Some thoughts on PHENOMENOLOGICAL INTERPRETATIONS OF ARISTOTLE by Martin Heidegger
A prelude to this ENORMOUS blog post is necessary. In what follows I attempt to explain what Martin Heidegger, one of the most interesting, and difficult to follow, thinkers of the 20th century, is doing in his lectures that can be found in the book "Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: Initiation into Phenomenological Research". I will not, in this article, be providing any type of response (assuming some response must be given) to his thoughts. This article is part of the research for my doctoral dissertation, and, as such, I see no need to provide any substantial response at this point. I see what I perceive to be some important difficulties, however, in order to properly respond to the position of any thinker one must, first of all, understand them, and be able to explain their thought in one's own words, in such a way that that thinker would agree. The major difficulty that I have for this project, is that Heidegger is no longer with us. As such, I am publishing my thoughts on his book on my blog with the hopes that others who are familiar with Heidegger, and who may have even read these lectures, will interact with my exposition here. I have tried to remain faithful to the thoughts that are explained in these lectures, and not transpose his later thoughts, as seen primarily in Being & Time, Introduction to Metaphysics, and a number of other books and lectures, into this work. The following publication may be difficult for someone who is unfamiliar with Heidegger to understand. All constructive comments are more than welcome. The reader has been duly warned, proceed at your own risk!
In this book, which is “a translation of the text of a lecture course Martin Heidegger offered in the winter semester 1921-22 at the University of Freiburg”, Heidegger attempts to lay the phenomenological groundwork for a proper interpretation of Aristotle. He does not, in this short text, proceed to interpret Aristotle, rather, his primary purpose is to outline the “philosophical problematic”, that is, to answer the question, “What is Philosophy?”
Heidegger’s lectures are usually very well outlined, and this lecture is no different. In the first part of the lecture Heidegger begins by discussing the nature of the History of Philosophy, and then discusses how Aristotle was received by philosophers throughout History. In Part 2 of his lecture series he attempts to phenomenologically interpret philosophy. Philosophy, however, as a comportement of Caring cannot be properly analysed unless one first looks at Caring. This leads, in Part 3, to the phenomenological interpretation of the factical life. The conclusion of the lecture is that the only way to escape to ruinance of the factical life is to remain in a constant state of questioning, which is what Philosophy phenomenologically is. The translator of this lecture course includes 2 appendices in which we are given Heidegger’s extra documents and thoughts that were included within the notes that he used for the lectures. The translator notes, in the translator’s forward, that “the main theme of the lectures is human life as such, ‘factical life’”. One should always be cautious when disagreeing with someone who knows a lot more than they do. After examining this work, though I agree that the main theme, as far as the amount of time that is dedicated to this theme is concerned, is the “factical life”. However, one must be careful to note that Heidegger’s analysis of the factical life is secondary to the main purpose of these lectures, which is to phenomenologically answer the question, “What is Philosophy?” Heidegger discusses the factical life in order to explain what philosophy is. As such, though Heidegger dedicates a great amount of time to explaining the factical life, this is not the main theme (as far as the purpose of these lectures is concerned). Everything that Heidegger says in these lectures is advanced with the goal of discovering what philosophy phenomenologically is.
Almost all of the themes that Heidegger would later emphasize, and almost all of the terms that he would later use in his philosophy of Being can be found in this small lecture series, if not explicitly, at least implicitly. Unfortunately, as with a number of his other publications, there is no index included at the end of the book, which means that unless one takes extensive notes it will be very difficult to properly analyse this text.
I do not intend to give an in-depth review of this lecture series, rather, I intend to discuss Heidegger’s approach to the question of Being in this lecture series. That being said, in order to understand Heidegger’s discussion of Being in this book, one must first give a brief overview of Heidegger’s project, in this book.
