The Question of the Truth of the Essence [68-69] 62

if the whatness is characterized as something seen, then it is only determined with regard to the way we encounter it and grasp it—with regard to the way it stands over and against us, and not as it is in itself. This possible objection misunderstands the Greek concept of Being, which is precisely self-emerging and self-showing presence. Certainly in the notion of the ἰδέα there resides a relation to ἰδεῖν as a mode of perception. But the perceiving of beings as such is an ἰδεῖν only because a being as such is self-showing: ἰδέα.

Admittedly, we must note here that as soon as the Greek conception of beings as such got lost, i.e., became undetermined, ordinary, and distorted—especially by its translation into the Latin—then the relation of the ἰδέα to ἰδεῖν pushed itself into the foreground. The ἰδέα was no longer understood on the basis of beings and their basic character of presence, but as an image, the counterpart to, and the result of, a particular apprehension and representation. The ἰδέα became a mere representation (percipere-perceptio-ἰδέα) and, at the same time, a generalization from the particular (Descartes, nominalism).

The interpretation of Being in terms of presence is the sole reason that for the Greeks the beingness of beings was primarily determined by the whatness. For what a table is as table belongs to every table, whether it be one actually there or one only thought of and wished for. The whatness is the constant. That an individual table, as we say today, "exists," is actual and at hand, this—its reality or existence—does not at all pertain to its essence. From a rigorous Platonic way of thinking, the essence of a being is impaired by its entanglement with reality, it loses its purity and so in a certain sense its universality. For example, when the essence "table" is actualized here and now in this specific kind of wood and with these specific dimensions and shape, what is "actual" is only a particular table, and the essence "table" is not thereby fully actual in all its possibilities and variations but is restricted. Thought and seen in the Greek-Platonic way, the single table here and now is certainly not nothing and hence is a being (ὄν), but one which, measured against the essence, is a constriction and therefore properly should not be (μή), a μὴ ὄν. For the Greeks, in the individual things surrounding us and in their relations, what properly is is precisely not the "here and now, such

Basic Questions of Philosophy (GA 45) by Martin Heidegger