Elena Bartolini

Human as ζοον λόγον ἔχον and in-der-Welt-sein.
Seeking gathering, the one always in relation


One of the most known definitions of the human being was given by Aristotle in his Politics. Here, he states that man is ζοον λόγον ἔχον. Usually, translating λόγος with ‘language’, man is identified with the animal who has language. However, considering the etymology of the term λόγος, it would be possible to provide a different explanation of this definition, considering the human in its ability to see the relations surrounding it and being able to create new ones.


If it is true that man finds
the proper abode of his existence in language
— whether he is aware of to or not —
then an experience we undergo with language
will touch the innermost nexus of our existence1 [M. Heidegger]

In Letter on «Humanism»,2 commenting on the definition of man as ζοον λόγον ἔχον,3 Heidegger addresses critically the metaphysical interpretation of such a phrase which interprets language as something ‘more’ added to a being — a mere, simple feature additionally given to an animal. What he suggests, instead, is that this characteristic should be conceived in an essential way. Not a ‘more,’ rather it indicates something ‘less,’ i.e., the condition of Dasein in a close relation to Being. Or, better, the ek-sistential condition of the human being, constantly more than only himself, always in-der-Welt-sein, open to a worldly existence — directly exposed, participating to what is. Even though such a consideration appears during the 1940s, the topic concerning the relational aspect and its connection with λόγος is actually crucial in Heidegger since the very beginning of his thought. Λόγος, usually translated as ‘reason’ or ‘language,’ given its root recalls a meaningful gathering, relations structured in a meaningful way.4 Discussing human as ζοον λόγον ἔχον means to consider human being, λόγος, and logic in a different manner, but also to think another way in which relating one to the others. In his early writings Heidegger interprets λόγος according to phenomenology, highlighting the role of λόγος for Dasein in showing something as something; after the 1930s, instead, he explicitly connects λόγος to Being itself, considering it as the very language of Being. In doing this, he expands the reflection of language in an ontological direction, pointing out the relation (Verhältnis) that λόγος represents.

After Being and Time, what changes in Heidegger’s thought is the bond between Dasein and Sein. Hence, if until that moment λόγος was understood by Heidegger in relation to the phenomenological link between them, consequently its meaning shifts as well. The first place I would refer to in order to deepen the topic at issue is The Letter on «Humanism» where Heidegger declares:

But the essence of the human being consists in his being more than merely human, if this is represented as «being a rational creature.» «More» must not be understood here additively, as if the traditional definition of the human being were indeed to remain basic, only elaborated by means of an existentiell postscript. The «more» means: more originally and therefore more essentially in terms of his essence. But here something enigmatic manifests itself: the human being is thrownness. This means that the human being, as the ek-sisting counterthrow [Gegenwurf] of being, is more than animal rationale precisely to the extent that he is less bound up with the human being conceived from subjectivity. The human being is not the lord of beings. The human being is the shepherd of being. Human beings lose nothing in this «less;» rather, they gain in that they attain the truth of being. They gain the essential poverty of the shepherd, whose dignity consists in being called by being itself into the preservation of being’s truth.”5

In this passage Heidegger remarks the necessity to (re)think the definition of man as animal rationale, moving from a new consideration of what ‘rationale’ means, namely of what is meant with the Greek λόγος, since ‘animal rationale’ is the Latin translation for the Greek phrase ‘ζοον λόγον ἔχον.’ Considering the definition of man as animal rationale from the metaphysical perspective that has been characterizing Western philosophy since Aristotle, the tendency is to contemplate the human being in its rational subjectivity and consequently in what might be interpreted as its superior position compared to the other beings («the lord of Being»). Heidegger, on the other hand, seems to suggest a different interpretation, where the position of Dasein appears in a certain way more intimate with Being, closer to beings, not governing them but rather letting them be, letting them express. Human being appears like the witness of Being. «Being more than merely human» indicates the openness of Dasein, that is always in-der-Welt and in relation with Being, that is to say that it is constantly more than only itself. Heidegger underlines this aspect through the word ‘ek-sistentia,’ where the ‘ek’ is supposed to remind to that continual movement, restless dynamic involving Dasein and what surrounds it. The essence of the human being is more than merely subject not because it has been given a particular feature,6 but because of its essential being, which is less subjective but rather understood in its humble belonging to Being,7 in the ‘poverty’ of such relation, where what is given is Being and truth.

