Mon 4 Dec 2006
As the semester draws to a close, it seems appropriate to talk about endings. What is an ending, and what does it imply about that which it brings to a close? The mere passage of time does not imply endings: In a constantly changing flux there would be no endings. It might seem that a repetition of common elements would mark out beginnings and endings, but this does not seem to be true either: In an endless series of abababababab’s, extending indefinitely in either direction, would each ‘b’ be a beginning or an ending?
An ending marks out the existence of an event as having an integrity or wholeness separate from others. It marks out a portion of time as a separate entity. What marks out an event, with a beginning and ending, from the undifferentiated flux of becomings? A happening, or event, is the integrated effect of the agency of some entity. When objects act in a coherent and organized way, they sweep out the coherent and organized swatches of time we call events.
When Aristotle, in the Metaphysics, attempted to answer the most fundamental question “What is being?”, he found the answer to lie in substance, the subject of our propositions, the thing to which we attribute properties, the nature or agency that is the internal principle of change within each being. We know a substance and its nature by what it does, by the endings that it makes. The Greek term for end is telos. Aristotle found being to be inherently teleological or purposive: Things exist to create ends, and they are known by the ends that they make.
When we, as substances, aiming at ends, impose our power or agency on the flow of things, the events we create are our actions. In doing so we bring new endings into being. Our lives are full of the endings that result from other natures: the setting of suns, the passing of seasons, the ending of administrative units of academic institutions. The meaning of these depends on how we integrate them into our own attempts to carve up time, our own actions and endings. As we live we attempt to carve out the passage of moments into intelligible units that express the natures we find within ourselves in the course of acting. To live is to create endings. How we live depends on how we integrate the endings that we create with those we encounter from other natures. The semester, like all things, draws to a close. Will we make an end of it, or will it be an ending imposed upon us?
Aristotle was a substance metaphysician, one who held that the being of things, their substance, is what determines their actions, their telos, their endings. A process metaphysician takes events as more fundamental than substance. They would think that the endings define the substance, rather than the substance defining the end, or telos. Does the man make the ending, or does how we end things determine who we are?