As different as life from nonlife: Aristotle’s multiplicity and Heidegger’s directive


The following is the abstract of my paper to be presented at this year’s Society of European Philosophy (SEP) conference at Kingston as part of a panel which includes Professor Catherine Malabou:


Heidegger’s notion of es gibt posits both the triumph of indifference (in the form of “technological nihilism”) and its overcoming by way of a rare directive. Put simply, this “directive” gives rise to a “thoughtful speaking” that retrieves “humans from the intractability of nonbeings,” that is, from the status of mass-produced artifacts.[1] Nonetheless, claims Heidegger, “humanity” is “rushing headlong toward this goal of producing itself technologically,” a goal that would explode humanity’s “essence qua subjectivity” and move it into a “region” of absolute relativism synonymous with the nihilism of contemporary global capitalism. As such, “subjectivity” is “tranquilized” to the point of artifactual nonbeing, understood as “the most extreme nonessence in relation to φύσις-ούσία.”[2]

Heidegger thus posits two – and only two – ways of being: living being and the nonliving artifact. Similarly, he posits two – and only two – “beginnings”: metaphysics and the “other thinking.” Moreover, it is this latter which the saving directive – as event of transition – aims toward. Here, then, we have two opposed beginnings and two opposed directions: a down-going into “mere” objecthood and a transitional “over-coming” that ultimately frees humanity from the machinic nihilism definitive of global capital.

Transitional thinking, brought into play by the directive, thus “returns” humanity to its essential “tractability” understood as that which “naturally” separates the human from the nonliving artifact. To illustrate this, Heidegger turns to the notions of γενεσις and φύσις in Aristotle. According to Heidegger’s reading, “the various kinds” of generation are for Aristotle only two, that of technical objects and that of living beings (φύσις), of which only the latter “place themselves forth” and are thus “intrinsically twofold” insofar as they constitute “the presencing of an absencing.” However, according to Aristotle there in fact exist “multiple branches of Being,” of which φύσις is only “a particular (and in itself limited) region of beings.” Φύσις, in short, is one branch of being among others that together make up the many-branched tree of being(s). As such, Heidegger’s directive amounts to an erasure of indifference in favour of simple difference.

The central question of this paper is therefore: what if we maintain ourselves within this indifference? What if we undo this repression of multiple ways of being, each as different from every other as that of the living and the nonliving? Moreover, how might Heidegger himself help us with these questions? In a late amendment to Being and Time, for example, he states that, in contrast to Dasein, time necessarily spatialises itself quite differently for nonhuman animals. Further, I consider whether indifference, synonymous with “detachment without objectivity,” in fact must open itself to those multiple, radically other branches of being affirmed by Aristotle.

[1] Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event).

[2] “On the Essence and Concept of Φύσις in Aristotle’s Physics B, 1.”

About Richard Iveson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow I have a PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London; my teaching and research interests include animal studies; Continental philosophy; posthumanism; cultural studies; biotechnology and cyberculture; post-Marxism. Books; Being and Not Being: On Posthuman Temporarily (London & Washington: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), forthcoming. Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals ( London: Pavement Books, 2014). View all posts by Richard Iveson

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