Owned Emotions
affective excellence in Heidegger on Aristotle

Katherine Withy

Most interpretations of Heidegger’s account of authenticity or ownedness (Eigentlichkeit) follow Heidegger in focusing on owned understanding: they explain what it is to take up a practical identity ownedly. But we are entities that are not only understanding or projecting; we are also characterized by findingness (Befindlichkeit). To be finding is to be open to how we are already situated and to what is already there in our situation. In finding ourselves situated, things – including us – show up as mattering in some particular way. The paradigmatic modes of findingness are moods and emotions (which Heidegger famously does not distinguish). Yet Heidegger barely mentions moods in his Division Two account of ownedness. He says that ownedness involves either anxiety or a readiness for it (e.g. SZ 266, 296, 301) and that from this comes joy and equanimity (SZ 310, 345). But this cannot be the whole story. First, being owned surely also involves mundane emotions and moods. Second, if there something that it is to project ownedly, surely there is something that it is to find ownedly. What would it be to have owned emotions?

We might think that it is not possible to have owned emotions since having an emotion is always being put into a condition passively while being owned is always resolving on something or choosing to make a choice. Aristotle confronts the same issue in the Nicomachean Ethics (hereafter, EN): he knows that excellence or virtue concerns the πάθη (affects, emotions) but he also thinks that excellence is or involves choice.1 While on standard readings of EN Aristotle does not solve the problem of choice, on Heidegger’s reading he does. Given that Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle’s ethics heavily influenced both his account of ownedness and his understanding of affectivity, working out how Heidegger understands Aristotle’s affective excellence is a way of working out what it would be to be ownedly finding.2 Heidegger discusses the πάθη and excellence most fully in his lecture course, Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy.3 I will argue that he understands the πάθη as what I call ‘disclosive postures’. Disclosive postures are neither active nor passive, but they are initially and usually average. In having average πάθη, we find ourselves ‘as one does’ and let things matter ‘as they do’. Ownedness or excellence consists in resolving to resist the temptation of averageness and so letting things genuinely move us in the πάθη. Owning our emotions is thus not a matter of choosing them but of choosing to let them be what they are, as genuinely disclosive. This is a meta-level commitment and I argue that we are called to it because of the kind of entity that we each are.

The pathé as disclosive postures

In EN II.5, Aristotle wants to identify the genus of excellence. He points out that there are three things that ‘come to be’ (ginomena) in the soul. For Heidegger, this means that the soul “has being in three distinct modes of its coming to be” (BCArP 113). Affectivity can be as a capacity to be affected, as an actual πάθος, or as a ἕξις (having). To which of these ways of being affective does excellence belong? Aristotle notes that excellence and its opposite attract praise and blame and that they involve choice. So, in which modality do the πάθη attract praise and blame and involve choice – as capacities, as actualities, or as hexeis? The argument proceeds by elimination and concludes that excellence is a ἕξις.

The usual reading of Aristotle takes ‘ἕξις’ to mean disposition or character trait.4 It also takes the criterion of praise and blame to be reducible to the criterion of choice – presumably because we are praised or blamed only for what we are responsible for, and we are responsible only for what we choose. Aristotle’s argument thus leaves him with the problem of explaining how choice is involved in having a disposition. Most interpreters seek to solve the problem by locating choice in the process of habituation, through which we acquire the disposition.

Heidegger’s reading, however, starts from the question of praise and blame and keeps it separate from the question of choice. On Heidegger’s reading, we ask: what opens affective life to praise and blame? How can affectivity be normatively assessable? Aristotle immediately gives us the answer. That in affective life which attracts praise and blame is how we are in a πάθος: “[t]he manner and mode in which I am in a rage, in what situation, on what occasion, against whom – that is what underlies praise and blame, the πῶς [how]” (BCArP 114). If a ἕξις is whatever it is in affective life that opens it to normative assessment, then this how of the πάθος is what Aristotle means by ‘ἕξις’. The excellence that belongs to this genus is thus not the excellence of a person but the excellence of a πάθος. An excellent πάθος is one that has a certain ‘how’ – one that Aristotle calls ‘the mean’.5 To understand this argument, we need to learn to think πάθη in terms of their ‘hows’.

