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Hans-Georg Gadamer
Translated by Rod Coltman
The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc
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Original German edition, Der Anfang der Philosophie © 1996
Philipp Reclam jun. GmbH & Co. Stuttgart
English translation copyright ©1998
by The Continuum Publishing Company
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the
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Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gadamer, Hans Georg, 1900-
[Anfang der Philosophie. English]
The beginning of philosophy / Hans-Georg Gadamer.
p. cm.
ISBN 0-8264-1225-4 (pbk.)
1. Pre-Socratic philosophers. I. Title.
B187.5.G3313 2000
182-<lc21 98-34594
Translator's Preface 7
1. The Meaning of Beginning 9
2. Hermeneutic Access to the Beginning 19
3. Solid Ground: Plato and Aristotle 33
4. Life and Soul: ThePbaedo 41
5. The Soul between Nature and Spirit 50
6. From the Soul to the Logos:
The Theatetusand the Sophist 60
7. Aristotle's Doxographical Approach 71
8. Ionic Thinking in Aristotle's Physics 83
9. Parmenides and the Opinions of the Mortals 94
10. Parmenides and Being 107
Index 126
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Translator's Preface
C C TTie crucial thing in my lectures on the Presocratics is that I
A begin neither with Thales nor with Homer nor do I begin
with the Greek language in the second century before Christ; I
begin instead with Plato and Aristotle. This, in my judgment, is die
sole philosophical access to an interpretation of die Presocratics.
Everything else is historicism without philosophy." With these
unequivocal words, Hans-Georg Gadamer initiates a philosophical
and philological exploration in which he peels away the palimpses-
tic layers of interpretation and misinterpretation that have built up
over twenty-five hundred years of scholarship on the Presocratic
philosophers. Moving easily from such ancient interpreters as Sim-
plicius and Diogenes Laertius to the nineteenth-century German
historicists and then to Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, Gadamer
presents us here with his only book-length work on philosophy
before Plato and Aristotle and one of only a few extended treat-
ments of the Presocratics in his entire corpus. I am not sure whether
it is ironic or just oddly coincidental, however, that a book offering
such a thorough critique of textual reproduction, reception, and
interpretation should have its own peculiar doxographical history.
The lectures presented here go back to one of Gadamer's last
lecture courses on the topic of Presocratic philosophy, which he
conducted toward the end of 1967, shortly before retiring from full
time teaching to become Professor Emeritus at the University of
Heidelberg. Some twenty years later, in 1988, he was asked by the
Institute per gli Studi Filosofici to deliver another series of talks on
the beginnings of philosophy, which he did without a manuscript
and in what Gadamer himself refers to as "quite inelegant Italian."
Vittorio DeCesare then transcribed a set of audiotapes of these lec-
tures, smoothed out the Italian prose, and had them published in
1993 under the tide, Uinizio della filosofia occidentale. The Reclam
publishing house then asked Gadamer to prepare a German edition
of the book based on a translation from the Italian by Joachim
8 Translator's Preface
Schulte. This present translation into English is based on Gadamer's
definitive revision of Schulte's translation, which Reclam published
in 1996 under the tide, Der Anfang der Philosophic.
As the translator of these lectures into English, therefore, I
was presented with the text of a series of talks based ultimately
on a German lecture course; these talks, however, were delivered
in Italian, then transcribed and revised for publication in Italy,
then translated back into German and revised by the author
before being published in Germany. As one might imagine, such
a convoluted textual history could introduce certain difficulties
for producing an "accurate" and readable English version. And,
in fact, while the German edition is highly readable, I did have to
contend with a few minor errors (mostly of a bibliographical
nature) and a number of rhetorical inconsistencies, some of which
seem to be traceable to the original transcription from audiotape.
Through the helpful mediation of Richard Palmer, who hap-
pened to be in Heidelberg during the final editing process, all of
my bibliographical corrections have been verified by Gadamer
himself. Also, any substantial departures from the rhetorical
structure of the German have been footnoted and explained. In a
number of instances, however, without noting it, I have adjusted
the punctuation of the German text to clarily Gadamer's own
translations of Greek words and phrases and render them more
consistent throughout. I have also transliterated the Greek so as
to make it somewhat more readable, but scholars of the language
may note an intentional inconsistency in my transliteration. For
purely visual reasons, I have consistently written the Greek
upsilon as a Roman "u" except in certain standard philosophical
terms such as "pbysis" "hyle," and "hypokeimenon," all of
which are traditionally written with the Roman "y.
While I alone assume all responsibility for any errors or awk-
wardness in this translation, I would like to acknowledge two
people in particular for the invaluable assistance. In addition to
Richard Palmer, who, aside from relaying questions and answers
to and from Professor Gadamer for me, was kind enough to read
and comment on every line of my translation, I want to thank
Sigrid Koepke for her close reading of my original draft and her
help in ironing out some of the more subtle idiomatic difficulties
of the German text. I would also like to thank Charles Bambach
of the University of Texas at Dallas for his helpful suggestions on
various linguistic and philosophical problems.
The Meaning of Beginning
order to present the theme dealt with here, a theme that
as always held a very particular fascination for me, I fall
back on the notes from my last Heidelberg lecture-course,
which I offered toward the end of the year 1967. Ever since
then, in fact, I have thought that it might be worthwhile to
take up the thread of that lecture-course once again.
The theme is the beginning of Greek philosophy, which
also represents the beginning of Western culture.
This theme
is not merely of historical interest. It touches on current prob-
lems of our own culture, which finds itself not only in a phase
of radical change but also one of uncertainty and a lack of
self-assurance. We therefore strive to establish connections to
altogether different kinds of cultures, cultures that, unlike our
own, did not originate in Greek culture. This is one reason for
our interest in the first stages of the development of Greek
thinking. Such an examination of the Presocratics does have
relevance for us. It deepens our understanding of our own
destiny, a destiny which begins, as do Greek philosophy and
science, precisely in those years in which Greece's hegemony
in the Mediterranean world, both on the sea and in trade,
begins to take hold. A rapid cultural development follows
immediately thereafter. It is no accident that the first Preso-
cratics came from Asia Minor, from the coastal area around
Miletus and Ephesus, thus from the same region that
1. Kultur
10 The Beginning of Philosophy
dominated the trade and culture of the entire Mediterranean area
at the time.
This, then, is the theme I propose to address, though obvi-
ously only within certain limits and without any claim to exhaust
it. For an undertaking of this kind never ends by arriving at a pre-
determined destination, as you can surely see from the fact I
myself am coming back to the same topic once again after so
many years in order to pose numerous new questions that have
arisen and to pose them in a newly thought out and (I hope)
improved form.
At this point, I think it is necessary to begin with an intro-
ductory methodological consideration that will, in a certain
sense, serve to justify my approach: the crucial thing in my lec-
tures on the Presocradcs is that I begin neither with Thales nor
with Homer, nor do I begin with the Greek language in the sec-
ond century before Christ; I begin instead with Plato and Aristo-
tle. This, in my judgment, is the sole philosophical access to an
interpretation of the Presocratics. Everything else is historicism
without philosophy.
This preliminary assertion does require substantiation. As we
know, it was the Romantics who first set themselves the task of
researching and offering an interpretation of the Presocratics that
comes out of the Romantic preoccupation with original texts. In
eighteenth-century European universities, it was not yet the rule
to study a Platonic text or any other philosophical text in the
original. One used handbooks. As the study of original texts got
underway, it signaled a change of attitude that was due to the
great universities of Paris and Gottingen as well as other Euro-
pean schools in which the great humanistic tradition survived—
just as it did, of course, first and foremost in the English colleges
and universities.
The German teachers of philosophy who first opened the
gates to philosophical investigation and interpretation of the
Presocratics were Hegel and Schleiermacher. The significant role
that Hegel played in this respect—not only with his Lectures on
the History of Philosophy, which were published by Hegel's
friends after his death—is well known. (This is really quite an
inadequate edition, which, of course, doggedly persists in the
field of Hegelian thought; but the posthumous works have not
been edited with the diligence that a thinker of such magnitude
deserves.) Besides this, there are still other things in Hegel's
The Meaning of Beginning 11
works that demonstrate far more impressively how important
Presocratic philosophy was for Hegel's thinking. Take, for
example, the beginning of theScience of Logic, a "systematic"
work that proposes to interpolate itself by dialectal means into
the framework of Kant's extensive program of transcendental
logic. It is extremely interesting to compare this beginning with
the early manuscripts in which Hegel deals with the system of
Kantian categories, to see how these concepts unfold step by
step from out of one another toward the goal of the dialectical
transition to the Idea. In Hegel's early writings from the Jena
period, the best-known chapter of the Logic is missing—pre-
cisely the whole first chapter about being, nothing, and becom-
ing. Hegel added this chapter later, and in it he undertook some-
thing nearly incomprehensible—that is, to introduce three
beginning categories (namely, being, nothing, and becoming)
that lie prior even to all logos, thereby preceding even the form
of the proposition. Hegel begins with these mysteriously simple
concepts that cannot be determined propositionally but are nev-
ertheless foundational. Herein lies the beginning of Hegel's
dialectical thinking—a beginning that is carried out by way of
the Presocratics. In that other great work of Hegelian philoso-
phy, the Phenomenology of Spirit, we find the same thing: the
first chapters can be read as a single commentary on none other
than the chapter in the history of philosophy devoted to the Pre-
socratics, which Hegel himself was lecturing on at the time. It
seems obvious to me that Hegel allowed himself to be guided by
this first stretch of the philosophical road in formulating the
architecture of his dialectical method of thinking. We can there-
fore conclude not only that the historical research into classical
philosophy begins with Hegel in the nineteenth century, but that
an ever-newly initiated and never-ending philosophical dialogue
with the Presocratics begins here as well.
The other great scholar and thinker was Friedrich Schleierma-
cher, the celebrated theologian and translator of Plato's works into
German. In the context of translated literature from every culture,
Schleiermacher's achievement stands out as a true paradigm. It
constitutes a prelude to a new cooperation between humanists,
such as philologists, on the one hand, and theoreticians, such as
philosophers, on the other. Recently, the rediscovery of the indi-
rect tradition of the Platonic doctrine by the Tubingen school of
Konrad Gaiser and Hans-Joachim Kramer (following Leon
12 The Beginning of Philosophy
Robin) has, as you know, led to the coining of the new expres-
sion, "Schleiermacherianism." This expression sounds awful in
German, and I think it entirely misses the mark in terms of con-
tent. In my opinion, Schleiermacher deserves the credit for allow-
ing Plato to be studied again not only as a writer but also as a
dialectical and speculative thinker.
In contrast to Hegel, Schleiermacher had a particular feeling
for the individuality of phenomena. The discovery of the individ-
ual was indeed, at that time, the great achievement of romantic
culture. The famous catch-phrase, that the individual is "ineffa-
bile" and thus there is no possibility of conceptually grasping the
individual's singularity, emerges in the Romantic period. Admit-
tedly, this phrase does not have a written tradition behind it; but
the gist of it shows up already in the early stages of Platonic and
Aristotelian metaphysics where the differentiating of the logos
finds it limits in an indivisible eidos.
In Schleiermacher, one finds an extraordinarily flexible dialec-
tical and speculative thinking combined with impressive classical
and humanistic erudition. As a theologian he wrote, in addition
to his main works, a succession of essays aimed at putting to rest
the superficial and unwarranted equation of Greek philosophy
and Christianity. It is thanks to him that the trail was blazed for
the study of the Presocratics. One of his students, Christian
August Brandis, wrote a great work on the philosophy of the
and inspired the Berlin historical school from then all the
way up through Eduard Zeller.
Now I would like to interrupt these deliberations on the very
beginnings of Presocratic historiography to pose a question of a
theoretical nature: What does it mean to say that Presocratic phi-
losophy is the beginning, the principium, of Western thinking?
What do we mean here by "principium"'? There are many and var-
ious concepts of principium. It is clear, for example, that the Greek
word, "arche," encompasses two senses of principium, namely,
principium in the temporal sense of origin and beginning as well
as principium in the speculative, logical-philosophical sense. I will
leave out of consideration for the moment the fact that, according
to scholastic usage, "principium" also generally means "philoso-
phy" in the sense of a doctrine of principles. Instead, I will occu-
py myself with the many facets and horizons of the concept of
2. Handbuch der Ceschichte der Griechisch-romischen Philosophic
The Meaning of Beginning 13
"principium" in the sense of "beginning."3 The German word
"Anfang" has always presented difficulties for thinking. For exam-
ple, there is the problem of the beginning of the world or the
beginning of language. The riddle of the beginning has many spec-
ulative aspects, so it will be worthwhile getting to the bottom of
the problems harbored within it.
In a certain sense, Aristotle had already seen the dialectic
inherent in this concept. In thePhysics (specifically, I believe, in
the fifth book), he argues that motion ends in rest, for at the end
of motion there must be something that remains and stands there
completed. But what is its beginning? When does the motion
begin? When does it end? When is it that what is living begins to
be dead? When does death set in? When something is dead, after
all, the moment of its beginning is no longer a concern. This is
similar to the riddle of time, which likewise did not go unnoticed
in the framework of Aristotle's dialectic: time has no beginning;
for the moment we posit as the very first inevitably causes us to
think of yet another, earlier moment. There is no escape from this
dialectic of the beginning.
What all of this means with regard to our theme is clear.
When does the history of the Presocratics begin? With Thales, as
Aristotle tells us? This is one of the points we will deal with in
our discussion. Yet, at the same time, we should also note here
that, in reference to the beginning, Aristotle also mentioned
Homer and Hesiod, the first "theologizing" authors, and it may
be correct that the great epic tradition already represents a step
along the path toward the rational explanation of life and the
world, a step that is then fully initiated by the Presocratics.
But besides these, there is yet another, far more obscure pre-
cursor—something that lies prior to all written tradition, prior
to epic literature as well as the Presocratics, namely, the lan-
guage spoken by the Greeks. Language is one of the great riddles
of human history. How is language formed? I remember quite
well one day in Marburg, when I was still very young, how Hei-
degger spoke of the moment in which man raised his head for
the first time and posed a question to himself. The moment in
which something begins to occupy human understanding: when
was that? This became a great bone of contention among us.
Who was the first human to raise his head? Adam? Or Thales?
3. Anfang
14 The Beginning of Philosophy
If anything, all this strikes us today as laughable, and we were,
in fact, still very young at the time. Nevertheless, perhaps this
discussion did point to something of real significance, something
connected with the great riddle of language. Language—accord-
ing to an expression that no doubt stems from Nietzsche—is a
fabrication of God.
To come back to the Greek language: Greek in itself already
offers speculative and philosophical possibilities of a particular
kind. Here I wish to name only two. The first is well known as
one of the most fruitful properties of the Greek language (which,
by the way, it has in common with the German language), name-
ly, the use of the neuter, which allows it to present the intention-
al object of thought as the subject. Moreover, there are the stud-
ies of Bruno Snell and Karl Reinhardt, those great teachers with
whom I had the good fortune to be closely associated. They have
made clear how the concept already announces itself in this use
of the neuter. Indeed, something is indicated in the use of the
neuter that is found neither here nor there and yet is common to
all things. In Greek poetry, just as in German poetry, the neuter
signifies something omnipresent, an atmospheric presence. It has
to do not with the quality of a being,
but the quality of a whole
space, "being,"
in which all beings appear.
The second distinguishing characteristic is obvious as well. It
is the existence of the copula, the use of the verb "to be** to link
the subject and predicate, that constitutes the structure of the sen-
tence. This is also a crucial point, but we need to bear in mind
that the copula does not yet have anything to do either with
ontology or with the conceptual analysis of being that begins with
Plato, or perhaps with Parmenides, and never comes to a defini-
tive conclusion in the Western metaphysical tradition.
It occurs to me here that I forgot to mention a question that,
in my opinion, we do not entertain often enough but which has
claimed my attention for a long time. It is the question of the
Greeks' adoption of the alphabet. In comparison to other kinds
of writing—say, those which use ideograms or pictograms—the
alphabet is a prodigious feat of abstraction. The Greeks, of
course, did not invent alphabetic script, but they did appropriate
4. eines Seienden. Unless noted otherwise, "das Seiende" will be ren-
dered as "that which is," "what is," oii occasionally, "beings," depending on
the context, while the word "being" will be reserved for "das Sein.*
5. das Sein
The Meaning of Beginning 15
it, and—by introducing vowels into the Semitic alphabet—they
perfected it. This appropriation took two hundred years at the
most. Homer, for example, is unthinkable without the general
introduction of alphabetic writing.
All of this goes to show how complicated things are with
regard to the meaning of "principium" in the sense of that which
comes first As we see, with this sense of beginning an entire series
of alternatives is brought into view: Thales, epic literature, the
riddle of the Greek language, and writing.
I think it necessary at this point to adhere precisely to the
fact that something is only ever a beginning in relation to an end
or a goal. Between these two, beginning and end, stands an indis-
soluble connection. The beginning always implies the end. When-
ever we fail to mention what the beginning in question refers to,
we say something meaningless. The end determines the begin-
ning, and this is why we get into a long series of difficulties. The
anticipation of the end is a prerequisite for the concrete meaning
of beginning.
We are dealing here with the beginning of philosophy. But what
actually is philosophy? Plato furnished the word "philosophy"
with a somewhat artificial and decidedly unconventional emphasis;
for him, philosophy was the sheer striving after wisdom or truth.
For Plato, philosophy was not the possession of knowledge but
only the striving for knowledge. This did not correspond to the cus-
tomary usage of the terms "philosophy** and "philosopher.** The
word "philosopher" usually referred to a person who was entirely
engrossed in theoretical contemplation, hence someone like
Anaxagoras, who reportedly answered the question of happiness
by saying that it consisted in observing the stars. Whatever else it
might have been, as striving after wisdom and as possession of wis-
dom, philosophy had at its disposal a domain far broader than the
one we ascribe to it today as a combination of the Enlightenment,
Platonism, and historicism. In its present sense, there is essentially
no philosophy at all without modern science. In its highest mean-
ing, philosophy is considered the supreme science; nevertheless, in
the end, we must admit that philosophy, for its part, is not really a
science in the same sense as die others.
Beginning and end are thus bound up with one another and
cannot be separated. From where something shows itself to be
a beginning and what direction it will take both depend upon
the goal.
16 The Beginning of Philosophy
In this relationship between beginning and end we can already
begin to detect one of the main problems in the analysis of histori-
cal life, namely, the concept of teleology or, to use a current expres-
sion, development. This, as you know, is one of the best known
problems of modern historicism. Nevertheless, the concept of devel-
opment has absolutely nothing to do with history. Strictly speaking,
development is the negation of history. Indeed, development means
that everything is already given in the beginning—enveloped in its
beginning. It follows from this that development is merely a
becoming-visible, a maturing process, as it plays itself out in the
biological growth of plants and animals. This, however, means that
"development" always carries a naturalistic connotation. In a cer-
tain sense, therefore, discourse about an "historical development"
harbors something of a contradiction. As soon as history is in play,
what matters is not what is merely given, but, decisively, what is
new. Insofar as nothing new, no innovation, and nothing unforseen
is present, there is also no history to relate. Destiny also means con-
stant unpredictability. The concept of development, therefore,
brings to expression the fundamental difference that exists between
the process-quality of nature and the fluctuating accidents and inci-
dents of human life. What comes to expression here is a primordial
opposition between nature and spirit.
How, then, are we to understand my thesis, according to
which the beginning depends upon the goal? Perhaps in the sense
that the end of metaphysics is taken to be this goal? This was the
nineteenth-century answer. In a masterfully written chapter of his
book, Introduction to the Human Sciences, Wilhelm Dilthey, one
of the followers of Schleiermacher and his school, depicted the
beginning of metaphysics from the viewpoint of its collapse. For
Dilthey, the nineteenth century is the period in which metaphysics
loses its authority to the positivism of the sciences. In this sense,
it is therefore possible to speak of the end of metaphysics and,
consequently, also of its beginning in the way that Aristotle does
in the first book of the Metaphysics, where he refers to Thales as
the first person to have relied upon experience and evidence for
his explanations rather than just retelling the divine myths.
Another concept of the end, one that is connected with the
above, is the one according to which scientific rationality or sci-
entific culture forms the goal. In this case, we are dealing with
nearly the same thing, albeit from a different perspective. While,
in the first case, metaphysics comes to a conclusion in the
The Meaning of Beginning 17
nineteenth century after a two-thousand-year ripening process,
in the second case, scientific rationality—and metaphysics along
with it—is seen as determining the goal of humanity in general.
In this regard, one could cite the slogan, "FromMythos to
Logos," a phrase that seeks to capture the entire history of the
Presocratics in one comprehensive formulation. Still more wide-
ly known is the concept coined by Max Weber, die Entzauberung
der Welt,
or even the Heideggerian concept of the forgetfulness
of being. As we are gradually realizing today, however, it is per-
haps not so entirely obvious that the end of metaphysics is the
goal toward which the path of Western thinking was headed
from the beginning.
Furthermore, there is a third and more radical conception of
the goal: the end of man. This is an idea that we know of not just
from Foucault, but also because it is put forward by many other
authors. It seems to me that this is not a perspective from which
we can derive a satisfactory definition of the concept of beginning.
For in this case, the determination of the end is just as imprecise
and as nebulous as the beginning.
But there is yet a further meaning of "beginning,** and, for our
purposes, it seems to me that this one is the most productive and
the most suitable. This meaning is brought out when I speak not of
that which is incipient but of incipience.
Being incipient
refers to
something that is not yet determined in this or that sense, not yet
determined in the direction of this or that end, and not yet deter-
mined appropriate for this or that representation. This means that
many eventualities—within reason, of course—are still possible.
Perhaps the true sense of "beginning" is nothing more than this:
that one knows the beginning of a thing means that one knows it
in its youth—by this I mean that stage in the life of a human being
in which concrete and definite developmental steps have not yet
been taken. The young person starts out in uncertainty but at the
same time feels excited by the possibilities that lie ahead. (Today
this fundamental experience of being young is threatened by the
excessive organization of our lives—so much so that, in the end, the
young no longer know or scarcely know the feeling of launching
into fife, of the ongoing determination of their lives from out of
their own lived experience.) This analogy suggests a movement that
6. Literally, the "de-magification" of the world.
7. nicht votn Anfangenden, sondern von Anfanglichkeit
8. Anfanglichsein
18 The Beginning of Philosophy
is open at first and not yet fixed but which concretizes itself into a
particular orientation with ever-increasing determinateness.
This, I believe, is the sense in which we must speak of the
beginning that commences with the Presocratics. In them there is
a seeking without knowledge of the ultimate destiny, the goal of
an emanation rich in possibilities. It comes as a surprise when we
discover that the most important dimension of human thinking
opens itself up in this beginning. This discovery corresponds in a
way to Hegel's intuitive insight when he begins his Logic with the
riddle of the unity of being and nothing. He even refers to religion
in this context in order to suggest that this is not simply an empty
word, not merely a perspective that loses itself in indeterminacy,
but is determined by the fact that it is potentiality—or rather vir-
tuality, as I like to say, for potentiality is always the possibility of
a determinately real actuality, whereas virtuality is open in the
sense of an orientation toward an indeterminate future.
Finally, I want to point out that the beginning is not some-
thing reflected but rather something immediate. The discourse of
"principium" is, to my mind, much too reflexive to indicate
something that is not yet a stage upon the path of reflection, but
is rather—as I have tried to suggest through the analogy with the
youth—open to concrete experience.
Hermeneutic Access
to the Beginning
'Throughout my remarks, it is essential to bear in mind the role
J. that Hegelian logic plays as the reference point for the writing
of the history of philosophy in the nineteenth century. Significant
names such as Eduard Zeller or Wilhelm Dilthey are closely tied to
the tradition of Hegelian logic. When it comes to discussing the ini-
tial categories of Hegel's logic, I, for one, disagree with the claim
that it is all about being and non-being. For nothing is not non-
being but precisely nothing.
A fundamental point of my argument
asserts that the first three categories are, at bottom, not categories
at all because they are not predicated of anything. On the contrary,
they are like simple orientation points, and this is extremely impor-
tant if we are to grasp that our understanding of the beginning that
emanates from the end is never definitive. It is not the last word
simply because even the movement of reflection has its place with-
in the context of a beginningless and endless tradition.
Admittedly, Hegel insists that this is not a question of the
movement of self-consciousness but of the movement of ideas.
Still, to assume that ideas and the thinking of them form separate
poles is truly a superficial way of looking at things. Indeed,
Hegelian logic is an entirely Greek logic insofar as Greek philoso-
phy knows only ideas and knows nothing of self-consciousness.
The concept of nous is but an early manifestation of reflexivity as
1. Denn das Nichts ist kein Nichtsein, sondern eben das Nichts.
2. Tradition
20 The Beginning of Philosophy
such, and this reflexivity does not yet have the character of mod-
ern Cartesian subjectivity. This, of course, only defers the problem.
In the end—in absolute knowing—the difference between the Idea
and its movement is superseded
and the movement is unques-
tionably the movement of thinking, which we, nevertheless, view
as something like the projection of the ideas upon a wall.
By way of elucidation, I would just like to add that the three
meanings of "beginning" that I spoke of [in chapter 1] cannot be
separated from each other. They must be understood as three sides
of one and the same thing. These are the historical-temporal mean-
ing, the reflexive meaning with respect to the beginning and the
end, and the one meaning that suggests perhaps the most likely and
the most authentic idea of the beginning, namely, that of the begin-
ning that does not know in advance in what way it will proceed. I
put this three-part division forward to serve as my premise for
opening up the Presocratics philosophically. In any case, according
to this premise, the beginning is not given to us directly; rather, it is
necessary to proceed back to it from another point. In this way I
avoid completely excluding the reflexive relationship between
beginning and end, which would, after all, be a question of apply-
ing a concept that I myself proposed, a concept that would thereby
carry over into the realm of the history of philosophy and its origin
in Greek culture. As I have already emphasized, the interest in the
Presocratic tradition arises with Romanticism, and Hegel, like
Schleiermacher, affirms the significance of temporal movement and
of history for the development of the content of Spirit. Here we
could recall Hegel's famous assertion that the essence of Spirit lies
in the fact that its appearance occurs in time, in history.
The object here is not to go through the entire development
of European scholarship in the nineteenth century. I have already
given an overview of the great nineteenth-century interpreters of
the Presocratics in an article published only in Italian.
Here, I
would like to recall just two figures who are representative of
both historical interpretation and the debate over the principles
and methods of Problemgeschichte
that raged within the
3. aufgehoben: canceled and preserved at the same time.
4. "I Presocratici," in volume 3 of Questioni di storiografia filosofica
(edited by Vittorio Mathieu, Brescia: Editrice La Scuola, 1975), 13-114.
5. Literally, "problem history," the term signifies a technique of inter-
preting history in terms of the problems that one discerns within it. Unfor-
tunately, there is no elegant way to render this term in English,
Hermeneutic Access to the Beginning 21
framework of German culture at the end of the nineteenth centu-
ry and the beginning of the twentieth. In addition to these
remarks, I will then comment on what I call "effective
—an expression affiliated with hermeneutics—which
plays a central role in the whole of philosophy that is founded
upon language, understanding, and interpretation.
First of all, I would like to recall Eduard Zeller and the great
work he devoted to the philosophy of the Greeks. This work is
also well known in Italy, and indeed for good reason. The five vol-
umes of the last Italian edition are a treasure trove of scholarly
knowledge and expertise. It is to their credit that Rodolfo Mon-
dolfo and his followers have enlarged and edited the Italian edi-
tion by taking account of scholarly advances in the field of the
ancient philosophy. Mondolfo, with his erudition and good judg-
ment, has succeeded in renewing Zeller's classic opus and keeping
it up to date.
Turning back now to Zeller's work itself, the question arises as
to what really sets it apart. Eduard Zeller was originally a theolo-
gian; his interests, however, led him into the history of philosophy
and historical research. Thus he made numerous contributions
along the lines of German historicism. His conceptual basis is a
moderate Hegelianism. This led him to detect a certain meaning in
the development of philosophical thinking—and especially Greek
thinking. He sees a meaning in it, but not one commensurate with
Hegel's conception of the necessity of development. Besides, even
if we admit that a complete parallelism between the logical devel-
opment of the ideas and its progress in the history of philosophy
cannot be accepted unreservedly, interpreting the philosophical
tradition by means of the Hegelian schema is by now a fixture of
our way of thinking. In any case, this constitutes Zeller's moder-
ate Hegelianism, and I would now like to offer an example to illus-
trate how it becomes operative:
As you know, the relationship between Parmenides and Hera-
clitus is a controversial one. One side tells us that Parmenides crit-
icizes Heraclitus, another side claims that Heraclitus is a critic of
Parmenides, and yet another side says that there is probably no
historical relationship here at all. Maybe the truth is that neither
of the two knew anything of the other. It would not be at all
unlikely that they had no connection to each other whatsoever—
6. Wirkungsgeschichte
22 The Beginning of Philosophy
at least not during their respective periods of creative activity—
since, after all, the one lived in Ephesus, the other in Elea. Why has
this diesis of mine caused such a stir? The answer is clear: to this
day, Hegel has a hand in everything! Even the historian finds it
plausible that all things are bound together in the progressive
development of knowledge! This historical way of thinking, which
arises in the nineteenth century and still appears plausible to us
today, seems to me a convincing example of the living Hegelian
legacy, a legacy that is certainly present in Zeller as well. We must
always bear this legacy in mind if we are to see Zeller's limitations
when it comes to textual interpretation.