This is the reason that in the same context he discusses about λόγος and logic claiming that we are «so filled with ‘logic’ that anything that disturbs the habitual somnolence of prevailing opinion is automatically registered as a despicable contradiction.»8 Moreover, he attests that the way logic understands thinking is as «the representation of beings in their being, which representation proposes to itself in the generality of the concept.»9 The essence of man is more than be merely human and ratio has its ground on λόγος, however these considerations do not exhaust its semantic realm. Human necessarily transcends itself to be «more originally and therefore more essentially in terms of his essence,» hence it is more than its individual subjectivity. Heidegger is here pointing out the fundamental importance of the openness of the human, that is to say the ontological disposition to relation that characterizes Dasein. Even in its more intimate constitution Dasein cannot avoid this particular connotation, which grounds its existence and also its bond with Being. In such a perspective, λόγος cannot be considered only as ratio, or a tool thanks to which human is able to build systems of logic, but rather it is contemplated more essentially. As previously mentioned, a redefinition of λόγος appears with a broader consideration of Dasein, which is no more identified with the discourse or with the language through which the human being indicates phenomena as they appear to itself. Λόγος says the way human makes experience of those meaningful relations that constitute its world and says the way human tells them. In this passage, it expresses itself.

Even though the above mentioned statements about the essential characterization of the human being are quoted from a work of the 1940s, it is possible to see Heidegger’s interest for the relational aspect of λόγος even in previous publications. In the 1924 course dedicated to Aristotle, especially to Aristotelian Rhetoric, Heidegger claims that λόγος

[…] is the fundamental determination of the being of the human being as such. The human being is seen by the Greeks as ζῷον λόγον ἔχον, not only philosophically but in concrete living: «a living thing that (as living) has language.» This definition should not be thought in biological, psychological, social-scientific, or any such terms. This determination lies before such distinctions. Ζωή is a concept of being; «life» refers to a mode of being, indeed a mode of being-in-a-world. A living thing is not simply at hand (vorhanden), but is in a world in that it has its world. An animal is not simply moving down the road, pushed along by some mechanism. It is in the world in the sense of having it. The being-in-the-world of the human being is determined in its ground through speaking.10

Here Heidegger clearly recognizes an essential connection between the relational framework of Dasein’s worldly existence and its proper characteristic, i.e., λόγος as language. Furthermore, he does so while highlighting the ‘concrete living’ entailed in such a definition. Heidegger states that the well-known definition of the human being as ζῷον λόγον ἔχον is not intended by Greek philosophers in a uniquely theoretical manner; that is to say as if it was disconnected form the effective way of living of the human. Instead, he says, it concerns the human being in its concrete, factical, way of being. In Heidegger’s interpretation, life is not conceived in a ‘psychological, social-scientific’ or similar connotation, because the determination, or rather that Dasein’s condition, he is concerned about is so fundamental that precedes such distinctions. Having a language, having words, means being-in-a-world. Being-in-a-world, concretely and inevitably, grasps the human in an unavoidable interrelation with the world it dwells in and with all the other beings that are in — and belong to — the same world. At the same time, owning a world is possible for the human being ‘through speaking.’ Once again, here it is extremely clear there is a interconnection that involves Dasein and its world, and it is also clear that such relation is because of λόγος: λόγος is the essential feature that describes human being and λόγος is also the same feature the human being constantly employs or, said differently, the human being cannot avoid to employ. Λόγος is the way the human being can not but act in the world, creating, and affecting the same world it lives in. At the same time, it is the λόγος of other human beings that shaped — and shape — the world around Dasein. As a consequence, even the conceptual aspects of language, such as for example definitions, owe their origin to λόγος. In the context of being-in-the-world and in the discussion of λόγος in this sense, it is interesting to follow Heidegger in the passage that occurs from the dialogical interrelation to conceptualization. In the same work, for example, he adds:

