Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy

Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy

by Martin Heidegger, Robert D. Metcalf, Mark B. Tanzer

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Near-legendary Lectures on Greek philosophy

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Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy

By Martin Heidegger, Robert D. Metcalf, Mark B. Tanzer

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2009 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35349-8


Consideration of Definition as the Place of the Explicability of the Concept and the Return to the Ground of Definition

§3. The Determination of the Concept through the Doctrine of Definition in Kant's Logic.

"Logic" answers the question: what is meant by concept? There is no "logic" in the sense that one speaks of it simply as "logic." "Logic" is an outgrowth of Hellenistic scholasticism, which adapted the philosophical research of the past in a scholastic manner. Neither Plato nor Aristotle knew of "logic." Logic, as it prevailed in the Middle Ages, may be defined as a matter of concepts and rules, scholastically compiled. "Logical problems" emerge from the horizon of a scholastic imparting of issues; its interest lies not in a confrontation with things, but rather with the imparting of definite technical possibilities.

In this logic, one speaks of definition as the means by which the concept undergoes determination. We will, therefore, be able to see, in the consideration of definition, what one properly means by concept and conceptuality. We wish to keep to the Kantian Logic in order to see what is said about definition in the context of actual research, that is, in the only one since Aristotle. Kant is the only one who lets logic become vital. This logic operates in its entirely traditional form afterward in the Hegelian dialectic, which in a completely un- creative way merely adapts traditional logical materials in definite respects.

When we consult Kant's characterization of definition, we are struck by the fact that definition is treated in the chapter entitled "General Doctrine of Method." Definition is a methodological issue, designed to lend precision to knowledge. It is treated as the means for conveying the "precision of concepts with regard to their content." Through definition the precision of concepts is conveyed. However, definition is, at the same time, a concept: "The definition alone is [...] a logically complete concept." Therefore, we do not discover, fundamentally, what a concept is without going beyond the definition, and so we must take up what Kant himself says about the concept.

Every intuition, he says, is a representatio singularis. The concept, however, is also a representatio, a "self-presenting," but, in this case, a representatio per notas communes. The concept is distinguished from intuition by the fact that, as a presenting, it presents something that has the character of generality. It is a "general representation."

To better understand this, Kant quite clearly says, in the introduction to the Logic that in every cognition, matter is to be distinguished from form, "the manner in which we cognize the object." A savage sees a house and, unlike us, does not know its for-what; he has a different "concept" of the house than we who know our way around in it. Indeed, he sees the same being, but the knowledge of the use escapes him; he does not understand what he should do with it. He forms no concept of house. We know what it is for, and thus we represent something general to ourselves. We who know the use that one could make of it have the concept of house. The concept goes beyond answering the question of what the object is.

The conceptuality and the sense of the concept depend on how one understands, in general, the question concerning what something is, where this question originates. The concept yields what the object, the res, is in the explicitness of the definition. Therefore the genuine definition is the so-called "real definition," which thus determines what the res in itself is. Definitio is fulfilled through the specification of differences in genus and species. At first glance, this procedure seems odd in this context; one does not immediately understand why in particular the genus and the species should determine the object in its What. It is noteworthy that Kant now says that, to be sure, the real definition has the task of determining the What of the matter from the "first ground" of its "possibility," or of determining the matter according to its "inner possibility." But the determination of the definition, as occurring through genus proximum et differentiam specificam, only counts for the "nominal definition" that is generated by comparison. And precisely in the case of the definition of the res, this way of determining does not come into play.

For Kant's position, the two characteristic aspects are (1) that the definitio is discussed in the doctrine of method and (2) that he determines the basic procedure of the definitio in such a way that it does not come into play for genuine definition.

We will inquire back so as to ask ourselves the following: How does it really come about that the definitio determines the being in its being? How does it come about that a definitio, which is genuine knowledge of the matter, becomes a matter of logical perfection? In this, Kant's position on definitio, lies the fate of Aristotelian research.

We therefore inquire back: definitio is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a "self-expression" about being-there as being. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is not a way of apprehending through sharp determination, but rather the specific character of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ultimately arises from the fact that the being itself is determined in its being as circumscribed by the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Being means being-completed.