Just as the specter of Hegel looms behind the figure of Zeller,
so Schleiermacher, the other reference point for nineteenth-
century Presocratic historiography, comes into view behind Wil-
helm Dilthey. In a country like Italy where historicism has deep
roots, Dilthey is well-known. Here, I would just like to recall
very concisely what, to my mind, is fundamental to Dilthey,
namely, the concept of structure, which, of course, is used here
in its comprehensive sense and not in the specialized meaning of
contemporary structuralism. Dilthey's introduction of this con-
cept into the philosophical discussion is a remarkable accom-
plishment. It marks the first resistance on the side of the human
to the incursion of natural-scientific methodology. In a
time when epistemology occupied a dominant position, Dilthey
dared to take a stand against the prevailing tendency to posit
inductive logic and the principle of causality as the only models
for explaining facts.
In this context, "structure" means that there is yet another
way of understanding truth besides inquiring into causes. Struc-
ture denotes a connectedness among parts in which no one part
is thought of as having priority. This accords with the teleologi-
cal judgment of Kant's Third Critique, where something obvious
is soundly demonstrated, namely, that in a living organism no
part occupies the first position and has to fulfill the sole executive
function while the others are all secondary. On the contrary, all
the parts of the organism are unified, and they all serve it.
Although the expression "structure," as such, comes from archi-
tecture and the natural sciences, Dilthey's understanding of the
word is largely metaphorical. Structure does not mean that there
7. Wissenschaften vom Menschen
Hermeneutic Access to the Beginning 23
is first a cause and then an effect; rather, it has to do with an
interplay of effects.
Accordingly, Dilthey brings into play another concept which
has been of great importance to me, namely, the "matrix of
a concept that does not focus on differentiating between
cause and effect but on the connection that each and every effect
has relative to the others. The same holds true for the work of art
as is does for the living organism. Dilthey's favorite example is the
structure of a melody. A melody is not a mere sequence of tones.
A melody has a conclusion, and it finds its fulfillment in this con-
clusion. A feature which the knowledgeable listener distinguish-
es—and, in particular, the listener of difficult music—is, as you
know, an occurrence that stands out from the rest, the moment in
which the composition comes to an end and immediately, because
the work has fulfilled itself in the conclusion, the applause
sounds. Like an organism, the artwork forms a well-structured
matrix of effects, and thus, as long as we remain in the realm of
the aesthetic, there can obviously be no question of the artwork
having a causal explanation; rather, its explanation must be based
on such concepts as harmony and interaction, thus it must be
based on structure. With this way of looking at things, Dilthey
wants to justify the originality and the autonomy of the human
There is indeed in the human sciences a kind of evi-
dentness of structural connections and a mode of understanding
them that is completely different from the procedures by which
the natural sciences work (the natural sciences at that time being
understood in mechanistic terms).
Now the question arises of how far we can carry this way of
looking at things in terms of structural connections into the realm
of Presocratic philosophy. Where is there a pristine work here?
Where is there a text in the realm of Presocratic philosophy that is
complete enough to present itself in a way that shows its internal
connections? We know nothing more than fragments and quota-
tions by later authors, often mere allusions and distortions, in short:
a tradition so tenuous that to apply the "principle of structure"
adapted from aesthetic experience would seem extremely forced.
We can add to this difficulty an observation of a more gener-
al character that has great significance for me: We never find
8. Wirkungszusammenhang
9. Geisteswissenscbaften
24 The Beginning of Philosophy
ourselves in the situation of being pure observers of or listeners to
an artwork because in a certain sense we are always involved in
our tradition. Comprehending the objectives, the inner structure,
and the context of a work is not in itself sufficient to clear away
all our prejudices that arise from the fact that we ourselves stand
within a tradition.
The most convincing example, one that vividly illustrates this
problem, is found in Dilthey's Introduction to the Human Sci-
ences. In the second part of this book, Dilthey describes the ori-
gin, the development, and the decline of scientific metaphysics. It
is surprising how Dilthey portrays the venture that the Greeks
had undertaken—a hopeless one in his view—as they tried to con-
ceptualize the images of religious, speculative, poetic, and mytho-
logical intuition scientifically. For him, a scientific metaphysics is
in itself something of a contradiction. For it is the desire to
express the depths of life scientifically in spite of their being inac-
cessible to science. This state of affairs is wonderfully exemplified
by Dilthey's interpretation of Democritus. Democritus is the last
important thinker of his epoch. He has continually been denied
the recognition he deserved because the entire history of human-
ity has been dominated by a metaphysics based on the thinking of
Plato and Aristotle. In Hellenism this perspective admittedly
declined in significance, but the classical tradition of metaphysics
persisted through the entire period and came to predominance
once again in the Middle Ages. Only in modern times, only in the
wake of natural-scientific development, do Democritus and atom-
ism find new supporters (and today there are authors who, like
Popper, glimpse in Aristotle an antiquated dogmatism and in
Plato a completely misguided ideology of the same stamp as
National Socialism).
The point that I want to establish here is clear: even such a dis-
ciplined thinker as Dilthey, a thinker who represents an historical
mode of thinking entirely his own, ultimately clings to a kind of
modernistic perspective that is entirely alienated from history.
I am therefore persuaded that even historicism, which recog-
nizes the individuality of each structure, is not free from the
prejudices of its epoch, prejudices that continue to exert an influ-
ence on the disciples of this Dcmocritan perspective. Nowadays,
of course, it would not be easy to imagine anyone in the third cen-
tury before Christ who would have thought a Galileo possible.
Despite the great achievements of Euclid and Archimedes,
Hermeneutic Access to the Beginning 25
mathematics at that time was still not well enough developed for
this, and there are many other historical arguments that preclude
this view of things.
There is, however, yet another way to approach an object of
scholarship, and we call this "Problemgeschichte."
A new prin-
ciple gained acceptance toward the end of the nineteenth century:
In philosophy there is no systematic truth, no universally valid
system. Every system is one-sided; it is not the truth as such but
only a more or less partial view of the truth. Nevertheless, the
same problems underlie the formation of the different systems,
and to this extent it is possible to speak of a history of philoso-
phy and even of a philosophy of the Presocratics. Hermann
Cohen, for example, interprets Parmenides as the discoverer of
identity, Heraclitus as the discoverer of difference, etc. Even here
we can detect a Hegelian foundation, a foundation of which the
historians of philosophy are seldom adequately aware. Hegelian
logic is like a huge quarry from which all later history of philos-
ophy takes its building materials.
But what is a problem, really? The term comes from the lan-
guage of competitors who line up against each other and attempt
to throw obstacles in each other's way. From here, the expression
is transferred figuratively to debate: an argument posed against
the perspective of the other participants in a conversation is like
an obstacle. In this sense, a problem is something that impedes
the progress of knowledge. Aristotle has formulated this concept
of the problem quite aptly in the Topics.
This gives us an opportunity to point out the difference
between science and philosophy. In science, the problem is some-
thing that demands that we not be satisfied with hitherto accept-
ed explanations but continue on and seek out new experiences
and new theories. This is why the emergence of a problem in sci-
ence is, as Popper says, the first step along the road of progress.
But where this problem comes from is another matter, which Pop-
per would perhaps dismiss as a psychological question. To pre-
cisely test and verify the consequences of a theory is not the sole
decisive point for scientific knowledge. On the contrary, as a rule,
the hallmark of the true researcher is the discovery of new ques-
tions. This is the most important legacy of the researcher: the
imagination—for the main thing is to find a fruitful way of
10. See note 5 above.
26 The Beginning of Philosophy
putting the question. This—and not verification or falsification,
as dogmatic Popperianism would have it—is the crucial element
for scientific creativity. Of course, Popper is correct when he says
that the sciences have the task of solving the questions they pose
for themselves. But the task of posing the right question is no less
important. And one must also admit that there are problems that
lie beyond the realm of scientific possibility.
We can see from this how philosophy is different. Even if the
philosopher realizes that the solution to such problems is ruled
out, the problems are nevertheless not inconsequential because of
this. It is therefore not correct to say that if a problem admits of
no falsification then it presents no question for the thinker. This
is exactly why it is in the Topics, hence within the context of the
theory of the dialectic, that we find Aristotle's theory of the prob-
lem, which, of course, is not to be understood in Hegel's sense but
in exactly the opposite sense of a movement of thinking that does
not claim to solve problems completely and thus remains in the
neighborhood of rhetoric.
The rigidity and intractability of the problem is eliminated in
this version of the concept. Whoever would look for stable prob-
lems in the instability of historical life would obviously have to
maintain that the same problems recur again and again. Let us
take the problem of freedom as an example. But which freedom
are we dealing with here? Freedom as eleutberia in the historico-
political sense of independence and sovereignty? In that case,
being free means nothing more than not being a slave. This free-
dom is certainly not the same as that preached by Stoic moral
doctrine, according to whose dicta the highest condition of free-
dom consists in not desiring things which we cannot have. This
too is freedom, and indeed it is well-known that Stoic philosophy
proposes the thesis that one who is wise is free even if he is in
chains. Or what about the freedom of Christian doctrine, the
freedom of choice that Luther discusses in De servo arbitriot Fur-
thermore, there is the freedom thematized in the framework of
the dispute between determinism and indeterminism. This debate
unfolded throughout the nineteenth century, and the discussion
continues into the twentieth. But in this case the concept of free-
dom is not defined in opposition to the dominance of a ruler who
has at his disposal the lives and the actions of subjects, but rather
in terms of nature and its necessary causality. Over against this
the question arises as to whether freedom exists at all. I still
Hermeneutic Access to the Beginning 27
remember when the physicists of the Copenhagen school created
quantum theory. This was then brought forward by many rep-
utable scientists as the solution to the problem of freedom. This
seems almost ludicrous to us because we have not forgotten the
Kantian distinction between causality as a category that applies
to the facts
that the natural sciences deal with, and morality,
which is not a fact
in the same sense as the set of facts
ined by physics, but rather a "fact"
of reason. Freedom is a
"fact of reason."
This formulation, which Kant himself
employed, may cause confusion. Opposite concepts are brought
together in it, namely, the truth of facts
and the truth of rea-
to put it in Leibnizian terms. But what about Kant's asser-
tion that freedom is a necessary condition for the human being to
be a moral and social person? Evidently, this concept of freedom
is fundamentally different from the one that seems to be suggest-
ed by the non-determinacy of phenomena but which, for that very
reason, cannot use as its basis the freedom of humanity.
A further characteristic example of the error one commits
when one attempts at all costs to find the same problem in his-
torically diverse concepts can be drawn from the realm of value
ethics. In the nineteenth century, the concept of value taken over
from political economics was, as we know, also carried over into
to philosophical theory. This concept, which Lotze used, came to
be applied by Max Scheler and in even larger measure by Nicolai
Hartmann, who was one of my first teachers and a fatherly
friend. Hartmann interpreted the Aristotelian virtues as values,
yet this interpretation is obviously inadequate. "Value" has an
objectifying meaning. Value has its own validity; it is independent
of any evaluating; thus it is knowledge. In Aristotle, on the other
hand, virtue comes from education.
Aristotelian virtue charac-
terizes the human being as the person among people, not just in
the sense of correctly recognizing values that are valid in them-
selves, but in the sense that the human being exists and comports
11. Tatsachen
12. Faktum
13. Tatbestdnde
14. Tatsache
15. ein Faktum der Vernunft
16. Tatsacbenwahrheit
17. Vernunftwahrheit
18. Erziehung
28 The Beginning of Philosophy
him- or herself through education,
habit, and character. In this
respect, Aristotelian virtue is fundamentally different from the
concept of value found in phenomenology. This is one of those
cases where the lack of historical differentiation is patent, and for
this reason everything gets reduced to one and the same problem.
Let us not forget, by the way, that Scheler, too, raised objections
against Hartmann's equating values with Aristotelian virtues.
How do I now define my own procedure and my interpreta-
tions in relation to Dilthey and problem history? I refer here to
"effective history" and of "historically effective consciousness."
This means, above all, that it is not correct to assert that the study
of a text or a tradition is completely dependent upon our own
decision making. Such a freedom, such a standing at a distance
from the examined object simply does not exist. We all stand in
the life-stream of tradition and do not have the sovereign distance
that the natural sciences maintain in order to conduct experi-
ments and to construct theories. It is certainly true that in mod-
ern science—for example in quantum mechanics—the measuring
subject plays a different role from that of the purely objectifying
observer. This, however, is something completely different from
standing in the stream of tradition, being conditioned, and know-
ing the other and his views, as such, on the basis of one's own
conditionality. This dialectic involves not only the cultural tradi-
tion, i.e., philosophy, but also moral questions. Indeed this too
has nothing to do with the expert who "objectively" studies the
norms from the outside but rather with a person already imprint-
ed with these norms: a person who finds himself already within
the context of his society, his epoch, his nexus of prejudices, his
experience of the world. All of this is already in effect and is
determinative whenever we confront a particular perspective or
interpret a doctrine.
The concept of effect is ambiguous and is in certain respects
an attribute of history, but it is also in some sense an attribute of
consciousness. Consciousness, without being conscious of it, is
conditioned by historical determinations. We are not observers
who look at history from a distance; rather, insofar as we are his-
torical creatures, we are always on the inside of the history that
we are striving to comprehend. Herein lies the peculiarity of this
kind of consciousness—an irreducible peculiarity. For this reason
19. Bildung
Hermeneutic Access to the Beginning 29
it appears to me completely mistaken to assert that the distinction
between the natural sciences and human sciences is no longer as
important as the nineteenth century believed. In fact, it would
even be anachronistic since the natural sciences, for their part, no
longer speak of a nature without development, without history.
According to the natural sciences, since the human being has its
place in the long history of the universe, it is fitting that the sci-
ences of the moral and the spiritual domain also belong with the
natural sciences. This is completely wrong. It is an inappropriate
interpretation of the historicity of humanity. Human beings can-
not be observed from the secure viewpoint of a researcher, and it
is impossible to reduce them to the objects of evolution theory
and to understand them from that perspective. The experience of
human beings encountering themselves in history, this form of
dialogue, this way of coming to understand one another—all of
this is fundamentally different from the study of nature and from
an examination of the world and Homo sapiens based on a theo-
ry of evolution. Those are exciting topics in their own right, but
I hope it is now clear that when it comes to memory, this life of
the mind,
it is a different story altogether. Platonic anamnesis is
really is really quite similar to the riddle of language. They both
have no principium, no beginning, and their terms cannot be
derived from a principium as if there were an "ortho-language."
The speaking of a language is a totality, a structure within which
we have our place—a place which we have not chosen. Likewise,
memory, which represents one way of articulating our experi-
ences, is a process that may already be underway in utero. Of
course, I cannot be sure of this, for I have no recollection of my
embryonic state. But that is not what is important. The important
thing is whether an experience is a recollecting, a re-perceiving, a
In the end, it seems clear that the hermeneutical situatedness
of the human being is confirmed and that the pretense of stand-
ing back from things as if they were nothing more than objects
of observation leaves out of account the crucial point of our
understanding other people (and other cultures). It is inevitable
that in our encounters with others those others speak to us as
well. Even the risky enterprise of interpreting the beginning of
20. Geist
21. Wiederaufnahmen21. Wiederaufnahmen
30 The Beginning of Philosophy
Western thought must always be a dialogue between two part-
ners in a conversation.
And with this even the meaning of the word "method" must
change. Here there is no researcher in the privileged position of
an observing subject. In the sense established by Descartes, the
word "method" presupposes that there is but a single method
which leads to truth. In the Discours de la method, but also in
other writings, Descartes asserts emphatically that there is only
one universal method for all possible objects of knowledge, and
even if we acknowledge that the method may be flexible in its
procedures, this concept of method has ultimately gained the
upper hand and dominated modern epistemology. In contrast to
this, the distinguishing characteristic of my own position in the
framework of the philosophical work of our century is that I
once again take up the well-known debate between the natural
sciences and the human sciences. If we overlook the fundamen-
tal differences between their two standpoints, it seems to me that
the debate between the logic of John Stuart Mill, on the one
hand, and that of Wilhelm Dilthey, on the other, is based upon
one and the same presupposition, upon the claim for the objec-
tivity of method. Within this presupposition, everything is
reduced to their contrasting methods of objectification. Bu
is precisely what is misleading here. "Methodos," in the ancient
sense, always means the whole business of working with a cer-
tain domain of questions and problems. "Method" in this sense
is not a tool for objectifying and dominating something; rather,
it is a matter of our participating in an association with the
things with which we are dealing. This meaning of "method" as
"going along with"
presupposes that we are already find our-
selves in the middle of the game and can occupy no neutral
standpoint—even if we strive very hard for objectivity and put
our prejudices at risk.
This claim, of course, sounds like a challenge to the natural
sciences and their ideal of objectivity. Yet the human sciences
occupy themselves with other, quite different tasks. Of course,
the question of the existence or non-existence of a set of facts
and how to establish this also arises here. In the human sciences,
this is an elementary and self-evident concern. What really mat-
ters is the human being's encounter with himself in relation to an
22. Mitgehen
Hermeneutic Access to the Beginning 31
other different from himself. It is more of a "taking part" in
a participation that more closely resembles what
takes place, for example, in the believer who is faced with a reli-
gious message than it does the relationship between subject and
object that plays itself out in the natural sciences. In any case,
this hypothetical neutral standpoint would amount to the elimi-
nation of the knowing subject, and, in fact, it goes without say-
ing that the ultimate goal of the scientific rigor that one strives
for here is to eliminate every subjective point of view. In cultur-
al as well as in social life, however, this is inappropriate. This is
not the task of the human sciences. Here, the help of a method
will not enable me to place myself in a determinate relationship
to an other who has been posited by me as an object. Jean-Paul
Sartre has aptly described what is disastrous about the objectify-
ing gaze: in the instant that the other is reduced to an observed
object, the mutuality of the gaze is no longer maintained, and the
communication ceases.
Discussion of the unity of the natural sciences and the human
sciences is thus misleading as soon as it does not proceed from the
fact that the functions of these two sciences are fundamentally
different. The former behaves in an objectifying way; the latter
has to do with participation. This certainly does not mean that
objectification and methodical approach have no value in the
humanistic and historical disciplines, but only that they do not
constitute the meaning of scholarship in these fields. Otherwise,
we could never explain our interest in the past. In fact, the nat-
ural sciences themselves tell us that their concern is with achiev-
ing advances in knowledge and, with these advances, achieving
control over nature and maybe even society. Culture, however,
exists as a form of communication, as a game whose participants
are not subjects, on the one hand, and objects, on the other. We
should understand, of course, that the cultural sciences do,
indeed, have scientific methods available to them. But these are
only self-evident presuppositions in comparison with the value
that our mutual participation in, our involvement in the tradition
and the life of culture has for these sciences.
But I must now conclude this theme and turn to our special
topic. The inadequacy of the concept of method in the sense of
guaranteeing objectivity becomes quite evident when I insist on
23. eine Teilnahme
32 The Beginning of Philosophy
the fact that our sole access to the topic of "the Presocratics" is
Plato and Aristotle, whose texts, of course, are available for us to
study and to see which questions they themselves have posed and
in which sense. This is no easy undertaking, especially when it
comes to Plato. It can be carried out concretely only by reading
the texts in which Plato and Aristotle speak of their predecessors.
And as we do this, we must not forget that in their work Plato
and Aristotle did not have our historical scholarship in mind but
were guided by their own interests, by their own search for the
truth, a search that was common to these two authors but that
also displayed different tendencies. At this point, therefore, a col-
lective interpretation of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy
comes into play. For example: only when we have grasped the sig-
nificance of the fact that in the context of Aristotle's critique Plato
is regarded as a Pythagorean can we make what Aristotle says
about the Presocratics at all understandable.
Solid Ground:
Plato and Aristotle
"K Tow we must come to the main point. Our real theme is "The
-L\l Presocratics and the Beginning of Western Thinking.** In
connection with this theme, we will need to apply the principles
we have formulated up to now. The first really important ques-
tion is which texts we can use for support. My response to this
is that the first true texts for our theme are the writings of Plato
and Aristotle. There is, of course, the Diels collection of quota-
tions, which we have had ever since Hermann Diels gathered the
Presocratic fragments together. This is a solid and serviceable
work that everyone will gratefully use for his or her initial stud-
ies. It was designed for philosophy students. For scholarly
research, however, it is secondary when compared to the possi-
bilities for understanding offered by a text that has been handed
down to us authentically and completely. As we know, the tech-
nique of using quoted passages lends itself to any use whatsoev-
er—even sometimes proving the opposite of what the original
text says; for when it is torn out of its context, if we are not
aware of this fact, even the most faithful and most exact quota-
tion can mean something quite different than it did in the origi-
nal. Whoever quotes already interprets by means of the form in
which he or she presents the text of the quotation. All of the
fragments compiled in the Presocratic collections are merely
quotations that have not come to us in finished and polished
texts but via Plato and Aristotle, the Peripatetics, the Stoics, the
Skeptics, the Church Fathers—a plethora of authors who cite
34 The Beginning of Philosophy
and describe these teachings for completely different purposes.
Therefore, our first task consists in studying those texts in which
Presocratic thinking is interpreted in a coherent form. Only from
out of the context of these complete texts by Plato and Aristotle
can we even understand the pieces of text that Diels printed in
his supplements.
The single text that refers in its entirety to Presocratic think-
ing is Simplicius' commentary on the first book of Aristotle's
Physics. This is the oldest text on the teachings of the Presocrat-
ics to be handed down to us. It goes back to a scholar of the sixth
century after Christ who incorporated numerous citations into
his commentary on Aristotle's Physics. So we must, first of all, ask
ourselves what this Aristotle commentator's selection criteria
were. We can hardly assume that the Presocratics from the sixth
and fifth centuries before Christ had actually already spoken of a
concept of physis like the one which has been self-evident since
Aristotle. The title "On Nature" occurs for the first time in
Plato—in the Phaedo. We may conclude from this that concept of
physis as well as the title had become customary at that time. The
word itself had long been used but always only as the nature of
something, hence not as the concept of nature. This, indeed, only
begins in Platonic times. But, of course, the formation of the con-
cept as such had long since been prepared for within the lan-
guage. Nevertheless, this was not yet an actual formation of the
concept. I completely agree with the English scholars, Kirk and
Raven, that the concept of physis in Heraclitus did not yet have
any philosophical import. On the contrary, we must assume that
an actual concept began to form only when the counter-concept
to it had also taken shape, and that takes us into the sophistic age.
At that time the discussion of the problem of language centered
on whether language is a product of nature or of societal rules
(nomos). The concept of techne does not arise until late either,
and all of this fits in with Sophism and with Plato's use of physis
in connection with psyche.
The concept of physis gains its particular importance, how-
ever, in Aristotle. When Aristotle comments frequently and exten-
sively on the concept, it is always accompanied by a conscious
distancing of himself from Plato. For, in Aristotle's eyes, Plato
was too much of a mathematician.
At any rate, neither in Heraclitus nor in Empedocles is the
word used in a sense that anticipates the Aristotelian concept of
Solid Ground: Plato and Aristotle 35
physis. For Aristotle, however, physis is the first appearance of
being and constantly thrusts itself forward in his Metaphysics.
Metaphysics is really just a loose collective concept that clearly
shows its connection with the fundamental Aristotelian interest in
physis but [theMetaphysics] is not, in any case, as coherent a
context for physis as the books of Aristotle's Physics.
We must constantly have the preeminence of the Aristotelian
concept firmly in mind if we want to evaluate the Presocratic cita-
tions. But, apart from Aristotle's Physics, there is another relevant
point which we must take into account when dealing with the Pre-
socratic passages that have been handed down to us, a point which
was commonly understood in the Hellenistic age—if not literally,
then at least in an academic sense: for us, Hegel's interpretation,
more than any other, has taken root so deeply that we can never
imagine how we could completely free ourselves from this model.
I am thus convinced that the whole problem of "Parmenides and
Heraclitus**is due to the overweening influence of Hegel's way of
thinking. We should not forget that, in spite of the fact that all of
the nineteenth-century historical scholarship that introduced his-
toriography into the study of Greek philosophy took place during
the decline of Hegelian idealism, Hegel's construction of history
has still proven to be very influential even with historians—with
Zeller, for example.
Yet, how weak these constructions of history are according to
which philosophy begins with Thales and the Milesian school.
What really was a "school" at that time in a thriving trading cen-
ter like Miletus? We can scarcely give an answer to this. But what,
then, does the traditional academic sequence of Thales-
Anaximander-Anaximenes mean? This ordering is, in fact,
extremely problematic. That Anaximander supposedly took the
infinite as his starting place and that, after him, Anaximenes sup-
posedly declared air to be the first substance—what an absurd
step backwards! In truth, all this shows is that these assertions do
not rest on historical realities but on a way of thinking belonging
to a later academic period, the period in which Apollodoros had
reconstructed the chronological evidence.
Actually, there is yet another perspective that we must keep
in view in this sphere of inquiry and that is the religious back-
ground against which Greek philosophy, following Aristotle,
stood out. It is [summed up in] the familiar catchphrase, "From
Mythos to Logos."
36 The Beginning of Philosophy
This is a contemporary formulation. But what do we under-
stand in this case by mythos? In nineteenth-century historiogra-
phy the answer seemed clear: mythos had to do with Homeric
religion. But did a Homeric religion in this sense really exist? If
one follows Herodotus, mythos was rather the deed of a great
poet who did his creating from out of a manifold tradition of leg-
ends and from out of an oral tradition sustained by rhapsodes
going back to a very early age. The other poet to whom we refer
(following Herodotus) when we speak of the "theology'* of that
time is Hesiod and his Theogony. Now, it is certainly true that
Homer and Hesiod are also referred to by Aristotle as the first
ones to reflect upon the divine. But by saying this, Aristotle does
not mean to speak of religion so much as cosmologically ordered
ideas and a divine family with all of its all-too-human tensions. In
view of this, the customary schema, "FromMythos to Logos,"
appears to be quite dubious. Perhaps one would have to say that
in both cases one is dealing more with logos than with mythos.
On the one hand, we have the noble society of the gods, like a
group of great lords; on the other hand, we find throughout the
country a wide variety of sites for religious cults dedicated to indi-
vidual deities. The expression "theology** fits both cases rather
badly. Werner Jaeger has treated this theme with admirable eru-
dition in his important book, The Theology of the Early Greek
Thinkers. But the word "Theology** in the title is quite mislead-
ing. To be sure, the above-mentioned book is extremely instruc-
tive, but, in the case of Xenophanes, the viewpoint that the word
"theology** expresses in the title does not work very convincing-
ly. To me, the chapter that Jaeger had written on Xenophanes ear-
lier, in the first volume of his Paideia, at a time when he still had
in mind the sophistic idea of paideia, seemed much more apt. I
am convinced that Jaeger was right in his earlier discussion when
he saw in Xenophanes' verses a typical portrayal by a rhapsode
and not a theologian or a philosopher.
But enough of these introductory remarks! Let us begin the
real work of interpreting Plato's and Aristotle's most important
references to Presocratic philosophy.
Let us begin afresh with Plato or, more precisely, with the
Phaedo (96ff.). Here, Plato—long after Socrates' tragic end—has
Socrates sketching his scientific and philosophical autobiography.
Before we go into the interpretation of this text, however, it is
appropriate to stress once again that I cannot make the whole
Solid Ground: Plato and Aristotle 37
work my object, but rather only one instance within it. The text
to which we will refer is merely one chapter out of a whole, a
complete work. In essence, the complete dialogue—the Phaedo in
its entirety—is the one text on the basis of which it is possible,
although certainly not easy, to work out the question for which
Plato is trying to provide an answer. This dialogue belongs among
Plato's most famous. Nietzsche designated the figure drawn by
Plato of Socrates immediately before his death as the new ideal
for the leading young men of Greece, and thus Socrates stepped
into the place of Achilles. There is definitely something true in
this. One does indeed find a Homeric motif at the beginning of
the dialogue: the enormous secret of death and of what lies
beyond death—the "life" of the souls of the dead in Hades.
Recall those unforgettable scenes with which Homer (or whoev-
er composed the Odyssey) portrays Odysseus' trip to Hades.
