John Sallis

To begin, not at the beginning—as Timaeus prescribes—but at the end, at the point of absolute convergence. To begin, then, with the conflictual words of Nietzsche: "Truth is the kind of error without which a certain kind of living being could not live.1" Nothing would have been lost had Nietzsche written that truth is a lie, that truth is a kind of untruth. Untruth is the dissolution of truth, and yet, without truth, untruth has no sense whatsoever. Truth is dissolved, and untruth becomes sheer nonsense. What, then, remains?

Nothing but ghosts—unless the difference between truth and untruth is restored and comes to overrule the assertion of their identity. But such an overruling already took place in the beginning, in antiquity. In the Cratylus Plato ventriloquizes Socrates as posing to Hermogenes the question: "Do you speak of something as saying the true or as saying the false?" Hermogenes concurs. Socrates continues in his typically interrogative style: "So there would be true speech [λόγος ἀληθής] and false speech?" Once Hermogenes has again concurred, Socrates establishes the difference by declaring what each is: "Then isn't that speech which says things as they are, true, and that which says them as they are not, false?"2 The difference can be expressed proportionately: The true is to the false as being is to nonbeing. Thus, the difference between truth and untruth is proportionate to the most fundamental difference, being and nonbeing, which is the difference to which all differences can be traced back. It is the difference of all differences. Hence, the difference between truth and untruth is of the same order as that between being and nonbeing. Truth is entirely set apart from error.

If the difference between being and nonbeing is transposed into the order of showing or, more precisely, self-showing, then being will denote that which shows itself as it itself truly is, whereas nonbeing denotes that which shows itself as being other than itself. Being, determined by reference to truth, is designated as εἶδος, while nonbeing as apparently other, is designated as ὁρατόν. In the much-discussed schema by which Nietzsche represents the history of metaphysics, it is the modality of truth—gradually deteriorating—for each epoch that is described; and it is these forms of truth—or rather, of truth and untruth—that entitle the entire account: "How the 'True World' Finally Became a Fable." Once the true world has—in Nietzsche's conflictual idiom—proved to be truly a fable, once truth has proved to be truly a kind of untruth, the Nietzschean inversion will have taken place—will truly have taken place. Truth will have been displaced—truly displaced—that is, displaced while, nonetheless, retaining in the inversion a marginal place. Not even in the end of metaphysics—as Heidegger terms it—will every trace of truth be effaced.

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If one takes one's bearings from Nietzsche's fable of the true world as finally a fable, then the history of metaphysics can be regarded as framed by the thought of Plato and Nietzsche. At one extreme the idea that determines the true world is intelligible; its designation is a translation of εἶδος or ἰδέα. At the other extreme the idea has become vacuous, and in the inversion it has become subordinate to the sensible, to ὁρατόν in an extended sense. The course of metaphysics stretches from the positing of the idea to its dissolution. The history of metaphysics coincides with the history of the idea.

And yet, the thought both of Plato and of Nietzsche exceeds the limits that define these histories; it breaks the frame. There are excesses in both directions. Among these is the insinuation of the more ancient sense of truth within the Platonic positing of the idea as truth; this covert inclusion is borne primarily by the image of the cave as an open enclosure. Parmenides also broaches an excess in that he names that which philosophy has never been able to think, namely, ἀλήθεια. Heidegger refers implicitly to Parmenides when he writes: "Ἀλήθεια is named at the beginning of philosophy, but afterward it is not explicitly thought as such by philosophy."3 If one ventures—despite grave reservations—to render ἀλήθεια as truth, then the name Parmenides bestows on truth can be translated as "well-rounded truth," which he contrasts with mortals' lack of truth. In effect, Parmenides assembles the twofold of truth and untruth quite outside the limits of metaphysics.

Nietzsche, too, at the other extreme exceeds the limits of metaphysics. Heidegger identifies this excess by referring to the final stage in Nietzsche's fable of the true world. In Nietzsche's words: "The true world we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? . . . But no! Along with the true world we have also abolished the apparent one ."4 This marks the point where, in their mutual dependence, both the intelligible and the sensible are emptied of all signification, so that, as Heidegger writes, "the ordering structure must be changed" (GA 43:260). The new order would be established beyond the limits of metaphysics.

