Concealing and Concealment in Heidegger

Katherine Withy


The self-concealing of being is a primary preoccupation of Heidegger’s later thought, but neither Heidegger nor his interpreters have made clear precisely what it is. In this paper, I identify the self-concealing of being as the concealing of the worlding of the world (note: not of the world), which is essential to and simultaneous with that worlding. In order to establish this, I sketch a taxonomy of the various phenomena of concealing and concealment in Heidegger’s work by building on Mark Wrathall’s four ‘planks’ of unconcealing and concealment. Importantly, I distinguish the procedurally prior concealment (λήθη) that all unconcealing (ἀλήθεια) presupposes from the simultaneous concealing (κρύπτειν, κρύπτεσθαι) that Heidegger frequently confuses it with. This distinction not only allows us to get clear on what it means to say that being conceals itself but also reveals various confusions and obscurities in Heidegger’s own thought as well as in that of his readers.

The self-concealing of being is a primary preoccupation of Heidegger’s later thought. As ‘the finitude of being, in the self-withdrawing manifestation of which the Da-sein of the human stands’ (Heidegger 2003:88/GA15:415), the self-concealing of being is central to Heidegger’s accounts of being and of the human being as Dasein. As the default of being, the self-refusing of being, the withdrawal of being, or the abandonment of entities by being, the self-concealing of being is also for Heidegger the driving force behind the decline in Western metaphysics. But what is it? Few commentators go so far as to identify what this concealing actually is.1 Is it the undiscoveredness of entities?2 Their hiddenness in inauthentic discovery or seeming (e.g. Polt 1999:39, 83)? The transparency of the world in everyday comportment (e.g. Wrathall 2011:33; Polt 2006:25; Dreyfus 2005:408)? The inexhaustibly rich extra or excess of manifestation?3 The mystery of Ereignis (Polt 2006:101, Sheehan 2015:78)? ‘Concealment’ in Heidegger seems to refer to each and all of these – and more.

Mark Wrathall has helpfully distinguished four different levels of concealment and its correlate phenomenon, unconcealment (Wrathall 2011). Since Heidegger refers to phenomena of unconcealment as phenomena of truth, Wrathall calls these four levels of unconcealment and concealment four ‘planks of truth’. That there are multiple planks begins to explain why there are multiple phenomena of concealment in Heidegger’s work. But I argue that we need to go further than Wrathall does in order to accommodate and distinguish the various phenomena of concealment. In addition to recasting some of Wrathall’s characterisations and disputing some of his identifications, I build on his framework by distinguishing the prior concealment that every unconcealment presupposes (λήθη) from a concealing that operates simultaneously with unconcealing (κρύπτειν, κρύπτεσθαι). Within the latter, we can distinguish self-concealing (κρύπτεσθαι) from otherconcealing (κρύπτειν), and within this latter, we can distinguish necessary and contingent forms – as well as further phenomena of self-concealing. While I do not here provide a complete taxonomy of phenomena of concealment and concealing at all planks, I do establish the key distinctions on which such a taxonomy should be based. The most crucial is the distinction between a prior concealment (λήθη) and a simultaneous concealing (κρύπτειν, κρύπτεσθαι). Heidegger himself persistently confuses these two, and this is one of the things that makes it difficult to understand his later thought – and in particular, to identify the self-concealing of being. I conclude by identifying this phenomenon.

1. Four planks of Unconcealment and Concealment

Wrathall lays out four planks of truth or unconcealment, each of which is the condition of possibility of the one numerically lower than it. The first plank is ordinary propositional truth: anything with propositional content unconceals entities in their predicative determination. Such unconcealing is made possible by the second plank of unconcealment, ontic truth or discovery. Entities show up meaningfully as that and what they are, rather than not. This, in turn, is made possible by ontological truth, the unconcealment at the third plank. Ontological truth is the showing up of meaningful entities as a whole – the happening of the world, the understanding of being, or Dasein’s disclosing. This is as far as Heidegger gets in Being and Time, but according to Wrathall, he later adds a further level: the clearing (Lichtung) or Seyn. Wrathall takes this fourth plank of unconcealment to be a space of possibility that we must posit in order to make sense of the fact that there are various possible worlds or possible understandings of being, which prevail (if they do prevail) in different places or at different times. The clearing is the ‘space’ within which this comes to pass.

Crucially, for Heidegger, each of these phenomena of unconcealment is paired with a concealment. The reason is manifest in the very term: unconcealment (Unverborgenheit) requires a prior concealment (Verborgenheit). Such concealment is logically prior to unconcealment, and I suggest that it is so because it is procedurally prior to it. Concealment is the step-zero or starting point of a process of unconcealing (unverborgen). Such unconcealing involves a ‘suspension or cancellation’ (Heidegger 1992:14/GA54:20) of concealedness, which means that concealedness must be in place first.

Heidegger finds the same structure in what he takes to be the equivalent Greek term, ‘ἀλήθεια’.4 Here, the alpha privative (α-) signals that a procedurally prior concealment has been suspended or cancelled. This concealment is λήθη. ‘Λήθη’ means forgetting or forgetfulness, and it is most commonly known as the proper name for the river of oblivion in Hades. The corresponding verb, λανθάνειν, means ‘to escape notice, to be unknown, unseen, unnoticed’ (Liddell and Scott 1998). Ἀλήθεια, then, is literally the condition of no longer eluding notice: no longer being forgotten or concealed. It is unconcealment, unconcealedness – or, understood as a process, unconcealing.

The point of emphasising that unconcealing or unconcealment always presupposes a prior concealment is to encourage us to think unconcealment as a privative phenomenon. Wrathall explains: ‘Unconcealment is meant to be understood like blindness or reticence. […] With respect to each plank in the platform, then, concealment is the positive term, and needs to be understood before we can become clear about what unconcealment amounts to’ (Wrathall 2011:18). So, to begin to understand what Heidegger means when he talks about concealment, we need to identify at each plank both an unconcealment (ἀλήθεια) and the positive term on which it is based: its procedurally prior concealment (λήθη). Making a start on this project will prompt us to draw some further distinctions between different kinds of concealment and concealing.