In outlining Heidegger’s project in the lecture series, I would like to attempt to follow his line of reasoning from its beginning to its conclusion. This does not mean that this will be a chronological outline of the lecture series. Heidegger did not, necessarily begin his lecture series with the true beginning of phenomenological research. Rather, in a sense, Heidegger begins by posing the problematic, which raises the questioning that we must follow. Once the questioning is raised Heidegger then takes time to explain a number of important points. A lot of the themes that Heidegger covers in this book are touched, on as Heidegger moves through his questioning of the problematic of philosophy. I do not claim to fully grasp what Heidegger is doing here, but, I am hoping that by attempting to explain his trajectory, and in this way following him in his questioning, that I will better understand his claims. I would welcome any comments that help to clarify what Heidegger is doing in this book.
Heidegger wishes to discover what philosophy is – what is the meaning, or sense of, or mode of Being of Philosophy? In seeking to discover what philosophy is, Heidegger thinks, we must understand it as a way or mode of Being of humans. This is because philosophy is a being that is possessed by man. What kind of being is philosophy? If philosophy is a being that is possessed by man, then Heidegger, in order to understand what kind of being philosophy is, must first consider the ways or modes of the Being of man. Heidegger proposes that man exists “in the mode of the world (‘life’).” Though Heidegger seems, sometimes, to equate life with world, these two concepts are not equivalent. Heidegger describes life, in different places, as a being, as possibility, as existence, and, most importantly, as ways of being in relation to the world. This final description allows us to take the next step into Heidegger’s thought. Life is a way of being related to the world. The ways of being related to the world are referred to as Comportments. Comportments can be either genuine (authentic) or ruinant deviations. Heidegger notes that, as concerns philosophy, there are “two basic phenomenological comportments; one the genuine, the other a misunderstanding, insofar as philosophy is at issue and not some other aspirations.” One is either a perpetual questionableness, the other is “the empty ‘whence and whither’ of forsakenness.” We have not, however, in following Heidegger’s trajectory, arrived at this conclusion. We must first note that Comportment can be understood in three ways: in the sense of relation, in the sense of actualization, and in the sense of maturation. Though Heidegger frequently discusses actualization, and occasionally mentions maturation, he is primarily interested in Comportment understood as relation. This is because, life is essentially a way of Being in relation to the World. This relation of life to the world is encountered as motion – the movedness of life. This movedness is understood as direction. The question of the movedness of life is fully discussed when considering the relation of life to the world – that is, the categories of the relationality of life (or caring). There are three basic categories of life, Inclination, Distance, and Sequestration, which leads into the “easy”. The “easy” is characterized by “carefreeness”. The movedness of life is seen in each of the three categories of the relationality of life in two basic categories: Relucence and Prestruction. The movedness which leads directly to ruinance, is a collapse, which is characterized by 4 formal indicational characters. The collapse into ruinance leads to a nothingness, a privation of being. Having come this far we want to know, how do we avoid the nothingness of ruinance? Is it to avoid the movedness of life altogether? Is this even possible? The only way to avoid ruinance is to live the factical life. The factical life exists in the actualizing of Caring. This factical life is gained through questioning. It is, however, possible to become set in a way of living, and to fall into ruinance, so it is necessary that one remain in perpetual questioning. This perpetual questioning just is philosophy. Therefore, in order to counter the ruinant movement of life, one must actualize the philosophical interpretation and this is actualized by the appropriation of the mode of access to questionability. Philospophy is “a basic mode of life itself, in such a way that it authentically ‘brings back,’ i.e., brings life back from its downward fall into decadence, and this ‘bring-ing back’ [or re-petition, ‘re-seeking’], as radical re-search, is life itself.” The formally indicative definition of philosophy is said to be “philosophy is cognitive comportment, at the level of principle, toward beings in terms of Being (sense of Being), specifically such that what is decisively at issue in the comportment and for it is the respective Being (sense of Being) of the possessing of the comportment.” Philosophy, as a radical perpetual comportment of questioning, is, necessarily skeptical, “the authentic foundation of philosophy is a radical, existentiell grasp of and maturation of questionableness; to pose in questionableness oneself and life and the decisive actualizations is the basic stance of all—including the most radical—clarification. Skepticism, so understood, is the beginning of philosophy, and as the genuine beginning it is also the end of philosophy.” It is due to what precedes that Heidegger is able to claim that philosophy is necessarily Atheistic—that is, if philosophy is an existentiell comportement of man which is a perpetual questioning of the Being of beings, then one must always begin with Atheism and end with Atheism. “Philosophy, in its radical, self-posing questionability, must be a-theistic as a matter of principle. Precisely on account of its basic intention, philosophy must not presume to possess or determine God. The more radical philosophy is, the more determinately is it on a path away from God; yet, precisely in the radical actualization of the ‘away,’ it has its own difficult proximity to God.” This brings us back to what we noted earlier, that, as concerns philosophy, there are “two basic phenomenological comportments; one the genuine, the other a misunderstanding, insofar as philosophy is at issue and not some other aspirations.” One is either a perpetual questionableness, the other is “the empty ‘whence and whither’ of forsakenness.” The authentic mode of possession of philosophy, that which philosophy phenomenologically, and Heidegger would surely say, in its most profound sense, is, is a reposing in a state of perpetual questionableness.
