Phenomenological Reviews

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1Andrew Haas’ Unity and Aspect is a work in an area philosophy that is rarely addressed any longer; in Haas’ words, “something that might have previously been named first philosophy or metaphysics, or at least just philosophy, if there is such a thing” (16). With this characterization, which concludes the initial paragraph of the book, Haas sets the tone for his own foray into metaphysics.

2To begin to get a foothold in Haas’ thinking, we note that he conceives of metaphysics as “the study of implications” (18), but not just any implications. The specific relations of implication on which Haas focuses are those between being, unity, time, and aspect. Haas sees the consideration of these relations as essential to metaphysics insofar as the traditional prioritization of being qua being compels the metaphysician to take up the problem of unity, since “being and unity imply one another” (16). First philosophy as ontology, then, is more properly “onto-henology” (16). Furthermore, being and unity imply time, which itself implies aspect; and so metaphysics, ultimately, is “onto-heno-chrono-phenomenology, or just metaphysics for short” (17). Haas’ metaphysics, then, is anchored in these four notions; Unity and Aspect traces the ways in which their relations of mutual implication play out.

3Haas’ project is further complicated, when he notes that implication itself requires examination. For the notion of the implicated that he adopts is not simply the traditional negative counter-concept to the explicit, the precise, the clear and distinct. Instead of conceiving of the implicated as that which, in fact, has not been brought to its possible explication, Haas sees it as a type of implication that can never, even in principle, be made explicit, a type of being-implied that “repeatedly problematizes our desire to make what we mean explicit” (36). Herein lies the fundamental challenge of Haas’ book: to articulate a metaphysics of implication, despite its intrinsic resistance to explication. Thus, Haas avers that “we probably should not be surprised to find it difficult to give an account of our work” (76). For as he notes when he takes up the theme of explication, it is “the language of the explicit that serves as the norm” (307) in traditional Western thought. That is, our thinking has been, and continues to be, grounded in “a language that presupposes the possibility or necessity of presence” (308), i.e., in an ontology for which to be is to be present or at least presentifiable. This traditional ontology limits thought since it cannot accommodate a lack of presence that is not equivalent to mere absence, to mere non-being, and so “would seem unable to unfold that which is merely implied” (309), unable to give an account of that which lies outside the scope of presence and absence.

4In view of the intrinsic difficulty of articulating a metaphysics of implication, Haas invokes several examples of familiar phenomena whose analyses at least facilitate an understanding of implication, as these phenomena exhibit structural similarities with that which is implied. For instance, Haas compares implications with memories, noting that just as an implication is neither present nor not present, so a memory is “neither the thing itself…nor is it simply not the thing at all” (67). Neither a purely positive phenomenon, nor the simple negation thereof, a memory, like an implication, is some kind of “third thing” (67). Haas draws similar comparisons between implications and apparitions (67), hints (122), marks (139), light (168), visual objects (198), and other phenomena. The upshot of these comparisons is that implications, being neither present nor absent, indicate a position outside of presence and absence, or “the suspension of both” (142) presence and absence. And Haas maintains that it is its suspension of this traditional opposition that renders implication characteristically “problematic” (75), characteristically inexplicable. A metaphysics of implication, then, articulates that which can only be addressed in suspension, that which is intrinsically a problem.

5From this outline of the basic framework of Unity and Aspect, the influence of Heidegger is patent, particularly with regard to the clear kinship between Haas’ rejection of a metaphysics of presence and Heidegger’s critique of the ontology of the present-at-hand. Haas hints at this connection, when he holds that “[t]he problem of Being and Time is the problem of the problem” (359). For this can also be said of Unity and Aspect. A metaphysics of implication, addressing that which is intrinsically problematic, that which continually frustrates our need for resolution, for relief from suspension, is a metaphysics of what it is to be problematic, a metaphysics of the problem as such. In this sense, Haas’ endeavor bears a clear similarity with Being and Time’s project of articulating a conception of being that resists traditional philosophy’s attempts to render being explicit, to bring it to presence. Thus, Heideggerian being can only be thought as a problem, or more precisely, as what it is to be a problem, what it is to preclude a final resolution: in Haas’ formulation, “the problem of the problem.”

