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Plato's Sophist [11-12]


Previously it was usual to interpret the Platonic philosophy by proceeding from Socrates and the Presocratics to Plato. We wish to strike out in the opposite direction, from Aristotle back to Plato. This way is not unprecedented. It follows the old principle of hermeneutics, namely that interpretation should proceed from the clear into the obscure. We will presuppose that Aristotle understood Plato. Even those who have only a rough acquaintance with Aristotle will see from the level of his work that it is no bold assertion to maintain that Aristotle understood Plato. No more than it is to say in general on the question of understanding that the later ones always understand their predecessors better than the predecessors understood themselves. Precisely here lies the element of creative research, that in what is most decisive this research does not understand itself. If we wish to penetrate into the Platonic philosophy, we will do so with Aristotle as the guiding line. That implies no value judgment on Plato. What Aristotle said is what Plato placed at his disposal, only it is said more radically and developed more scientifically. Aristotle should thus prepare us for Plato, point us in the direction of the characteristic questioning of the two Platonic dialogues Sophist and Philebus. And this preparation will consist in the question of λόγος as ἀληθεύειν in the various domains of ὃν and ἀεί as well as of the ἐνδέχεται ἄλλως.2

Now because Aristotle was not followed by anyone greater, we are forced to leap into his own philosophical work in order to gain an orientation. Our lectures can indicate this orientation only in a schematic way and within the limits of basic questions.

Plato will be cited following the edition of Henricus Stephanus of 1519; in all modem editions the numbers of these pages and columns are included. We will restrict our interpretation to the two dialogues Sophist and Philebus.3 In order to clarify more difficult questions we will refer to the dialogue Parmenides for ontology and Theaetetus for the phenomenology of cognition.


c) First indication of the theme of the Sophist. The sophist.
The philosopher. The Being of beings.


In the Sophist, Plato considers human Dasein in one of its most extreme possibilities, namely philosophical existence. Specifically, Plato shows indirectly what the philosopher is by displaying what the sophist is. And he does not show this by setting up an empty program, i.e., by saying what one would have to do to be a philosopher, but he shows it by actually philosophizing. For one can say concretely what the sophist is as the authentic non-philosopher only by actually living in philosophy.


2. Aristotle, Nic. Eth. VI, 2, 1139a6ff., and 3, 1139b20ff.

3. See p. 5, note 1.


Martin Heidegger (GA 19) Plato's Sophist