Franco Volpi - Heidegger and Aristotle

Translated by Pete Ferreira


Dear Professor,
The past two years in which I struggled for a fundamental clarification of my philosophical position and put aside all specialized academic tasks have led to conclusions I would not be able to hold and teach freely, were I bound to a position outside of philosophy.
Epistemological insights extending to a theory of historical knowledge have made the system of Catholicism problematic and unacceptable to me, but not Christianity and metaphysics—these, though, in a new sense.
I firmly believe that I—perhaps more than your colleagues who officially work in this field—have experienced what the Catholic Middle Ages bears within itself regarding values and that we are still a long way off from a true appreciation of them. My investigations in the phenomenology of religion, which will draw heavily on the Middle Ages, should show beyond a doubt that in transforming my basic philosophical position I have not been driven to replacing objective appreciative judgment of and deep respect for the life-world of Catholicism with the angry and coarse polemics of an apostate.
Thus it will in the future be important for me to remain in contact with Catholic scholars who understand and acknowledge the problems in this field and are able to sympathize with those with different convictions.
It is therefore especially important to me that I not lose the benefit of your invaluable friendship—and I would like to thank you deeply for it. My wife, who first talked with you, and I too would like to keep the very special trust we have shared with you. It is difficult to live as a philosopher—inner truthfulness regarding oneself and in relation to those for whom one is supposed to be a teacher demands sacrifices, renunciation, and struggles which ever remain unknown to the academic technician.
I believe that I have the inner calling to philosophy and, through my research and teaching, to do what stands in my power for the sake of the eternal vocation of the inner man, and to do it for this alone, and so justify my existence [Dasein] and work ultimately before God.
Sincerely and gratefully yours, Martin Heidegger
[Translation by John Van Buren, from Supplements, pp. 69-70.]

As much as this document makes us perceive the radical nature with which the young Heidegger undertakes the task of philosophizing, the more we must regret not having writings of this period, in order that we might follow, as with the Marburg period, the maturing of his thought2. Fortunately, however, we know from several witnesses, at least in broad terms, the main themes of what Heidegger addresses during his first lessons at Freiburg3. And we know that in this period he pays great and repeated attention to Aristotelian thought. From the list of courses and seminars, we can deduce the frequency with which Heidegger returns on Aristotle: in summer semester 1916 he holds with Krebs a seminar on selected passages from Aristotle's logical writings; in summer semester 1921 (in parallel with a course on Augustine and Neoplatonism) he reads De Anima in a tutorial seminar; in winter semester 1921/22 he holds a course on the Physics (announced now for GA 61 with the title: Phänomenologische Interpretation zu Aristoteles); in summer semester 1922 again a whole course on selected passages of ontology and logic from Aristotle and also, in parallel, a seminar on the Nicomachean Ethics; finally, in winter semester 1922/23, a seminar on books IV-V of Physics4.

2 Not initially included in the Gesamtausgabe, publication of courses of the first teaching at Freiburg is now heralded as an appendix to the second section. Of the fifteen courses held by Heidegger, only seven have been announced. According to a communication from the chief editor of the edition (F.-W. von Herrmann), manuscripts relating to the other courses were destroyed by Heidegger himself (see F.-W. von Herrmann, "Die Edition der Vorlesungen Heideggers in seiner Gesamtausgabe letzter Hand", in Freiburger Universitätsblätter, 1982, nr. 78, pp. 85-102).

3 A complete list of courses and seminars by Heidegger appears in W. J. Richardson, Heidegger. Through Phenomenology to Thought (Phaenomenologica, 13), Nijhoff, The Hague 1963, pp. 663-671. Some guidance for the content of the courses of the first lesson of Freiburg is given by O. Pöggeler, Der Denkweg Martin Heideggers, Neske, Pfullingen 1963, 1983, 36-45 (also important the Afterword to the Second Edition, pp. 319-355);[Martin Heidegger's Path of Thinking.] in particular on the interpretation of Aristotle. H.-G. Gadamer, Heideggers Wege, Mohr, Tübingen 1983, pp. 31-32, 118, 131;[Heidegger's Ways.] finally, on the course of 1920/21 see Thomas Sheehan, "Heidegger e il suo corso sulla 'Fenomenologia della religione'", Philosophy, 31, 1980, pp. 431-446.

4 See Richardson, Heidegger, pp. 663-664. [Pages 671-672 of 2003 edition.]

A page from Franco Volpi's Heidegger and Aristotle