The Enigmatic Figure of Socrates in Heidegger
A Pure Vision of Education as Attuned Event of Learning1

James M. Magrini


This essay elucidates a view of “Heidegger’s Socrates” with the understanding that Socrates, unlike Plato, is a highly enigmatic figure in the Heideggerian corpus. In what follows, I attempt to sketch a portrait of Socrates—as a decidedly “non-doctrinal” philosopher or thinker—from an understanding of Heidegger’s philosophy in a way that might be related to a unique vision of education (paideia) as a philosophical way-of-Being, or perhaps, and more appropriately, given Heidegger’s explicit and unwavering task during the “Turn,” a mode of “pure thinking” unfolding in the relationship with the truth-of-Being, which is at once an originary educative event. Ultimately, turning to a view of Heidegger’s Socrates, I offer a counter view to such common educational issues as the employment of methods, the means of knowledge acquisition, and the understanding of the learning process as they comprise the educational experience in the age of standardization and the rise and dominance of STEM curricula. The essay unfolds in three sections: (1) I explore Heidegger’s analysis of Plato and discuss how the metaphysics that can be drawn from Plato’s philosophy influences our conception and practice of education; (2) I offer a detailed analysis of pure thinking, truth, and dialectic method in relation to “Heidegger’s Socrates,” which includes insights on how this view might be clarified and enhanced by turning to a non-doctrinal interpretation of Plato’s Socrates emerging from recent scholarship focused on rereadings of the Platonic corpus; and (3) I synthesize the foregoing analyses with a view of education (paideia), attempting to elucidate a unique vision of a Socratic education in the spirit of Heidegger’s reading, which lives beyond the understanding of philosophy akin to a science and education understood as a standardized, controllable, and predictable technological achievement. In relation to (2), a unique approach is adopted, which includes, because of the lack of detailed material written by Heidegger about Socrates, consulting works that are not explicitly Heideggerian in theme or content, e.g., turning to Continental Platonic scholarship which will assist in showing how key ideas emerging from Heidegger’s reading of Socrates might be understood when further illuminated by similar writings embracing Socrates, as does Heidegger, as a radically “non-doctrinal” and “non-systematic” thinker.

The Question of Heidegger’s Plato: Truth as Correctness in Relation to Education

Heidegger is often criticized in Platonic circles (Gonzalez 2009; Zuckert 1999), and by Continental “phenomenological” Platonic interpretation (Hyland 1995) and Heideggerian scholarship (Poggler 1987), for developing and espousing a “doctrinal” view of Plato’s philosophy. For example, Gonzalez states emphatically that the “figure who normally bears the name ‘Plato’ in Heidegger’s text is a dogmatic metaphysician,” and we add, the first systematic metaphysician and, as is related directly to our concern, “the complete antithesis to the figure Heidegger himself names ‘Socrates’” (p. 431, emphasis added). Against Heidegger, Hyland offers a decidedly “non-doctrinal” reading of Plato, stating that Heidegger’s “reading … of the cave analogy in Plato’s Doctrine of Truth is cursory and orthodox [doctrinal] to the point of tediousness” (p. 140). As stated, to embrace Heidegger’s reading of Plato’s philosophy (i.e., metaphysics) as doctrinal in nature is not limited to Platonic scholars, for Poggler (1987), commentating on Heidegger’s path of thinking, also claims that Heidegger presents Plato as a doctrinal metaphysician, whose philosophy is grounded in a systematic view of both metaphysics and education—a philosophy that contributes to facilitating the birth and flourishing of the historical movement of secular humanism.2 Prior to attempting to understand Heidegger’s Socrates, it is crucial to address the question of Heidegger’s “doctrinal” Plato, because it is possible to encounter a different Plato that escapes the rigid classification as a doctrinal philosopher, i.e., in terms of a systematic metaphysician, present to Heidegger’s readings found in at least three texts other than the well-known essay we later examine, “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth,” and those sources are The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, On the Essence of Truth, and “Will to Power as Art.” As Fried (2006) observes, although in Plato there undoubtedly occurs “the transition of truth as aletheia from unconcealment (Unverborgenheit) to the correctness of representation,” this “error” is irreducible to the expression of a tenet or principle within an explicit philosophical doctrine, for we must be clear that when Heidegger employs the term “doctrine” (Lehre), he refers to “‘that which, within what is said, remains unsaid,’ rather than a self-conscious teaching of the thinker” (p. 157). Although space does not allow for an overly detailed exploration of this issue, I examine, in connection to Heidegger’s writings, the scholarship of both Fried and Capobianco (2010) in the effort to arrive at a deeper and re-conceived understanding of Heidegger’s interpretation of Plato.

Fried (2006), in his reading of Plato as a non-doctrinal thinker, points out that many times Heidegger “insists even in specific readings of Plato’s texts, that he is confronting not Plato but Platonism” (p. 157). This issue becomes explicit when examining Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche as the last metaphysician in the “Will to Power as Art,” where it is clear that in reading Nietzsche, Heidegger (1979) is dealing with “Platonism” and not Plato as he might be understood when traced back to his original dialogues. There is a gaping historical chasm between Plato the philosopher and Plato the systematic, doctrinal metaphysician, i.e., between Plato and Platonism. It is Nietzsche, when presenting in Twilight of the Idols (“How the ‘True World’ Finally Became Fable”) the “portrayal of the history of Platonism and its overcoming” (p. 203) who, according to Heidegger, “establishes” and attaches a doctrinal, two-tiered metaphysics to Plato, as famously represented by the irreconcilable division between the sensuous realm of terrestrial dwelling and the supersensuous, eternal realm of the transcendental Forms (p. 202). Thus, Heidegger claims that Nietzsche’s understanding emerges through creative interpretation, for Plato’s original work “is not yet Platonism,” and further, the “‘true world’ is not yet the object of a doctrine, [rather] it is what lights up in becoming present; it is pure radiance without cover” (p. 204). Fried (2006) argues that Plato moves away from “the conflictual heart of truth as unconcealment” in favor of the movement toward truth as “genuine transcendence,” and in doing so, Plato misses, or better, fails to formalize what remains “unsaid” and only intimated in his philosophy, namely, that we “cannot possess [truth as aletheia] because we do not own or master history or fate” (p. 170). Moving forward, I show that Heidegger’s philosophy is more akin to Plato’s original thought, or view of philosophy, in more ways than many commentators might care to admit.3