2. Plank Two: Discovery

I will skip plank one and begin at plank two, since the latter is at the core of Heidegger’s distinctive approach to human life as a project of sense-making.5 At this plank, we are telling the story of what it is for an entity to be, where I take it that this means: what it is for an entity to show up meaningfully. To show up meaningfully is for an entity to be unconcealed as there rather than not (in its that it is or that-being) and as this sort of thing rather than that sort of thing (in its what it is or what-being). So, to understand how an entity can show up meaningfully, we need to understand how the entity is unconcealed as that and what it is – and in a way that overcomes a procedurally prior concealment.

Wrathall explains that for an entity to be uncovered as that and what it is, rather than not, is for it to be ‘available for comportment’ (Wrathall 2011:13). But this must not imply that the entity is uncovered prior to comportment; rather, the unconcealing takes place in comporting towards the entity. ‘Comporting’ (verhalten) is a broad term covering all the ways in which we engage with entities – including tripping over them, carbon dating them, worshipping them and ignoring them. Whether such comportment is practical or theoretical, explicit or implicit, cognitive or non-cognitive, it consists in engaging with the entity in light of or in terms of the standards for counting as that and what it is. Thus, if a wine glass is to drink wine from, then I grasp the entity in front of me as a wine glass when I comport towards it as to drink wine from: I put it in the same cupboard as (some of) the other to drink froms; I keep it clean and ready to drink from; I pour wine (and not, say, tea) into it and drink from it on appropriate occasions, and so on. The entity shows up to me as a wine glass – and indeed, is a wine glass – in my so comporting towards it. It is unconcealed as that and what it is.

Such being discovered or unconcealed in comportment is to be understood privatively – as being deprived of a prior concealment or λήθη. This prior concealment is a prior unavailability or lack of meaningful presence. It is difficult to express this positively, but it is a sort of mute self-containment of entities in non-intelligibility. Wrathall gives the examples of a fly that I cannot find or am not motivated to swat, and a symphony that I do not understand very well because I do not understand symphonic form (Wrathall 2011:22). As he recognises, of course, in these cases, I am actually comporting towards both the fly and the symphony perfectly well. Both show up meaningfully to me in some way. But they do not show up as ‘completely’ or as ‘fully’ as they could, in their ‘full’ that and what they are ( as a to be swatted and as a musical composition to be played by an orchestra, consisting of several movements (typically four), the first of which is in sonata form ). It is natural to use mereological language here, even though this is presumably a metaphor and needs unpacking. In any case, if the entity is ‘partly’ showing up then it is still showing up meaningfully, so this is not strictly the concealment that we are looking for.

Better than a mereological approach is a temporal one. The dust on the floor is not meaningfully present to me at all until I uncover it when I start (to think about) cleaning. (Indeed, for some people, the dust is never meaningfully present). Another example: Sagittarius A*, the astronomical radio source at the centre of the Milky Way, was not meaningfully present to me at all – even as something about which I had forgotten or as something that I did not know much about – until Wikipedia randomly pulled up its page for me just now.6 Prior to my comporting towards them, both the dust and Sagittarius A* were concealed. They were not meaningfully present to me at all, in any respect. Entities can be concealed in this way for individuals or for entire communities, and Heidegger includes in this kind of concealment the ‘merely not yet known’ (Heidegger 1992:63/GA54:94) or the undiscovered, the ‘buried over’ which ‘has at some time been discovered but has deteriorated to the point of getting covered up again’, and the disguised (Heidegger 1962:36).

So discovery, comporting towards entities, or what Heidegger also calls ‘letting an entity be’, is an unconcealment that presupposes a prior concealment in which the entity is hidden or unavailable. This prior concealment is overcome in comporting towards the entity, which suspends or cancels its concealment in a manner that Heidegger often characterises polemically: ‘Truth (uncoveredness) is something that must always first be wrested from entities. Entities get snatched out of their hiddenness. The factical uncoveredness of anything is always, as it were, a kind of robbery’ (Heidegger 1962:222).

3. Plank Three: Disclosure

To identify plank three unconcealment, we ask: what makes it possible to unconceal entities as that and what they are in comporting towards them? Entities can show up to us as that and what they are only if the standards for counting as that and what they are are unconcealed or ‘lit up’ for us. Especially in Being and Time, Heidegger locates this illumination in us as cases of Dasein, as belonging to or constituting Dasein’s da or ‘there’:

When we talk in an ontically figurative way of the lumen naturale in man, we have in mind nothing other than the existential-ontological structure of this entity, that it is in such a way as to be its ‘there’. To say that it is ‘illuminated’ [‘erleuchtet’] means that as Being-in-the-world it is cleared [gelichtet] in itself, not through any other entity, but in such a way that it is itself the clearing. Only for an entity which is existentially cleared in this way does that which is present-at-hand become accessible in the light or hidden in the dark. By its very nature, Dasein brings its ‘there’ along with it. If it lacks its ‘there’, it is not factically the entity which is essentially Dasein; indeed, it is not this entity at all. Dasein is its disclosedness. (Heidegger 1962:133)

This illumination has many names in Heidegger’s work: understanding being, being in a world, having a world, dwelling (in a world), disclosedness. In Chapter Five of Division I of Being and Time, Heidegger analyses it as constituted by findingness, understanding and discourse. When he wishes to express it Dasein-independently, Heidegger calls it the worlding (weltet) of the world (Welt), the essencing (wesen) of being, the unconcealing of entities as such and as a whole, or the happening of truth or ἀλήθεια. I am going to use the language of world, since it has the benefit of allowing us to switch between a Dasein-centric account and a non-Dasein-centric account.