Odysseus goes down into Hades in order to visit the heroes of
Troy. The most important thing to ponder here is the meeting
with Achilles, who, like all the souls beyond the Acheron, has lost
his memory and regains it as he drinks the sacrificial blood: a pro-
foundly significant ritual. Upon hearing from Odysseus that his
son has conquered Troy, Achilles returns, deeply moved, to the
darkness. Death is the night of memory; without memories we
die. We could say that all of these images point us toward some-
thing like a popular religion. It is also clear, however, that a theme
of reflection is introduced here. The shadows of the heroes do still
exist down there in Hades, but they have left all memories
behind, and only the sacrificial blood awakens these memories.
Therefore, the problem posed here has to do with the soul and the
question of the soul's relationship to life and death.
At this point, there is a further source of possible misunder-
standings that influences our way of thinking. I mean the Augus-
tinian concept of the soul as the inferiority of consciousness. The
complex Christian doctrine of the soul and its redemption
through the sacrificial death of Jesus has been integrated into our
concept of the soul.
The German word "Seele" is an expression
that is more likely to recall sentimentality than perhaps the Latin
word "anima" does, and, in a phonetic sense, it also suggests
something far more transitory. Thus we stand under the influence
of a tradition that pushes us to believe that in Homeric poetry
1. Seele
38 The Beginning of Philosophy
there may be an idea of the soul that is somehow the same as our
own. Or is this still true?
At any rate, the supposed "religion of Homer" is not the only
source of prejudice for the interpreter. Besides this, there is also
the so-called Orphic, an idea which has influenced scholarship for
a long time and which still represents a completely open realm of
problems for research. What was really going on in this religious
movement—a movement that stretched back into the seventh and
sixth centuries before Christ but did not yet exist in Homer's time
or, at least, was not received by the poet? The amazing plethora
of religious movements and myths that came together at that time
remains just as much an open problem as the emergence of the
Dionysus cult; for, as we have come to realize well enough since
Nietzsche's writings, the figure of Dionysus was virtually
unknown in the Homeric epic. In any case, we are dealing with
extremely vague things here, and in this area of Presocratic stud-
ies our interest lies only in the fact that the soul was at the center
of the cult's religiosity. What the figure of Pythagoras has to do
with all of this seems obvious to me. If one reads the biographies
of the Presocratics, the same thing shows up again and again:
every one of them, from Anaximander to Parmenides and so on,
is portrayed as a follower of Pythagoras. This fact is quite signif-
icant. In my estimation, it means that Pythagoras brings together
fundamental motifs like the riddle of numbers and the riddles of
the soul, the transmigration of the soul, and the purification of
this soul. This leads us to the problem of memory. It is clear that,
as a rule, a religion that speaks of reincarnation presupposes the
loss of memory. That someone like Empedocles has a vague clair-
voyant impression of having been something else in another life
seems to be an exception to this rule.
A number of problems connected with the soul impose them-
selves at this point. Is the soul a breath which animates animals
and people? Is it like a first light within the human being, the light
of incipient knowledge, of memory, or of some such thing? All of
this remains a vague background that cannot be used as the key
to understanding. It lies in the darkness of antiquity. Thus we
must examine how the problem of the soul is dealt with in the
Phaedo in order to see which problems preoccupied a thinker of
Plato's time. This is an example of the problem I raised earlier, the
problem of how we can interpret a tradition we are interested in
by using a text that was not drafted for this purpose but which
Solid Ground: Plato and Aristotle 39
nevertheless permits us to guess at certain basic tendencies of the
culture of this bygone era.
By way of conclusion, we could formulate the problem as fol-
lows: is the soul something other than the vital energy of the liv-
ing? Is it something like a special spiritual capacity? Is it living or
is it thinking? Or are these two aspects intertwined with one
another? And in what way? This is Plato's theme, and it is with
Plato's help that we must seek to grasp how the Presocratics dealt
with death. Here, I would like to add one last general remark
about the Phaedo—ot, rather, about the setting of the dialogue.
Socrates' two conversation partners, as we know, are Pythago-
reans who were living in exile in Athens during that time because
their society had previously dissolved as a result of political
events. Simmias and Cebes are historical figures. They do not,
strictly speaking, represent the original Pythagoreans but rather
the evolution of this religious and political body into a group of
scholars and scientists. This is a point we should keep in mind as
we read the conversation between Socrates and the two friends.
The two were no longer Pythagoreans in the sense of being fol-
lowers of the great founder of a half-religion. The dialogue con-
cerns a discussion with two scientists who only use the themes
and teachings of the Pythagoreans in order to describe the results
of the new science of their time. As I see it, this is a very impor-
tant fact. Who the real Pythagoreans were is a topic that has been
discussed at great length. I still remember the radical thesis that
Erich Frank put forward when I was young in his book, Plato
and the So-called Pythagoreans.
He claimed that our entire cus-
tomary idea of the Pythagoreans as mathematicians, astro-
nomers, etc., was a new interpretation taken up by Plato's school
and particularly by Heracleides Ponticus. The radicality of this
thesis has not been generally accepted. Today, we even take it as
certain that there was already a Pythagorean mathematics, albeit
set against a religious background. But, in any case, we must
realize that in Plato's time it was not religion but science that pre-
dominated. That the two conversation partners with whom
Socrates talks in the Phaedo are scientists is shown by the fact
that they seem to have no knowledge of the religious prescrip-
tions of Philolaos, a great master of the sect, but are well
informed about the biology and the astronomy of Plato's epoch.
2. Halle: Niemeyei; 1923; reprint Tubingen 1962.
40 The Beginning of Philosophy
How does Plato manage to bring the discussion of an old reli-
gious tradition and a science belonging to his own time so read-
ily into the structure of the action and incorporate them both
into his depiction of the interlocutors? Of course, the conception
of science to which Plato alludes in the Phaedo does not at all
correspond to what was held to be valid at the time of Socrates'
death. Today, no one doubts that this dialogue was written not
shortly after Socrates' death but much later—perhaps twenty
years later. Plato apparently takes up the figure of the dying
Socrates again as he begins to outline the main points of his the-
ory of Ideas and establishes a kind of school, the Academy to be
precise, which we can more readily call a real school—in contrast
to the so-called schools of the Sophists, the Atomists, or the
Eleatics, etc., which were not institutions.
I consider these remarks to be important for understanding
how the Phaedo is connected to our theme. The discussion of the
problem of the soul finds its crowning conclusion in Socrates'
long autobiographical narrative—stemming from Plato, of
course—in which he depicts his experiences with scientists of his
time and his own new orientation. But in this account—just as in
others of his dialogues—Plato is not claiming to depict "Preso-
cratic" doctrines but rather his own turn toward the "Idea."
Life and Soul:
The Phaedo
he theme of the Pheado, which is developed in the account of
the last day of Socrates* life, is the problem of life and death
as well as the question of what the life of a human being is and
what relationship this has with what we call the soul or the psy-
che. This dialogue consists of a discussion about the problem of
the soul and the belief in immortality that the religions teach. Can
our reason find a rational ground for this?
The Pheado begins in an almost religious tone. It is has to do
with the question of suicide and the expectation of a new life after
death. This is the dialogue's prelude out of which the immortali-
ty of the soul will then unfold as its real theme. The bridge
between the two parts depends upon the idea of catharsis, of
purification; and for our interpretation this is crucially important.
The philosophical dimension opens up from here.
It is well-known that the Pythagorean doctrine of catharsis
was, above all, a collection of purity laws, like, for instance, the
proscription against using a knife to stir the fire, or like that other
commandment: Eat no beans. The decisive thing here is that Plato
imbues these purity rituals with a new meaning, precisely that
meaning that has become familiar to us through Kant and the
concept of "pure reason." As already follows from the Meno and
the theory of pure mathematical concepts formulated there,
mathematics is pure reason to the extent that it transcends what
is accessible through the senses. This holds for mathematics—but
also for the soul. Indeed, just as the moral and religious view of
42 The Beginning of Philosophy
life requires the separation of the soul from the body, mathemat-
ical science requires separation from sensory experience. If death
is conceived of as a separation of the soul from what is corporeal/
sensory, then, in this sense, the life of the philosopher is a path to
death, and thus the religious doctrine of the soul's immortality
finds its corroboration.
The first argument for the immortality of the soul calls upon
the cyclical structure of nature. Since life is a natural phenome-
non, death might also be nothing other than a stage in the cycle
of coming into existence and passing away, genesis and pbtho-
ra (Phaedo 70e ff.). The line of reasoning that bases itself on the
circular character of nature is depicted here with wonderful lin-
guistic skill. When Plato speaks of a nature in which there is no
continual return to new life, he causes his Socrates to speak a
language that conveys the impression of a nature without
spring. Thus, insofar as Socrates conclusively (71e) asserts the
reality of rebirth, anabioskesthai, the conception of nature as a
cycle becomes an overt argument for the soul's return. It seems
to follow from this that if the living are generated from the
dead, then the souls of the dead cannot perish but must contin-
ue to exist.
Very surprisingly, then, the text reads: kai tats men ge agath-
ais ameinon einai, tais de kakais kakion (72e), which means
"this new existence will necessarily be better for good souls and
worse for the wicked." This assertion seems to fit so poorly with
the cycle argument that some philologists have omitted it. I
myself am not sure this is the right thing to do. Its situation in
the manuscript is unambiguous; there are no variants to the pas-
sage. The argument is found throughout the entire tradition, a
tradition which has perhaps been a little wiser than these philol-
ogists and has understood that precisely this lack of logical con-
sistency lay within Plato's intentions. He thereby indicates which
interest truly stands behind the belief in immortality. The subse-
quent fate of the deceased should depend upon the morality of
the life that one has led—which will ultimately be the point of
the entire dialogue. Then, in response to Simmias' doubt and
hesitant uncertainty, Socrates will reply that, although it is cer-
tainly correct that there are no guarantees in this realm, it is still
undoubtedly better to lead an honest life. Here it becomes abun-
dantly clear that Socrates does not actually claim to have
"proven" the soul's immortality when he says that a life with this
Life and Soul: The Phaedo 43
attitude is better than a life without it. We should notice that
here the argument forsakes the realm of logic and moves into the
realm of rhetoric.
I am reminded that the same turn in the argument also occurs
in Kant. In Kant, too, there is no proof that freedom really exists.
If we really wanted to produce this proof by interrogating nature
and even seeing a proof for free will in quantum physics, then
that would mean being blind from the start with respect to the
ontological status
of freedom. Freedom is not a fact of natural
science. Kant calls it a fact of reason—Plato's line of reasoning is,
of course, a different one. He is not driving at the fact that science
has its limits, nor is he emphasizing the honest life. Rather, Plato's
argument also contains something transcendental and aims at the
limitedness of our human reason in view of the riddle of death
and eternity. In this sense one could say that Hegel's "bad infini-
ty" is also Plato's position: as far as the main question of moral-
ity and life is concerned, the dialectic remains unresolved and
there is no result that can claim to be a proof.
Of course, this comparison between Kant and Plato does not
really concern the concept of freedom, for there is no such con-
cept in Plato's philosophy. I want, rather, to say the following:
just as Kant refrains from establishing freedom through a theo-
retical line of reasoning—as does Fichte for practical reason—so
Plato does not enlist the help of theoretical arguments to prove
the immortality of the soul. Instead, he goes back to the figure of
Socrates and to his unflinching death, which he explicitly refers to
at the end the dialogue.
But we can maintain one thing: all of this demonstrates the
inappropriateness of an argument for or against the soul's immor-
tality that bases itself on a naturalistically derived concept of the
soul. Here, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that my
use of the term "naturalistically" rather than "materialistical-
ly"—which is always a little too Aristotelian—is not accidental.
We can perhaps apply this latter term to an interpretation of the
Sophist, but, as we will see, even there is it not completely appro-
priate. Strictly speaking, what is "materialistic" assumes the idea
to be morphe or form—and thus it also assumes fabrication, like
in the model of the craftsperson who shapes the stuff, the mater-
ial. I prefer the term "naturalistic," which corresponds to the
1. Seins-Rang
44 The Beginning of Philosophy
Greek concept of physis and which, incidentally, we also come
across in this dialogue. The intellectual autobiography of Socrates
begins, as we have already stated, with his declaration that he had
occupied himself in detail with the problems of "nature." This is
"history** in the Greek sense, that is to say, in the sense of a report
of personal observations on the part of a traveler, for instance,
who communicates what he has observed on his journey. In this
sense the title, peri physeos historia, must be understood as a
report of the experiences undergone by the witness to events, as
the story of a person who has himself seen the things that he is
commenting on. Moreover, it is clear that in the meantime, in the
time of the Pheado, this was already a popular title for designat-
ing treatises on nature, the cosmos, the heavens, and so on.
The second argument—which Simmias presents as a well-
known Socratic doctrine—is that of anamnesis. Socrates states
that knowledge must be a remembering because, for example,
mathematical concepts—such as to ison (equality)—cannot be
gained from experience, for in experience there are never two
completely identical entities. (This theme reminds me of Leibniz,
who invited his students to the Valley of the Roses in Leipzig to
look for two entirely identical leaves.) The mathematical concept
of equality is that of complete equality, which we never encounter
in sensory experience. In Socrates* view this goes for the soul as
well—that the soul, like equality as such, cannot be perceived in
sensory experience.
But I am not interested in offering a complete interpretation of
the Pheado. So I now turn directly to the two Presocratic forerun-
ners of Plato's philosophy as they are understood in Plato's texts. To
this end, let us now examine the two objections to the immortality
of the soul that the two "enlightened** Pythagoreans, Simmias and
Cebes, offer, objections which lead to the high point of the dialogue.
The first objection, formulated by Simmias, is readily under-
standable even to modern thinking: the soul is nothing more than
the harmony of the body. As soon as its strength flags, the har-
monic cooperation of its limbs also wanes until death occurs,
wherewith the soul ultimately dissolves altogether. This is obvi-
ously an argument derived from the science of the time; stated
more precisely: with its concept of harmony, it is a typical
Pythagorean argument. Moreover, it comes quite close to the way
Aristotle defines the concept of the soul; it is the "entelechy of the
body,** hence the full actuality of the living organism.
L i f e and S o u l : The Phaedo 45
Immediately after this comes Cebes' objection that immortal-
ity does not necessarily follow from reincarnation; the soul, with
its migration through the different bodies, could consume itself
more and more and finally dissolve itself along with the last body.
Undoubtedly this objection reflects one of the discoveries of the
biology of that time. As we know, science in Plato's time—and
medical science in particular—had already conceived of the
regeneration of living organisms as a continual process. We can
therefore understand the objection that despite the soul's tran-
scending the limits of an individual existence, its migration
exhausts it, and it finally dissolves itself completely. This is an
inescapable idea dictated by a naturalistic conception of the soul
and especially by the idea that the soul is nothing more than the
harmony of the body and for that reason is impelled to dissipate
along with the body.
These two objections are perceived as truly catastrophic for
the immortality of the soul. They seem so plausible that even
Phaedo and Echecrates, the two narrators of the dialogue, inter-
rupt the account to express their bewilderment. The deep despon-
dency of the mood that spreads among the interlocutors is unpar-
alleled by any poem. This points to the fact that the dialogue
takes a decisive turn at this moment of highest tension. In
response to Simmias' objection, Socrates replies that the problem
cannot be posed at all in the terms that Simmias has used to for-
mulated it. The soul is not really the same as harmony. Rather,
harmony is something that the soul itself only seeks to gain or to
find. In any case, the harmonious soul is nothing given by nature
but rather a good that prescribes the direction for life. It seems
clear to me that we must make a strict differentiation here. On
the one hand, we are dealing with the conflict between a natural-
istic or, if you will, a mathematical theory of harmony in that it
forms itself from out of its constitutive parts. On the other hand,
we are dealing with a harmony toward which the soul is striving
as though towards a highest goal.
The second objection, that of Cebes, demands a more com-
plex reply. Socrates remains silent a few moments and concen-
trates completely. Then he begins as follows: in order to attain
clarity, it is necessary, above all, to discuss the cause of coming
into being and passing away (genesis and phthora). Only in this
way will it be possible to correctly understand the meaning of
death. In order to reach this clarity, Socrates begins to talk about
46 The Beginning of Philosophy
his experiences with the science of his time until he decided to
take quite a different path, namely, the path into the logoi, the
path toward the ideas.
Here, I would like to interrupt our textual analysis in order to put
forward once again some general concepts that I mentioned ear-
lier. Above all, I would like to make a supplementary hermeneu-
tical remark. There can be no doubt that in the course of my
work I have become an advocate of the bad infinite that Hegel
criticizes. It is nevertheless a very simple truth that I am advocat-
ing here, namely, that something like a general history—for which
in German we have the expression "Weltgeschichte"
—must be
written anew by each generation. It seems quite evident to me
that along with historical change itself the ways of observing and
knowing the past must also change. Nevertheless, this truth can-
not be applied so easily to the philosophical tradition; for hi this
case it means recognizing that this tradition itself has not already
come to its conclusion with the great Hegelian synthesis, but that
there may be still other expressions of thought that can also open
new perspectives for us. One such expression, for example, is
Nietzsche's, who, whatever authenticity he attained in his con-
ceptual work, certainly cannot be compared with Hegel. Never-
theless, Nietzsche has pervaded our whole attitude toward the
past and has left his mark on our philosophical work.
This prompts me to offer a few words on a concept that I
introduced—the concept of effective-historical consciousness.
This term is meant to imply that we are fully aware of the con-
stitutive prejudices of our understanding. Of course, we cannot
really know all of our prejudices because we are never in a posi-
tion to reach an exhaustive knowledge of ourselves and to
become completely transparent to ourselves. On the other hand,
mis circumstance—that prejudices are constitutive for under-
standing—in no way means that the approach to a text is an arbi-
trary decision of the thinker or scholar involved. For these preju-
dices are nothing other than our rootedness in a tradition—in the
same tradition, in fact, that we seek to bring to language as we
interrogate the text. Herein lies the complexity of the hermeneu-
tical situation. It always depends upon the kind of text one is
dealing with. Our classical culture is the stuff of hermeneutics,
2. world history
L i f e and S o u l : The Phaedo 47
and it is found for us in multiple forms, not just in scholarly pur-
suits but above all within the traditions of theology, jurispru-
dence, philology; but it is clear that our most profound impres-
sions go much deeper than we could know or ever fathom.
All of this also helps us to understand, for example, the dif-
ference between Plato's writings and Aristotle's "doxography."
Plato's writings are not working notes but literary works, and this
is why the doxography in these writings is something entirely dif-
ferent from what Aristotle offers us, for instance, in the Meta-
physics, the Physics, and De anima. Plato's texts were, in their
own way, published and were intended to be read and even given
as lectures in Athens. This is why those writings of Aristode's that
have been preserved were unknown for centuries—they were
composed as teaching notes, which may have continued to have
an effect within the oral tradition for a few generations, but noth-
ing that was intended for the public has come down to us—at
least, not such that anything we have could be considered Aristo-
de's last word on die subject
On the other hand, take the Pheado. It is obvious that this is
not a treatise but a work of high literature. There are true-to-life
portrayals in this piece, and it accomplishes a complete fusion of
theoretical argumentation and dramatic action. Thus in thePhea-
do the strongest argument put forward for the soul's immortality
is really not an argument at all but the fact that Socrates holds
onto his convictions right up to the end and corroborates them
through his living and dying. Here, the course of the action itself
plays the role of an argument. At the end of the dialogue stands
a myth, the myth describing the earth upon which we live and
depicting, moreover, how this earth ought to be the scene for a
honest life. We can never really provide satisfactory arguments in
answer to questions about the constitution of a world that is
based on the principle of the good. Thus it happens that myths,
with their particular forcefulness, get their chance instead. Plato
himself tries to sound the cautionary note that with myths we are
not dealing with mere stories, but that concepts and reflections
are also woven into them. Therefore, they are like an extension of
the dialectical argument—an extension in a direction that is inac-
cessible to concepts and logical substantiation.
Even Socratic ignorance is a literary figure. It is the pattern
which helps Socrates lead the conversation partner to draw upon
his own ignorance in comparison. The end of the dialogue, Lysis,
48 The Beginning of Philosophy
is exemplary in this sense. Neither Menexenos nor Lysis succeeds
in defining friendship, and the dialogue is suddenly interrupted as
the teachers intervene and take the boys home. This negative end-
ing is a model which is likewise found in all of the elenctic dia-
logues. They are always about the same problem, namely, that in
order to put a virtue into practice one must already be directed
toward it in a theoretical way. In this regard, we can indeed speak
of the intellectualism of the Greeks, yet we must add by way of elu-
cidation that we are dealing here with an intentionality that never
fully corresponds to commensurate concepts. In Plato (who was a
tremendous writer of the rank of a Sophocles or a Shakespeare),
wherever concepts are inadequate this intentionality is expressed in
the action of the dialogue—in the case of the Lysis, in the dialogi-
cal relationship between Socrates and his two young friends.
On the other hand, take the text of thePoliteia:
there we find
a Socrates who—in the way he conducts a conversation and an
argument—seems to be a quite different person. Here, Plato
wants to describe an ideal city, one in which an elite class is
formed in the field of mathematics and the dialectic, an elite who
will be able to govern practical life. In my work, The Idea of the
Good in Platonic and Aristotelian Philosophy, I present the the-
sis that both philosophers are concerned with the same thing,
namely, the problem of the good and its concretization in an ideal
city. Yet one must recognize that the ethos of Plato's Politeia has
a Utopian dimension that does not correspond to anything at all
in Aristotle. This ethos appears in Plato's Politeia in such a way
that everything there is regulated. There it is nearly impossible to
do anything evil or abnormal, an idea which seems inconceivable
to the modern person. It would only take a miscalculation on the
part of the "planning committee," as one could call it, to carry
the Utopia too far and bring the downfall of this ideal city.
A further peculiarity of the Platonic dialogues is that
Socrates' interlocutors express themselves in quite a colorless
way—they say "yes," "no," "maybe," "of course"—with no fur-
ther character development. This is no accident. The author
intends it. No one should try to see these dialogue participants as
specific types as if we were dealing with a drama. In Plato's dia-
logues, the conversation partner is more like a shadow in which
each reader is meant to recognize him- or herself.
3. I.e., the Republic.
Life and Soul: The Phaedo 49
All of these remarks should not only clarify the differences
between a Platonic dialogue and a didactic Aristotelian text but
also the differences among the texts we have from Plato. These
texts must be continually questioned in such manner that they
answer in a different way each time; for the living dialogue, the
communication between people, and the participation in the
written tradition are all structured in such a way that they occur
as if by themselves. The tradition is not something rigid; it is not
fixed once and for all. There are no laws there. Even the church
must deal with a living tradition and a continual conversation
with this tradition.
The Soul between
Nature and Spirit
et us return to our main Platonic text, the Phaedo. The most
important part of the dialogue (96a) begins with the answer
to Cebes introduced by a long silence, and kideed the dialogue
now turns to the question of a general principle for knowledge. It
holds true for all knowledge (holds) that in questions of becom-
ing and passing away we must always look for the cause.
This is the moment in which Socrates begins telling how he
himself has fared with this passion for knowledge (his pathe, his
painful experiences). He studied the sciences of his time with
great interest. Clearly, this depiction refers to the contemporary
understanding of nature and medicine. According to Socrates,
therefore, he tried to understand the "soul" in terms of those sci-
ences that we have discussed as naturalism—how the "soul" orig-
inates, whether the brain is the seat of the sensations, how recol-
lection and memory, and then the formation of opinion,
from it, and how knowledge originates from the establishment of
recollection, memory, and the formation of opinion. If we now
reflect upon the fact that recollection is the ability to hold on to
something so that it is durably present and remains in the memo-
ry and that opinion-formation is also something that wants to
remain stable and permanently valid, then here we find the first
hint of the Platonic problem—how anything stable at all could
arise from the stream of the sensual experiences. How the
1. Gedachtnis und Erinnerung und dann Meinungsbildung
The Soul between Nature and Spirit 51
intentionality of thinking develops within the framework of the
physical organism remains a puzzling problem even for us. Here,
for the first time, Plato points to this puzzle in terms of the oppo-
sition of flow and stability, and in doing so he points to the main
theme of the Theatetus.
Ultimately, Socrates confesses that all his efforts have yield-
ed no results about knowledge—indeed to the very end he
understood nothing more at all, even when it concerned things
which he had previously believed he knew something about,
like, for instance, how human beings grow. He illustrates this
example with help of a quantitative-mathematical argument,
which, however, contains a logical difficulty. Socrates says, that
is, that he had previously thought the cause of the human
growth lay in the fact that material elements were added to the
organism through food. But lurking behind this is the problem
of how duality
—meaning at the same time the two in relation
to the one—is formed, whether through the addition to a unity
or through division of the unity. Here, we are faced with the
paradox that the formation of the two could by caused either by
addition or by separation. As such, this is indeed contradictory.
How is this possible?
For us it seems obvious that the answer should be that when
we speak of increasing or decreasing we are not dealing with an
actual process. Rather, the problem must be viewed within a quite
different ontological dimension and not at all in connection with
the problem of what truly causes something to come into exis-
tence and pass away. With the next step that Socrates takes, we
really begin to overcome the first and apparently inadequate kind
of question concerning the cause of becoming and passing away.
That is, Socrates tells us how in his search for this cause he came
across the text of Anaxagoras and believed that there, namely in
nous, he had finally found a solution for the problem of causation
and along with this how two comes to be from out of one. But in
the end this hope is also disappointed. The passage is quite
famous, and I recall it here only because we can find in it a con-
firmation of our own interpretive perspective. Socrates' hope, his
critique of Anaxagoras, and the function of nous apparently indi-
cate the lack here of a conceptuality that corresponds to what is
intended. When Anaxagoras speaks of "HO«S," it is clear that
2. das Zweierlei
52 The Beginning of Philosophy
Socrates wants to ascribe to this word a meaning like "thinking,"
"ordering," "planning," and in the received text (which we owe
to the zeal of Simplicius) Anaxagoras actually presents nous first
as the creator of order in the universe—almost in the sense of a
cosmogonic theory—but then, in the description of this process,
Anaxagoras ultimately refers only to HOMS'S physical effects in the
formation of the universe.
When we resume our interpretation of the text once again, we
rind that Socrates counters this by saying (99c) that the true ori-
gin of each thing as well as its inner determination is the good.
With regard to this claim, he criticizes the various theories of the
earth's place in the cosmos: the one according to which the earth
is kept in place because it is surrounded by the motion of the uni-
verse as though by an enormous vessel, or one that imagines that
the earth is carried on the air as though on a pillow, or even the
one that believes it to be supported by Atlas. In Socrates' eyes, all
these ideas are much like the famous Indian fable in which the
globe is carried on an elephant who, for his part, stands on a tur-
tle—at which point we cannot understand how it is that the tur-
tle does not, in turn, have to rest on something else. If we want
to avoid such an infinite regress we must look for the answer to
the question of causation in something other than the physical,
such as, for instance, in the good.
Indeed this marks a complete shift in the trajectory of the
argument. It is no longer about history (historia), no longer
about the quest for something capable of carrying the earth.
Formulated in these ways, the question has no answer. In the
Critique of Pure Reason—in the transcendental dialectic, to be
precise—Kant refutes the possibility of a rational cosmology.
Nevertheless, even there the problem of the creation of the
world, the problem of its beginning and its determination as a
requirement of pure reason, remains a question without an
answer. But the Platonic Socrates says that the good is the ori-
gin from which the order of the world in its totality is derived,
the world of human beings with their praxis, and the order of
the universe with all its components, the sun, the moon and the
stars, the earth, and so on. For the first time, the idea of the
good, "the whole," comes into view in a completely different
sense from the whole grasped as sum of all its individual parts,
provided we thus understand this to be what one might call the
object of historical inquiry. Here, Socrates formulates a task
The Soul between Nature and Spirit 53
that is later developed in Aristotle's Physics, namely, an inter-
pretation of reality based on the idea of the good. In this way,
the teleological structure of Greek natural philosophy ultimate-
ly becomes generally accepted and has, in a certain sense,
retained its relevance. For it suggests the concept of a totality in
which nature, the human being, and society are all viewed as
members of one and the same system. Seen from this perspec-
tive, the modern sciences are like ancient history: they accumu-
late an indefinite quantity of experiences that can never reach
the whole because the whole is not an experiential concept—it
can never be given. But how is it at all possible to reach a con-
vincing and certain solution for the problem of causation? At
this point, Plato begins his positive answer by, first of all, setting
up a rule: we must presuppose as true the one hypothesis that
appears particularly cogent and certain, and we must hold as
true the consequences following therefrom that stand in harmo-
ny with this hypothesis. But "hypothesis," here, does not mean
the same as it does in the terminology of modern scientific the-
ory. It does not mean that the validity of the hypothesis must be
verified on the basis of experience, hence on the basis of the
"facts." No, here we are dealing only with the logical, imma-
nent coherence of the concepts. The consequences we speak of
at this point are not the consequences that result from empirical
facts. This is a crucial point. The epistemologists of the English-
speaking world who have employed this mode of argumentation
recognize its logical value, but they miss the real criterion of
truth in this context, namely, experience. It is true that Plato
does not mention experience here at all. But why not? The rea-
son for this is that we are dealing here with the logos, with the
famous turn to the logoi. In Socrates' eyes, the linguistic uni-
verse possesses more reality than immediate experience. So, just
as the sun—according to the famous metaphor—cannot be
observed directly but only on the basis of its reflection in water,
whoever who wants to get information about the true nature of
things will achieve clarity sooner in the logoi than through
deceptive sensory experience.
