Franco Volpi - Heidegger and Aristotle

Translated by Pete Ferreira


Compared to previous interpretations of the semantic character of the λόγος, given for example in Being and Time (§§ 7 B, 33), the way in which Heidegger uses the Aristotelian thesis here is indicative of the direction in which his thoughts are evolving. Observing in reference to the first chapters of De interpretatione that the semantic nature of the λόγος is not by nature (φΰσει), but by agreement (κατά σύνθεκην), and it is connected to the genesis of a symbol (ὅταν γένηται σύμβολον), Heidegger means to use 'agreement' and 'genesis of a symbol' not in the traditional and common sense that these expressions have, but rather seeing in them an essentially ontological sense, namely stating that the agreements that generate a symbol means nothing more than the common opening of a horizon for understanding of the entity: "Words, discourse, occur in and out of such agreement with whatever can be referred to from the beginning and can be grasped as such, with something that several people can and must simultaneously agree with one another on, a s that which is meant to be referred to in discourse. Because the λόγος is grounded in the γένεσις of the σύμβολον, it is κατά σύνθεκην: by agreement."6 Not only that, but Heidegger also says that the character of this opening that the symbol produces is transcendence, understood of course in the particular sense that he attributes to the term: "What Aristotle sees quite obscurely under the title σύμβολον, sees only approximately, and without any explication, in looking at it quite ingeniously, is nothing other than what we today call transcendence. There is language only in the case of a being that by its essence transcends. This is the sense of Aristotle's thesis that a λόγος is κατά σύνθεκην."7

Against the traditional interpretation of this thesis Heidegger notes critically: "I have no inclination to recall what people have made of this Aristotelian thesis when astray here, because in thoughts on the essence of the λόγος prior to Aristotle there indeed arose two theories or theses that make it look as though Aristotle took one side of this debate. Aristotle states: The λόγος is not φύσει, is not some product of a physical event or process; it is not anything like digestion or the circulation of the blood, but has its γένεσις in something quite different: not φύσει, but κατά σύνθεκην. Corresponding to this is that part of the earlier theory of the λόγος which says that language is θέσει: Words do not grow, they do not occur and form like organic processes, but are what they are on the basis of reaching an agreement. Since Aristotle also says κατά σύνθεκην, it looks as though he were of the opinion that language formed in this way, that sounds are produced and humans reach an agreement: we will understand such and such by this. This does happen, but it does not reach the inner essence of the γένεσις of language itself, which Aristotle saw much more profoundly by indeed starting from these theories in a certain way, yet by taking decisive new steps to overcome them."8

6 GA 29/30, 446-447. [The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, 308.]

7 Ibid, 447.[Ibid.] On the modifications that the term 'transcendence' undergoes at a gallop in Heidegger in the 1920s and 1930s see I. Görland, Transzendenz und Selbst, edp. pp. 26-100. On the Heideggerian concept of 'symbol' see J. E. Doherty, Sein, Mensch und Symbol. Heidegger und die Auseinandersetzung mit dem neukantianischen Symbolbegriff, Bouvier-Grundmann, Bonn 1972.

8 Ibid, 447. [Ibid, 308-309.]

A page from Franco Volpi's Heidegger and Aristotle