What Things Themselves?

Please, look at the world instead!
(Gorilla Selfie, by Anthony Poynton)

I will not pretend here that I fully understand Existentialism, Phenomenology or Thomism — I am just a student climbing the first steps of a long, long ladder. But ignorance works well as a first filter. The blunt intellectual knife which is all I have to work with, for the moment, impedes a complex elaboration of thought that might justify all sorts of absurdities. So it is navigating (or drowning) amidst this ignorance that I ask this question: Why do the most subjective philosophies try to disguise themselves as objective? They do not look at the world; they look at themselves.

This is the motto of Phenomenology: “Let’s go back to the things themselves!”

And this is the motto of Existentialism: “Existence precedes essence.”

But phenomenological thing is thing as perceived by man, thing after man suspends all his judgement about the thing’s reality and focus on the way it appears to him, thing as a phenomenon of conscience. Is this “going back to the things themselves”? Is it just my ignorance speaking here? Most will say that it is (for both questions), but I don’t care.

And the “thing” Sartre talks about in his famous essay “Existentialism is a Humanism” is exactly what the title hints on: man. Existentialism is about man who first exists and then “encounters himself and emerges in the world” to gain his essence. OK, this might be a good philosophy for psychoanalysts or for disturbed men coming out of a devastating world war or for millennials who depend so much on other people’s adoration of their contrived online profiles that they never got to know who they are, but I don’t understand why Jacques Maritain wastes his time in “Existence and the Existent” to refute such an incomplete metaphysics.

Phenomenology talks about things because things are usually associated with reality, so by studying things on our minds they are in effect saying they are studying reality per se, even though it is only my reality or your reality. Talk to most phenomenologists/psychologists and you will see that the reality is simply an out-of-fashion concept, although they won’t admit it.

Existentialism forgets about reality per se and talks about man like the most orthodox of anthropocentric before the age of Copernicus. I wonder what would happen to this philosophy if beings of much higher intelligence were found on another planet (to be true, I don’t know what would happen to most philosophies and religions if that happened). Again, most will read my remarks with ironic disregard, but it is necessary so much more sophistication to come to a better interpretation of existentialism that I simply don’t care to have — I just look at people and see the effect of such philosophies.

Yet I plainly admit: it is also necessary great sophistication of thought to fully understand Maritain’s metaphysics — but this time, I do care to attain it.

Philosophers since Descartes, and especially since Kant, and most of the lay people who are children of modern and postmodern philosophies seem to be afraid to look at reality. They distrust the senses as an excuse to lock themselves inside their own minds in search of their truth, a truth without any reference. They rummage inside their conscience looking for the meaning of existence instead of simply opening their eyes and starting from what they see. Please, look at the world instead! I know it’s not that easy to attain the concept of being qua being, but I also know that without our senses as our “primary intuition”, as Maritain put it, it is simply impossible to attain it. We must start from there and then work hard to grasp existence in its fullest.

Maritain says we need an “intellectual intuition of being” for that. I am still grappling with this concept. But something tells me that I am in a great position to understand it one day. When the non-existence of a violent death is millimeters away from you and approaching fast, it is a great opportunity to grasp being, even if just by contrast to the other alternative.

16 thoughts on “What Things Themselves?

  1. Just a note: I am wondering that you associate phenomenalism with objects. ? Phenomenology is, in general, the reduction of all things to knowledge; that is, to the subject.

    In 2007 there was a conference called “speculative realism”. Where the general point was an attempt to break the Phenomenological “eddy” of continental philosophy. It was the beginning of a New Realism, where many people are now concerned with what might be real objects.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, landzek

      Thanks a lot for checking my blog and for your input.

      I guess I don’t associate phenomenalism with objects; as far as I understand, it’s all about the subject, like you say. When I talk about being “objective”, it is actually more in an Objectivist sense: “adherence to reality”. My point is that both phenomenalism and existentialism, by being so subjective, don’t even “deserve” to put either “things” or “existence” in their very names or mottos. (This, of course, is me going way beyond what my knowledge could justify.)

