Guide Entity and Existence: An Ontological Investigation of Aristotle and Heidegger

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You previously purchased this article through ReadCube. Institutional Login. Log in to Wiley Online Library. Purchase Instant Access. View Preview. Learn more Check out. Volume 13 , Issue 1 March Pages Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. Browse All Figures Return to Figure. Previous Figure Next Figure. Email or Customer ID. Forgot password? Old Password. New Password. This model is formative for the Greek experience of the world. By the mid s, when Heidegger takes up technology as his principal theme, his views have undergone two important shifts.

The results of his research into the Greeks are now recast as a historical stage in a process that cannot be fully understood from his own earlier standpoint. This even includes the ordinary material objects that become the raw materials of technical work. These materials are understood from out of their place in production rather than as pre-existing objects of observation. There is thus something like a phenomenological reduction at work here.

Both concepts differ from the idea of theoretical knowledge in describing the practical intelligence associated with the movement of factical life. In this early anticipation of the analytic of Dasein Aristotle is implausibly attributed a philosophical anthropology based on a phenomenological ontology. This approach to Aristotle is concretized fruitfully by identifying the inner structure of Aristotelian kinesis with production.

Heidegger analyzes this structure in several dimensions, including its relation to the capacities of the producer and to the form and product of the activity of production. Heidegger claims that the Aristotelian concept of movement is derived from the notion of rest as completion, as the standing still in which movement terminates. Although movement is interpreted through its terminus, the completed work must not be isolated from the process of its emergence.

The unfolding of that process is implied in its end. Movement is understood through rest, but rest itself is a kind of zero point of movement and as such a form of movement. This dialectic of movement and rest conforms with our common sense understanding of animal behavior. For the animal, immobility is a special kind of movement requiring a specific effort rather than a state of indifference, as it seems to be for a rock or other inanimate thing.

Hence Aristotle does not share our idea of movement as a contingent interaction between a mutually indifferent cause and its effect. Since the Aristotelian thing is drawn to the endpoint of its own development, if that endpoint implies a specific spatial location it will come to rest there as it is fulfilled. What is lost in the concept of nature is the dynamic character of physis, which refers to the movement in which the thing brings itself forth into appearance. The emergence of the thing out of itself is most obvious in the case of plants and animals.

They are in some sense the archetype of physis insofar as their existence must be grasped as a process. The plant, Heidegger says, has its arche in its rootedness in the earth from out of which it emerges.

Martin Heidegger on The Ontic and the Ontological (Being and Time) - Philosophy Core Concepts

It stands forth from the earth by going back into the earth, sinking its roots in its source. This double movement—standing forth and going back—characterizes the specific motility of what we call natural things. It is tempting in a modern context to consider physis as a kind of self-making.

In modern biology, the organism is conceived as a multiplicity of interacting physico-chemical machines, causes. But Heidegger argues that this modern conception is completely un-Greek. From the Greek standpoint, the important point is the form and direction of the process of emergence, not its cause in our modern sense. There is no concern with causality here at all. But he has two rather different accounts. The term refers rather to know-how in general. Know-how in this sense is what is involved in bringing beings forward as themselves, that is, in recognizing them under this or that category as useful in this or that context or activity AP, , Rather, things enter a world through their interpretation in terms of a meaning and a use.

This incorporation of things into humanly organized worlds can be understood through the concept of the eidos, or essence, which Heidegger associates closely with techne. The things of physis have their arche in themselves. They are self-originating. They are made or at least helped into being through the mediation of an agent. However, Heidegger gives even this more conventional understanding of the term an unfamiliar twist.

It consists essentially in bringing the process of making to completion in the conformity of the produced thing with its essence. This kind of know-how is directed toward the end or goal of production rather than the means. It is productive in the sense of bringing the thing forward, producing it like a witness in court, first as idea, and then in reality. In so doing it goes beyond physis to bring forth another type of being which, Heidegger argues, is not the product of arbitrary will, but of a logos.

This definition suggests that the logos is related to the essence of things and to the articulation of that essence in speech. But note that Heidegger finds the logos at work not only in theoretical knowledge, but also in circumspection, the most basic familiarity with things that accompanies action. At every level of cognition, the logos indicates the functions of unifying and making explicit involved in the intelligent encounter with the world.

IEP 508: Nature in Romantic and European Thought

But what is involved in the work of the logos? What does it actually encompass? It is, says Heidegger, a kind of rule or law immanent to the elements it gathers. The gathering act is an interpretation of these elements as belonging together in a model of the thing. This model is not simply the empirical givenness of the thing but its finished and perfected form. To grasp X as Y is the essential act of intelligence and this act, for the Greeks, takes the form of an idealization. Recall that for Plato each art is governed by a logos.