Thus Plato insists on elucidating each hypothesis in view of
its consequences, and he bases his criticism of the enemies of
logic on this. Whenever we fail to make the content of a con-
cept explicit, it becomes fruitless to discuss it. When using
words and arguments, it is always easy to become confused.
54 The Beginning of Philosophy
The Sophists' technique of argumentation is aimed directly at
this confusion. On the other hand, to the extent that the true
content of a hypothesis is unfolded, it gains its logical believ-
ability through observation.
At this point, the argument in which the cause is equated with
the idea begins. It proceeds from the ideas of the beautiful, the
good, the large, and so on. Clearly, there is a parallel between
these essences and those of mathematics: the beautiful, the good
and the large are also not derived from experience. In any case, the
eidos seems to be somehow in the things. I say this with extreme
caution. For there is no ontological separation here as Aristotle
assumes; rather, what this means (lOOd) is that there is nothing
through which a thing is beautiful except the presence of the beau-
tiful. In this text as in the rest of Plato's writings there is never a
more precise theory of participation in the idea given—a point
which Aristotle criticizes. Plato is completely free in his choice of
concepts that formulate the relationship between the idea and the
particular. The two are not as separated from each other as Aris-
totle's criticism would have it and according to whom the idea
would be a mere duplication of the world. This point is crucially
important. The Academy knew many theories about the intimate
relationship between general and particular, yet there was no con-
cept of their separation. In contrast to this, the separation between
mathematics and physics was fundamental. Therein lay Plato's
great advance with respect to the Pythagoreans. Archytas, for
example, was an outstanding mathematician who also already
knew that mathematics does not deal with the triangle drawn in
the sand but that this is merely a picture of its true object. Never-
theless, the Pythagoreans had not yet reached the point of concep-
tually formulating the true, "pure" object of mathematics. For
them, mathematics always turned into "physics."
The separation of mathematics and physics does not mean,
though, that numbers and geometrical figures exist in another
world. Similarly, the beautiful, the just, or the good is never
[something belonging to] a second world of essences. This is a
misguided ontologizing of Plato's intentions provoked by the
influence of the subsequent tradition. It can already be seen in
criticism of Aristotle, who, for his part, was guided precisely by
his interest in the physical. It is Neoplatonism, as we call this tra-
dition today, that first makes a thinker of transcendence out of
Plato, and this was also the Plato of the nineteenth century.
The Soul between Nature and Spirit 55
As Socrates' argument progresses it leads him to maintain
that the idea is not only identical with itself but proves itself to be
insolubly linked with certain other ideas. So, for instance,
warmth is obviously connected with fire. This relationship of
ideas to one another is the most interesting point. Only in this
way does the logos exist. It is not the simple appearance of an
individual word but the linking of one word with another, the
Unking of one concept with another. Only in this way is logical
proof possible at all, and precisely because of this we are able to
explicate the implications contained in a hypothesis. What are the
consequences of this for the theme of "the soul"?
In thinking through the connection between different ideas
we see that the soul as a life principle is necessarily connected
with an idea, namely, with the idea of life, an idea that cannot be
reconciled with death. At this point, something is put forward
that, it seems to me, Plato's interpreters have not adequately
grasped. This conclusion of Socrates' seems convincing to the dia-
logue partners and also to the reader. It is indeed true that the
idea of the soul, insofar as it is brought into connection with life,
cannot be reconciled with the idea of death. This entails that the
soul is life itself, and, consequently, it is clearly "deathless"
(athanatos). Here, of course, the soul is obviously being treated as
a principle of life—albeit in a specific form. But for Socrates the
soul is above all else the orientation toward pure essences, pure
ideas. In any case, this conclusion seems clear.
Yet, Socrates now continues in a way that is surprising for the
modern reader (106a ff.). He asserts that the soul, insofar as it is
immortal, is also indestructible and indissoluble(anolethros). The
meaning of the word "athanatos" is clear. It is a typical term from
the Greek epic tradition and it indicates something being lifted up
into a higher state of being. It is the predicate of divinity, Homer's
But what does anolethros mean? The argument is
quite difficult here. Above all we need to keep in mind that the
argument runs parallel to the previous description of immortali-
ty. Those passages in which the discussion occurs seem to consid-
er the equivalence of immortality and indestructibility to be com-
pletely plausible, an equivalence which Aristotle also corrobo-
rates (Physics 203/13). Of course, the suspicion arises here that it
may possibly have been Aristotle himself who introduced this
3. Literally, "deathless ones."
56 The Beginning of Philosophy
inseparability of immortality and indestructibility into the doxo-
graphical tradition of the Presocratics. We should not forget,
however, that it was Plato who, in the Phaedo, discovered the
decisive arguments. But could he possibly have had grounds for
this? Proceeding from the religious background of the by then
waning Pythagoreans, Plato attempts to carry through with their
idea of immortality and their belief in the transmigration of the
soul (against the threat of materialism) in that, with clarity, he
brings into play an eidetic realm, a realm of relationships we can
conceive of just as we do in mathematics. If we trace the entire
Platonic argument in these passages (106a-b), then we see that
the concept of immortality is elevated to this eidetic level with the
help of the concept of indestructibility. Just like it says in the text!
These two elements—like the even and the odd or the soul and
death—are not commensurable with one another. Thus it is also
clear that one is not capable of taking the other up into itself.
Where the one exists, the other cannot exist. Nevertheless, we
could still hold that "one passes away and another takes its
place." This, however, is cogent only so long as the equal and the
unequal (or similarities, like, for instance, fire and the warm) are
viewed only as characteristics of something and not as "ideas.**
As eidetic relations they are thus something like the concept of the
equal or the unequal, which in its being-in-itself is unchangeable,
which realizes itself innumerably often in even or odd numbers—
just as, according to the genuine Pythagoreans, the immortal soul
returns in new incarnations.
Consequently, the Phaedo, it seems to me, anticipates the cri-
tique of the Pythagorean identification of being with mathemat-
ics that gets worked out later in the theory of ideas and then finds
a clear confirmation specifically in the Philebus' "third kind." In
the end, the world of ideas is not that other world that exists only
for the gods.
Standing behind this, above all, could be the fact that the
Eleatic conception of being or of the one goes only badly with the
transition into the nothing. The irrepressible desire in human
experience to overcome the inconceivability of death through the
thought of immortality also makes the transition into the nothing
seem unthinkable. The interesting thing, therefore, is this concept
of olethros, of downfall,
"of nothing." It is the concept of
4. des Untergangs
The Soul between Nature and Spirit 57
something that—in contrast to death (thanatos), which continu-
ally threatens life—does not occur within the experience of, with-
in the consciousness of, human beings.
Essentially, the doubleness of the question follows from the
ambiguity of the concept of the soul, which is taken as both the
origin of life and the seat of thinking. The tension between these
two conceptions of the soul becomes a problem. "Thinking" in
mathematics and in the dialectic is not the same as "thinking" in
the sense of the methodical procedure of modern science; rather,
thinking is present when being is. I mean by this that Plato and
Aristotle are convinced that without life there is no thinking,
without psyche there is no nous, because thinking is nothing but
this presence, and as such it is life. It seems that these two
aspects—life and thought—do not allow themselves to be sepa-
rated from each other, and we can also see this in modern philos-
ophy insofar as it is just as much a philosophy of life as it is a phi-
losophy of consciousness and self-consciousness. As we know,
Hegelian phenomenology brings this transformation of the cycle
of the living being within the reflexivity of consciousness to pre-
sentation. The transposition of life into self-consciousness is fun-
damental for all of German idealism.
Furthermore, this problem is found not only in the Phaedo
but also in Aristotle. Aristotle states quite clearly in De anima
what already occurs in Plato—albeit in narrative and mystical
form—namely, that the division of the soul into parts does not
form an absolute division because the soul is always only one in
its vegetative, its affective, as well as its theoretical function. This
is the mystery, the secret, of the soul, which lies precisely in the
fact that it does not consist, as the body does, of various discrete
organs, each individualized according to its function, but rather
it takes effect with intensive concentration in each of its aspects.
In light of these considerations, we can understand what meaning
there is in the fact that philosophy wavers back and forth between
the beginning in the sense of the origin of life and the beginning
of cognition and thinking. This wavering has its ground in the
structure of the human being itself. It is no mere fluctuating mud-
dle but a living exchange between the various forms in which
human life articulates itself as entelechy.
The conclusion to this problem that Socrates draws in the
Phaedo (106d) suggests that what is immortal is also indestruc-
tible and that it is the same with the soul as it is with the even,
58 The Beginning of Philosophy
which, of course, does not become odd but also cannot pass away.
To put it another way: in the end it will be conceded that the soul
is immortal—and then it must also be admitted that it is inde-
structible. For, indeed, both god and the idea of life would then be
immortal as well as imperishable We are no doubt dealing here
with an argument that displays a certain weakness. Indeed, in the
final analysis the acknowledgment of immortality seems to be
based on approbation. Simmias, however, seems sensitive to this
weakness; yet all doubts are overcome with the assertion that, in
any case, it is better to lead an honest life. The most widespread
interpretation that puts particular emphasis on this passage is
that, ultimately, immortality has really only been proven for the
idea of life, for the idea of the soul, not for the indestructibility of
the discrete individual. This is a problem that runs through the
entire history of philosophy. One recalls, for instance, Averroism
and the trials of Meister Eckhart and others for heresy. What
should we make of this? Should we think that Plato has not rec-
ognized the problem and for this reason has proven immortality
only for the idea of the soul and not proven it for the individual
soul? Here, we come back to a fundamental problem of Platonic
philosophy, a problem that is not thematized, namely, the rela-
tionship between universal and particular. Concepts that involve
the immanence of the one in the other develop only within the
framework of the subsequent tradition. It is pure Aristotelianism
if we ask ourselves what significance there is in Plato for the rela-
tionship between the particular, which represents an unquestion-
able givenness, and the universal, which we interpret realistically
or nominalistically. This is a topic that is discussed a great deal in
later philosophy but one that does not occur at all in Plato. For
him, it is obvious that true essence, true being, announces itself in
language and that language is able to reach with words that which
exists. The psyche is not only a universal concept but it is the
omnipresence of life and particularly [its presence] in the living
being. In truth, what presents itself as a weakness in Socrates'
argument confirms that a separation is not possible between the
ideas and the particular. Incidentally, one further drastic confir-
mation could be drawn from the dialogue, Parmenides: it is non-
sense to believe that the world of the ideas is only for the gods and
that the world of facts is only for mortals.
All of this is important in order to understand better what
actually lies hidden behind the Platonic dialectic of immortality
The Soul between Nature and Spirit 59
and indestructibility in the Phaedo. Of course, the presence of
the soul in the individual, which is based on self-evidence and
not on arguments, is connected with the religious tradition. In
the end, Socrates will reach the conclusion that after the onset of
bodily death the soul continues to exist in another place, name-
ly, in Hades. At this point, the religious tradition is completely
present, albeit in a very detached way. The following should be
noted here: whereas Socrates asserts (106d) that because of his
immortality we must admit that "the god" (ho theos) could not
perish, his interlocutor replies that this must be admitted of all
the gods (para theon). Now the plurality of the gods certainly
belongs to the religious tradition just as much as the image of
Hades does, but here "the god" is tantamount to "the divine,"
and this signifies that Plato certainly wants to refer to conven-
tional religion but also to a rational concept that confirms it. By
way of explanation, however, I would like to add that this talk
of "the god" does not, of course, mean monotheism but some-
thing indeterminately divine. As far as this entire thematic is con-
cerned, an excellent explanation for why Socrates has reserva-
tions about the traditional religion of his city can ultimately be
derived from the Euthyphro.
In conclusion, please bear the following in mind: my remarks
demonstrate tendentially that the arguments formulated in the
Phaedo for the soul's immortality always tend to develop them-
selves within the context of a theoretical deliberation stemming
from the ambiguity of the soul's function. It can just as well be
consciousness as the principle of life.
From the Soul to the Logos:
The Theatetus and
the Sophist
nphePhaedo, as we saw, is a first step on the path that leads
A from the concept of the soul as the origin of life to the new
Socratic-Platonic orientation toward knowledge and mathemat-
ics. In a certain sense, the Theatetus tries to further clarify the
problem of the opposition between the vitalistic and the spiritu-
alistic concepts of the soul.
The dialogue begins with the definition of knowledge as ais-
thesis or perception (151e). Be careful! Theatetus—a mathemati-
cian—is saying here that knowledge is perception. This does not
mean he is referring to the function of the senses. We are not deal-
ing here with the Aristotelian concept of aisthesis but rather with
immediacy, with a perception that corresponds completely to self-
evidence, a perception that mathematics makes use of that is dif-
ferent from "mere" argumentation. By way of explanation, we
should point out that the word "mere" here is used in the sense
that it has in the Greek expression "psiloi logoi."
Theodores of
Cyrene says that in his youth he himself engaged in bare ("mere")
discourse; later, however, he turned to mathematics, in which
there is self-evidence. It is thus clear that in this context "percep-
tion" means self-evidence hi the sense that "one cannot help but
see." Later, the actual theory of perception formulates it in the
1. "bare words" or "plain words"
From the Soul to the Logos 61
same way, as a collision or encounter with reality (153e). This
theory is found again in an extremely sophisticated form, indeed
in a downright Protagorean form, in Alfred North Whitehead,
and also as the only long Plato quotation that occurs in Wittgen-
stein (in the Philosophical Investigations). In precisely this pas-
sage in the Theatetus, Socrates explicates the theory according to
which perception is a kind of physics and resembles a concur-
rence of movements in which the slower movement appears as
something standing, while the faster, in contrast, appears as
something flowing and variable (156d ff.).
As we know, Socrates demonstrates that coming to a stand-
still is not possible in this physics of perception. Perception is not
merely physical motion as Empedocles and others understood it.
We are well acquainted with the theory of seeing that stems
from Empedocles because Theophrastus has handed down to us
the part of Empedocles' work dealing with this topic. Apparently
the encounter theory arises for the first time with Empedocles and
then persists until Protagoras. The crucial point of Socrates' argu-
ment is that perception is not an encounter between the eyes and
what is, but rather that, in seeing, the eye is exclusively the organ
of the soul. Seeing is certainly accomplished with help of the eye,
yet it is not the eye that sees (184d). In the course of this train of
thought, Plato brings into play his predecessors, from Heraclitus
to Empedocles and Protagoras, although he also names Homer
and Epicharmus, and they all are described as proponents of the
general flow of things, as though none of them had ever heard of
Parmenides. In this respect it must be clearly understood that we
are dealing with irony, with imagination, and with a construction
originating from the mind of Plato. The concept of that which
flows cannot, in truth, be separated from the concept of that
which remains fixed. The one implies the other, as I have already
stressed in my analysis of the Phaedo, where it came to light that
recollection and opinion come nearer and nearer to the identical
and the enduring. Specifically in the text of the Theatetus, and
thus in its contrast with Protagoras' position, we are dealing with
an invention of Plato. It is hard to believe that Mario Unterstein-
er included this section of the Theatetus in his collection of the
Sophists' fragments. It is certainly obvious that this is not Pro-
tagoras himself but an interpretation of Protagoras—albeit an
extremely refined interpretation that is of great interest for mod-
ern philosophy. In essence, we find here once again the problem
62 The Beginning of Philosophy
of how observation and interpretation of the factual are to be
explained by starting with just the mind.
The Platonic construction shows up clearly in a different pas-
sage (180-81), where two positions are placed opposite each
other like two combatants: on the one side, the rheontes, those
who are for flux and maintain the eternal flux of things, and, on
the other side, the stasiotai, a wordplay designating those who,
like "rebels,"
take a stand on the immobility of that which exists
and in this respect are revolutionaries at the same time. Indeed, in
the vernacular "stasiotes" means the same thing as revolutionary,
and indeed, as the taking of a stand against the predominant view
of the general flux, when one insists on the identity of being, the
permanent, and the constancy of being, this truly is a revolution.
After it has been shown that knowing cannot be equated here
with sensory perception but rather brings the soul into play, the
second answer to the question of the essence of knowing asserts
that knowing is doxa, opinion. I will not spend further time on
this very complicated answer because it is essentially coextensive
with the previous one and because the third and last answer is of
particular interest. This answer states: knowledge is opinion
accompanied by logos. It is rationally established opinion. With
this we have apparently reached the goal that the whole dialogue
strives toward, namely, to comprehend knowledge as logos. Nev-
ertheless the form in which this definition is presented is very
unsatisfactory. Reason is made out to be something additional,
something merely added on to opinion, while opinion is already
there and is only subsequently verified and confirmed. But this is
not "logos." Logos is not merely the expression of a secure opin-
ion, and it is a mistake to comprehend it as mere expression and
linguistically formulated opinion.
The Tbeatetus thus ends with a theme, /ogos, which this dia-
logue does not succeed in adequately defining and which later
stands at the center of the Sophist. In this sense, the conclusion of
the Theatetus is actually an introduction to the Sophist.
So, let us now take up the Sophistl Here (242c ff.) we find, in
light of our interest in the Presocratics, a quite detailed presenta-
tion, something like a doxography, which is also of great signifi-
cance for later Aristotelian doxography. Actually, several allusions
2. Aufstaendische, literally, "those who stand up" or "take a stand."
3. ausformulierte Meinung
From the Soul to the Logos 63
to the Sophist (242c ff.) can be documented in Aristotle. Plato
presents the earlier accounts critically as mythical stories.
Socrates' conversation partner, the Stranger who has arrived in
Athens from Elea, talks about that which is and asserts that, in all
likelihood, everyone who has spoken of this before has just been
telling fairy tales. One person says that there are three kinds of
: three principles that will at one time struggle with each
other and another time unite with each other. We cannot estab-
lish to whom the speaker is referring here. Many authors have
tried, but to my mind there is no satisfactory solution, and I think
this fits into a more general characteristic of the Plato's writings:
namely, that precise historical accounts cannot be derived from
them. At any rate, the Stranger then continues, saying that some-
one else has claimed that there is a dual essence: the wet and the
dry or the warm and the cold, and these pairs come into a bond
with one other. The third position, he says, is the point of view of
the Eleatics: Eleatikon ethnos, apo Xenophanous te kai eti pros-
then arxamenon. This third position began with Xenophanes and
even earlier. This is a mysterious depiction, and it is certainly
wrong to interpret it as evidence for the role of Xenophanes as
founder of the Eleatic school. All of the elements out of which
this kind of an interpretation is constructed are inadequate: there
was certainly no Eleatic "school," and Xenophanes was not its
founder. He probably also had very little to do with Parmenides.
I am fully aware that this contradicts the doxographical tradition
that goes back to Aristotle. But Plato expresses himself here very
specifically (kai eti prosthen
), as though the Eleatics had already
begun [philosophizing] before Xenophanes. This is, I think, in a
certain sense correct. Eleatic philosophy is probably a reply to the
first philosophical attempts to explain the universe, attempts that
began with the Milesians. The true significance of Xenophanes,
however, lies elsewhere: he testifies to the shifting interests of an
aristocratic society that now interests itself in a new science
instead of Homer and Hesiod. Xenophanes was quite simply a
rhapsodist who recited the texts of the Greek mythology of
Homer and the other poets. Later, in Sicily, where a new society
had emerged in the mean time, Xenophanes, in his elegant vers-
es, treated the cosmos as the divine and showed that these "gods"
4. dreierlei Seiendes
5. and those before him
64 The Beginning of Philosophy
were in reality not the way they were presented in mythology. In
any case, it seems to me that this passage in Plato is not an his-
torical source for establishing a Presocratic chronology but has a
different meaning, as I will demonstrate later.
At the end of the list, the Ionic muses are mentioned, which
evidently means Heraclitus and Empedocles and can also serve
as the classic example of a Socratic-Platonic description of their
Let us now ask ourselves what the entire list means. Appar-
ently, it classifies the predecessors according to the number of
their principles. Accordingly, in the first group there are three
principles, in the second group there are two principles, for the
Eleatics there is only one, and according to Heraclitus and Empe-
docles there are the one and the many, which in Empedocles alter-
nate with one another while in Heraclitus they form a dialectical
unity. We are dealing, therefore, not primarily with a chronolog-
ical order but with a Pythagorean-style logical classification that
is connected in some way to the mystery of numbers.
A new perspective, a reflected perspective follows this classi-
fication. The stranger from Elea goes on to say (243a) that those
who have discussed the number of principles have in each case
continued on their own way without concerning themselves
about **us"—about our ability to follow and to understand them.
What does this mean? Here, we must establish a relationship to
the beginning of these remarks. It was asserted there that appar-
ently the earlier thinkers had only told fairy tales when they spoke
of the number of principles. Consequently, we are dealing here
with the difference between a telling of myths, which is common
to all the predecessors, and another access to the problem, which
is now put forward by Socrates' conversation partner. This Eleat-
ic conversation partner shows that it is necessary to take a new
step in the reflection. It is above all necessary to understand the
significance of what is, which in the earliest thinkers had merely
been presupposed. These thinkers simply tell how existing things
combine, how they arise, how they connect with one another.
They depict all of this as a process, whereas the problem consists
primarily in comprehending the meaning of being. The dialogue
then proceeds to investigate precisely this problem. For this, it is
crucial that the confrontation over the meaning of being is carried
6. die seienden Dinge
From the Soul to the Logos 65
out between two points of view in a manner similar to the dis-
pute, described in the fheatetus, between that which flows
(rheontes) and that which is permanent (stasiotai).
One of these points of view is the one ascribed to the tradi-
tion of the "materialists." Here we need some clarification. The
concept of "matter" does not occur at all in Plato with the sig-
nificance that it has assumed in the tradition. Rather, this is a con-
cept introduced by Aristotle. Therefore, as we can also see from
our investigation of Aristotelian texts, it would be extremely
naive of us to now impute the concept of hyle to the Presocratics.
We have no citations confirming that the Presocratics had any-
thing like the concept of matter. Even Thales' water is something
other than matter. Moreover, the speech from the passage we just
now examined in the Sophist (246a) speaks only of the people
who maintain that only those things exist that can be touched
and handled with the hands, like rocks and tree-trunks, which
clearly alludes to Hesiod's depiction of the Titans' rebellion
against Mount Olympus (Theogony 675-715). The metaphor is
meant to refer to those who recognize being in the tangible, and
this standpoint is understood in a deeply ontological sense—
hence not in the modern sense whereby what can be established
through experience and what can be measured count as "being,"
but rather in the sense according which being is dynamis, thus in
the sense of that which produces effects. This is the term with
whose help the philosopher in this context seeks to determine the
sense of being that is recognized in the tangible. It is the resistence
with which "being" withstands penetration—somewhat like
solidity in Democritus. We are thus dealing with a dynamic con-
cept, and one posited by reason. The dialogue arrives at this con-
cept by forcing the "materialists" to admit an irrefutable conse-
quence concerning "life"—that, in one way or another, souls and
virtue exist. For we see that they do indeed produce effects: hence
there arises the concept of dynamis.
Likewise, the other party, the "friends of ideas"—perhaps
the Pythagoreans?—cannot, in the final analysis, maintain that
being is immovable and unchangeable. It is clear, even with no
particular explanation, that what is cannot be dumb as a post.
Therefore, the concept of dynamis applies to both parties, to that
which is looked upon as something material as well as to that
7. Aufstand
66 The Beginning of Philosophy
which is grasped as something psychic. So the contrast between
what flows and what is fixed ultimately proves to be badly con-
strued. Even the party of the "friends of ideas," who declare
everything to be fixed and motionless, must admit the necessity
that what is moves. Admittedly, the objects of mathematics and
Euclidian geometry know no motion; yet Plato, as a philosopher,
rejects the mathematical dogmatism of this standpoint, accord-
ing to which being should be immovable, fixed, and so on.
Indeed, it is unthinkable to anyone that what exists is, as such,
deaf, motionless, and has no nous. This is not the consequence
of a proof but an appeal to a self-evident certainty: that which is
cannot make do without life, without motion, without some-
thing like nous.
Consequently, we come upon the same problem here as we
did in the Theatetus: the relationship between flux and perma-
nence, the same problem, incidentally, that also presented itself in
the Phaedo in form of the soul within the tension-field between
zoe and nous—between life and mind.
In the Sophist, this prob-
lem is developed with the help of a complex dialectic of the fol-
lowing five fundamental ideas: that which exists, motion, rest,
sameness, and difference—a series of concepts that contains a
considerable intellectual demand. How is it possible at all to
properly situate sameness and difference (which, as we know, are
concepts of reflection) alongside motion and rest? In the Hegelian
logic of essence, their function is clear, but with this arrangement,
we ask ourselves about the relationship between these reflexive
concepts and the concepts of motion and rest. Discussing this is
extremely difficult, but in the end the following conclusion seems
clear: through the parallel dialectic of the same and the different,
the disintegration of the strict alternative also occurs between
motion and rest, and, eventually, these two no longer mutually
exclude each other. The two initial concepts of movement and
permanence develop in that they become, according to the depic-
tion in the tenth book of the Nomoi? permanent movement and
moving permanence. In the Sophist, the reciprocity of beteron
and tauton is the means by which Plato succeeds in justifying the
unity of motion and rest. To be sure, the relationship between
two such different pairs of concepts is not completely clear; yet,
8. Geist, spirit
9. I.e., Plato's Laws.
From the Soul to the Logos 67
as a significant artist, he knows how to make comprehensible the
alternating relation of the back and forth between the one and the
other. As I see it, Plato realizes how problematic the transition is
from pure concepts of reflection (to put it in Hegelian terms), that
is, from concepts like identity and difference to conventional and
concrete concepts like motion and rest. Similarly, this also occurs
in the Timaeus when the sequence of the seasons is described. It
is an image that, just as in the tenth book of the Nomoi, suggests
the idea that the perdurance of what exists is not excluded by the
fact that, as motion, it also participates in temporality.
The goal of the Sophist is neither a merely formal solution
to the aporia nor a compromise between the two opposing the-
ses, [a conflict] in which, quite to the contrary, both theses lose
the battle. According to Plato's perception, we are really dealing
here with consciousness, with the power of identifying. Think-
ing is always identifying, but it is also a self-movement. Think-
ing is also always an action, something flowing in time in such
a way that temporality is contained within identity throughout.
The fact that all this belongs together with the vision of Platon-
ic thought also emerges from the Parmenides, from the well-
known paradox of the structure of the moment, the paradox of
being time and yet not being in time. This is also an extremely
important point for modern thinking. Hegel was the first to
revive the problem of the inner contradiction within the tempo-
ral concept of the "moment,"
just as Kierkegaard was the first
to connect this concept with the anxiety of life. Yet, between
Plato and Hegel/Kierkegaard, there are essentially no documents
that deal with this problem. I have searched in vain for them;
although the problem now and then comes to light casually, as
for example in the Attic Nights, a work from the time of Caesar,
in which table conversations of ruling-class sons are described,
conversations that are, to all appearances, just pretentious intel-
lectual frivolities. Here, we find an allusion to the problem of the
moment as it was brought forward in the Parmenides. The ques-
tion is raised regarding the moment in which the dying person
dies. For, as soon as he is dead, he is no longer a dying man, and,
as long as he lies dying, he is not yet dead. We also find an allu-
sion to this problem in Pseudo-Dionysius. But all of this, of
course, is of no consequence. What counts is to grasp what Plato
10. Augenblick
68 The Beginning of Philosophy
intended. Undoubtedly this is connected with the ontological
status of the soul, of thinking, or of consciousness. Essentially,
this topic runs through the Phaedo, the Theatetus, and the
Sophist, and it also shows up in the Parmenides, in the problem
of the moment investigated there. It is the structure of the soul.
In its essence, the contradiction between movement and perma-
nence is overcome.
