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Plato's Sophist [199-200]


Of late it has been emphasized again that Aristotle deprived the word "dialectic" of its high Platonic dignity. Now such a dictum, which indeed does not mean much philosophically, springs from a romantic conception of philosophy. In fact there is some truth to it, but only if the correct foundation is adduced, not if there lurks behind it a romantic regret. Aristotle did deprive dialectic of its dignity, but not because he did not understand it. On the contrary, it was because he understood it more radically, because he saw Plato himself as being underway toward θεωρεῖν in his dialectic, because he succeeded in making real what Plato was striving for. Aristotle saw the immanent limits of dialectic, because he philosophized more radically. This limitation of Platonic dialectic enabled him at the same time to restore to it its relative right. Aristotle could do this, of course, only because he understood the function of λόγος and of διαλέγεσθαι within scientific reflection and within human existence in general. Only on the basis of a positive understanding of the phenomenon of λέγειν within life (as can be found in his Rhetoric) did Aristotle acquire the foundation for interpreting λέγεσθαι in a wholly concrete way and thus for seeing διαλέγεσθαι more acutely. Hence Aristotle could not at all downgrade dialectic, since for him it was already, according to its very sense, down below, i.e., a preliminary stage of θεωρεῖν. As such, dialectic is not some sort of crafty operation of thinking but is in its very sense always already a wanting to see, insofar as λόγος, has precisely the meaning of ἀποφαίνεσθαι, letting be seen. Dialectic is not the art of out-arguing another but has precisely the opposite meaning, namely of bringing one's partner in the argument to open his eyes and see.

Let us now presentify the more precise determination of διαλέγεσθαι, as it occurs in Aristotle and which we have acquired in our interpretation of him, in order to test our interpretation of διαλέγεσθαι and dialectic. We will ask: on what occasions and in what contexts does Aristotle speak of dialectic? This consideration of dialectic in Aristotle will serve at the same time to sum up our preparation for interpreting the Platonic dialogue. This consideration of dialectic in Aristotle will hence bring us finally to the dialogue itself, and so we must hold fast to the designated sequence of steps in our consideration and specifically in order that we retain in view at the same time what is thematic in this διαλέγεσθαι.7

In the preceding exposition, in connection with our consideration of ἀληθεύειν, as well as of νοεῖν in the strict sense, we encountered the expression λόγος in its various meanings. If we have good grounds for interpreting λόγος as an assertion about something and as an addressing of something as something, then this interpretation of λόγος and of its fundamental meaning must also be the root out of which the other, derived, meanings of λόγος become intelligible.8,9


7. See the supplement to p. 137.

8. AH: Cf. the better presentation of the concept of λόγος in S.S. 31, beginning. Editor's note: i.e., GA II, Bd. 33, Aristoteles, Metaphysik Θ, 1-3. Von Wesen und Wirklichkeit der Kraft. Freiburger Vorlesung SS 1 931. Edited by H. Hüni, p. 5. [English translation by Walter Brogan and Peter Warnek: Aristotle's Metaphysics Θ 1-3: On the Essence and Actuality of Force, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, p. 2.—Trans.]

9. AH: Cf. Theaetetus. Concluding section. 3 meanings of λέγειν.