[…] if definition is a λόγος, the matter of definition has its ground insofar as λόγος is the basic determination of the being of the human being. The λόγος as ορισμός addresses beings in their οὐσία, in their being-there. […]
The conceptuality meant in the basic concepts is a concretely giving basic experience, not a theoretical grasping of the matter. That which is experience is addressed to something. What is thus experienced and posited in this regard becomes explicit and becomes vital in the address. […] Ὀρισμός: «circumscription,» «delimitation.» Ὀρισμός: λόγος ουσίας.”11

Through Heidegger’s own words, here it is evident that the self-expression of the human, given that it is ζῷον λόγον ἔχον, is the ground from which a concept finds its proper origin.12 As we have seen, the mode of being of the human is characterized by language and this means that it has a mode of being-in-the-world. Now Heidegger provides us reasons to claim that ‘definition’ is λόγος ουσίας. In its experiencing the surrounding world with others, the human being has direct and indirect access to entities that it sees, understands, and engages, in their completeness. In other words, the human being is in a context articulated by a multiplicity of entities, experienced differently, in different time, in different settings. In doing this, through human being’s self-expression, the delimitation of these entities is said, told, and pointed out to others. In doing this, that direct experience assumes a different fashion, thanks to and because of λόγος. Such a different fashion, ‘conceptuality,’ is not ‘a theoretical grasping of the matter,’ and Heidegger describes it as a «concretely giving basic experience» because he wants to make evident or, even better, to bring to light what was covered by the polar opposition inherited by modern philosophy between ‘subject’ and ‘object.’ However, experience comes to be somehow ‘fixed.’ How? Why? Which is the link between human’s self-expression and fixity? Trying to underline even more the process of such dynamic, Heidegger says that

The expressed «lies fixed,» is a κείμενον. The κείμενα ὀνόματα, precisely as κείμενα, as «fixed,» are available to others; they are κοινά, they belong to each. When a word is expressed, it no longer belongs to me, and thus language is something that belongs to everyone; specifically, in such a way that a fundamental possibility of life itself is vitally given in precisely this common possession. Often the expressed is still only spoken — consumed in mere words without an explicit relationship to the matters spoken about. Therein lies an intelligibility that is common to all. In growing into a language, I grow into an intelligibility of the world, of language, that I have from out of myself insofar as I live in language. A common intelligibility is given, which has a peculiar character of averageness. It no longer has the character of belonging to an individual. It is worn out, used, used up. Everything expressed harbors the possibility of being used up, of being shoved into the common intelligibility.”13

It it is the same condition of ζῷον λόγον ἔχον as being-in-the-world with others that brings to fixity and that requires it as well. This is necessary, unavoidable, for the same existence of a world as a world. Through words, λόγος, the human being creates a world. In this sense, λόγος in-forms the world and it is also in-formed by it. In between: the human being dwells. This conceptualization, the fixity Heidegger speaks about, cannot be taken once for all, as if it is always valid independently. If it were the case, philosophy should be no more. If conceptual fixity were valid once for all, thought would not have any task to carry out, any aim to accomplish, any reason for us to dwell in this world. This is our call in life, this is ζῷον λόγον ἔχον: lead ourselves, see the λόγος that surrounds, drive our own λόγος. Always live in a relational dynamic. The meaning of human being’s existence has to be found in this space, in the relational openness where it finds itself. Here, in this exact range of possibilities, we can be.

