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Disambiguation: For spiritual or religious beingness, see Ego (spirituality).

In ontology, the study of being, being is anything that can be said to be, either transcendentally or immanently.

The nature of being varies by philosophy, giving different interpretations in the frameworks of Aristotle, materialism, idealism, existentialism, Islam, and Marxism.

Being and substance in Aristotle

Among the first inquiries into what "being" encompassed was that undertaken by Aristotle. The term "substance" for Aristotle was a precise metaphysical term denoting an individual thing about which specific assertions may be made. The term used in Greek for what we now call substance was ousia, which is the present participle for the verb "to be". Ousia was translated into English as substance but also, at times, as essence.

Since the Aristotelian view of matter is negative, the "substance" or "being" is a real thing that exists. Since matter renders things more obscure to our perception, it follows that the true essence of an object is independent of matter, its "being" is independent of the material world.

To Aristotle, only spirits and Gods are independent of matter, and thus these entities are purely "substance" or "being." This is the origin of the phrase "One in substance with the Father" or modernly "One in being with the Father" in the Catholic Nicene Creed.

Being in continental philosophy and existentialism

Some philosophers deny that the concept of "being" has any meaning at all, since we only define an object's existence by its relation to other objects, and actions it undertakes. The term "I am" has no meaning by itself; it must have an action or relation appended to it. This in turn has led to the thought that "being" and nothingness are closely related, developed in existential philosophy.

Existentialist philosophers such as Sartre, as well as continental philosophers such as Hegel and Heidegger have also written extensively on the concept of being. Hegel distinguishes between the being of objects (being in itself) and the being of people (Geist). Hegel, however, did not think there was much hope for delineating a "meaning" of being, because being stripped of all predicates is simply nothing.

Heidegger, in his quest to re-pose the original pre-Socratic questions of Being, of why is there something rather than nothing, wondered at how to meaningfully ask the question of the meaning of being, since it is both the greatest, since it includes everything that is and the least, since no particular thing can be said of it. He distinguishes between different modes of beings, a privative mode is present-at-hand, whereas beings in a fuller sense are described as ready-to-hand. The one who asks the question of Being is described as Da-sein ("there/here-being") or being-in-the-world. Sartre, popularly understood as mis-reading Heidegger (a reading supported by Heidegger's essay "Letter on Humanism" which responds to Sartre's famous address, "Existentialism is a Humanism"), employs modes of being in an attempt to ground his concept of freedom ontologically by distinguishing between being-in-itself and being-for-itself.

Being in Islamic philosophy

The nature of being has also been debated and explored in Islamic philosophy, notably by Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi, and Mulla Sadra.[1]

Being in Marxism

According to Georg Lukacs, a Marxist philosopher, "It is only when the core of being has shown itself as social becoming, that the being itself can appear as a product, so far unconscious, of human activity, and this activity, in turn, as the decisive element of the transformation of being." (§5 of "What is Orthodoxical Marxism?" in History and Class Consciousness) Thus, the Being in marxism is the historical product of human activity or labour. Antonio Negri carries on the same analyse in The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and Politics.


  • As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere 'being'. - Carl Jung

See also

Look up being in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

External links

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