The art of shipbuilding, for example, gathers materials and plans under the leading idea, the logos, the ideal model, of a ship that will be strong and reliable, and perhaps also suitable for carrying large quantities of goods, fast, or excellent in warfare, depending on its type. In modern terms we conceive the end as a subjective goal and the limit as an external barrier to movement or extension.

Heidegger reverses the terms of this modern understanding of the eidos. The end and limit are in fact the finished product itself insofar as it conforms to the eidos and embodies the specific limitation that makes it this particular thing rather than another. The telos is not in the mind of the maker nor is the peras external to the work.

In this sense, he claims, Aristotle places the actual before the potential, as more ontologically fundamental.

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  • Form is the eidos realized in an appropriate matter of some sort. In this sense it is not what we understand as form in the usual meaning of the word. The eidos is not so much an idea as the real being of the thing to be made, what it most intrinsically is prior to any and all ideas. As such the eidos must appear, come into presence, through a process of formation of its material, the hyle. Form is a state of being of that material, not something extrinsic that happens to it accidentally.

    Form is the movement toward completion that overtakes and transforms the material, stripping it of its imperfection as it proceeds. We can of course reconceptualize all this in common sense terms and think of eidos and form as subjective ideas in the head of the maker, matter as objective things in the world, and their encounter as a contingent happening caused by human will. This is precisely the modern conception of technology which Heidegger claims is alien to the Greeks. In that meaning, the emergence of the thing is thought through the process of formation.

    Work is not an accident that befalls indifferent raw materials but the entry of the crafted object into a world. The thing must not be conceived objectivistically outside its relation to the process in which it emerges from the work of the craftsman. Existence and essence are not yet separate as they are for us.

    They encompass the activity of production and its result. As such they are dialectical categories, for each aspect of production is tied to a contrary aspect in many different ways. Just as raw materials correspond to form, so to clumsy action there corresponds a skill, to every potentiality an actuality, and so on. This dialectical pattern is repeated over and over. As we will see, this dialectical character of production is the result of its ontologically original function of revealing. Dynamis is usually translated as either potentiality or force.

    The material, hyle, has the dynamis, the potential, to become the finished work. The energeia instantiates the eidos, brings it to presence. The second meaning of dynamis refers us to the craftsman, the producer, who possesses the force or capacity to make the work. Dynamis in this sense is subjected to a very complex analysis by Aristotle, which Heidegger explains at length in his commentary on Book theta of the Metaphysics.

    This analysis also covers aspects of dynamis in the first sense, as the appropriate materials, and relates it to the skill of the producer. The two together constitute the full meaning of dynamis. They are mutually implicated in a dialectic of action and passion, creation and receptivity. The clay is not simply there to be formed into a jug; insofar as it is part of the process of production, it demands the achievement of form.

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    This readiness is not so much an orientation toward a goal, a wish or striving, as a discrimination and selection of precisely those actions which enable the movement of the produced thing from potential to actuality. Dynamis thus has a third dialectical character.

    The force for producing is always an exclusion of acts that would be unproductive, a leaving undone of those many mistaken moves that would prevent rather than further the realization of the work. What is not done belongs just as much to the essence of force as what is done. There is yet a further dialectic of force identified by Aristotle. As blindness is to sight, so every unforce is to its corresponding force.

    This relationship is clear in the fact that performances based on a capacity are not merely done but are always done either well or poorly. The criterion of performance is implicit in the very fact of performance and is derived from the good performance rather than the bad.

    The bad is condemned by its failure to conform to this criterion. A normative dimension thus inheres in the nature of dynamis. This is the relation of each specific force to the contraries it mediates. The healing art aims at health by addressing sickness as its problem task. Fire acts to be sure, but not through a logos but, as we moderns would put it, causally. The physician acts in this gap between the contraries he addresses to favor one against the other. Nothing of the sort is involved in natural movement. We have seen the dialectical character of Greek productivism.

    But these Greek contraries are not modern antinomies. Each contrary implies its other and comes to rest in its other. Not only are the contraries mutually implicated, they are engaged in a development, a kinesis with a pre-established telos. It is interesting to note that Heidegger identifies the steresis character of the contraries as a central theme in both Aristotle and Hegel S, , Reconciliation of the contraries, ideal and real, is of course central in both albeit in different ways.