Recall the meaning of Lehre in Heidegger from the discussion above, and relate this understanding to Capobianco’s (2010) illuminating analysis of “light” and “lighting” in Heidegger’s reading of Plato, which reveals that in Heidegger’s reading, what is and remains “unsaid,” that which resides beneath the surface of what Plato “said,” admittedly, through representational imagery—and not the logos proper—is that the Idea of the “Good,” which is beyond the Forms, is also beyond, and so more primordial than, either beings or Being(ness). This indicates that Plato’s thought is occurring in the midst of, but is unable to explicitly formalize, the lighting and enabling power (dem ursprünglichen Licht) of Being itself. As Capobianco contends, “Plato’s Idea of the Good is no ‘it’ at all,” in terms of an immutable, eternal essence, nor is it a normative ideal toward which to strive; rather, it is “to be understood as the (temporal) ‘enabling’ (ermöglichend) of all beings in their beingness” (p. 105), as the “condition of the possibility” for all knowledge and truth about beings in their beingness (p. 106). Following Heidegger, Capobianco brings attention to, in relation to the cave allegory, the sun (ἥλιος) as the primordial light (φῶς), as the enabling power (δύναμις) that makes possible and links together (ζυγον), i.e., the ontological relationship between, what is seen in its presencing (ὁρομενα) and the “seeing” relating to the original experience or event of presencing (ὁραν) as a phenomenon in terms of aletheia. Plato did relate the Forms to light and lighting, as a “kind of letting-through—namely, a letting something be known as what it is in its full look (eidos), presence, whatness, beingness,” and although this “aspect of Plato’s thinking ultimately served as the foundation for the Western onto-theological tradition with its focus on timeless and immutable ‘essences’ of particular things,” as Capobianco importantly points out, “the allegory reveals to us that Plato’s thinking did not come to rest at this point” (p. 106), and with the Idea of the Good (as the lighting of Being itself), he appears to be thinking beyond the Forms and did not, as Aristotle claims, organize such thinking into a coherent and systematic account of metaphysical essences, paradigms, or concrete universals. Drawing a crucial connection between Heidegger’s Plato and Heidegger’s philosophy, Capobianco demonstrates that the notion of die Lichtung in Being and Time is traceable to Heidegger’s early readings of Plato and develops in Heidegger’s later thought. The lighting and enabling power of Being that Plato intimates in the allegory is the event and occurrence of “lighting” within which Dasein participates when revealing and founding and grounding a world and appropriating a historical destiny.4 Ontologically, Dasein is set within “the light that is the source of all that is seen in the light,” and not “in the first place, an ontic entity that possesses the ‘natural light’ of reason” (p. 106), and though Heidegger does not weave the interpretation of the allegory into Being and Time, it is, as Capobianco argues, “clearly in the background of his thinking,” for Heidegger appropriates “Plato’s metaphor of light in order to articulate his primary concern with that which enables the truth of all beings in their beingness” (p. 107).

To return to the understanding of Lehre in Heidegger, based on the forgoing analysis, I am not reading Plato as a thinker consciously aware of establishing or developing a system or doctrine of thought in the modern sense of the term. What is instead suggested is that due to Plato’s inability to properly formalize or “say” what was always already present to his philosophical experience— that which ultimately remained “unsaid”—the essence of truth as aletheia as primordial concealment and the concern for Being as such were issues subsequently covered over and obscured. In direct and succinct terms: since the enabling power of Being, which is rooted in its recession and move into finitude, was overlooked by Plato, so too was the essence of truth as aletheia as primordial unconcealment, which is linked ineluctably and intimately to the phenomenon of Being’s unfolding. As related directly to my concerns, Heidegger’s (2002) observes that Plato’s allegory is an experience of aletheia, but in Plato’s philosophy, “the fundamental experience from which that word ἀ-λήθεια arose is already disappearing”—i.e., the originary pre-Socratic experience of truth—and thus it does not come to “light in its primordiality or essence” because Plato is unable, or falls into error due to a “failure” (Verfehlung) or “mistake” (Versehen), to formalize truth in its essence, in the antagonistic “characteristic of φύσις (being), to the κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ (“nature’s affinity for remaining hidden”), thus to hiddenness as such and not just to the false, not just to illusion” (p. 68). This error, through which aletheia is neither clarified nor grasped, spawns Western metaphysics, for in Plato the “word [aletheia] and its semantic power is already on the road to impoverishment and trivialization” (68). Thus, although Plato’s philosophy marks for Heidegger (1998) the beginning of Western onto-theological metaphysics, it is possible to interpret this “beginning” in terms that are other than Plato’s formulation and foundation of anything resembling a doctrinal metaphysics; this, it is possible to state, was left to Plato’s predecessors. Despite this insight, which should inspire rethinking Plato as a doctrinal thinker,5 I move to examine several topics that are unambiguous in Heidegger’s (2002) reading of Plato, namely, the influence of Platonic metaphysics—or Platonism—on our conception of and experience of truth, and how this understanding shapes our practice and experience of education, and I approach these issues in terms of “a questioning which in a fundamental way changes Dasein, man, and the understanding of being” (p. 84).

“Plato’s Doctrine (Lehre) of Truth,” one of Heidegger’s (1998) most well-known readings of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, elucidates a view of metaphysics that emerges from Plato’s philosophy of the essence of truth (alethiea) with the concomitant understanding of how the essence of truth ultimately determines an authentic view of education as paideia. Authentic education (paideia), for Heidegger, in his reading of Plato and the Allegory, is represented in a series of “movements” as the turning around (periagoge) of the entire soul back to itself enlightened, i.e., an authentic education “lays hold of the soul itself and transforms it in its entirety by first leading us to the place of essential Being accustoming us to it” (p. 165). This, however, is the precise form of originary education that a Platonic view of metaphysics, with its privileging of presencing over concealment and its focus on the Being of beings as opposed to Being qua Being, ultimately fails to realize. As immersed in the Platonic tradition, we experience the essence of truth in terms of an epistemological and not an ontological issue, for it is taken as the “agreement” or relation between idea and thing as expressed through a locution or proposition, where the locus of truth is encountered, e.g., as in the history of Western philosophy and the understanding of adaequatio intellectus et rei (“agreement between intellect (idea) and thing”), expressed through the Correspondence Model of Truth. According to Heidegger, due to this misinterpretation of aletheia, Plato’s vision of knowing and learning, or “education,” does not rise to the level of paideia and rather is represented by gignoschein, the process of “knowing by way of seeing,” and this is linked by Heidegger with the Greek idein in relation to idea in terms of homoiosis, as exclusively the overall “agreement of the act of knowing with the thing itself” as seen (p. 177).

