After everything we have said it is worth considering whether, if we immediately demand a propositional explanation of the highest idea, we are proceeding in a truly Platonic manner. If we ask in this way we already deviate from the path of authentic questioning. But inquiry into the idea of the good generally proceeds along this false track. One straightaway wants to know what the good is, just like one wants to know the shortest route to the market place. The idea of the good cannot be integrated into this uncomprehending way at all. It is thus no wonder if through this way of questioning we do not receive an answer, i.e. if our claim upon the intelligibility of this idea of the good, as something to be measured in terms of our ruling self-evidences, is from the very beginning decisively repulsed. Here we recognize – how often – that questioning also has its rank order.
This does not mean, however, that the idea of the good is a ‘mystery.’, i.e. something one arrives at only through hidden techniques and practices, perhaps through some kind of enigmatic faculty of intuition, a sixth sense or something of the kind. The sobriety of Platonic questioning speaks against this. Instead, it is Plato’s basic conviction, which he expresses once again in his old age, in the so-called Seventh Letter (342 e-344), that the highest idea can be brought into view only through the method of stepwise philosophical questioning of beings (asking down into the essential depth of man). The viewing succeeds, if at all, only in the comportment of questioning and learning. Even so, what is viewed remains, as Plato says (341 c 5): ‘it is not sayable like other things we can learn.’ Nevertheless, we can understand the unsayable only on the basis of what has already been said in a proper way, namely in and from the work of philosophizing. Only he who knows how to correctly say the sayable can bring himself before the unsayable; this is not possible for just any old confused head who knows, and fails to know, all kinds of things, for whom both knowing and failing to know are equally important and unimportant, and who may accidentally stumble upon a so-called puzzle. Only in the rigor of questioning do we come into the vicinity of the unsayable. (70-1)
Heidegger, Martin. The Essence of Truth. Trans. Ted Sadler. Continuum 2002.
Works and Days
Tags: Martin Heidegger