A world is a contexture of mutually referring standards for entities counting as there rather than not and as this sort of thing rather than that sort of thing. Heidegger himself does not often use the language of standards or norms.7 In Being and Time, he speaks rather of projecting entities onto their meanings, and later he speaks of essences. Whichever vocabulary we use, the point is that to inhabit a world – to have a world, or to be or dwell in a world – is for these standards to be lit up and so operative – or, in a different metaphor, for those norms to grip us. This is to say that we are able to deploy those standards (more or less) effectively in making sense of things as that and what they are. This is an ability or competence, and we can see it most clearly in situations of world-entry and world-exit. To enter the world of high-stakes poker, for instance, is to come to be able to make sense of that and what things are in the ways that high-stakes poker players do. To lose or leave the world of the military, for instance, is no longer to be able to make sense of things in the ways that one does in the military.

If such having a world is to be understood as a kind of ἀλήθεια or unconcealment, then there must be a procedurally prior concealment – a λήθη – that is removed or surrendered when the world comes to be lit up (or we come to be able to deploy the standards competently). Wrathall takes the procedurally prior concealment at this level to be a concealment of the being of an entity when that entity has no place in the world and so cannot show up. He explains:

When being is concealed, an entity cannot possibly be uncovered as an entity. In the concealment of entities, of course, entities were not uncovered either. But they could be uncovered, if only we had the right skills, or if our purposes or activities were the sort that would make them salient, or if they were no longer obscured by other entities. In the concealment of being, by contrast, the entity cannot under any circumstances be uncovered because there is no place for it in the world we inhabit. (Wrathall 2011:25)

To give an example of the sort that I believe Wrathall has in mind, I adapt an example that he discusses at some length (Wrathall 2011:29–32). In modern chemistry, gold is an element with atomic number 79. But in the medieval world, gold was the noblest of the metals. In the medieval world, entities do not make sense in terms of elements and atomic numbers, so there is no way for the element with the atomic number 79 to show up meaningfully. Since the chemical standards for making sense of entities are unavailable, we can say that the being of chemical element 79 is concealed.

But it is not clear to me why we would say that the standard is concealed rather than simply absent. It is just not part of the medieval world. To say that it is concealed suggests a sort of ontological realism that I do not believe is consistent with Heidegger’s picture (although defending that adequately would take some time). And indeed, chemical element 79 did in some sense show up in the medieval world – as the noblest of the metals!8 The most natural way to describe the concealing that Wrathall has in mind is to say that the entity is concealed in its being as a chemical element. But this sort of concealment seems like a concealment that belongs at plank two, in relation to discovery, since it is the entity that is concealed – albeit in its being. (I shall come back to this).

The key to identifying the concealment at plank three is to recognise that, at this level, what is in question is not the individual standards for counting as this or that but the entire contexture of these. Standards, norms, essences – these never occur or operate individually but only ever as part of a whole. The language of world (as opposed to, say, that of essences) helps to keep this in view. If there is a procedurally prior concealment here, it must be a concealedness of the entire world. Here is Heidegger’s description of it in his interpretation of Plato’s myth of Er: the field of λήθη ‘never lets anything emerge, and hence it sets itself against all coming forth, i.e., against φύσις. The field of λήθη prevents every disclosure of beings, of the ordinary. In the essential place of λήθη everything disappears’ (Heidegger 1992:118119/GA54:176). ‘Φύσις’, as ‘the emerging abiding sway’, is another name for plank three unconcealing or ἀλήθεια: the unconcealing of entities as a whole, or the worlding of the world (see Heidegger 2000:14ff{16}/GA40:16ff; Heidegger 1995:25ff/GA29/30:38). The claim is that λήθη does not let this happen at all; it ‘prevents every disclosure’ of entities. In this λήθη, the understanding of being is not operative. There is no disclosure; the world does not world. ‘Everything disappears’ in this darkness.

As essentially disclosive or illuminating – as Da-sein, being-there – we are never in this condition of non-disclosure or non-worldedness. Heidegger thinks that it is the condition of the animal, which is world-poor (Heidegger 1995/GA29/30: chapters 3–5). We can, however, graze against such λήθη in special experiences. In his interpretation of the myth of Er, Heidegger goes on to say that ‘the “away” of the withdrawn comes into presence itself in the essence of the “withdrawal”’ (Heidegger 1992:119/GA54:176). This ‘away’ of λήθη comes to presence liminally as the ‘nothing’ in the mood of angst and in the question ‘Why are there entities at all rather than nothing?’ (Heidegger 1998c/GA9; and 2000/GA40).9 In this question, we think the unconcealing of entities as such and as a whole, and we do so by contrasting it to its other: the nothing or non-intelligibility of no-such-unconcealing. This non-intelligibility (which is not an unintelligibility) resists and is other to all intelligibility. In angst, we experience it as the ground of disclosedness or world – and so as the procedurally prior λήθη out of which the worlding of the world or the unconcealing of entities as a whole arises (Heidegger 1998c:9091/GA9:114–115). But since as sense-makers, we can at most abut non-intelligibility, it shows up to us only as an abyss or un-ground, which we destroy in attempting to make it intelligible (2000:3/GA40:5).

4. Plank Four: The Clearing

Wrathall identifies a fourth level of unconcealment, which makes the third level possible: the clearing (die Lichtung). Heidegger also sometimes calls this ‘the open’ (das Offene): ‘the open is by no means first and only a result or consequence of disclosure but is itself the ground and essential beginning of unconcealedness’ (Heidegger 1992:143/GA54:213). This is the deepest level of unconcealment, and not even the pre-Socratics were able to think it (although they did have an intimation of it) (Heidegger 1992:143/GA54:213). Wrathall interprets it as a ‘space of possibilities’ that we must posit in order to make sense of the fact that there are various possible worlds or possible understandings of being, which prevail (if they do prevail) in different places at different times (Wrathall 2011:14). The clearing is the ‘space’ within which such prevailing comes to pass (or does not).