We are long accustomed to thinking the πάθη in terms of capacities and actualities. When we do so, we think the πάθη as potentially or actually felt affects. But the how of a πάθος is not a modality of a felt affect. It is the intentional structure of a πάθος. Understood in this way, the πάθος does not necessarily involve any felt affect.6 Thus I can be angry at my neighbour for years without feeling angry for years. My anger is not an actual or potential felt affect but a structurally complex intentional relationship. As intentional, each πάθος has (or at least, most have) a how, a when, a whither and an about which (das Wie, Wann, Wozu und Worüber) (BCArP 115). (Compare Heidegger’s tripartite model for analysing moods in SZ, which distinguishes the mood itself, its in-the-face-of-which and its about-which (SZ 140, 188)). We could try to express the intentionality of the πάθη by saying that they have a cognitive dimension, where this is understood in terms of knowing or believing: the πάθη include judgements or make claims about the world.7 Heidegger rejects this model; if anything, the πάθη are ways in which the world claims us. Understanding the πάθη in terms of judgements misses the same thing that understanding them as bodily feelings or conditions of the soul does – namely, that the πάθη are ways in which we are out and about in the world, immersed and involved in our situation. To capture this, Heidegger needs a model other than that of a subject knowing an object. He uses the model of standing in a situation. On this model, the πάθη are what I will call ‘disclosive postures’. They are ways of finding ourselves situated, where this means both that they are ways of finding ourselves and our situation (i.e. that they are findingly disclosive) and that they are ways of being situated in the world (i.e. postures). This understanding of the πάθη accommodates all intentional affective phenomena, including moods and emotions.

First, the πάθη are postures. They are ways of standing or being positioned in our situation and towards it: “the manner and mode of being oriented toward the world or in the world” (BCArP 167). ‘Posture’ is my term, although it resonates with Heidegger’s own pervasive vocabulary of comportment (die Haltung, das Verhalten), composure (die Fassung) and standing (stehen). A posture is “the relative disposition of the various parts of something”.8 The πάθη are particular (affective) arrangements of the world and us, in relation to one another. Thus Heidegger appeals to the second definition of ἕξις or ‘having’ in Aristotle’s Metaphysics (hereafter, M): a διάθεσις or disposition (M 1022b11) and so an arrangement of something that has parts (M 1022b1). The parts are various dimensions of us and the world, and their arrangement is captured in the complex intentional structure of the πάθος: the how, when, whither and about which. As so arranged in relation to ourselves and the world, we stand in and towards ourselves and our situation in a particular way. Heidegger puts it by saying that we are in a particular ‘comportment’, and so understands Aristotle’s ‘ἕξις’ as ‘comportment’ (BCArP 126, 144). Different affective comportments or postures in a situation are either different πάθη or the same πάθος in a different how.

Second, the πάθη are postures that disclose, which means that having an affective posture is a way of being open. With respect to each dimension of its intentional structure, a πάθος opens or unveils: us ourselves, entities in the world, and our relationships to those entities. I will put this by saying that a πάθος discloses our situation. Strictly, what we are open to in the πάθη is what Heidegger calls ‘possibilities’ (SZ 148) – things as loveable, serviceable, unjustifiable, deplorable, awful or awesome. Put differently, the πάθη disclose things as mattering in some particular way. This disclosiveness is our most basic openness to our situation (BCArP 176, SZ 137-38).

Specifically, affectivity is that dimension of a disclosive comportment by which things touch, move or encounter us. This haptic or kinetic metaphor has traditionally grasped the passive character of the πάθη : in them,we receive, withstand or undergo what happens to us. It is true that the πάθη “befall” us (BCArP 132, 163, 165) and that finding ourselves in this way “implies a disclosive ‘submission’ to the world” (SZ 137). But this ‘submission’ is one “out of which we can encounter something that matters to us” (SZ 137-38, cf. BCArP 83). That in a πάθος things are unveiled as mattering is what is properly captured by the haptic and kinetic metaphors of being touched or moved. This shows in what sense the πάθη are not merely passive. For we do not undergo emotions as we undergo mere affects such as being heated or cooled; our πάθη are not impacts from the environment. The difference is that πάθη are disclosive, since this means that in having or undergoing a πάθος I also have or possess myself and my situation, as disclosed. I am there for myself, and my situation and everything in it is there for me. To say that things touch me in a πάθος or show up to me is to say that I find myself situated in the world, or that I disclose myself in the situation. I ‘allow a matter to matter’ (BCArP 83). This can be expressed either actively or passively, which suggests that the πάθη qua disclosive postures properly escape this distinction. As a disclosive posture, a πάθος is an active receiving or a receptive action.

The πάθη, thus understood, are not ways in which perception is clouded or coloured but are more like primary modes of perception: the perception of what matters to us or what is meaningful. But the perceptual analogy is misleading, for it suggests that we perceive something that exists independently. It is not that things matter to us and then we register, notice or respond to this mattering in the πάθη, just as things exist and we register this existence by seeing them.9 Things do not matter independently of touching us. Being moved by something is what it is for that thing to matter to me; if it does not move me in some way, it does not matter to me. Experiencing a πάθος just is an entity moving me, touching me or mattering. So while a feeling of love might bring to my attention that I do love, my love itself (as a disclosive posture) does not notice that I am in love. It is my being in love and you being loveable to me. So too, my anger does not notice a perceived slight; my anger is my being slighted.

If the πάθη do not register what matters but constitute that mattering, then it is hard to see where there is room for error or assessment. If my being angry is my being slighted, then there seems no way to say that I should be angered when I am not, because there is no way to say that I am slighted if I am not angry. Further, if the πάθη are not reflections or representations of the world but ground-level ways of being open to it, then there is no ‘outside’ standpoint from which their veracity could be assessed. So how could a πάθος be right or wrong?

