Theory and History of Ontology. A Resource Guide for Philosophers
Nicolai Hartmann is only one of the many great figures of the past that have lapsed into oblivion, as witnessed by the well-known cases of Brentano, Peirce and Whitehead. From Roberto Poli - Foreword to Axiomathes - Vol. 12 Nos. 3-4 2001, Special Issue: The legacy of Nicolai Hartmann (1882-1950).
HARTMANN'S PHENOMENOLOGICAL ONTOLOGY
"How to get at the basis of Hartmann's ontology? Let us sketch the superstructure, and then descend into the depths of the foundation. Besides the two primary spheres, there are two secondary spheres of being — the spheres of 'logic' and 'knowledge'. These are mid-way spheres inasmuch as they share the categories of both the primary spheres. (Compare Whitehead's 'hybrid' entities.)
Following the Aristotelian tradition, Hartmann takes ontology as the science of beings as beings. Ontology is concerned with what first makes beings beings. The word "Sein" gives rise to the illusion, as if there is some entity or attribute corresponding to it, something over and above, may be, underlying or pervading the various beings. Hartmann rejects this thought. A science of beings as beings is not a science of any such entity or attribute as Sein. On the other hand, it can only be a science which lays bare the various spheres of being along with their general and special categories and inter-categorial (hence, inter-sphere) relations. Hence, ontology becomes a doctrine of categories, a "Kategorienlehre".
To keep these primary and secondary spheres along with their general and special categories before the mind, in their distinctions as well as in their interrelations, is essential for an understanding of Hartmann's ontology. Hartmann displays great acumen in drawing these distinctions and in keeping clearly apart what he considers to be distinct. Through these distinctions, he claims to have the clue in hand for avoiding many of the errors of the traditional ontologies.
There are two primary spheres of being : the real and the ideal. The real consists of the chain of temporal events. The structure of the real sphere is a stratification of various levels : the material, vital, psychical and spiritual. The stratification consists in the relation of "founding". The higher level is "founded" on the lower. The lower provides the basis for the higher. The real sphere has its general categories, those which determine the entire sphere, irrespective of the differences of strata. Such categories are, for example, the modal categories. But each stratum of reality has also its own special categories. The relation in which two levels of reality stand I o each other is concretely illustrated in the relation in whit l lie categories of the
The key to this entire discussion lies in the formulation of the nature of the ideal sphere. In setting aside what he calls the errors of tradition, Hartmann shows here his capacity at its best." pp. 116-117. From: Jitendra Nath Mohanty. Phenomenology and ontology. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff 1970 - Chapter XI. A recent criticism of the foundations of Nicolai Hartmann's ontology - pp. 115-128.
"... Hartmann regards ontology to be concerned with: (1) the two aspects ("moments") of being: Dasein and Sosein, or that and what; (2) the two spheres of being: real and ideal; and (3) the modalities of being: actuality, possibility, and necessity.
One of the errors of phenomenology — including both Husserl's and Scheler's — is that when it regards itself as investigation into essences, as distinguished from existence (as a consequence of eidetic reduction), it forgets that essences also have their Dasein (existence) and their Sosein, that Dasein is not as such real existence. There is also, as with essences and mathematical idealities such as numbers, and values, ideal Dasein. Husserl does sometimes insist that essences are a kind of objects sui generis, so it may be just right to interpret eidetic reduction not as abstracting from existence, but as abstracting from real existence. But, then there is the curious consequence that essences have both real and ideal existence (when they are taken in their purity). Hartmann seems to have wavered on this question. In his early work Grundzüge einer Metaphysik der Erkenntnis, he denied existence and individuality to ideal entities, but still ascribed to them Ansichsein, intrinsic being. In Die Grundlegung der Ontologie, he ascribed existence to them, but that only means he was taking "existence" and "Ansichsein" as being the same.
So, for Hartmann, the Dasein-Sosein distinction is not quite the same as real-ideal distinction. In addition, Hartmann insisted that some Soseins are "neutral" as against both real and ideal existence: "roundness" belongs to a real spherical ball as well as a geometrical circle.
If concerns (1) and (2) do not coincide, it is also a mistake to collapse (2) with (3). The latter mistake is committed by those who hold that reality is the domain of all that is actual, while essences are pure possibilities. A corollary of this view is that truths about reality (i.e., about what is actual) are contingent, whereas truths about essences (i.e., about pure possibilities) are necessary. This is a widely held view, and one of Hartmann's important theses is that this view is based on an inadequate analysis of modal concepts.
