Ways of being and expressivity* **



In this paper, I present a hermeneutic version of ontological pluralism, addressing the question of the discursive articulation of ways of being. The first section presents the notion of a pluralism of ways of being as a restriction of an ontological monism. The second section puts forward a criticism of Kris McDaniel’s proposal of understanding ways of being as kinds of quantifiers. The third section analyses the notion of ways of being as a modal concept, explaining ways of being as internal possibilities endowed with a normative force regarding the identity-conditions of entities. The fourth one is a statement about the need of developing a pluralist account of the propositional reference to entities based on ontological pluralism. The fifth section deals with the issue of the discursive articulation of ways of being. The two last sections present a hypothesis concerning a semantic condition for an adequate articulation of ways of being. I argue for a kind of finitude-sensitivity in the semantics of the discursive articulation of internal possibilities, which implies the requirement of developing a hermeneutic notion of silence that may properly work in the discursive articulation of ways of being.


metaontology, ontological pluralism, internal possibility, silence, Heidegger


En este artículo, presento una versión hermenéutica del pluralismo ontológico, abordando la cuestión de la articulación discursiva de los modos de ser. La primera sección presenta la noción de un pluralismo de modos de ser como una restricción de un monismo ontológico. La segunda sección presenta una crítica a la propuesta de Kris McDaniel de entender los modos de ser como tipos de cuantificadores. La tercera sección analiza la noción de modos de ser como un concepto modal, explicando los modos de ser como posibilidades internas dotadas de fuerza normativa con respecto a las condiciones de identidad de los entes. La cuarta sección es una declaración sobre la necesidad de desarrollar una explicación pluralista de la referencia proposicional a entes basada en el pluralismo ontológico. La quinta sección trata el tema de la articulación discursiva de los modos de ser. Las dos últimas secciones presentan una hipótesis sobre una condición semántica para una adecuada articulación de los modos de ser. Abogo por un tipo de sensibilidad a la finitud en la semántica de la articulación discursiva de las posibilidades internas, lo que implica el requisito de desarrollar una noción hermenéutica de silencio que pueda funcionar en la articulación discursiva de los modos de ser.

Palabras clave:

metaontología, pluralismo ontológico, posibilidad interna, silencio, Heidegger

1. Hermeneutic ontological pluralism

Let us start in a good mood. One of the most striking ideas in Heidegger’s Being and Time is that atmospheres, attunements or just moods are fundamental conditions of intentionality, that is, the primary discovery of the world must be le to the ‘bare moods’ (Heidegger, 1986, p. 138). But what if atmospheres are unsteady and wavering? Should the references of intentional comportments have such a kind of unsteadiness? That seems to be implied by the following assertion: “When we see the ‘world’ in an unsteady and wavering way in accordance with our moods, what is at hand (das Zuhandene) shows itself in its specific worldliness which is never the same on any given day” (Heidegger, 1986, p. 138). (das Zuhandene). In spite of its simplicity, this sentence deserves attention. It implies two ideas: 1) a specific worldliness has a changing identity and 2) the proper way of showing this changing identity corresponds to the wavering aspect of every mood. My concern here is limited to the first idea. This statement refers to an abstract aspect of the formal level of worldliness and has a set of very relevant ontological consequences. To grasp them we must have in mind four distinctive notes of the concept of world: world is a totality and unity of relations; these relations are qualitative because they are the normative bearings of intentional comportments; this relational totality is bound to the practical identities of humans; and world has a phenomenological function in allowing entities to show themselves. Hence, worldliness is the formal structure of the unity of relations that, attaching to existential possibilities, lets things become manifest with the “as-structure” (Als- Struktur) in intentional comportments. Since these relations are meaning-giving, the formal structure of the world is qualified as significance (Bedeutsamkeit).

From the quotation above we are entitled to infer that tools and useful things belong to a worldliness that may undergo a change. In fact, Heidegger said that it is never the same “from day to day” or “on any given day”. Hence, this kind of significance has a changing identity, different, for instance, from that worldliness proper to material things or present-at-hand (das Vorhandene). If the worldliness of a ready-to-hand changes, we may also conclude that identity formation is not homogenous in the unity of the world. More abstractly, this unity may exhibit a spectrum of degrees of steadiness in the worldliness identity. What could be the philosophical reason for such a dynamic conception of the world? My interpretative thesis is that the ground of the structural differences in worldliness lies in the ontological pluralism sustained by Heidegger in Being and Time.

According to the recent revival of this metaphysical thesis, ontological pluralism is a conception that admits not only different categories of objects, but also different ways of being (McDaniel, 2009, 2010; Turner, 2010; Spencer 2012). This view has been usually understood as a view about the meaning of the word “existence” or about existential quantification. My point is that, regarding Heidegger’s ontological pluralism, the notion of way of being cannot be grasped by existence alone, but also implies the other traditional senses of being, namely: determination (predication), truth, and identity.2 Therefore, a way of being must be taken as a set of criteria that specify the mode by which an entity can be determined, forming identity and individuation, to which corresponds a specific manner of being discovered; that is, conditions of existence. Ways of being thus articulate identity-conditions for entities (Cerbone, 1999, p. 311).

On the other hand, to gain a deeper insight into the ground of the differences in the structure of worldliness it is necessary to consider another main aspect of Heidegger’s working out the question of being: the relativity of being to an understanding of being (Seinsverständnis). Being gives itself only through an understanding of being, which happens in strict connection with intentional comportments. This understanding of being implies the world-openness. Given that the understanding of being is actually an understanding of ways of being, then, if a specific way of being is understood, it implies a specific worldliness. It follows that the identity formation, on the level of worldliness and on the level of entities, is not uniform, but relative to a way of being. If ways of being do not imply only criteria of identity, but entail different ways of forming an identity, individuation, determination and existence, then a complex regulation of significance is given to entities by the as-structure.

