Evening Conversation [223–225]

Older Man: I’ll be satisfied if you tell me your stance toward the older, and in my opinion deeper, definition of the essence of the human, which thinks of him as the θνητός, the mortal.

Younger Man: I know it very well; but the older definition can only be explained if the younger one is thought through. I would like to call into question the idea that the younger definition remains shallow in comparison to the older one. Only the common interpretation of the definition of the essence of the human as the ζῷον λόγον ἔχον seems to me to be shallow. Yet if we finally learn to think that λόγος originally means gathering, then the definition of the human with regard to λόγος says that his essence consists in being in the gathering, namely, the gathering toward the originally all-unifying One.

Older Man: As you say this, the inner relation of this definition to the older one is already becoming more lucid. Presumably you did not at all hasten past the older definition in favor of the younger, but rather only more carefully considered the younger in order to be able to then more purely wait upon the truth of the older. [224]

Younger Man: So it is; for the older is, like everything inceptual, more difficult to think.

Older Man: If the human as the mortal is experienced in distinction to the immortals, he is obviously thought with regard to the gods and the divine. And if λόγος means the gathering toward the originally all-unifying One, whereby the One is the divine itself, then the two essential definitions—which initially appear as almost incompatible, or at least as foreign to one another—basically think the selfsame.

Younger Man: While your elucidation of the belonging-togetherness of the two oldest occidental definitions of the essence of the human is indeed splendid, it seems to me to hasten by the allegedly older one, which experiences the human in his mortality.

Older Man: How so?

Younger Man: Insofar as you take this definition of the human, namely that he is a mortal, only as a hallmark for what essentially distinguishes him from the immortals. But in the definition ὁ θνητός, which one is accustomed to translating as “mortal,” it is not so much the relation of the human to the immortals that is named, but rather the relation to death: ὁ θνητός is that being which can die.

Older Man: But the animal can also do that, and to that extent the characterization as θνητός would not at all be a distinguishing trait of the essence of the human.

Younger Man: If this is in fact a distinguishing trait, then we must attend to the fact that the animal cannot die. The animal cannot die, that is, if to die means: to go toward death, to have death. [225]

Older Man: Only one who is acquainted with [kennt] death is capable of this.

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