Excellent and vicious pathé

Because the πάθη are not representational states of a subject, they do not get the world right or wrong in the sense of succeeding or failing in corresponding to objective reality. The πάθη are modes of responsiveness and succeed or fail as responsive, in the sense that they give either a perspicuous or distorted access to the situation. Every πάθος, on this model, does give us access to our situation: the πάθη are ways in which things (including us) have already succeeded in encountering and moving us. ‘Having a πάθος’ or ‘affectively disclosing’ is thus a success term. But we can nonetheless distinguish the πάθος that discloses well from the πάθος that does not. The πάθος that discloses well is one in which our situation shows up clearly – which is to say, one in which things genuinely touch us. The πάθος that does not disclose well is one in which things meet and move us in a manner that distorts or obscures them.

So when we blame someone for an inappropriate fear or a failure to be angry, we are saying that in her πάθος, her situation does not show up clearly. If, for example, I am indifferent to the injustice of working conditions in sweatshops, it is because I am not picking up on some aspects of the situation. I do not see the situation well. But I do see it. What touches me about the working conditions in sweatshops is only that they concern other people or are far away. Hence my indifference. In this indifference, I do disclose the situation: people working in sweatshops are indeed outside my community. The problem is that I do not disclose the situation clearly. Some things should matter to me or touch me even though they do not. This is so, presumably, if they would matter to the affectively excellent person – the person with a clear line of sight, who discloses her situation in a way that is not distorted.

The affectively excellent person inhabits the disclosive posture that most perspicuously reveals her situation.10 Aristotle has a special name for this disclosive posture: the mean. The mean is a particular disclosive posture: “a way of comporting oneself in the world”, “the ‘being-composed that sees’ and is open to the situation”, “the way that the world itself stands to us, or how we are in it” (BCArP 126, 130). Specifically, the mean is that how of a πάθος in which it ‘gets it right’ with regard to each dimension of its intentionality: “when one ought, and in the cases in which, and toward the people whom, and for the reasons for the sake of which” (EN 1106b21-22, Sachs’ translation, Aristotle (2002b)). This will not be the same in every case, but in every case there will be at least one disclosive posture or πάθος that genuinely opens us to our situation.

As disclosive postures, the πάθη are inherently oriented towards the mean. To aim at the mean – at genuine disclosure – is not something in addition to having a πάθος or something towards which we might deliberately or dispositionally direct our πάθη. A πάθος is already aiming to disclose the situation as it is; when something touches us, it is inherently aiming to move us. So achieving the mean is fulfilling the πάθος as what it is. The mean is the πάθος that has come to pass successfully.

It is insofar as they are disclosive postures and not mere affects that the πάθη are open to praise and blame. They are praised (or blamed) for (not) disclosing the situation perspicuously. Since the πάθη are inherently directed towards fulfilling themselves as means, if they do not so fulfil themselves it is because something external has interfered. This interference makes for unowned πάθη.

We have seen that an excellent πάθος or disclosive posture is one in which our situation shows up clearly. A vicious πάθος or disclosive posture will be one in which the situation does not show up clearly, with respect to one or more of the dimensions of the intentional structure of the πάθη. In this, Heidegger says, our situation is there for us

as ‘more or less’. Thus our comportment toward it is also more or less; we comport ourselves by these degrees in a more or less average way, in order to operate in the world. The manner and mode of the perspicuousness of the world is more or less.

(BCArP 115)

This ‘more or less’ is Aristotle’s excess and deficiency, which Aristotle explains thus:

[I]t is possible to fail in many ways (for evil belongs to the class of the unlimited, as the Pythagoreans conjectured, and good to that of the limited), while to succeed is possible only in one way (for which reason one is easy and the other difficult – to miss the mark easy, to hit it difficult); for these reasons also, then, excess and defect are characteristic of vice.

(EN 1106b28-34)

While Aristotle emphasizes how many ways there are to go wrong, Heidegger seizes on how easy it is. The “tendency to take things easily and make them easy” (SZ 128) is what he will later call unownedness. Excess and deficiency are ways of taking things easy because ‘more or less’ means ‘more or less averagely’ (BCArP 115, 162) and ‘averagely’ – as in SZ – means in a customary or common way.11

Consider action. An ‘average’ action will be one that takes its lead not from a clear grasp of the concrete circumstances and what they call for but from ‘what people do’ – public norms of ordinary behaviour. Acting averagely is doing ‘what one does’ in this sort of situation. This notion of averageness is more fully worked out in SZ’s discussion of das Man. But in neither that text nor BCArP do we get a good sense of how averageness governs affective life specifically. Heidegger mentions in SZ that the public has its own moods, which the orator manipulates (SZ 138-39), and he discusses affective excellence in BCArP in order to support his interpretation of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. But most of the time the crowd is not an orator’s audience or an unruly mob, it is a set of internalized social norms. The day-to-day version of being caught up in the πάθος of the crowd is holding ourselves to these norms rather than holding ourselves open to the situation. Our situation thus shows up to us in a way that is mediated – and distorted – by public norms governing how one is moved and how things matter. One is happy when promoted; one is excited about new things; one is ashamed of mental illness; one loves one’s newborn child. It is hard to go against these norms, most of which we have thoroughly internalized. Most of the time we do not go against these norms; things matter and move us in just the way that they are supposed to. Letting things matter averagely is part of what it is to be a political or communal creature. But when we are moved ‘as one is’ and things matter ‘as they do’, we reveal our situation in a stunted and stereotypical way.