It would be very interesting to discuss the similarity that exists
between this synthesis of motion and rest, on the one hand, and the
self-reflection of modern idealism, on the other. There is a corre-
spondence between the transition carried out in Greek philosophy
from the principle of life to the principle of mind
and the dialec-
tical development in Hegel's Phenomenology and Logic. The prob-
lem of the circular, and hence the self-reflexive, structure of Me cor-
responds to this as well. It is quite similar. The transition from the
idea of life to the particularity of the living individual, as I have
already indicated, is treated by Hegel when in the Phenomenology
he describes the transition that leads from ever-flowing life to the
individual organism and to self-consciousness. The chapter that
contains a detailed presentation of self-consciousness is prepared
for by the analysis of the self-relatedness of life. Ultimately, along
with self-consciousness, self-relatedness, and absolute knowing,
Hegel took the Platonic theme of life—the world-soul that ani-
mates itself and differentiates itself into various individual organ-
isms—and amplified it into absolute spirit, which, in attaining
complete transparency, leaves behind the limits of human finitude.
Of course, we must be on guard against equating Plato and
Hegel. If this were indeed the result, we could simply deal direct-
ly with Hegel. The problem that fascinates us lies in the distinc-
tions between them. Self-reflection, as the autonomous structure
of that which is, is actually a standpoint that one attains only
after a protracted development of thought. When we study Plato,
we should not forget that, with respect to with Hegel, he lies far
in the past—but this, of course, holds true for the entire Greek
tradition. Plato does not base everything on the structure of self-
reflection; rather, he describes the relationship between the
concepts of identity and difference, on the one hand, and two dis-
tinct dimensions of reality—rest and motion—on the other.
But we must be careful even when we deal with Aristotle. A
11. Geist
From the Soul to the Logos 69
Hegelian would say that Aristotle has certainly survived in
Hegel's Encyclopedia, but with a merely verbal description of
divine self-reflection. Sure enough, this is what we find in Book
A of the Metaphysics, the only text in which the onto-theologi-
cal peak of Aristotelian metaphysics is expressly described. Here,
the self-movement in self-reflection unfolds toward the com-
pletely autonomous form of the First Mover. However, I also
bear in mind that this complete autonomy is nothing human but
rather the universe as the Greek thought of it, and therefore we
should consider the difference between the human being and the
divine being. The divine being is distinguished by the continuity
of its presence, which is the whole that is. Its superiority lies in
the fact that it knows no limit, no obstruction, no illness, no
fatigue, no sleep. In comparison, in the case of the human being,
all of these are limitations of its being awake. The finitude of the
human being brings all this with it. Aristotle himself insists on
the fact that reflection always presupposes an immediate act; it
is always a parergon, a subsequently occurring excess that is
added onto something immediate. Reflection presupposes
throughout that we have already submitted to the given in such
a way that—and this is what reflection is—we then turn our-
selves back to the given starting point. Besides this, there is still
much else connected with the finitude of the human being. Thus,
for example, the great mystery of forgetting. The computer is
something impoverished because it cannot forget and therefore is
not creative. Creativity depends on the choices made by our rea-
son and our capacity to think.
All of this shows that it is no trivial claim when one thinks
that there is a metaphysics of finitude and finite beings and that,
in a certain sense, this "ontology" has been the last word of
Greek metaphysics.
When Hegel takes this up position again, he certainly remains
within the limits set by the autonomy of self-consciousness that
belong to a culture founded, in opposition to reality, upon the
independence of the subject which reflects upon itself. It is also
precisely this culture from which springs the "aggressiveness" of
modern science, which always wants to become master over its
object by means of a method and thus excludes that mutuality of
participation existing between object and subject that represents
the highest point of Greek philosophy and makes possible our
participation in the beautiful, the good, and the just, as well as in
70 The Beginning of Philosophy
the values of communal human life. For the Greeks, the essence
of knowledge is the dialogue and not the mastery of objects com-
prehended as proceeding from an autonomous subjectivity, that
victory of modern science that has even in a certain sense led to
the end of the metaphysics. All of this perhaps can perhaps help
us to understand why Husserl, with his analysis of time-
consciousness, and, after him, the author of Being and Time,
pointed the way for contemporary philosophy.
Aristotle's Doxographical
efore we continue our investigation, I would like once again
to briefly review the path we have already traveled. Within the
framework of the perspective I have designated as "effective his-
we have made well-preserved and unreconstructed texts
the object of our investigation, namely, the writings of Plato and
Aristotle. We have thereby proceeded from the conviction that
the beginning of Greek science and philosophy must be grasped
from the answers that the great thinkers—like, for instance, Plato
and Aristotle—have given to the questions raised by this begin-
ning. These questions were undoubtedly those of scientific, math-
ematical, astronomic, and physical access to what, since Plato, we
have called nature. With this intention, we looked at the Phaedo,
and in doing so we had to take note of the fact that it is not pos-
sible to understand a fragment of such a well-structured text
without taking into account the entire movement of thought and
the dialogue conducted between Plato and the past. In this sense,
we made the concept of the soul our theme and discussed the soul
on the one hand as a life-principle and on the other hand as think-
ing and mind. From there we proceeded to the Theatetus and to
the Sophist and examined the passages that deal with the begin-
nings of philosophy for the Greeks. In the course of this reflec-
tion, I emphasized that "beginning** or "principium" is meant
here not in the temporal sense, but rather in the "logical" senses.
1. Wirkungsgeschichte
72 The Beginning of Philosophy
The prindpium is that on whose basis everything else is struc-
tured, like, for instance, in the domain of numbers, where we
know two first as the number and [then] as n +1. With this it has
been clearly established that even for Plato this beginning lies very
much in darkness, which follows, for example, from the manner
in which Plato refers to Xenophanes, namely, as the messenger of
a prehistory lying far in the past.
All of this goes to point out once again that even these Plato
passages and in general all the passages on which the tradition is
based should not be viewed as documents and testimonies that
inform us in an historically valuable way about the Presocratics.
Considered from this point of view, they are extremely unreliable
and lead us into error. The chronologies are constructions by
scholars of the Hellenistic age, and the "biographies" by Dio-
genes Laertius, for instance, are a conglomeration of legends and
indirect tradition. This warning also applies to the citations col-
lected under the title "Fragments of the Presocratics." These are
quotations that at least reflect the interests and the points of view
of the later authors who quoted them.
In the Theatetus and in the Sophist, in the analysis of knowl-
edge and of what is, and, likewise, in the Sophist, in the problem
of the soul and its relationship to motion and rest, we recognized
the same problem that had been thematized in the Phaedo with
regard to the soul in relation to life and mind.
Now we must proceed to the effect of Presocratic philosophy
in the framework of Aristotelian philosophy, that is, we must ask
how the Presocratic looks to Aristotelian philosophy. This is an
extremely important point because the subsequent doxography
since Theophrastus and his followers leans heavily on Aristotle's
testimonies. Therefore, it is necessary to point out that, with his
explications of the Presocratics, Aristotle does not wish to write
history any more than Plato does, but rather he is prompted to do
so by problems in his own philosophy. Here, we can assume that
Presocratic philosophy presents a constant challenge for Aris-
totelian doctrines and that the passages of thePhysics or theMeta-
physics dedicated the Presocratics belong to a living dialogue
between Plato and his predecessors. Only if we follow this dialogue
is it possible to understand adequately the question-frame formu-
lated by the Milesian, the Eleatic, or the atomistic "schools."
That there is a basic orientation common to Plato and Aris-
totle, is clear. Both of them opted for the "flight into the /ogo/,"
Aristotle's Doxographical Approach 73
and, in this sense, they are both followers of Socrates as he is por-
trayed in diePhaedo. Then with Hellenism—especially with the
Stoa—a reestablishing of the origin occurs, which no longer pro-
ceeds on the basis of the logoi. But the basic difference between
Plato and Aristotle is also no less clear: Plato is mathematically
oriented, while Aristotle sticks to physics and, above all, to biol-
ogy. The former orientation largely eliminates the problem of
contingency because in the realm of mathematics there is nothing
at all of the particular. The application of numbers to the partic-
ular wants to be nothing other than a practical implementation of
mathematics. But numbers and the relationships between the
numbers are more than mere tools for the construction or the
reconstruction of matter. They are the actual bearers of the order
of reality, the regularity of the circular movement of the heaven-
ly bodies. Also, in the sublunar world in which the movements
are less regular, there is—as follows from the propagation of the
species, the rhythm of the seasons, the path from the seed to the
ripe fruit, and so on—a fixed order. Nevertheless, the orientation
toward physics and biology includes the recognition of the indi-
vidual creature, the particular, that which Aristotle calls "tode
ti" a something that only manifests itself through showing and
not through words. What matters here, obviously, is living nature
and its being rather than mathematical structures.
This complex relationship between Plato and Aristotle has
its consequences. They are both concerned with the reality of the
universe, yet Plato speaks about it mostly with the help of splen-
did myths—what is recounted in the Timaeus, for example. As
you know, the Platonic Timaeus is illuminating in a certain sense
for the integration of Greek philosophy into Christian philoso-
phy, insofar as the demiurge is interpreted as an approximation
of the Creator-God of the Old Testament. Admittedly, as the
word [of the Timaeus} already tells us, the demiurge is like a
master craftsman who does indeed manufacture something but
who, in contrast to the "Word" of the theological doctrine of
Creation, does not simply create from out of nothingness. The
divine craftsperson manufactures things according to the model
of ideas, of which he is not at all the creator. Here it is clear that
the model that governs the action of the demiurges conforms
more to the mathematics of Pythagorean astronomy. The demi-
urge fashions the world-soul, but what does it have to do with
this soul? It is neither life-principle nor knowledge, but rather
74 The Beginning of Philosophy
the origin of the periodic, regular, always constant motion that
is the mark of the heavenly bodies and whose essence can be
expressed by numbers and their relationships. If we want to use
Aristotelian terminology here, it is not so much a question of
physis but rather of techne, which obviously does not mean tech-
ne in the modern sense of technology but intellectual
creation as
it was understood prior to the emergence of modern technology.
For the Greeks, techne is a knowing how one fabricates some-
thing, not the fabrication itself.
Aristotle apparently did not feel comfortable with this expla-
nation of nature by means of images like that of the craftsperson,
the technikos. This construction, rather, is the oppositeof physis,
and I would remind you that the concept of physis has developed
only recently from the self-evident usage within the Western tra-
dition into counter-concepts like nomos and techne. But these
counter-concepts to physis are typically sophistic. Its clear, in any
case, that Aristotle was not content with myths and images, and
as he was occasionally prone to making quite blunt judgments, he
flatly stated that the Timaeus brings only empty metaphors, mat
it contains nothing conceptually consistent and is without value
for the philosopher, who, of course, wants to explain things with
concepts. The universe for Aristotle, indeed, as for Plato, appears
to be founded on mathematical regularities, but this is precisely
why the universe is not at all similar to the world that is regulat-
ed by politics, society, and laws. By contrast, all of this becomes
for Plato the object of a mythical tale. According to Plato, the
world is designed by a sovereign craftsperson-god, yet it is imple-
mented in its details by subordinate deities who are responsible
for what is irregular and accidental in our earthly lives. Only
heaven is perfect. Aristotle transforms this Platonic myth into
concepts that constitute the essence of physis. Such concepts are:
matter, the origin of motion, form, function,
time, space, and so
on. These are the concepts of techne; they are concepts with
which the action of the craftsperson can be described; and they
are precisely the kind of concepts with which Aristotle undertakes
to determine the specific essence of nature. This should not sur-
prise us. Greek civilization had reached such a level by that
time—the epoch of rhetoric and sophistic dialectic—that the
2. Geistig: mental or spiritual.
3. Or purpose: Zweck.
Aristotle's Doxographical Approach 75
skillful craftsperson was regarded as a model for humankind and
all human knowledge was regarded as techne. Thus the concepts
connected to techne were those most readily available for
expressing the order of the world to which Aristotle attached
such importance.
Before we continue, it is necessary to point out that the Aris-
totelian doctrine of the four causes was not constructed in order
to establish a metaphysics. Rather, the chapter on the four causes
was originally a chapter of thePhysics, and this, in turn, was cer-
tainly not the first subject in the framework of Aristotle's lecture
courses, nevertheless it undoubtedly belonged to his earliest writ-
ings. Exactly when thePhysics was worked out remains a very
difficult problem. Apparently, the text had already been partially
written earlier, before it was enlarged and received the shape in
which we know it today.
Let us now begin with an examination of the Physics. This is
a text in which (much as in the Metaphysics) the thought is not
presented in a finished and systematic form but rather as some-
thing in development, and it is a text that is dictated above all
with the intention of emphasizing his difference from Plato and
from the Academy, even when Aristotle, by way of elucidation,
presents the thinking of his predecessors. This objective of the
whole is clear from the first book on, and this book is essentially
a critique of Plato. This should not surprise us. In the compari-
son employed here, the previously suggested difference comes to
light, the difference, that is, that existed between Plato, the math-
ematician and Pythagorean, on the one hand, and Aristotle, the
physicist, biologist, and doctor's son, on the other. In this first
book, we come upon a classification of principles that is less com-
plicated than the enumeration that occurs in the Sophist. The sec-
ond and third chapter of the first book subsequently contain a
detailed criticism of Parmenides and Eleatic philosophy, within
which he first makes the quite illuminating remark that in
physics, the science of moving things, there is no place for the
Eleatics since they completely deny the existence of motion. This
criticism of the Eleatics is actually a criticism of Plato. It implies
that the attempt to determine the various meanings of being, of
what is, and so on, is an extremely complicated task and is not
limited to physis. Remarkably, it becomes at no place clear in
these two chapters that the longer and now lost second part of
Parmenides' famous poem was preoccupied with nature, the
76 The Beginning of Philosophy
cosmos, and the self-moving heavenly bodies. The critique focus-
es exclusively on the first part of the Parmenidean didactic poem,
which has survived through the transcription of Simplicius. Sim-
plicius thought (apparently not altogether unjustly) that only the
first part needed to be transcribed because the Aristotelian cri-
tique was aimed only at this first part. But this means that Aris-
totle really attacked Plato's point of view by way of a detour
through the text of Parmenides. To put it another way: in the
Physics—that is, in a book that occupies itself with nature—Aris-
totle only goes into that part of the Parmenidean poem that does
not confront nature. In essence, he thus had the intention of dif-
ferentiating himself from Plato, whose views he simply identified
with the first part of the poem.
The fourth chapter goes into the experts on nature (physikoi),
whom he sometimes calls physiologists and at several other times
he calls physicists. There is no established terminology here. In
any case it is clear that we are dealing with designations that
encompass all the preceding thinkers—except for the Eleatics
and, to some extent, the Pythagoreans and Plato.
The text states that there are two types of experts on nature:
the ones who declare that things can originate through puknotes
and manotes, that is, through condensing and rarefying, as well as
the ones who declare that they come about with the help of ekkri-
sis, that is, by separating them out from a mixture. Puknotes/
manotes and ekkrisis are obviously two distinct theories, and the
classification of the nature experts is based on this difference.
Aristotle attaches no names to puknotes/manotes, yet it is
readily understood that he refers above all else to Anaximenes,
who advocated the doctrine that the basic element is air, which
could assume many different shapes through condensing and rar-
efying. (Here, by the way, I am convinced that Thales also had
something similar in mind.) Puknotes/manotes apparently stands
for the class that Aristotle ascribes to the Milesians.
The second concept, the concept of ekkrisis, is no doubt
introduced to make explicit reference to Anaximander, Empedo-
cles, and Anaxagoras. But what immediately stands out in this
classification is that the first of these authors seems to have been
brought together with the two others by force. Ultimately, the dis-
course in the text is only about Anaxagoras, and this in a manner
that makes it clear that mixing and separating out form the model
that first proves to be necessary on the basis of the Eleatic critique
Aristotle's Doxographical Approach 77
of the multiplicity and changeability of the processes of nature. In
order to reply to this criticism, there is nothing left but to fall
back on those concepts of mixture and separation (ekkrisis). This
is a well-known Aristotelian thesis that is repeated in many pas-
sages, and I find it quite understandable that, in the end, the cor-
puscle theory was held to be an answer to the Eleatic critique. But
since this is the case, it becomes impossible to proceed in an Aris-
totelian manner and to accommodate Anaximander within the
framework of this theory. To do so would be to anticipate the
"effect" of the Eleatic critique, and thus we would be committing
an anachronism comparable to the one that we ran into with
Xenophanes in the Sophist (242d 4-7). In truth, it seems that
Anaximander's theory is superimposed here on the philosophy of
Anaxagoras. This superimposition, of course, must have had a
basis in the tradition. This also emerges from Theophrastus, for
example, who, as Diels has proven, ascribes to Anaximander a
cosmogony based on the bursting of an originary cosmic egg,
hence a cosmogony based on the idea of liberation and differen-
tiation. Aristotle obviously knew this tradition, which inclined
him to ascribe the corpuscle theory to Anaximander as well. This
arrangement, by the way, seemed so obvious that modern philo-
sophical historiography has also fallen in line with it. The Vien-
nese school of Gomperz and his supporters as well as the early
Dilthey speak quite similarly in this regard. Essentially, it always
comes down in the end to the fact that one thinks this condens-
ing as a compression of countless particles. This, of course,
should only be seen as an image that imposes itself through the
influence of Galilean mechanics.
However, if we put ourselves into the culture of the fifth cen-
tury before Christ, the picture looks different. It seems obvious to
me, for example, that in Anaximenes it is a question of attribut-
ing becoming, with all its different appearances, to the same sub-
stratum. What is crucial is thus flexibility or changeability. From
an Aristotelian perspective this means that here, of course, the
origin of motion is still not at all developed. Air is simply mov-
able and cannot exist in the condition of rest. Aristotle himself
says that element of earth is entirely absent in the Milesians
because earth lacks flexibility. In these earliest theories, therefore,
the problem of the material cause does not come into considera-
tion at all, or at least not primarily; here, rather, the question is
the problem of motion's origin. Thus it seems to me completely
78 The Beginning of Philosophy
misguided to maintain, following Aristotle, that first water and
then air were proposed as principles and that they were each pro-
posed in the sense of a material substance. No, here, we are deal-
ing with something else, namely, the changeability of things and
not elements. This was also the decisive point with Anaximander,
only that his cosmogony looks suspiciously similar to that of
Anaxagoras, which for me is the reason [for thinking] that it has
perhaps has been mixed in with Aristotle. In the end, Anaximan-
der even falls into complete oblivion, while Anaxagoras is spoken
of extensively. With this we have a further example of what I have
already brought to light, namely, that we usually get to know the
philosophy of the earliest thinkers through the figure of a thinker
from Socrates' time. In this case, it is the figure of Anaxagoras.
We observe the same problem with regard to Thales. In the
Metaphysics, Aristotle says with subtle reservation that the thesis
put forward by Thales, namely, that water is the originary element,
follows from die observation that there is no life without moisture.
This does not correspond to the sixth-century cosmological-
cosmogonic way of thinking. This time period would be more
likely to maintain that other assertion by Aristotle, the one that
concluded that water was valid as the originary element because
a log always stays at the surface and is carried by water. Obvi-
ously, this observation is entirely in accord with Greek argu-
mentation and has nothing to with the telling of myths. Actual-
ly, that the **fundamentality"of water should be demonstrated
the fact that the log climbs again and again to the surface
whenever one tries to submerge it is an extraordinary observa-
tion. This argument appears plausible to me. Perhaps it is the
only one that really corresponds to Milesian thinking. The other
one, which accepts water as the principle of life, presupposes a
development of biology and medicine that had not yet taken
hold at the time of the Thales cosmology and that only pushes
[its way] into consciousness in the fifth century. Thus the con-
clusion is that there may be a superimposition on the part of the
fifth century present in this case as well, specifically on the part
of Diogenes of Apollonia, as follows from the investigations by
4. The logic of the German here appears to have been inverted from
what was originally intended. The German reads more literally as follows:
"In fact, in that the 'fundamentality' of water should prove that [beweisen
soil, dafi] the log climbs again and again to the surface whenever one tries to
submerge it is an extraordinary observation."
Aristotle's Doxographical Approach 79
John Burnet and Andre Laks.
This is another instance, as I see
it, in which the doxography of the Presocratic theme is strongly
stamped by the fourth century, and the doxographer here is no
less than Aristotle himself. Of course, these are not conscious fal-
sifications by Aristotle; rather, it comes down to the fact that the
precision of the information and the variations between this and
that philosopher had no particularly great significance for Aris-
totle since he was more interested in the problems themselves.
And if we study the Presocratics as philosophers on the basis of
the writings of Aristotle, we must refer to Aristotle's interests
rather than believing, in accordance with the desires of modern
historical research, that here we have a fragmentary tradition to
decipher and appraise historically.
Now I would like to call attention once again to the reasons
why the texts of Plato and Aristotle are reviewed again and again.
We must begin from the fact that a gap exists between the inten-
tion and the conceptual apparatus. This has been the starting
point for the manner in which I have treated Plato and Aristotle.
Both of them are well acquainted with the distinction between
intention and conceptual work. This is also the reason why in the
Sophist the theories of the Presocratics are smiled at like myths;
they do not quite succeed in adequately clarifying the concept of
that which is that Parmenides introduced. In Aristotle, the con-
cept of hyle (wood, forest) seemed to be crucial for the formation
of such a concept of what is precisely because wood was such a
generally available raw material. It turns out once again that this
concept belongs less to nature than to the world of techne. This
is probably die reason Aristotle uses the more precise expression
"hypokeimenon" in order to gain a grasp of the object of the
investigation—that is, a grasp of becoming in nature: insofar as
there is change, there must be a substratum of this change, but in
nature it may not be "material."
Basically, our discussion is trying to show that we are stand-
ing here at the origin of doxography. Yet, at the same time, this
origin is a distortion of the true intentions of the first thinkers of
the West. For example, when Aristotle begins to speak in the
Metaphysics of the first conception of cause and says that Thales
5. See Burnet's The Greek Philosophers, revised ed. (London, 1982)
and Early Greek Philosophy, 4th ed. (London, 1930) and Laks' Diogene d'
Apollonie (Lille, 1983).
80 The Beginning of Philosophy
proposed this and that Thales was the first thinker who did not
simply recount myths but also made use of evidence, then we
must understand that by 'cause' he meant matter. Subsequent
doxography was deeply influenced by this interpretive approach.
Water, then, essentially signifies a material element, and the same
also happens with some violence to theapeiron of Anaximander
and then to the air of Anaximenes. In this way, the image of a
"school" is developed around a common theme standing in the
center, and, as we know, from this image later emerges the embar-
rassment that Anaximenes' air appears to be a setback in com-
parison with the indeterminate of Anaximander (which cannot
possibly be a material!), even though by the "school" of Miletus
most people mean the people around Anaximenes. All of this is
apparently a consequence of the concepts that Aristotle must
introduce in order to overcome the mathematical and mythical
view of the Timaeus. But at the same time it is dear that Aristo-
tle is not convincing here, and this is why I have begun with the
Physics, in which the Milesians are depicted in a completely dif-
ferent way: there, Anaximander is situated quite differently in
relation to Thales and Anaximenes, such that they can both be
conceived of as expounding the ideas of the condensing, the flex-
ibility, and the changing of things.
Even in Plato we clearly observed the lack of a conceptuality
appropriate to his intentions. We have seen what pains Plato
takes in this respect to reach purely formal and logical concepts
like sameness/difference from the conceptual pair of rest/motion.
This is not, of course, meant to be a criticism. After making the
formalism of the fourfold Aristotelian conception of cause one's
own, one is inclined to judge Plato's endeavors as incomplete. No,
the problem is a different one. It is a question of gleaning the
attainments of ancient knowledge and the power of its imagina-
tion from the use of concepts. We have a similar example [today].
An advance in the philosophy of our own century is the insight
into the preschematization [involved] in the use of phenomeno-
logical concepts and their horizons of meaning. When Heidegger
analyzes the concept of consciousness, for example, he makes
clear that the use of that concept presupposes being as presence-
Now it is clear that a philosophical tradition begins to
enter into the conversation here as soon as the concepts it
6. Vorhandenheit
Aristotle's Doxographical Approach 81
employs are no longer taken up as something self-evident, if the
exertion of thinking is directed toward bringing to speech die dis-
cernable implications of conventional concept usage.
This is precisely what happens when Aristotle situates his
critical position over against Plato's mathematical-Pythagorean
cosmology. The doctrine of the four causes, as I have already said,
is, above all else, the conceptual basis of Aristotle's Physics as it
develops. This permits him to reject the myth told in the Timaeus
and to overcome the mathematical conception of physis. By con-
trast, the Aristotelian concept of the causes allows the world of
what is handcrafted to step into the foreground.
The salient point of this doctrine remains the concept of the
material cause. The Greek word is "hyle"—that is to say, forest
or wood—an expression that loudly proclaims its descent from
the world of the craftsperson, while many corresponding Latin
concepts came from the world of the farmer. What is important
about the material cause as such? For the craftsperson, matter is
obviously not the substance of his action but only its sine qua
non. The material is indispensable, yet it is completely dependent
on the choice and execution of the plan. In any case, the matter
does not acquire the design on its own. When Aristotle first
speaks of nature, he must state expressly that it is something that
contains the beginning of its movement, that is, the principle of
its development, in itself. Matter, on the other hand, in no way
contains its development in itself; indeed one can define it direct-
ly as that which does not possess this quality. "If one sticks a
piece of wood into the ground," says the Sophist, Antiphon, "no
tree grows from it," and Aristotle quotes him approvingly. The
first thing that we must comprehend is thus that matter has no
autonomous function and is something completely different from
nature. Certainly, it is a something, it is ousia pos, in a certain
sense a thing that exists.
In another sense, however, it is some-
thing that does not exist.
That is, if we understand matter to be
something determinate—like, for example, the paper on which I
write—then this "material" is already more than matter. It is
quadrilateral, white, and so on; that is, it is itself already a prod-
uct because it has a form and a purpose and is available for use.
In a certain sense, matter does not exist; it does not exist, that is,
7. einSeiendes
8. etwas Nichtseiendes
82 The Beginning of Philosophy
if "existing" means "being" as in "being here."
If I point to
something as material, I certainly do not mean it as matter but
already as something shaped, structured, a product of techne. But
then, how is it with nature, if, like Aristotle, we exclude the work
of a creator? As Aristotelian science was transformed at the
beginning of modern science, in order to bring the technical tone
of the matter concept closer to "nature" the concept of matter in
the Presocratics came to be expressed with the help of hylozoism.
But even this concept is little more than a metaphor that cannot
solve the problem of the essence of nature in the form in which
this problem is posed by Aristotle's Physics. It is obvious that
matter is not what distinguishes nature. The crucial thing is the
principle of motion, the hothen he kinesis. Granted, Aristotle
emphasizes the fact that matter is indispensable. This emphasis
follows from the fact that he is an opponent of Pythagorean-
Platonic mathematism. In order to defend his own point of view,
he must lean on the material cause. The problem arises as soon as
it becomes necessary to determine conceptually which proper
function the material cause fulfills in reality. The answer that
Aristotle finds [however] has a certain ambiguity within Aris-
totelian philosophy. This expression, "hypokeimenon," is some-
thing "nameless" that forms the substratum of all qualitative
alteration, but it can also mean the subject of the sentence. The
meaning of "hypokeimenon" is purely functional: the underlying,
the substrate. The word "substantia" is nothing other than the
categorial and grammatical translation of this word into Latin.
9. Hiersein
Ionic Thinking in
Aristotle's Physics
A ristotelian terminology can already be distinguished in Plato.
x\Toward the beginning of the Philebus, Socrates—in fact, an
extremely mature Socrates—says that there are four kinds of
things: the first is the unlimited, the second is limit, the third is the
limited, and the fourth is mind,
which accomplishes the limiting.
This connects with the Pythagorean tradition, that is, to the rela-
tionship that obtains between theapeiron (the undetermined, the
unlimited) and the peras (the limit). Thus number is what elimi-
nates unlimitedness and therefore constitutes the essence of things
through die knowledge of number. But for the Pythagoreans
number becomes being itself. In the things themselves,
Plato sees
a third thing, the real, and this is the third kind. Above all else,
Plato speaks of a fourth cause: mind, which brings about this lim-
itation. With both of these, we have gone beyond the Pythagore-
an tradition. Precisely by further differentiating this tradition,
Plato gives to wows, to die intellectual,
its true essence, which
produces the synthesis between the unlimited and the limit.
As I see it, the difference between Plato's standpoint and Aris-
totle's position is therefore clear: Aristotle sees the substratum of
change in the hyle, Plato sees it in the indeterminate, in the more
or the less (mallon kai hetton), or even in the large and the small
1. Geist: nous in die Greek.
2. in der Sache selbst
3. dem Geistigen
84 The Beginning of Philosophy
(mega kai mikron), therefore in a mathematically, that is to say,
an idealistically conceived substratum that eventually becomes
something through number. Of course, Plato is aware of the fact
that the problem consists in explaining the transition that leads
from the indeterminate to the determination of the things of
nature, that is, to physis. Thus he comes to distinguish wows,
mind, which accomplishes the determination in that it unifies the
unlimited with the limit as a particular kind. This is the fourth
factor that is necessary in order to overcome the strictly numeri-
cal scheme of the Pythagoreans.
