PLATO'S DOCTRINE OF TRUTH


the "allegory of the cave" is supposed to clarify the essence of παιδεία, then this clarification must also make manifest precisely this essential factor, the constant overcoming of lack of education. Hence the telling of the story does not end, as is often supposed, with the description of the highest level attained in the ascent out of the cave. On the contrary, the "allegory" includes the story of the descent of the freed person back into the cave, back to those who are still in chains. The one who has been freed is supposed to lead these people too away from what is unhidden for them and to bring them face to face with the most unbidden. But the would-be liberator no longer knows his or her way around the cave and risks the danger of succumbing to the overwhelming power of the kind of truth that is normative there, the danger of being overcome by the claim of the common "reality" [129 {GA 9: 223}] to be the only reality. The liberator is threatened with the possibility of being put to death, a possibility that became a reality in the fate of Socrates, who was Plato's "teacher."

Why is this so? The glow of the fire, to which their eyes are not accustomed, blinds those who have been liberated. This blinding hinders them from seeing the fire itself and from apprehending how its glow illuminates the things and thus lets these things appear for the first time. That is why those who have been blinded cannot comprehend that what they previously saw were merely shadows of those things, cast by the light from this very fire. Certainly those who have been liberated now see other things besides the shadows, but all these appear only in confusion. By contrast, what they see in the reflected light of the still unseen and unknown fire, namely, the shadows, appears in sharp outline. Because it can be seen without confusion, this consistency with which the shadows appear must strike those who have been freed as being "more unbidden." Therefore the word ἀληθές occurs again at the end of the description of stage two, and now in the comparative degree: ἀληθέστερα, the "more unbidden." The more proper "truth" is to be found in the shadows. So even those who have been freed from their chains still assess wrongly in what they posit as true, because they lack the prior condition for "assessing," namely, freedom. Certainly removing the chains brings a sort of liberation, but being let loose is not yet real freedom.

The return to the cave and the battle waged within the cave between the liberator and the prisoners who resist all liberation, of itself makes up stage four of the "allegory," where the story comes to a conclusion. Admittedly the word ἀληθές is no longer used in this part of the story. Nonetheless this stage also has to deal with the unbidden that conditions the area of the cave that the freed person now visits once again. But was not the "unhidden" that is normative in the cave — the shadows — already mentioned in stage one? Yes, it was. But two factors are essential to the unbidden: not only does it in some way or other render accessible whatever appears and keep it revealed in its appearing, but it also constantly overcomes a hiddenness of the hidden. The unbidden must be tom away from a hiddenness; it must in a sense be stolen from hiddenness. Originally for the Greeksa hiddenness, as an act of self-hiding, permeated the essence of being and thus also determined beings in their presentness and accessibility ("truth"); and that is why the Greek word for what the Romans call "veritas" and for what we call "truth" was distinguished by the alpha-privative (ἀ-λήθεια). Truthb originally means what has been wrested from hiddenness.c Truth is thus a wresting away in each case, in the form of a revealing. The hiddenness can be of various kinds: closing off, hiding away, disguising, covering over, masking, dissembling. Since, according to Plato's "allegory," the supremely unbidden must be wrested from a base and stubborn hiding, for this reason one's movement out of the cave into the open and into the light of day is


a Offprint from Geistige Überlieferung, 1942: Heraclitus, fragment 123.

b Offprint from Geistige Überlieferung, 1942: In the sense of that which is true.

c Offprint from Geistige Überlieferung, 1942: [from a] hiding.


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Martin Heidegger (GA 9) Pathmarks