      Thanks for the lead on “speculative realism”, I had never heard of it. The truth is that I am still far from being able to talk or even think about 20th century philosophy. And, to be even more honest (or arrogant), I think with Alasdair Macintyre that people nowadays (I guess even philosophers) have perspectivism and relativism so ingrained in their discourses that it makes it very hard for a practical and philosophically ignorant man like me to understand what the hell they are talking about!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Everyone has got to start somewhere! I did and still do. the same kind of thing with my blog; it’s a work space, where I work through ideas and authors, propose stuff, hopefully get comments and feedback. Prod and poke. Insult stupid people, etc. lol. 🤙🏾

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank again for this lead. In the appropriate time, I intend to read more carefully about Harman and speculative realism. I hope that now they are indeed going back to the things themselves! Unfortunately, just a quick glance at Harman’s Wikipedia page makes conspicuous my inability for grasping most of current philosophical discourse.

      “A police officer eating a banana reduces this fruit to a present-at-hand profile of its elusive depth, as do a monkey eating the same banana, a parasite infecting it, or a gust of wind blowing it from a tree. Banana-being is a genuine reality in the world, a reality never exhausted by any relation to it by humans or other entities.”

      I guess I need to read a lot to understand that…


      • Right? HARMANs noted saying is “real objects withdraw from view”. This is a controversial proposal. How I understand it is the relation between real objects always implies a solution that we cannot get to; the reality of the object always withdraws. So, a banana, though we can identify what it is in so many ways, none of those ways really get to “banana-Ness”; for, is the banana the thing in my mouth right now that I’m chewing on, that has a particular flavor or smell? Is the banana that thing that’s hanging on a tree up there that I’m going to have to climb the tree and get myself that thing? Is a banana that thing on the floor that the person just slipped upon as part of a joke? Is a banana that picture on my computer screen?

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      • Your explanation reminds me of the first sentence of Book Zeta of the Metaphysics: “There are several senses in which a thing may be said to “be”. Harman seems to be dwelling on the age-old problem of universals, particulars, substance, etc. I am very interested in that subject, but, I don’t know, I look with some suspicious this endless discussion on it.

        If you are an academic, you might simply NEVER stop dwelling on it. To be honest, I think enough has been said. Now, we need to read as much as we can and think hard to find a solution we agree with and stick with it. I know this does not sound too philosophical, but maybe that’s my view on philosophy. It must solve problems, even if temporarily. Newton’s solution was temporary, but nevertheless true to an extent and useful as hell! That’s what I want with philosophy.

        In fact, I want to make the problem of universals my dissertation theme (of course, that might change). But my reason is very practical. I think that in it lies a way to show that Kant’s premisses were wrong. I know I won’t be able to get Kant out of people’s minds, but I want to have my reasons to say I disagree with people when they come with their “kantian discourse”, even though Kant himself probably rolls in his coffin when he hears the absurds that are spoken in his name. And, by doing so, I hope to show how part of the subjectivism I see has very old and wrong foundations.

        If you are interested, my line of thinking (which is not mine) can be found in Peikoff’s article https://campus.aynrand.org/works/1967/01/01/the-analytic-synthetic-dichotomy. I wrote (very badly) about it in a post of mine called “O.P.A.R. – Commentary: Definitions and Kant’s Analytic-Synthetic Mess”.

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      • Sounds very similar To the new realist the speculative realist such as Harmon and brassier.


        You may want to check out the first part of my book that I publish recently it’s really cheap it’s like seven dollars out the door. Shipping at all.

        The point I make about Kant has to do with him saying that, which one is it?

        The analytical a priori is contradictory and so is impossible.