That a specific worldliness may have a changing identity, never being the same from day to day, is one of the robust consequences of hermeneutic ontological pluralism. Besides this, it also entails a complex view on determination, given the different manners by which something may be determined. The same consequence holds for identity, existence, and truth. According to Heidegger, there are at least five ways of being: existence, readiness- to-hand, presence-at-hand, life, and consistence. Each of them makes possible intentional comportments towards entities, whose pa erns of identity, determination, individuation and existence are irreducible to each other. Before I advance my view on the notion of way of being as a modal structure, I will briefly present some critical remarks on a relevant interpretation of Heidegger’s ontological pluralism. The goal of this critique is to achieve a stronger basis to present a modal conception of ways of being.

2. Expressing ways of being: the case against quantifiers

Kris McDaniel recently claimed that the main ontological problem of Being and time is a particular version of an ontological pluralism. He offered a consistent formulation and a defense of his interpretation of Heidegger’s notion of ways of being. The main point in his interpretation concerns the representation of ways of being by the lexicon of a formal system, or, more precisely, by the existential quantifier in the language of first-order logic (McDaniel, 2009, p. 301). His conception belongs, therefore, to the current view that sets up the debate about the interpretation of ways of being as a conception of the existential quantification (Caplan, 2011 p. 95; Spencer, 2012, p. 910). Located within a broader meta-ontological framework, this debate adopts the very notion of “elite expressions”, which in a vague sense means a conception about the special range of some linguistic expressions. These expressions are privileged because they are capable of communicating the ultimate structure of reality, that is, they “carve the nature at joints” (Spencer, 2012, p. 911; Turner, 2010, p. 8). Assuming this fundamental premise, in McDaniel’s proposal some kind of existential quantifiers are given the privilege of conveying ways of being. In his view, they are just the right tool for presenting Heidegger’s ontological pluralism in a clear formulation and, of course, promoting its defense.

Considering the language of symbolic logic, McDaniel critically evaluated two candidates to carry off the difficult task of expressing ways of being: proper names and predicates. The outcome is negative, because they don’t fit the minimum requirement of Heidegger’s notion of ways of being, since it turns out that the being would be an entity or a property of a thing.3 On the other hand, the existential quantifier is the expression that has the privilege of properly representing ways of being in a formal system. Not quite so, but a special kind of existential quantifiers, the so-called restricted quantifiers. Hence, Heidegger’s ontological pluralism amounts to a view on the diversity of quantifiers, that is, a pluralism of restricted existential quantifiers. Considering the five ways of being mentioned above, there follows five ways of expressing them by five restricted existential quantifiers: Ǝexistence, Ǝreadiness-to-hand, Ǝpresence-at-hand, Ǝlife, and Ǝconsistence (McDaniel, 2009, p. 303).

This mode of expression allows for a better formulation of a special feature of Heidegger’s ontological pluralism. The priority of the ways of being over a supposed general sense of being may be presented as a meaning priority of the restricted existential quantifiers over an unrestricted existential quantifier. The priority of ways of being entails that the restricted existential quantifiers are semantically primitive. One relevant consequence of this interpretation is that the debates about ways of being may be thought of as disputes on the variations of quantifiers. Believing in ways of being can also be understood as the claim that “there is more than one fundamental quantifier expression” (McDaniel, 2009, p. 314).

This interpretation has many virtues. It is elegant and coherent. It enables us to gain a more precise understanding of the ambitious scope of Heidegger’s question of being. It brings his confrontation with logic into a more qualified perspective, and leaves a broader room for approaching metaphysical topics from both inside and outside the phenomenological perspective. Notwithstanding its manifest relevance, this interpretation has some difficulties I would like to stress.4

First, the quantificational interpretation is not a representation of ways of being tout court, but a formal expression of only one of the many consequences of adopting a pluralism of ways of being. A way of being encompasses different conditions of determination and individuation, which implies specific manners of being given in intentional comportments. Hence, differences in existence that are able to be expressed by restricted quantifiers are just a consequence of adopting a pluralist view on modes of being, and a very important one. My argument is based on a discussion of the main premise of McDaniel’s proposal. That the generic sense of “being” is represented by a symbol for existential quantification entails a commitment with an understanding of being as having existence as its generic or basic meaning (McDaniel, 2009, p. 302). Since there are at least three other meanings of “being” -predication, identity and the veridical sense of “being”-, which are as basic as existence (Tugendhat & Wolf, 1983, pp. 214-215; Kahn, 1973, p. 405), then the conception of ways of being as variations in existence and existential quantifiers must assume that existence is the generic or basic meaning of “being”. This assumption is not obviously true, but seems plausibly false. This plausibility is indicated by the interdependence of the meanings of being in the level of expressivity. For instance, to express the readiness-to-hand way of being, one must say “x has readiness-to-hand”, that is, “Ǝreadiness-to-hand y (y = x)”, making explicit that “identity” must be introduced in the expression of “existence” (the same point holds for “predication”). In sum, the variance in quantification is just a consequence of ontological pluralism, since a way of being amounts to a set of criteria of determination, individuation, identity and, obviously, existence.

The second problem refers to the adoption of the language of first-order logic to express structures that belong to a meta-ontological level of analysis. This issue confronts the wider question concerning the relation between logic and ontology. Heidegger’s conception on this topic stands for a strong case against the ontological neutrality of logic. Given that within the metaphysical foundations of logic there is a very specific notion of truth, one may ask if this concept is not bound to a certain way of being. Since true and false are predicated of sentences, whose basic logical form seems to be “to say something of something”, therefore an analysis in terms of names and predicates appears to be committed to a specific way of being, namely, being as presence-at-hand. Any kind of expressing ways of being with the help of the first-order logical toolkit of quantifiers, bound variables, relations, names, predicates, and connectives would be proper to a particular way of being, bringing about a kind of ontological transgression on the meta-level of ways of being.