We have now come full circle. We set out to find out what philosophy is, and we have discovered that philosophy is questioning, the only way in which one can keep from falling into the ruinance of a life of nothingness.
How does Being fit into all of this? Being, in this lecture series is both primordial, and secondary. In order to discuss the question of philosophy, he must absolutely refer to Being and beings. Comportments, possessions, possession of comportments, life, and understanding are all beings. On the other side of the picture you have the notion of Being, the sense of which he is constantly referring to. He mentions, alludes to, or discusses the Being (or sense of Being) of man, the Being (or sense of Being) of the sciences, the Being (or sense of Being) of the possession of a comportment, the Being (or sense of Being) of life, and the Being (or sense of Being) of research. This discussion of beings and of Being or the sense of Being, forces us to ask three questions: (1) How does Heidegger understand “beings”?, (2) What does Heidegger mean by “Being” and the “sense of Being”? and (3) How does Heidegger perceive the relationship between beings and Being?
Heidegger answers the first question as follows, “A being: an object, this object, in what and how it is.” As we mention above, types of beings, for Heidegger, include, comportments, possessions, possessions of comportments, life, and understanding. As such, a being is something that can be possessed.
The second question is a little bit more difficult for Heidegger to answer. Perhaps the best way to begin explaining Heidegger’s answer is to note what he says concerning what Being is not. Being, according to Heidegger, is not: (a) the universal of all things, (b) the highest genus, and (c) that which particular beings fall under. What then is Being, or the sense of Being? The answer to this question, for Heidegger, turns out to be the answer to the third question, as such, we will turn, immediately, to the third question.
In regards to the final question, Heidegger notes that Being is related to beings in that Being is principle of all beings. In explaining that philosophy just is the comportmental relationship of holding on to something as a being, just as beings, and as definite sorts of beings, is not simply seeking to question beings, but is in fact, seeks to question “Being, or more determinately, in respect to the way such ‘Being’ is graspable, the ‘sense of Being.’ We need to keep in mind explicitly that Being, the sense of Being, is, philosophically, the principle of every being.” A little later Heidegger adds that “At issue is Being, i.e., that it ‘is,’ the sense of Being, that Being ‘is,’ i.e., is there as Being genuinely and according to its import.” At a later point, in discussing the question of the sense of Being, Heidegger says, “The question of the sense of Being, specifically the sense of Being of this peculiar objectivity, is one of principle in the philosophical sense.” Being, therefore, according to Heidegger, is the principle of beings, of all beings. What then does he mean by principle?
Heidegger begins interacting with the notion of principle by explaining the mistaken, or false, understanding of principle. Upon the false view, principle is “that on the basis of which something ‘is’ in its own proper way, that on which everything depends….Here the principle is the universal, the most general, that which holds ‘for’ everything, ‘in every case,’ that on which all the particular instances depend, whence they receive their essential determination.” So, principle is falsely understood as universal— that which is the basis of the is-ness of a being. In order to correct this error Heidegger proposes that we seek to truly understand how something is a principle. In introducing this endeavour he says, “Just as every object has its own way of being possessed, its mode of being accessed and preserved, and its mode of becoming lost, so at the same time, in this possession and for it, it is always in some sense a principle, something which is at issue and which, with respect to and for something, has ‘something to say.’” We may, tentatively, say that a principle is a thing, an object, is a principle in so much as, by its possession and for its possession, it “is at issue and…has ‘something to say.’” A principle, then is that which presents itself to a caring being such that it is possessed and speaks to the caring being.