Yet in this respect, in Aristotle's eyes the demiurge is nothing
more than a meaningless metaphor, a poetic image of Plato's that
suggests a mind dominating reality. But the concept is missing. So
he asks how concrete, determinate being comes to be in nature.
This is the problem of the origin, of haplei genesis. With this,
since all becoming presupposes something that was previously
not there, the question of the possibility of becoming arises. If
becoming must be explained without recourse to a mythical
craftsperson, the question poses itself as to how this is legiti-
mately possible without thinking the unthinkable nothing. To this
question, Aristotle responds that there could not be nothing.
This is an interesting point. Here Aristotle apparently consid-
ers the Eleatic argument that rejects every use of the nothing (me
on) in that he introduces his own concepts, which are more
appropriate for natural beings,
for which motion is suitable as a
distinguishing characteristic. Aristotle employs for this the term
"deprivation" (steresis), privation. This means, for example, that
the transition from cold to warm is thus explained by the fact that
one grasps the cold as a lack of the warm and not as something
that an authoritative external action must accomplish, like, for
instance, the craftsperson who takes the material and endows it
with a new form. The concept of steresis is the Aristotelian solu-
tion to the problemof genesis. With this concept, as we know, the
concepts of dynamis and energeia come into play, that is, the con-
cepts of potential and actual being. These concepts are found not
only in theMetaphysics but also in the sixth and eighth chapters
of the Physics and elsewhere in the early writings. In this way,
Aristotle gains the possibility of solving the contradiction inher-
ent in the concept of motion and thus getting at the dialectical
4. das naturlicbe Seiende
Ionic Thinking in Aristotle's Physics 85
problem of the unity of rest and motion that we already found in
the Sophist. Already in Plato, dynamis opens a new ontological
perspective: a concept of what is that does not grasp this as some-
thing present—as static and permanent givenness—but as some-
thing that is motion and leads to motion. In the Aristotelian con-
ceptual pair of dynamis and entelecheia, being and motion no
longer stand in opposition to one another.
All of this means that Aristotle takes up certain standpoints
with regard to the explanation of the concrete and the contingent,
standpoints that constitute a conscious opposition to the
Pythagorean approach and its mythical aberrations, and he there-
by presents an opposition to Plato's divine craftsperson. This
view of physis in Aristotle points toward his "doxography." It
also explains the inconsistency of the tradition according to
which Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes stand in such an
illogical sequence. In Aristotle, there is no such sequence among
them. As Aristotle himself says, Anaximander's theory can only
be associated with those who take the separating of what is mixed
as a basis. Because the conceptual pairing of "separating/the
mixed" is a different one from the pairing, "condensing/dissolv-
ing," we can conclude that Anaximander, according to Aristotle
in the Physics, cannot be associated with the same group as
Anaximenes. It is obvious, therefore, that Aristotle acts quite
summarily in the Metaphysics when he classifies all three Mile-
sians together under the fundamental idea of the material cause
and thereby distorts Anaximander's position in particular. This is
why it is necessary to ask ourselves what Aristotle really thought
about the lonians.
In regard to Thales, I have already explained that the mater-
ial cause was not his real problem. As the Phaedo confirms, the
problem for Thales, according to Aristotle, consists in the fact
that the whole rests upon water like the piece of wood that comes
to the surface again and again when one pushes it under. We refer
to this whole with an extremely subtle expression that is indica-
tive of something unitary and oriented toward unity: the "uni-
verse." This is apparently the only information about Thales that
Aristotle really possessed, which is also confirmed by the fact that
the view ascribed to Thales—that water is the originary element
since it represents the nourishment of living beings—is expressly
characterized in the text only as a supposition. In reality, this is
more of a fourth-century opinion that derives from Diogenes of
86 The Beginning of Philosophy
Apollonia. In truth, the Aristotelian sources themselves testify to
only a single theme from Thales, namely, the question regarding
the way in which the universe rests on water.
But how do things stand with Anaximander? Let us first deal
with the famous epigram to which Heidegger, as we know, dedi-
cated an extremely profound essay but which has also been very
carefully analyzed by classical philology with highly interesting
results. I mean the following famous passage, which is quoted by
Simplicius: archen eireche ton onton to apeiron (Physics 24,13^.
Here, of course, the word "arche" means nothing more than
"beginning" in the temporal sense. It would be an anachronism if
one wanted to interpret Anaximander as though he had intended
the metaphysical meaning of a "principle" from which something
is derived. If "arche" refers to apeiron, the meaning is clear: "The
unlimited is at the beginning of the whole." Here, I would like to
recall that Werner Jaeger discusses the infinity chapter of Aristo-
tle's Physics in an excellent footnote of his Theology of the Early
Greek Thinkers. The correct path is taken there, a path that I
myself likewise walk in that I proceed from the Aristotelian con-
cepts of the Physics.
The text continues: ex hdn de he genesis esti tots oust, kai ten
phthoran eis tauta ginesthai kata to chreon. This, too, is a well-
known formulation: "There, where existing things have their origin,
their becoming, there passing away also takes place." "Phthora" is
a very suggestive expression for this, which I could also render as
"dissolution." Again and again I place great value on these ques-
tions of lexical significance because in them we have the life of
philosophy: we speak with the help of words, and in order to be
understood as expressions of thought the words must be grasped
in terms of both their original meanings and their respective con-
texts. So this means here that, of necessity, the dissolution always
follows: didonai gar auta diken kai tisin allelois tes adikias kata
ten tou chronou taxin. I remind you once again of the interpreta-
tion of this famous saying, stemming from Schopenhauer and
based the Upanishads, that Nietzsche formulates in his treatise on
Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. At that time it was
read as: "Existing things
pay the price for the offense that they
committed by breaking away from the whole and becoming indi-
viduals." This interpretation, however, cannot be maintained
5. Die seienden Dinge
Ionic Thinking in Aristotle's Physics 87
because meanwhile the word [for] "each other" ("allelois") has
been found in the text as recorded by Simplicius. This means that
existing things suffer the penalty and produce atonement for each
other. It is no wonder that the older interpretation was support-
ed by a text in which the word "each other" is missing. The truth
is—and this is particularly valid since the restoration of the text—
that the meaning of the passage handed down by Simplicius is a
completely different one and definitely has nothing to do with the
"Buddhism" upon which Schopenhauer's metaphysics is based.
Provided we do not delete the term "each other" but pay proper
attention to it, we realize that it refers to oppositions (enantia),
hence to the opposites and their reciprocal relationship. But then
Anaximander's formulation amounts to nothing more than bal-
ance, the permanent equilibrium that exists in the universe, and
to the fact that each prevailing tendency is always superseded
again by an opposite tendency. Consequently, the purpose of
Anaximander's aphorism is obviously to express the natural bal-
ance between phenomena. Heidegger's essay can likewise be stud-
ied profitably in light of this textual emendation.
One last point about this text: it has also been proposed that
the words kata ten tou chronou toxin ("in accordance with the
temporal order") are an interpretive addition by Simplicius. This
thesis, originating with Franz Dirlmeier, seems plausible to me,
and for this reason I do not find entirely convincing Jaeger's sup-
position that Anaximander has borrowed from the Ionic polls
and its order the image of Time enthroned on his chair as a judge
who lays down penalties. There is indeed nothing of this in Anax-
imander. It is merely an added interpretation, albeit an interpre-
tation that comes from someone whose interpretation is always
worth considering. This interpreter knows that the myth about
the bursting of the cosmic egg stands at the origin of Anaximan-
der's cosmogony. This also justifies the Aristotelian intuition
according to which Anaximander's view is not based on the idea
of condensing/rarefying enunciated by Thales and Anaximenes,
but rather on the separation of the mixed.
That Thales and Anaximenes may be construed as similar
should be clear. Water and air really are subject to the changes in
density and composition. But that Anaximander should have his
place between the water and the air and in such a way that
6. verdrangt
88 The Beginning of Philosophy
Anaximenes appears as a step backwards in relation to Anaxi-
mander is totally absurd. Indeed, the fact that Anaximenes was
considered to be the head of the school also speaks against this.
Aristotle speaks of hoi peri Anaximenen. It is Anaximenes who is
regarded as representative of the Milesian thinkers. Accordingly,
it is out of the question that Anaximenes should not have com-
prehended the depth of the concept of the indeterminate, the ape-
iron, which Anaximander coined. In truth, the whole difficulty
stems from a misunderstanding of the word "apeiron," which
must have another meaning here besides that of indeterminate
substance. Moreover, as I see it, the interpreter who added the
words kata ten ton chronou taxin had recognized this. He prob-
ably realized, similarly to Anaximander, that a periodic motion
continues without limit and without end. The apeiron is actually
that which has neither beginning nor end, in that it comes back
into itself again and again like a loop. This is the miracle of being:
the motion that regulates itself constantly and progressively into
the infinite. This, it would seem, is the true beginning of existing
things. Heidegger has established precisely this decisive point,
namely, the idea that temporality is the key characteristic of that
which is. But can this view of the periodicity of being be brought
into harmony with the word "apeiron"? This problem solves
itself if we understand the opening words—archen ton onton to
apeiron—as, in a certain sense, a paradoxical formulation what
may certainly not be taken literally. But this is precisely what has
been done by the doxography that considers that, since the arche
must either be something finite or something infinite, it is plausi-
ble to understand Anaximander's apeiron as infinite substance.
Formulated schematically and a little provocatively, I would like
to suggest that, for existing things, the beginning consists in the
fact that they have no beginning because what exists preserves
itself in its continual periodicity.
Admittedly, we know that this line of reasoning is not car-
ried out in Anaximander. But the view according to which the
universe is a balanced self-turning necessarily raises the ques-
tion of what actually preceded this perpetual balance of things.
There is an answer to this. It lies in the new cosmogonic mythos
that is being told at this time. It is the myth of the bursting of
the cosmic egg. Through recent research, we have proven that
the cosmogonic myths of the East stand behind this view, espe-
cially the myths of the Hittites and the Sumerians. As we know,
Ionic Thinking in Aristotle's Physics 89
a confrontation has also arisen over the question of how far
these cosmogonies extend: does Anaximander have in mind a
cosmogony in the sense that it always periodically repeats itself,
such that multiple universes hatch from cosmic eggs? Certainly,
the multiplicity of universes is asserted. But along with this, we
would be accepting the fact that Anaximander is superimposed
on Empedocles as well as Democritus. In their century, it is
indeed possible to abstract from sense perception to such an
extent that one reaches the assumption that periodicity means a
new formation of a cosmos each time a new order is brought
about through the bursting, the determination, and the struc-
turing of all things, and then in each case a process of dissolu-
tion and a new bursting follows upon all this. Such an interpre-
tation does not accord with the explanation that, in my own
view and those advocated by other authors, corresponds to the
testimonies about Anaximander. For, after all, our attention
should be directed to the reciprocal equilibrium of the various
existing things in the one universe. After evidence was produced
that the language used by Anaximander expresses no mystic
religiosity of a Buddhistic sort according to which individual-
ization is regarded as an offense that must be expiated by a
penalty, Werner Jaeger, in particular, showed that Anaximan-
der's language is the language of the city-state, the language of
the law that holds sway in the city, and that we are dealing here
with the social and political balance of the city. Even though, as
I have already said, I would not like to go as far as Jaeger,
according to whom Anaximander supposes the image of Time
to be a judge enthroned on his chair, it is nevertheless clear to
me that Anaximander's language goes back to political lan-
guage, to the language of the city-state with its order and its
institutions. But for precisely this reason I consider it unlikely
that one can ascribe to Anaximander the idea of the multiplici-
ty of universes. It is much more plausible that a later superim-
position occurred, similar to the one that is responsible for the
idea of moisture being Thales* concept of the originary element
when, in fact, it originates from a superimposition by Diogenes
of Apollonia and his contemporaries.
With regard to Anaximenes, I would like to restrict myself to
the remark that he is the first one whose method has been irrev-
ocably handed down as what passed at that time for a "proof."
Think, for instance, of the "proof* for the condensation of
90 The Beginning of Philosophy
being—that, because of compression and condensation, when
one's mouth is closed the air is cold, and, because of rarefaction,
when one's mouth open it is warm. We may smile at the naivete
of this "proof," yet its importance lies in the fact that it wants to
produce a proof, albeit an extremely ridiculous one, that is found-
ed on the observation of things, a procedure that may have been
typical of the thinkers of that time.
In conclusion, the following result can be formulated: among
the three names that are passed on to us as members of the so-
called school of Miletus, there is an obvious commonality of ori-
entation. The same problem poses itself in each case—in Thales
with water, in Anaximander with the periodicity of the universe,
and in Anaximenes with air—all of which we can formulate by
resorting to the conceptuality developed in Aristotle's Physics,
for which we employ the concept of physis. What is new about
what these thinkers bring to light is precisely this: it has to do
with the problem of physis, with something that endures in
becoming and in the multiplicity of appearances. What lends
these thinkers unity and what causes them to appear as the first
stage of Greek thinking is their willingness to separate them-
selves from mythos and to express the thought of an observable
reality that carries itself and orders itself in itself. This attempt
can be described aptly within the framework of the conceptuali-
ty of Aristotle's Physics.
My viewpoint can be corroborated further by evidence drawn
from the elegies of Xenophanes. Xenophanes was, as you know, a
rhapsode who, just as Pythagoras had, emigrated from Asia
Minor to southern Italy after the Persian occupation of his home.
This was an exceedingly important event, the beginning of a new
chapter in Western thinking. Xenophanes has left us an extreme-
ly fascinating trail. Certainly, he was no thinker, and he was also
not the founder of the Eleatic school, which apparently did not
even exist. The Eleatic school is probably the invention of a later,
school-happy age. In the eyes of schoolmasters everything
becomes a school. But the enormous importance of Xenophanes
now lies precisely in the fact that he was something entirely dif-
ferent. He was a rhapsode, an elocutionist who was trained to
recite the great epic poetry. His own elegies have been praised
because, instead of telling us about titans, giants, and centaurs,
they deal with virtues, and he expressly puts forward as improper
the singing of athletic achievements and victories in competition.
Ionic Thinking in Aristotle's Physics 91
The highest things are of a different kind—namely, education and
knowledge—and these alone should be honored and celebrated.
This is a testimony of extraordinary value, even if here we do not
hear the voice of the philosopher but rather that of the rhapsode.
But there are also some aphorisms by Xenophanes that are of
philosophical interest, like, for instance, fragments 23 to 28 of the
Diels/Kranz edition. The following sentence stands at the begin-
ning of these fragments: eis theos, en te theoisi kai anthopoisi
megistos, outi demos thnetoisin homoiios oude noema, which
means roughly: "Lone god, the greatest among the gods and peo-
ple, similar to mortals neither in form nor in insight." (Here one
could criticize the fact that the formulation "Lone god, the great-
est among the gods and people" contains a contradiction. But
whoever said this was meant to be a logical treatise?) What is
really going on with this lone god? We find the answer in the fol-
lowing fragments: all' apaneuthe ponoio noou phreni panta
kradainei ("with the help of his nous he rules the whole"), and
aiei d' en tautoi mimnei kinoumenos ouden ("always he remains
in the same place without moving"). This last distinct sentence
has come to be of momentous importance, for Xenophanes has
been put forward as the founder of the Eleatic school because of
it, since, by positing the One as the unmoved, he denies motion.
Against this, I take it to be obvious that these lines allude to the
same problem that the Milesians also debated: it is the whole, the
universe, that carries itself and corresponds to the globe swim-
ming on water, or the periodicity of the world, or the air
described by Anaximander that endures alternating condensation
and rarefaction. With this, everything becomes clear. The lone
god, the new god, is what we call the universe. This is the only
thing that exists. For the Greeks, "god" is a predicate.
But who adopted this new point of view; who was it who
really taught the universe that rests in itself motionlessly? That, of
course, was Parmenides. His poem is a splendid answer to the
questions raised by the Milesians. This is the logic of the things
that we are discussing here, not the logic according to which
water comes first, then the indeterminate, and, finally, air. None
of this concerns us; for us it is rather a question of what lies
behind this, the manner in which a view of reality is brought for-
ward in its totality. Incidentally, this, as we have already seen, is
the same thematic with which Socrates will occupy himself in the
Phaedo, where he expresses his dissatisfaction with tales peri
92 The Beginning of Philosophy
physeos ("about nature"). This is also just how it is with our
interest in Anaximander's cosmogony, in which the main thing
for us is to try painstakingly to find an order that lies within
things. The bursting originary egg has the same meaning as
Plato's later remarks: the order of things presupposes a mind that
supports reality and orders things. This involves a typical and
continually recurring problem. We come upon it even in the con-
text of Christian culture, when the question is posed of what God
did before Creation. This question is discussed by Augustine in
the tenth book of The Confessions (and Luther proposed the
answer that God went into the forest in order to cut himself a rod
with which he could thrash those who raise such questions). If a
thinker is striving to understand this "new mythology," which
takes the place of the mythology of the epic tradition, he must
apparently ask himself how it is even possible to think the origin
of a nature that is understood as bearing the whole in itself. How
is this question to be answered? With the help of a new mytholo-
gy, a cosmogony, an originary egg, or a mystical description? All
such answers are no longer satisfactory for those who think in the
concepts of reason. The answer, therefore, runs as follows: there
is no originating, no motion, no change. Thus we have arrived at
the theory of what is that is formulated in Parmenides' poem. It
was an answer to the problem that unfolded as a scientific
approach supplanted the mythical tradition as well as the gods of
Mount Olympus, who, like Hermes, for instance, were always
involved in worldly affairs. The first, true, one god does not move
but rather rests in himself because he is none other than the uni-
verse and is the predicate that the universe deserves.
With this, we come to Parmenides' poem, the single coherent
philosophical text that has come to us stemming from the time of
the beginning of Western thinking. Admittedly, only a small part
of a whole is preserved, a whole which we do not know in its
complete form. Nevertheless we can conceive of a whole on the
basis of what has been handed down—that is, on the basis of the
nearly complete first part and some later pieces. As we will see,
the problem of this whole lies directly in the compatibility of the
two parts. For in the first part "what is" is regarded as something
motionless, while a view of the processuality of nature is con-
veyed in the second part.
In order to conclude what I have said up to this point, I need
to add a clarification. In my approach to these themes, I
Ionic Thinking in Aristotle's Physics 93
dispensed with differentiating where there are no philosophical-
ly significant differences. Accordingly, I did not differentiate
among the three lonians, but I did indeed between the lonians
and the Eleatics, for example. Therefore, I also did not dwell on
Heraclitus, who, with regard to this new view of the universe,
undoubtedly advocates a similar position to that of Parmenides.
For example, there is evidence that Heraclitus criticizes poly-
mathy, hence the superfluous pronouncements about many
things that he admonishes, for instance, in Homer and Hesiod,
in Pythagoras, and other authors. Heraclitus refers to them col-
lectively as the authors who have not grasped things correctly.
This is also an answer to the question raised by the development
of the new view of the universe. Heraclitus and Parmenides
advocate the same position thus far. Moreover, it has not been
established whether they were contemporaries or if Heraclitus
was possibly a little older; yet as I see it, there can be no doubt
that they fulfilled the same function within the framework of the
development of early Greek thinking. And if they actually ful-
filled the same function, it is not particularly astute to quarrel
about the supposed relationship between them. Perhaps they
knew nothing at all of each other. All in all, the Aristotelian and
Hegelian schema adopted by nineteenth-century historicism
according to which Parmenides is regarded as a critic of Hera-
clitus, as well as the counter-schema that has arisen in our own
century, function in the end like a useless game. What is really
important is to understand that both Parmenides and Heraclitus
answer the same philosophical challenge that had taken shape—
albeit in different ways—in Greek poetry and tradition.
Parmenides and the
Opinions of the Mortals
e left off at the following point: with regard to the history
of the Presocratics, Parmenides' poem is the first original
text that is available to us. And this history is the theme of our
As we said at outset, the great epic tradition dating from
Homer and Hesiod, despite its mythical and narrative form, also,
of course, has philosophical value. It is no accident that Eleatic
philosophy—and it is not alone in this—makes use of the Homer-
ic hexameter to formulate its arguments. That a close connection
can exist between the epic religious view and conceptual thinking
goes without saying. We first reach a caesura between them with
Plato, particularly when he puts forward as an especially charac-
teristic feature of his predecessors the fact that they told fairy-
tales. (We have seen this in our consideration of the Theatetus as
well as the Sophist.) From this point on, thinking sets out on the
path to the logoi, to reasoning, and to the dialectic. With Platonic
and Aristotelian philosophy a new path toward the truth is taken.
We already come upon the rudiments of this kind of concep-
tuality in the work of Parmenides, albeit in poetic form. One
complete part of his poem (about sixty lines) has been handed
down, while only a few fragments of the other part have come to
us. One explanation for this, among others, is the influence exert-
ed by Plato and Aristotle. In the first place, it is thanks to Plato's
interest in the first part of the poem that it received its enduring
importance. Fortunately, this influence has not been strong
Parmenides and the Opinions of the Mortals 95
enough to cause us to lose the Proem of the didactic poem. So we
have an intact whole of this first part of the lost whole.
Before we move on to the interpretation of this piece, it is
appropriate to point out that the text is written in the style of
the epic tradition originating from Homer. This means that this
is not a book by a teacher who wants to debate another teacher
polemically. A polemic intent would not be very effective in the
epic style. In the historical presentations of the Presocratics, it
has nevertheless been generally accepted that a critical discus-
sion is carried out between the proponents of becoming, on the
one hand, and the advocates of stability, on the other. Certain-
ly, something like this is actually present there, but not, in my
opinion, in the form of a polemical debate between Heraclitus
and Parmenides. Ever since historicism and the philological
works of the nineteenth century, the sixth fragment (according
to the Diels/Kranz numbering) has always been interpreted as
evidence of this alleged polemic. Here one supposed Heraclitus
to be the addressee of the Parmenidean criticism, the one who
contradictorily equates being with non-being. As have I said,
however, if one takes the epic style of the whole into account,
this interpretation is, in my judgment, untenable. In this con-
nection, it suffices to recall the fact that the supposed cohort
against whom Parmenides* polemic is presumed to be directed
is referred to by the words "doxai broton" ("opinions of the
mortals'*), which are used in the poem several times. The term
"brotoi" ("the mortals**) is not a word [appropriate to] a criti-
cal confrontation with Heraclitus. It is used in epic poetry as
synonym for "human beings** in general so as to point out the
common lot of us all—in contrast to the immortals. It is obvi-
ous, therefore, that this is not the form in which one can intro-
duce a critical discussion with a great thinker. Rather, it is clear
that when "doxai brotdn" is mentioned in the sixth fragment
the common views of the people are meant—and not the teach-
ings of the wise man from Ephesus. In its time, historicism left
the poetic value of the Parmenidean text entirely out of consid-
eration. It is strange that this could happen again and again—
that, even in Diels, the sequence runs, "first Heraclitus, then
Parmenides.** In reality, the two were presumably contempo-
raries, and when one presents them in this order then it is
already on the basis of the assumption that Parmenides had
directed his criticism against Heraclitus.
96 The Beginning of Philosophy
But now we need to go into the text itself, which I cite here
according to the Diels/Kranz edition, from which I begin with the
Proem. This is obviously written according to the model of the
Proem of Hesiod's Theogony. At the beginning of the Theogony
(22-28), the muses appear to Hesiod: Hesiod is at the foot of the
Helicon grazing his sheep. This is the world of his everyday life.
There the muses announce to him his mission as singer of the
things that have been and the things that will be, of the great fam-
ily of the gods and heroes.
We should notice that the muses say they have many truths
to teach but also much that is false. This duality of the true and
the false is extremely important, and, as will become clear to us
later, it comes to be decisive for our interpretation of the Par-
menidean poem. Incidentally, the same doubleness also occurs in
Plato, when he says, for example, that even the fastest athlete
can be defeated in the race. There, it is an ironic formulation for
the intertwining of truth and error in intellectual action, and this
even has its support, for instance, in Aristotle's Physics and in De
anima. Objection and refutation were used even in the discus-
sions of Catholic doctrine conducted in the Middle Ages in
order, ultimately, to reach an understanding and a confirmation
of the thesis with respondeo dicendum.
This intertwining of the
true and the false also occurs in Parmenides' poem, except that,
like in Hesiod, it is also expressed here in poetic form.
since Karl Joel, perhaps even under the influence of the interest
in Orphism that came to light with Nietzsche and his contempo-
raries, the value of the poetic has remained practically unheeded
in the framework of the culture of the late nineteenth century,
while the mythical-religious aspect was also underestimated. It
does not follow at all, however, that the form in which the new
view of the motionlessness and immutability of being proclaims
itself is connected with religion. Rather, it is a typically logical
argument that being could not be non-being. Moreover, some-
thing similar was already involved in the reaction (which I pre-
viously pointed out) of a rhapsode like Xenophanes to the new
1. In the Sunttna Theologica, Aquinas proposes a series of possible
objections to each article or thesis that he puts forward. He then introduces
his refutation of these objections with the phrase "Respondeo. Dicendum
quod..."—literally, "I respond. Saying that...." Most translators, how-
ever, elide the phrase and render it simply as "I answer that... .*
2. The syntax of this sentence is slightly modified from the German.
Parmenides and the Opinions of the Mortals 97
theories of nature. In addition to this, if we presuppose a uni-
verse in balance with itself in virtue of either being carried by
water or being ordered in accordance with a regular periodicity,
as the case may be, we encounter the following problem: how is
it possible to describe or rather to think this universe without at
the same time raising the question of how the universe originat-
ed and what was there before it? This is a problem that has occu-
pied human thinking to this day.
Let us come back to the text, however. As we know, the Proem
describes the poet's journey on a wagon. The daughters of the sun
accompany the narrator and lead him on his way. In the end, we
reach a gate and the maidens remove the veils from their heads.
This is a symbol for the light of truth into which they are now
entering. Here stands a gate, a mighty gate that is described in
detail. The elaborate description (to which Hermann Diels has
devoted an extensive commentary) is again connected to the refined
literary technique that distinguishes this text. But the details of this
interpretation are controversial. According to Simon Karsten, who
likewise published a Parmenides edition, the journey is described
first in the Proem, then the departure, and, finally, the arrival. This
construction seems all too artificial to me. The departure does not
actually occur at all. The poem tells of the arrival of the wagon at
the gate, which is opened by Dike, who is fortunately persuaded to
do this by the daughters of the sun. This entrance is portrayed with
that wonderful vividness that is characteristic of this whole part of
the Proem. One thinks, for example, of the wheels of the wagon,
which rotate swiftly and squeak as they turn. These are swift
images and quick transformations that bring to mind the sudden-
ness and immediacy of inspiration. That this reflects inspiration is
also confirmed by the fact that after the salutation the goddess
announces to the poet that she wants to teach him many things. It
is extremely suggestive, however, that verbs are frequently used
here in the iterative form, that is, in a form that corresponds nei-
ther to the thought of inspiration nor that of sudden revelation, but
rather seems to indicate something repetitive, which suggests a
more pondering and reflective contemplation. The same thing is
expressed through repetition. If, in addition, the two sun-maidens
urge the poet "again and again" (therefore not just once) to step
out of the night and into the realm of the light, then we must draw
the conclusion that the Proem contains a double metaphorical
meaning. It is to be understood not only in the sense of inspiration
98 The Beginning of Philosophy
but also in the sense of die preparation for a wide road, the hodos
polyphemos of the first lines, a road upon which the traveler has
experienced much. All in all, the poet wants to give us, in extreme-
ly refined form, an understanding of what experiences he has
undergone as investigator, as knower of many things, and yet in the
end he needs something like an introduction by a goddess.
Another intensely debated problem concerns the identity of the
goddess. It is the same problem that also arises with regard to the
name of the goddess invoked in the Proem of the Iliad. For my part,
I believe I know quite well who the goddess is who speaks to the
thinker. It is Mnemosyne, the goddess of mneme. Knowledge is
based on the unifying power and the carrying-ability of memory.
Knowledge is a making available of experiences which accumulate
more and more and awaken the question of the meaning all of this
has for us. In a certain way we already know things through our
experiences, and yet we would like to know what confers meaning
on them all. Thus, for example, we attain true knowledge of the
theory of the universe erected by Milesian thinkers as soon as we
put this theory in relation to the problem it raises, and that is the
question of how the unity of the universe itself can be thought. Of
course, this problem of memory remains in the background of Par-
menides' lines, and it does not come to light in conceptual form but
only as the poetic image of the goddess who reveals truth.
Let us now talk about what it is that the goddess proclaims
she wishes to teach. She receives the visitor kindly in that she
extends her hand in reception and thus expresses greeting and
trust. This also makes us feel at home in sixth-century Greek cul-
ture. "The divine instruction will encompass everything" (chred
de se panta puthesthai), "not only the well-rounded truth, its
unwavering heart** (emen aletheies eukukleos atremes etor), but
likewise "the opinions of the mortals" (broton doxas).