Heidegger’s driving intuition is that habits, tendencies and settled dispositions are opposed to human excellence. They are so because they are biases, stereotypes, or the distortions that make up common sense and tradition. At the very least, they are shortcuts and shorthands. These ultimately serve to close us off from our situation, even if initially they are what open up us. But Aristotle does not seem to share Heidegger’s Kierkegaardian aversion to conformity; averageness is a concern that seems wholly foreign to EN. Indeed, we might think that Heidegger’s allergy to habit leads him to overlook the very insight that Aristotle’s account is usually held to capture: that our temperament or character affects our openness to the situation. On Heidegger’s picture, there is only one (significant) source of affective distortion: averageness. But this seems false; surely there are non-average ways of disclosing the situation poorly.12 The irascible person, for instance, fails to properly disclose her situation, and yet getting violently angry at parking wardens is not obviously ‘what one does’. Heidegger’s picture seems to be lacking character. But it may be that all Heidegger needs is a more nuanced account of averageness. ‘What one does’ is not monolithic but includes a great variety of socially sanctioned identities, projects and possibilities. Some of these are affective identities: the irascible person, the arrogant person, the shy person, the coward. Many are tied up with other socially available identities: the brave man, the friendly woman, the lustful divorcee, the indifferent office clerk, the bubbly blonde.13 Much of what we think of as individual temperament can be rethought as a way of being average. But while this strategy saves Heidegger from an obviously false account, it does not absolve him of illegitimately importing a concern with averageness into EN. This is an instance in which Heidegger’s interpretation of a text does plain violence to it.14

Happily, this violence need not concern us. What we are trying to determine is what Heidegger thinks it takes to be owned with regard to the πάθη. Being average is opposed to such ownedness; it is unowned. As in SZ, Heidegger claims that we have a built-in tendency towards such unownedness, which is based on the fact that we are finding.15 I suggest that we fall into averageness because the πάθη change. Change is prominent in Aristotle’s first and second definitions of ‘πάθος’ in the Metaphysics. The first definition of ‘πάθος’ is “a quality in respect of which a thing can be altered [ἀλλοιοῦσθαι]” (M 1022b15-16) and the second is “[t]he already actualized alterations” (M 1022b18-19).16 Experiencing a πάθος is always being moved from one disclosive posture into another: “thus-finding-oneself-again-and-again” (BCArP 123-24, 132). This “peculiar unrest” of affective life (BCArP 124) leads Heidegger – somewhat hysterically but with good Greek sensibility – to translate and interpret ‘πάθος’ as ‘losing-one’s-composure’ (Aus-der-Fassung-Kommen) (BCArP 114). The thought, I take it, is that affective life inherently involves change and so is inherently disruptive. This disruption is often negative; thus Aristotle’s third and fourth definitions of ‘πάθος’ are as a suffering or hurt, and as an extreme misfortune (M 1022b19-22). We are plausibly constituted so as to minimize this disruption by narrowing or dulling our openness to it. Average ways of letting things matter act like large ships in equalizing and ‘levelling down’ the stormy waves of affective life;17 their inertia confines the world’s impacts to manageable and familiar ripples. Falling in with the crowd is thus not an individual psychological phenomenon but a tendency built into what we are: a “tendency to take things easily and make them easy” (SZ 128). It follows that we initially and usually have average πάθη. It also follows that being owned cannot be simply not being average. It must be a way of dragging ourselves out of averageness and actively resisting its constant pull on us. It must also be a different way of coping with constantly losing one’s composure. So what does it take to experience πάθη that are not average?

Owned emotions

If Heidegger is right that averageness is the only thing standing in the way of our πάθη realizing themselves as means, then to let a πάθος be a mean and so achieve its excellence will consist in resisting or pulling ourselves back from averageness. We cannot extricate ourselves from social norms entirely, nor should we want to – it would be contrary to our political or social nature. So resisting averageness must be some version of standing off to the side of the crowd so as not to get caught up in its mood. But this in turn cannot simply mean having a πάθος other than the standard one. That one is happy on one’s wedding day should not mean that I ought not to be, for this may be the genuine way of disclosing my situation. Unfortunately, Heidegger says little about what resisting averageness looks like and how it is possible – even when he describes it as methodologically necessary for phenomenological inquiry. In particular, Heidegger does not give us a positive picture of owned affectivity. What little he says about ownedness in BCArP is in the context of action, so we will need to borrow from that account.