    The Greeks live in a world in which everything has its place and achieves the ideal in striving for self-completion according to its own inner tendencies. But this is a world that no longer exists. Modernity consists in the diremption of the contraries into opposing principles. Heidegger will attempt to overcome this tragic situation and restore the original harmony.

    This is not to say the Greeks thought that physis, nature itself, was a manufactured object. Rather, it is the structure of production as described above that founds ontology for the Greeks. The thing places itself into appearance in the eidos that encompasses its completed and finished form and so enters the world. Of course the analysis can only be applied to being in general with certain modifications to take into account the difference between physis and artifacts.

    These modifications have to do with the difference between what has its arche in itself and in another. This determines the place of the eidos in the process. The eidos can either guide the craftsman in placing an artifact in the world, or, in the case of physis, actually place itself into the world directly and immediately, without the intervention of another.

    This self-placing of the eidos into existence is, however, structurally similar to production. Until the mid s, Heidegger has a primarily positive view of this approach and Being and Time is influenced by it. The production model translates between ancient and existential ontology. Being means being-produced and, as having been produced, being of significance relative to certain tendencies to have dealings with it, i. However, as he develops his critique of technology, Heidegger begins to argue that the production model is the source of modern technological metaphysics and therefore fundamentally misguided.

    Already in the period when he is actually writing Being and Time, he begins to retreat from the position sketched in the early Aristotle lecture. In some of his later works the Greek concept of production is redefined by Heidegger as a purely ideal process of manifesting. Production is cut loose from its common sense roots in the making of artifacts and becomes a synonym for revealing AP, Salvation will come from a domain beyond production. We are now ready for the last act in this Heideggerian drama.

    I will not belabor it here. We measure, plan, and control ceaselessly, reducing everything, including ourselves, to resources and system components. It is transformed into a source of energy to be extracted and delivered. Modernity is the total mobilization of the world by humans who are themselves mobilized in the process. It dissolves all traditions, the linguistic heritage, the fixed meanings on the basis of which people have engaged with the world in the past. Being becomes the object of pure will and the meaning of things derives from their place in the technological system rather than from an eidos.

    What is this saving power and what does it promise? The passage in which it is introduced is positively dizzying. I will try to summarize it here. But what is essence? In the case of enframing, it is not a genus under which particular devices would fall. This blocking shows up in the collapse of the Greek concept of essence as the permanently enduring, the eidos.

    This mysterious formula means that the revealing itself, as the granting of a world to man, is the ultimate essence from out of which we must think the enframing. Never has such a succession of non sequiturs played such an important role in the history of philosophy! Is Heidegger dismissing the Greek concept of essence and substituting a different concept and if so what justifies such a radical revision of one of the foundations of Western philosophy? Surely not a vague etymological argument inspired by Goethe! How can technology, the revealing which precisely blocks awareness of revealing, itself be the bridge to that very awareness?

    And what is the logical connection between all these themes? To answer these questions—and it is possible to answer them more or less—it is necessary to consider the difference between the Greek and the modern encounter with being. Heidegger notes that the Greeks discovered being but then failed to ask the question of being. They were blinded by their own discovery which led them no further than an investigation into the nature of beings. They turned too quickly from the fact of the revealing to what was revealed.

    Here is how Heidegger explains it. With this the Greeks made the fundamental discovery that the very possibility of knowing things depends on knowing them as …. The Greeks explained this with the concept of presence as producedness. Our everyday commerce with the world is based on anticipation.

    Heidegger appears to accept a variant of the Platonic position. All acquaintance with particular facts presupposes an ability to perceive them as something. Thus our experience is constantly guided by concepts. The particulars of sense experience are not what is most real and concrete. What is primary are the ideas that enable those particulars to emerge as what they are.

    The concept of a seeing which produces its object has emerged more than once in the history of philosophy.

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    Its most important consequence has no doubt been for aesthetics, where it was introduced by Kant to explain the nature of artistic production. The artist produces the concrete work in all its sensuous details in the very process of conceptualizing it. Heidegger seems to be gesturing in this direction, although, faithful to his phenomenological method, he complicates things by asserting that for the Greeks this productive seeing is actually an uncovering of being in the form of pregiven meanings and not an arbitrary act of creation.