It is not immediately obvious that there is a procedurally prior concealment at this level, for it is not obvious what kind of concealment would precede a metaphorical open space. In his brief discussion of this plank, Wrathall mentions three different phenomena of concealing in quick succession. First, he quotes Heidegger as saying that the clearing is self-concealing: ‘the clearing, in which beings are, is not simply bounded and delimited by something hidden but by something self-concealing’ (Heidegger 1994:178/GA45:210, quoted in Wrathall 2011:33).10 But that something is self-concealing does not mean that it is an unconcealment and so that it involves a procedurally prior concealment. Self-concealing is not the concealment we are looking for.

Wrathall goes on to suggest that an understanding of being is most effective when it is invisible.11 Like an item of equipment, a world or understanding of being is the sort of thing that is there most fully as itself when it effaces itself. The hammer gets out of the way and allows one to focus on the hammering, just as the sensuous quality of the spoken or written word disappears and ushers us straight through to its meaning. So too, the contexture of standards holds itself back from us so that we can deal directly with the entities that are intelligible to us in terms of those standards. But since it concerns the operation of the world or the understanding of being, this concealing is surely a plank three rather than a plank four phenomenon. Further, like the previous candidate, it is not a procedurally prior concealment on the basis of which an unconcealment is possible. It is instead a concealing that is simultaneous with an unconcealing – and, as before, a self-concealing of the world or the understanding of being. The self-effacing of the world cannot be the λήθη at plank four.

Finally, Wrathall argues that the clearing must ‘conceal[] any other way of experiencing the world’ (Wrathall 2011:33). The space of possibilities must hold back other possible worlds or understandings of being so that the current world can prevail, and further, it must conceal this very act. This is to say that only one set of standards for counting as that and what things are can be in play at a given time (where the individuation conditions for such a set remain to be determined, and must take account of the fact that worlds can be nested). To use Wrathall’s example: if we are to be competent in deploying the standards of the modern world – if those norms are to grip us – then we cannot be gripped by or competent in the standards of the medieval world. That world must be withheld or concealed from us, as must that very fact.

But holding back other possible understandings of being is once again not a prior concealment that is removed in order for there to be a space of possibilities. None of the three phenomena of concealing that Wrathall mentions are instances of a procedurally prior λήθη. Recall that any phenomenon of unconcealment presupposes a prior λήθη that must be there ‘first’ so that it can be overcome in unconcealing or a-lētheia. While the three phenomena of concealing that Wrathall mentions might be logically prior to the purported unconcealing of the clearing, they are not so because they are procedurally prior. Instead, all three are necessary features of an unconcealing that obtain during its operation. That being conceals itself, that world effaces itself, and that the clearing surreptitiously holds back other possibilities are all modes of concealing that obtain simultaneously with the unconcealing in question. They are all also modes of self-concealing in one way or another, whether what is concealed is the unconcealment, the unconcealing or the concealment itself. Such operationally necessary holding back is not surrendered or overcome in unconcealing; it partially constitutes it. These are phenomena of concealing that are not modes of λήθη.

There are at least two consequences. I discuss the first and (at least proximally) less significant in the remainder of this section and turn to the second in the following section. The first consequence is that the question arises as to whether the clearing as Wrathall understands it is a phenomenon of unconcealing or ἀλήθεια at all. Consider that when Thomas Sheehan parses the phenomena of unconcealment, he identifies only three levels of ἀλήθεια (Sheehan 2015:73). Sheehan’s numbering system inverts Wrathall’s: the deepest level of ἀλήθεια is ἀλήθεια-1, which corresponds to Wrathall’s third plank. Sheehan gives no further plank: no ἀλήθεια-0. He does, however, posit something deeper than ἀλήθεια-1, which lies ‘under’ it as its condition of possibility. Like Wrathall, Sheehan identifies this as ‘the clearing’, but he understands this as ‘the thrown-openness or appropriation of ex-istence’, or Ereignis (Sheehan 2015:78). In any case, the point is that Sheehan does not here identify this phenomenon as a type of unconcealment or ἀλήθεια. Perhaps, then, this deepest condition of possibility, the clearing (whatever it might turn out to be), is not a phenomenon of unconcealment, and so does not involve a procedurally prior λήθη at all?

Further textual work would be necessary to determine whether Heidegger calls the clearing ‘ἀλήθεια’ or ‘Unverborgenheit’. But even if Heidegger does consistently identify the clearing as a form of ἀλήθεια, it does not necessarily follow that he is correct in doing so. Heidegger frequently collapses different phenomena of concealment and concealing into the single category of λήθη. Consider this passage: ‘Because sheltering that clears belongs to it, Beyng appears originally in the light of concealing withdrawal. The name of this clearing [Lichtung] is ἀλήθεια’ (Heidegger 1998b:154/GA9:201).12 Here, Heidegger clearly says that the clearing is a phenomenon of ἀλήθεια. But the concealing that he identifies is a sheltering withdrawal, and this sounds like the sort of simultaneous, operationally necessary concealing that I have just contrasted with λήθη. Perhaps there is a fundamental distinction here to which Heidegger himself is not sufficiently attuned. This is the second consequence.

5. Λήθη vs. Κρύπτειν and Κρύπτεσθαι

We must distinguish the procedurally prior concealment (Verborgenheit) that Heidegger identifies with λήθη from the simultaneous concealing (Verbergung) that I will shortly associate with the Greek κρύπτειν and κρύπτεσθαι. In English, the distinction can be marked for the careful reader with suffixes: concealment versus concealing. As far as I can tell, Heidegger’s language does not reflect this distinction: Heidegger uses Verbergung and Verborgenheit more or less interchangeably. Further, he uses these terms to refer both to the activity of concealing and to the concealment that is produced. In the case of unconcealing, he keeps the terms distinct: unconcealing (unverbergen) is always the way that unconcealment (Unverborgenheit) is produced. But while I am suggesting that we distinguish concealment (Verborgenheit) from concealing (verbergen, Verbergung), the distinction is not that between the process and the product. As I am using the terms, a (simultaneous) concealing is logically independent of any (procedurally prior) concealment.