BCArP makes clear that resisting averageness meets the definition of προαίρεσις or choice, thus confirming the description of excellence as a ἕξις προαιρετική (EN 1106b36). Heidegger interprets προαίρεσις as a way of ‘taking hold’ or ‘seizing’ something, in such a way that one is out for some particular τέλος that is anticipated (BCArP 73, 42) and in opposition to that which one has renounced and seeks to avoid. Προαίρεσις is thus being resolved for something and against something (BCArP 185). Affective excellence is prohairetic in the sense that it consists in a choice or resolution: the resolution to resist averageness. In closing ourselves to the pull of averageness and holding ourselves open to the situation, we set ourselves out for being touched and against the customary ways of being so. We choose or resolve to be open. Such excellence is thus not a matter of being average in the ‘right amount’ as opposed to more or less – and so is, as Aristotle says, an extreme (EN 1107a8).

Resisting averageness, as a προαίρεσις, resembles the resoluteness or ‘choosing to choose’ that we achieve in hearing the call of conscience and which constitutes our ownedness in SZ. There, it is a matter of taking over a project in a particular way. Applied to affective life, however, the resolution must operate differently. The clue is that the resolution belongs to the genus of ἕξις – in the first sense of the term. The first sense of ‘ἕξις’ that Aristotle gives is “a kind of activity of the haver and the had” (M 1022b4-5). The activity – the ἔχειν – consists in “direct[ing] in accordance with one’s own nature or impulse” (M 1023a9-10).18 This is the most familiar sense of ‘having’, involving possession and power. In my resolution, I govern or direct my affective life – but not in the sense that I choose whether my abilities to be affected are realized. I do not choose my feelings. This would be to direct my capacity to experience the πάθη qua felt affects. Instead, I direct the πάθος in its how, as a disclosive posture (BCArP 121). Further, I direct this in accordance with my nature, not my impulse. My nature is to be a living thing and so something to whom things matter (BCArP 36). To direct my πάθη in accordance with this nature is to let them happen – and to let them happen in such a way that they fulfill themselves as means.19

Because my resolution allows my πάθη to be means, it “preserves”, “maintains” or “saves” the mean (BCArP 175, 126, 132). Being in a ἕξις in the first sense – making the resolution – is thus the condition of possibility of having an excellent ἕξις in the second sense – a πάθος as a mean arrangement in the situation.20 I take it that this is why Heidegger reads the second senses of ‘ἕξις’ and ‘ἔχειν’ as ‘further characterizations’ and ‘more precise determinations’ of the first senses of ‘ἕξις’ and ‘ἔχειν’ (BCArP 117, 118). While this is strained as a reading of Aristotle’s definitions, it manifests Heidegger’s very Aristotelian desire to find a core or focal meaning for important equivocal terms (BCArP 116, 119). More importantly, it fits the phenomenon – at least, the phenomenon of affective excellence as Heidegger understands it.21

It should now be clear how affective life can involve choice, or how emotions can be owned. I can choose to let my πάθη be themselves; I can let myself be genuinely moved. Such letting be is in some sense active, but it is not a matter of becoming “master of [my] moods” (SZ 136) and controlling my πάθη as might a continent person, who (for example) struggles to be angry at the appropriate person or at the appropriate time.22 The resolution governs the intentionally complex πάθος negatively: it is a resolution not to allow public norms to interfere. The effort and control are directed towards removing impediments. The choice or resolution is an exercise of agency that aims at proper receptivity.

Being genuinely open to the situation requires a constant and repeated effort to hold ourselves open. Affective excellence is not a resolution that can be made once and for all, and it is not a resolution that comes to stand automatically – let alone one that gets easier – once it has been made a few times. Like a marriage vow, it is not the sort of thing that we establish or practice but the sort of thing that we renew. The reason is that the pull of averageness is constant, because the πάθη are always changing. As in a marriage, I must constantly resist this degeneration into habit and routine. A resolution is repeated, each time and in ever new circumstances. It is this ongoing repetition that affords the excellent person stability and composure amidst the tumultuous loss of composure in affective life (BCArP 123-24).

The temporality of Aristotelian habituation is thus the temporality of repetition (BCArP 128). We are ‘habituated’ into affective excellence in the sense that we must repeat our resolution against averageness. We might speak of learning to experience certain πάθη – learning to love or learning to grieve – but this is not a matter of practicing bringing about a particular result. It is a matter of holding ourselves open and letting ourselves be moved, and of doing so every time. So affective excellence, as a resolution, is not a disposition or character trait and it is not acquired in the way that skills are.23

In the repeated resolution for genuine openness and against averageness, we make ourselves responsible for the πάθη. The πάθη for which we are responsible are not mere feelings (for which we cannot be responsible) but disclosive postures. We make ourselves responsible for how the πάθη disclose by taking responsibility for that disclosure, and we take responsibility for whether our πάθη are means by making it possible for them to be such. In this, we own up to the constant temptation of averageness and we take ownership of our affective life. Our moods and emotions become owned and we become ownedly finding.