One objection against this argument would say that it is not necessary to assume that every propositional reference to entities is committed to an ontological restriction to presence-at-hand at the meta-ontological level. This objection has the advantage of considering the ontological commitment of the language of first-order logic from a different angle. A view different from the one that concludes that logic is bound to the way of being of presence-at-hand by underscoring the thesis of the dependence of logos apophantikos on presence-at-hand ontology. On the other hand, if the ontological diversity thesis (Schear, 2007, p. 138) gives room to admit a propositional discourse appropriated to ways of being other than presence-at-hand, the question if the language of first-order logic would be intrinsically bound to the presence-at-hand way of being is still opened. If the answer is negative, then expressing ways of being by the means of first-order logic (not just by quantifiers, but also by predicates or names) has to presuppose the ontological neutrality of logic. That’s possible, but it seems not to be a usual reconstruction of Heidegger’s view.

At least, McDaniel’s interpretation of ways of being as restricted existential quantifiers does not express one of the most pivotal aspects of Heidegger’s notion of being: finitude. Within this context, finitude means that the being and the nothing belong together. In spite of the many difficulties prompted by the concept of nothing, it is clear that its meaning must not derive from negation, as is the case with many senses of this concept along the history of metaphysics. Hence, if the concept of nothingness may not be expressed by the negation of existential quantification (Reis, 2016), then the finitude of a way of being may also not be expressed by the negation of a restricted quantifier.

On the other hand, this concept of nothingness may be positively understood as indicating the source of the normativity of each way of being. Ways of being that specify manners of identification, existence and determination must hold of entities, bearing a binding force on entities. From this point of view, the finitude proper to each way of being refers to the source of its holding of entities.5 What gives normative force to a way of being is exactly the fact that each of them is intrinsically constituted by the possibility of not holding anymore. The possibility of losing the binding force of the clauses of determination, identification and existence, the collapse of every meaning, is the background condition for the very holding of each way of being. Hence, it is clear that existential quantifiers do not express the finitude of being, given that a notion of finitude shall be understood in terms of this particular source of ontological normativity.

If the former arguments are sound, they point out to a more fundamental question, namely, if there is a formal concept capable of expressing the ways of being as including conditions of existence, identity, and determination. My suggestion is that the modal concept of “possibility” may satisfy this requirement working as a better tool for expressing ways of being.

3. Ways of being as possibilities

My hypothesis is that the modal concept of possibility offers an adequate and comprehensive framework for analyzing the notion of way of being, notwithstanding the fact that its expression in the language of a formal system is not quite obvious. Furthermore, taking ways of being as possibilities opens a clear horizon for devising the precise meaning of the modalization in ontology achieved by the hermeneutic phenomenology (Aguirre, 1991). The point I want to argue is that ways of being must be conceived as a very special kind of possibility, the so called “internal possibility”.6 However, before presenting this suggestion, it is relevant to consider some conceptual distinctions within the family of modal concepts that are presupposed by Heidegger.

The first distinction refers to the logical and ontological meanings of “possibility”. Different from its sense as freedom of contradiction or something predictable of dicta (sentences, propositions, truth-values, etc.), “possible” also means something that can be said of entities. Within this ontological field, “possibility” does not have a unique meaning, such as contingency. It is one of the most controversial thesis of Heidegger’s existential analytics; the extending of the modal domain beyond the categorical, claiming for the admission of an existential field of modal structures.

Accordingly, the second distinction specifies possibility as modal category of present- at-hand entities and as an existential modality proper to entities which have the existence way of being. One of the distinctive notes that distinguishes categorical and existential possibility is that the primacy of actuality over possibility holds for the former, but the latter shows a priority of the possible over the actual. Existential possibilities are the specific kind of determinations of human entities, and they have to be conceived as dynamic possibilities, that is, abilities toward which somebody must project itself in order to gain and maintain its determination. Since there are other ways of being besides presence-at-hand and existence, for instance, life and readiness-to-hand, further differentiations are enabled within the ontological domain of modal structures.

A third and fundamental distinction shows a change of range by locating a specific meaning of possibility at the meta-ontological level of ways of being. In this sense, possibility is neither the way some entity may instantiate a property nor is it a determination of a human being, but it is just what constitutes a way of being as a way, a manner, a modus. This formal concept of possibility is what Heidegger called “internal possibility”. It is a “formal” concept because it does not express a subsumption relation regarding the other concepts of possibility, but a general trait of each way of being. We may see this feature by considering the aspect of articulation that belongs to the ways of being.

It is usual to understand articulations as having two components: rigid members attached to each other at flexible joints (Haugeland, 2013, p. 55). Hence, a way of being shall be conceived as an articulation, a totality whose rigid members are criteria of determination, individuation and existence. They are linked together at a joint that has the flexibility demanded by an articulated ontological dimension, resulting in different manners by which something is determined, individuated, and existent. The whole compound of this articulation is a way of being. It is furthermore an internal possibility because it enables specific manners of being determined, to which correspond different ways of existence and individuation. The point here is that “possibility” must be understood in a verbal meaning, that is, “to enable”, “to make possible”. Thus, a way of being provides the specific norms that enable something to be determined, individuated and existent, in short, it makes possible something as something such as such. Hence, it is clear that an internal possibility means norming, ruling, and not of causing.

