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From The Essence of Truth by Martin Heidegger

Last Updated: November 11, 2011

From The Essence of Truth by Martin Heidegger (1931, Eng. Trans. 2002)

The idea of the Good (idea tou agathouho agathos)

as Plato expresses it, the ability to see and the ability to be seen must both be harnessed together under one yoke a yoke which gives the dunamis to the perceiving as also to the perceivable. And what must pertain to the perceived, in order that it should be perceivable? The aletheia!

            Plato says that a being is only accessible as such when it stands in aletheia(unhiddenness). In a way that is self-evident for a Greek, he quite unambiguously understands aletheia not as a property and determination of seeing, of knowledge, nor as a characteristic of knowledge in the sense of a human faculty, but as a determination of what is known, of the things themselves, of the beings.

            This therefore which grants unhiddenness to the knowable beings and which lends to the knower the power of knowing, this I say, is the idea of the good (the good as the highest idea).

            The good, the agathon, is therefore the enablement of being as such and of unhiddenness as such. Or better, what Plato calls the good is that which empowers being and unhiddenness to their own essence, i.e. what is prior to everything else, that upon which everything else depends.  The agathon can only be understood in this sense: Empowerment of being.

            Empowerment is the limit of metaphysics. Plato calls that which empowers agathon(the Good itself, the Sun of Truth).


The Soul and Perception (psuche, aesthesis, gnosis)

We perceive the existing objects of perception: color and sound. Color is one being, sound is another; or to put it the other way around, the one exists as something different in relation to the other. As beings, both color and sound are different to each other and the same as themselves.

            We perceive all this (being, being one, different, both, the same, two, one, identity and non-identity) in addition to the color and sound. So we have an irremovable excess (as we provisionally call it) of perceivables within the region of perception, and it is incumbent on us to soberly re-inact the proof that Plato provides for this. We do  not know what this excess is.

            Now in what way do you perceive all this (the indicated excess) attaching to them (color and sound)? For it is impossible, either through hearing or sight, to discover, or take in, what they have in common.

            It is now said that this excess is to koinon, i.e. what color and sound have in common. Color, sound, taste, etc. are all existing, each identical with itself and different from one another. Do we hear this being-different, do we see it with our eyes? Do we hear or see their existing? Of course we do not.

There is no special organ for this (for this excess) as there are for the others (color, sound, smell), but the soul itself views, through itself, what all things have in common.

            This singularity, being, which they have in common does not contain anything of color and sound, neither anything of smell. Being-different is likewise a koinon. To be sure, difference separates one from the other (color from sound)! It is therefore definitely not something they have in common! So it appears. Color and sound are different only insofar as they can be distinguished. They can be distinguished from each other only insofar as they are held up together and compared. They come together in comparison, albeit only to emerge as different: this means that each is different, that difference pertains to both, that they agree in being different: a singularity, and indeed such that both are extended therein, and must be so extended, in order that they can be different. So we see that this koina, this totality belonging to the excess, shows us what is perceived in this one region of perceivability, into which color, sound, etc. show themselves in their diversity. Therefore the koina have precisely the character referred to earlier, namely that it is the soul which relates to them: a singularity, an extending of one to the other.

            (We should perhaps note that Heidegger gave a lecture in 1957, called The Principle of Identity, in the preface to which he says, the constitution of metaphysics is defined by difference.)

            The connection between the excess of perception and the soul itself is thus understood in  a properly positive sense; we understand why it must be the soul, and this alone, which perceives ta koina. Plato says, the soul perceives everything of this kind through itself. But what can through mean here, where no bodily organ, indeed no kind of organ whatever, can be meant? Perhaps a soul-organ and forces? Not at all! But does the soul itself possess a passage-way? It does not have this, but rather is this itself, thus holding up the region of a unitary perceivability. Intrinsically and as such it extends over to the other which can be given to it. As that which intrinsically perceives, the soul is itself a being-extended-to, a passage-way, an extending over to.


Eros as the Souls striving for Being

We have conceived knowledge as the possession of truth; possession is one mode of having. What possession is cannot be decided at one stroke. Possessing is one way of having, and one way of possessing (the most familiar to us) is having disposal over things. It is this kind of possessing that we wish to bring to mind (only for the purpose of emphasis, not for an exhaustive analysis of the phenomenon), paying special attention to the fact that what is had here stands ready for our arbitrary employment. Such  possessing can (but need not) be seen as the highest mode of having, for it is marked precisely by immediacy of disposition and arbitrariness of employment, thus by a kind of freedom of having. Precisely on the basis of this extensive freedom of action, such possessing can (but need not) become, in its genuine comportmental character, a self-losing amidst all kinds of needs. The autonomy of the self gives way to the contingency and arbitrariness of needs and desires to be immediately satisfied. Although this kind of having has the appearance of fulfilled possession, it is not an authentic having in the strict sense of authenticity. What we understand by authenticity is that mode of human existence wherein man (authentically) appropriates himself, i.e. wherein he comes to himself and can be himself. The having which we have just described is inauthentic servitude under the arbitrary rule of needs. This self-consuming striving then leads to the destruction of the authentic self.

            (We may note here that the psychologist and author, Erich Fromm, who was a student of Heidegger, wrote extensively in the 60s and 70s in America about this distinction between having and being.)

            Every striving is indeed a striving toward (the object striven for), but this toward is not necessarily an away-from-oneself. On the contrary, one can think of a striving wherein the object is held fast as such, but also thereby held fast to oneself, so that  one finds oneself in this holding fast to the object, indeed such that one finds oneself not just as a point and thing and subject, but in the sense of the souls essence, which is essentially a relationship thus finding oneself precisely as this striving relationship to the object. This kind of striving does not strive to possess the object, ,but strives for it to remain as striven for, as held in the striving, in order that the striver finds himself from that for which he strives. Such striving would be authentic  in so far as the striving self does not strive away from itself  but rather back towards itself, i.e. in order that, in this striving, it may gain its own self.