§4. The Aspects of the Conceptuality of Aristotle's Basic Concepts and the Question Concerning Their Indigenous Character

What authorized the return to definition was the fact that, according to traditional logic, the concept is expressed in the genuine sense through definition, that in the definition the concept comes to itself. The concept is, for Kant, distinguished from intuition insofar as intuition simply sees an individual in its being-there, while the concept sees the same object but, so to speak, understands it. In the representatio of the concept, I know what one understands by it, and another also knows. That is, the concept makes the represented intelligible for others too, and thus it is a general representation. The concept of a represented res makes the represented matter intelligible to others also; it represents the matter with a certain bindingness. In the definition, the concept is to come to itself. The definition should yield a matter in such a way that it is represented and understood in the ground of its possibility, that I know whence it comes, what it is, why it is that. The genuine definition is that of the matter, the real definition. In the Middle Ages, genuine definition is the real and essential definition. It is genuine and is accomplished insofar as the basic procedure of definition is satisfied, insofar as one specifies the penultimate type or genus of an object, as well as its specific difference. Thus, for example, a circle is a closed, curved line (genus), on which every point is equidistant from the center (specific difference). Or, homo animal (genus) rationale (specific difference).

We go back to Aristotle in order to show that what, in traditional logic, is treated as definitio has a fully determinate origin, that definition is a symptom of decline, a mere thought technique that was once the basic possibility of human speech. In the definition, the concept becomes explicit. Still, what the concept itself is in its conceptuality is not yet visible. We do not want to merely become acquainted with Aristotelian basic concepts, a mere acquaintance which would lead us to ask such questions as: What did Aristotle mean by movement? What view of movement did he hold as opposed to the Platonic or modern conceptions? Rather, this concept interests us in its conceptuality.

1. We must, therefore, ask what is meant by the concept of movement, in the sense of that which is concretely experienced in the concept as it is meant. What did Aristotle have in mind when he thought of movement? Which moving phenomena did he have in view? Which sense of being did he mean in speaking of a moving being? We do not ask these questions with the aim of gaining knowledge of a conceptual content, but rather we ask how the matter meant is experienced, and, therefore, how:

2. That which is originally seen is primarily addressed. How does Aristotle take the phenomenon of movement? Does he clarify movement by way of concepts or theories that are already available, and that, perhaps Platonistically, lead him to say that movement is a transition from a nonbeing to a being? Or is it that those determinations that arise for him lie in the phenomenon itself? In what way is a phenomenon like movement addressed so as to accord with the guiding claim of the matter seen?

3. How is the phenomenon thus seen unfolded more precisely; into what sort of conceptuality is it, as it were, spoken? What claim of intelligibility is demanded of that which is thus seen? This leads to the question concerning the originality of the explication: Is the explication proposed to the phenomenon, or is it measured by the phenomenon?

These three aspects point to conceptuality without exhausting it, (1) therefore the basic experience in which I make the concrete character accessible to myself. This basic experience is primarily not theoretical, but instead lies in the commerce of life with its world, (2) the guiding claim, and (3) the specific character of intelligibility, the specific tendency toward intelligibility.

We will interrogate Aristotle's basic concepts from these three points of view. We will see whether the matters meant by these basic concepts are thereby genuinely understood. The purpose of focusing on conceptuality is to notice that in conceptuality what constitutes the fulfillment of the questioning and determining of all scientific research is set in motion. It is not a matter of cognizance but of understanding. You have a genuine task to carry out: not of philosophizing but rather of becoming attentive, from where you are situated, to the conceptuality of a science, to really come to grips with it, and to pursue it in such a way that the research fulfillment of conceptuality becomes vital. It is not a matter of studying all of the scientific theories that periodically appear! By paying attention to the proper fulfillment of a specific science, you attain a legitimate, proper, and serious relation to the matter of your science. Not in such a way that you can apply Aristotelian concepts, but rather in doing for your science what Aristotle did in his place and in the context of his research, namely, to see and to determine the matters with the same originality and legitimacy. I simply have the task of providing the opportunity for Aristotle to put the matter before you.

