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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Heidegger's Lectures on Aristotle

Alice C. Linsley

Martin Heidegger's early morning lectures at the University of Freiburg focused on the writings of Aristotle. The lectures became known as the "Aristotle breakfast club" and Heidegger's scholarly approach to Aristotle, which was philological, historical and phenomenological, influenced many of his students. Some became scholars of classical and pre-Socratic Greek philosophy; among them were Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, and Leo Strauss. Strauss once wrote that Martin Heidegger impressed him as no other contemporary thinker had.

The influence of Aristotle on Heidegger's work should not be underestimated. He wanted to understand how Aristotle renders a practical understanding of being. In books IV, VI and XI of the Metaphysics, Aristotle defined ontology as the science or theory of being qua being (ὂν ἢ ὀν). It is significant that he expresses it this way and Heidegger took this as his cue to explore being qua being.

Another significant influence on Heidegger's thought was Edmund Husserl. Heidegger pointed out the weaknesses in Husserl's conception of consciousness and cognition, and in developing his thoughts he came to recognize that he was once again dealing with Plato and Aristotle. He wrote, "Phenomenology radicalized in its ownmost possibility is nothing but the questioning of Plato and Aristotle brought back to life: the repetition, the retaking of the beginning of our scientific philosophy." (History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena, p. 136)

As Heidegger read long passages of Aristotle in Greek to his students, he explored the texts in a scholarly manner, drawing on philology, history, and literary criticism. He found that ontological research is essentially historical. It requires looking behind the text; being conscious of what can be seen through the text. He wrote, "It is necessary to surpass Aristotle - not in a forward direction in the sense of a progression, but rather backwards in the direction of a more original unveiling of what is comprehended by him." (Aristotle's Metaphysics [theta] 1-3: On the Essence and Actuality of Force, p. 69)

Related reading: Crash Course on Phenomenology; Learning to Question Narratives; Dreyfus on Metaphysics and Phenomenology; George Pattison on Martin Heidegger

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