It is not, however, independent of unconcealing. A simultaneous concealing is always simultaneous with an event of unconcealing. We can see this in the phenomena of simultaneous concealing that we have already encountered: the self-effacing of a world or understanding of being when it is in operation (plank three simultaneous concealing) and the clearing’s withholding of other worlds – and concealing of that withholding – at the purported plank four. In all cases, the concealing occurs as part of the operation of unconcealing and so takes place contemporaneously with it.

Similarly for the plank two simultaneous concealing that we stumbled across but did not recognise as such. This concealing obtains in the very act of letting the entity be that and what it is. When I comport towards an entity as x, I at the same time conceal it as y (where x and y are contraries of some yet to be specified sort). This is because there is a certain richness or depth to entities – a range of ways in which they might be meaningful – that is necessarily covered over when an entity shows up as meaningful in some particular way. Thus, if the noise from next door shows up to me as a nuisance, then it is at the same time concealed from me as a solicitation to dance (unless it is such a solicitation itself that is the nuisance). Or, as we saw, when an entity shows up as the noblest of metals, it is necessarily and at the same time concealed from me as a chemical element with a certain atomic number. What it is to uncover an entity as a determinate that and what is to simultaneously conceal other (suitably opposed) thats and whats that it might manifest as (whether this ‘might’ indicates a genuine possibility or a simple logical possibility). Any discovery or letting the entity be will involve this simultaneous concealing, since it is essential to how discovery operates.

When Heidegger describes this particular concealing in the Parmenides lectures, he expresses it not negatively as a concealing but in positive terms as a sheltering: ‘[T]he dis-closure [Ent-bergen] is at the same time an en-closure [Ent-bergen] [… that] brings it into its essence’ and which encloses the entity inside its that- and what-being. Such en-closure or concealment is ‘a sheltering [Bergung] of the unconcealed in the unconcealedness of presence, i.e., in Being. In such sheltering there first emerges the unconcealed as a being’ (Heidegger 1992:133/GA54:198). ‘Sheltering the entity within its being as x’ positively expresses the simultaneous concealing of the entity as y, which it is not allowed to appear as. This sort of preserving complicates the negativity of concealing and contrasts it with the more simple negativity of a mere absence or lack. As Heidegger puts it in ‘On the Essence of Truth’:

Concealment deprives ἀλήθεια of disclosure yet does not render it στέρεσις (privation); rather, concealment preserves what is most proper to ἀλήθεια as its own. Considered with respect to truth as disclosedness, concealment is then un-disclosedness and accordingly the un-truth that is most proper to the essence of truth. (Heidegger 1998b:148/GA9:193.)

Heidegger does not have much more to say about how this preserving or saving works, or to what sorts of concealing it attaches. Even in the Parmenides lectures, which deal extensively with concealing and concealment, he seems content merely to broach such preserving as a possibility.13 I want to take this idea a few steps further.

First, I propose that we call this preserving and simultaneous concealing ‘κρύπτειν’ or ‘κρύπτεσθαι’ (as opposed to λήθη, concealment), since Heidegger himself understands κρύπτεσθαι as ‘sheltering concealment’ (Heidegger 1992:60/GA54:89). ‘Κρύπτειν’ means ‘to hide, cover, cloak’, and its passive or middle voiced form, ‘κρύπτεσθαι’, means ‘to hide oneself’ (Liddell and Scott 1998); ‘to take back into oneself, to hide back and conceal in oneself’ (Heidegger 1992:140141/GA54:209). While I make no claim about the meaning of the Greek terms themselves, I suggest that in a Heideggerian context ‘κρύπτειν’ and ‘κρύπτεσθαι’ can be taken to name concealings that are simultaneous with, because operationally necessary for, unconcealing. Κρύπτεσθαι is a self-concealing, which means that the unconcealing in question conceals itself. ‘Κρύπτειν’ names a case in which what is concealed is something other than the unconcealing itself – such as a feature of the entity, or even some other entity. Insofar as these concealings are essential to the unconcealing that they are simultaneous with, they will be concealings that shelter and preserve.

The point of adopting these terms is to keep these phenomena conceptually and linguistically distinct from λήθη, the prior concealment that unconcealing procedurally presupposes. Despite having access to the vocabulary of κρύπτειν and κρύπτεσθαι, Heidegger does not appear to distinguish these from λήθη. For instance: immediately after glossing κρύπτεσθαι as ‘sheltering concealment’, Heidegger goes on to associate it with night in contrast to day, saying that ‘day and night in general manifest the events of disclosure and concealment’ (Heidegger 1992:60/GA54:89). Since day and night are successive rather than simultaneous, the natural interpretation would associate night with λήθη and day with a subsequent ἀλήθεια. While Heidegger does not explicitly do that here, he does elsewhere more or less explicitly identify κρύπτεσθαι or κρύπτειν with λήθη. For example: ‘Ἀ-κριβής has the same form as ἀ-ληθής, α-privative and κρυπτόν: “un-concealed”’ (Heidegger 1997:47/GA19:68). Or again, Heidegger translates Heraclitus’s fragment this way: ‘The master, whose Oracle is at Delphi, neither speaks out, nor does he conceal, but gives a sign [signifies]’, and he takes this fragment to contrast λέγειν as revealing with κρύπτειν as the concealing presupposed by it, saying that ‘the fundamental function of λέγειν is to take whatever prevails from concealment’ (Heidegger 1995:27;GA29/30:40–41).

Heidegger most frequently identifies κρύπτειν or κρύπτεσθαι with λήθη when he discusses Heraclitus’s fragment 123, which claims that φύσις loves κρύπτεσθαι (traditionally: ‘nature loves to hide’). Heidegger usually glosses this fragment in terms of ἀλήθεια and its presupposed λήθη.14 In ‘Aletheia (Heraclitus, Fragment B 16)’, he goes so far as to translate the fragment thus: ‘Rising (out of self-concealing) bestows favor upon self-concealing’ (Heidegger 1975:114/GA7:279). This interpretive translation clearly situates κρύπτεσθαι in the position of λήθη, as the prior concealment presupposed by unconcealing. In one of the Le Thor seminars, Heidegger is even prepared to say that κρύπτεσθαι is an ‘example’ of λήθη (Heidegger 2003:46/GA15:343). His intuition seems to be that the polemic character of ἀλήθεια, as always cancelling or suspending λήθη, is necessary precisely because being or φύσις loves to conceal itself. It is because there is self-concealing (κρύπτεσθαι/λήθη) that a struggle is necessary to accomplish unconcealing (ἀλήθεια).

