NDPR Review of Heidegger’s Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy


NDPR has just published a review, written by Richard Polt (Xavier University), of a translation of Martin Heidegger’s Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy (Indiana UP, 2009; Robert D. Metcalf and Mark B. Tanzer, trans.). You can access a Google Books preview by clicking here.

Here is the publisher’s description of the volume:

Volume 18 of Martin Heidegger’s collected works presents his important 1924 Marburg lectures which anticipate much of the revolutionary thinking that he subsequently articulated in Being and Time. Here are the seeds of the ideas that would become Heidegger’s unique phenomenology. Heidegger interprets Aristotle’s Rhetoric and looks closely at the Greek notion of pathos. These lectures offer special insight into the development of his concepts of care and concern, being-at-hand, being-in-the-world, and attunement, which were later elaborated in Being and Time. Available in English for the first time, they make a significant contribution to ancient philosophy, Aristotle studies, Continental philosophy, and phenomenology.

Here is an excerpt from Polt’s review:

Heidegger does not begin to explore Aristotle’s “basic concepts” by defining them; instead, he sees the logical concept of definition as a “decline” that obscures genuine “conceptuality” (11). What Heidegger seeks to uncover in Aristotelian concepts is their Bodenständigkeit, translated here as “indigenous character”. In other words, the meaning of concepts is to be traced back to the ground on which they originally stood. This basis is a concrete experience of phenomena, and this “basic experience is primarily not theoretical, but instead lies in the commerce of life with its world” (12).

For instance, the central term ousia (usually rendered as being, substance, or essence) refers to possessions in ordinary Greek (18). The ontological concept grows from the everyday experience of owning and using things. This is not to suggest, however, that ordinary language provides a final answer to the meaning of ousia; it is only a “clue” (20). “Life moves in a natural intelligibility of that which is immediately meant by ‘being’ and ‘beings’ in its speaking” — but this average, everyday meaning is “worn out, used, used up” (21, 16). Ontological concepts grow from a familiar sense of being that is felt and lived, but philosophers must resist the thoughtless repetition of idle talk that is part of this ordinary experience (184-188). We must elucidate philosophical concepts neither through formal definitions nor through a simple appeal to common usage, but by digging deeper into the experienced phenomena that call for this usage. Thus, if ousia ordinarily means “a being that is there for me . . . in such a way that I can use it, that it is at my disposal”, this suggests that “from the outset being, for the Greeks, means being there”. We must then inquire more profoundly into this experience: “what does there mean?” (19).

As this passage illustrates, Heidegger trades on the root meaning of the word Dasein in these lectures. Instead of leaving the word untranslated, as is usual, the translators have appropriately rendered it as “being-there” (xii). Heidegger’s use of Dasein here is closer to its normal German usage, which is much like that of the English “existence”, than to the narrower sense that he will give it in Being and Time and later writings (roughly, the way of being that characterizes human beings). Heidegger’s readings of Aristotle explore the “there” in which all beings, not only human beings, appear.

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