The Problem Of Being As A Fundamental Problem Of Philosophy


                                               Written by Osuala
Amaobi Nelson

What is being? How do
we know being? Perhaps to reflect on the above question is the first place to
start in writing a paper of this foundational nature and rudimentary scope.
Something must be meant by “being” which is more than one of a humanocentric
and linguistic construct. The question on the nature of Being is one that forms
the debate of ancient western history of philosophy as philosophers within this
epoch strove to explicate what they consider as Being.
However curiosity
drives us further to ask, what does it really mean to call something a Being?
And which things should we credit as having the most fundamental nature of
beingness? Some philosophers have argued that the concept ‘Being’ is synonymous
to Reality or existence. To this question, the empiricist and rationalist
philosophers remain at loggerheads.
The problem of Being or
reality is traceable to Parmenides of Elea. He was the chief proponent of ‘being’
as a concept. According to him, ‘Being is and non being is not’. Parmenides
conceives Being as permanence. The concept of being is therefore what forms the
foci of metaphysics as it refers to that branch of philosophy that studies the
concept,nature and scope of Being (reality) in its intrinsic, basic, essential
and holistic nature. If according to Parmenides, ‘being is and non being is
not’, why then do we have changes in Being as there appears to be different
modes or phases of Being to which Heraclitus alluded to when he conceived his
notion of the “Omnia flux” which means that ‘all things are in a perpetual
state of flux’.
The problem of being
therefore became a fundamental problem of philosophy because there appears to
be no consensus as par its semantic interpretation since different philosophers
hold variant views as to what they consider to be being. This is because they
tend to represent different schools of thought. 
We shall therefore
reflect on the different views of philosophers on the notion of being. To
achieve this, it is pertinent that we first and foremost understand that the
notion of being is synonymous with reality as both refer to different ways of
talking about the same thing.
According to Thales who
is popularly known as the father of western philosophy, being or reality is
water. Anaximander, a student of Thales of Miletus saw being as the “ape iron”
which according to him is the indeterminate boundless and infinite. Anaximenes
conceives being as Air. For Pythagoras, being or reality is ‘number’ as “all
things are numbers, they are measurable and do also possess a numerical basis”.
For Parmenides, being is the primordial stuff of the universe. Heraclitus on the
contrary posited the “Omnia flux” which affirms the changeability of being. We
could go on and on as the list is endless.
Taking a leap into the
thesis that informs this paper, we therefore propose that the basic problem of
being as reflected in the philosophies of Parmenides and Heraclitus is that of
trying to understand reality and why there are changes amidst permanence and
vice versa. If according to Parmenides, being is permanent, why then do we have
changes, transpositions, or transmutations in being or reality as in the
example when someone dies? Critical minded philosophers would ask Parmenides:
why do people die rather than have a continuum in their existence?
For a philosopher like
Heraclitus, who conceived the notion of an ‘Omnia flux’ with his most popular
dictum hinging on the notion that “we cannot step into the same river twice, as
fresh water is ever flowing” we could argue thus: if according to Heraclitus
reality is transient, an ephemeral why then do we have “permanent” human
existence as against the theory of evolution which Charles Darwin in his “origin of species” attempts to justify
by stating that complex multicellular organisms originates from single celled
organism. For example that the Homo sapiens (Man) originate from monkeys and
other forms of primates. The argument against this theory is that why haven’t
these homo sapiens metamorphosed into some other kind of specie of being?
Another problem with
the notion of being is that conceived by empiricist philosophers of the modern
period of philosophy, according to them, reality or being refers to those
things to which we can know through sense experience. To advocates of this
school of thought, reality can only be verified through the senses of sight,
smell, taste, touch and feeling.we therefore ask: what do we say about such
abstract entities like the mind, death, pain, heat e.t.c to which we cannot
doubt their existence even if we try to shy away  despite they cannot be known through sense
data as they also do have an interconnected influence on us.

To throw in the towel,
I wish to toe the line of the skeptic philosophers that we cannot truly know
being reason is that each time we attempt to grasp being in its intrinsic
nature, it however eludes us and all that we seem to have left becomes a mere
fragmentation of being. It is from the foregoing that we conclude with the
position that the problem of being is a perennial problem in philosophy and it
will continue to be a philosophical problem.