Back to the Cave: A Platonic Rejoinder to Heideggerian Postmodernism

Gregory Fried

It may seem odd to turn to Plato for a defense against Heidegger’s critique of philosophy and against the versions of postmodernism that have proceeded from it. But the choice makes sense considering how Heidegger and much of the postmodern tradition that draws upon him (and Nietzsche) trace the purported nihilism of the West back to Plato and Plato’s Socrates and his “doctrine” of the ideas.1 Of course, Heidegger means by “doctrine” (Lehre) “that which, within what is said, remains unsaid,”2 rather than a self-conscious teaching of the thinker; in Plato’s case, this is the transition of truth as aletheia from unconcealment (Unverborgenheit) to the correctness of representation.3 Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that while Heidegger and others impute to Plato a doctrinal way of thinking, this is not the only way to understand Plato. Indeed, Heidegger himself is far too imprisoned, even in his critique, by the Christian appropriation of Plato and Nietzsche’s subsequent rejection of this Christianized Plato.4 Furthermore, whatever their criticisms of him might be, many postmodernists who owe a debt of thinking to Heidegger have also accepted this reading of Plato as a decisive turn in the Western march toward nihilism (or logocentrism, or totalitarianism, or humanism; choose your poison). But such a Plato is not the only Plato.

A caveat: Heidegger at times insists, even in specific readings of Plato’s texts, that he is confronting not Plato but Platonism;5 I ask of the reader a similar latitude to address Heideggerianism if not Heidegger (and postmodernism if not postmodernists). I rely on a previous body of my own work, as well as that of others, so that we can engage a broad reading of Heidegger by way of a specific reading of Plato.6 My goal here is to outline an alternative, one that would surely assume greater complexity if the full