Heidegger continues by noting that in order to grasp something at the level of principle one must determine the how and what of the object in regards to its principle. In order to see how the object functions as a principle one must first determine its proper what. What all of this shows us is that any object can be a principle, not always in the same way, and always dependent on the openness of the caring being that receives it as principle. Therefore, a principle is any object that opens itself up, presents itself, reveals itself, to the caring being.
Being, therefore, would appear to be the openness of the object – that is, Being is that which is open. It would appear, therefore, that for Heidegger, Being is not a thing, but a state of beings. Are beings always Being? One would have to respond in the negative, in the sense that, any being that is hidden, not present, not open, or not manifest, is not Being.
Before we can finish our explanation of Being, however, we must ask one last question: “what is the relation of Being and beings to particular interpretations?” This, of course, brings up the question of interpretation. In the first appendix, where Heidegger discusses his understanding of presuppositions, he notes that “This consideration of the presupposition is meant to call attention to the conditionality of the interpretation.” A lot of philosophers rightly get up in arms when they hear a claim such as this, and Heidegger is fully aware of why. He claims that interpretations are conditional, which is meant “to prevent taking the interpretations dogmatically, as if they were expounded from some sort of dogmatic tendency. The rejection of such claims to validity brings us, especially in philosophy, under the rubric of ‘relativism’ – ‘skepticism.’” Heidegger is not worried so much about being called a skeptic, as he has already claimed that skepticism is the essence of philosophy. However, Heidegger is thoroughly against equating his views with relativism as he views the terms relativism and skepticism, as they refer to the question of knowledge, to be invalid labels. Relativism and skepticism can only be properly used when discussing the question of absolute truth.
If Heidegger does not think that his view equates to relativism or skepticism, then what could he possibly mean when he talks about the conditionality of interpretations? The question of what Heidegger means by interpretation becomes even more important when we consider that by asking not “What is Being?”, but, “what is the sense of being?”, he is asking for the interpretational meaning of Being. As such, the question of interpretation and the question of Being are intricately intertwined in Heidegger’s lectures. As such, he could be understood as claiming that either, (a) the traditional understanding of Being is flawed or incomplete and needs to be completed by a different interpretation of the sense of Being, or, (b) that the traditional understanding of Being is but a false interpretation of the sense of Being and needs to be replaced, or (c) that the traditional interpretation of Being is, quite simply, one interpretation of Being among many, none of which can be dogmatically proposed as true. In light of the comments above about the conditionality of interpretation and the invalidity of a dogmatic tendency, it would seem that Heidegger is claiming the latter – (c).
This notion should be rejected, however, in light of the following considerations. When we consider his discussion of absolute truth, he claims, first of all, that philosophy is simply incapable of obtaining absolutely valid truth, and, secondly, that “the ideal possibility of absolute knowledge is but a dream. As historiological knowledge, philosophy not only can not, but also must not, entertain any such dream.” There is, for Heidegger, no such thing as absolute knowledge, and no such thing as an objective order of determinate knowledge, “As long as philosophy cannot provide this certification, as long as we do not childishly close our eyes to the changes to which even the strongest philosophical positions are subject… then we have, as a matter of principle, no right to assign philosophy the standard of absolute truth.” Philosophy, is, in its most profound essence, a perpetual questioning, as such, it cannot dream of obtaining truth, which would be the end of questioning. To posit proposition x as true is, according to Heidegger, to end all questioning, and, therefore, to bring philosophy to an end. As such, to think that we are able to dogmatically talk about Being is to be misled. Being is always different because it always presents itself to different people in different ways, in different circumstances, and at different times. As such, the question of Being is always an open question. Therefore, Heidegger is actually proposing option (b) that the traditional understanding of Being is but a false interpretation of the sense of Being and needs to be replaced. The traditional understanding of Being poses dogmas, and, as such, is anti-philosophical. It is an interpretation of Being that proposes itself as THE only interpretation of Being.