But failing to distinguish κρύπτεσθαι and λήθη leads to a great deal of nonsense. For instance, after positioning κρύπτεσθαι as an example of λήθη, Heidegger translates Heraclitus’s fragment this way: ‘Emergence has as its accompanying necessity concealment’ and claims that ‘φιλεῖ here means: “is essential for … to unfold its own being”’ (Heidegger 2003:46/GA15:343). But what is essential here is that φύσις ‘conceals itself to the extent that it is manifest’, and this is an operationally necessary, simultaneous, self-concealing – precisely not an example of procedurally prior λήθη (Heidegger 2003:46/GA15:344). Or, consider the following inference: ‘Yet if prevailing is torn from concealment in the λόγος, then it must, as it were, try to conceal itself’ (Heidegger 1995:27/GA29/30:41). The claim is that because it overcomes a prior concealment, appearing or unconcealing must try to conceal itself, but this does not follow. It would follow if the prior concealment that unconcealing overcomes were a self-concealing of unconcealing, but there is no reason to think that this is or must be the case. At plank two, for instance, the unconcealing of entities as that and what they are does not presuppose a prior self-concealing of unconcealing – and why would it? – but instead a prior concealment of entities.

The most that we can say to connect λήθη and κρύπτεσθαι is that λήθη, as the concealment procedurally prior to unconcealing, could turn out in some cases to be a product of self-concealing and so a result of κρύπτεσθαι. In the next section, I consider what such cases would have to look like.

6. Κρύπτειν vs. Κρύπτεσθαι

I have argued that we must distinguish simultaneous κρύπτειν (other-concealing) and κρύπτεσθαι (self-concealing) from λήθη (concealment). The latter is the concealment that is presupposed by ἀλήθεια as unconcealment: a prior concealment with which unconcealing struggles and from out of which unconcealment arises. The former is a concealing that is simultaneous with unconcealing and can be necessary for its operation, whether what is concealed is the unconcealing itself (κρύπτεσθαι, self-concealing) or something else (κρύπτειν, other-concealing). In the previous section, I took Heidegger to task for trying to think κρύπτειν and κρύπτεσθαι as forms of λήθη. Forms of simultaneous concealing must be sharply distinguished from any procedurally prior λήθη. In this section, however, I consider cases in which a simultaneous concealing could produce a concealment that might in turn serve as a prior λήθη to an unconcealing. This will force us to draw out the full significance of the distinction between κρύπτεσθαι and κρύπτειν.

How can a self-concealing (κρύπτεσθαι) or other-concealing (κρύπτειν) produce a concealment that then stands prior to an unconcealing (ἀλήθεια)? Let me start with κρύπτεσθαι. ‘Κρύπτεσθαι’ names the concealing that occurs when an unconcealing must conceal itself in order to operate. At plank two, for instance, the unconcealing in question is letting the entity be meaningful as x in comporting towards it. The simultaneous self-concealing in this is the self-concealing of this unconcealing. That is: to say that there is κρύπτεσθαι here is to say that it is not apparent to us that our comportment is unconcealing. The concealment that this self-concealing produces is thus the hiddenness of the unconcealing character of comportment. May this concealment become a case of λήθη, procedurally prior to a further unconcealing? Certainly – and that unconcealing is phenomenological seeing. For it is in phenomenology that we allow the unconcealing nature of comportment to come into view (even if perhaps only as concealed).

The same story can be told at plank three. The unconcealing at plank three is the worlding of the world, or the happening of the understanding of being. If this is self-concealing, then that means that when the world worlds, that very worlding (and note: not the world) is concealed. This produces a concealment: the hiddenness of the worlding of the world. As at plank two, such concealment is overcome in a phenomenological unveiling of the worlding of the world (even if perhaps only as concealed).

So the cases in which a self-concealing of an unconcealing – κρύπτεσθαι – can produce a concealment that functions as a prior λήθη are cases in which the subsequent ἀλήθεια or unconcealing is phenomenological unveiling.15 What about cases in which an other-concealing, κρύπτειν, produces a concealment that might stand as a λήθη prior to an unconcealing? These cases look quite different.

Since κρύπτειν is a concealing in which something other than the unconcealing itself is concealed, it has a wide scope. There are many things that might be concealed in an act of unconcealing, and they might be concealed necessarily or merely contingently.16 For instance, at plank two, when an entity is unconcealed in comportment as x, then – as we saw – it is necessarily concealed as y (where x and y are suitably opposed). Here, the entity’s y-ness is necessarily concealed. But there are other sorts of necessary κρύπτειν that could occur at this level, depending on the sort of entity in question. Entities like secrets and mysteries are entities the revealing of which conceals something other than the unconcealing – namely, whatever it is that is secret or mysterious. So too for entities like tools and skills, which work by effacing themselves or ‘getting out of the way’.17 (Note that what is concealed here is not the unconcealing of the tool or skill (which would be a form of κρύπτεσθαι) but the tool or skill itself, making this a form of κρύπτειν).

Since these cases are all forms of κρύπτειν that are essential to the unconcealing or to the entity being the type of entity that it is, they can produce a concealment that could count as the λήθη suspended in a subsequent unconcealing only if that unconcealing were, again, phenomenological. It is in phenomenological seeing that the self-effacing character of entities like tools is unveiled. So too, the fact that an entity discovered as x is concealed as y (where x and y are suitably opposed) is something that is unveiled in phenomenology. Further, in these cases, the λήθη is not completely overcome, since it is essential or necessary to the unconcealing or to the entity. Instead, the unconcealing reveals the prior concealment as concealment. In this way, phenomenological seeing accomplishes what Heidegger often calls preserving or protecting the mystery.