Thus if we interrogate Aristotle's basic concepts according to their conceptuality, it is necessary that we understand how this conceptuality holds the aforementioned aspects together, where they genuinely belong; where basic experience, claim, and tendency toward intelligibility are indigenous. We will have to seek out the indigenous character of conceptuality—for we want to understand not just any basic concepts, but Aristotle's. We will have to consult the way that Greek conceptuality and its indigenous character look. Only then can we securely pursue the scientific explication as Aristotle conducted it.

§5. Return to the Ground of Definition

By going back to what definition originally was, we might also learn what it originally was that one today designates as concept.

a) The Predicables

Genus and species are characteristics that determine every definition. However, they are not the only determining factors. These factors include the further moment of proprium and of differentia specifica as such. These aspects, which guide concept-formation, are called predicables or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. These [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] were systematically treated for the first time by Porphyry in his introduction to Aristotle's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. This [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] was then translated into Latin by Boethius and became the basic text on logical questions in the Middle Ages. The so-called controversy over universals of the Middle Ages developed in connection with this [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. There are five predicables:

1. Genus est unum, quod de pluribus specie differentibus in eo quod quid est praedicatur. "Curved, closed line"—the genus of the circle—is predicated of many things that are distinct in species (ellipse). Still, the predicate captures what the circle in itself is.

2. Species est unum, quod de pluribus solo numero differentibus in eo quod quid est praedicatur. The individual circle solo numero differunt.

3. Differentia specifica aut [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] est unum, quod de pluribus praedicatur in quale essentiale, "with respect to that which belongs to what they are," such as the rationality of the human being.

4. Proprium est unum, quod de pluribus praedicatur in quale necessarium, a "necessary" determination that belongs to the thing, but also lies outside of the essential context of genus and species.

5. Accidens est unum, quod de pluribus praedicatur in quale contingens, insofar as that which is addressed is "haphazard" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).

These praedicabilia are also called universalia. The precise distinction consists in the fact that universale means: unum quod est in pluribus, as opposed to praedicabile: unum quod de pluribus praedicatur. Hence the question of whether the general actually exists in the things or is only the generality of apprehending thought (Realism—Nominalism). This question also has its origin in determinate concrete contexts of Greek philosophy, or better in scholastic misunderstandings thereof.


We are now investigating conceptuality and its indigenous character by going back from definitio as technical instrument to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "limitation." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a "speaking" about something, an addressing of the matter "itself in that which it is," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. A [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: the matter "in itself," and only it, is and should be addressed. Thus the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is determined as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] means: "making known with ...," "making familiar with ...," presenting a matter. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is making one familiar with a being in its being. What does [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] say? (1) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (2) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]?

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: "speaking," not in the sense of uttering a sound but speaking about something in a way that exhibits the about-which of speaking by showing that which is spoken about. The genuine function of the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the "bringing of a matter to sight." Every speaking is, above all for the Greeks, a speaking to someone or with others, with oneself or to oneself. Speaking is in concrete being-there, where one does not exist alone, speaking with others about something. Speaking with others about something is, in each case, a speaking out of oneself. In speaking about something with others, I express myself (spreche ich mich aus), whether explicitly or not.

What is this [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]? It is the fundamental determination of the being of the human being as such. The human being is seen by the Greeks as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], not only philosophically but in concrete living: "a living thing that (as living) has language." This definition should not be thought in biological, psychological, social-scientific, or any such terms. This determination lies before such distinctions. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is a concept of being; "life" refers to a mode of being, indeed a mode of being-in-a-world. A living thing is not simply at hand (vorhanden), but is in a world in that it has its world. An animal is not simply moving down the road, pushed along by some mechanism. It is in the world in the sense of having it. The being-in-the-world of the human being is determined in its ground through speaking. The fundamental mode of being in which the human being is in its world is in speaking with it, about it, of it. Thus is the human being determined precisely through the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and in this way you can see where, if definition is a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the matter of definition has its ground insofar as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is the basic determination of the being of the human being. The [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] addresses beings in their [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], in their being-there. Therefore, we must gain an understanding of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].


Excerpted from Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy by Martin Heidegger, Robert D. Metcalf, Mark B. Tanzer. Copyright © 2009 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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