Plato's Sophist [83-84]

ἀπλῶς μὲν ούν γνωριμώτερον τὸ πρότερον τοῦ ὑστέρου, οἷον στιγμὴ γραμμῆς καὶ γραμμὴ ἐπιπέδου καὶ ἐπίπεδον στερεοῦ, καθάπερ καὶ μονὰς ἀριθμοῦ· πρότερον γὰρ καὶ ἀρχὴ παντὸς ἀριθμοῦ, ομοίως δὲ καὶ στοιχεῖον συλλαβῆς, ἡμῖν δ᾿ ἀνάπαλιν ἐνίοτε συμβαίνει· μάλιστα γὰρ τὸ στερεὸν ὑπὸ τὴν αἴσθησιν πίπτει <τοῦ ἐπιπέδου>, τὸ δ᾽ ἐπίπεδον μᾶλλον τῆς γραμμῆς, γραμμὴ δὲ σημείου μᾶλλον, <διὸ μᾶλλον> οἱ πολλοὶ γὰρ τὰ τοιαῦτα προγνωρίζουσιν· τὰ μὲν γὰρ τῆς τυχούσης, τὰ δ᾽ ἀκριβοῦς καὶ περιττῆς διανοίας καταμαθεῖν ἐστιν (Top. VI, 4, 141b5ff.). To us, ἡμῖν, in our immediate comportment, what is initially familiar is the στερεόν, or the σώμα, the physical body as a human body. It is only in a progressive return to the ἀρχή that we disclose ἐπίπεδον, γραμμή, στιγμή, surface, line, point. The point is then the ἀρχή. Likewise in the case of the ἀριθμός, a determinate number, it is only in a similar return that the μονάς, the unit, is disclosed as ἀρχή. Thus, whereas ἀπλῶς, simply, seen in terms of beings themselves, the στιγμή or μονάς is the ἀρχή, as related to us things are reversed. The naive person does not see points and does not know that lines consist of points. Οἱ πολλοί, people as they are at first and for the most part, know bodies, i.e., what first strikes the eyes and what can be experienced by merely looking. There is no need for any special arrangements of reflection in order to see things in their wholeness.

According to this distinction, even the scope of αἴσθησις is different from that of λόγος. With regard to ἀληθεύειν, αἴσθησις remains behind λόγος and νοῦς. τὰ δ᾽ ἑκάστοις γνώριμα καὶ πρῶτα πολλάκις ἠρέμα ἐστὶ γνώριμα, καὶ μικρὸν ἢ οὐθὲν ἔχει τοῦ ὄντος: ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως ἐκ τῶν φαύλως μὲν γνωστῶν αὐτῷ δὲ γνωστῶν τὰ ὅλως γνωστὰ γνῶναι πειρατέον, μεταβαίνοντας, ὥσπερ εἴρηται, διὰ τούτων αὐτῶν (Met. VII, 3, 1029b8ff.). "What is familiar to anyone whatever and is given to him in the first place is often imprecise (not brought out, though it is seen) and it has little or nothing of the being about it." It is certainly the case that in αἴσθησις the πολλοί have seen the world, but what is given in αἴσθησις contains little or nothing of beings. This peculiar mode of expression shows that for Aristotle a determinate sense of Being guides all his discussions about beings. At the same time it is clear that beings, even if given in the most immediate onlooking, are nevertheless still not ἀλήθεια, beings as uncovered, and that it is precisely ἀλήθεια which is the concern of philosophy. That does not mean we are to speculate about the "truth"; the identification of ὄν and ἀλήθεια will be clear only if we gain clarity about ἀλήθεια. Furthermore: "but nevertheless," although in αἴσθησις "something uncovered as straightforwardly familiar" is present, one must depart from it. For what is thus uncovered, although straightforward, is yet "familiar to someone himself," i.e., it is the ground at his disposal.2 One must depart from what is thus uncovered, even if it is straightforwardly uncovered; one must appropriate this ground explicitly and not leap beyond it to a reality which is simply fabricated by a theory, i.e., to a superbeing, as Plato has done.

2. Cf. p. 68.