Heidegger's thought is oriented not primarily to metaphysics as such but to the advances, retrievals, or descents in which thought exceeds the limits of metaphysics. The very question "What is metaphysics?" to which Heidegger often returns, poses thought in its excess: "The question 'What is metaphysics?' questions beyond metaphysics" (GA 9:303). If metaphysics is bound to the idea in its unqualified self-identity, this bond will conjoin metaphysics and truth. If, on the other hand, the idea becomes vacuous, then its bond—if there can be such a bond—is with untruth. A cogent suggestion would be that liminal excess is bound to both truth and untruth. Yet, how is a bond to both truth and untruth possible? Even more aporetic is the question of how, since they share the bond to certain movements, truth and untruth belong together. Can there be truth that is also untruth?—or that is only a kind of untruth, even just a kind of untruth, or error, without which a certain kind of living being could not live? As soon as the question of untruth is posed, the shadow, or ghost, of Nietzsche comes upon the scene.

Discourse directly engaged in displaying movements of liminal excess is not conspicuous in Heidegger's texts, though his intense preoccupation with Parmenides and other early Greek thinkers as well as his massive work on Nietzsche reflect such a concern. For expressions such as die Überwindung oder Verwindung der Metaphysik signify precisely a movement beyond metaphysics, that is, a liminal transgression. The same holds for Heidegger's frequent use of the idiom of ground; the ground of metaphysics does not lie in metaphysics as such but, rather, apart from it. Only as so positioned can it ground metaphysics. In all such cases, that of post- or pre-metaphysical thought, that of overcoming metaphysics, and that of the ground of metaphysics, it is a matter of movement beyond the limits of metaphysics. Expressed otherwise, it is a matter of transgression from the truth of the idea, the truth of metaphysics, to the untruth that lies outside the limit. It is the outside, the untruth, that is the primary concern in the present relation, but that also, in both broader and narrower perspectives, represents Heidegger's thinking.

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In Contributions to Philosophy Heidegger declares unconditionally: "The age of the 'systems' is past" (GA 65: §1). But in his lectures on Schelling's Freiheitsschrift, which were presented in the same year in which he began work on Contributions to Philosophy (1936), his statement is less unconditional. In the lectures he says—as he has privately confirmed: "Every philosophy is systematic, but not every philosophy is a system" (GA 42:51). The statement broaches the question: In what way is Heidegger's thinking systematic? What is the basis of its systematicity?

This systematic character lies in the structure of Heidegger's thinking as a progression of dyadic shapes or forms (Gestalten). Each form is determined by the degree of proximity between truth and untruth that is inherent in it. In this connection Heidegger refers to the "simple sights and native forms" (GA 65: §32). These are the forms in which things are seen as they truly are yet also as receding in such a way as to preclude their showing themselves as they truly are. The forms thus embody a double vision, namely, of things open to unlimited luminosity and of things resistant to openness and light. If transposed to the level of eventuation, the vision will then be portrayed as cast into the open where things are revealed and yet also as held back from the closure into which things are withdrawn. Thus, within each of the forms belonging to the systematic progression, openness and closure in their tension essentially occur. In each form there is a happening of truth and untruth.

In the concept of a progression of forms, a profound affinity of Heidegger's thought with Hegel's is announced. For in the Phenomenology of Spirit, of which Heidegger developed extensive commentaries and interpretations, the course is indeed a progression of forms, specifically of the forms of spirit leading from the immediacy of pure sense experience up to absolute spirit with which the entire progression culminates and in which the difference between knowledge and truth is finally resolved.

One might reasonably suppose that it was precisely because of the affinity of his thought with Hegel's that Heidegger returned again and again to lecture and write about Hegel. Yet, despite the evident affinity, there are at least two points on which Heidegger differentiates his thought from Hegel's.

The first concerns the moments involved in the progression within each of the forms, which are specifically forms of spirit. In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel describes this progression as "The doubling which posits oppositions and which is again the negation of this indifferent diversity and its opposition. That is, it is only this self-restoring sameness, the reflective turn into itself in its otherness."5 Spirit is the negation of the negation of itself; it looks "the negative in the face," and therefore it is the "movement of becoming an other to itself, which is to say, of becoming an object to its own self and of sublating [aufheben] this otherness" (GW 9:27, 29). In other words, spirit is—in each of its forms—the circling through otherness back to itself. In this connection, the point on which Heidegger distinguishes his thought from Hegel's concerns this circle; his strategy is to put in question the possibility of completing the circling. Setting his own thought apart, he criticizes the concept of a negation that would unconditionally negate the intrinsic negativity of spiritual forms; in other words, in an other word, he denies the force of Aufhebung. Thus, he charges Hegel with "the complete dissolution of negativity into the positivity of the absolute—that is, with surrendering "everything that is negative and negational" (GA 68:14). For Hegel negativity in every form is given up in an affirmation of positivity. Nothing is ultimately lost. For Heidegger, on the other hand, a negativity that is unsurpassable is a negativity that is not negative; there can be no negation of negation that, converted dialectically into positivity, would constitute a ground. What would come to interrupt the return to self, to halt the movement of self-recovery in every form, can only be an abyss (Abgrund). It is—as the word says—the refusal of ground.

