The “Consummation” and “End” of Metaphysics

Justin Carmien
19 min readJul 25, 2022

Analyses in a recently published book, Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time, serve to speculate on reasons why Martin Heidegger might have abandoned his 1927 magnum opus, Being and Time. As is well known, at the inception of Being and Time, Heidegger promises to answer “the sense of being”. His claim is that time must be brought to light as the horizon for all understanding of being and for interpreting it. “Time must be understood primordially as the horizon for the understanding of being.” Heidegger’s reasons for the abandonment of Being and Time are surely important to the history of metaphysics. Braver shares this sentiment,

“[Heidegger’s] general commitment to holism and the hermeneutic circle means that each part of the book affects how we understand all of it, but surely this must apply with special force to its conclusion. What Heidegger would have said there affects how one understands the book as a whole, and how one understands Being and Time determines a great deal about how one understands Heidegger in general, and how one understands Heidegger has vast implications for the entire history of philosophy.”

Braver himself offers three possible reasons for the abandonment. He titles them “Subjectivity”, “History”, and “The Forgetfulness of Being”. Also included in this volume are analyses from several contemporary academic scholars, including Alain Badiou, Daniel Dahlstrom, and Charles Guignon. However, I do not intend to recapitulate any one analysis in detail here in this article. Rather, I will highlight that which is unavoidable in each analysis — namely, and in Heidegger’s own words, “the end of metaphysics”. For Heidegger, this “end” follows from “the consummation”. I chose to animate this “consummation” and “end” in order to consider the consequences of each to contemporary political activity — particularly as manifest in the postmodernist aesthetic. Finally, I will consider the possibility and potential value of a future metaphysics. But first, in order to do so, we must recapitulate Heidegger’s own announcement of the “consummation” and “end” of metaphysics.

Heidegger’s announcement of the consummation and end of metaphysics

To consider Heidegger’s announcement, I chose to draw from his lecture material on Friedrich Nietzsche — that which comes down to us by way of David Farrell Krell and Frank Capuzzi’s English translations of material first presented in 1936 at the University of Freiburg. (The last of which was completed in 1947.) In this material, Heidegger attempts to defend Nietzsche’s philosophy from moral and biological interpretation by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Baeumler. (You should take notice of the dates of these compositions.) Heidegger does so by interpreting Nietzsche’s philosophy through the lens of metaphysics. Of course, this exercise may appear as quite shocking for devotees of Nietzsche’s own words, certainly, if you consider Nietzsche’s own expressed distaste for metaphysics. Yet, what is produced by way of Heidegger’s interpretation is a highly original interpretation of Nietzsche’s thought as a whole. Included in this material are metaphysical interpretations of Nietzsche’s revenge, will, and power. Especially important, Heidegger’s interpretation also produces a frame by which to understand the tradition of metaphysics. Heidegger places Plato on one end and Nietzsche on the other. Heidegger’s narrative of the consummation of metaphysics is carried out by way of Nietzsche’s supposedly failed attempt to invert Platonism,

“For Plato the suprasensuous is the true world. It stands over all as what sets the standard. The sensuous lies blow, as the world of appearances. What stands over all is alone and from the start what sets the standard; it is therefore what is desired. But as long as the ‘above and below’ define the formal structure of Platonism, Platonism in its essence perdures. [Therefore, Nietzsche’s attempted inversion of Platonism] does not achieve what it must, as an overcoming of Platonism in its very foundations. Such overcoming succeeds only when the ‘above’ in general is set aside as such, when the former positing of something true and desirable no longer arises, when the true world — in the sense of the ideal — is expunged.”