Heidegger is proposing that, (i) due to the sense of Being, in which it is the openness or manifestation of beings to the caring being (which is, itself, open or manifest when it receives the openness of open beings), and due to the (ii) proper understanding of philosophy, as a perpetual questioning of the Being of beings, therefore, (iii) there is no neutral position from which one may determine dogmatically just what Being is, and, in so doing, provide an absolutely true description of the way things are. We are always in our own world, enveloped by our own interpretations of the way things are. This is not relativism, for Heidegger, because this is not an epistemological theory. This is an ontological theory. It is not a claim about what we know or can know, but about the way things are. This theory is, therefore, a hermeneutical theory of Being, that requires innumerable interpretative schemes, none of which can claim absolute truth, all of which truly encounter Being in beings. Not every interpretative scheme, however, is valid. Any interpretative scheme that steps out of perpetual questioning of Being by posing dogmas that are held to be absolutely true has fallen out of the factical life into nothingness.
Martin Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: Initiation into Phenomenological Research, trans. by Richard Rojcewicz (2001; repr., Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009), xiii. The translator also mentions that this work comes from his “first period of teaching at Freiburg (Ibid.)”.
Heidegger, in fact, in considering the categories of relationality of the comportment of the factical life avoids taking too long in considering those categories that are not important for the question « What is philosophy? »
Ibid., 11. This is not how the lecture series begins. The questioning of philosophy does not actually begin until part 2 of the lecture series. The questioning of philosophy is raised by the problematic of the interpretation and reception of Aristotle, as Heidegger covered it in part 1. As Heidegger says, “If it is genuine, a concretely determined problematic of philosophical research will run in its own directedness to the end, an end philosophy as such must have made fast for itself. (Ibid.)” But, in order for this to happen we must first know what Philosophy is, “That question must be posed with sufficient clarity, sufficient for the situation and the problematic in which the question is posed, if indeed every concrete investigation is to have a secure direction, a corresponding methodological integrity, and a genuine pertinence. (Ibid.)”
The notion of possession is important in this lecture series. There are different modes of possession (Ibid., 15-16, 19, 22-23, 27, 40, 44, 87, 129, 135.), some of which are authentic (Ibid., 27, 29, 44.), comportments are possessed (Ibid., 46, 47, 48.), objects are possessed (in fact, objectivity just is to be in possession of an objective life, which is a life that is filled with possessions. Cf. Ibid., 68.), and, possessing, itself, is a being (Ibid., 85.).
Existence, in this lecture series, is roughly equivalent to life. After discussing three different senses of ‘life’, Heidegger declares that “a peculiar prevailing sense now resounds: life = existence, “being” in and through life. (Ibid., 64. Cf. Ibid., 96, 105.)”
Ibid., 64, 78.
Ibid., 64, 96, 105.
Ibid., 65, 73.
Heidegger’s description of world is quite elaborate. He explains that there are a number of different worlds. He discusses the world in which caring (the factical life) lives (Ibid., 71, 95, 96, 111, 129, 130, 131.), and then three basic worlds: the surrounding world (Ibid., 71-74, 95-96, 99, 107, 109-110.), the shared world (Ibid., 71-73, 136.), and one’s own world (Ibid., 71-73, 131.). He also notes that the shared world and one’s own world can both be characterized as a surrounding world (Ibid., 96.).
Ibid., 40, 93, 135.
Ibid., 40, 45-46, 93, 102, 104-105, 110, 135, 138, 146.
Ibid., 40, 42, 46, 135, 146.
Ibid., 65, 73. Life is, in fact, always held together, or related, to the world (Ibid., 65, 88.).
Ibid., 85, 87, 95, 96, 98, 100.
Ibid., 70, 73, 74, 86, 87, 92, 95, 107.
Ibid., 75-82, 88, 90, 92, 94, 95, 101, 105, 106.