The second point that differentiates Heidegger's thought from Hegel's concerns the progression, not within the forms, but from each form to the next. What, for Hegel, drives this progression is precisely untruth. Hegel's initial ploy is to recover untruth from the common view held by natural consciousness and so to assert that "non-truthful consciousness in its untruth is not a merely negative movement." Rather, untruth is to be regarded as "the nothing from which it results" (GW 9:57). As such it has a content that has arisen from the negation of the preceding form; it is truly a determinate negation. Thus, in the truth of this untruth "a new form has thereby immediately arisen, and in the negation, the transition is made whereby the progression through the complete series of shapes comes about on its own accord" (GW 9:57). In short, the untruth of a form, its determinate negation, yields the content of the subsequent form and thereby results in the transition from one form to the next. The circle is repeated at ever higher levels. The forms spiral upward until they reach the level where untruth comes to coincide with truth.

For Heidegger such a direct or even mediated transition is not possible. Referring to his own earlier works, he declares that it is a mistake to suppose that a way to truth could be built that would proceed step by step. Over against such a supposition, he invokes "the necessity of a projection which leaps ahead" (GA 65: §226). The difference separating Heidegger's thinking of progression from Hegel's corresponds to Heidegger's insistence on an interruption of the Hegelian circle. In effect, Heidegger denies that the circle can be closed; he dismisses the belief that the reflection from otherness back into the projective agent can be completed. For Heidegger there remains an interval of negation that is not subject to sublation (Aufhebung) and that consequently blocks the circling in which nothing would progress into being. A leap across this gap of negativity is necessary, or, more precisely, a leap by which the negativity is recast as untruth. In this leap, one will "leave behind everything conventional [and] leap into the belonging to Beyng as it essentially occurs" (GA 65: §115). Similarly, in a section of Contributions to Philosophy entitled "What the question of truth is about," Heidegger answers that "it is about the leap into the essential occurrence [die Wesung] of truth" (GA 65: §213). In these two descriptions of the leap, namely, as a leap into a belonging to Beyng and as a leap into the essential occurrence of truth, an affinity or even an identity of Beyng and truth is indicated.

* * *

The systematic character of Heidegger's thinking lies not only in its retention of irreducible negativity but also in its structure as a progression of forms in which this negativity takes shape in the guise of untruth. This progression can be articulated into a manifold of specific forms. One articulation that closely—if not perfectly—matches that of Heidegger's thinking produces six such forms.

* * *

Considered textually, the initial form is—as one might expect—that developed in §44 of Being and Time. In this well-known analysis of truth, Heidegger proceeds in a thoroughly phenomenological manner, that is, by retracing the way in which truth shows itself. Up to a certain point, his analysis follows closely that laid out in Husserl's Logical Investigations: The capacity that defines consciousness is understood, not in terms of inner, mental images, but rather through the concept of intentionality; and the self-showing of truth is conceived as intentional fulfillment. The analysis shows that the truth of a statement consists in its revealing that which it is about; thus, to be true means to be revealing, that is, to let the thing spoken about be seen in its revealedness (Entdektheit).

Within the compass of his phenomenological analysis, Heidegger traces certain moves that serve to provide specific content to the first form. Among these is a transition from the concept of truth as revealing to what he terms the originary phenomenon of truth. Heidegger's statement regarding this transition is direct: "Being-true as revealing is a manner of Being of Dasein. What makes this revealing itself possible must necessarily be called 'true' in a still more originary sense. The existential-ontological foundations of revealing itself first show the most originary phenomenon of truth " (GA 2: §44). In a sense this is a classical move, a regress from a certain capacity to that which makes it possible, to the condition of its possibility. This condition Heidegger identifies as disclosedness (Erschlossenheit). Yet, disclosedness designates the structural wholes, which Heidegger articulates at three distinct, yet interrelated, levels: as world, Being-in, Being-with; as understanding, attunement, discourse; and as existence, thrownness, fallenness. This structural whole, thus articulated, is precisely the structure constitutive of Dasein: "Dasein is essentially its disclosedness and is therefore identified with the originary phenomenon of truth. Thus, as revealing and disclosing, "it is essentially 'true.' Dasein is 'in the truth'"(GA 2: §44).