In Platonism, ειδος or ιδεα sets the standard by which the sensuous world is to be measured. There is nothing particularly novel in Heidegger’s interpretation. Likewise, there is nothing particularly novel in the interpretation of Nietzsche’s attempted inversion. For Nietzsche, the sensuous is true and the suprasensuous is μιμησις (mimesis, “representation of the world in art”). Therefore, for Nietzsche, the Platonic ιδεα and other such creations of “man” (and other such types of rulers of measurement) are subordinate to life; they are subordinate to one’s pursuit of life — and, importantly, their perspective. Hence, scholars speak of Nietzsche’s perspectivism. However, for Heidegger, this relationship between above and below is what constitutes metaphysics. Therefore, an inversion does not overcome metaphysics, but rather, and through the inversion, metaphysics perdures. No doubt, I can agree with Heidegger. Perspectivism must be a pronounced expression of subjectivity. The subject/object dichotomy is the bedrock of modern metaphysics. Therefore, Nietzsche’s perspectivism manifests as something of a completion of Western metaphysics by way of a culmination of modern subjectivist metaphysics,

“No matter how sharply Nietzsche pits himself time and again against Descartes, whose philosophy grounds modern metaphysics, he turns against Descartes only because the latter still does not posit man as subiectum in a way that is complete and decisive enough. The representation of the subiectum, is still not subjectivist enough for Nietzsche. Modern metaphysics first comes to the full and final determination of its essence in the doctrine of the overman, the doctrine of man’s absolute preeminence among beings. In that doctrine, Descartes celebrates his supreme triumph.”

However, for Heidegger, that final determination of modern metaphysics also suggests a dark period for Western history. Once the Platonic ιδεα is subordinated to life and has become merely one value among many in the project of living, “the inversion of Platonism becomes a ‘revaluation of all values’”,

“All that is left is the solitary superficies of a ‘life’ that empowers itself to itself for its own sake. If metaphysics begins as an explicit interpretation of beingness as ιδεα, it achieves its uttermost end in [Nietzsche’s] ‘revaluation of all values’.”

Therefore, Nietzsche’s extreme subjectivism and his failure to overcome metaphysics stands as a milestone which marks an event in Western history — namely, nihilism. Heidegger sees the consummation of the historical epoch of metaphysics and the advent of nihilism as the crystallization of the interpretation of all beings through the lens of Bestand (which, in the sense Heidegger is drawing upon, means “stock,” “holdings,” “assets,” or, the term Heidegger uses often, “standing reserve.”) What is lost in this interpretation is human being itself. In nihilism, human being is oriented to the world through its relationship to the “standing reserve”. Heidegger describes this orientation towards the world as Gestell (“enframing”), which renders the world into a stockpile of raw materials at the disposal of human being. Like many of the German Conservative Revolutionaries of his time, for Heidegger too, this orientation towards beings is evident when looking at American philosophy especially. However, and despite its lamentable character, Heidegger does not stop thinking from within the event of nihilism. Rather, Heidegger understands that when standing in nihilism, we are presented with a vision,

“Western history has now begun to enter into the completion of that period we call the modern, and which is defined by the fact that man becomes the measure and center of beings. Man is what lies at the bottom of all being; that is, in modern terms, at the bottom of all objectification and representability.”

For Heidegger, vertical hierarchy or virtue has characterized the beliefs of the people living within the epoch of metaphysics. As such, metaphysics has been preoccupied with the rulers of above and below — whether those rulers are our highest values (as evident in Plato and Christianity) or “man” (as evident in Descartes and Nietzsche). Yet, for Heidegger, such virtue has obscured the question of philosophy — namely, the truth of being. Much like his German romantic predecessors, Heidegger also values nature’s originality and its power. Overcoming nihilism requires returning both originality and power to nature. This return demands that we forgo both positions within the vertical hierarchy of metaphysics. Heidegger envisions the truth of being as a horizontal clearing. Because of this, Heidegger says that in the end, there “is the need of the other commencement”.

“Preparation of [the second] commencement takes up that questioning by which the questioner is handed over to that which answers. Primordial questioning itself never replies. For primordial questioning, the sole kind of questioning is one that attunes man to hear the voice of Being. It is a thinking that enables man to bend to the task of guardianship over the truth of Being.”

