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Greek Origins vs. Scholasticism/Monasticism

While working on negation — the topic of my dissertation — I jump eagerly at any mention of the words: negation, negativity, dissemination, denial, no and others.  I trace them in books and through word origins biographies and greek etymology dictionaries.  All this while trying to construct a method for my research.  I work mainly on Heidegger and as most people know there is a very intimate relationship between Heidegger and the Greeks.  At the same time he is very critical of books that think Greek philosophy in modern scholastic terms claiming such thought is alien to the Greeks.  For example while discussing Jaeger’s Entstehungsgeschichte der Metaphysik des Artistotles in On the Essence and Concept of phusis in Aristotle Physics B, 1 he states:

[T]his book has the single fault of thinking through Aristotle’s philosophy in the modern Scholastic neo-Kantian manner that is entirely foreign to Greek thought.

Two matters spring to mind.  First it’s somewhat clear that Heidegger is avoiding the Christian interpretation of Greek thought.  This is a prominent reaction against the German philosophy of the time contaminated by theologians and adhering to forms of transcendence and holy present ideas.  It is something we also see in Nietzsche of course.  God is dead and this means theological interpretations as well.  The second point is more of a question.  Do we really have any claim to purity in the Greek texts before us?  Isn’t our thinking apparatus tainted to the point that whatever we make of the Greek fragments is made through theological structures?

Of course there is no such purity and Heidegger is definitely not a philosopher of purity no matter how much he cherishes Ancient Greece.  Being after all is constantly withdrawing so we can’t get a hold of its purity.  Truth for him is aletheia with its emphatic lethe, the concealment of Being.  So why go back?  Why go all the way back?  This is so strange coming from a philosopher who when discussing Aristotle’s concept of dunamis states that an origin is not that from which something proceeds but rather “being an origin for something other is in itself a proceeding to the other” meaning the origin is never a point of departure but a destination so why depart from the Greeks?  We can also see this in Being and Time Dasein doesn’t start its existence from a particular point it starts from thrownness suggesting again that there is no point of departure, no point from which Dasein is thrown.

In fact philosophy for Heidegger does start in thrownness.  In his Leibniz lectures he makes it clear that the task of philosophy is to reiterate the same seemingly simple questions from our facticity — thrownness.  So again why the Greeks?  Why not Scholasticism and Monasticism?  Agamben seems to have returned there in his latest book for example.  Is he claiming that in the age after destruction and deconstruction we are now ready to face the theologians again?  I’ll leave all these questions open for now.  More to come..

By Maria


2 comments on “Greek Origins vs. Scholasticism/Monasticism

  1. Steve
    July 24, 2013

    Hey Maria, thanks, this is great. I’m coming up against the same kinds of questions in my project on ‘faculty’ and have got into the scholasticism as you know! What I’ve found so far, in this particular case of the history of faculty psychology, is that the main movement of the thought in scholasticism was to systematise Aristotle, to turn his fluid and open texts into doctrinal form which was repeated in similar ways through lots of scholastic authors. There was surprisingly little Greek read by these scholars so most of them were working from Latin translations and working within increasingly fixed ‘Aristotlean’ doctrines, which became more reified (albeit into interesting analytic systems) whilst being attributed to ‘the philosopher’ – and the sources were often ultimately Averroes and Avicenna in translation from Arabic rather than Aristotle. There were calls to ‘return to Aristotle’ when the original texts became more widely available but the forms of thought were in place. Modern philosophy is then not as far from scholasticism as traditional history would have you believe, it seems.

    I think Heidegger’s study of the originals is an attempt to step back over this scholastic history of reification into the systems that, as you say, inform subsequent philosophy in all kinds of ways – it would be fairer for him not to pick out Jaeger but to show it is more generally the case (although ‘modern Scholastic neo-Kantian’ is a weird phrase: do you think Hei is actually saying neo-Kantianism is a modern type of scholasticism, and not actually talking about medieval scholasticism?).

    If I could read the original Greek texts like Heidegger I would love to… The example of the opacity of the translation of dynamis as ‘faculty’ (as well as potentiality) shows how difficult Aristotle is to read in translation. So perhaps Heidegger isn’t guilty of the criticism of attempting to return to a pure origin but is rather showing a different reading of the open and unfinished Greek text – though you’ll know better than me whether it seems he’s claiming his reading is definitive. But without being a scholar of ancient Greek it seems a genealogical method of tracing the history of a concept is the one that’s more feasible.

    So I’m happier with Heidegger’s return to the Greeks – although sadly wouldn’t be able to do it myself – than with his etymological method (although an essay ‘Heidegger’s Etymological Web’ on JStor gives quite a good defence of that, not sure I really buy it though…)

    On Agamben, I’d like to read his book on method, The Signature of all Things, time’s running out a bit though…

    Sorry this is so long!

  2. Maria
    July 31, 2013

    That’s very interesting Steve. I don’t know what Heiddeger means by modern scholastics. I know there are neo-scholastics but they are against the ideas of Kant so I can’t imagine they would be neo-kantians. Then again maybe the modern was an adjective describing neo-kantians rather than scholastics.

    I was reading Hegel’s lectures on the History on Philosophy again this morning in a completely different light with regard to your comments. These are three volumes starting with the Ancients through the medieval period all way up to Schelling and Fichte. This is especially interesting as Hegel as you know was a great reader of Aristotle. I know he read both Greek and Latin but he didn’t seem to be so against the scholastic readings. In fact his lectures include an extensive section on them and how they lead onto modern philosophy. I guess for him — as with most of the figures of history of philosophy for Hegel — they were a necessary part of the development of thought.

    I guess in a sense there seems to be more of an antagonism with Heidegger and his omission of the scholastics. It’s violent almost. Then again he does accuse Hegel of onto-theology and it is desktruction that he is applying.

    I guess going back to the question in the conclusion. Now we are in the post-apocalyptic epoch after the destruktion of the metaphysics of the anthropos, after the death of God, where everything is different and nothing has shape, are we not ready to look back at this history? Is that not what Agamben is doing? You will know more about this than me Steve.

    Finally, Etymology, I think it gives you a better understanding of a word and of language. I don’t understand the problem with it? It’s not always effective but sometimes it gives you clues to links between concepts that you never knew were there.

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This entry was posted on July 12, 2013 by in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , .
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