Basic Concepts of Ancient Philosophy [104-105]


Understanding of Being: ability to see the light, the one that illuminates beings as beings. No accident that Plato speaks figuratively, for the understanding of Being is to be clarified precisely with and through the problem of the Ideas. We know the inexplicit and non-conceptual meaning of Being for the Greeks: everlasting persistence.

There are shadows only as long as things are carried past the fire which is burning behind those who are in chains. The shadows are utterly fleeting, without persistence, whereas the things-even if not being carried past the light—remain; and, as remaining, they become apprehensible, provided I see the light itself, i.e., provided I take them, on the basis of this direct illumination, as no longer in the realm of shadows.

The things in the light have a different persistence (constancy) than do the shadows, and yet they are changeable: their Gestalt may be deformed and the same Gestalt may be multiplied in various modes. The more penetrating understanding of Being, the sight of what is unchangeable, the understanding of αὐτὸ το τρίγωνον ["the triangle itself"], reveals them, the things themselves, as "images." It is the rise of mathematical-geometrical cognition that wins something constant in the genuine sense and thus first makes visible the inconstancy of the things that are constant in relation to their shadows. But these mathematical cognitions for their part still have need of images, sensuous representations. They are not yet pure Being itself; the latter is first given with the ἰδέαι as such, with the highest ἰδέα: ἡ ἀγαθοῦ ἰδέα ["the Idea of the good"].17

This highest Idea is determined as follows:

1. ἐν τῷ γνωστῷ τελευταία (end and completion) καὶ μόγις ὁρᾶσθαι ["but scarcely to be seen"],18

2. πάντων αὕτη ὀρθῶν τε καὶ καλῶν αἰτία (517c2),

3. ἔν τε [τῷ] ὁρατῷ φῶς καὶ τὸν τούτου κύριον τεκοῦσα (517c3),

4. ἔν τε νοητῷ αὐτὴ κυρία ἀλήθειαν καὶ νοῦν παρασχομένη (517c3f.),

5. ἡ τοῦ παντὸς ἀρχή (cf. 511b7),

6. ἔτι ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας (509b9).

Regarding 1) "In the field of the understandable, that which lies at the end," that which the understanding finally comes up against, whereby the understanding receives its completion, termination, conclusion. For the Greeks, πέρας, "limit," determinateness.

17. Cf. Metaphysische Anfangsgrunde der Logik im Ausgang von Leibniz. Marburger Vorlesung Sommersemester 1928. GA 26. Frankfurt, 1978, p. 237.

18. Republic, bk. 7, 517B8f.

Basic Concepts of Ancient Philosophy (GA 22) by Martin Heidegger