Hence the importance of modal concepts in Hartmann's thinking. It is only the modal concepts as pertaining to a sphere of being, which explicate the precise mode of being of that sphere. In other words, Hartmann held that while in an important sense we cannot say much about what "real existence" (or "ideal existence") consists in, the best we can do in this regard is to look at how the concepts of "possibility" "actuality," and "necessity" (and their opposites) behave with regard to the domain of reality (or, with regard to the domain of ideality). So we shall turn to his modal theory, but before I do that, perhaps a quick sketch of what he counts as belonging to the two domains would be in order.
The real world is a stratified structure, on Hartmann's view, with nonliving matter at the base, living organisms founded on it, mental reality founded on organic life, and spirit or Geist (including society and all social formations) at the apex. Each of these strata has its own categorial structure, and the entire domain of reality also has certain common structures.
The domain of idealities consists of: mathematical entities (such as numbers) , essences, and values. None of the idealities is spatiotemporally individuated. An ideality maybe instantiated or be an ingredient in many real individuals, without surrendering its own identity.
Besides these two primary spheres of being, Hartmann also recognized two intermediate (or hybrid) spheres: those of logic and cognition. With this brief sketch, let us look at his modal theory worked out in Möglichkeit and Wirklichkeit." From: Jitendra Nath Mohanty - Phenomenology. Between essentialism and transcendental philosophy - Chapter 3: Nicolia Hartmann's phenomenological ontology - Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1997 pp. 26-27.
HARTMANN'S THEORY OF MODALITY
"In his Möglichkeit und Wirklichkeit (Berlin 1937, 2nd. ed. 1949), Hartmann gives us an ontological theory of the modes. He starts from a distinction between the modes of the various spheres of being, primary and secondary. The two primary spheres of being, according to his ontology, are the real and the ideal. The two secondary spheres are those of logic and knowledge. The modes of the real world are accordingly contrasted with those of the ideal realm; the modes of the realm of logic are again different from those of knowledge. The modal doctrine is thereby divided into four parts. But there must be also a part on the relations between these different spheres.
Traditional discussion of the problem of modality did not see clearly through these distinctions. This gives to Hartmann's treatment of the problem its originality. Further, these modes of the various spheres are distinguished from the naive day to day consciousness of modality.
The ontological point of view requires specification. For this purpose, we are to distinguish between three different approaches to the problem of modality:
First, it is possible to consider the modalities as criteria for classifying all objects in the three groups, those that are merely possible, those that are both possible and actual, and those that are possible, actual and also necessary.
Secondly, it is possible to consider the modes as if they were different stages of a process. Thus, it may be said that a thing first becomes possible, then is made actual, and further may or may not be necessary. The process however may not be carried to the end; what is possible may never be actualised.
Thirdly, the modes may be taken neither as criteria nor as stages of a process, but as the constituent aspects of the existent or the subsistent, as the case may be. This is the point of view which we may call the critical point of view, because we may trace it to Kant. Kant starts from the given object of experience and then asks how the same is possible, actual and necessary.
Hartmann rejects the first two approaches. Modes are for him neither criteria nor stages, but the most primary characteristics of the being of anything. As such, given an object of experience, we can ask: what makes it possible? What makes it actual? What makes it necessary?
Thus in an important sense, Hartmann's treatment of the problem is similar to Kant's, even though Kant's own solutions are rejected by Hartmann. For Kant, the given is possible when considered in relation to its form and actual when considered in relation to its matter. Hartmann finds this not only inadequate but also misleading; to this however we shall turn later on.
The second approach is attributed to Aristotle. Both the first and the second approaches attribute to the merely possible which is not 'or has not yet become actual' a sort of ghostly existence — a position in between being and non-being. Aristotle's doctrine of dynamis and energia is further criticised as an illegitimate extension of the categories of the sphere of organic being to the entire domain of being. Further, if a prior stage of mere possibility is admitted, the question arises as to what must be added to it in order to render it actual. Kant had shown that any answer to this question is absurd. For, that which must be so added, argued Kant, must be other than the possible, that is to say, must be impossible! (1)
As such, we come back to the critical formulation of the question. This is one of the points where we begin to see the influence of Kant on Hartmann's ontology which claims the name of critical ontology." pp. 181-182. (1) I. Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, WW III p. 206, hg. v. Ernst Cassirer. From: Jitendra Nath Mohanty - Remarks on Nicolai Hartmann's modal doctrine - Kant-Studien 54, 1963, pp. 181-187.
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