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Merleau-Ponty, Maurice

(515 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] (Mar 3, 1908, Rochefort – May 3, 1961 Paris), French philosopher, leading representative of phenomenology. After completing his studies, Merleau-Ponty taught first in secondary schools, and then, between 1935 and 1939, at the École Normale Supérieure, where he had been a student. During the German occupation of France he was active in the resistance. In 1945 he became professor in Lyon, and a year later returned to Paris, first to the Sorbonne. From 1952 until his death he taught at the Collège de France. From 1945 to 1953 he edited the periodical ¶ Les temps modernes, toge…


(258 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] A moment stands out in one's experience of time. While the mathematical, punctiliar “now” is empty, the ecstatically perceived moment marks a distinctive, no longer temporal suddenness. The most important writer on the moment in modern philosophy and theology has been S. Kierkegaard, who in turn was influenced by Plato's dialogue Parmenides and the idea of the “sudden” (τὸ ἐξαίϕνης/ tó exaíphnēs) developed in it. For Kierkegaard, the moment marks the point at which a human being becomes spirit: spirit is the place where the eternal and the …

Nietzsche, Friedrich

(2,451 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] (Oct 15, 1844, Röcken near Leipzig–Aug 25, 1900, Weimar). Nietzsche is the key philosophical figure for understanding modernity. Like no other before him, he diagnosed the break with tradition taking place in his time and reflected on the consequences of this process. In doing so, his intention was neither to glorify the past nor to count on a better future. Nietzsche is not a romantic and not a propagandist of progress, but sees himself as a transition thinker; he looks back on a his-¶ tory that bears the stamp of Christianity and metaphysics, and weighs up the …


(225 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] from Neo-Latin spontaneitas, based on Latin spons, “incentive, will,” the ablative of which ( sponte), means “of one’s own accord,” self-motivated. A movement is spontaneous if it is not caused by something inherent in the person who moves or in someone or something else. In this sense, Aristotle already distinguished between motion that arises “from itself ” (ἀπὸ ταυτομάτου/ apó tautomátou, Metaph. VII 7, 1032a 13) and motion caused by nature or art (τέχνη/ téchnē). The notion first became prominent, however, in modern philosophy under the category of…

Difference, Ontological,

(345 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] a term introduced by M. Heidegger for the purpose of determining the ¶ relationship between being ( Sein) and “beings” ( das Seiende; Ontology). Although the term did not yet appear in Being and Time ( Sein und Zeit, 1927) and was first introduced in the summer semester lecture series of 1928 and further elaborated in The Essence of Reasons ( Vom Wesen des Grundes, 1929), in content it also relates to the conception of Heidegger's early main work. In it, the discovery of “beings” as they are enco…

Löwith, Karl

(232 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] (Jan 9, 1897, Munich – May 24, 1973, Heidelberg), German philosopher. Löwith studied in Munich and Freiburg, earned his doctorate in Munich and his habilitation under M. Heidegger, in Marburg with his thesis “Das Individuum in der Rolle des Mitmenschen. Ein Beitrag zur anthropologischen Grundlegung der ethischen Probleme” [The individual in the role of fellow human being: a contribution to the anthropological foundation of the ethical problem]. In 1933, Löwith emigrated to Italy, …


(328 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] Interpretation, from Lat. interpretatio, “analysis,” “translation,” generally refers to the elucidation of works and texts. F. Nietzsche elevated the term's prominence in philosophy. In analogy to human behavior toward the world, he understood vitality in general as interpretation. Interpretation is the attempt “to become lord over something” ( Kritische Studienausgabe, vol. XII, 314); it is the selective and harmonizing mastery of an infinitely manifold reality. Only through interpretation, and that means, from relative perspec…


(314 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] German Kehre, “turnabout” or “turning,” is a philosophical term of M. Heidegger, probably first used in the draft of a lecture dating from 1937: ¶ human beings stand “in a turnabout,” and that is synonymous with a possible “transformation of personhood itself “ ( Gesamtausgabe XLV, 214). Heidegger here draws on a fundamental philosophical motif that Plato had already addressed (περιαγωγή/ periagōgḗ, “shifting, conversion”; Rep. 518d) and visualized in the allegory of the cave in his Politicus. Heidegger developed his understanding of this turnabout in his lectures E…

Benjamin, Walter

(254 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] (Jul 15, 1892, Berlin – Sep 27, 1940, Port Bou, France) left a rich oeuvre as a writer, translator, and philosopher. In the center of Benjamin's thought stands the attempt to rehabilitate religious, magical, and speculative experience in the medium of language. Benjamin wishes to regard the phenomena of the world from the perspective of their …


(1,016 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] is both “imitation” and “representation.” For example, when someone is said to destroy his life through mimesis of a tyrant (Plato Gorg. 511a), the former is meant; when the sculptor is said to produce the mimesis of a body (Hippocrates, DK 22, C 1,29), the reference is to the latter. The term is philosophically significant for Plato because of both meanings. Although Plato adopted the term from the theory of music, it did not have primary significance in the philosophy of art. But in reference to art…