It is well understood among scholars that Heidegger is making nuance moves in his argumentation when he attempts to depart from metaphysics. However, what is of principal importance for our understanding of Heidegger’s nuance is his emphasis of the experience of the second commencement. With a bit of effort, you and I may be able to imagine the experience of the second commencement which Heidegger promotes. We could even characterize Heidegger’s own activity for use as our model. For sure, Heidegger himself exercised an extreme curiosity about the world. He also understood that the intellectual form of curiosity is question. For Heidegger, the question attunes human being towards being, even if the answers which follow are always and necessarily subordinated to the interpretation of the questioner. Heidegger believes in the question. Yet, he dislikes the prescription which follows from questioning’s hypothetical nature — for Heidegger, this can only lead to the virtue of vertical metaphysics. Heidegger seems to envision a preparation for the second commencement where human being maintains its curiosity; yet in primordial questioning (which “itself never replies”), human being is also positioned to receive nature’s quite bewildering answers — or at least, to receive answers which obscures attempts to capture and exploit it.

Of course, and despite Heidegger’s promise of a second commencement for philosophy, we could still question his apparent dramatics. After all, such an announcement is nothing new within the tradition. Already, Immanuel Kant had made a similar claim in his time. Yet, this fact withstanding, there is still something prophetical about Heidegger’s announcement. Its truth lies in the fact that metaphysics does, indeed, seem to have failed to produce any impact in social, political, or scientific matters following Being and Time. We might remember that both Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism and Theodore Adorno’s negative dialectics did attempt to fix and correct Heidegger’s metaphysics for the liberal palette. Yet, neither have left an impression comparable to Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction. And while it could be argued that Judith Butler’s performativity has changed the social and political landscape, it is to be admitted that performativity is a perverted reading of the philosophy of being, which follows when interpreting being exclusively within the narrow discipline of a society of individuals and when continuing to animate John Locke’s individual and its legal rights. Therefore, it does appear as if Heidegger’s prophetic claim was correct. His metaphysical architectonic, as presented in Being and Time, may be the last in a long tradition reaching at least as far back as the seventeenth century and to René Descartes. And while this may be disappointing for scholars of philosophy, it might also be for good reason. Therefore, we must now consider the historical, social, and political situation in the decades following Being and Time — the period which Heidegger describes as nihilism.

Following WWII, Western thinking had become possessed by the spirit and tools on offer by way of sociologic. The horrors of Nazi gas chambers and fears of atomic warfare had demanded that the human animal problematize the use and application of technology alongside the operation and orientation of power. When looking back to the writing during this period, we find the apparent need to decentralize power, dismantle patriarchy, along with the remaining after-effects of colonialism. We might bring to mind the liberal crusades of McCarthyism and the second red scare. Or we might consider the later applications of the Frankfurt School’s critical theory, which eventually led to woke activists in the early third millennium “punching Nazis” wherever the liberal project was challenged. Here, sociologic was used to take up an attack on patriarchy and “White privilege” — systems which were named according to the most visible demographics which had produced such ugly modernism (even if, in reality, many “White” men living in the late second and early third millennium were equally critical of the modern aesthetic. This is evidenced in the suffering represented by postmodernist works of art — those produced by “White” men, and principally by them). We might even consider the case of environmental justice, which was less about nurturing the environment than it was about punishing the human animal. Not to be mistaken, environmental justice is a sociological phenomenon. It is because of the pervasiveness of sociological tools, across all industries and disciplines, that I am not surprised that academic philosophy too was subordinated to sociological concerns and preoccupied with the tools on offer by way of the sociological toolbox. Perhaps you might agree that academic philosophy was demanded to do so. In many cases, philosophy took up an explicit “post-metaphysical” turn after the war. This is something which Jürgen Habermas explicitly admitted too, for example. Therefore, we can conclude, it does appear as though the subjectivist metaphysics, as epitomized by the philosophies of Descartes, Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, could no longer address our concerns. Historical and social thinking was required of the post-war project.