While the transition from revealing to disclosedness is throroughly coherent with the Dasein-analysis, it prompts a question that will prove decisive for the subsequent forms. The question is: Why is the condition of the possibility of truth also termed truth? Why does Heidegger simply transfer the term truth from revealedness to disclosedness, especially in view of the difference between the analyses by which each is determined? Heidegger himself hints that something may be amiss in this regress when, bringing ancient thought into his analysis, he remarks that to translate ἀλήθεια as truth is to cover up the meaning that ἀλήθεια had for the Greeks. In a subsequent form, this question will reemerge.

Another move that serves to fill out the first form leads to an incorporation of the concept of untruth. First of all, Heidegger sets the word truth in context: since Dasein is essentially disclosedness and disclosedness is truth in its originary sense, it can be said that Dasein is "in the truth." Heidegger continues the analysis by focusing on a single moment in Dasein's constitutive structure, namely, falling (Verfallen). The term refers to Dasein's propensity to become entangled with things and with the mass of anonymous others. As a result of this entanglement, all that would otherwise be revealed comes to be disguised or closed off. Heidegger concludes: "Because it is essentially falling, Dasein is, in the constitution of its Being, in the ''untruth'" (GA 2: §44).

Untruth limits the capacity of truth, initiating in disclosedness a falling away from the clarity of presence, fostering obscurity within the clearing in which things and others would show themselves as they are. The form becomes a form of truth and untruth. Since untruth is no less intrinsic to Dasein than is truth, these two moments are coordinate; and yet, they are distinct, since untruth is grounded solely in falling, not in the structural whole of Dasein. Furthermore, as their expression indicates, they are opposites. As such they display the minimal degree of proximity; they are farthest from one another.

As the second form begins to take shape, it displays a certain parallel with the first form, which was emergent from Being and Time. In the essay "On the Essence of Truth," disclosedness, which in Being and Time is determined as the originary essence of truth, is reformulated as eksistence, as standing out into the open in such a way that, as in the case of Dasein's disclosedness, beings can present themselves in the openness of the open. In eksisting, Dasein lets beings be, in the sense that they are enabled to show themselves as they are. And yet, it is possible that, in standing out into the open, Dasein can also let beings not be; in other words, their self-presentation can be limited such that they show themselves otherwise than as they are. Then concealment supervenes and, as untruth, proves to belong together with the truth of self-revealing. No longer can these be regarded merely as opposites. Bringing untruth into consideration is not a matter of filling a gap. It is not a matter of sublating their difference, of closing the circle.

Heidegger distinguishes between two types of concealment, that is, two types of untruth. In the first type, Dasein focuses on a certain being or on particular beings and thereby loses sight of others; at its most extreme, such untruth becomes a concealment of beings as a whole. Furthermore, this concealment is such that it conceals itself. This untruth of untruth Heidegger terms the mystery. The other type of concealment is errancy, which consists in taking flight, unknowingly, from the mystery and losing oneself amidst readily available beings. In Contributions to Philosophy Heidegger refers explicitly to the essay on truth in order then to deepen the sense of errancy. In this connection he remarks that errancy can be thought in a more originary way as "the occurrence of the negativity of the 'there'" (GA 65: §223). Thus, as it comes more into prominence, untruth is linked to negativity, which, as double concealment, will prevent all sublational resolving of difference. Hegel is—and will be—kept at a distance.

The essay on truth already shows how Heidegger's discourse can turn back on itself in order to deepen, advance, or retract the results of an earlier analysis. The third form, in its radicality, deepens the earlier analyses by retracting an entire dimension, and thereby it represents an advance. Thus, in Contributions to Philosophy, Heidegger grants that his "meditation on correctness and on its ground of possibility is not immediately very convincing. At this point he refers explicitly to "the lecture on truth," and then he continues: This is "because it is difficult to discard the notion of the human being as a thing (subject, person, etc.) and because all matters are construed as 'lived experiences' of a human being and these in turn as incidents in that being" (GA 65: §214). Here he marks the limit of the analysis in "On the Essence of Truth," which was still attached to the human subject, most notably as the one who stands out into the open. What Heidegger is, in effect, calling for is a detaching of his meditation from this orientation to the human. What is required at this juncture "can be attained only through a dislodging of human being as a whole" (GA 65: §214). Here one could perhaps speak of the untruth of the human or rather of the untruth that will drive the analysis on beyond the human.

