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  • The Voiding of Being: The Doing and Undoing of Metaphysics in Modernity by William Desmond
  • Gaven Kerr
The Voiding of Being: The Doing and Undoing of Metaphysics in Modernity. By William Desmond. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2020. Pp. 312. $65.00 (hard). ISBN: 978-0-8132-3248-5.

In The Voiding of Being: The Doing and Undoing of Metaphysics in Modernity, William Desmond reflects on our loss of the wonder of being, which Plato asserted to be the beginning of all philosophy. Desmond traces this loss in various areas of human concern, but the diagnosis is always the same, namely, that this wonder is lost when we lose sight of the overdeterminateness of being in favor of either univocal determination or equivocal indetermination. The latter two tendencies can be seen at work mostly within modern and postmodern philosophy, in response to which Desmond advocates for a metaphysics of the between that is capable of thinking through such overdeterminancy without losing sight of the wonder at being by which we philosophize in the first place.

The first chapter shares its title with the book, "The Voiding of Being." In this chapter, Desmond looks at the modern project of philosophy and observes how being is a concept that has been either dismissed or undermined, yet continues to reemerge from the burial site of metaphysics. In typical fashion, he resists the univocalizing tendencies that beset modernity, opting for a metaphysics of the between wherein univocity sits hand-in-hand with equivocity. He observes that in the ancient world there was a wonder at being. This wonder is in reaction to the too-muchness of being; being is overdeterminate, it exceeds our determinations. The challenge in philosophy is to render the astonishment at this intelligible and thereby come to terms with being; this is the classical project of metaphysics. Modern philosophers tend to univocalize, to pin down what cannot be pinned down, resulting in loss of being, or they equivocalize by thinking the overdeterminate as indeterminate and thereby void of intelligibility. Desmond proposes a metaphysics of the between, what he calls a "metaxological metaphysics" between univocal determination and equivocal indetermination—a metaphysics that thinks through the thereness of being as being other and its fullness in our midst. [End Page 167]

Chapter 2 is titled "Analogy and the Fate of Reason." Herein Desmond considers the analogical turn in contemporary philosophy as a fruitful way of engaging with the overdeterminacy of being without replacing metaphysics with phenomenology. If there is any tradition of thought that seeks to strike a balance in the between of univocity and equivocity it is Aristotelian Scholasticism where analogy is the all-important factor. This analogy of being betrays an analogical reasoning which is at home with sameness in difference and does not tend to univocalize the likeness between God and creatures, nor to equivocalize their difference. Desmond traces the loss of this analogical thinking in modernity only to see ciphers of its reappearance in various places—for example, in Kant and Hegel. Desmond believes that in contemporary philosophy there is a space for a transdialectical reason, which does not shuttle from univocity to equivocity but, like analogical reason, is at home in and seeks to word the between; such a metaxological reason can ponder the porosity of philosophy and religion which has been closed by the unvocalizing tendencies of modernity.

Chapter 3, "The Dearth of Astonishment: On Curiosity, Scientism, and Thinking as Negativity," engages with the wonder that Plato and Aristotle took to be the beginning of philosophy: a wonder in the face of being, of the too-muchness of being. Herein Desmond distinguishes between an astonishment in the face of the overdeterminate, a perplexity in the face of the indeterminate, and a curiosity for the determinate. We are initially astonished at the too-muchness of being, and this passes over into perplexity, seeing that the overdeterminacy of being escapes our grasp. Very easily this perplexity passes into a negative thinking by which we seek to render the indeterminate determinate; this leads to a curiosity for greater and greater determination. Desmond likens this curiosity for the determinate to the univocal thinking...


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