6Although Unity and Aspect is too rich and wide-ranging to be read solely through a narrow Heideggerian lens, this seems to be a valuable way to approach the book, as a first reading. (Even the title suggests this approach, as unity and aspect are the most direct implications of being and time, respectively, which can be taken as implying that Unity and Aspect is the implication of Being and Time. For Haas, I suspect, what exactly that means depends on what is meant by implication, and so requires a metaphysics of implication.) Through this approach, we gain a point of orientation in the complex and difficult course of argumentation that constitutes Haas’ work. And though a good deal of late 20th Century and early 21st Century philosophy can be seen as developments of Heideggerian thought, Haas’ book is unique. To see the originality of Unity and Aspect, we first note the writing style that Haas adopts.

7In consonance with its subject-matter, Haas’ writing reflects the enigmatic, indeterminable character of implication itself. Rather than asserting determinate claims, he makes suggestions, saying that something “might be” the case, that something else “would perhaps” follow, or “would probably” obtain. Haas sustains this suggestive, elusive mode of discourse throughout the entirety of Unity and Aspect, never making any fully definitive assertions, nor allowing any train of exposition to arrive at a determinate, unequivocal conclusion. This unyielding open-endedness may frustrate our need for resolution, our need to relieve the disquiet of suspense and arrive at a moment of presence. But, as we have seen, this resistance to presence lies at the very heart of a metaphysics of implication. The suspense is further maintained by Haas’ manner of articulating the pivotal terms discussed in the book. He gives detailed accounts of what being, unity, time, and aspect, along with other key terms, are not, contrasting them with traditional conceptions thereof. Being, for example, is introduced as not “a thing, nor just a universal, analogous, or paronymous…nor does it seem that it could be merely a word, one among many, nor just a thought, nor simply the position or existence or presence of a thing, nor a relation of things to themselves, like self-presence or self-identity” (17). Here, however, Haas is not merely practicing a negative ontology, as being is also not “their opposites, like non-self-presence, absence, withdrawal…” (17). In this way, traditional conceptions of being, like those of the book’s other key terms, are exposed as variations on the purported need to choose between presence and non-presence, a choice that overlooks implication and its suspension of both terms. The way that Haas carries out the exposition of his analyses also exhibits the indeterminacy of implication. Although it is not presented in the form of a linear, logical argument, the book follows a logic of its own, continually circling back to previous discussions, thereby relentlessly re-assessing, and further problematizing the metaphysical notions addressed in those discussions. By writing in a manner that does not merely proclaim, but exhibits, the indeterminacy of its subject-matter, Haas’ work is distinctive. It is an original metaphysics written in a way that is designed to afford a unique angle on the problems of metaphysics, specifically in their ineluctably problematic character. And Haas shows that such work is a valuable way of developing some of the fundamental insights of Heideggerian thought, of explicating the inexplicable withdrawal of being, and its implications.

8Haas concludes Unity and Aspect by suggesting that a metaphysics of implication could be seen as engaging in a kind of waiting, that “waiting might also suggest how to consider something like suspension” (325). For the suspension intrinsic to implication leaves metaphysics unfulfilled, always on the way to an impossible presence that the metaphysician of implication recognizes as such. The ultimate insights that traditional metaphysics expects will eventually come to presence are now recognized as unpresentifiable, and thus as essentially “delayed,” “deferred,” “deterred” (325), as that which can only be encountered as still to come, as waited for. The danger of this characterization is that waiting can easily be conceived as waiting for a possible presence, rather than waiting for a suspension that is neither present nor absent—a waiting for rather than a waiting toward. To succumb to this danger would constitute a regression into the metaphysics of presence. Here, we can see why a metaphysics of implication must remain problematic, unresolved. Since its operations lies beyond the scope of that which our thinking can articulate, its expositions will always be no more than hints or suggestions. Conceiving of metaphysics as waiting, then, is no more than a hint. But it also no less than a hint. It may give a distorted view of the objects of a metaphysics of implication, but a distorted view is nevertheless a view. And waiting might be a particularly felicitous distortion. In Haas’ words, “waiting might far more be, possibly or necessarily, our normal way of being one with things, temporally and aspectually” (325). Although that, like all claims made in the context of a metaphysics of implication, remains to be seen.

Publication details

Published in:

Apostolescu Iulian (2019) Phenomenological Reviews 5.

Pages: 54

Full citation:

Tanzer Mark (2019) Review of Unity and aspect. Phenomenological Reviews 5, 54.