Ways of being as internal possibilities are the articulation of ontological norms of individuation, determination and existence. In this sense, they have an enabling power. However, another perspective of seeing the ontological irradiation enabled by ways of being is also relevant for a more complete grasping of Heidegger’s modalization of ontology: ways of being make intentional contexts possible. In a very simplified view, intentional contexts are ordered fields of intentional comportments. They are bounded places for different kinds of references to entities that are held by their specific ways of being. They are also relational fields of comportments ruled by pa erns of intelligibility.

At this point we can see that the notion of internal possibility has a theoretical prominence for explaining the concept of way of being, because it is linked with the notion of truth. We may see this by considering that intentional comportments are manners of discovering entities, letting them be manifest within a horizon of intelligibility. Entities are freed, opened by intentional comportments, stepping in a field of manifestation, and becoming emergent. If ways of being make possible for an entity to be opened, then it has a truth-character, that is, it implies different ways of something to be discovered. The problem of truth-character of being is a very complex one and it is not my aim here to propose its elucidation. Let me just make explicit two meanings of this problem: the adequacy of ways of being to entities and the adequacy of intentional comportments to ways of being. One of the great methodological questions implied in this issue is how to achieve a non-trivial account of the adequacy between ways of being and entities (Haugeland, 2013, p. 59). To develop a hermeneutic approach of the sources of the normativity conveyed to entities and intentional contexts by ways of being is one of the keys to unlock the answer to that problem.

Concerning this point, it’s worth to remember the thesis of the relativity of being to an understanding of being. Accordingly, each way of being is opened only by an understanding of the being. In a deeper level, this means that an intrinsic connection works between existential possibilities and ways of being (understood as internal possibilities). This was exactly one of the main tenets of Being and time, the exhibition of temporality as the sense of being in general by means of a temporal interpretation of the projection into possibilities that lies in the understanding of being. When humans project themselves in possibilities, they understand ways of being and receive intentional contexts within which entities are manifested in the as-structure. To sum up, the thrown projection into existential possibilities is also an opening of intentional contexts and an understanding of ways of being.

At this point we can see how the mutual implication of existential and internal possibility reveals the extended modal trait of Heidegger’s ontological pluralism. This ontological modalization gives also the clue to understand the question of being in terms of normativity. Internal possibilities are norms of determination, individuation, existence and manifestation of entities. They are normatively determinative in each intentional context, because they open a space of adequacy and inadequacy that holds of the relation between ways of being and entities, and also of intentional comportments and ways of being.7

If this modal interpretation is right, the question of the expressivity of ways of being derives from two moments of the hermeneutic structuring of the ontological pluralism. First, ways of being are unified possibilities that are understood by the thrown projection into existential possibilities. Second, this understanding of being opens intentional contexts within which discovering comportments to entities are normatively enabled. This double role of hermeneutic understanding sets up two directions of addressing the question of expressivity in ontological pluralism: the modes of discursive structuring at the intentional references to entities and the discursive articulation of ways of being. Let us consider firstly what it is like to speak about entities which may be regulated not just by one way of being.

4. Speaking about entities

Based on the pluralistic constitution of the ontological field, there arises the question of a pluralism of ways of propositional reference to entities that are not just categorically distinct, but belong to different ways of being. Since ontological pluralism implies different ways of determination, individuation, existence, and truth, it follows that the ontologically adequate propositional reference to entities must keep this difference in its meaning. Thus, it is clear that a consistent view of propositional pluralism must imply not only a theory of types of categories, but a much more complex doctrine of ways of category types. So, a pluralism of propositional reference emerges from a horizon of ways of being, demanding a pluralistic account for the semantics of each way of linguistic reference.

However, a difficult problem arises here, which is both philological and conceptual. On the one hand, in the ordinary Heidegger scholarship, it is common to maintain that propositional and predicative reference to entities is necessarily committed to a specific way of being. To say something of something by means of a predicative sentence implies an understanding of being as presence-at-hand (Vorhandenheit). I will not engage myself now in the philological question of proving that this view is not entirely correct according to Heidegger’s texts. Much of this has already been done in the literature (Schear, 2007). I will just rely on the so-called diversity thesis that predicative linguistic reference to entities must not necessarily imply presence-at-hand. Thus, it is possible to refer propositionally to an entity preserving its proper way of being without an ontological mistake (Schear, 2007, p. 126).

On the other hand, there is a conceptual issue here, concerning the neutrality of logical structures of predicative sentences. This question touches upon the more general issue of the neutrality of logic. If it is possible to refer predicatively to an entity without narrowing its way of being to the mode of presence-at-hand, and if this does not require a change in the logical form, then the ontological neutrality must be ascribed to the logical structures and virtually to the logical analysis. This conclusion appears to be sound, but it cannot be accredited to Heidegger.

Let me describe the scene from another perspective. Heidegger’s view on logic amounts to a conception about the history of logic, which would be a consequence of an ontological monism, that is, of a conception of being as having not many ways, but just one. Therefore, from Aristotle to Frege, logical analysis has had a commitment to an understanding of the being as presence-at-hand. If, however, we adopt ontological pluralism, then a more liberal conception of logical analysis and another view of the ontological foundations of logic are coherently allowed. The way remains open both to recognize the neutrality of some logical structures but also for discovering new logical structures proper to propositional reference to entities of a specific way of being. None of these conclusions violates the rule of the ontological commitment of predicative reference to entities; they just multiply the ontological origins of discursive references within intentional contexts and meaningful experiences. Of course, this overall conception is not trivial, because the ontological adequacy has a normative relevance to a comportment explicitly aimed to the true discovering of entities.