Truth is inseparable from education, and following this line of thought, since the “first beginning” and Plato’s error education moves away from an original notion of paideia as it is instantiated within the soul’s relation to the truth of Being; learning is no longer an open questioning grounded in finitude, mystery, and primordial hiddenness, attuned in wonder or “astonishment” (das Erstaunen), and is instead systematically “harnessed in a relation to looking, apprehending, thinking, and asserting” (p. 182). This because, according to Heidegger’s (2002), education’s ontological origin in the experience of aletheia is occluded, and so we fail to realize the deeper truth that aletheia can never be arbitrarily possessed like propositional truths, “whose enjoyment we put aside at some point in order to instruct or lecture other people” (p. 66). This leads to a view of education that is directed toward the accumulation and possession of knowledge—established truths above falsehoods. Indeed, as Heidegger (1993) argues, if we were to receive a so-called “good education,” we would then “know everything possible to know in all realms of science, art, and the like,” and we would continue to “acquire each day what is newest and most valuable” (p. 258). This is a view of education, resulting from the fallout of Platonism, which can be equated with models of teaching-learning instantiated within contemporary education; it is a form of education that Scott (2001), in his reading of Plato’s Socrates’ non-doctrinal practice of education, claims is akin to an additive model of education, the very type of education—the filling up of empty vessels, the piling and building up of knowledge—that Plato’s Socrates continually decries in the dialogues,6 which stands radically opposed to an integrative model of education, which might be associated with an original form of paideia. In relation to these thoughts, Heidegger (1993) observes that when thinking in education is conceived as a “technique for explaining highest causes,” it comes to an “end by slipping out of its element,” and it then achieves its “validity as techne, as an instrument of education and therefore as a classroom matter,” in terms of what we understand as the standardization of education—and as Heidegger stresses, this presupposes it is already a “cultural concern” (p. 221). Drawing on Heidegger’s interpretation, I note that today in education we encounter a technological-and-quantitative view of the three educational issues this essay discusses: (1) method is understood as a top-down, transposable schema for “problem-solving” (scientific method) or “teaching”; (2) truth is conceived (and experienced) as the destination to which method inevitably leads, i.e., knowledge as something that is acquired, possessed, and validated by one or another epistemological model (e.g., Correspondence Model of Truth); and (3) learning is a controllable, predictable, and terminal activity that occurs through the successful application of a given method, indicating that truth has been procured, which is then assessed to indicate the student’s or learner’s educational achievement.7

Heidegger’s Socrates: Pure Thinking in the Sway of the Unfolding of Essential Truth

Heidegger (1968) labels Socrates the “purest thinker of the West” (p. 17), and it is this classification as a “pure thinker” that I am committed to unpacking as it relates to Socrates’ understanding and practice of dialectic, his view of “truth,” and his understanding of philosophy (or thinking) as a process of original learning (paideia). Heidegger observes that Socrates is courageously “drawn to what withdraws” in the process of enacting the authentic process of thinking, which draws him into “the enigmatic and therefore mutable nearness of its appeal,” despite being “far away from what withdraws,” and even though “the withdrawal may remain as veiled as ever” (p. 17). This instantiates for Heidegger the “living context” of thinking, a context facilitating the “draft” of the dynamic counter-striving of lighting and primordial concealing, and Socrates, according to Heidegger, did “nothing else than place himself into this draft, this current, and maintain himself in it,” and this is why, according to Heidegger he was the purest thinker of the West (p. 17).8 To bring clarity to this notion of thinking in terms of an immersion in the “draft,” I turn to Heidegger’s (1999) interpretation of what he terms Da-sein’s Being-historical thinking (inceptual/mindful thinking), which is an original way of doing philosophy, or more correctly, thinking, “according to more originary basic stance,” within the context sheltering the unfolding of “the question of the truth of be-ing,” which is no longer a “thinking about something and representing something objective” (p. 3), but rather a thinking of matters in the poietic manner of bringing forth what is thought in its incompleteness while at once retaining and sheltering traces and intimations of its supreme and primordial power, which inspires the respect for the ineffability of that which is thought, for there is a refusal of “that-which-is-thought” to be brought to full disclosure or rendered wholly intelligible in language.

For Heidegger, it is Being qua Being or the essential truth of Being that is thought as the grounding ontological topic. With respect to Socrates, as is known from the dialogues (especially the “early” dialogues, which are aporetic in nature), what Heidegger speaks of might be related to the Being or ineffable and mysterious essence of the virtues, which Socrates continually and relentlessly questions within the context of his ever-renewed thought and examination. Heidegger (1999) claims that inceptive-mindful thinking is attuned in an original mode of questioning, which draws in and holds the thinker in the primordial “sway” of the relationship between thinking and the essential truth of Being. This type of thinking does not come to an end, for it is never a means to the end of truth that might terminate the thinking, and so is always actively underway as an ever-renewed event of thinking and questioning, or we might say, learning. It abides amid Being’s essential unfolding, and as an experience of the coming-to-be and passing-away of Being, it breaks open and holds open what is most question-worthy. Heidegger claims that authentic thinkers are enraptured and attuned within the exigent and distressing need of “holding [themselves] within the essential sway of truth” (p. 258). This form of thinking shelters the mystery, or Being’s recession into hiddenness (Entrückung) that initially facilitates unhiddenness (Berückung), illuminating beings in such a way that the event and truth of Being unfolds in its most primordial manner. This is one way to interpret Heidegger’s comments regarding Socrates’ pure mode of thinking, and in phenomenological non-doctrinal readings of Plato’s Socrates, it is possible to understand the questioning-context of the dialectic as sheltering and instantiating the unfolding of Socrates’ mode or practice of questioning, his mode of dialectic examination, which is directed toward the most question-worthy issues (e.g., Hyland 1995; Kirkland 2010).

Heidegger (1967) claims that Socrates thinks and hence is driven by a single thought, for he repeatedly thinks “on no other topic than what things are” and continues to say “the same thing about the same thing” (p. 74), and, as stated, this for Socrates is to attempt to wrest from concealment the Being of the virtues. He thinks the same thing because the matter demands an unwavering dedication to continually return to it, responding to its enigmatic withdrawal and appeal, because its very essence resists being exhausted by the questioning; it defies acquisition and possession, and this is because, as stated, what Socrates inquires into always remains essentially open-ended and hence question-worthy. To think such thoughts we must first, states Heidegger (1968), “incline toward what addresses itself to thought” or “that which of itself gives food for thought,” and this he identifies as a gift, and the “gift of what must be properly be thought about, is what we call most thought-provoking” (p. 17)—i.e., that which is most question-worthy. This I relate directly to the “the question” Socrates asks, which finds its origin (archē) or beginning (Ursprung) in an attunement or pathos Heidegger calls “astonishment” (das Erstaunen) as related to “wonder” (thauma), and as Socrates explains in the Theaetetus, this attunement grounds philosophy.9 When talking of the “beginning,” Heidegger (1958) references archē, which “names that from which something proceeds”; however, that which emerges never truly leaves behind its origin or source, for the beginning is that which produces and also holds reigns over what is produced, for “the verb achein expresses, that which governs” (p. 81), i.e., astonishment and wonder give birth to and continue to nourish, invigorate, and direct Socrates’ ever-renewed philosophical inquiry. In short, turning to Capobianco (2010), “philosophia begins—and ends—in ‘astonishment’” (p. 83). In and through “wonder” we are set within a relationship to what is inquired into, and here recall my initial comments regarding Socrates and the “draft” of thinking, wherein that which is questioned, that which is essential, “retreats” from our advances, as we are held in a state of “wonder” or “astonishment” and simultaneously drawn into the inquiry and secured there by that which recedes from or retreats from our grasp. Out of this phenomenon spring forth what Heidegger (2000) terms “original questions,” and these original questions never terminate in definitive answers; they can never be closed-off or solved in terms of problems, and the most original question for Socrates, as Heidegger informs us, is the “Greek ti estin,” or “What is the essence of x?” Since philosophy has as its beginning (archē) Erstaunen, original questions also have their origin in the pathos of astonishment, and this beginning, according to Heidegger, gives rise to a questioning that “pushes [Socrates] into the open,” and as an original questioning, it “transforms itself (as does every genuine questioning), and casts a new space over and through everything” (p. 32).