There are also phenomena of κρύπτειν that involve a contingent κρύπτειν, and so for which the κρύπτειν can produce a concealment that is entirely lifted or overcome in a subsequent unconcealing. Staying at plank two, consider inauthentic discovery, which is an unconcealing or discovering of entities that, due to its superficiality or shallowness, in some sense covers over the entity in question even as it unconceals it. This concealing of the entity is contingent; there are forms of discovering that do not hide the entity in this way. But it produces a concealment of the entity as that and what it is, which can then stand as a prior λήθη to a discovering that is authentic in the sense that it does uncover the entity as it is.

If all contingent forms of κρύπτειν produce concealments that can count as cases of λήθη for an authentic unconcealing, then we have a very clear contrast between these and the other types of concealing: κρύπτεσθαι and necessary forms of κρύπτειν produce concealments that are overcome in phenomenological seeing, while contingent forms of κρύπτειν produce concealments that are overcome in authentic discovery or disclosure. The distinction and relationship between phenomenology and authenticity is thus at stake in the distinction and relationship between these forms of concealing.

Indeed, we can begin to understand the nature and structure of authenticity by further investigating the types of concealing involved. Consider that there are forms of contingent κρύπτειν that conceal themselves and so that are also forms of κρύπτεσθαι. Take inauthentic discovery, which is a form of κρύπτειν. As Heidegger notes in Being and Time, in inauthentic discovery ‘[e]verything looks as if it were genuinely understood, genuinely taken hold of, genuinely spoken, though at bottom it is not; or else it does not look so, and yet at bottom it is’ (Heidegger 1962:173). Heidegger calls this phenomenon ‘ambiguity’. Ambiguity is the self-concealing (κρύπτεσθαι) of a form of contingent other-concealing (κρύπτειν). The same phenomenon occurs again at plank two, with seeming. Seeming is a mode of unconcealing that unconceals the entity while covering it over as what it is, so it is a form of contingent κρύπτειν. But it belongs to seeming that it covers over the fact that it is a seeming, and in this it conceals the nature of its own unconcealing (qua semblance). This, then, is also a phenomenon of κρύπτεσθαι.

That in these cases there is both κρύπτειν and κρύπτεσθαι at work complicates the story that we tell about overcoming the concealment produced, for now there are two steps in the process of unconcealing. Authentic discovery has to combat the concealing produced not only by inauthentic discovery of the entity but also by the self-concealing of that inauthentic discovery as such. It seems, then, that authentic unconcealing must occur in two steps: first, we see that inauthentic discovery conceals itself (i.e. overcome its κρύπτεσθαι), and then we discover the entity authentically (i.e. overcome its κρύπτειν). Heidegger replicates this two-step structure at plank three when he insists that not only is being concealed from us (κρύπτειν) but this concealing is itself concealed in errancy (κρύπτεσθαι) – we forget the concealing of being (see, e.g. Heidegger 1998b/GA9). What we must thus remember is thus not simply being, but indeed being’s own concealment and our own forgetting of it. There are two steps to this Andenken, just as there are two steps to authentic discovery, because of the difference between κρύπτειν and κρύπτεσθαι.

This brief sojourn at plank three should remind us of our final task: identifying the self-concealing of being. Having distinguished three different phenomena of concealing and concealment – λήθη, κρύπτεσθαι and κρύπτειν – we can now say what the self-concealing of being is and identify the philosophical tasks that this identification opens up.

7. The Self-Concealing of Being

The self-concealing of being is not a phenomenon of λήθη. It is plank three κρύπτεσθαι, in which whatever unconcealing ‘being’ names is hidden, in a way that is essential to and simultaneous with the unconcealing itself. What we take this to be depends on what kind of unconcealing we take ‘being’ to name. I take plank three unconcealing to be: the worlding of the world, the activity of understanding being (as opposed to the ability to understand being), the letting be of entities as such and as a whole, or disclosing. To say that this is essentially self-concealing is to say that the worlding of the world can happen only if, when it does, that very worlding is hidden from us. That is: when the entity as such (or, what is the same, entities as a whole) shines forth into (meaningful) presence, that shining forth or presencing is hidden. Thus ‘[p]resencing is luminous self-concealing’ (Heidegger 1975:108/GA7:271). Or again: ‘self-revealing not only never dispenses with concealing, but actually needs it, in order to occur essentially in the way it occurs [Wesen, west] as dis-closing’ (Heidegger 1975:114/GA7:279). This is what Heraclitus says in his fragment: φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ.

While such self-concealing cannot be understood as a form of λήθη, it can produce a concealment that can count as λήθη for a phenomenological uncovering, which comes to see that presencing conceals itself. But even phenomenology cannot suspend this essential self-concealing. Instead, there are two tasks for the Heideggerian phenomenologist. First: Heidegger’s story about the self-concealing of being as the basis for the decline in Western metaphysics and the reign of modern technological thinking will have to be reassessed and retold. Does the hiddenness of worlding really lead to these world-historical results? Second, and more importantly: we have yet to determine whether and why being essentially conceals itself. Is Heidegger right that being is self-concealing? Heidegger himself could not adequately address this question precisely because he collapsed κρύπτεσθαι into λήθη. Doing this allowed him to invoke the structure of ἀλήθεια to support the necessity of being’s self-concealing. But that ἀλήθεια presupposes λήθη both grammatically and conceptually shows nothing about why ἀλήθεια should conceal itself. Commentators typically appeal to analogies to perceptual experience (backgrounding/foregrounding) or to tools (which presence by absencing). As Wrathall’s four planks help us to see, however, these can never be more than analogies since they are plank two rather than plank three phenomena. In particular, to point out that the world backgrounds itself when entities show up is to point out a plank two phenomenon. What is at stake at plank three is not the self-concealing of the world but the self-concealing of its worlding. Thus the question is: why is the worlding of the world the sort of thing that must hide itself when it happens? Does φύσις really love κρύπτεσθαι?

