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Being in Aristotle

is at your disposal. These things—goods and possessions—are able to stand at your disposal because they are fixed, steadfastly within your reach, at hand, present in your immediate environment. . . .

What makes them exemplary? Our goods and possessions are invariantly within our reach. Ever at our disposal, they are what lies close to us, they are right here, presented on a platter; they are steadfastly presented to us. They are the closest to us, and as steadfastly closest, they are in a special sense at-hand, present before us, present to us. Because they are exemplarily here, and because they are present to us, we call our goods, possessions, and wealth our estate—this is what the Greeks meant by οὐσία: our present holdings.13 In fact with οὐσία the Greeks meant nothing but steadfast presence, and this is what we understand by realness. This steadfast presence or present steadfastness is what we mean by the realness [of something]. Whatever measures up to this notion of realness as steadfast presence, whatever is always at hand, is what the Greeks called a thing in the proper sense.14


Clearly this “presence” (the presence of the thing, or equally, the thing as present) indicates not merely the fact that something is just “objectively out there” (vorhanden) in front of us. More significantly it indicates that something is “proper” to us, our property, something we are involved with, indeed something we own. Such a thing is not just present “alongside us” in physical space (neben uns) but also to us (bei uns): we are interested in and involved with it.15 Such presence entails an interested “dative,” an involved “recipient” of that presence. In this Greek meaning of οὐσία as παρουσία (παρά + οὐσία: “presence unto”) Heidegger espies an implicit phenomenological correlation in Greek philosophy and especially in Aristotle: to ask what something is, is to ask how someone is involved with it, interested in it—that is, how that thing is significant and meaningful to that person. Thus, the question “What makes up the οὐσία or realness of a chair?” comes down to how we understand the chair in its (usually tacit) relation to us.16 Heidegger understands οὐσία as the relatedness of something to someone within the world of one’s interests and concerns. Thus he will interpret Aristotle’s use of οὐσία as



13. See Plato, Theaetetus, 144c7: Theaetetus’ father, Euphronius, left behind “an exceedingly large fortune” (οὐσίαν μάλα πολλήν). Also Republic VIII, 551b2–3: No one shall hold office whose property or possessions (οὐσία) do not reach the required amount. (Heidegger comments on this last text at GA 34: 326.1–4 = 231.6–7.) Heidegger translates οὐσία at Phaedrus 240a2 as “das vorhandene Verfügbare”: GA 83: 118.8. See “zur Verfügung anwesend” at GA 33: 179.25–26 = 154.6.
14. GA 31: 51.11–15 and 51.31–34 = 36.8–11 and .21–25, my translation. See also GA 9, 260.7–18 = 199.20–29 and GA 40: 65.17–24 = 66.17–25.
15. The translations of “Sein bei” in Being and Time as “being alongside” (Macquarrie-Robinson) and “being together with” (Stambaugh) entirely miss this point.
16. GA 31: 56.13–16 = 39.23–25.