De Beistegui is persuasive in pointing out some fundamental intentions typical of Heidegger’s thought, underlining in particular the relational aspect Heidegger is concerned about. First of all, de Beistegui emphasizes the phenomenological roots that guide Heidegger’s procedure: in a certain way, philosophy comes from life and shares a deep connection with it. Dasein’s condition as being-in-the-world indicates the profound bond between the two. Secondly, and this might be seen as a consequence of the first element, de Beistegui underlines its interdependence with the world, in other words, its relation to it. Being and relation: this constitutes Dasein. In his The New Heidegger, de Beistegui sustains that

Heidegger’s reaction to this metaphysical conception of the world and of ourselves [the fixed dualism res extensa and res cogitatans] is to say that we exist only in and through our relation to the world, that we, as human beings, are nothing independent from, and in addition to, our being-in-the-world. This means that we are not a substance, and not a thing, but, precisely, an existence, always and irreducibly open to and onto the world, always moving ourselves within a certain pre-theoretical understanding of it. Openness to the world is what defines our being, not thought.14

Beings are only in relational contexts, in relational happenings. That is to say that, in such relational dynamics, beings are meaningful, beings find their ontological foundation. Being expresses itself in this particular way, in the complexity of interactions which might not be captured by scientific instruments and for which, as Baracchi argues, any attempt to write or to report any speculative production is already too late.15


1 Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language, Hertz, Peter D. (trans.), New York - Evanstone - San Francisco - London: Harper & Row, 1971.

2 Martin Heidegger, Letter on «Humanism», Capuzzi, Frank A., (trans.), in McNeill, William, (ed. and trans.) Martin Heidegger. Pathmarks, New York - Cambridge - Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 260.

3 This definition is provided by Aristotle in Politics, see Aristotle, Politics, Rackham, Harris (trans.), Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 19442, p. 8: ἐκ τούτωον οὖν φανερὸν ὅτι τῶν φύσει ἡ πόλις ἐστί, καὶ ὅτι ὁ ἄνθρωπος φύσει πολιτικὸν ζῷον (1253a2 - 4).

4 Barbara Cassin (ed.), Dictionary of the Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, Apter, Emily, Lezra, Jacques, Wood, Michael (trans.), Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. p. 583: «The Greek logos retains, from the basic meaning «to gather» of the root λε/ογ- and as an almost indelible connotation, the semantic feature of being syntagmatic. Of all the well-known semantic variations of logos—«conversation,» «speech,» «tale,» «discourse,» «proverb,» «language,» «counting,» «proportion,» «consideration,» «explanation,» «reasoning,» «reason,» «proposition,» «sentence»—there is barely a single one that does not contain the original sense of «putting together»: the constitution or consideration of a series, of a notionally complex set. As «counting» or «proportion,» logos is never an isolated «number»; as «tale,» «discourse,» «proverb,» «proposition,» or «sentence,» it is never (or only never marginally) a «word,» and so on.»

5 Letter on «Humanism», cit., p. 260.

6 Ivi, p. 253: «But the human being is not only a living creature who possesses language along with other capacities. Rather, language is the house of being in which the human being ek-sists by dwelling, in that he belongs to the truth of being, guarding it»; Martin Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe I. Abteilung: Veröffentlichte Schriften 1914 - 1970, Band 9, Wegmarken, cit., p. 333: «Der Mensch aber ist nicht nur ein Lebewesen, das neben anderen Fähigkeiten auch die Sprache besitzt. Vielmehr ist die Sprache des Haus des Seins, darin wohnend der Mensch ek-sistiert, indem er der Wahrheit des Seins, sie hütend, gehört».