So to be ownedly finding and to own one’s emotions is not to choose which πάθη to experience but to take responsibility for whether the patheare means. Why should we want to be owned in this way? Is it blameworthy to fail to (adequately) resolve to resist averageness? Heidegger insists that his account of falling implies no negative evaluation (SZ 175), but while this is surely true of falling or everydayness per se, it should not be true of unowned falling. We can be blamed for not being owned for the same reason that for Aristotle we can be blamed for not being excellent: it is a way of failing to be what we are. This is not a moral failing but an ontological one.

Consider what the πάθη are. The πάθη are the fundamental ways in which our situation shows up to us. It is primarily through the πάθη that things (including us) are there for us rather than not, and primarily through the πάθη that things show up for us either as what they are or under some kind of distortion. The πάθη are our most basic access to the situation – the most basic way in which we are open, in which things are given to us, and in which we are given to ourselves. This means that it is primarily through the πάθη that things (including us) make demands on us in the sense that they impose themselves on us as something with which we must deal. I say ‘primarily’ to accommodate the fact that when things show up as mattering, they always do so in light of some particular project that I have taken up. But we do not tell the whole story if we say that it is because I understand myself as a teacher that this stack of ungraded papers shows up as mattering in the way that it does. It is also the case that my situation touches or moves me and so puts me into some particular disclosive posture in it. My situation is always given to me as mattering in some way, as something that is already there and with which I must deal.

When I resist averageness in my resolution, I undercut the force of the average norms to which my πάθη were held. In removing this impediment, I undertake to let the πάθη be means and so undertake to let my situation show itself to me. This is to say that I let my situation be more than a set of brute facts that I must accommodate; it becomes a standard to which I hold my disclosure (in a way that it was not when I held myself to public norms). The resolution turns the demands that things make into claims on me, and conversely makes me answerable or beholden to what moves me. So resisting public norms amounts to letting my situation be the standard against which my πάθη are judged.

Because what moves me makes a claim on me only by virtue of my resolution, this claim is in some sense a product of one of my projects. But it is a product of a very special kind of project. First, as we know, the project is negative: the resolution to let the πάθη be means is the resolution to resist the interference of averageness. The project has no positive content of its own. It is an affective project: not a project of being this or that but a project of letting be (qua letting matter).

Second, the project in question is not optional and is not tied to any particular practical identity. Heidegger says that excellence “is not optional and indeterminate” and that “[b]eing-there must, for itself, take the opportunity to cultivate this being-composed as a possibility” (BCArP 119, 122). The reason is that “in ἕξις lies the primary orientation to the καιρός” or the concrete situation (BCArP 119, 42). In resolving against averageness, we direct ourselves towards the situation as it is. The question ‘why do this?’ is not a genuine question for Heidegger. I am already in the business of finding myself in my situation, and I am already in this business because of what I am: my nature as a discloser. Being the entity that I am is not a project that I can choose to take up or leave, for the simple reason that I am already and necessarily engaged in it. It is a project into which I am thrown (SZ 42, 144, 189, 192, 284, 383). To ask why I should take the extra step of aiming at excellence in this project is not like asking why someone should aim at being a good teacher rather than a merely mediocre one. People do sometimes aim to be mediocre, and they do so because they are aiming to be excellent at some competing project. They aim to be excellent parents, excellent amateur wrestlers, or even excellent slackers. But at the level of the project of being what I am, there are no competing projects that might require sacrifice. The resolution against averageness is a meta-level commitment – a step above, beyond or below the particular projects that we each take up. Perhaps we could imagine a social or political climber who committed to averageness to achieve a particular social or political goal, but such a person is appropriately reprimanded for sacrificing the truth for personal gain. It is possible to fail to resolve to resist averageness and it is possible to do so deliberately. But doing so is blameworthy.

Since fulfilling our nature is a project we are necessarily involved in, and one with which other projects cannot compete, we are legitimately praised (or blamed) for (not) pursuing this project excellently – that is, competently (BCArP 55). Thus we can and should praise (or blame) people for (not) being ownedly finding. As a proxy, we can and should hold people responsible for whether their πάθη are means. To put the same point differently: we are called to take responsibility for our πάθη because it already matters to us that things genuinely touch us. This care for truth is part of what we are thrown into when we are thrown into being what we are. Being ownedly finding is owning up to what already matters – taking over our thrownness. We do this by owning up to the fact that we are “delivered over to [überantwortet] entities” and so are answerable (beantwortbar) to them (SZ 364). So we can and should hold people responsible for whether they make themselves beholden to the entities that move them and so whether they allow entities to constitute a standard governing their disclosure. It is incumbent upon us, as the kind of entity that we each are, to let the world make claims on us. When we do, we are ownedly finding and have owned emotions.24


1 All quotations of Aristotle are from Aristotle 1984 unless otherwise noted. I cite the Bekker numbers, which are provided in the margins of many English translations. Quotations of the Greek text are transliterated from Aristotle 1934.

beyng.com: Greek words have been de-romanized back to the original, like in GA 18. Using consistent monikers leads to better indexing and ordering up of search and chatbot results. You can see the transliteration in the original by hovering the cursor over the Greek.

