Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Magical Word "Being"

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Magical Word "Being"

Article excerpt

There is something very special about the English word "being" that--as far as I know (my limitation in languages may well deceive me here, and I will be happy to be informed)--is not present in its counterparts in other languages, such as Latin ens, Greek ontos, French etre, German sein, etc. The special thing about the English term is its very structure: It is verbal, active, dynamic, not at all static, not a "thing." The gerundive ending of the word, the -ing, gives it its structural dynamism.

Why is this significant? Already between the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus there was a debate about the ultimate form of reality. Was reality ultimately a congeries of static atoms or a constant condition of flux? The way it was translated into English was the battle between "being" (Parmenides) and "becoming" (Heraclitus). While understandable, that translation is unfortunate, because our English term "being" does not in its very form communicate the static character of a "thing," as over against the dynamic character of "flowingness."

Parmenides wrote: hopos estin te kai hos ouk esti ("there is 'it-is,' and there is 'it-not-is'"). He did not use nouns but only conjugated forms of the verb "to be": hopos estin, "it-is," and hos ouk esti, "it-not-is." Reality either "is" or "is not." Heraclitus, a contemporary of Parmenides, on the other hand, is said to have written: panta rhei "everything flows." Plato, who was greatly influenced by both, interpreted this saying as meaning: Panta chorei kai ouden menei ("everything changes and nothing remains still"), writing not rhei, "flow," but chorei, "change. …

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