BMCR 2002.05.22

The Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: Initiation into Phenomenological Research. Translated by Richard Rojcewicz

Heidegger, Martin, 1889-1976., Phenomenological interpretations of Aristotle : initiation into phenomenological research. Studies in Continental thought. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001. xiv, 160 pages ; 25 cm.. ISBN 0253339936 $37.95.

Indiana University Press continues its excellent series of translations of Martin Heidegger works with another volume that comprises one of Heidegger’s early productions. However, there is something peculiar to this work which must be cleared up at the outset: the way it stands now, the presence of Aristotle’s name in the main title is nothing more than an accident. I write this to avoid disappointment and to rightly guide the reader. For the reader whose interest is chiefly ‘Aristotle’, this book has little, if anything, to say. It bears no similarity to works such as Aristotle’s Metaphysics Theta 1-3. On the Essence and Actuality of Force 1 or On the Essence and Concept of Physis in Aristotle’s Physics B 1 2 where a particular text or set of themes is targeted and interpreted. And this time it is not the wilful ignorance of an interpretative catechism3 but a completely different issue addressed than Aristotle’s philosophy. On the other hand this text is a more than interesting read for one who is interested in the ‘young’ Heidegger, the one before Sein und Zeit. This being said, however, it is fair to procede with a presentation of the work in an attempt to pin down the context in which Aristotle is actually mentioned and discussed.

In Heidegger’s inventory of works there are two that bear the same title: Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles. They both date from the same epoch and their destinies are interwoven. The one that is the subject of this review bears the subtitle: Einführung in die phänomenologische Forschung (Initiation into Phenomenological Research) while the other bears the subtitle Anzeige der hermeneutischen Situation (Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation).4

Heidegger’s interest in Aristotle was a constant even from the beginning of his academic career. Between 1919 and 1923 he was working on a book, never published, on Aristotle; between 1921-1922 (including the summer of 1922) he lectured on Aristotle at Freiburg and at Marburg in the winter semester of 1923-1924 and the summer semester of 1924. All this work (obviously along with other areas investigated) is somehow part of the work of setting up a philosophical project from which Heidegger published in 1927 only the first part: Sein und Zeit. The text now published by Indiana University Press is the course held by Heidegger at Freiburg in the winter semester of 1921-1922. The homonymous essay mentioned above ( Anzeige …) from the autumn of 1922 follows the course, although it has its own ‘life’, the two texts being largely independent. However both are pieces meant to secure the establishment that is Sein und Zeit and must be regarded as marks on the path towards it.

The work (course-lectures) is divided into three parts,5 first dealing with ‘Aristotle and the Reception of his Philosophy’ (pp. 3-8), second investigating ‘What is philosophy?’ (pp. 11-58) and the third being concerned with the ‘Factical Life’ (pp. 61-115). In addition the volume comprises two appendices: ‘Presuppositions’ (pp. 119-136) and ‘Loose pages’ (pp. 137-149) which might indicate — in the belief of the editors (cf. p. 153) — that Heidegger had the intention of transforming the lectures in a book.

The main theme of the work is the factical life, i.e. human life as such, though there are quite extended reflection about the morphology and the purpose of philosophy. Heidegger is concerned here merely to apply phenomenology, rather than to introduce the audience to a theory of it. For Heidegger, phenomenology is the science of origin and has, as its object, the factical life in its historicity.

The role played by Aristotle in this endeavour, which goes far beyond these lectures, is to provide the ontological coordinates of life : ‘Philosophy is cognitive comportment toward beings, at the level of principle’ (p. 44). However Aristotle himself is scarcely discussed in this work. The most copious passage is to be found at the beginning of the work (pp. 5-8) and is aimed at presenting the so-called opposition between Aristotle and Kant which makes one the exponent of metaphysics while the other is the shatterer of it. The issue will play a great part in Sein und Zeit, where Heidegger will try to investigate (besides other issues) if the question about being is to be found in Kant or not and if Kant himself is a metaphysician.