The type of truth consistent with doctrinal or idealist readings of Plato’s Socrates focuses on knowledge that can be grounded, as we saw in Heidegger’s reading of Plato, in “correctness,” but contrarily, Heidegger’s Socrates might be said, as Kirkland (2010) contends, to devote himself to the pursuit of “truth,” which presupposes an “attitude toward his subject matter in which he does not impose his will upon it,” because it can’t be a pure object of his thought; rather, he “aims to allow it to come to light in his discourse” (p. 51, my emphasis). This is strikingly similar to the manner in which Plato (1997) in Letter Seven describes philosophical understanding as an original occurrence of aletheia, which manifests in dialogue, but “cannot at all be expressed” or captured precisely “in words as other studies can, but instead, from living with the subject itself in frequent dialogue a light is [eventually] kindled and a leaping flame comes to [settle] in the soul where it presently nourishes itself” (341b-d, emphasis added). I want to explore this notion of Socratic truth as it might relate to Heidegger’s philosophy in a bit more detail by looking to the early Greek experience of aletheia, which is by now quite familiar to readers of Heidegger, as an encounter with unhiddenness (un-concealment) linked intimately with hiddenness (concealment) as the ground for its possibility, the possibility of entities presencing or showing up for our appropriation —in their givenness—in the first instance. As previously stated, Heidegger (2002) finds the original understanding of aletheia in Heraclitus’ Fragment 123: φύσις … κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ, which might be translated in a straightforward manner as “Nature has an affinity for hiding or remaining hidden.” To relate this idea to the language of the “sway” within which Socrates thinks, it is within the midst of the sway that the Being of beings “loves to conceal itself” (p. 9). This Heideggerian understanding of aletheia is stressed in Kirkland’s (2010) non-idealist reading of Plato’s Socrates in pursuit of the phenomenal Being of the virtues. In the course of questioning and interrogating the initial appearance of the virtue present to the doxai, as opposed to definitions or ideas filling the content of consciousness, “what emerges into truth through the questioning of the doxa with Socrates is ‘what virtue is’” (p. 115), but this truth cannot be brought to stand in propositional language, and rather must remain in an incomplete form. Indeed, Socrates’ living-with the appearance and instantiation of this truth, which like a flashing light attunes, nourishes, and enlivens the soul, represents the true success or positive aspect of the dialectic, for “it marks the [ontological] limit of virtue’s appearing to us, disturbing our doxai and pointing thereby beyond them to what is present in doxa only in exceeding it” (p. 115).

In his analysis of the pathein-of-truth (“suffering under” truth), Kirkland argues that the experience of aletheia is not only “excessive” it can also be “dangerous” in the sense of opening us up to an encounter with ta deinon, or the awe-inspiring presence of truth, which “resists being delimited and made intelligible, not merely frustrating our specific expectations, but radically calling into question what we presumed to be the limits of ‘what is,’ even of the possible” (p. 49). Here, we can understand Heidegger’s claim regarding Socrates as a “pure thinker” demonstrating the courage to hold himself in the dialectic’s unfolding and resisting the temptation to flee-in-the-face of truth, to which many interlocutors ultimately fall victim. Alethiea, as philosophical understanding, manifests as the flashing flame within a momentary revelation, as an intimation of truth, where there is the concomitant movement or recession of what disappears into mystery, and certain aspects of the virtue Socrates interrogates—including its very essence—remain concealed (Magrini 2017; 2018). Thus, as opposed to the type of propositional or axiomatic certainty that many analytic or Anglo interpreters of Plato link with the (potential) philosopher-rulers’ practice of the dialectic in the Republic, it is possible to grasp Socrates’ notion of philosophical understanding, as would be consistent with Heidegger’s portrayal of Socrates, as intimated and poetized by Heidegger, in the following manner, which I have formalized: (1) it is a form of insight that although emerging from an interactive and discursive process of dialogue, it itself nondiscursive; (2) it is non-propositional, but it is irreducible to rote or basic “know-how,” this because it is both an ontological and “normative” form of insight; (3) it is manifest and comes-to-presence only in the midst of dialogue or the practice of the philosophical method; (4) it is neither wholly subjective nor objective and rather mediates both realms; it is also reflexive in nature as a potential form of “self-knowledge” (Gonzalez 1998; Kirkland 2010; Hyland 1995). It is now to the issue of the practice of dialectic in Heidegger’s Socrates that I turn.

When separating the sophist off from Socrates—or Socratic philosophy—the real philosopher, the ontos philosophos, Heidegger (1997) describes Socrates as embodying the vocation, task, or occupation that looks upon the bios, as this term and concept is set off from zōe. This indicates for Heidegger that the philosopher is not concerned with the life of things and entities set within the “nexus of animals and plants, of everything that crawls and flies,” but rather directed toward the “sense of existence, the leading of a life, which is characterized by a determinate telos, a telos functioning for the bios, itself as an object of praxis” (p. 168), and for this reason, philosophy is a way-of-Being in the world. The philosopher is concerned with living out various kinds of life, and most importantly, makes a determination regarding the best type of life to live. For Socrates, as already stated, this is a life in pursuit of virtue, excellence, and the “good”; it is a life that is inseparable from the practice of the dialectic or dialektikē—the practice and way-of-Being that is at once a living with the logoi. Unlike typical doctrinal or idealist readings of Plato that view the dialectic as a tool or trusted method for arriving at certain truth, truth grasped in and through noein—beyond dianoia where the hypothetical method is jettisoned, as described in the Republic—Heidegger focuses on the dialectic’s flaws, revealing problems that Plato does not overcome. Gonzalez (1997), in his reading of the Sophist, informs us that according to Heidegger, the “logos pervading all forms of disclosing … has a tendency to conceal”; as such, what the dialectic aims at is what amounts to the transcendence of language or the logos by way of “proceeding through (dia) logos,” and “its ultimate aim, that towards which it is inherently directed, must be a pure seeing or noein beyond logos” (p. 18). However, the dialectic can never accomplish this end and so has an “inherent tendency toward a ‘pure seeing’ that it can never attain” (p. 19). At first blush, this appears to render the dialectic a failed project; however, this does not sound the death-knell for the dialectic in Socratic philosophy, for there are positive elements associated with the dialectic as practiced by Socrates, despite its failing to rise to the level of epistemological trustworthiness granted in doctrinal or idealist readings of Plato. It is successful within limits, and there are positive aspects of the Socratic dialectic that relate to truth, education, and the potential development of our character and disposition (hexis).

