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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Beyond Metaphysics: The Limits of Philosophy in Heidegger, Nietzsche and Daoism

Katrin Froese.

I will argue that Nietzsche and Heidegger are thinkers who mark a turning point in the Western tradition as a consequence of their attempts to overcome metaphysical modes of thought. Traditional metaphysics had privileged permanence over flux and had insisted on the importance of establishing immutable and transcendent truths. If human beings could posit or uncover such eternal truths, then they would be able to assert considerable control over the cosmos. In Western thought, the central role accorded to the subject is very much linked to the predominance of metaphysics. Both Heidegger and Nietzsche reject such absolutism, insisting instead on the importance of continuous flux. They note that the sense of the cosmos as a whole need not necessarily derive from abstract universals that imbue it with order but rather stems from the interconnections between things. As a result, they also begin to erode the pre-eminent position that the subject had assumed in the Western philosophical tradition. This sensitivity to the importance of change and the diminished role of the subject provides a powerful point of comparison with Daoist thought. The world of transcendent absolutes has never enjoyed a strong foothold in the Chinese tradition. The flirtation with the kind of rationalism which attempts to hunt for impregnable foundations left a relatively small mark on the Chinese philosophical landscape. The central notion of the Dao in Daoist thought refers loosely to an elusive and unspeakable link between all things, but it is not a transcendent universal.


Katrin Froese
Assistant Professor

University of Calgary

  • Daoism
  • Metaphysics
  • Daoism
  • Nietzsche
  • Heidegger
  • Laozi
  • Zhuangzi
  • End of philosophy

(30 min Conference Paper, English)