Modernity in Antiquity: Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy in Heidegger and Arendt

Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy/Revue canadienne de philosophie continentale 24 (2):5-29 (2020)
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This article looks at the role of Hellenistic thought in the historical narratives of Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt. To a certain extent, both see—with G. W. F. Hegel, J. G. Droysen, and Eduard Zeller—Hellenistic and Roman philosophy as a “modernity in antiquity,” but with important differences. Heidegger is generally dismissive of Hellenistic thought and comes to see it as a decisive historical turning point at which a protomodern element of subjective willing and domination is injected into the classical heritage of Plato and Aristotle. Arendt, likewise, credits Stoic philosophy with the discovery of the will as an active faculty constituting a realm of subjective freedom and autonomy. While she considers Hellenistic philosophy as essentially apolitical and world-alienated—in contrast to the inherently political and practical Roman culture—it nonetheless holds for her an important but unexploited ethical and political potential.



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Jussi M. Backman
University of Jyväskylä

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