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Heidegger's reading of Aristotle: praxis and the ontology of movement

By David Andrew Noel Webb


Heidegger perceives a naivety at the heart of Greek metaphysics to which he believes philosophy has remained prey throughout its history. This consists in having taken the understanding of being appropriate to the activity and experience of production [ποίησις] as the basis for understanding being in general. What such a interpretation lacks above all is a conception of human being as that which, distinct from the work, engages in productive activity. Only if such a conception were secured in contradistinction to the understanding of being derived from the work could, in Heidegger's view, ontology itself be placed on firm footing. By way of a response, Heidegger undertook a critical appropriation of Aristotle's practical philosophy and of the concept of πραξις in particular. This was to provide the basis of an account of Dasein. However, the outcome of the appropriation was problematic in two respects.\ud First, Aristotle's own presentation of πραξις as the horizonal structure of teleological activity is dogged by incoherencies arising precisely from the influence exerted on the language of metaphysics by the experience of ποίησις. Indeed, the extent of this influence renders the language of metaphysics intrinsically ill-suited to the articulation of πραξις. Heidegger's appropriation of the figure of the end-in-itself must therefore be accompanied by an attempt to wrest it from the dominant conceptual structures of production.\ud Second, insofar as the terms in which Heidegger couches the\ud ontological determination of Dasein are taken from the language of practical philosophy, there arises a formal parallel between the transcendence of Dasein and possible structures of activity. Such a parallel invites the supposition that Dasein's transcendence may be enacted or accomplished in its comportment in and towards the world.\ud Although I shall be concerned primarily with the first of these problems, the second remains a constant consideration and recurs explicitly at several junctures. Drawing on Heidegger's reading of Metaphysics Θ, I argue that he sought to secure an ontological interpretation of χίνησις, δύναμις and ένέργεια from which the influence of production had been displaced. Specifically, this hinges on the idea of finite appropriation as the essence of δύναμις. In addition, Heidegger emphasises the way in which each potentiality is related to the manner of its accomplishment. As an activity that is an end in itself, πραξις, is therefore understood as an activity of finite appropriation whose end is the very movement of appropriation itself. As such, it constitutes a repetition of the essence of δύναμις and of the transcendence of Dasein insofar as it is understood to be constituted by δύναμις

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