    The Greek revealing is both a noble and a restricted encounter with being. Its nobility lies in the recognition that the forms of beings, the eidos, are not arbitrary products of human will, but arise from being itself. The Greeks knew that Being grants itself to man in a revealing which requires man as a witness. But the restriction limiting the Greeks lies in their inability to get beyond the eidos to its source in a process of revealing they could not conceptualize. Why not? For the Greeks, the discovery of the eidos exhausts the content of human witnessing. It is this turn from Being as revealing to the revealed eidos of beings that eventually leads through the many stages of Western thought to the final culmination in technology. Heidegger, like the Greeks, affirms both the independent reality of being and the ontological significance of human witnessing, but the precise role of witnessing differs for each of them.

    Heidegger emphasizes the fact that the Greeks passed without pausing to reflect on the nature of their encounter with being from wonder at being to the invention of the sciences. It was the very strength of the Greeks, their harmonious relation to the world, that blocked their progress toward a deeper understanding. The Greeks did not question the essences they attributed to things and so did not ask how things could appear in the light of their essence.

    That question, the question of being, can only occur where the very concept of essence is called into question. We ask that question in the modern world because we incessantly take apart and reconstruct the beings around us in the works of technology. This assault on beings does not bring them to completion in pre-given forms but proceeds according to subjectively elaborated plans. The modern technological revealing sweeps away all concepts of essence and leaves only a collection of fungible stuff available for human ordering in arbitrary patterns.

    We recognize, as the Greeks did not, the ungrounded nature of the eidos. While they knew its source to be outside themselves in Being, they had no way of justifying this insight to the ages to come. Modernity is the unleashing of this arbitrariness in the technological expression of human will. We have discovered the active involvement of human beings in the meaning of beings even if we express this insight in a distorted form as subjectivism and nihilism. With this we are free to move in two different directions. We can dismiss essence as merely arbitrary and subjective with a consequent overlooking of the whole question of being.

    This is the modern technological outlook. Lost in this leveling is not just human dignity, but also awareness of the unique role of the human being as the site of experience, the locus of world-shaping encounters with Being. But there is a second path opened up by the deconstruction of essences. The concept of essence, Heidegger argues, refers to what is permanent and enduring. But just insofar as essences are dissolved in the acid of modernity, the role of the human being in revealing comes to the fore.

    It is not nature alone which reveals Being; human being too is actively involved. The belongingness of human being and Being in the making of worlds is the only constant that remains, and recognition of this fact is finally possible in modern times. Instead, he looks forward to a new era in which new gods will enable human beings to reclaim their place in a world no longer shrouded in a technological order. The new era will use technology but it will not be technological.

    The language in which he expresses himself seems strangely twisted. This is not arbitrary but results from his fundamental method. He is attempting to think the Western metaphysical tradition as a whole without being limited to the terms of its latest stage, the stage in which, of course, he is himself situated.

    How is this possible? By a strict abstention from the forms of thought and language of the tradition. Thus Heidegger must write under constraint. In the background of his thought there is always the unexpressed jousting with the tradition from which he is struggling to free himself. The difficulty for us, his readers, arises where the constraint under which he is writing forbids explaining the outcome of that struggle. Heidegger responds to this difficulty by rejecting the concept of consciousness as it has come to shape the philosophical tradition.

    The concepts of that tradition, such as subject and object, value and fact, are no longer the explananda but have become the explanandum. Instead, Heidegger finds the new concepts in the beginning of the tradition as its lost origin. This new vocabulary is now supposed to provide a transhistorical framework from out of the very history it explains.

    Therefore, I have rephrased the familiar problem in this new way. Unfortunately, this is not the real Heidegger, an inconvenient and unsympathetic fellow who rather self-indulgently plunges us into the cold water of his thought without any support. Many commentators respect his self-limitation. However, an account operating under the constraints Heidegger imposed is unlikely to shed much new light on his meaning. We need to permit ourselves what he did not permit himself, a free movement back and forth across the line dividing his language from that of the tradition.

    This may enable us to understand some things that remain obscure. But the other risk is that his thought will end up as a scholastic play with language of interest mainly to a narrow circle of dedicated players. With this in mind, consider again the breakdown of the traditional concept of essence that leads to the saving power. We are infected by history and hence distanced from our own culture sufficiently not to take the concept of essence for granted as did the Greeks.

    What separates modern from Greek ontology is the self-evident contingency of the eidos on a culture.


    But let us look more closely at this formulation. We know it lies in culture because we know it differs from one time and place to another. Culture, as we moderns understand it, is a human creation. Hence the essences that open up worlds and give meaning to things must also be human creations. Meaning and empirical reality, value and fact are split apart forever by this reasoning. But this is precisely where the argument breaks down. It is we moderns who, within the confines of our specific culture, assert the cultural relativity of the essences.