Heidegger and Descartes' Ens Creatum

Heideggers complaint against Descartes is that he accepted a completely indefinite status for the 'res cogitans sive mens sive' ('the entity which thinks, whether it be mind or spirit') and regarded it as the fundamental basis for his philosophy.

Descartes defined the thinking being as an ens (substance), which was a convention of medieval ontology, where ens had been understood in terms of the ens creatum (created thing) in contrast to infinite nature of God, which made him the ens increatum (creator) also referred to as the ens perfectissimum. Createdness, in its widest sense means something which is produced, and this was the essential structure of the ancient conception of Being. Thus the seeming new beginning for philosophy that Descartes had conceived the cogito ergo sum as being, was nothing but "the implantation of a baleful prejudice" - and represents the obscuring edifice of tradition par excellence that Heidegger accuses of blocking the primordial access to Being.

The argument that Heidegger is using here against Descartes is actually a more more subtle and complex than it might first appear. For example, here are some thought by A Kadir Cucen on this


A. Kadir Cucen - Heidegger's Critique of Descartes' Metaphysics (www20.uludag.edu.tr/~kadir/Roma.pdf)

The concept of substance comes from the Greek philosophy. Descartes takes the concept of substance from Greek and Medieval philosophies. For instance, in Aristotle's Metaphysics, substance is the concrete individual thing. For Heidegger, Descartes means by "substance" that by which "we can understand nothing else than an entity which is in such a way that it need no other entity in order to be.." Therefore, only God is a substance in this sense if He is understood as "ens perfectissimum"; and all other things can exist only by the help of the concourse of God. With regard to God, all other things are considered as "ens creatum".

In accordance with Descartes' understanding of ens creatum, Heidegger maintains that Descartes takes res cogito and res corporea as "is-hood" or "thing-hood". However, as Heidegger says, substance or Being is not "thinghood" [ref BT. Page 26]. Substantiality [the thinghood of Being] in this sense of independence can be possessed only by God…. all other things can exist only by the help of the concourse of God. The being of everything other than God consists in being "ens creatum" In other words, every entity which is not God is "ens creatum."

The distinction between the "res cogitans" and "res extensa", which means nature and spirit for the modern philosophy, remains indeterminate in its ontological foundation because Descartes uses the term "Substantia" for both "ens perfectissimum" and "ens creatum". Substantiality means the ontological status of "ens perfectissimum" which is in need of no other being in order to exist, while it means the ontological status of "ens creatum" which depends on this "ens perfectissimum" (God) in order to exist.


So when Heidegger said on page 26, if we are to understand what Being is, we should not treat it as a 'something.' For then the trajectory that our inquiry will take will be a search for origins–a 'Holy Grail' type of seeking. He did not mean this in the totalising sense that Being is never 'a something', for this statement only applies to the Being of human beings, or the ens creatum and not to the Being of God. So is the ultimate search for the meaning of Being as search for God? I think this is what Heidegger might be implying...

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