7 See also Letter on «Humanism» , cit., p. 252: «Being is the nearest. Yet the near remains farthest from the human being. In truth, however, it always thinks only of beings as such; precisely not, and never, being as such»; Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe I. Abteilung: Veröffentlichte Schriften 1914 - 1970, Band 9, Wegmarken, cit., p. 331: «Das Sein ist das Nächste. Doch die Nähe bleibt dem Menschen am fernsten. Der Mench hält sich zunächst immer schon und our an das Seiende. Wenn aber das Denken das Seiende als das Seiende vorstellt, bezieht es sich zwar auf das Sein. Doch es denkt in Wahrheit stets our das Seiende als solches und gerade nicht und nie das Sean als solches». For some considerations on this topic as well as on its link with technology see also Robert Bernasaconi, The Question of Language in Heidegger’s History of Being, New Jersey: Humanities, 1985, pp. 71 - 72: «Heidegger’s attempt to enable us to recognize that even in technology humanity is claimed by Being begins by acknowledging that this is not our immediate experience: ‘it seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself’ (VA 35; BW 308). His posture of being «lord of the earth» encourages him in the illusion that everything he encounters is his own construct. […] We are concerned with the counterpart of the philosophical thesis that ‘man is the measure of all things’. […] But, for Heidegger, that man encounters only himself is the ‘final delusion’. It is the culmination of the history of the growing oblivion of Being, and Heidegger would say that in technology human beings preeminently fail to encounter themselves in their essence — granted that their essence is to be claimed by Being (W 155; BW 204). And yet here in technology, human beings are addressed by Being, as much as they are anywhere. It is a matter of recognizing technology as itself an epoch in the destiny of Being».

8 Martin Heidegger, Pathmarks, cit., p. 264.

9 Ibidem.

10 Martin Heidegger, Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy, Metcalf, Robert D., Tanzer, Mark B. (trans.), Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009, p. 14 [author’s emphasis].

11 Ivi, p. 15.

12 Lawrence J. Hatab, Proto-Phenomenology and the Nature of Language. Dwelling in Speech I, London — New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017, pp. 14 - 16.

13 Martin Heidegger, Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy, cit., p. 16.

14 Miguel de Beistegui, The New Heidegger, London - New York: Continuum International Publishing Book, 2005, pp. 12 - 13.

15 Baracchi, Claudia, “Aristotele e il Nous. Note sulla Trascendenza Indicibile,” in Grecchi, Luca, (ed.) Immanenza e Trascendenza in Aristotele, Pistoia: petite plaisance, 2017, p. 142: «E comunque, anche al di là del piano fisico-percettivo, l’immediatezza, l’arche che si esprime nell’unità di percepente e percepito, è sempre già sfuggita all’articolazione conoscitiva. Quest’ultima è sempre e strutturalmente in ritardo, si ordina in una posteriorità inemendabile e irrecuperabile: il discorso analitico-ontologico è sempre rivolto a ciò che precede, sempre volto, proprio in quanto tale, a ciò che è già perduto. Fissa l’essere, al presente, del passato,» which translated is «And yet, beyond the physical-perceptual level, the immediacy, the arche that expresses itself in the unity of the perceiver and the perceived is always already escaped from the cognitive articulation. The latter is constantly structurally delayed, it is ordained in an impermanent and unrecoverable posteriority: the analytic-ontological discover is always directed at what precedes, always turned, just as such, to what is already lost. It fixes the being, to the present, of the past» [my translation]


• Apter, Emily, Lezra, Jacques, Wood, Michael, (trans.) Barbara Cassin (ed.) Dictionary of the Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014

• Baracchi, Claudia, “Aristotele e il Nous. Note sulla Trascendenza Indicibile,” in Grecchi, Luca, (ed.) Immanenza e Trascendenza in Aristotele, Pistoia: petite plaisance, 2017

• de Beistegui, Miguel, The New Heidegger, London - New York: Continuum International Publishing Book, 2005

• Capuzzi, Frank A., (trans.) “Letter on «Humanism»” in McNeill, William, (ed. and trans.) Martin Heidegger. Pathmarks, New York - Cambridge - Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1998

• Hatab, Lawrence J., Proto-Phenomenology and the Nature of Language. Dwelling in Speech I, London — New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017

• Hertz, Peter D., (trans.) Martin Heidegger. On the Way to Language, New York - Evanstone - San Francisco - London: Harper & Row, 1971

• Metcalf, Robert D., Tanzer, Mark B., (trans.) Martin Heidegger. Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy, Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009

• Rackham, Harris, (trans.) Aristotle. Politics, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1944

Elena Bartolini - Human as ζοον λόγον ἔχον and in-der-Welt-sein. Seeking gathering, the one always in relation
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