The limit of the analysis "in Being and Time and the ensuing writings"—so, in the truth essay—reaches not only to its orientation to the human but also to its character as a mere rejection. In Contributions to Philosophy Heidegger identifies this character. Regarding his earlier works, he writes that "they were always carried out as a rejection and so always took their orientation from that which they rejected. Thus they made it impossible to know the essence of truth in a radical way" (GA 65: §226). To proceed in a radical way would require that the analysis free itself from merely rejecting the previous determinations of the essence of truth. And yet, launching an advance beyond these concepts of truth would be possible only by way of a leap. The analysis of the essence of truth in the truth essay can, at most, only prepare for the leap, which, as radical, would catapult thinking from the humanly oriented openness of the open to the clearing, which is presupposed by all modes of human comportment. The disclosedness of Dasein becomes subordinate to the clearing. By means of the leap, there is carried out a progression from the unconcealment that belongs to Dasein by virtue of its very Being to an unconcealment effected, not by Dasein, but rather as the clearing. With the leap it comes to light that the essence of truth is the clearing and, necessarily, the concealment that belongs together with it. Clearing and concealment, as they belong together, constitute the definitive structure of the third of the forms. As a result of their belonging together, the proximity between truth and untruth is enhanced.

The fourth form represents an intensification of the belongingness of unconcealment and concealment, of truth and untruth. In this regard Contributions to Philosophy is especially succinct. Because concealment conceals itself, it can become manifest only if, in some way, for example by an artwork, it is brought into the clearing; moreover, its clearing must be such that its character as untruth is preserved. In this connection Heidegger proposes the formulation: clearing for concealment or clearing for self-concealing. Thus, he writes with utter succinctness: "Truth is the clearing for concealment [Wahrheitn ist Lichtung für Verbergung] (GA 65: §218). This configuration of truth for untruth takes place as event, as "the turning of the event [die Kehre des Ereignisses]" (GA 65: §226).

The fifth form is still more radical. It reads simply: "Truth is untruth" (GA 65: §226). Yet Heidegger grants that the phrase is prone to be misunderstood; on the other hand, he mentions that it can indicate the strangeness of the essence of truth as clearing for concealing. Furthermore, in the section of Contributions to Philosophy entitled "The Essence of Truth is Un-truth," he refers to the conflicted character of the formulation and continues with these words: It "is supposed to express the fact that the negative belongs intrinsically to truth, by no means as a sheer lack but as resistance, as that self-concealing which comes into the clearing as such" (GA 65: §228). Thus, Heidegger maintains that negativity inheres in truth, a negativity that no sublation can overcome. Again it is Hegel who is kept at bay.

The final form takes shape as a turning back from the untruth of truth to the beings that can come to presence therein. Most pertinent here is the manner in which, reaching back from the clearing for concealment, beings are—and are not—to be taken up. Heidegger describes this engagement with beings as taking place "such that we procure, create, and look after beings themselves and allow them to take effect, in each case according to their own proper behest, in order that thereby the clearing may be grounded and not become an emptiness in which everything simply presents itself as equally easy to 'understand' and master" (GA 65: §225). These modes of comportment reflect back on the character of both clearing and concealment. Through proper engagement with beings, the clearing is configured rather than succumbing to the homogeneity of an indifferent sphere in which, reciprocally, beings could not properly come to presence. In addition, as concealment draws itself into the clearing, it also veils and cloaks itself in a way that is significantly determined by those beings that come to presence within the clearing for concealment.

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Thus, as Nietzsche declared, truth is a kind of error, that is, truth is untruth in their reflection to and from beings. It goes almost without saying that Heidegger never ceased his struggle with Nietzsche—"the last one who asked the question of 'truth,' and asked about it most passionately" (GA 65: §234). Heidegger grants that "Nietzsche's thinking probably takes a step whose extent we still cannot judge, because we are too close to him" (GA 65: §234).

And so, from an immeasurable distance, the words of Parmenides:

But since all things are called light and night, and the names according to their powers have been attributed to these things and those, all is full at once of light and obscure night, of both equally, since there is nothing that does not belong to both. (Fragment 9)


1 Friedrich Nietzsche, Nachgelassene Fragmente, in Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Colli & Montinari, vol. VII/3 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1974), 226.

2 Plato, Cratylus 385b.

3 Martin Heidegger, Zur Sache Des Denkens, in vol. 14 of Gesamtausgabe (Frankfurt a.M.: Klostermann, 2007), 85. Further references to Heidegger's works will be given in the text and identified by "GA" plus volume number and page or section number.

4 Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmerung, in vol. VI/3 of Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 75.

5 G. W. F. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, in vol. 9 of Gesammelte Werke (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1980), 18. Further references to Hegel's works will be given in the text and identified by "GW" plus volume and page number.

John Sallis - Untruth
for The Heidegger Circle Annual Meeting Boston University, May 2023