If, as Heidegger argues, the dialectic is limited, what then can it accomplish as related directly to a “Socratic” philosophy? In a response requiring some explanation, I show that the dialectic is both essential and beneficial to a philosophical life, as described above, in that it instantiates a living-practice and way-of-Being that is educational or heuristically educative in its essence, in terms of Heidegger’s understanding of paideia as initially described. The dialectic is a process that is disclosive; however, according to Gonzalez (1997), what it discloses it does so “indirectly, negatively, and ‘reflexively’ (i.e., through the process of philosophy itself)” (p. 38). When speaking of disclosing things “negatively,” this for Heidegger (1997) means a “denial by way of legein,” which indicates that “saying ‘no,’ is a letting be seen,” but always in a limited and incomplete manner. Negation in the dialectic for Heidegger, and here I include Socrates, possesses a “disclosive character,” in that within the denial of a line of argumentation or position, an encounter with the aporetic breakdown of examination, “within the concrete [but limited] uncovering of beings,” denial serves a “purifying [cathartic] function, so that negation itself acquires a productive character” (p. 388). Negation is understood by Heidegger as an integral component of the Socratic dialectic, which is thought of as a process of “καθαρσις of the αγοια by ελεγχος,” which works by “setting the δοχαι against each other through the συναγειν εις ‘εν” (p. 260) —i.e., the purification of ignorance through the questioning and synthesizing through the gathering of beliefs and opinions held by those who are engaged in the dialogue, which importantly includes the process of winnowing out those beliefs and opinions determined untenable. In this process, what is positive for Socrates is the partial and limited revelation of the matter under discussion, i.e., the partial appearance of and glimpse into elusive phenomenal Being of the virtues. Here recall Plato’s claim in Letter Seven regarding the leaping flame of truth that settles in the soul, which transforms it through periagoge, or the soul’s turning back or around to itself enlightened, which is an “educative” (paideutic) occurrence or event. What Heidegger indicates about what is positive in the dialectic is linked intimately with a “Socratic attitude,” which achieves the “positive only in actually carrying it out,” by living within the draft and sway of the inquiry and not in terms of the dialectic producing positive results in terms of truth that somehow stands at the end, and hence beyond, the inquiry itself (p. 368), i.e., we are transformed only within the dialectic, only within the process itself, and not by some result it might produce.10 How this enlightenment occurs, however, is not clearly explicated by Heidegger; however, in relation to his reading, I explore this issue by turning to non-doctrinal readings of Plato’s Socrates’s practice of dialectic in the attempt to show that although never culminating in noetic insight of the so-called “truth” of the essence of virtue, the logoi, in rigorous, well-meaning discourse, does demonstrate a revelatory capacity in the process of questioning, refuting (negating), and winnowing out opinions and beliefs that are shown to be problematic and questionable.

Heidegger describes the practice of the dialectic as a vigorous questioning (διερωταν) with the purpose of shaking one out of familiar and complacent modes of knowing whereby many doxai are brought together and set in tension in relation to that which is questioned. Within the unfolding interrogation, the doxai “slap each other in the face” (p. 261), and there occurs the “casting out [απαλλαγη] of ungenuine δοξαι,” and a “clearing away,” or a “removal of what stands in the way of the μαθηματα, the proper positive learning” (p. 262), which demonstrates the function of “εκβαλλειν” (p. 258), the act of casting out ignorance and transcending amaqia in a way that “clarifies” or “purifies” (καθαρσις) the soul. Indeed, when Heidegger describes the context of the Socratic dialectic, and here recall Heidegger’s description of the philosopher’s life as introduced above, it should not be conceived as “a dwelling with the material content of knowledge,” i.e., not a process privileging content-over-method, or propositional knowledge over a more vague and limited form of understanding; rather, it is a matter of “the Being of Dasein itself: to what extent does it dwell in αληθεθειν [understanding/truth of the virtues and the “good” life] or in αγνοι [ignorance of the virtues and the “good” life]” (pp. 262). But how, returning to Heidegger’s critique of the dialectic, as a practice driven by and given structure within language, a process that cannot transcend language in the pursuit to arrive at a pure form of seeing (noesis) that is beyond the logos, is it possible to imagine truth emerging from a practice driven by and at once limited by language? Gonzalez (1997) observes that what philosophy requires is a form of speech, or manner of approaching discourse, that “breaks through speech in a process of ‘speaking for and against,’” in a way that might direct our “attention beyond what is said, thereby leading us more and more to the matter under discussion and letting it be seen” (p. 18). If we take into consideration what Heidegger has said regarding the Being of Dasein as representing the true philosopher’s concern in relation to what he claims about dialogue, perhaps it is possible to suggest a response to this query and concern related to Socratic dialectic. Heidegger (1968) informs us that if dialogue focuses exclusively on “what is directly said” and what might be directly known through this saying, dialogue “becomes halting and fruitless” (p. 178). However, if inquirers in the dialogue “involve each other in that realm and abode about which they are speaking,” i.e., situate themselves in close proximity to the Being of that which is interrogated; and for Heidegger, as we have discussed, this is the realm of original questioning that gives rise to speaking in and from out of the “site of thought in its relation to the essential truth of Being,” and so opens the potential of dwelling “in the “soul of the dialogue” where the speakers are “led into the unspoken,” i.e., in this case, what emerges from the logos is irreducible to it (p. 178).

To approach an understanding of how this movement into the unspoken through the logos might occur in the unfolding of the Socratic dialectic, we consider Gonzalez’s (1998) and Gadamer’s (1988) insightful analyses of Plato’s Letter Seven, focusing on the manner in which the four ways of knowing contend in order to open a space for the presencing of the “fifth way,” or brief insight into a truth barely seen in the midst of the dialectic. I now consider how this phenomenon might occur through the winnowing process of clearing away the negative and making space for the positive in dialectic as Heidegger describes above. In Letter Seven, Plato (1997) discusses four ways of knowing: (1) names/words, (2) images/figures, (3) propositions, and (4) resulting insight (knowing). Plato also discusses a “fifth way” that occurs from these, a form of philosophical insight (philosophical understanding) that he stresses is ineffable; it cannot be spoken of like other things philosophers discuss, and I note that it certainly does not possess the degree of certainty required to ground any systematic doctrine of philosophy (EP VII 341c). Whereas Heidegger elicits the imagery of the doxai “slapping against each other” within dialogic exchange, in both Gonzalez (1998) and Gadamer (1988), we encounter a similar metaphor, namely, that of the dialectic unfolding as process wherein the doxai or the “ways of knowing” are rubbed against each other, and this relates to the notion of language’s potential transparency in relation to the Greek term that Plato employs, tribein, “to rub down.”11 Ideally, in the dialectic, we might imagine words fading into the background so that partial meaning shines forth. However, as Gadamer (1988) contends, in the “rubbing” together of the four ways in dialectic, language fails to achieve the level of full transparency required to let the “thing itself” (the Being of virtue) move to the fore unimpeded so as to be seen in the fullness of its self-showing (p. 105). Now, consider what Gonzalez (1998) contends about the Greek term tribein, as a “process of a vigorous rubbing that wears things down” (p. 265), or wears them away, and it is possible to understand the process of truth-happening in Plato’s Letter Seven, as this relates to the “negation” stressed in Heidegger’s reading of the dialectic: As we move through the four ways, rubbing each against the other, there occurs a “wearing down” of the language, so to speak. The more intensely we seek to clarify the names, images, and propositions we employ to ground our knowledge, the more the words/images begin to wear down and away; they recede, as it were, and a partial and momentary transparency of language occurs, and the fleeting light of truth shines forth, like a leaping flame. In more direct terms, according to Gonzalez (1998), through the “process of question and answer in which we expose the weakness of the words, propositions, and images we use”—through “negation”—we are afforded a momentary and partial vista onto truth, and “just barely glimpse through the cracks [opened in the process] the true being which they all attempt but fail to express” (p. 268). It is possible to link the “fifth way” of “barely” knowing the “thing itself” with the moment when language reaches its limited, but disclosive and “positive” potential as a transparent medium for aletheia.