We should notice right away that in the formulation "the heart
of truth" the singular is used, while the plural stands in contrast to
it: the "the opinions of the mortals." It is remarkable that the inter-
pretation of Eleatic philosophy has developed in such a way that
Parmenides himself has placed truth and doxa
in opposition to
one another. In reality, Parmenides does not speak at all of doxa but
rather of doxai,
which seems quite natural to me. The truth is but
3. opinion
4. opinions
Parmenides and the Opinions of the Mortals 99
a singular thing, while the opinions of the people are multiple.
Doxa, no doubt, was first a Platonic concept through which the
difference was marked between opinions and the one truth.
It becomes clear, therefore, that the goddess wants to teach
truth—but she also wants to teach about the opinions advocated
by mortals, opinions which do not contain the truth. The mes-
sage, however, becomes more complicated in the two subsequent
lines, and it is not by chance that the interpreters have focused
their attention on them: "One must grasp opinions in such a way
that they present themselves with their self-evident plausibility
and irrefutability." (It is unfortunate that the poetic value of the
lines gets lost in translation. The Greek text has a suggestive
sonority, even a cascade of tones: all' empes kai tauta matheseai,
bos ta dokounta chren dokimos einai dia pantos panta peronta.)
Thus the posing of the problem has to do not only with truth but
also the multiplicity of opinions. This is indirectly confirmed by
Aristotle (who, as we should not forget, knew the complete didac-
tic poem) when he says that since Parmenides wants to assert the
identity of being he certainly denies motion and becoming, yet
later he also gives in under the pressure of experiential truth and
describes the universe in its multiplicity and in its becoming.
Many a present-day interpreter behaves just as naively: Par-
menides, they say, initially denies motion and simply posits being,
but then, under the compulsion of experience, he makes room for
that which is moved. To me, this seems just as absurd as the
attempt undertaken by several other authors to solve the problem
by adopting a different reading of the text, one in which the self-
evident contradiction is made to disappear.
In truth, we are faced here with a speculative problem having
to do with the inseparability of the truth of logical thought from
experience and its plausibility, that is, a state of affairs having to
do with human nature, even lending it a certain superiority when
it knowingly makes [use of] divine help.
The development of the
human being is not fixed and is not dependent on the whole of
the naturally given conditions it is subject to. The human being
has the ability to think, to raise himself above these conditions,
and to entertain a multitude of possibilities. This is the mystery of
the openness granted to the human being, the openness for what
is possible, the idea that mortals can never simply know the one
5. wenn sie die gottliche Hilfe wissend macht
100 The Beginning of Philosophy
truth but will only find multiple possibilities instead. It seems to
me that the basis of this thematic lies in these Parmenidean lines,
where we find the inseparability of the one truth from the multi-
plicity of opinions formulated in the mouth of the goddess.
Let us now examine how the theme initiated in the Proem
develops. This development consists of a first part on truth and a
second part on opinions. Now, I would like to dwell, first of all,
on the transition from the first part to the second. For in this pas-
sage the correlation between the two aspects and the articulation
of the whole comes to light with great clarity. Lines 50 to 52 of
the eighth fragment state: "At this point, I am bringing my cogent
argumentation and my thinking about truth to its conclusion."
But now you must also grasp the opinions of the mortals (doxas
d* apo toude broteias), who explain in words how everything
forms one cosmos, one order, that can nevertheless also deceive,
and thus it need not be true but must only comply with appear-
ance. It is obvious that the formulation "doxas... broteias" here
corresponds to the expression "doxai broton" used in the Proem.
This is a conscious repetition, a frequently used technique in
Greek literature that indicates the conclusion of a thought. We
should expect the beginning of a new chapter in such a case.
This new chapter thus deals with what is persuasive among
the opinions and views concerning the universe but is not the
whole truth. The interpretation of the first lines (53ff.) is very dif-
ficult. Numerous experts have worked with them and have helped
to clarify the situation by their contributions. Before I go into
these difficulties with the help of textual analysis, I would like to
mention in advance how I understand these lines: human beings
have decided in favor of two forms of existing things and have
firmly designated them with two kinds of expressions. In doing
this, they have obviously committed a basic error, namely, sepa-
rating the two forms rather than keeping one being.
It is clear
that we have here a confrontation with the becoming of the world
[as put forward in] in Milesian philosophy. We must repeat here:
bear in mind the one saying of the Milesians that has come down
to us, namely, the Anaximander fragment, which maintains that
existing things pay penance to "each other" (allelois). You will
6. Text slightly modified from the German.
7. Text slightly modified from the German.
8. demeinenSein
Parmenides and the Opinions of the Mortals 101
recall that, proceeding from this term "each other," we have seen
that, according to Anaximander, the process of becoming is defi-
nitely not injustice removing itself from the divine whole and then
being absorbed back again into this whole, this "nirvana," of
which Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and other nineteenth-century
interpreters speak. They had a text at that time in which the cru-
cial "each other" was missing. Anaximander really means an
order of the universe in which no particular ever finally and
absolutely gains the upper hand, but rather is constantly balanced
by another particular, as, for example, the summer comes after
the winter in such a way that balance reestablishes itself. We
come upon this theme again, then, in the lines considered here, as
was already announced elsewhere by the goddess when she said
she also wanted to teach that which, in connection with nature,
presents itself in such a way that observation is enough. We have
the task, therefore, to comprehend not only the themes in Par-
menides that the lonians dealt with but also to realize that these
already well-known themes are presented in a more intellectually
conscious and better articulated form.
Let us now look at the text. Line 53 reads: morphas gar
katethento duo gnomas onomazein, "The mortals have decided to
name two forms of existing things." The theme is then invoked
further in line 54: ton mian ou chreon estin, and this is the for-
mulation that has caused the readers of this passage the greatest
interpretive difficulties. According to the conventional interpreta-
tion, the text asserts here that one of the two forms or designations
of reality is incorrect. That, however, distorts Greek usage. For if
one says in Greek "one of the two," wanting in this way to speak
of one thing in relation to another thing, one does not use the
word "mia" but the word "hetera." Consequently, this "one" is
not "one of two," but rather the unity of the thing that is the true
unity behind the two different kinds. Indeed, the first word of the
following line reads "tantia," and this is a poetic form of "ta enan-
tia? by which is meant the placing of one in opposition to anoth-
and apparently it was this that underlay the thinking of the
lonians, namely, that the oppositions (enantia) resist each other
and displace each other, and this puts directly into motion the sin-
gle unending process, a process in which the balance continually
restores itself. That is the apeiron. The two separate forms of
9. das einander Entgegengesetzte
102 The Beginning of Philosophy
which die text speaks accordingly indicate a theory of opposites
that balance themselves again and again, like, for instance, the bal-
ance between warm and cold or between light and darkness. The
first step of the new "chapter" apparently consists of the insight
that all of this is compatible with the views of the lonians, while
the second step has to do with the fact that in such an exchange of
opposites what is unthought in the nothing is still avoided. There
is no becoming and no passing away there. When light and dark-
ness replace each other—is this something separated? And does
not the being of things remain untouched by this?
The text confirms this: it is only subsequently that human
beings have distinguished opposites by signs (semata) that are sep-
arated from one another. In the text we find charts ap* allelon, and
here once again we come upon the term "each other" (alleloi),
which is already known to us from Anaximander's statement.
Now we are in a position to understand the meaning of the word;
evidently, it will assert that the opposites stand in correlation with
one another and to this extent are not really separated from each
other. And what kind of opposites do we find here in the text?
Milesian philosophy deals with the warm and the cold, the wet
and the dry, and the like. By contrast, here in line 56, on the one
side stands te men phlogos aitherion pur, "the extremely light,
ethereal fire that is completely identical and homogeneous with
itself but not with the other, to which it is not identical but oppo-
site," to d' hetero me tauton. For on the other side stands night,
die darkness, the dense and heavy gloom. Observe how superior
this is to the Milesian view. Here, the talk is of a single opposite
that is not "being" at all but rather appearance, be it light or dark-
ness. At the same time, the excellence of the light, which is por-
trayed with positive qualities and thereby distinguishes itself from
the night, stands out. Night is characterized by negative qualities.
But what does "positive" mean here vis-a-vis "negative"? In my
opinion, the answer is clear: light and darkness are "positive" and
"negative" not as realities but rather in relation to knowledge.
Light is something positive for the appearance of being, while
night has a negative effect on this appearance. Here, we may get
the impression that these opposites go without saying, yet I would
hope that by now the principle inspiring them is clear, namely, that
a thing is understood correctly when we have grasped its implica-
tions. The principle of a viable hermeneutics is always to interpret
a text in such a way that what is implicitly in it is made explicit;
Parmenides and the Opinions of the Mortals 103
if, for example, I set about interpreting a section from Hegel's
Logic with my students or even some colleagues, what emerges as
the result of our long debate is an elaboration of the Hegelian text
The same also happens in our Parmenides interpretation, provid-
ed we are on the right path with our work.
The result that we have reached through the interpretation of
these lines amounts to the following: first, we find in the above-
mentioned lines a view of the universe according to which it con-
sists of reciprocally interrelated and inseparable oppositions. Sec-
ond, this view is conceptually superior to that of the lonians
because it avoids the thought of the nothing. Third, the image of
light and darkness that recapitulates this view points to the
appearance of being and its knowability. This last point can be
made clearer when we refer to those passages of the didactic
poem (like, for example, fragment 6, line 1, as well as fragment
3) in which being is equated with noein. We usually render the
word *noein" in translation as "thinking"; however we should
not forget that the primary meaning of the word is not to become
absorbed in oneself, not reflection, but, on the contrary, pure
openness for everything. In regard to MOMS, it is not, first of all, a
question of one asking oneself what is seen to be there in each
case but of observing that there is something there. The etymolo-
gy of the word probably leads us back to the sensation of the
animal, which notices the presence of something by its scent and
without any more exact perception. This is how we must under-
stand the relationship between "thinking" and being in Par-
menides and also why, in the eighth fragment, which we have
examined here, noein is mentioned with particular emphasis
alongside the other features of being. It is as though the text
wanted to say that it is the being of being itself that comes into
presence in such a way that this being is as immediately there in
its existence as the day is.
In view of the Parmenidean image of the mild (friendly and
benevolent) ethereal fire that is homogeneous in itself, I would like
to raise another question. We have interpreted this fire as the light in
which the appearance of being becomes clean But we must also
place it in relation to ancient cosmology. The ancient view accord-
ing to which the heavenly bodies are fires requires that fire be
reduced to a stable being
that has no destructive or self-consuming
10. ein stabiles Sein
104 The Beginning of Philosophy
reality—and, indeed, Anaximander is attributed with the idea that
there are holes in the firmament through which the fire of the
heavenly bodies sparkles and twinkles. It therefore emerges from
the doxographical descriptions that, in Anaximander, fire, as an
element, must above all exclude that which is destructive. Now,
the opposite of the destructive is epion, and the text actually uses
this expression (in fragment 8, line 57), where the word signifies
mildness, gentleness, friendliness. How much of a problem fire
was, one can also see in theTimaeus (31b-33). In the construction
of that enormous living organism that forms the universe, a diffi-
cult relationship exists between fire and the remaining elements.
One also comes across the same thing in Stoic philosophy, accord-
ing to which there is a fire that does not destroy but rather illumi-
nates and animates. Thus, as we saw, with the background of
Anaximander's cosmological ideas, fire can be assumed as a non-
destructive but instead stable and homogeneous element that dis-
penses light and makes [things] visible, albeit only with help of
holes. Still further examples could be cited to validate the fact that
some motifs of the lonians' meteorological and astronomical the-
ories are mirrored in Parmenides. Yet what matters to us here is
understanding what happens in such mirroring. We have to under-
stand this fire as becoming light and [taking on] the homogeneity
and self-identity of light. The identity of being is made plain with
this. Here, there is an evident rapprochement with the opinions of
the mortals, opinions which are satisfied by appearances.
Through the analysis of the last lines of the eighth fragment,
we have therefore reached the conclusion that these lines charac-
terize the transition from a first part dedicated to explicating the
truth (hence the first fifty lines of this eighth fragment), to a sec-
ond part, which is occupied with the presentation of opinions
that mortals hold regarding the universe. This second part has not
been handed down to us as well-preserved as the first, yet it will
also have certainly contained a detailed and well-structured
depiction that is, to be sure, an opinion of mortals but one in
which knowledge is presented. This is not merely a vague suppo-
sition, for there is a uninterrupted tradition here. A confirmation
for this can be found, for instance, in the sixteenth fragment,
which consists of the only four undoubtedly authentic lines that
are quoted by Aristotle (Metaphysics T5, 1009b 21). The text
reads: hos gar hekastot echei krasin meleon polukampton—"as
the relationship of the limbs of the organism develops itself*'—ids
Parmenides and the Opinions of the Mortals 105
noos anthropoisi paristatai—"so nous appears in human beings."
(Put another way: thinking as consciousness of something, as
intellectual perception, is related to the constitution of the organ-
ism; the one exists as soon as the other is present—and, in regard
to this, one must keep in mind the medicine and the biology of
those centuries.) To gar auto estin hoper phroneei meleon physis
anthropoisin kai pasin kai panti—"it is always the same thing
that thinks, (namely) the composition of the organism in each and
every person"; to gar pleon esti noema—"that which is perceived
is always what predominates," like the light that fills everything.
This text, toward an interpretation of which true rivers of ink
have been spilled, must stand in relationship to the medicine and
the sciences of that time, a time in which we already find the idea
that perception depends on the mixture of the elements in the
human organism. This idea is not really new, it seems to me. But if
we take into account the already discussed intention of this part of
the didactic poem—the intention of commonly accepted ideas—
then the real task of interpretation comes into view. Here, that is,
our task is to comprehend in what sense, on which points, and in
what respect this conception is superior to that of the lonians.
We want first to emphasize here that in epic poetry there was
already a mythological explanation according to which the
appearance of thinking in the human being is traced back to a
divine power. In the lonians, as in Parmenides, who in turn refers
back to the lonians, the theme is brought to light in a new way:
perception and thinking do not originate through the influence of
a divine power but rather by the mixing of the humours of the
organism. This is, as we have seen, an idea that must be brought
into connection with the balance of the organism that medicine
had worked out at that time. In this approach, the sensation of
warmth or coldness, for instance, is based on changes in the
inherent balance of die organism—like, for example, in the case
of fever, where it is clear that there is no warmth in itself or cold-
ness in itself as two separate essences. In regard to this theme, let
us recall the previously examined Parmenides quotation where it
says that people posit separate and opposing forms of reality and
designate these with different names (here one could cite "the
warm" and "the cold" as examples), while that which truly is
their unity. For this reason, their separation into independent
11. das wabrhaft Seiende
106 The Beginning of Philosophy
powers is misguided; in truth, it is precisely noein that constitutes
their unity. Grasped in this sense, the relationship between knowl-
edge and light is also explained: in conscious thinking, when
things become visible and identifiable it is like a light going on.
The absence of such acuity presents itself like a darkness in which
nothing at all exists. Thus it gradually becomes clear why this
view of noein signifies a step forward in the direction of truth.
The unity and the self-sameness of noein lead to the self-sameness,
the homogeneity, in the end, to the identity of being. To get a grip
on all of this, we should not, of course, come to a stop with the
opposition between the relativity of sense perceptions and the
absoluteness of "thinking." Sensory perception is in a certain
sense already conscious perception. Therefore it is co-intended in
noein. We are constantly inclined toward seeing things in that we
know and recognize their identity. Thanks to modern psycholog-
ical research, how much the tendency to the identical is inherent
in all things of the senses
is no longer big news. Here we see
something that we have come across in Parmenides' didactic
poem: the stability of being is that which announces itself in the
relativity of perception.
12. alien Dingen der Sinnlichkeit
Parmenides and Being
p to this point we have gone into the Proem of the Par-
menidean didactic poem and also into the first part of the
poem, which is dedicated to truth and is quite tersely composed,
though Simplicius did hand it down to us intact. We then turned
to the second part, which deals with opinions and must have been
longer. But only the beginning lines and some fragments have
come down to us. I would like to place our encounter with this
second part of the didactic poem ahead of our treatment of the
first part, which we have not yet analyzed completely. This fore-
stalling is well-considered. It was important for me to make clear
that the task announced in the Proem is not just restricted to the
truth but that it also encompassed the opinions of mortals and
was actually present throughout the course of the didactic poem.
This is why I made a leap that led immediately from the Proem to
the last lines of the eighth fragment, where the transition from the
presentation of the truth to the comments on the opinions of the
mortals is carried out. I would like here to underscore once again
the importance of this double thematic in the mouth of the god-
dess. In truth, it is a characteristic feature of the human being,
indeed, even the sign of its superiority. For it is humanity's mark
of distinction to raise problems and to open up the dimension of
diverse possibilities. This is why the capacity for truth and false-
hood both in our will to know and in our being-with-one-another
is a peculiarity of the human being. Thus we recall seeing that
even in Hesiod, that is, at the beginning of the Theogony, the
muses make it known that they could teach the true but also the
false. Even these seed donors play on our weaknesses. All in all,
108 The Beginning of Philosophy
since human beings are by necessity exposed to a multitude of
influences and distractions, it turns out that untruth inheres in the
concept of knowledge itself, that it is an inseparable, even consti-
tutive, element of knowledge.
Starting with these reflections, I have then tried to show that
Ionic conceptions of the universe stand behind Parmenides'
didactic poem, conceptions that replace the cosmogonies of the
myths, especially the representation mentioned by Anaximander
in the only surviving aphorism of a universe formed in an order-
ly way through opposites that constantly and regularly balance
each other. In contrast to these Milesian doctrines, Parmenides
introduces an important innovation: in place of the many differ-
ent oppositions between wet and dry, warm and cold, and so on,
Parmenides inserts a single oppositional pair, namely the contrast
between light and darkness. On the basis of this innovation, Par-
menides surpasses the Ionic tradition. This light is the light of
knowledge. This is why it is positively emphasized in the didactic
poem that the fire is not a destructive fire but a mild one, thus not
a blazing flame but only one that sheds light. The distinction
between these two types of fire still remains unexpressed in Par-
menides and will only be made entirely explicit with the Stoics.
Furthermore, in order to support the thesis of Parmenides'
superiority, I have analyzed the fragment quoted by Aristotle,
fragment 16, hi which it is said that noein, thinking, rests on the
relationship between the different components of the organism.
Here I have initially rendered the word "noein" in the tradition-
al way by the term "thinking." Yet in doing so we should not for-
get that this word would be completely incomprehensible here if
we did not grasp it in its original meaning. I repeat: "noein"
means the sensing
of something that is there, rather like the
of game, to which we are perhaps also led by the etymolo-
gy of the word. The immediacy implied in the meaning of this
word is fundamental to the entire argument of the didactic poem.
If we do not comprehend this, we cannot even begin to under-
stand the claim that Parmenides makes about the inseparability of
being and noein: there is something only to the extent that evi-
dentness—that is, perception in its broadest sense—is present in
noein', only to this extent is "being" there. If we wished to use a
1. dasSpiiren
2. Or spoor: der Witterung.
Parmenides and Being 109
scholastic expression, we could say that we were dealing here
with the problem of haecceitas.
We do come across this problem
today in Heidegger's "being-question," but it already becomes
visible much earlier in Parmenides' noein and likewise in Aristo-
tle, who connects noein with touching (thinganein) as it occurs in
the immediacy of perceiving, when no distance at all is indicated
between the perception and what is perceived. Indeed, even we
say "it smells" or "it smells of something" long before we speak
of it in reflective manner—we say that a certain nose notices this
or that smell. As soon as words and concepts come into the play,
such immediacy is gone.
In conclusion, I would like to come back once again to the
declaration expressed in the Proem about the path of truth and
the path of opinions in order to substantiate an earlier admoni-
tion that is worth repeating: in Parmenides, we find only the plur-
al, "doxai" The word is hardly ever used in the singular. Even
when related expressions are used, they always occur in the plur-
al (like, for example, "ta dokounta").
This is why it is misguid-
ed to claim that die second part of Parmenides' didactic poem is
all about doxa. This is Platonism not Eleaticism. The word
"doxa" only becomes a concept in Platonic philosophy. Aisthesis,
doxa, and logos, as we know, are the three concepts with which
Plato in the Theatetus attempts to define knowledge.
Let us now come back to the analysis of the first part of the
poem, the part, that is, that deals with the presentation of truth,
and let us begin with fragments 2 and 3, the sequence of which is
much debated. I think they can be read consecutively, and both
can also be read as elaborations of what has been designated as
the first fragment, that is, the Proem. The second fragment begins
with the claim that two paths of investigation are conceivable.
The one path is that along which it is said that the "is" exists but
"non-being" does not (estin te kai hos ouk esti me einai), and this
is the path of truth that is accompanied by the power of persua-
sion. The other path is that along which it is said that the "is-not"
(ouk estin) is and non-being is asserted. But this is a completely
hopeless path.
We undoubtedly have before us here an extremely refined and
conceptually polished text that is not easily interpreted. The task
3. "thisness"
4. "things that appear" or "things that seem"
110 The Beginning of Philosophy
of the interpreters is hindered by the fact that not two but three
paths are indicated in the fragment, which then raises the ques-
tion of what this third path is. The proponents of the thesis that
Parmenides was a critic of Heraclitus latch onto this problem.
They claim that the third path is precisely the thinking of Hera-
clitus. But a third path is mentioned in the sixth fragment, and
mortals travel along this path. Nevertheless, as we have already
seen, the expression employed here, "brotoi" cannot be read as
though an individual were intended by it—and thus not the
philosopher from Ephesus either.
For now, we would like to restrict ourselves to the two paths
mentioned in the second fragment and try to understand why the
one path leads to truth while the other leads to no goal and is
indeed an impossibility. With this, we must first realize that "it is"
(estin) here is tantamount to "there is"
and does not function
like the copula that binds the subject and the predicate together
as it does in Aristotle and in grammar. Here it is the immediacy
of being that we perceive in "noein," wherein "legein"
has not
been separated from sensory perception, but rather, as I have tried
to show, where immediacy, the inseparability of the perceived and
the perceiving, is meant exclusively. Some might see in this the
concept of identity characteristic of German idealism, but that
would be an anachronism, as this could only arise in the period
of historicism. In the realm of philosophy, historicism has often
produced the paradoxical result of misjudging the difference
between immediacy and reconstructed immediacy.
The last line of the second fragment says that it is not possi-
ble to formulate that which is not
(me eon), for this can neither
be investigated nor communicated.
It is possible that the third fragment forms the continuation of
this text: to gar auto noein estin te kai einai.
In the meantime,
Agostino Marsoner has convinced me that fragment 3 is not a Par-
menides quotation at all but a formulation stemming from Plato
himself, which I believe I have correctly interpreted and which
5. esgibt
6. Literally, "to gather": infinitive of the verb "/ego," which is the root
of the noun "/ogos."
7. das Nicbtseiende
8. "For the same thing exists [ot, is there] for thinking and for being"
(Gadamer will argue against this reading; see below); alternatively, "For
thinking and being are the same."
Parmenides and Being 111
Clement of Alexandria has ascribed to Parmenides. In order to
interpret this fragment, we must confirm that estin does not serve
here as a copula but instead means existence
and, in fact, not just
in the sense that something is there but also in the characteristic
classical Greek sense that it is possible, that it has the power to
be. Here, of course, "that it is possible" includes that it is. Sec-
ondly, we must be clear about what is meant by "the same" (to
auto). Since this expression stands at the beginning of the text, it
is generally understood as the main point and therefore as the
subject On the contrary, in Parmenides "the same" is always a
predicate, hence that which k stated of something. Admittedly, it
can also stand as the main point of a sentence, but not in the func-
tion of the subject, about which something is stated, but in the
function of the predicate that is stated of something. This some-
thing in the sentence analyzed here is the relationship between
*'estin noein
and "estin einai," between "[is] perceiving/think-
ing" and "[is] being." These two are the same, or, better yet: the
two are bound together by an indissoluble unity. (Furthermore, it
should be added that the article "to" does not refer to "einai" but
to "auto." In the sixth century, an article was not yet placed in
front of a verb. In Parmenides' didactic poem, where the necessi-
ty arises of expressing what we render with the infinitive of a verb
together with a preceding article, a different construction is used.)
This interpretation, the one I am proposing for the third frag-
ment, was, as I recall, the object of a dispute with Heidegger. He
disagreed altogether with my view of the evident meaning of the
poem. I can well understand why Heidegger wanted to hold onto
the idea that Parmenides' main theme was identity (to auto). In
Heidegger's eyes, this would have meant that Parmenides himself
would have gone beyond every metaphysical way of seeing and
would thereby have anticipated a thesis that is later interpreted
metaphysically in Western philosophy and has only come into its
own in Heidegger's philosophy. Nevertheless, in his last essays
Heidegger himself realized that this was an error and that his the-
sis that Parmenides had to some extent anticipated his own phi-
losophy could not be maintained.
Let us now proceed to the fourth fragment, whose placement
after the third fragment is admittedly highly dubious. The fourth
fragment throws a very bright light on an approach, never before
9. Existenz
112 The Beginning of Philosophy
attempted, of a thinker who was occupied with the themes of
becoming and being for the relationship between identity and dif-
ference. It should be mentioned here that these concepts were first
brought together in the Sophist with the words "stasis" and "gen-
esis," unmoving and originating.
Let us now interpret the fragment leusse d* homos apeonta
nodi pareonta bebaios: along with nous (the capacity for imme-
diate perception) we must also consider that which is absent
(hence that which is also accessible to nous), and we should pro-
ceed in this "with firmness" (bebaios), without wavering.
Accordingly, we should not regard as self-evident the fact that
what is present is and what is absent is not, but rather we should
establish without uncertainty in each case that what is absent is,
in a certain sense, also present. I stress "bebaios" emphatically
because in the didactic poem we are frequently reminded that the
danger is always present of straying from the path leading to
truth and letting ourselves be seduced by the illusion that if
something just appears then it did not previously exist. In frag-
ments 7 and 8 a quite exact and precise argument is then
expounded to justify the necessity of avoiding this diversion. The
tine of the fourth fragment examined here is essentially a prior
declaration of what is then established in the first part of the
didactic poem.
The fragment then continues with the same topic: "what is
cannot be separate from its connection with what is" (ou gar
apotmexei to eon tou eontos echesthai), and "according to the
order of things it is neither possible that what is scatters itself
nor that it conglomerates" (oute skidnamenon pantei pantos
kata kosmon oute sunistamenon). It clearly emerges, even from
the formulations used here, that he is speaking of Ionic philoso-
phy. That what is, is not separable from what is does not mean,
by the way, that there are two of what is. This conclusion is
already precluded by Parmenides' wording. At this point, we
come across "to eon"
for the first time, the emphatic singular
that occurs again and again in Parmenides' poem and anticipates
the One (to hen) of Zeno and Plato. It does not lead to exactly
the same thing, however. Parmenides' "to eon" is only a first
approximation of the abstract concept of the One. Thus the One
also occurs in Parmenides, yet in the first place and strictly
10. Singular imperfect for eimi, "to be."
Parmenides and Being 113
speaking, for him the one being
is intended as "being."
Before him, one said "ta onta" and thus it is said in Homer that
Tiresias knows the things that are (ta onto) and the things that
will be (ta proionta). In regard to this topic, we also want to
recall the Socrates of the Phaedo, who says he has concerned
himself much peri physeos historia. Here he uses a formulation
in which the last word, "historia," signifies the course of experi-
ences in all of their diversity. To put it another way, previously
the diversity of what is was all about the balance of the universe.
"To eon" however, implies that it has nothing to do with the
diversity of experiences, the listing of them, but rather that with-
out the unity of being all of this no longer exists. This certainly
means that to eon cannot be separate from tou eontas; what is
possesses cohesion (continuity) and unity. Obviously the uni-
verse [is meant] as universe in its unity, and this universe in its
unity means at the same time the concept of being. To put it
more precisely, it is not yet the concept but it is a full abstraction
of the diversity of things. This singular is like an indicator of the
beginning of conceptual-speculative reflection.
The fifth fragment states that it makes no difference from
which point one proceeds, since one always comes back to the
same place anyway. This obviously confirms the homogeneity of,
the uniformity of, existing "being,"
a theme that, as we saw, is
taken up anew later on.
