The Fundamental Question of Metaphysics • 19

(It would require a special study to clarify what is essentially the same in φύσις and τέχνη.)15 But for all that, the counter-concept to the physical is the historical, a domain of beings that is also understood by the Greeks in the originally broader sense of φύσις. This, however, does not have the least to do with a naturalistic interpretation of history. Beings, as such and as a whole, are φύσις—that is, they have as their essence and character the emerging-abiding sway. This is then experienced, above all, in what tends to impose itself on us most immediately in a certain way, and which is later denoted by φύσις in the narrower sense: τά φύσει δντα, τά φυσικά, what naturally is. When one asks about φύσις in general, that is, what beings as such are, then it is above all τά φύσει οντα that provide the foothold, although in such a way that from the start, the questioning is not allowed to dwell on this or that domain of nature—inanimate bodies, plants, animals—but must go on beyond τά φυσικά.

In Greek, “away over something,” “over beyond,” is μετά. Philosophical questioning about beings as such is μετά τά φυσικά; it questions on beyond beings, it is metaphysics. At this point we do not need to trace the history of the genesis and meaning of this term in detail.

The question we have identified as first in rank—“Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?”—is thus the fundamental question of metaphysics. Metaphysics stands as the name for the center and core that determines all philosophy.

[For this introduction, we have intentionally presented all [14|20] this in a cursory and thus basically ambiguous way. According to our explanation of φύσις, this word means the Being of beings.


15. Cf. Heidegger’s 1939 essay “On the Essence and Concept of Φύσις in Aristotle’s Physics B, 1,” trans. Thomas Sheehan, in Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).