The inadequacy of subjectivist metaphysics

Now, what should not be overlooked is that at the “consummation” and “end” of metaphysics, Heidegger had already acknowledged the inadequacy of subjectivist metaphysics in providing an answer to the philosophical question — namely, to the question regarding the truth of being. In his material on Nietzsche and Western nihilism, Heidegger reflects on his abandonment of Being and Time. This passage sheds light on his position,

“In Being and Time, on the basis of the question of the truth of Being, no longer the question of the truth of entities, an attempt is made to determine the essence of man solely in terms of his relationship to being. That essence was described in a firmly delineated sense as da sein. In spite of a simultaneous development of a more original conception of truth (since that was required by the matter at hand), the past thirteen years have not in the least succeeded in awakening even a preliminary understanding of the question that was posed [i.e., the question of the truth of beings]. On the one hand, the reason for such noncomprehension lies in our habituation, entrenched and ineradicable, to the modern mode of thought: man is thought as a subject, and all reflections on him are understood to be anthropology. On the other hand, however, the reason for such noncomprehension lies in the attempt itself, which perhaps because it really is something historically organic and not anything ‘contrived’, evolves from what has been heretofore; in struggling loose from it, it necessarily and continually refers back to the course of the past and even calls on it for assistance in the effort to say something entirely different.”

“Above all, however, the path taken terminates abruptly at a decisive point. The reason for the disruption is that the attempt and the path it chose confront the danger of unwillingly becoming merely another entrenchment of subjectivity; that the attempt itself hinders the decisive steps; that is, hinders an adequate exposition of them in their essential execution. Every appeal to “objectivism” and “realism” remains “subjectivism”: the question concerning being as such stands outside the subject-object relation.”

While this passage may be interpreted to suit the many different and likely diverse needs of scholars, it must be clear that Heidegger means to say that asking about the truth of being requires turning away from investigations into “the essence of man”. However, to replace subjectivism with questions into reality or objectivity will be just as unsatisfactory. Of course, at first sight, Heidegger’s claim does not seem intuitive. In physics, for example, the real can be described as material or as energy, or in some other physical form. But whatever is called physical has priority to the human animal. The reason for this is taxonomical; the human animal is merely one type of physical form within the physical world. Supplanting this understanding with evolutionary theory, we would say that animal bodies evolved first, and only later did some of those bodies possess a consciousness and the being of “man”. Again, physics is prior to the human animal because that description is broader. However, Heidegger understands that such realist description has its own limitations. The limitation which Heidegger finds important regards the scope of its description. Realism cannot approach the foundation of its own questioning; it does not ask into the possibility of questioning outright. However, we can say that objectivism goes further and even supplants realist description. In Kantian terms we would say that objectivism describes the objectivity of objects. Metaphysics is the discipline concerned with such a description. Metaphysicians have most recently described the objectivity of objects by grounding them in human being. Subjectivity supplies the answer which realism cannot approach — the possibility of questioning outright. Therefore, when layering realism at the top of a hierarchy, followed by objectivity, and then subjectivity as the foundation, Heidegger can insist that every appeal to realism and objectivity remains subjectivism. This implies that whatever is real and objective is subordinated to human being. We might recall Heidegger’s concern over the interpretation of beings through the lens of Bestand, including his concern of American philosophy which epitomizes Gestell. Charles Sanders Peirce seems to have given explicit form to what Heidegger worries over, including the subordination of the real and the objective to human being. Peirce’s expression comes down to us as the pragmatic maxim,

“Consider the practical effects of the objects of your conception. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object.”

For Peirce, whatever your conception of an object is, that conception must be its practical effects. Alternatively, for Heidegger the second commencement will not be characterized by a way of thinking in which being (objects) is grounded in human being or in any other being whatsoever. In the second commencement, as Heidegger conceives it, beings will not be subjected to any contrived human-informed criteria of success — such as we see with science’s hypothetical form of questioning. Rather, an alternative and primordial form of questioning will provide a horizontal clearing of pure being (Hegel). In this clearing, being may show itself of itself. Heidegger famously calls for Ereignis, the event of appropriation. In Das Ding (“The Thing”, 1950) as well as Bauen Wohnen Denken (“Building Dwelling Thinking”, 1951), Heidegger implements the language of a fourfold (earth, heaven, divinities, and mortals [things that are dying]) which is mediated by the location and presences being in negation, by virtue of the mirroring of the fourfold, joined and gathered by the being itself. This showing of being by way of the event of the negation of the being seems to be Heidegger’s best attempt at the truth of being following Being and Time.

