36 • The Fundamental Question of Metaphysics

We have already made some remarks about this popular question of what comes of such distinctions. Let us now simply reflect on our enterprise. We ask, “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?” And in this question we apparently restrict ourselves only to beings and avoid empty brooding about Being. But what are we really asking? Why beings as such are. We are asking about the ground for the fact that beings are, and are what they are, and that there is not nothing instead. We are asking at bottom about Being. But how? We are asking about the Being of beings. We are interrogating beings in regard to their Being.

But if we persevere in the questioning, we are really already asking ahead, about Being in regard to its ground, even if this question does not develop and it remains undecided whether [25|35] Being itself is not already in itself a ground and ground enough. If we pose this question about Being as the first question in rank, then should we do so without knowing how it stands with Being and how Being stands in its distinction from beings? How are we even supposed to inquire into the ground for the Being of beings, let alone be able to find it out, if we have not adequately conceived, understood, and grasped Being itself? This enterprise would be just as hopeless as if someone wanted to explain the cause and ground of a fire and declared that he need not bother with the course of the fire or the investigation of its scene.

So it turns out that the question, “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?” forces us to the prior question: “How does it stand with Being?”25

We are now asking about something that we hardly grasp, something that is now no more than the sound of a word for us and that puts us in danger of falling victim to mere word-idolatry in our further questioning.

25. “Wie steht es um das Sein?” This expression could be translated more colloquially as “What is the status of Being?” or even “What about Being?” We have kept the German idiom in order to preserve Heidegger’s various plays on “standing.”

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