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  • Heidegger's Ontology of Life before Being and Time: Scope and Limits
  • Roberto Rubio (bio)
    Translated by Felipe Fernández (bio)

In his lecture course of summer 1926, Basic Concepts of Ancient Philosophy, Heidegger states:

From the presentation of the origin of two fundamental determinations of Being, namely, and , it already became clear that thereby receives an exemplary significance. Indeed, this is precisely the first-ever phenomenological grasp of life, and it led to the interpretation of motion and made possible the radicalization of ontology.

(1993, 182 / 2008, 153) 1

The cited passage asserts that Aristotle's ontology of motion attains both its motivation and its most radical orientation from the phenomenon of life. Such a statement should not be understood merely in the sense of an historical and philosophical thesis, but as a programmatic approach of Heidegger's philosophy in dialogue with Aristotle. This is suggested by the title of the chapter to which this passage belongs: "Ontology of life and of Dasein." [End Page 65]

The characterization of as the exemplary meaning for Aristotle's radicalization of ontology seems to indicate the programmatic orientation of Heidegger toward organic life, more particularly animal life, in continuity with Aristotle. The quoted passage, however, is pointing in a different direction. The context of the passage shows that Heidegger is referring to considered as " in the extreme form of (1993, 175, 178 et seq.). Aristotle's radicalization of ontology from the notion of life thus consists in the foundation of all mobility and change in pure actuality and presence: . . . . Life has a , an . Life as the most proper presence at hand: presence out of itself and constantly complete . . ." (Heidegger 1993, 175 / 2008, 146). This setting out is in continuity with the developments of the Natorp-Bericht of 1922: there, Heidegger criticized Aristotle's radicalization of motion's idea toward the divine nous and theoria, opposing to it the program (also inspired by Aristotle) of a praxis-oriented ontology (1993, 385).

Even when the misunderstanding regarding the initial citation and the image of Aristotle that Heidegger presents have been clarified, the question remains: Does Heidegger redirect his critique of Aristotle's notion of toward his own reelaboration of the issue? In other words, is there, accompanying his destruction, a construction of an ontology oriented to life as ? 2 This issue has particular relevance in the light of current ontological debates regarding life, characterized both by a criticism of the anthropocentric orientation and by a renewed interest in animality (see, for example: Agamben 2002; Derrida 2006; Barbaras 2008; Garrido 2009).

1.Early Heideggerian Reception of Aristotle's Ontology

Young Heidegger's treatment of Aristotle, just like that of other philosophical referents, combines a double gesture: destructive and constructive. The pars destruens includes at least the following operations: a study of the transmission of concepts and conceptions to be interpreted and oriented to clarify their historical-problematical context; the critique of the internal limits of the conception to be interpreted; and the indication of strategies [End Page 66] or approaches that, even when not explicitly present in the interpretandum, may shed light on it. For its part, this task of démontage carries in itself the impulse for the constructive assimilation of the interpreted conception toward a new proposal.

Heidegger's destructive-constructive reception of Aristotle states that the ontology of the Stagirite as a whole is fundamentally oriented toward , that is, toward the motion or process oriented to an end ( ). Even when Aristotle makes a distinction between moved beings proper to the sublunary world and incorruptible beings proper to the superior region, extending to the Unmoved Mover, Heidegger understands that such a distinction only makes sense from the question of processual motion and its origin. Aristotle's ontology revisited thus consists in a "pandynamics . . . of Being in general" (1993, 170 / 2008, 143). 3

Heidegger's next step in his transformative reception of Aristotle consists in showing that the universal ontological field of the being in motion is articulated in three modes: the production and productive knowledge , the praxis and practical knowledge , and lastly, the contemplation and theoretical knowledge (sofiva). At the base of such interpretation of the ontological division of sciences in Metaphysics (VI...


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