I mentioned at the beginning of this review that the name of Aristotle in the main title of this work is merely accidental. One might (and many probably would) protest vehemently against such a claim. However, Heidegger himself makes the role played by Aristotle clear here: ‘The beginning of our introductory considerations held out Objectively a specific, delimited task: the interpretation of Aristotle. Thus far, this task has indeed been relegated to the background, yet it remains present inasmuch as it remains the matter at the issue, and, as the concrete nexus of our problematic, the current preliminary considerations are meant to be in service to it and to flow into it’ (p. 82, my italics). Aristotle is one of the elements on which Heidegger’s problematic is based without being here, in these pages, the matter under consideration. However, Heidegger continues: ‘It is not at all as if the present “introductory” matter were the proper, main issue and the interpretation of Aristotle an optional application …, the interpretation of Aristotle were nonbinding, an isolated, abstract appendage, the grasp of which would not have the same urgency as might perhaps attach to the systematic questions of the introduction’ (p. 82). The theoretical (systematic) issues discussed in the ‘introduction’ were to be applied to the interpretation of Aristotle later on: ‘In terms of content, the same three groups of problems we have discussed, more or less determinately, up to now in the introduction will also occupy us in our interpretation of Aristotle: the knowledge of principles which, in its actualisation, concerns its own facticity’ (p.83). The ‘three groups of problems’ are: the problem of the principle, the problem of conceptual articulation and the problem of beings and sense of beings. The work itself is nothing more than a prolegomena to an interpretation of Aristotle and has as its task to lay down the objectives of such an interpretation. Moreover, it has, beyond its prospective aspect, an ideological one as well: it lays down the ‘preconceptions’ with which the interpreter approaches Aristotle: ‘… every interpretation — this applies in a unique way to a phenomenological interpretation — depends on the preconception which guides it’ (p. 84).

It comes out more clearly now, I hope, why in this work as it stands now the presence of Aristotle’s name in the main title is accidental. We have only the prospective and ideological preparation of an interpretation of Aristotle and not an interpretation as such. Moreover, one can question the very legitimacy of publishing this work as a book. By Heidegger’s own testimony, ‘this introduction, if taken and used on its own ( which would be counter to its proclaimed sense), is not one self-subsistent half of a concrete interpretation of Aristotle, which would stand alongside another half, but is, without the latter, in itself nothing, at most a misunderstanding of philosophy’ (p. 84, my italics).

The themes and questions raised in these lectures from the winter semester of 1921-1922 will appear frequently and will be developed or abandoned in Heidegger’s later work, mainly Sein und Zeit. Aristotle’s place here is on a subliminal level: his philosophy is the origin of some of the questions raised by Heidegger and the object of some of his objections. Moreover, Aristotle (together with St. Paul, Augustine, Luther and Kierkegaard on one side and Dilthey and Husserl on the other) can be seen here as part of the material from which Heidegger’s own philosophy launches itself.

[Disclaimer: I have been rather presumptuous and assumed that the chief interest of BMCR readers is in issues concerning the Classical world — whether philosophical or not — and as a consequence I aimed this review at such a category of readers. In fairness I would like to draw attention to the fact that the book itself deserves a more extended discussion which would imply an exegetical approach of ‘early’ Heidegger. Nevertheless I considered such an attempt superfluous in this case.]


1. English translation by W. Brogan and P. Warnek, Indiana University Press 1995.

2. in Martin Heidegger, Pathways, ed. William McNeill, Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 183-230.

3. BMCR 98.11.11.

4. Published in: Dilthey-Jahrbruch für Philosophie und Geschichte der Geisteswissenschaften 6 (1989) pp. 237-274; English translation by M. Baur, Man and World 25, 1992, pp. 355-393. This is an essay written by Heidegger between September and October 1922 and sent by Husserl to Natorp in order to support the candidature of the young Heidegger for a position at Marburg.

5. About the editorial policy in establishing the headings of the text as well as its partitioning cf. the Editors’ Afterword pp. 153-154.