Katherine Withy
Georgetown University


1 To take a telling example: the only dedicated work that I know of on the subject is Stambaugh’s The Finitude of Being, which distinguishes concealment as distortion from concealment as preservation but never explains what it actually is for being to be distorted or preserved (Stambaugh 1992:5).

2 Heidegger might be taken to suggest this in Being and Time when he says that ‘[c]overed-up-ness is the counter-concept to “phenomenon”’ and identifies three modes of covering-up: ‘hiddenness, burying-over, or disguise’, which in turn might be accidental or necessary (Heidegger 1962:36). (All references to this text are to the marginal pagination, which reflects the pagination of the eighth German edition. References to other of Heidegger’s texts refer to both the English translation and page number and the Gesamtausgabe volume and page number).

3 Many commentators identify this concealment with what Heidegger calls ‘earth’. For example: ‘“Earth” has to do with our immersion in the multiplicity of given beings, beings that are not exhausted by our current interpretations of the being of beings’ (Polt 2006:144). See also Capobianco 2014:63f and Haar 1993:50–51.

4 Since ‘ἀλήθεια’ is the usual word for truth in Ancient Greek, Heidegger frequently uses the vocabulary of truth (Wahrheit) to talk about the various levels of unconcealing (particularly plank two). However, since Heidegger is not actually interested in what we ordinarily call ‘truth’ but rather in what makes this possible, this vocabulary is confusing and misleading. For this reason, I will generally avoid it.

5 For a discussion of plank one unconcealing that also builds on (and critiques) Wrathall’s interpretation, see Carman 2015.

6 Accessed via Wikipedia’s ‘Random Article’ feature on 7/23/2015.

7 Although, he does incline towards this language when he discusses Plato’s forms, which he takes as standards for what things are. See Heidegger 2002/GA34 and 2010/GA36/37.

8 Of course, it did not show up exclusively as such, and it is likely that noblest metals showed up that were not chemical element 79.

9 We might see further evidence of the connection between λήθη and the nothing experienced in angst in Heidegger’s further claim that ‘[t]he place of λήθη is that “where” in which the uncanny dwells in a peculiar exclusivity’ (Heidegger 1992:119/GA 54:176), even though he uses ‘Ungeheure’ here rather than the ‘Unheimliche’ associated with angst in ‘What is Metaphysics?’ and Being and Time.

10 Note also that it is possible that ‘the clearing’ in this passage refers to plank three unconcealment (disclosedness, worlding) rather than to plank four unconcealment (the clearing).

11 Wrathall actually says that an understanding of being ‘is most invisible when it is most effective’ (Wrathall 2011:33), but I believe that he would also agree with the converse.

12 Consider also this passage: ‘Un-concealedness points immediately to “concealedness”. Where there is concealedness, a concealing must occur or must have occurred. Concealing can exist in many modes: as covering and masking, as conserving and putting aside, as closing off and original preserving’ Heidegger 1992:15–16/GA54:22). Heidegger is right that concealing may exist in many modes, and he may be right that all concealedness requires a prior concealing, but it does not follow (as the passage seems to suggest) that all the modes of concealing mentioned produce a concealedness that is prior to an unconcealedness.

13 ‘Perhaps there are modes of concealment that not only preserve and put away and so in a certain sense still withdraw, but that rather, in a unique way, impart and bestow what is essential’ (Heidegger 1992:62/GA54:92); ‘We know it [sc. concealing and concealedness] as veiling, as masking, and as covering, but also in the forms of conserving, preserving, holding back, entrusting, and appropriating’ (Heidegger 1992:13/GA54:19).

14 For instance: ‘It can be shown everywhere in pre-Socratic philosophy and in Plato and Aristotle that this interpretation of the peculiarly privative, negative character of the Greek conception of truth [as ἀλήθεια] is not etymological trifling. Let one statement of Heraclitus serve as reference, (Fragment 123): φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ, the being in itself and its essence loves to conceal itself and to remain in concealment’ (Heidegger 1984:217/GA26:281). See also (Heidegger 1998a:230/GA9:301) and (Heidegger 2002:910,68{67}/GA34:13-14,93).

15 This is not quite true at plank one. Recall that plank one unconcealing is the predicative determination of entities in propositions. To say that this conceals itself is to say that when we speak or write, the fact that we are so determining entities is not manifest to us. It does become manifest to us in a particular use of language, however: poetry, which essentially draws attention to its own articulating activity. That poetry plays this role at plank one, while phenomenological seeing does the same at planks two and three, sheds light on the important link in Heidegger’s thought between poetry and phenomenology.

16 Richard Polt has drawn this distinction between necessary and contingent forms of concealing: ‘Be-ing’s self-concealment seems to have several modes, not all of which can be considered necessary or inescapable. Some seem to be contingent features ofWestern history; others are intrinsic features of everydayness, but we can emerge from this everydayness, at least for a while; finally, some are inescapable aspects of be-ing itself and can never be overcome, even if we can glimpse the reasons why we cannot overcome them’ (Polt 2006:142).

17 I would also locate here the self-effacing of the world, as an entity, which Wrathall identified as plank four λήθη. But the question of whether the world is an entity is a complex one.


GA7 Vorträge und Aufsätze. 2000
GA9 Wegmarken. 1976
GA15 Seminare. 1986
GA19 Platon: Sophistes. 1992
GA26 Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Logik im Ausgang von Leibniz. 1978.
GA29/30 Die Grundbegriffe Der Metaphysik: Welt-Endlichkeit-Einsamkeit. 1983
GA34 Vom Wesen der Wahrheit: Zu Platons Höhlengleichnis und Theätet. 1988
GA36/37 Sein und Wahrheit. 2001
GA40 Einführung in Die Metaphysik. 1983
GA45 Grundfragen Der Philosophie. 1984
GA54 Parmenides. 1982

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—— (1975), Early Greek Thinking, trans. David Farrell Krell and Frank A. Capuzzi. New York: Harper & Row

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—— (2006), The Emergency of Being: On Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

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