ἐπίστασθαι means: to oversee a thing, to stand over it, to stand before and understand it, to be fit for it, to know one’s way around it. Simultaneously with ἐπιστήμη, the word τέχνη is used (the root of our “technique”), erroneously translated as “art.” τέχνη is not a way of fabricating, but a cognitive concept, a concept of cognition, knowledge, know-how, being capable of forming, producing something.
For the Greeks, art too is a kind of knowing, an actualization of truth, a revelation of beings themselves, of beings that were not yet known before. Art was the fundamental way in which reality was discovered. Only through formation does humanity learn the greatness of Being.
Among the Greeks, the word “knowledge” had the very broad sense of every type of know-how, not only the knowledge that was later termed theoretical knowledge. Knowledge means gaining a foothold and standpoint in the openness of things and their happening.
Only with Aristotle did a separation between ἐπιστήμη and τέχνη come to pass, but in such a way that even here the fundamental meaning of knowledge is retained. ἐπιστήμη is knowledge of and familiarity with a particular field; τέχνη is knowledge that is directed to handmade and other products.
This is the knowledge (in the broad sense) that is the topic of the question, τί ἐστιν ἐπιστήμη? τί ἐστιν, what something is, we call the question of essence. In the question of essence, what something is, we intend to experience what belongs to an object as such. What is a house? What belongs to such a thing as a house? The answer is supposed to bring out what belongs to every thing, what pertains in general to some matter at hand, the universal concept that delimits what, in general, belongs to a thing.
But now, if I ask about the essence of Frederick the Great, this being that has been and will be given only once, this cannot be some universal concept. The essence of a thing cannot be found in what belongs to it in general; instead, universal characteristics are only characteristics derived from an essential content. I do not look for the universal characteristics that can be found in it, but for what makes possible this thing, the inner possibility of a thing.
I ask further about the ground of the inner possibility and thus about the genuine essence, I ask about the inner possibility of what we call knowing. This question—what is knowing?—is today one that everyone who pretends to join in the discussion of the question of the essence of science must have thought through to the very end.
The course of the question has the following character. A series of answers to this question are proposed, which are always rejected as inadequate. In the end, the dialogue concludes negatively: it has no result. But the result is not what stands at the end, but is the course of