Truth and Disclosure

It seems that both definitions cannot be right. Even if it so happens that (C) and (D) agree in their extension, we could imagine cases or possible worlds in which the definitions apply to some substance differently. That means that we would have reason to believe that they name, at best, an accidental property of gold.

Such considerations show us that being cannot be disclosed in the same way that an entity is uncovered. But if the facts give us no basis for deciding which of the competing essential definitions is right, then perhaps we have to conclude that there are no genuine essences in the world. Instead, what we find in the universe is what we (arbitrarily) project into it. And if we conclude that, then we also might be forced to conclude that there is no way that the universe is independently of the way we conceive of it, because it seems that we are free to carve it up in any way that we want. The unconcealment of being seems, then, to be a purely subjective projection on our part.

Our ordinary experience of things belies this, however. We do not think, for example, that one is free to decide arbitrarily whether to treat the atomic number of gold as its essential property. To us, the atomic number seems to pick out something more essential about gold than any of its other properties.

We can summarize the situation in the following way. It seems that our ability to have truly uncovering comportments and true beliefs and make true assertions about the world – comportments and beliefs and assertions that get at the way things really are – depends on things having an essence, a way that they really are. However, if an understanding of essences consists in a grasp of a propositional definition, then nothing in the world can make the essential definition true, because nothing in the world could establish one definition as opposed to any other.

Heidegger, in fact, rejects this argument because he denies that our understanding of essences consists in a grasp of a propositional definition. The “knowledge of essence,” he claims, “cannot be communicated in the sense of the passing on of a proposition, whose content is simply grasped without its foundation and its acquisition being accomplished again” (GA 45: 87). This is because the knowledge of essence he is interested in is a way of being attuned to the world; for that, we have to be introduced to the practices that will eventually teach us to have a particular sensibility and readiness for the world. Thus “the knowledge of the essence must be accomplished anew by each one who is to share it” (GA 45: 87). It is this latter understanding of our knowledge of essences – seeing it as consisting in being attuned by the world to consider certain properties or features of things as definitive – that, Heidegger believes, allows us to see our way clear of antiessentialism and antirealism. The unconcealment of being is precisely the way a certain precognitive understanding of essences comes to prevail in an attunement. Through the unconcealment of being,

Heidegger and Unconcealment by Mark A. Wrathall