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Being as the meaning of existence

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The question of understanding being and relationship with consciousness determines the solution of the fundamental question of philosophy. For consideration of this question let us turn to the history of the development of philosophy.

Being is a philosophical category denoting reality, which exists objectively, independently of man’s consciousness, will and emotions. The problem of interpreting life and its relationship with consciousness is at the center of the philosophical worldview.

Being for a person something external, predestined, being imposes certain restrictions on his activity, makes him measure his actions with him. However, being is the source and condition of all forms of human activity. Being represents not only the framework, boundaries of activity, but also the object of human creativity, constantly changing being, the sphere of possibilities, which man in his activity turns into reality.

The interpretation of being has undergone a complex development. Its common feature is the confrontation of the materialist and idealistic approaches. The first one interprets the foundations of being as material, the second – as ideal.

Periods in the interpretation of being

It is possible to isolate several periods in the interpretation of being. The first period is a mythological interpretation of being.

The second stage is connected with the consideration of being “by itself” (naturalistic ontology).

The third period begins with the philosophy of I. Kant. Being is considered as something related to human cognitive and practical activity. In a number of areas of modern philosophy, an attempt is made to rethink the ontological approach to being, which is already based on the analysis of human existence.


Some of them considered being as unchanging, one, immobile, self-identical. Such were the views of the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides. The essence of his philosophical position is to make a fundamental distinction between thinking and sensuality, and, accordingly, between the conceivable world and the world sensually knowable. This was a genuine philosophical discovery. Thinking and the corresponding conceivable, intelligible world is first of all the “one”, which Parmenides characterized as being, eternity and immobility, homogeneity, indivisibility and completeness, contrasting it with becoming and seeming fluidity. For gods, there is no past or future, and only the present exists.


Other philosophers of antiquity regarded being as continuously becoming. So, Heraclitus formulated a number of dialectical principles of being and knowledge. The dialectic of Heraclitus is the concept of continuous change, formation, which is conceived within the limits of the material cosmos and basically is the circulation of material elements – fire, air, water and earth. Here, the philosopher speaks the famous image of the river, which cannot be entered twice, because at every moment it is all new.

Human Being and World Being

Why, then, did the doctrine of being attract particular attention of philosophers of various directions? And how does this relate to turning to a person? Indeed, in the philosophy of the XX century, in contrast to traditional ontology, not the world, not nature, but man became the problem reference point. The philosophers of the 20th century began to resolutely re-examine the intraphilosophical priorities of the past.

They objected to those representatives of classical ontology, who pushed away from the independent existence of the world and moved from it to the understanding of a person put in dependence on the world. In such cases, they said, philosophy and turned into a “philosophy of things”, and people most often were also considered as things.
No less categorical were objections to those areas of classical philosophy, where logic, gnoseology, the theory of ideas were put in the forefront: the domination of the “philosophy of ideas,” argued by supporters of the “new ontology,” turns man into a kind of cognitive machine.

Central to Dilthey is the concept of life as a way of being of a person, cultural and historical reality. A person does not have a history, but he himself is a history that only reveals what he is. From the human history of the world, Deltey sharply separates the natural world. The task of philosophy, as a “science of the spirit” – “to understand life, proceeding and herself.” In connection with this, the method of “understanding” is put forward as a direct comprehension of a certain spiritual integrity, a holistic experience. Understanding, akin to intuitive penetration into life, he contrasts with the method of “explanation”, applicable in the “sciences of nature”, which deals with external experience and is associated with the constructing activity of reason. Understanding of the inner world itself is achieved through introspection, self-observation, understanding of another world – by “getting used to”, “empathy”, “empathy”.

Sartre’s existential philosophy reveals itself as one of the modern branches of Husserl’s phenomenology, as an application of his method to the “living consciousness”, to the subjective-active side of the consciousness with which a particular individual, abandoned in the world of concrete situations, takes any action, enters into relationship with other people and things, striving for something, making everyday decisions, participating in public life and so on. All acts of activity are considered by Sartre as elements of a certain phenomenological structure and are regarded as depending on the tasks of the personal self-realization of the individual.

Sartre considers the role of the “subjective” (genuinely personal) in the process of human personalization and historical creativity. According to Sartre, the act of specifically human activity is an act of designation, giving meaning (to those moments of a situation in which objectivity is peeping – “other”, “given”). Objects are only signs of individual human meanings, semantic formations of human subjectivity. Beyond this, they are just a given, raw matter, passive and inert circumstances. By giving them this or that individual human meaning, meaning, a person forms himself as a somehow outlined individuality. External subjects – here is just a reason for “decisions”, “choice”, which should be the choice of oneself.

The philosophical concept of Sartre develops on the basis of the absolute opposition and mutual exclusion of the concepts: “objectivity” and “subjectivity”, “necessity” and “freedom”. The source of these contradictions Sartre sees not in the specific content of the forces of social being, but in the universal forms of this being (the material properties of objects, collective and socialized forms of being and consciousness of people, industrialization, technical equipment of modern life and so on). Freedom of an individual as a carrier of restless subjectivity can only be a “release of being,” the formation of a “crack,” a “hole,” nothing in it.

Sartre understands the individual of modern society as an alienated being, elevating this particular state into the metaphysical status of human existence in general. The universal significance of cosmic horror in Sartre is acquired by alienated forms of human existence, in which individuality is standardized and detached from historical independence, subordinated to mass, collective forms of life, organizations, state, elemental economic forces, attached to them also by their slave consciousness, where a place of independent critical thinking occupies socially coercive standards and illusions, demands of public opinion and where even the objective mind of science represents I was separated from humans and a hostile force.

An estranged person who is doomed to an unauthorized existence is out of tune and with the things of nature – they are deaf to him, put pressure on him with their viscous and solidly immobile presence, and among them only a society of “scum” can feel well, experiencing nausea. In contrast to any general “objective” and mediated relations of relations, generating individual productive forces, Sartre asserts special, immediate, natural and whole human relations, on the realization of which the true content of humanity depends.

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