This is not, however, to indicate that this form of insight transcends language usage entirely, or that it is a moment when truth is fully disclosed with no dissembling, because this moment of truthhappening occurs only in and through the vigorous use of language, which is always grounded in human limitation and radical finitude. As Gonzalez stresses, in a way related to this reading of Heidegger’s Socrates, this unique, fleeing, and fragile instance of philosophical insight as described is not and can never be “the kind of knowledge that will put an end to all inquiry or that can be ‘grasped’ once and for all” (p. 267), for it requires ever-renewed attempts to bring it to light, which requires the participants in the dialectic, as Heidegger has stressed in relation to Socrates, to strive to situate and hold themselves in the draft of the inquiry, for as Plato (1997) teaches, whatever “we learn” must be “learned together” [synerchomai], through long and earnest labor” (EP VII 344b). To further contribute to this line of thought as related to a theme already discussed, Kirkland (2010) stresses that the process of “truth-happening” highlights the ontological distance that the human being is situated from full disclosure of truth, which is always given in an obscure, oblique, and partially veiled manner. However, the dedicated participants in the pursuit of truth agree to inhabit the space, the “site of distance from but nonetheless toward the being of virtue” (xxii), and this indicates that we “abide with doxa while pointing beyond it and to its limits” (p. 114). In relation to what Kirkland identifies as the deinos associated with philosophical insight, what has been described is a distressing distance from Being, but one that is, in a sense and in an important way, wonderous and alluring—evoking the mood of “astonishment”—which establishes our relationship to issues that remain “as concealed, hidden, and thus questionworthy” (p. 55). We are drawn, as Heidegger indicates about Socrates, to the pursuit of that which withdraws from our grasp, and in its withdrawal it beckons us to continue our pursuit, because it is truly worthy of our continued questioning and represents the very essence of an education directed toward those things that are most beneficial for the development of the soul. The site of the dialectic, the everdeveloping, ever-expanding context of originary learning, which is the locus of “distance and the excess of truth, belongs essentially to the site opened by melete,” which is related directly to Plato’s Socrates’ avowed practice of philosophy as care for the soul (as a paideutic practice), “by our being originally concerned with the being of virtue, compelled to be toward it in its withdrawal” (p. 114). We have more to say regarding this phenomenon, occurrence, or event in the concluding section below.

Paideia as Philosophical Task and Way-of-Being: A Socratic Notion of Truth-and-Method in Learning

What I have described in these foregoing sections might be said to represent an originary understanding of method and truth in Socratic philosophy, as a practical way-of-Being or living out of one’s existence attuned to the understanding that this also instantiates a life-of-learning. In terms of what Heidegger describes, in relation to the undeniable Socratic influence on Plato’s thought, philosophy is a way of life, a way-of-Being, that is “on the way” (unterwegs) toward learning, which can never be equated with, to return to my earlier description of contemporary standardized education, the application of methods in the pursuit of acquiring sure and certain knowledge in education. Learning in a manner associated with Heidegger’s Socrates is never reducible to the rote accumulation of the day’s lessons, to be rehearsed on exams that calculate and assess the proficiency level of the student in memorizing and regurgitating the lesson; this is not Socratic learning, which I argue can never be authentically reproduced in the classroom, e.g., as is claimed by many embracing the so-called Socratic Seminar. Heidegger (1999) assures us of this when observing that παιδεια is not education in terms of transmission and accumulation of facts, linked with the additive model of learning; rather, it is “πραγματεια, a task, and hence not a self-evident possession,” and further, it is not merely a “task any person can take up according to whim but is one which precisely encounters in each person its own proper resistances” (p. 258). Heidegger (1968) recognizes that learning, just as is the case with thinking, is something we must first begin to “learn,” for learning in an essential way “means to make everything we do answer to whatever essentials address themselves to us at a given time” (p. 14). Education calls for, as opposed to the speaking of monologues or the delivering of lectures, an attuned mode of “listening” in advance for the call of education itself, and here I return to the archē of authentic philosophy—from out of which we are attuned and continually guided and directed by the original issues we pursue and questions we ask—and the “unspoken” essence in dialogue, which reveals “truth” that partially and momentarily nourishes the soul, does so in such a way that we are at once challenged by it and attuned to continue on in the pursuit to better understand it, to bring to light further aspects of it that continue to recede from full disclosure.

Education, or authentic learning, as understood and practiced by Heidegger’s Socrates, is an ongoing and ever-renewed “task”—recall Heidegger’s understanding of education as “πραγματεια,” as exercise or labor—that is instantiated within the educational practice of dialectic, which according to Heidegger (1997), “provides the positive only in actually carrying it out and not by making it the direct theme of reflection” (p. 368), and then producing objective instances of knowledge that terminate the method or process.14 Based on this speculative reading of Heidegger’s Socrates, what we term the originary context of education, which shelters the draft of authentic thinking and learning, unfolds in the following manner, grounded in the understanding that in learning there occurs a two-fold movement, captured by Heidegger’s use of the Greek term “απαλλαγη”: (1) our soul moves away from ignorance or amathia, and (2) because of the excessive and elusive nature of that which we seek to reveal, its essence moves away from us, living at an ontological remove from the scope and parameters of our inquires, and we are set at a distance from the full disclosure of the essence of what we are inquiring into.13 Admittedly, if this two-fold movement fully captured the process we identify as paidiea, the situation of learning would indeed appear frustratingly pessimistic in the extreme. However, there is a third component that is inseparable from the movement that Heidegger importantly stresses, namely, that as we are attuned within this process, we are at once transformed; we are drawn toward and to the very thing that withdraws from our inquiry. In relation to this concern, I argue that authentic learning occurs within the dynamic “draft” created by the counter-striving movement between thought and what is thought set within the ontological context that instantiates our relationship to the essential truth of Being, and this movement is highlighted, as in the case of Socrates, by the back-and-forth of the question-rejoinder-refutation of the dialectic in praxis—all the while, as Heidegger (1968) claims, there is an attendance to what remains “unspoken” in the dialogue (p. 17), i.e., this highlights our relationship to and encounter with alethiea. When learning, as stated, we are inspired, attuned and held fast in wonder (thauma) to continually inquire into that which withdraws from full disclosure, “drawn to what withdraws” (p. 17), and in this process, we are located at an ontological distance from the essential nature of what remains question-worthy, and hence worthy of our educational pursuits, and here we experience a way-of-Being within a context of thinking highlighted by the “mutual nearness of its appeal” (p. 17). So, within this questioning in the midst of this distance from truth, a proximity we can never close off, although distressing, we find the inspiration to continue on, for this thinking at a distance is attuned to continue on in the pursuit of what withdraws from our inquiry. In learning, the partial and oblique revelation of truth, or the intimation of truth, nourishes the soul and inspires us to hold ourselves in the ever-evolving draft of thinking, for like Socrates, if we are attuned to the “call” of education itself, we do “nothing else than place [ourselves] into this draft, this current, and maintain [ourselves] in it” (p. 17), for it is only in this draft that enlightenment and authentic education can occur.14

