§60 [412-413]

is attempting in opposition to them. Or, 2.) Plato can acknowledge the factual existence of the sophist and accordingly of μὴ ὄν, of the ψεῦδος, and take the factual existence of deception, distortion, and misrepresentation as it is and so transform the theory of Being. Thus the alternatives are now given: either to allow the matters themselves their right and bind oneself on the basis of them to a ruthless opposition against all pre-established theory, or to adhere to the tradition simply because it is venerable and thereby renounce oneself and give up research, which is always research into the matters themselves.

Plato decides in favor of the first possibility, or, more precisely, he has already decided in favor of it. For the entire consideration has indeed a positive, independent sense only if it is possible to make μὴ ὄν intelligible as a being. Precisely then does the consideration of the sophist have the positive meaning of first making visible the phenomena which the further investigation can latch on to. In terms of the image introduced earlier, i.e., the usual characterization of the content of the dialogue as a matter of a shell enclosing a kernel, the shell being what we have dealt with up to now, and the kernel the ontological discussion, we can say that for us it is precisely the reverse: what we have been dealing with up to now is the kernel of the dialogue and what follows is nothing else than the liberation of this kernel in its structure. There is no shell here but only one continuous train of investigation.

The alternatives facing Plato recur in every philosophical investigation which understands itself; yet, to be sure, nothing is gained by the mere formulation of the alternatives themselves. Even an understanding of them in their concrete demands and a decision comparable to Plato's are no guarantee that one's investigation will be able to set the first possibility in motion. For it is precisely Plato who shows, not only in this dialogue but in his entire work, how difficult it is, even with an interest directed purely at the matters themselves, to make any forward progress here, and how everything can remain in a preliminary state. This applies to Aristotle just as much as to Plato. The Romantic appreciation of Plato within the history of philosophy precisely does not see what is properly positive in him, i.e., what is not well-rounded, what is fragmentary, what remains underway. That is the genuinely positive element in all research. To be sure, this does not mean that every imperfection would as such already be positive, but only that it harbors the possibility of growth.

The situation Plato now faces (and we could hardly represent better the tremendous significance of Parmenides in the thinking of Plato) is also one we face, admittedly with this difference, that we are chained to the tradition in an entirely other measure, and even in an entirely other sense, than were Plato and Aristotle.

Martin Heidegger (GA 19) Plato's Sophist