One of the main consequences of this pluralism of the predicative reference lies in offering a suitable point of view to address the question of the propositional and conceptual constitution of intentionality. Although the more common types of intentional contexts are not of theoretical-cognitive nature, the comportments in general could have a complex structure built on different levels of intentional reference forming a kind of layer construction. Thus, it is a very fundamental question to know if the most basic layer of intentional comportments has a predicative constitution or not. It is clear that Heidegger’s position concerning this issue is not only a bare stressing of the fact that, by working in common tasks, the agent is not uttering any predicative sentence. Hence, a pluralism of predicative denoting acknowledges the presence of propositional reference to entities in contexts of coping without mistakenly changing their way of being. Moreover, from a hermeneutic point of view, it is difficult to accept that the most basic layer of intentional structure of comportments could be deprived from any meaning. On the one side, since understanding of meaning has always been discursively articulated, a hermeneutic stance would be inconsistent with a conception of the basic layer of the intentionality as not bearing any conceptual or propositional component. On the other side, ontological pluralism and variance of the predicative reference seem to be necessary conditions for an adequate response to the abundance of conceptual types and meanings intertwined on the most basic level of comportments in human experience

There is a specific topic here that deserves attention. Heidegger’s analysis of dwelling practically in the world turns out to be a very systematic and strong requirement. Every intentional comportment -from everyday coping to highly abstract theoretical investigation- is bound and informed by a practical self- reference. Thus, the most basic level of reference to entities is always conditioned by a practical self-reference which is also a self-understanding. Would this systematic condition imply that even the practical self-reference in projecting into thrown possibilities is discursively articulated? If the answer is affirmative, then a hermeneutic conclusion will stress that even self-projection comes from a basic layer of interpretive articulation. In the end, predicative reference in intentional contexts depends upon the practical context of self-reference and this one is hermeneutically constituted by a discursive articulation of existence. The cardinal question will turn out to be as follows: what is it like to speak about existence? Having in mind that existence means a quite specific way of being, the problem of the proper manner of the predicative self-reference reaches a capital relevance.

I am not able to develop this issue here; however, it is clear that the formal-indicative semantics designed by Heidegger to support an adequate discourse about existence has consequences for the semantics proper to the discursive reference to entities that have other ways of being. Let me focus now on the second direction of addressing the question of expressivity in ontological pluralism.

5. Speaking modally

The idea under consideration now is the propositional articulation of ways of being. The main support of this idea results from a hermeneutic reasoning that brings to the fore the necessary connection between understanding and interpretation. If entities are propositionally expressed, then there has been an understanding of their ways of being. Since there is no understanding of being without an articulation of being, it follows that every understanding of being already has interpretation. We may say that a history befalls the hermeneutic structure of human existence in the sense that understanding of being has always undergone a kind of modification into interpretative articulation. But if intentional comportments to entities, including propositional reference, have an already-done interpretation as their default position, then discursive articulation must affect the understanding of being, too. As a result, the being, and not only entities, has always been said in many ways.

Considering this conclusion, two aspects of the expressivity of ways of being must be distinguished: 1) the linguistic articulation of ways of being; 2) the philosophical interpretation and propositional expression of ontological pluralism.8 Because of the wide generality of both aspects, in the following I cannot but draw a sketch of a more detailed account. Regarding the first issue, given that propositional reference to entities is enabled by an understanding of a way of being, a natural stance would address the question whether speaking about entities would also be like speaking about ways of being. The same natural attitude should answer this question negatively, pointing out to the fact that a presupposed understanding of the being does not by itself change the propositional reference into an ontological one. Nevertheless, it could be replied that the ontological presupposition entails that ways of being are said in another way through the propositional discourse on entities. They are not directly, but obliquely said.

There is a difficult issue here regarding the notion of “presupposition”. What could it mean that speaking about entities presupposes speaking about being, since each has a formally different kind of reference? This topic generates two lines of analysis that lead to the technical notion of formalization and the question about the linguistic reference to the being. It is clear that the former depends on the latter. We may give a first step on this road by recovering the modal conception of ontological pluralism. If ways of being are internal possibilities, to speak about them means to refer linguistically to the dynamic possibilities that enable determination, identification and existence.

To address this issue hermeneutically it is necessary to observe a very fundamental condition, which derives from one of the most pivotal structures of the architectonic of Being and time. Ways of being belong to entities that are discovered by intentional comportments of being-there (Dasein). Human existence as being-there is the field where entities become discovered; but this is possible because being-there is also the field where ways of being give themselves in an understanding of being. More precisely: projecting into existential possibilities, human existence is given intentional contexts opened by internal possibilities. The conclusion is well-known: being-there is the ground from which any articulation of being must be built. If we want to know what to speak about ways of being as internal possibilities is, we have to know what it is to speak about being-there as projecting into existential possibilities.

From the point of view of expressivity, it follows that in every speech about human existence lies a discursive articulation of its way of being. Thus, in speaking about humans we are obliquely referring to both the way of being of existence and ways of being in general. There follows from this that in speaking about themselves human beings have already spoken about their way of being. The use of indexical expressions like personal pronouns, recommended by Heidegger in order to linguistically address being-there (Heidegger, 1986, p. 42), shows the peculiar semantic character of the propositional reference to existence, but also hints to a way of being that enables personal determination by means of projection into possibilities. It follows that, in ordinary and thematic speaking about humans, there is more than propositional reference to entities, because it has also an oblique reference to the way of being of existence.

This is a relevant conclusion too, because it forms the basis for a hermeneutic rule, whose strict following assures that speaking about possibilities and ways of being is not a reference to ontological structures deprived of any articulation. On the contrary, ways of being have already been articulated and linguistically referred to. Hence, when in philosophical speech arises the quest for a thematic and methodologically guided reference to ways of being and possibilities -this is the second aspect of the expressivity problem mentioned above- the correspondent search does not result in discovering, but in understanding the already understood, speaking the already spoken. The hermeneutic circle becomes a rule for speaking modally.

