Plato's Sophist [190-191]

An interpretation of Plato cannot merely not bypass Aristotle, but every such interpretation must legitimize itself in him. Following the principle of hermeneutics, we are proceeding from the clear back into the obscure, i.e., from the distinct, or the relatively developed, back to the confused. "Confused" must not be taken here as a denigration; it means rather that various directions of seeing and questioning intermingle in Plato, not on account of a personal intellectual incapacity but on account of the difficulty of the very problems themselves. The confused and undeveloped can only be understood if guiding lines are available to bring out the immanent intentions. These guidelines cannot be arbitrary philosophical questions, just as little as they can be all the possibilities of a system, in a maximum of superficiality. On the contrary, the fundamental question of Greek philosophical research is the question of Being, the question of the meaning of Being, and characteristically, the question of truth.1

In one direction, we are sufficiently prepared, insofar as the foregoing consideration of ἀληθεύειν2 has allowed us to appropriate the basic position within which the dialogue sees and questions, the way in which the steps of the dialogical treatise themselves run their course. Yet what was to be delineated in this preparation was not only the mode of consideration, the mode of research, but also, equally, the thematic field of this consideration. In the dialogue we will deal with first,3 this entails a remarkable double character. The Sophist questions what a sophist is, with the specific intention of determining what a philosopher is. The sophist is first made visible in the multiplicity of his comportments. From this multiplicity and from its corresponding interpretation, that toward which the sophist comports himself becomes visible as well. The mode of sophistical speaking about, and dealing with, all things makes clear at once what is involved in sophistry.

The comportment of the sophist is, in the broadest sense, τέχνη. I indicated earlier4 that in Plato the expressions τέχνη, ἐπιστήμη, σοφία, and φρόνησις still partially run together.5 For Plato, τέχνη has the breadth of meaning the term still manifests in Book I of Aristotle's Metaphysics: know-how in the broadest sense and in any comportment whatsoever. Here, as regards sophistry, it is a matter of know-how in speaking about everything there is; that means knowing how to speak about beings. In the course of the further characterization, the remarkable determination arises that this know-how is a way of deception regarding that which is spoken of. The speech of the sophist presents its object as something which basically, in a more proper consideration, it is not; i.e., what he speaks about is not as he shows it to be.

1. See the appendix.

2. AH: Aristotle, Nic. Eth. Ζ, in the preceding first part of the lectures.

3. AH: The plan had been to include the Philebus.

4. Cf. p. 45.

5. A H : Cf. Theaetetus 207c: τεχνικός as ἐπιστήμων versus mere δοξαστικός.

Martin Heidegger (GA 19) Plato's Sophist