Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Heidegger's Initial Interpretation of Parmenides: An Excursus in the 1922 Lectures on Aristotelian Texts

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Heidegger's Initial Interpretation of Parmenides: An Excursus in the 1922 Lectures on Aristotelian Texts

Article excerpt

Das Gesprach mit Parmenides kommt nie zu Ende. (1) As Heidegger's thinking shifts in the early 1930s, he pays increasing attention to the Presocratics, commencing with his 1932 lectures, "The Beginning of Western Philosophy (Anaximander and Parmenides)." In Sein und Zeit he cites the thinking of Plato and Aristotle as a model of research into being, a productive logic that, far from falling within the scope of positive sciences, provides the conditions for them.' By contrast, in lectures and essays over four decades, beginning in the 1930s, he not only considers Anaximander, Parmenides, and Heraclitus "the only original thinkers," but contends that their originality is muted and even forsaken by Plato and Aristotle. (3) Not surprisingly, publications of these discussions of the Presocratics after 1930 have received the most attention from Heidegger scholars. (4)

Yet, though the material is less well known, Heidegger pays attention to the Presocratics prior to his shift away from fundamental ontology. His interpretation of excerpts from Parmenides' poem in particular figures significantly in his thinking, not only in the context of the fated project begun in Sein und Zeit but also in the period leading up to it. In 1952 he reminisces how he gave his first university lecture on Parmenides (though it is not clear whether Parmenides is the main subject or only one of the subjects addressed in the winter semester of 1915/16 (5)). While there remain at most only fragments of the notes for these lectures, Heidegger gives his most ample early account of major parts of Parmenides' poem in his 1922 lectures on Aristotle. He also returns to the topic in lectures on ancient philosophy delivered the same year (1926) that he completes Sein und Zeit. (6) In the same decade, additional telling remarks about Parmenides can be found in his Marburg application in 1922 and in Sein und Zeit itself, while Parmenides and the Eleatic school figure prominently in his Sophist lectures of 1924/25. (7)

In these lectures and writings during the 1920s Heidegger appropriates what he takes to be the basic insights expressed in Parmenides' poem, even as he criticizes other decisive and fateful aspects of it. His interpretation of Parmenides, like that of so many other thinkers, takes the form of a "destructive retrieval," as Robert Scharff puts it. (8) Scharff's notion captures what Heidegger himself dubs becoming historical, "the positive appropriation of the past," and the "destruction of the transmitted composition of ancient ontology, [breaking it] down to the original experiences in which the first and subsequently leading determinations of being were first obtained." (9) The aim of the following study is to highlight key elements of that critical appropriation, with a view to showing how Heidegger's reading of Parmenides shapes or at least conforms to thinking that culminates in the project of fundamental ontology. To this end, I concentrate primarily on the interpretation given in the 1922 lectures, before turning briefly to Heidegger's references to Parmenides in Sein und Zeit.


There are two levels or steps (Stufen) to the interpretation that Heidegger gives of Parmenides' poem in 1922. By way of introducing the interpretation, however, he flags two features of the interpretation.

The first feature concerns the setting of the interpretation, namely, the 1922 lectures, and Heidegger's aim in the portion of the lectures devoted to Parmenides. Heidegger presents his interpretation of Parmenides in one of the final parts of lectures entitled Phenomenological Interpretations of Selected Discourses of Aristotle on Ontology and Logic. He prefaces the interpretation by calling attention to the need for some guidance in interpreting Parmenides, particularly given the usual readings of the Presocratics in standard histories of philosophy. For this guidance, he looks to Aristotle as supposedly a more reliable guide than that provided by scholars taking their bearings from modern epistemological vantage points. …

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