What we have described in this essay, in relation to Socrates and inquiry, might be expressed in Heideggerian terms as the event of education that uniquely includes the phenomena of attunement (Erstaunen) and Gelassenheit occurring with the context of learning. Heidegger (1958) is emphatic that the pathos of Erstaunen penetrates and pervades the entire philosophical project or process of seeking knowledge—as its archē—and so it determines, as we have mentioned, the practitioner’s “dis-position” (p. 83). Das Erstaunen facilitates the resolute approach to questioning as described above, a questioning, we recall, that both propels Socrates forward and holds him in the sway and draft of the inquiry. In this occurrence or event, the inquirer is inspired to display, and beyond, instantiate, the attuned attitude of “self-restraint,” which is a dis-position in which the inquirer refrains from imposing her prejudices in advance onto to the thing or issue under investigation. Here, Heidegger (1966) has in mind a troubling characteristic of contemporary thinking, let us call it “calculative thought,” associated with a way of knowing grounded and enacted in the willed effort to know and hence “possess” and “appropriate” things in a way that exhausts their Being in knowledge (p. 58). Rather than imposing our will onto that into which we inquire, Heidegger urges us to release ourselves over to it in advance—Gelassenheit zu den Dingen (“releasement toward things”)—granting it the space to manifest and reveal itself in its own Being, on its own terms, in its own unique manner of self-showing. In this occurrence, as Heidegger points out, the inquirer stays and remains released in inquiry in such a way that she is given over to the thing, and in effect, in an original manner, belongs to it, “insofar as [she] is appropriated initially” by it, rather than the reverse (p. 73, emphasis in original). In this attuned disposition, to return to Heidegger’s (1958) analysis of Erstaunen, there is a “retreat” of that which is questioned from full and complete disclosure, and although, and indeed because, the inquirer, under the spell of and in the grip of Erstaunen, remains “self-restrained,” she is “forcibly drawn to and, as it were, held fast by that which … retreats” (p. 85), or, as we have stated, the inquirer is drawn into and secured within the inquiry into that which perpetually withdraws or recedes from full revelation. It is understandable then, why such an event occurs and must occur as the continued “repetition” of the process, which is why, as stated throughout, the event of originary learning finds no end, no teleological point of complete closure, no final moment of full enlightenment. For enlightenment, when and if it comes, arrives slowly and only after long and engaged inquiry, granted in the sway and draft of the unfolding educative process (Plato 1997, EP VII; Heidegger 1968).

Returning to and concluding with Socrates, Heidegger (1968) states that as Socrates is drawn into what withdraws, “he points into what withdraws,” and in this way we might think of him as serving as a “sign, a pointer,” but what he is pointing at is “something which has not, not yet, been transposed into the language of our speech” (p. 18); indeed, still to this day, what Socrates philosophized—which he could not properly or systematically bring to language—has not yet been understood by a majority of educators, who are “like those people who run to seek refuge from any draft too strong for them” (p. 17). In the presence of Heidegger’s Socrates, we find ourselves faced with the practice of education that is not only foreign but radically at odds, proximally and for the most part, with the way we as contemporary educators have viewed and practiced education. For education as described relating to and emerging from Heidegger’s Socrates cannot be reduced to the type of method that can be successfully reproduced or imitated in the classroom with the aim of producing the result of learning, which can be gauged through quantification. To even attempt to thematize or systematize it would serve only to bastardize its unique and original essence; indeed, to write it down in the service of a systematized or scripted curriculum, with the requisite set “lesson-plans,” already betrays Heidegger’s point about one of the things that makes Socrates the purest thinker of the West, namely, “he wrote nothing,” and if he would have attempted to do so, he would have turned away from authentic thought, or “pure thought,” to become a “fugitive” of thought (pp. 17-18). Thus, a Socratic education drawn from Heidegger’s reading is a form of learning and education which, to continue a theme drawn from contemporary Platonic scholarship, by its very essence must remain non-systematic; it cannot become a doctrine in the sense that we in education understand it today. However, it is my hope that this essay might work in service of offering Socratic intimations of and gestures toward—despite how veiled these elucidations must remain—inspiring new and potentially fecund thinking on the ways we currently go about educating our students, offering philosophical insights into the potential reconceptualization of what we currently understand about the standards for methods, truth, and learning. For the education I have attempted to describe and elucidate, as related to Heidegger’s Socrates, depends on a genuine form of questioning that lies at the heart of the educational experience, where deep transformation and attunement to the soul (psychē) or disposition (hexis) occurs. Here, it is possible to understand the pathos-of-education in Heideggerian (1958) terms as the event of “tuning” or the “turning” of the “dis-position and determination” (p. 83), i.e., the soul in periagoge turned back to itself enlightened, and it is enlightened in and through a unique and non-systematic understanding of the experience of truth as aletheia, in the occurrence of aletheuein as it is inseparable from the originary context of education, which shelters and facilitates the draft of authentic thinking and learning: authentic paideia.


1 It is with much appreciation that I thank the editor of this symposium, Elias Schwieler, for suggesting that I contribute this paper. I am also grateful to Richard Capobianco for offering helpful commentary on several sections of the paper, which contributed greatly to its overall improvement. Lastly, I thank the JPSE reviewers for their suggestions, specifically regarding the inclusion of a short discussion of Gelassenheit.

2 It is crucial to examine the term doctrinal or idealist in relation to Platonic scholarship in order to highlight characteristics consistent with systematic readings, as we have pointed out, that are relatable in some degree to Heideggerian interpretations of Plato. These characteristics of “doctrinal” or “idealist” readings are also linked to the analytic tradition, e.g., Sahakian and Sahakian (1976) read Plato as a systematic metaphysical idealist and embrace the notions that (1) Knowledge “produced” by the dialectic is propositional in nature; (2) The dialectic, as method sine qua non of the Philosopher-Rulers, culminates in noesis by transcending the hypothetical method in the production of certain truth; (3) Knowledge accruing via the dialectic is of the essential “Forms” and ultimately the “Idea” of the Good; and (4) The “positive” experience of the dialectic, which is equated with “Socratic” education, is substantive, definitive, and reproducible.

3 Although there is an ongoing scholarly debate about the doctrinal nature of Heidegger’s Plato, it is certainly the case that in the tradition of Platonism, Plato is read as either having a complete system expressed in an esoteric manner to initiates or a developing system evolving across Plato’s “early,” “middle,” and “late” periods of his life and philosophy, and indeed, as related to our themes, such interpretations of Plato as a systematic metaphysician are still taught in universities to philosophy students.

4 Turning to Sheehan (2001), the “enabling power” of which I am speaking makes possible and so is “responsible for the correlation between an entity’s givenness and the dative of that givenness” (p. 7). This enabling power is named by Heidegger as “ein drittes,” and insofar as it “makes Parousia possible, this enabling power is epekeina tes parousias, ‘beyond’ beings-as-givenness, in a way that is analogous to what Plato called to agathon [the Good]” (p. 8). Sheehan’s reading on this issue lines up, in many ways, with Capobianco’s interpretation as presented above.