2 For the influence of Aristotle’s ethics on Heidegger, see Bernasconi 1989, Brogan 1989, Brogan 2005, Kisiel 1993 and Volpi 1992. For Aristotle’s influence on Heidegger’s understanding of affectivity, see Hadjioannou 2013 and Ruin 2000.

3 I cite the pagination of the English translation (BCArP) and I transliterate Greek terms.

4 Interpreting ἕξις in EN as disposition is so pervasive that some translators, such as Rowe (Aristotle 2002a), simply translate ‘ἕξις’ as ‘disposition’. I have found only two substantial explorations of what ‘ἕξις’ means: Brickhouse 1976 and Garver 1989. For discussions of virtue as a specifically affective disposition, see Dustin 1993, Kosman 1980, Leighton 1982, Roberts 1989, and Sherman 1993.

5 Thus Aristotle can go on to say that “excellence is a kind of mean” (EN 1106b27-28) ( μεσότης τις ἄρα ἐστὶν ἡ ἀρετή) or that excellence ‘lies in’ a mean (EN 1106b36-1107a1) (ἡ ἀρετὴἐν μεσότητι οὖσα). See also EN 1107a7–8: “in respect of its substance and the account which states its essence [it, sc. excellence] is a mean” (κατὰ μὲν τὴν οὐσίαν τὸν τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι λέγοντα μεσότης ἐστὶν ἡ ἀρετή).

6 Although the πάθη are essentially somatic (BCArP 137), feeling is not the only way in which the body is in-the-world.

7 For readings of Aristotle along these lines, see Leighton 1982 and Sherman 1993.

8 See “posture, n.”. OED Online, June 2013, Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/view/Entry/148707?rskey=uyOc7y&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed September 1, 2013).

9 Compare Sherman’s interpretation of Aristotle: emotion is “a mode of affectively attending to events and objects that hold importance for us. It is a way of being affected, a way of noticing and reacting” (1993: 25). See also Haugeland’s interpretation of Heidegger: “Moods are Heidegger’s favorite example of a response to what matters in a situation” (2013: 196).

10 Compare SZ 300: “Resoluteness brings the Being of the ‘there’ into the existence of its Situation”.

11 Heidegger also explicitly connects excess and deficiency to unowned falling in (PIA 81). Like Aristotle’s excess and deficiency (see Hursthouse 1981), Heidegger’s ‘more or less’ is not really a quantitative measure (cf. BCArP 126). However, since it is averageness that makes for vice rather than the excess or deficiency per se, being less average is better than being more average for Heidegger. For Aristotle, excess and deficiency are equally vicious.

12 Further, there might be particular πάθη that always disclose the situation poorly, as Heidegger’s discussion of fear in SZ implies (SZ 141).

13 Compare Agosta 2010: 338ff, although it cannot be right to say (as Agosta does) that the πάθη are social pretences. Pretences or identities are projects or possibilities onto which we project ourselves, while the πάθη are modes of finding.

14 Heidegger frequently describes his interpretations as violent. He does so because he understands the task of interpretation as “setting forth what is not prominently there” in a text (BCArP 47).

15 [Findingness] not only discloses Dasein in its thrownness and its submission to that world which is already disclosed with its own Being; it is itself the existential kind of Being in which Dasein constantly surrenders itself to the ‘world’ and lets the ‘world’ ‘matter’ to it in such a way that somehow Dasein evades its very self. The existential constitution of such evasion will become clear in the phenomenon of falling.

(SZ 139, my italics)

A similar line of thought can be found in BCArP, where Heidegger grounds λόγος as talking-with-one-another in the πάθη (specifically, fear) (BCArP 175) and takes the basic Greek concern with λόγος to be about resisting sophistry and idle talk (BCArP 74). (For more on these dimensions of Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, see Smith 1995.)

16 Cf. BCArP 131.

17 Cf. SZ 127.

18 Translation from Aristotle 1933; cf. BCArP 116.

19 Compare Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle’s own example: a person has her garment. This does not mean that she can do what she will with it. It means that in being worn the garment comes to its τέλος and ἐνέργεια (BCArP 118) as something to-be-worn. It is directed by being allowed to be what it is.

20 Thus Heidegger: “The ἕξις as διάθεσις, as τάξις, springs from προαίρεσις: the proper finding-oneself in the being-allotted of the moment” (BCArP 119).

21 Still, I am sympathetic with Gonzalez’s claim that Heidegger’s interpretation of ἕξις involves “a sudden and unexplained leap” (2006: 139).

