'Heidegger’s Perversion of Virtue Ethics, 1924’

In Aaron Turner (ed.), Heidegger and the Classics. SUNY Press (forthcoming)
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Heidegger’s debt to Aristotle is, of course, vast: Volpi went so far as to ask whether Being and Time was a translation of the Nicomachean Ethics. In this chapter, I want to investigate a fundamental divergence between the two, a rejection by early Heidegger of one of the central tenets of Aristotelian ethics. This rejection begins in the years before Being and Time and the forces behind it extend into the post-war period. I will focus in particular on Ga18, 1924’s Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy: what Heidegger’s Aristotle rejects there, in effect, is the notion of character. What makes this rejection so complex and so revealing is that Heidegger’s interpretative approach forces him to present disagreement as discovery, as an insight into a true Aristotle who has remained concealed. My claim here is not the familiar one that Heideggerian history of philosophy is exegetically ‘violent’ or that it frequently tells us more about Heidegger than about its supposed target. Rather, it is more specific. Texts such as Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy present a unique exegetical situation. This is because Heidegger lacks several of the interpretative tools that will justify his radical reading of Kant just a few years later: I will examine in particular his changing conception of “philology”. The result is that, whilst commentators routinely talk of Heidegger’s “appropriation” of Kant, Heidegger’s early use of Aristotle is simultaneously more complex and less refined. “Perversion” is, one might think, scarcely a rigorous term, but it is, I will argue, the best description of what follows.

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Sacha Golob
King's College London


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