This hermeneutic procedure is pregnant. However, it but it must deal with a hard case. Heidegger conceived human existence as endowed by a necessary tendency to misunderstanding, interpreting itself from an inadequate way of being and generating an ontological monism throughout the history of metaphysics. This topic has a double façade, because it reaches Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant’s doctrine of transcendental illusion (Reis, 2011), and also his notion of a destructive appropriation of the traditional repertoire of philosophical concepts. Since I am not able to develop these problems here, I just make my basic assumption explicit. Expressing existential and internal possibilities in a linguistically articulated manner must observe an adequacy condition: it must correspond to the proper way in which projection into existential possibilities takes place. The truth of this speaking about ways of being as possibilities may be reached in spite of the hermeneutic transgression that pervades human interpretation. Thanks to this we can appreciate the enormous and ambitious enterprise opened by Heidegger’s sketch of a formal indicative semantics for philosophical concepts and propositions.

The condition of adequacy just mentioned refers to the finitude of existential possibilities, that is, the negativity that pervades every projection upon thrown possibilities. This negativity is not just that one which derives from the conjunctive and disjunctive character of each projection upon possibilities, but a finitude in the projection itself. The primacy of the possible over the actual within the existential field means that possibilities are existential only in projection, that every planning or thematic projection withdraws their existential way. If existential determination obtains only in projection, existential possibilities are never attained as a state, they are unattainable (Blattner, 1999, pp. 82-87).

This meaning of finitude can be rendered in normative terms in the sense that the collapse of existential identification, to which existential possibilities are imperiled, is exactly the source of their determination force. They are normative because they can fade away, but this is what enables them to bear a power of determination and identification. If we extend the application of this concept of finitude to the more general field of internal possibilities, we reach a conception of the finitude of being and ways of being as such. It is clear that I am dealing here with the concepts of “ground” and “nothing”. Given the complexity of these notions, let me present my view in a straightforward form: ways of being are finite because their normative force of determination has no ground in the entities themselves, being always endangered of losing their power of determination and unveiling.9 Thus, the loss of the binding force of ways of being is what limits and constitutes their power of binding, making possible determination, individuation and truth of entities.10

It follows from this concept of finitude of internal possibilities that discursive articulation of ways of being is bounded by this same negativity. Hence, speaking about ways of being is also constituted by finitude, forming a truth condition for each thematic articulation in the expressivity of ways of being. This condition is specially constraining for the philosophical discourse, which aims a conceptual and methodological well- governed articulation of a pre-ontological understanding of ways of being. So, if the accountability of the discursive expressivity of ways of being must be measured by its sensibility to the finitude of the possible, this implies a set of conditions for the very articulation of that discourse. What could be the ground for such articulation, if speaking about ways of being shall be sensitive to the finitude of being? In the following section, I present a hypothesis to answer this general question.

6. Finitude and meaning determination

If we want just to see the ground from which the discursive articulation of ways of being arises, it is worth recovering the hermeneutic premise of being’s relativity to its understanding of the being. This assumption prevents us from thinking the articulation of ways of being as a kind of reference to something that could be placed outside understanding. On the other hand, the finitude of being as possibility and the finitude of understanding of the being must be conceived as two moments of a concrete totality. Hence, the finitude of possibility has to be viewed precisely in the conditions of discursive articulation of the understanding of ways of being. My hypothesis is that the finitude pervades the expressivity of the possible to the extent that the silence articulates discursive understanding of ways of being. Thus, as far as the justification of this hypothesis must be philological and conceptual, I shall limit myself to presenting its meaning with a few brief remarks.11 To see which notion of silence must be put at work in order to grasp the truth condition of every discursive articulation of finite ways of being, it is necessary to take into account the concept of determination.

The so-called principle of complete determination says that an entity is always entirely determined by reference to the set of the entire reality (omnitudo realitatis). A modalization of this principle implies that determination can be different according to each way of being. Hence, it is not necessary that determination has to be acquired only by instantiation of properties. Furthermore, it is acceptable that even the changing identity enabled by certain ways of being has a specific mode of determination. However, besides the ontic meaning of this principle, there is a sense of determination proper to the ontological level. If to be an entity is to be completely determined, this implies that it is also to be of a determined way of being. There is no entity without a definite way of being. Additionally, the completeness of determination in this ontological level relates itself to the unity of different ways of being in a totality. Heidegger’s hint to solve this question appeals to the relativity of the being to an existential understanding of the being. Thus, the completeness of determination implies a formal totality of ways of being that is not closed regarding its compounds, but formal structured by the ecstatic-horizontal temporality of Dasein’s understanding of being. By this hermeneutic turn, a history of the unveiling of internal possibilities turns out to be a history of the understanding of being. The modal finitude of ways of being constitutes this very history in the sense of an interplay of losing and gaining bindings to the internal possibilities of determination and individuation.

The discursive counterpart of this ontological statement of complete determination is the principle of determination of meaning. To say something is to say something determined. Therefore, if intentional comportments are related to determined entities, the corresponding discursive reference is structured by meanings that are determined, too. Furthermore, corresponding to the double determination of entities and of ways of being, there must be a double determination in every discursive meaning. So, in the same discursive reference to something there are ontic and ontological determined meanings. This pairing of determined ontological and ontic meanings results in a kind of internal self-differentiation in discourse. In spite of admitting variance in the ways of determination of entities, to which should correspond ways of determination in meaning, this fact does not affect determination as such. Actually, the multiplication in meanings opens a field of multiple transgressions. On the one hand, it is possible to understand meanings proper to a determined way of being as belonging to another inadequate one. On the other hand, ontological meaning may be understood as ontic, and this is crucial for the discursive articulation of the ways of being. Let us take a brief look at an example given by Heidegger:

When we make statements such as “Time is that or that” and “Time is temporal”, the word “is” has the sense of a specifically phenomenological-categorial positing which, insofar as it states anything, must have the structure of a statement about the world. But its primary sense qua statement is not a matter of pointing out something that is merely-present, but rather, is a matter of letting human existence be understood... They indicate human existence and the structures of human existence and of time. They indicate the possible understanding of the structure of human existence, and, to the degree it is available in such understanding, the possible conceptualizability (Begreifbarkeit) of that structure (Heidegger, 1976, p. 410).