Ibid., 75-77, 81, 82, 88-90, 93, 94, 101-102, 106.
Ibid., 77-78, 82, 90-91, 93, 94, 101-102, 106, 107.
Ibid., 78-81, 82, 91-94, 101-102, 106.
Ibid., 87-94, 97, 129, 132.
Ibid., 88-99, 106, 114.
Ibid., 88-99, 106.
Ibid., 90, 98-115, 121, 138, 139.
Ibid., 104-115, 138.
Ibid., 108-110. Heidegger argues that the collapse cannot fall onto itself, nor can it fall onto something unlike itself, therefore, it necessarily falls onto nothing (Ibid., 108, 109-110.).
The factical life is one of the most important concepts in the entire lecture series, and is discussed, alluded to, described, or otherwise mentioned throughout (Ibid., 61, 66-68, 70, 71, 80, 81, 84, 89, 91-95, 97, 98, 100-115, 122, 127, 130-134, 138.)
Ibid., 113, 133.
Ibid., 94-95, 114, 134.
Ibid., 148. This quote reminds one of Heidegger’s claim, at the end of his concluding lecture in the Seminar on Hegel, The Onto-theo-logical constitution of Metaphysics, « The god-less thinking which must abandon the god of philosophy, god as causa sui, is thus perhaps closer to the divine God. Here this means only: god-less thinking is more open to Him than onto-theo-logic would like to admit. (Martin Heidegger, The Onto-theo-logical constitution of Metaphysics, in Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh (1969; repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 72.)” One is also reminded of his claim, in the Introduction to Metaphysics, that in order to authentically ask a question one must take a leap, on must not pose an answer to the question prior to the asking, as such, “A ‘Christian philosophy’ is a round square and a misunderstanding…Philosophy, for originally Christian faith, is foolishness. (Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 8 . The number in the square brackets refers to the pagination in the german edition.)”
Ibid., 47, 48.
Ibid., 49, 57, 126.
Ibid., 85, 87, 102, 105, 106, 127, 141, 142.
It should be noted, that according to Heidegger’s own terms, anything that is not capable of posing itself in a stance towards things does not exist, if it does not exist, to not exist is to not possess life (Ibid., 64, 68, 96, 105.). This does not, however mean that it is not a being, as life is, itself, a being (Ibid., 87.).
Ibid., 44. This answer, of course, raises the question of what Heidegger means by « universal ». Heidegger, in this lecture series, does not appear to articulate his understanding of what he means by universal. He uses this term very rarely. He uses it twice in explaining what he considers to be the mistaken purpose of “definition”, where he first says that, “Here the principle is the universal, the most general, that which holds ‘for’ everything, ‘in every case,’ that on which all the particular instances depend, whence they receive their essential determination. (Ibid., 18.)” He later says that “where a comprehensive universal resides in the grasping tendency precisely qua universal, functioning as a principle, there that for which the intended principle can be a principle is necessarily a matter of fact, and that toward which the principle points is a particular case. (Ibid. 20.)” I would propose that we are warranted to claim that when Heidegger says that Being is not a universal, he is basically claiming that Being is not “the most general, that which holds ‘for’ everything, ‘in every case,’ that on which all the particular instances depend, whence they receive their essential determination. (Ibid., 18.)” This may cause difficulties for Heidegger later, however, given the context of the surrounding discussion I see no other way to understand this claim for the time being. We will consider, later, Heidegger’s understanding of principle.
Ibid. In light of the conclusions of footnote 60, this third claim may simply be the repetition or emphasis of the first point.
Cf. Ibid., 41, 44, 48.
Ibid., 44. Cf. 45.
It should immediately be noted that this is not the only understanding of universal, nor of principle, in the history of philosophical thought.
Note that the principle is a ‘thing’ – an object – not an ‘idea’ or ‘law’.
It should be noted that Heidegger is diametrically opposed to all tradition (religious, scientific and philosophical), because, by definition, tradition is a dogmatic posing of an answer to the question, and, as such, a falling into nothingness. Cf. Ibid., 18-19, 33, 35, 56-58, 84, 91, 125, 126, 134, 135.