Aletheia (Heraclitus, Fragment B 16)

If we pay strict attention to this fact, then we are prevented from carelessly putting τὴν φύσιν in place of τὸ μὴ δῦνόν ποτε. Or is that still possible, perhaps even inevitable? In the latter case, however, we must no longer think of φύσις simply as rising. At bottom, it never means that anyhow. No less a figure than Heraclitus says so, clearly and enigmatically at once. Fragment 123 reads:

Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ

Whether the translation "the essence of things likes to hide" even remotely points toward the realm of Heraclitean thinking will not be further discussed here. Perhaps we should not attribute such a commonplace to Heraclitus, even apart from the fact that an "essence of things" first became a matter for thought after Plato. We must heed something else: φύσις and κρύπτεσθαι, rising (self-revealing) and concealing, are named in their closest proximity. This might seem strange at first glance. For if φύσις as rising turns away from, or indeed against, something, then it is κρύπτεσθαι, self-concealing. But Heraclitus is thinking both in closest proximity. Indeed their nearness is explicitly mentioned. Nearness is defined by φιλεῖ. Self-revealing loves self-concealing. What is this supposed to mean? Does rising seek out concealment? Where then must concealment be—and in what sense of "be?" Or does φύσις merely have some kind of sporadically appearing predilection for being a self-concealing, just for a change, rather than a rising? Does the fragment say that rising willingly changes into self-concealing, so that now the one, now the other holds sway? By no means. This interpretation misses the meaning of φιλεῖ, wherein the relation between φύσις and κρύπτεσθαι named. The interpretation forgets, above all, that decisive matter which the fragment gives us as food for thought: the way in which rising occurs essentially as self-revealing. If, in discussing φύσις, we dare use the expression "occur essentially" [wesen], φύσις does not mean "essence" [das Wesen], the ὅ τι, the "what" of things. Neither here nor in Fragments 1 and 112, where he uses the form κατὰ φύσιν, does Heraclitus speak of it. The fragment does not think φύσις as the essence of things, but rather thinks the essential unfolding (Wesen as a verb), of φύσις.


Early Greek Thinking

GA 7 p. 277