This text is important to the whole issue of formal indicative semantics, but my attention now goes to the notion of phenomenological positing. Accordingly, the word “is” has two meanings in the sentence exemplified in the quotation. First, as a relational positing that expresses the attribution of a predicate to something, which is understood as something present-at-hand determined by properties; second, as a categorial positing that allows the understanding of being-there and its temporality. Thus, in spite of showing the same structure of any other sentence about entities within the world, statements about being-there have the sense of formal indication. Notwithstanding the complexity of these semantics, the phenomenological-categorial positing sense of formal indicative sentences implies that this sense is also a determined one. Even the proper understanding of such sentences -in a transformational, prohibitive (Dahlstrom, 1994) or indexical manner (Streeter, 1997)- remains an understanding of a determined meaning. For instance, by indicating being-there and time, they enable to grasp their structures conceptually by avoiding some directions of interpretation and transformative appropriation of conceptual meanings lying in the depths of a discursive tradition.

Considering that ontic and ontological determinations have the principle of determination of meaning as their discursive pendant, what could be the discursive counterpart of the finitude of ways of being? There is no simple answer to this question, but it seems natural to search for it in the realm of semantic determination. I suggest that the collapse of the determination force of ways of being has a strong connection with the lack of determination in meaning. The lack of the binding force of determination emerged from ways of being corresponds to the loss of determination in meaning. On one hand, we have the holding power of ways of being and the determination of meaning; the on the other hand, there is the loss of this binding and of the determination of sense. Furthermore, since this loss of ontological and discursive determination is precisely what makes meaning and ways of being normative, the ontological and discursive fields have an internal dynamic as their internal constitution. Hence, the change or loss in meaning determination is the manner by which the finitude of the internal possibilities may be present in the discursive articulation. If this argument is valid, the relation between silence and discursive articulation of the finite ways of being may be devised.

7. Possible silence

In order to avoid mystification, I do not understand the word “silence” as denoting something mysterious or ineffable. On the contrary, by silence I mean an autonomous phenomenon about which it is possible to speak (Picard, 1988, pp. 11-15)12 It is akin, but not identical to what cannot be said. It is neither the bare lack of sounds nor what results when we stop talking. It is also not a hidden realm that, when it is broken, falls behind language or comes together as a kind of space among words and sounds (Roesner, 2013, ss. 11-15). To stress the interpretative character of keeping silence, we could call it “the hermeneutic concept of silence”.

As interpretative, silence is not a state, but an activity within discourse, a manner of giving to understand something to someone. Keeping silence is therefore a modification in discursive performance, through which somebody expresses herself about something. What enables keeping silence is the condition of having something to talk or write about. This condition does not refer to the biological and cultural requirements of any language, but points out to the belonging to an already understood and shared web of meanings. Hence, when someone is successful in keeping silence, a kind of coming back to a home of meanings is attained, that is, to a ground of semantic normativity which is both ontic and ontological. Furthermore, the performance of keeping silence is of a privative nature. Privation means a lack of something that could or even should be done. It is not a bare lack, but the absence of a spoken discourse that could be present, making meanings explicit in a privative manner.13

Through this movement of keeping silence there takes place a transition in the determination of meaning. It is not a loss of determination, but a change through which the semantic differences become explicit. This switching of determination runs throughout the ontic meanings, but it may step into the ontological level of the semantic determination of ways of being. By bearing silence about ontic meanings, understanding returns to the ontological level and allows ways of being to show themselves in their very determination. Reduction through silence thus makes ontological meanings explicit. Moreover, when attention is paid to the ontological realm of meanings, keeping silence may take place again. In this field, silence about one specific determination brings to the fore differences in the ontological meanings. Again, this change is not the loss of the whole determination, but perhaps a transition between semantic fore and background that lets some meanings partially indeterminate. The silent person may explicit differences in the determination of meanings or just let the attention be caught to a still underdetermined field of meanings. Even inside the ontological level silence enables articulation in a privative manner.

Heidegger mentioned one example of this keeping silence in discourse by referring to Plato’s Thaetetus. When arguing about justice, phronesis, psyche, etc. the better ones, who are different from the autochthones, refrain themselves, they do not dare any decision and will keep silent. In this silence, the thing itself is recognized as given (Heidegger, 1992, p. 516). This connection between keeping silence and making the being explicit is clearly stated by Heidegger in the following text, where he identifies reticence as the self-finding (Befindlichkeit) of bearing silence:

Reticence is a way of being disposed which does not so much conceal and only conceal. Rather it gives precedence to being, prior to all talk about it and counseling over it, and this precisely in concerned preoccupation and being with one another (Heidegger, 1988, p. 369).

