an onto-theology. There are particular works of Heidegger that directly speaks of this concept. In his
Introduction to Metaphysics
,
 
Heidegger traces the history of philosophy of the West andsays that it has missed its real task. Heidegger says that the task of philosophy is to raisethe question of Being, which for Heidegger is nameless and temporal. Far from doing itstask, philosophy, in Heidegger’s assessment, raises not the question of Being but of being.For Heidegger there is a significant difference between Being and being. The former is
3

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