(381 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] From Latin decisio, “decision,” “judgment,” is a term coined by C. Schmitt to designate ¶ his thesis that the application of a norm can never be entirely defined by the norm itself, so that there is always a margin and need for “decision.” The term is directed critically against normative and legal positivist positions, especially against the position of Hans Kelsens. For Schmitt …


(437 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] (probably not before 510 – after 450 bce). Alongside Heraclitus, Parmenides was the most important thinker before Socrates and Plato. Nothing is known of his life apart from his birthplace, Elea in southern Italy. By contrast, his philosophy is well attested; the poem in hexameters, in which he presents it, has been preserved in large part, particularly in quotations given by Simplicius. Parmenides is the discoverer of the unity of being. This does not mean a unity imposed on being from outside; rather, it is imparted directly with the sense of “being” (ἐόν/ eón): everyth…


(276 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] is (as Destruktion) a term in M. Heidegger's philosophy in the 1920s that appeared first in his lecture in the summer semester of 1920 and was extensively elucidated in the programmatic work Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles (1923). “Destruction” refers to the “dismantling” of tradition in terms of the self-evidence of its concepts and discourse. This destruction is necessary in order to expose and repeat the origina…

Jonas, Hans

(218 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] (May 10, 1903, Mönchengladbach – Feb 5, 1993, New York) studied with E. Husserl, M. Heidegger, and R. Bultmann. His dissertation was on “Augustin und der paulinische Freiheitsgedanke” [1930, Augustine and the pauline notion of freedom]. Jonas emigrated to London in 1933, and two years later to Palestine. He taught in Jerusalem (1946–1948), as professor in Montreal and Ottawa (1949–1950), and in New York (1955–1976). His book Gnosis und spätantiker Geist (vol. I, 1934; vol. II/1, 1954; vol. II/2, 1993; ET: Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the …

Gadamer, Hans-Georg

(1,026 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] (Feb 11, 1900, Marburg – Mar 13, 2002). Gadamer is the most important representative of philosophical hermeneutics; the fact that hermeneutics has developed into a firmly established philosophical approach is due to him and his principal work, Wahrheit und Methode, 1969 (ET: Truth and Method, 21989). Gadamer studied first in Wrocław (Breslau) and then in Marburg. In 1922 he obtained his doctorate under P. Natorp. In 1923 he spent a semester studying in Freiburg im Breisgau, where he met M. Heidegger, who was to become his re…


(1,072 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] (470 or 469, Athens – 399, Athens), is the prototypical philosopher. He embodies the dialogical character of thinking, the possibility of articulating thoughts in such a way that they are no longer simply stated, as in the case of the “pre-Socratic” thinkers Heraclitus and Parmenides, but can be repeatedly reformulated and tested to determine their coherence. Only in this process can the authority of ideas be proved – whatever is important enough for people to take the trouble to …

Substance/Substance and Accident

(1,192 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] Substance (from Lat. substantia) generally denotes what is constant in contrast to the variation of its conditions and attributes, which are called accidents vis-à-vis substance. Substance is what stays constant as it bears its attributes, as the etymology of the word indicates: substantia (from the verb substare) means literally “what stands firm” and “is beneath”; accidens (present participle of the verb accidere) means that which arises or eventuates. In philosophical usage, substantia and accidens generally represent Greek οὐσία/ ousía and συμβεβηκός/ symb…


(849 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] Idea, in Greek ἰδέα/ idéa or εἶδος/ eídos, “form”; in pre-philosophical usage this means particularly the form of a human being (e.g. Plato Prot. 315e; Hom. Il. III 39; V 787; X 316). This also explains philosophical usage: since it is by their form that people are recognized, the idea can be generally that which makes something understandable. To perceive something that makes it what it is means the same as to perceive its idea. Plato uses this expression very early, using “idea” to distinguish between understanding an object and the object's actual existence. Thus Socrate…


(203 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] (c. 460 – between 380 and 370 bce) came from Abdera. He was a disciple of Leucippus and chief advocate of atomism, founded by his teacher. Democritus dealt with a range of topics; his writings were devoted to issues of ethics and the doctrine of the soul, logic, mathematics and astronomy, as well as poetry and music. However, above all he cultivated his natural philosophy in which following his teacher he formulated and worked out the basic theses of atomism: in an empty space there are small, “indivisible” bodies (the word átomon, indivisible, does not occur in the tra…

Blondel, Maurice

(179 words)

Author(s): Figal, Günter
[German Version] (Nov 2, 1861, Dijon – Jun 4, 1949, Aix-en-Provence), French philosopher. He was professor in Aix from 1896 to 1949. In a broad sense, his philosophy can be classed under the heading of phenomenology and has a clear philosophy-of-religion accent. A central element is the supposition that thinking proceeds from a comprehensive existential …
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