5 See also: Minca, B. (2015). “Heidegger’s Interpretation of the Platonic Cave Allegory Theatetus (1931/32) as Early Indication of Kehre and Ereignis,” Eudia, Vol. 9 (9), 1-14.

6 For example, in the Symposium, Socrates assures Agathon that authentic education can neither be pursued nor carried out as a process through which those who have little in the way of knowledge are made more knowledgeable by those possessing greater knowledge, as “if ideas were the kind of things which could be imparted simply by contact, and those of us who had few could absorb them from those who have a lot,” much like the “way that liquid can flow from a full container to an empty one if you put a piece of string between them” (175d).

7 Overlooking the plausible conclusion offered by many Platonic scholars regarding the lack of a codified method in Plato’s Socrates, Socratic Circles, Socratic Method, and Socratic Seminar (Wilberding 2014; Strong 1997) are all formalized Socratic Methods for application in the classroom. Educators implementing Socratic Seminars argue that Socrates employs a reproducible systematic method that can be explicated, packaged, marketed, taught, and applied in the classroom to produce definitive “academic” results that meet the criteria for the objectives in Common Core State Standards Curriculum and the concomitant high-stakes testing consistent with the contemporary standardized view of education. These educators claim that Socrates’ way of practicing his dialectic examination can be systematized and imitated. In relation to this claim, we bring the reader’s attention to a crucial issue that Plato highlights in the Apology, to which practitioners of the Socratic method in education have apparently paid no heed or have summarily dismissed, namely, the utterly and unmistakably disastrous results that ensued when the youths of Athens attempted to “imitate” the enigmatic and inimitable Socrates. Those who imitated Socrates contributed to the formulation of the charges against him, as they systematized, copied, and employed his supposed “method,” performing elenchus refutations of prominent Athenian citizens. Let us listen to Socrates, who proclaims, “The sons of the richest men accompany of their own accord, find pleasure in hearing people being examined, and often imitate me themselves, and then they undertake to examine others; and then, I fancy, they find a great plenty of people who think they know something, but know little or nothing. As a result, therefore, those who are examined by them are angry with me” (Plato 1997, Apol. 23c-e). It is interesting to note, in relation to “Socratic teaching,” that as opposed to training or teaching (didasko) these youths to be upstart “gadflies,” it is by chance (tuche), and neither by Socratic design nor the implementation of any formal or even informal “Socratic curriculum,” that these youths are drawn to Socrates, listen intently to him, and then take it upon themselves to imitate him (Magrini 2017; 2018).

8 It is necessary to include, in this definition of “pure thinking” in relation to Socrates, another reason why Heidegger (1968) considers him a “pure thinker”: Socrates was unique in that he understood and embraced that what he philosophized and thought was ineffable in terms of written communication, and this of course extended for Heidegger beyond even the type of “allegory,” “metaphor,” and “mythology” Plato employed. “For anyone who begins to write out of thoughtfulness,” declares Heidegger, “must inevitably be like those people who run to seek refuge from any draft too strong for them,” for Socrates knew that when thinking, he was pointing “at something which has not, not yet, been transposed into the language of our speech” (pp. 17-18). The so-called elusive, hidden, and original “truths” which Socrates pursued could not be formulated linguistically, via the logos.

9 In relation to our treatment of the attunement of originary thinking, Capobianco (2010) reminds us that pathos is related to paschein, the suffering and enduring through a mood or mode of attunement, and the Greeks’ and Heidegger’s understanding of pathos “is far removed from the modern psychological understanding of inward subjective feelings and emotions”; rather, pathos is more “originally understood as the way in which the human being is ‘attuned’ and ‘disposed’ by Being” (p. 83).

10 Heidegger (1988) defines phenomenology in precisely the same manner, as a “method” within which truth manifests that cannot be jettisoned once we have arrived at it, e.g., when talking of interpreting facticity, Heidegger is clear that this interpretation can be nothing other than “living” it, for only in interpretive activity is Dasein’s possibility for “becoming and being for itself” made known and pursued; ‘ερμηνευειν (the interpreting of facticity), is a method for living and acquiring “an understanding of itself” (p. 11). This observation is made by Gonzalez (2009) when stating in his reading of Socrates, “the truth of philosophy is its method,” for “Socrates himself, at least as depicted in Plato, places much more emphasis on method than on results, not only because his discussions are often aporetic, but also, and more importantly, because he appears to value more the process of dialectic and dialogue than any outcome of this process” (p. 427).

11 Original passages from Plato’s (1997) Letter Seven will assist the reader in understanding the analysis we have provided: “Only when all of these things—names, definitions, and visual and other perceptions—have been rubbed against one another and tested, pupil and teacher asking, and answering questions in good will and without enmity—only then, when reason and knowledge are at the very extremity of human effort, can they illuminate the nature of any object (344b) … [but] this knowledge is not something that can be [put] into words like other sciences; but only after long-continued discourse between teacher and pupil, in joint pursuit of the subject, suddenly, like a light flashing forth when a fire is kindled, it is born of the soul and straightaway nourishes itself” (341c).

12 In his reading of Socratic philosophy and the dialectic, Gonzalez (2004) stresses that philosophy is an endeavor where truth and method are inseparable, and “the truth of the matter shows itself, not in some definition or teaching that would conclude philosophical questioning, but rather in the very carrying out of this questioning” (p. 427). If we relate the issue of “pure thinking” to an education that would be consistent with it because it is instantiated by Heidegger’s Socrates, the ever-renewed practice of the dialectic requires, as Gonzalez elucidates, a form of pure thinking that is “always underway and yet so in touch with the being of the matter in question as to be continually changed by it,” i.e., a thinking in relation to truth that can never be brought to full unhiddenness and yet still holds the supreme power to transform the soul (epagoge), and this thinking “pays more attention to the way,” or practice and movement, of the dialectic, “than to the content without becoming contentless,” or devolving into a transposable, applicable, formable, and hence, empty method, and this type of pure thinking “transforms without instructing” (p. 431).

13 We undoubtedly get the sense of απαλλαγη (apallage) referring to the “casting out” of ignorance through dialectic. But this term can also indicate, as we have suggested, in addition to “deliverance, release, riddance of a thing,” the “going away” or taking a “departure” from a thing, hence our reference to truth’s movement away from our understanding as well as the movement away that we experience from our previous state of ignorance in the midst of the dialectic (Lexicon, p. 76).

14 For a detailed analysis focused on Gelassenheit and education in Heidegger’s later philosophy, which does not reference Socrates, see: Schwieler, E., and Magrini J. (2015). “Meditative Thought and Gelassenheit in Heidegger’s Thought of the Turn: Releasing Ourselves to the Original Event of Learning,” Analysis and Metaphysics, 14, 7-37.


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James M. Magrini - The Enigmatic Figure of Socrates in Heidegger: A Pure Vision of Education as Attuned Event of Learning