We may summarize this issue saying that bearing silence in discourse promotes an articulation of meanings by moving from a determination to another inside the semantic field of ontic speaking. Furthermore, if this silence motivates a leap into the ontological domain, suspending or leaving the ontic meanings indeterminate, the ways of being may also receive articulation by means of keeping silence. The hermeneutic notion of silence is discursive, since it conveys a phenomenon that is preserved at the linguistic performances. This is clearly realizable in the articulation promoted by the non-empty tautologies that result from Heidegger’s employment of figura etymologica (Schöfer 1972, pp. 287-294; Roesner, 2013, pp. 84-89). It is interpretative, since it makes different meanings explicit. It is also phenomenological, because it lets the indetermination of meaning be present in such a way that meanings already understood may be brought forward. That is my hypothesis: the articulation of ways of being as finite possibilities occurs in a discourse that entails silence as a manner of articulation that, by change or loss of meaning’s determination, interprets the semantic field. Hence, a semantics based on the hermeneutic circle must incorporate silence into the truth-conditions of modally speaking about entities and ways of being. One of the consequences of this assumption is the recognition of ways of silence proper to the specific expressivity of each way of being. Hence, bearing silence occurs in different manners, which should be described in strict connection to their proper discursive articulation.

I would like to conclude this paper with two remarks on the sigetics that is intertwined in the discursive interpretation of ways of being. First, if the expressivity of internal possibilities must be in a discourse that includes keeping silence, then the finitude of ways of being indicates an aspect of the phenomenon of silence which is not a manner of discursive performance. Ways of being are finite because they may lose their normative force, losing their meaning determination in understanding of being. Determination may be gained and lost. This shows that ways of being are meaningful possibilities that arise from indetermination. They need understanding and expressivity to hold of entities, so that we may say that ways of being come from silence. From here we may understand that expression employed twice by Heidegger in order to describe the ontological field of history: “the silent power of the possible” (Heidegger, 1986, p. 394; 1996a, pp. 316-317). This expression means that existential possibilities are endowed with an opacity that cannot be canceled. Furthermore, it also says that the realm of possibilities and ways of being is governed by a law of silence, because it depends on a ground of finitude and an indetermination of meaning. In the Contributions to philosophy, Heidegger said that “The essence of ‘logic’ ... is therefore sigetics in which the essence of language is first grasped as well.” (Heidegger, 1989, pp. 78-80). Sigetics is not meant here as a specialized field of research to replace logic as another theoretical domain, but it depicts the internal law of every expressivity of ways of being. Since meaning and sense are conditioned by an understanding of ways of being, every saying about internal possibilities must be mediately punctuated by a rule that commands: keep silent!

Second, the autonomy of such a way of discursive performance is a restricted one. The decision of following a rule of silence in expressing ways of being comes from a conditioned autonomy, because this decision is based on a fundamental ground. The circle thus is closed and we reach the good mood again. Stimmungen, atmospheres or moods are not only affective phenomena, but modes of disclosure that make manifest intentional contexts already given. They also reveal a dependence on differences that matter in some way or another. Moods are attunements to a salience of mattering. Hence, to follow the rule of bearing silence is conditioned by a specific self-finding (Befindlichkeit) that Heidegger named reticence (Verschwiegenheit,Heidegger, 1986, p. 165; 1988, p. 364). Reticence is a self-finding in which the difference between determination and indetermination of meaning matters. It matters because indetermination is the ground from which meaning and understanding might be reborn. To sum up, if ways of being are prone to be properly expressed, the correspondent discursive articulation must be endowed with a richness that includes keeping silence as one of its compounds. In the end, ontological pluralism needs an attunement of reticence, if the truth-condition of its expressivity is to be satisfied.


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[1]It is obvious that in this context the notion of identity must not be conceived as proper only to the ontology of Vorhandenheit, but it has different and adequate meanings according to different ways of being.

[2]For a defense of ways of being as properties, see Tepley (2014).

[3]In Reis (2017) I presented these difficulties in conjunction with some critical remarks on McDaniel’s interpretation of Heidegger’s claim that being is relative to understanding of being (McDaniel, 2016).

[4]Conceiving ways of being as categorial specifications (Ford, 2001) of a general mode of being implies analytically that the finitude of being is distributed through each specific way of being.

[5]It is beyond the scope of this paper to present a detailed analysis of the concept of “internal possibility”. On this topic, see Reis (2014, pp. 190-202) and Reis (2016).

[6]On some difficulties concerning the normativist interpretation of being, see Withy (2018).

[7]The issue concerning the relation between the ontological difference and the grammatical structures of natural languages is a very difficult one (see Lohmann, 1948; Kockelmanns, 1972). It is clear that this difficulty increases by adopting ontological pluralism.

[8]This controversial statement demands a clarification of the limits of an elucidation of ways of being as natural kind (Kelly, 2014). It is beyond the scope of this paper to evaluate the compatibility of an extensionalist understanding of ways of being with the phenomenological thesis of the Daseinsrelativität of being.

[9]On the collapse of existential identity as the source of normativity, see Crowell (2005, 2007, 2010).

[10]From a historical point of view, this issue is not completely explicit in Being and time (in spite of the recognition of silence as modus of discourse), adopting its prominent status in the writings of the late Heidegger, for instance in the Contributions to philosophy (Heidegger, 1989, §§ 37-38). For a comprehensive approach on saying and silence in Heidegger’s work, see Smith (2015).

[11]See Heidegger’s critical remark on Picard’s book in Black notebooks 1942-1948 (Heidegger, 2015, p. 437).

[12]On the notion of steresis, see Heidegger, 1996 (pp. 294-297); 1991, p. 15; 1988, p. 331; 1996b, pp. 294-297; p.210.

[13] This paper received the support of CNPq/Brazil. A reduced version of this paper was presented at the III Hermeneia International Symposium, Florianópolis, August 17-19th, 2015. Thanks to the anonymous referees for their relevant criticism and suggestions.

[14]Cómo citar este artículo: APA: Reis, R. R. (2020). Ways of being and expressivity. Estudios de Filosofía, 61, 11-33. https://doi.org/10.17533/udea.ef.n61a03