        I tend to side with Zizek. On Lacans psycho analytical perspective: he says that the order of the real is impossible. And I make a certain analysis of Kant which suggests similar to what your essay is saying there that you had a link to, that it is not so much that Kant is incorrect, but that interpretations of him are incorrect. It is not so much a practical philosophy of excluding things that are logically inconsistent, but rather including that inconsistency, that contradiction in the estimation of what reality is in itself. As opposed to relying upon our ideas, relying upon our thinking as indeed an ideal emanation of some transcendental entity of some sort, to thereby be able to distinguish, for example the difference between analytical things and synthetical things, and then make an argument as to which route is more true or comes to things that are actually more true in some manner, again within a certain realm of argumentation— I say that what Kant is talking about is inherent to being human. That he is taking less about how Reason might function, but how the Being That is human functions.


        It seems that you and I will have a lot to talk about, but right now I have to write a paper for class. 😄.


  2. … I am not familiar with Thomas Aquila’s the Martin guy. But I reposted your last post because it is interesting to me how he talks about objects.

    Phenomenology and existentialism are usually very closely associated. In my humble opinion, it is because the realization of human existence tends to show that it’s experience is grounded in no ability to find actual objects of the universe, that everything that records with knowledge is ultimately subjective knowledge which avoids true communication.

    The realist philosophers that, in general, tend to be associated with post speculative realist conference from 2007, when involved in an attempt to dig philosophy out of that phenomenalism abyss, to grab a term from Sartre.

    It is cool that you are grappling with these philosophical ideas through your blog. I think it shows a certain humility to be open with your process.

    If you’re interested, you may want to check out my early posts from five years ago coming forward. Maybe they might give you some insight or inspiration.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your words. This is really just my notebook of sorts; I am just beginning with philosophy.

      I wouldn’t even say that I am being humble; I guess only he who knows can be humble by being open about his mistakes. I know nothing at all, so being open about the process is actually a way of expediting my learning by profiting from people like you.

      I will be sure to check your posts. In fact, I just did and found the gist of phenomenology again, which, for me, is a contradiction in terms: “…in order to return our attention to what he [Husserl] called the ‘things themselves’. We must fix our beady gaze on them and capture them exactly as they appear”

      How “they appear” is not what they are. We must of course rely on the validity of our senses, but as a first step to grasp reality per se. To concentrate only on the appearances sounds like an eternal introspection to me, as if all existence could be grasped my looking inwards. I disagree entirely.


      • I suppose that if we are to talk about objects, then we would have to first know exactly what we’re talking about. 😄

        One of the problems here is that as philosophy begins to pronounce things, which is to say to talk or be in the act of communicating, sometimes we are very sure of what me and another person might be talking about, and then in other instances we find that we never know what we’re talking about together. And then another factor is whether what I am coming upon in the world has any substance and what that substance actually is.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lol. Well even that is a philosophical problem, what a real philosopher is.

        Some people would say that a real philosopher is someone who is employed in the Academy or has published a certain number of books that have reached a certain popularity that a certain number of people are talking about them.

        .Other people might say that a philosopher is someone who takes notions or concepts, what we could call propositions or proposals, and then consider is all the various facets or outcomes of what the proposal could mean and what it would mean if the proposal means what we say it means. This kind a philosopher I think takes as given, which is to say not a problem at ties, intelligence and or thought and the ability for a human being to consider things with a certain sense of rationality or logic.

        And then I think some people think that philosophy is just a particular type of thinking. Like someone might be thinking scientifically in one sense, and then another person might be thinking about things relation like in a family, and maybe some people might be thinking of things practically like how am I going to get something done. And so philosophy is one kind of thinking that one does.

        And then if I can figure that those three categories define three ways of thinking about philosophy or what it is, then I suppose we could have arguments about what a real philosopher is.

        But then there is one more category which I think is the most real. This last category is really the one that runs into all sorts of problems, and is the reason why I would say that this kind of philosopher deals with things that are significant. This last kind of philosopher considers what’s occurring. Actually becomes absorbed in the situation of philosophy, which could then be broken up into perception or what would be actually happening in the moment that I am considering things philosophically.

        So I’d say you’re a real philosopher. Because I’ve met some philosophers who are in the other three categories and they strike me to have a different label that should be put to what they are involved with. Lol

        Liked by 1 person

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