The Aristotelian roots of Heidegger’s “fundamental ontology”

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The Aristotelian roots of Heidegger's "fundamental ontology"

Martin Heidegger, in his famous work from 1927, "Sein und Zeit," opens with the provocative claim that the "question of the meaning of being" has been forgotten in the tradition of philosophy. In response he develops what he calls "Fundamentalontologie." As the name suggests, fundamental ontology is not merely Heidegger’s version of what Aristotle carries out in the "Metaphysics." Rather, fundamental ontology is something different: an inquiry into the very basis, the very "fundament" of the different ontological categories and ontological systems. Heidegger insists that ontology remains "naive and opaque" so long as it fails to articulate this fundament and thereby what is meant by the meaning of being. Heidegger’s provocative rhetoric may mislead the reader to oversee the thoroughly traditional foundation of his inquiry. Indeed, the question that Heidegger raises in "Sein und Zeit" is a very old question. Aristotle recognized that the word "being" has many senses and concluded that there must be a unifying, central idea or principle that justifies using the word "being" in these many senses. According to Aristotle, the science that would uncover this meaning would most appropriately be called first philosophy. Thus it is not the question itself that distinguishes Heidegger’s analysis from Aristotle. Rather, it is the method: Heidegger believes that in order to answer, or at least clarify, the question of the meaning of being, we must analyze the structure of "our" way of being, that is, the structure of human being. My aim in this lecture is to elucidate Heidegger’s argument in "Sein und Zeit" for this thesis concerning the ontological priority of human being for answering the question concerning the unified meaning of being.

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