22 Thus I disagree with Gonzalez, who takes Heidegger to collapse virtue into continence (Gonzalez 2006: 142).

23 As Heidegger describes it here, acquiring a skill involves accomplishing the same result every time and so does not permit a radical openness to what is particular in the situation (BCArP 128). Either this is an inaccurate characterization of skill acquisition or we must distinguish acquiring a skill from developing mastery. The master craftsperson is open to what is distinctive in her particular situation, and this is what has led people like Hubert Dreyfus to interpret the owned person as a version of Aristotle’s phronimos (see, e.g., Dreyfus 2000).

24 I am grateful to audiences at the Marquette Summer Seminar in Aristotle and the Aristotelian tradition (2013) and the International Society for Phenomenological Studies annual meeting (2013) for many helpful comments and questions. Thanks especially to David Chan for the example of being happy on one’s wedding day and the associated insight, and to Joe Rouse for pointing out that the πάθη disclose possibilities. I also thank Nate Zuckerman for extensive comments on several drafts of this essay.


Agosta, L. (2010) “Heidegger’s 1924 Clearing of the Affects Using Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Book II”, Philosophy Today 54: 333-345.

Aristotle, (1984) The Complete Works of Aristotle. Revised Oxford translation. J. Barnes (ed.), Princeton: Princeton University Press.

——(1933) Metaphysics: Books I–IX. H. Tredennick (trans.), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

——(1934) Nicomachean Ethics. H. Rackham (trans.), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

——(2002a) Nicomachean Ethics. C. Rowe (trans.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

——(2002b) Nicomachean Ethics. J. Sachs (trans.), Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing.

Bernasconi, R. (1989) “Heidegger’s Destruction of Phronesis”, The Southern Journal of Philosophy 28 Supplement: 127-47.

Brogan, W. (1989) “A Response to Robert Bernasconi’s ‘Heidegger’s Destruction of Phronesis’”, The Southern Journal of Philosophy 28 Supplement: 149-53.

——(2005) Heidegger and Aristotle: The Twofoldness of Being , Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Brickhouse, T. (1976) “A Contradiction in Aristotle’s Doctrines Concerning the Alterability of Moral Hexeis and the Role of Hexeis in the Explanation of Action”, The Southern Journal of Philosophy 14: 401-11.

Dreyfus, H. (2000) “Could anything be more intelligible than everyday intelligibility? Reinterpreting division I of Being and Time in light of division II”, in J. Faulconer and M. Wrathall (eds.) Appropriating Heidegger, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 155-74.

Dustin, C. (1993) “Commentary on Sherman’s ‘The Role of Emotions in Aristotelian Virtue’”, Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 9, 34-56.

Garver, E. (1989) “Aristotle’s Metaphysics of Morals”, Journal of the History of Philosophy 27: 7-28.

Gonzalez, F. (2006) “Beyond or Beneath Good and Evil? Heidegger’s Purification of Aristotle’s Ethics”, in D. Hyland and J. Manoussakis (eds) Heidegger and the Greeks: Interpretive Essays, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 127-56.

Hadjioannou, C. (2013) “Befindlichkeit as a Retrieval of Aristotelian diathesis: Heidegger reading Aristotle in the Marburg Years”, in T. Keiling (ed.) Heideggers Marburger Zeit: Themen, Argumente, Konstellationen, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 223-35.

Haugeland, J. (2013) “Truth and Finitude: Heidegger’s Transcendental Existentialism”, in J. Rouse (ed.) Dasein Disclosed: John Haugeland’s Heidegger, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 187-220.

Hursthouse, R. (1981) “A False Doctrine of the Mean”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 81: 57-72.

Kisiel, T. (1993) The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kosman, L.A. (1980) “Being Properly Affected: Virtues and Feelings in Aristotle’s Ethics”, in A. O. Rorty (ed.) Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics, Berkeley: University of California Press, 103-16.

Leighton, S. (1982) “Aristotle and the Emotions”, Phronesis: A Journal of Ancient Philosophy 27: 144-74.

Roberts, R. (1989) “Aristotle on Virtues and Emotions”, Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition 56: 293-306.

Ruin, H. (2000) “The Passivity of Reason: On Heidegger’s Concept of Stimmung”, Sats – Nordic Journal of Philosophy 1: 143-59.

Sherman, N. 1993. “The Role of Emotions in Aristotelian Virtue”, Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 9, 1-33.

Smith, P. Christopher (1995) “The Uses and Abuses of Aristotle’s Rhetoric in Heidegger’s Fundamental Ontology: The Lecture Course, Summer, 1924”, in B. Babich (ed.) From Phenomenology to Thought, Errancy, and Desire: Essays in Honor of William J. Richardson , Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 315-33.

Volpi, F. (1992) “Dasein as Praxis: The Heideggerian Assimilation and the Radicalization of the Practical Philosophy of Aristotle”, in C.Macann (ed.) Martin Heidegger: Critical Assessments, Volume II: History of Philosophy, London: Routledge, 90-129.

Katherine Withy - Owned emotions: affective excellence in Heidegger on Aristotle
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