Of course, even if you can imagine yourself in the experience of Heidegger’s second commencement, if such an experience were to be genuine, then it would surely not conform to a mere formal question and answer structure. Rather, and in keeping in line with Heidegger’s philosophy of being in the world, such an experience could only manifest through πραξις and as a form of life (Ludwig Wittgenstein). So, while Heidegger may be right to search for the opening or clearing for truth (αληθεια), and while he is also right to look towards works of art and other things of value as vehicles for freeing a space for such encounters, all the same, and because he limits himself to the domain of thought as the means by which to encounter the truth of being, he prohibits any genuine escape from subjectivist metaphysics. Consider that even “primordial questioning” (as the sole kind of thinking that attunes “man” to hear the voice of being) must be the wrong activity — that is, if by “listening” we are thinking of that kind of listening with our “mind’s ear”. For us, we must beware of “overstepping the line” such that we cannot “find our way” to the “necessities reigning within themselves”. (These are words which Heidegger himself wrote while sketching material for that seminar on Schelling.) In doing so, what appears as required is an aid towards a post-subjectivist form of life, such that we no longer prioritize the “seeing” and “hearing” of the human animal — a priority which Heidegger never fails to wrest his own thinking from. So, while it may seem contrary to Heidegger’s own understanding of Western history, in order to prepare for the second commencement (as a public clearing which can host the return of the originality and power of nature), I cannot abandon the last great work of metaphysics, Heidegger’s Being and Time. Rather, for me, that work must stand as an aid towards a post-subjectivist form of life. We require Being and Time in order to imagine a heuristic which can provide for a transition into the form of life which might characterize the second commencement, but is still in concealment today. I consider this approach and path to be virtuous. This article has been written so that we (that is, those of us within the emergent paradigm) can act upon the demands which show themselves here and now. The emergence of the paradigm itself demands a metaphysics which can host a heuristic. The reason for this has already been shown. I have repeated it once already; however, to say it again: subjectivist metaphysics no longer describes our condition today and cannot not spark solutions to today’s problems. It does not address our concerns, which cannot be limited to human being and its liberation, but must rather aim at the liberation of the being of the world.

The possibility of a future metaphysics

The demand for post-subjectivist thinking is not only evident in the post-war project, it is also evident for us today. However, even if we were to approach a post-subjectivist metaphysics by way of a “collective”, “social”, “national”, or “identity” subject matter, this would be a self-deception. In each one of these approaches, the human animal remains the subiectum. However, in returning to Being and Time and the reasons for its abandonment, we can discover an aid towards a future thinking space beyond subjectivity. Consider that once we forgo the metaphysical category “man” as subiectum, then it ceases to be the subject matter of inquiry, and it also ceases to be the object to be worked upon. Once we forgo this subject, we are also then liberated to raise the question as to what subject remains in its absence. The answer to this question can perhaps be found by looking at that which precedes it. Already at the very inception of the metaphysical tradition, we find a clue. In Aristotle’s Πολιτικα (Politika, “the things concerning the πoλις”), we read that, “It is evident that the state [πoλις] is a natural growth and a prior condition to the individual”. Of course, immediately this claim might strike us as obnoxious. After all, if this is the case, then Aristotle must be thinking of the state (πoλις) as something other than what we think of today. No doubt, we think of the state as the body of laws as well as the officers and administrators of those laws. In this case, the state (including all of the material which also goes up to constitute the state) must be, without a doubt, a construction of individual human animals working in cooperation with each other. And in this case, the state could not be, as Aristotle claims, “a prior condition to the individual”. However, if Aristotle’s claim produces within us feelings of dissonance, then it must be because we have (and are operating with) two quite different positions, each of which seeming to describe reality with some level of truth. One position says that man is a product of the state, and another says that the state is a product of man — or alternatively, that man produces the state. Note that the difficulty remains even if we substitute the words “state” with “society”. Does “man” produce “society”, or does “society” produce “man”? Or do both arguments retain explanatory power, each within their own contexts and applications?