            Plato says nothing else but that being belongs to that which stands in authentic striving. Plato also calls this striving Eros.

            So we should not understand the Platonic and Greek Eros in terms of what is nowadays called the erotic, but nor should we think that the Greek eros would be suitable for bigoted old aunties.


Delight (hedonai)

The delightful in the broadest sense is what arouses hedonai (delight); it raises our spirits and somehow puts us in good cheer, in contrast to the disagreeable, which depresses us.  The attunedness, which constantly and from the ground up penetrates our Dasein (being), could not be what it is had it not attuned our existence in advance to the delightfulness of the beings we encounter, and to the delightfulness as such.  Only in so far as our Dasein is attuned to this, and thus also attuned to the possibility of changes and shadings of attunement, thus only in so far as delight and non-delight stand in the authentic striving of the soul, can we encounter the delightful as such. It is not as if we first find beings as present, and then find that they delight us. The situation is the reverse: what we encounter is already attuned in respect of delight and non-delight, or hovers between these as indeterminate (which, however, is not nothing), and only on the basis of this situation can we then disregard the character of delight/non-delight in order to look at what we encounter as something merely present.

            Something can strike us as delightful only in so far as our Dasein is already attuned to the delightfulness/non-delightfulness of what is present. (Or we might add, to the justice/injustice, honesty/dishonesty, courage/cowardice, relevance/irrelevance, etc. of what is present. Such qualities, which modern psychology and philosophy would attribute to the mental faculties of judgment and discrimination, have an existence in themselves which is given to us through another faculty in us which precedes mental operations, called the soul, according to Heideggers interpretation of Plato.)

Delightfulness and non-delightfulness, taken in the broad sense, thus belong to the region of perceivability that surrounds us, i.e. the sphere of our striving, just like sameness, difference, etc. What the Greeks call agathon and kakon, good and bad, belong in this same region, provided that these words are understood in the broadest possible sense.




Ideas (ideai)

Plato himself gives an interpretation of the cave allegory. Stated without allegory, the ascent from the cave to the light of the sun is  he eis ton noeton topon tes psuches anodos, the way upwards, measured out by the soul in its knowing, for reaching the place where one encounters what is accessible to nous. Plato speaks of a topos noetosNous is the faculty of non-sensory seeing and perceiving, of understanding things as what they are, their essence (what-being), the being of things. Ta noeta, the perceivable in noein, the perceived in non-sensory seeing, the look, the given-as are, as we know, the ideaiTo noeton is here equivalent to to gnoston. And now Plato says,

            In the region of that which is genuinely and truly knowable, what is ultimately seen is the idea of the good, but it can be seen only with great difficulty, under great exertion.

            He who is genuinely hungry for knowledge (who genuinely wants to know) is concerned with beings themselves, and not at all with what are commonly held as such (the  shadows); he is concerned with the ho estin, with the what-being of beings, their essence, the ideas, the beingful beings. The ideas are therefore the most beingful beingseidos.

            How are we to understand this double character of the ideas, that they are the most unhidden and the most beingful? What do we conclude about the essence of the ideas and its connection with the essence of truth as such? The most unhidden: this superlative means that the ideas are the primary unhidden. They stand at the forefront of everything unhidden, they play the leading role, they prepare in advance for the others. In what way? The ideas are the most beingful beings, and what is most beingful in beings, what actually constitutes beings, is their being. But being, as we have seen, is what first of all lets beings through. The ideas prepare the way. Light allows what was previously concealed to become visible. The ideas remove hiddenness. The unhiddenness of beings arises from being, from the ideas, from alethinon (the unhidden truth itself). What is most disclosive opens up, and what is most illuminative lights up. The ideas allow unhiddenness to arise along with beings; they are the primordially unhidden, unhiddenness in the primordial originary sense. This is what superlative means.

            When unhiddenness occurs, hiddenness and concealing are overcome and removed. The removal of concealment, that which acts against concealing, we shall henceforth call de-concealing. The characteristic perceiving of the idea, this projecting, is deconcealing. At first this appears to be just another word. This perceiving as pre-modelling binding of oneself to being, which is the proper meaning of liberation, deconceals not in an incidental sense, but this looking-into-the-light has the essential character of deconcealing and is nothing else but this. To be deconcealing is the inner-most accomplishment of liberation. It is care itself: becoming-free as binding oneself to the ideas, as letting beinggive the lead. Therefore becoming-free, this perceiving of the ideas, this understanding-in-advance of being and the essence of things, as the character of deconcealing, i.e. deconcealing belongs to the inner drive of this seeing. Deconcealing is the innermost nature of looking-into-the-light.


            (We may conclude by saying that these excerpts show that this work of Heidegger, which is based on the allegory of the cave in Platos Republic, is a restatement of Platonic philosophy. As such it provides a key to Heideggers philosophy as a whole, as well as to its connection with the gnostic philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. In the diagram below, we may see that the inner and outer circles of beings and knowledge, which are conventionally separated, are united by the upper and lower circles of ideas and soul; and the central oval unites all four circles. The six-pointed crystal in the center might be understood as the evolutionary human being, whose task and essence, as Heidegger suggests, is to unite these four dimensions of being. We may discover that what separates Heidegger and Sri Aurobindo is the idea that this unification of being in the Truth-Consciousness is an evolutionary task, according to Sri Aurobindo, while for Heidegger it is the task of philosophy and, as such, is within the reach of human beings as they are, though requiring great effort.)

Rod Hemsell