Let us recall that in Ancient Greece, the πολις is where one found himself at home in a language, already within a λογος, which projects towards a future for that πολις. Within this “project area”, so to speak, we find our λογος (language or logic) — that is to say, we find that which organizes activity towards the ορισμος (horismos, “horizon”) — it organizes πραξις. Πραξις refers to the economic dealings which project towards the ορισμος. Everything before that ορισμος is the πολις. All possibilities (any object of value which projects towards the ορισμος) is what constitutes the “material” of the πολις. This might include hammers, cement mixers, wayfinding signs, or other values such as economic competition and individual liberty. The πολις is the condition for the being of that “material” too. To be sure, this condition is prior to any knowledge about the city or of its productive infrastructures — or even of the goals and results which its administrators seek to achieve. Only on account of this primordial state of being is any articulation of objects possible — and this includes any objectification of any particular you or me. Therefore, and according to Aristotle, it is not the case that a group of individuals (who we might call “man”) produce the state — including the formal laws and other social governing structures. It is rather that this primordial commerce is prior to the being of those individuals. Therefore, in returning to our question at hand, as to what remains in the event of such a collapse of the special priority of the human animal (heretofore, christened with the metaphysical category “man” — a subject over-and-above as uniquely distinct from nature), what we find, as the condition of possibility for “man”, is that which we can identify as a primordial commerce — the commercium. It is this subject which we may place at the foundation of a metaphysical architectonic of the conditions of possibility. The commercium is indicated by the very appearance of the world itself, whether through the human animal, non-human animals, machines, intelligent programs, or even algorithms. Insofar as this subject grounds even the I myself, we can understand this subject as the foundation for the subject of Descartes’s prima philosophia; it is “the center” (E.F. Schumacher), or the foundation for “consciousness, the intellectus archetypus, or transcendental ego” (Georg-Hans Gadamer), or whatever other name we give that object to which every worldly object can be traced back. The commercium is prior to modernity’s “man” — it is a priori, in the language of Kant, or primordial (terminology we have borrowed from Heidegger’s translators).

First economics philosophy

Is it accidental that a pronounced moment of post-metaphysical thinking appears alongside the political projects invested in disarming and disempowering world institutions, or those invested in dismantling patriarchy, and the remaining after-effects of colonialism? Are not each of these sublimations resulting from the suffering of their authors? And do these activities not indicate symptoms resulting from the very ideals of modernism? — namely, alienation, rootlessness, estrangement, and apathy? If we allow ourselves such a narrative, then we are granted mastery over our subjection. In such mastery, we are granted relief from suffering. With such relief, we may be liberated. The very appearance of this narrative, our mastery, and relief suggest another aesthetic historical period.

In thinking of the name of the discipline which treats of the commercium as the subject of a metaphysical architectonic, we can turn towards Aristotle’s metaphysics, τα περι της πρωτης φιλοσοφιας (that is, “the [writings] concerning first philosophy”). Of course, Descartes offers a more English-friendly term for this realm of thought; prima philosophia. And so, following the Latinized expression, we might say that we are here doing prima economics — prime economics. However, for ease of translation into English, let us simply name the thinking space of the commercium as first economics. In the thinking space of first economics, we are liberated from modern subjectivist metaphysics, including even Heidegger’s anthropological pattern of thought, and the sociological priority too. We understand that such a subject can be taken up for scoping appropriate projects areas, whereby the truth of being may show itself of itself. To be sure, this subject has already been given form publicly, firstly, as announced in Daniel Fraga’s recently published book, Ontological Design: Subject is Project. Already in the subtitle of this book we find the kernel which can grow into a description of the architectonic of the commerciumthe project.

*Editor’s note: This reading of metaphysics as first economics is likely to be unfamiliar to the reader. For further explication, visit Justin’s YouTube channel, here or here. The Medium article here. And the first economics Facebook group here or How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity: A Metamodern Economic Reform Proposal on



Justin Carmien

Public speaker on metaphysics, political philosophy, and political metamodernism