The sixth fragment is the answer to the problem of truth and
to the declaration of the correct path of truth. This fragment
begins with following words: chre to legein te noein t* eon emme-
nai; esti gar einai; meden d* ouk estin. In order to understand the
meaning of this part of the text, we first want to recall that the
"esti" of the second clause displays the ambiguity that we clari-
fied previously. The term means "it is," but for precisely this rea-
son it also means "is possible that it is." It not only expresses exis-
but exactly at the same time it also expresses the possibil-
ity of existence. Accordingly, the meaning of the second clause
runs as follows: "being is, and it is possible; the nothing, by con-
trast, is not, and it also is not possible." This helps us to under-
stand that the "eon" of the first clause also has this ambiguity and
11. das eine Seiende
12. dasSein
13. des seienden "Seins"
14. Dasein
114 The Beginning of Philosophy
means the one that is and is possible; that is, it possesses the
capacity to be. Finally, it remains for us to clarify that "to" must
refer to "eon" because this latter term never occurs in the didac-
tic poem without an article. A preliminary interpretation of the
first clause is as follows: "It is necessary that both the saying as
well as the thoughtful perceiving of what is cannot, as existence,
be disengaged from the consequence of being expressed and per-
ceived; the presentness
of being is precisely its perception."
Understood in this way, the clause seems like a convincing repe-
tition of what has already been said. We will come back later to
the significance of this repetition.
For the moment we will follow the progress of the fragment,
which, following the admonition to think over the truth pro-
claimed here and not forget it, states expressly that we must not
forget to avoid the path of the nothing, but we must also not for-
get the other path, the path upon which mortals stumble about
hesitantly, erringly, and in constant uncertainty. Their inability to
orient themselves, an inability which they carry in their hearts,
leads them to a foolish perceiving (plakton noon). This is the
point from which the problematic third way, which will be added
to the two mentioned previously, originates. I repeat, this is a
problem that historicism has solved in its way by equating this
supposed third path with the thinking of Heraclitus because the
description of the path is, in a certain way, reminiscent of certain
of this philosopher's aphorisms. Parmenides had obviously not
foreseen the tremendous acumen of the philosophers of the nine-
teenth century, who were even capable of finding in the text what
was not in it. In truth, the so-called third path is nothing other
than the description of the second, that is, the path of nothing-
ness; and the mortal people who stride ahead on this path are, as
we have already said, called by the epic term "brotoi," which can-
not really serve to describe an individual, and certainly not Her-
aclitus. It is rather about people in general. They blunder around,
are blind, dense(akrita phula), that is, people without the ability
to judge. They conceive of being (pelein) and non-being now as
something identical and now as something non-identical. They
are seen this way: "Their path is always wrong because it is con-
tradictory" (panton de palintropos esti keleuthos). This means
15. alsdasDasein
16. Gegenwdrtigkeit
Parmenides and Being 115
that all hypotheses of mortals regarding the "is** and the "is not"
always end in a contradiction; these hypotheses amount to the
fact that we intend "is" and "is not" in the same breath. Only a
superficial interpretation could maintain that this description of
the contradiction—somewhat like with the claim that tauton and
thateron are identical—points to the dialectic of Heraclitus.
Occasionally even a little arrogance is involved in the certainty
with which this interpretation is pursued. We are pushed toward
it by the superb historical research of the nineteenth century. Yet,
as we have seen, historicism, despite all its astuteness, could be
blind in some respects. I would not by any means want to be
understood as though I did not appreciate the method of the his-
torians. It is just that philosophy is something different.
With the insight that this sixth fragment describes the conse-
quences of the lack of orientation common to all human beings,
we have, in my opinion, taken a decisive step forward. Human
beings have the characteristic of getting into contradictions with-
out noticing it because they conceive of what is absent as a non-
being, and the delusion of becoming occurs because of it. That
something could be produced from nothing simply is not accept-
able for human reason. Ex nihilo nihil fit—this is the highest prin-
ciple of our orientation in the world of experience. The Divine
Creation of the world was brought into play here first through
Christianity, or actually through the Old Testament, albeit without
understanding the mystery of such a Creation. This happens earli-
est with Augustine when he speaks of the Word that announces:
**Let there be light!" The Greeks were able to understand [the
equivalent of] the Word of God with which the Old Testament
introduces the Creation in the sense of a creative capacity.
Thus die sixth fragment portrays the chaos of opinions
between which human beings of blurred judgment vacillate back
and forth whenever they must find their way about in the world:
"It is, it is not"; "There is something, and precisely the same thing
is not there"; "It is there, it is not there"; and "As soon as it
comes into appearance it comes from out of nothing." Such lack
of direction is certainly not the description of a speculative think-
ing—like that of a thinker such as Heraclitus—but rather depicts
the unconscious contradictions upon which the errors and aber-
rations of human beings are based.
Here, I would like to offer a concluding comment regarding
the sixth fragment. In order to clarify the structure of the text and
116 The Beginning of Philosophy
to bolster the logic of its argument, Parmenides, like Plato, must
make use of a literary device. The method of repetition, of which
the beginning of our fragment furnished an obvious example,
belongs to devices of this type. This method is used for a public
that does not read but follows the recitation of a text spoken by
the author. This is characteristic of the preliterate cultural epoch
with which we are dealing here. For this reason, the repetition
should not be regarded as an accident. It belongs to what we
might well call a mnemonic technique, and indeed it belongs just
as much to the rhapsode as to the listener. From this it emerges
that Parmenides' text is not thoroughly archaic even from a liter-
ary standpoint but rather presents itself as an exquisitely articu-
lated composition—even through "repetition.**
Now we want to proceed to fragments 7 and 8, which togeth-
er form one coherent text. It says here that "it cannot be forcibly
maintained that what is not
exists** (ou gar mepote touto damei;
einai me eonta), and through no force, as it further says, can we
be compelled to follow this path, which would be tantamount to
"letting wander eyes that do not see** (noman askopon omma).
This latter formulation is of high literary worth. The eye wanders
eagerly (implicit in the word "noman" is the incentive for the
attainment of a goal), and moreover it wanders over the sur-
totality of things, yet it is without sight, sightless (asko-
because it cannot grasp any existing thing. This is a very
beautiful image that expands further and extends from the eyes to
the din-filled ear (echeessan akouen) and to the tongue(kai glos-
san ). (We should observe here that the tongue—just like the
sightless eye and the ear that hears nothing because of the din—
is meant here in the sense of the sense of taste.) The advice is thus
to lend no credence to appearance; rather, we must judge "with
the understanding** (logoi). The term"logoi," it seems to me, is
used here without conceptual implications. I have not pursued the
matter further, yet I suspect that "krinai logoi," just like many
other formulations from the didactic poem, is rhapsodic in origin,
and it is understandable that a philosopher of this time would be
glad to come upon expressions that could be useful for instruc-
tion in his own teachings. For this reason there are often agree-
ments with Homer.
17. das Nicbtseiende
18. angepeilten
Parmenides and Being 117
The argument is continued in the eighth fragment: monos d'
eti mythos hodoio leipetai hos estin. (We should observe that
here "mythos" stands closer to "logos" than to fairy-tale;
"mythos" means everything that I can relate and plainly con-
notes a wide-ranging story.) A single account of a path remains,
and on this path there are many signs—here, Heidegger would
speak of "Wegmarken"
—to indicate the direction of the goal
and to prevent any straying from the path. In Heidegger, as well,
the path-signs
undoubtedly signify the continuous progression
of a path in a certain direction, toward a goal. In Parmenides,
this expression has the same meaning, and in this context we
should think of the word "bebaios" of the emphatic insistence
with which it is to be stressed that what is absent is at the same
time present and that there is no non-existing being.
emphatic repetition that what is, is and what does not exist
not indicates the direction toward which what is thought is ori-
ented by the goddess's instruction.
There are therefore many signs from which it follows that the
nothing can never be. The first says: hos aganeton eon kai
anolethron estin, which is usually understood in the sense that
what is has not been generated and cannot pass away. But this is
not how it stands in the text because there it is not called "to eon"
but "eon" without the article. This substantiates my point and
means that because it is, it is not generated and cannot pass away.
The text then continues: "It is a whole, immovable and with-
out goal" (esti gar oulomeles te kai atremes ed' ateleston). This
line is interesting because of the variants of "oulomeles." In place
of this word we find—as we do, by the way, in Simplicius—the
word "mounogenes."
Now, I think that this term, if it follows
immediately upon "ageneton,"
is not to be expected straight-
away, and "mounogenes" is therefore highly questionable above
all because it is a term characteristic of Christian confessions.
Thus it more likely comes from the quill of a copyist than the text
of Parmenides. The word "oulomeles" means something like "of
sound limbs," a formulation that recalls the living organism,
19. pathmarks
20. Wegzeichen
21. Nichtseiende
22. das Nichtseiende
23. one of a kind, unique
24. unborn, uncreated
118 The Beginning of Philosophy
hence that image that is often used as a model to describe the uni-
verse (and certainly not in its multiplicity but rather as the One),
the universe which leads its life and is lacking nothing in order for
it to be itself a single great organism. The word "oulomeles" as
used by Parmenides evidently means that the universe is one thing
and by itself contains everything in itself.
Thus the text continues: "It is impossible, furthermore, that it
ever has been and that it ever will be" (oude pot* en oud* estai),
"for it is now as the whole universe" (epei nun estin homou pan).
We should note here the singular "pan." Heribert Boeder has
pointed out that "being"
in Presocratic philosophy was first indi-
cated in certain cases by the plural, as "ta panta," or with the
expression "ta onta," which also occurs in Homer. Thus the use of
the singular here is an emphatic stress: "It is all one"; and so the
text continues: "one and unbroken" (hen suneches). This is the
only passage in this text in which oneness
is expressly named—
which then in Zeno leads to the dialectic of the one and the many
and produces the discourse of the Eleatic doctrine of unity.
At this point, the argument begins concerning the previously
mentioned characteristics of that which is, above all concerning
the fact that it was not generated: tina gar gennan dizeseai autou;
pet pothen auxethen—"How would it be possible to determine its
origin; how would it be able to grow?" In my opinion, Guido
Calogero has seen things correctly—even against Karl Reinhardt,
who invoked inappropriate evidence for support here—when in
his book on Eleaticism Calogero explains in a comment in the
chapter on Melissus that Parmenides' argument at this point
excludes two things, namely, generation and growth. Generation
obviously includes non-being
: it implies that that which is now
generated was not previously there. But already excluded by this
is the fact that what is not can be intended or brought to expres-
sion. For its part, growth leads in turn to the contradiction of
genesis and of becoming because it likewise implies that that
which it now is was not previously there in this way. To summa-
rize, both becoming and growing obviously include the me eon.
In this way, the further course of the argument becomes clear.
25. Sein
26. Einssein
27. Nichtsein
28. not being
Parmenides and Being 119
One can neither say nor think (noein) a becoming from out of
nothing. This will be explained further.
We find the conclusion that is to be drawn from this argu-
ment in lines 15 and 16: he de krisis peri teuton en toid' estin;
estin he ouk estin—"the decision about these things goes: either
it is, or it is not.** Everything is decided with this. The path of
what is not is impassable. At this point, we notice a repetition
that marks the end of one train of thought and the beginning of
a new one in accordance with the previously formulated princi-
ple, a kind of "period" or "new paragraph.**
The new train of thought amounts to the claim that what is
is not divisible, it is in itself dense (continuous), homogeneous,
and immovable. Of course, the claim that there is no motion rais-
es the biggest problems. This, we could say, is the toughest chal-
lenge. Plato also discusses motion—he does so, in fact, in theThe-
atetus—yet he distinguishes two forms of motion, namely, a
change of place and alteration, a qualitative change. Parmenides,
on the other hand, makes no such differentiation and uses a poet-
ic image in respect to these two forms as if they were the same:
necessity has clapped being in irons, and it could not therefore
remove itself by itself. This thought influenced the physicist, Aris-
totle, and inclined him to pay little heed the doctrine of Par-
menides, just as it also affected the mathematician, Plato, who, on
the other hand, found in the Eleatics the conceptual model for the
immutability of the ideas. Being has no external purpose: esti gar
ouk epideues
it lacks nothing at all, and if something were lack-
ing—me eon d* an pantos edeito—then everything would be miss-
ing (line 33).
A fresh and well-judged repetition occurs in this passage. As
a representative of a preliterate culture, Parmenides structures his
discourse with this repetition and, in that he brings prominence
to such an especially important thought, he lends it strength. This
thought reads:
tauton d* esti noein te kai houneken esti noema;
ou gar aneu tou eontos
en hoi pephatismenon estin,
heureseis to noein.
The first part of this quotation (tauton . . . noema) reminds
us a little of the third fragment, which seemed suspicious to us.
Of course,
is a predicate here as well and refers to "esti
and "esti noema." (With regard to this, we must offer the
120 The Beginning of Philosophy
explanatory remark that "noema" does not, of course, have the
same meaning that it will have later in Aristotle. Here, is it syn-
onymous with "noesis." It is that which is felt, that which is
touched, and cannot be separated at all from feeling, from touch-
ing. The important thing, as we have already mentioned, lies
exactly in this lack of a differentiation.) Being that appears
already involves being: esti noema, "noema is." Moreover, in the
second part of the quotation (ou gar . . . to noein) it is then
claimed that "without the being
in which it is expressed no
thinking is to be found.** This is not quite comprehensible for
modern philosophy. Therefore we understand it like this: "being
could not be in what is expressed, but rather it must be in being
itself.** At most, being could be inherent in thinking. This would
seem to be what Parmenides wants to say. Hermann Frankel was
also of this opinion—that being does not inhere in what is
expressed but in what is thought. But all this is the result of a
modernistic distortion that goes so far as to read a raft of things
into Parmenides that are not present there at all: subjectivity, self-
consciousness, Hegel and speculative idealism, epistemology and
its distinction between subject and object. So we imagine that
Parmenides had already recognized the superiority of the self-
reflexivity of thinking. I am sorry, but none of this is in the text.
There is, however, something in the text about being that express-
es itself, and that is: "There, where being comes to appearance,
the perception of being occurs.**
Another important thought follows from the thesis according
to which there is no perception without the self-expression of
being: since there is no non-being, there can be nothing outside of
being, for now it is the whole that is without motion, and so
forth. Moira has fettered it and has so fixed it in place that it is
one (again we find here the expression "OM/OW,** "whole**) and
without motion. Human beings are mistaken when they maintain
that there are becoming, originating and passing away, being and
non-being, motion, and finally even that bright color changes: dia
te chroa phanon ameibein. This is a very beautiful image, an
image that I would like to linger with here at the end of my analy-
sis of the Parmenidean didactic poem. Here, we are dealing with
an allusion to the fact that human beings are practically emptied
by their experiences between being and non-being. This is an
29. dasSeiende
Parmenides and Being 121
allusion to the transitoriness and futility of all things. Color fades
and disappears. Even in English we can say that the color fades
and is no longer as vigorous and fresh as it was before. This fad-
ing of the color cannot actually be observed; we can only deter-
mine at a certain point in time that color has become weaker
without our being able see when and how the color began to
lessen, lime fades away, and colors also fade .... That is the
mood behind this image, and the poet is undoubtedly driving at
this. He wants to call into consciousness the anxiety that mortals
feel about the fact that everything generated falls prey to tran-
sience, that everything born must die. But the goddess knows this
better than mortals do.
As I now come to the conclusion of this lecture series, I would like
to recall our starting point again and add some considerations of
a general nature.
We first brought the Presocratics closer to us via the texts of
Plato and Aristotle. This happened in the conviction that this
approach was necessary in order to gradually bring language into
the discussion. This is a language that, for the most part, is not
yet conceptual but is already moving in this direction. Thus we
found out that this language wants to convey an image of what
we call the universe. We can now use the expression "universe"
in the correct way in reference to the Presocratics. That is to say,
we know that, on the one hand, this expression represents an
anticipation, for Milesian philosophy does not yet succeed in real-
ly unifying the totality of things conceptually—and [seeing them
as] the One. On the other hand, their philosophy does correspond
to the direction that thinking takes later on. They were on a quest
for the unity of the world, but the concept was not yet there. At
the moment, I myself am not entirely sure at what point the word
"universe** appears; I am certainly not sure about the equivalent
of the Greek "cosmos." Perhaps it is in Lucretius. In any case, we
are dealing with a Latin expression full of significance, for it helps
explain the quest for the one world.
Let us now turn to a few thoughts about the [historical] posi-
tion of these interpretations of the Presocratics. I do not want to
repeat here what I have already written in my essay published in
Questions di storiografia filosofica; I will therefore limit myself to
pointing out that interest in the Presocratics begins first with
Romanticism. Of course, there were comprehensive handbooks
122 The Beginning of Philosophy
even earlier—in die eighteenth century—which, like the work of
Johann Jakob Brucker, for example, offered an abundance of
material about the writings of antiquity as they had been collect-
ed through the efforts of Fabricius or Stephanus. This material
was nothing more than a repetition of the ancient doxography
without any historiographical ambition; just like in the ancient
doxography, it was a simple catalogue of the various opinions. We
have now seen in the course of our investigation to what heights
of nonsense blind doxography can attain. Here, I would like to
cite another example: if in line 42 of the eighth fragment Par-
menides says that the universe is tetelesmenon, then that means
that the universe is complete in itself, that it is a whole and leaves
nothing outside itself. This view is then rendered by Melissus with
the expression "apeiron." Theophrastus, on the other hand, is
later quite surprised to "discover" that Parmenides said that his
universe is tetelesmenon, and yet this means "finite," while Melis-
sus advocated an infinite universe, the apeiron. All of this is com-
plete nonsense. As we have already seen with reference to Anaxi-
mander, "apeiron"can mean boundless, but it can also mean
something circular, something involved in itself and returning to
itself—like a ring. Thus no difference exists in this respect between
Melissus and Parmenides. The sad fact is that Theophrastus was a
schoolmaster who applied his concept of theapeiron blindly.
We still come across interpretations of this kind in the eight-
eenth century. An historiography
in the authentic sense of the
word occurs first hi the nineteenth century, a writing of history
that distinguishes itself from the doxographic tradition. The
interesting thing is that, as we have seen, despite all of its sensi-
tivity, despite its immense erudition and its study of sources, even
this historiography does not remain free of naive anachronism,
even when it deals with fundamental themes. I admire the great
philologists of the nineteenth century, their mastery of research
methods, their extremely comprehensive education. But it is also
a form of superior creativity when one is able to see things under
the influence of one's own expertise and, in doing so, find one's
eyes and ears opened.
This truly happens in Hegel when at the beginning of the
Logic he brings to the table being, nothing, and becoming in the
30. Historiographie
31. Geschichtsschreibung
Parmenides and Being 123
sense of the tradition established by Kant's and Fichte's doctrine
of categories. Perhaps Heidegger was right when he said that, all
in all, this nothing is no true nothing and also that becoming is
already implied in the concepts of being and nothing. Being is
"posited" as something indefinite. As we know, in his inaugural
Freiburg lecture, "What is Metaphysics?," Heidegger directed his
attention (just as he did in Being and Time) to precisely this
point—that the nothing is like the veil of being and that this noth-
ing does not resemble anything that is
but rather being, which
the multiplicity of existing things
leaves behind itself like a veil.
Here, Heidegger apparently feels himself drawn toward Par-
menides. Parmenides, too, goes beyond the multiplicity of exist-
ing things and places to eon
at the beginning. In a way, this to
eon expresses Heidegger's "ontological difference." Yet we have
abused this expression to such an extent that it has become
incomprehensible. "Ontological difference"—I still recall quite
dearly how, in Marburg, the young Heidegger developed this
concept of die "ontological difference" in the sense of the differ-
ence between being and beings, between ousia and on. One day,
as Gerhard Kriiger and I accompanied Heidegger home, one of
the two of us two raised the question of what, then, the signifi-
cance of this ontological distinction was, how and when one must
make this distinction. I will never forget Heidegger's answer:
Make? Is the ontological difference something that must be
made? That is a misunderstanding. This difference is not some-
thing introduced by the philosopher's thinking so as to distin-
guish between being and beings. — Our reading of Parmenides'
didactic poem, I believe, makes it quite clear that Heidegger was
correct in this matter. The ontological difference [just] is; it is not
introduced [by us], but rather opens itself up. As a matter of fact,
in the didactic poem there is a back and forth between that which
is, in its totality, and being. The ontological difference is not yet
named here, but in a certain sense it is already operative. And that
is one of the reasons why Heidegger, like Plato before him, felt an
especially deep regard for old Parmenides. Heidegger, as we have
already indicated, hoped and attempted to prove that Parmenides
had already suspected that there was this difference, a difference
32. etwas Seiendem
33. seienden Dinge
34. being
124 The Beginning of Philosophy
that is not made but which occurs on it own. For this reason, he
took the trouble to steer the interpretation in this direction, and
in the course of this he also did violence to the text. For example,
when he interprets the passage in the Proem in which the unshak-
able heart of truth and the opinions of mortals is discussed, Hei-
degger tries to prove that standing in the background here is that
great problem, the miracle of self-differentiation. To grasp the
One is something normal, but what does this have to do with the
capacity for differentiation? This is already presupposed in the
Creation that the Old Testament relates because the most varie-
gated existing things are held apart from each other, and this is
also the case with us when we perceive. Heidegger tried to find all
of this in Eleatic philosophy and also in Heraclitus so as to then
claim—in all too close a connection with Nietzsche—that the first
philosophers of the classical period of Greece stood beyond meta-
physics and that the great drama of Western thinking, the fall into
the abyss of metaphysics, was not there at all in Presocratic phi-
losophy. Heidegger later realized that the West was already devel-
oping toward that time,
and with regard to this point I would
like to recall something that I said at the beginning of these lec-
tures, namely, that even epic poetry was already very far removed
from the mythology of the early epoch and presented something
quite different from a religious proclamation of the divine.
Homer and Hesiod were more like enlightened intellectuals and
great psychologists. Think, for instance, of the scene at the begin-
ning of the Iliad where Achilles, out of fury over Agamemnon's
demand that he hand over his slave, seizes his sword and... sud-
denly the face of Athena looms up behind Agamemnon. At the
last minute, Achilles regains his self-control and puts the sword
into its scabbard again. A double action occurs here: there is
Athena, who restrains Achilles, and there is Achilles, who
restrains himself; there is a reference to the divine, but genuine
interiority also plays a role, which of course is not yet named as
such; nevertheless it is present in Homer's lines and is able to say
something to us. This one example suffices to make clear the
greatness of poetry as well as the fact that, despite the great dis-
tance, we still recognize ourselves in a view of a world like that
of the Olympian gods or that of the disputes among the gods that
Hesiod portrayed.
35. I.e., toward the fall into the abyss of metaphysics.
Parmenides and Being 125
In closing, I would like to make yet one further remark about
Heidegger. In my opinion, he has placed Hegel at the end of the
history of the metaphysics. In a certain sense, Hegel's synthesis is
not to be surpassed. The fall from the conceptual level attained in
nineteenth-century philosophy begins with the most brilliant
thinker of the later part of the century, with Nietzsche. Certainly,
he was in many ways almost a dilettante who did not understand
much of modern philosophy and had not even read Kant but
merely Kuno Fischer instead. The collapse of a still living tradition
and its transformation in the history of philosophy in the sense of
becoming a sequence of philosophical systems is extremely signif-
icant. In the nineteenth century it was regarded as a point d'hon-
neur—and at the beginning our own century it was no different—
that a system is a necessary prerequisite of philosophy. In any
case, we can recognize how truly radical a thinker Heidegger is
when he claims that metaphysics has changed and that it has shift-
ed from being the common horizon of the Western culture to
being a new metaphysics, a metaphysics that he designates "the
forgetfulness of being" and describes in terms of the domination
of technology in all areas of human culture, and certainly not just
in Europe but in the whole world. Heidegger has thus seen many
things in a new way that has opened new possibilities of thinking
for us as well as the possibility of letting the texts of philosophy
that have been handed down—and the language of art—speak for
themselves. It is as if a new atmosphere originated with him.
Admittedly, finding one's way around in this new atmosphere and
following one's own path does not come easily. This is why I like
to say that, just as Plato was no Platonist, neither can Heidegger
be held responsible for the Heideggerians.
Academy, Plato's, 40, 54, 75
alphabetic writing, introduction of,
anamnesis (Greek: memory, recol-
lection), 29,44
Anaxagoras (499-422 B.C.E., Pre-
socratic philosopher), 15,
51-52, 76-78
Anaximander (610-547 B.C.E, Pre-
socratic philosopher), 35, 38,
76-78, 80, 85-92,100-102,
Anaximenes (588-524 B.C.E., Pre-
socratic philosopher), 35,
76-77, 80, 85, 87-90
Anfang (German: beginning), 4, 8,
anima (Latin: soul), 37,47, 57, 96
Antiphon (480-411 B.C.E., Greek
Sophist), 81
Apollodorus (second century B.C.E.,
Athenian scholar), 35
arche (Greek: beginning), 12, 86,
Archimedes (267P-212 B.C.E.,
Greek mathematician), 24
Aristotelian, 12, 27-28, 32, 34-35,
43,48-49, 60, 62, 65, 69, 72,
74-77, 80-87, 93-94
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E., Greek
philosopher), 7,10,13,16,
53-55, 57, 63, 65, 68-69,
71-86, 88, 90, 94, 96, 99,
Asia Minor, 9, 90
astronomy, 39, 73
Athens, 39,47, 63
Atomists (school of Greek philoso-
phy associated with Democri-
tus), 40
bebaios (Greek: firm, steady), 112,
Being and Time (Heidegger), 70,
Berlin historical school, 12
biology, 39,45, 73, 78,105
Boeder, Heribert, 118
Brucker, Johann Jakob (1696-
1770, German philologist),
Buddhism, 87, 89
Burnet, John (1863-1928, British
philosopher), 79
Calogero, Guido (1904—, contem-
porary Italian philosopher),
Cebes (character in Plato's Phaedo),
39,44-45, 50
Christianity, 12,26, 37, 73, 92,
Church Fathers (early Christian
writers), 33
Clement of Alexandria (150-215,
Christian Gnostic philoso-
pher), 111
Cohen, Hermann (1842-1918,
German philosopher), 25
Index 127
Confessions (Augustine), 92,117
Copenhagen school, 27
copula (use of verb "to be"), 14,
cosmogony, 52, 77-78, 87-89, 92,
cosmos, 44, 52, 63, 76, 89,100,
121; cosmology, 52, 78, 81,
craftsperson, 43, 73-75, 81, 84-85
Creation, the, 52, 73-74, 92,115,
Critique of Pure Reason (Kant), 52
cultural development, 9
culture, 9-12,16, 20-21, 28, 31,
39, 46, 69, 77, 92, 96, 98,
De anima (Aristotle), 47, 57, 96
death, 10,13, 37, 39-45, 55-57,
demiurge, 73, 84
Democritus (460P-370? B.C.E.,
Greek philosopher of atomist
theory of universe), 24, 65, 89
Descartes, Rene (1596-1650,
French philosopher), 20, 30
dialectic, 11-13, 26,28,43,
47-48, 52, 57-58, 64, 66, 68,
Diels, Hermann (1848-1922, Ger-
man philosopher), 33-34, 77,
91, 95-97
Dilthey, Wilhelm (1833-1911,
German philosopher), 16,19,
22-24, 28, 30, 77
Diogene d'Apollonie (Laks), 79
Diogenes Laertius (third century
Greek biographer), 7, 72
Diogenes of Apollonia (fifth centu-
ry B.C.E., Greek philosopher),
78, 85, 89
Dionysus, cult of, 38
Dirlmeier, Franz (1904—, German
philosopher), 87
Discours de la method (Descartes),
doxa (Greek: opinion), 62, 98-99,
doxai broton (Greek: opinions of
mortals), 95,100
doxography, 47, 62, 72, 79-80,
85, 88,122
dynamis (Greek: that which pro-
duces effects), 65, 84-85
Echecrates (character in Plato's
Phaedo), 45
eidos (Greek: form, that which can
be seen), 12, 54
Elea (ancient Greek city in today's
southern Italy), 22, 63-64
FJeatic (school of philosophy in
Elea, exemplified by Par-
menides and Zeno), 40, 56,
63-64, 72, 75-77, 84, 90-91,
93-94, 98,109,118-119,
Empedocles (fifth century B.C.E.,
Greek philosopher who origi-
nated the doctine of the four
elements), 34, 38, 61, 64, 76,
Encyclopedia (Hegel), 69
Enlightenment, the (eighteenth-
century philosophical/ cultural
movement), 15
Ephesus (ancient Greek city in Asia
Minor, located in present-day
Turkey; home of Heraclitus),
epic literature, 13,15
epic poetry, 90, 95,105,124
Epicharmus (fl. c. 450 B.C.E., Greek
poet), 61
epistemology (study of knowl-
edge), 22, 30, 53,120
etymology, 103,108
Euclid (third century B.C.E., Greek
mathematician), 24
Euthyphro (Plato), 59
evolution, theory of, 29, 39
existence, 14, 30,42, 45, 51, 75,
103, 111, 113-114
experience, 16-18,23,25,28-29,
40,42,44,46, 50, 53-54,
56-57, 65, 98-99,113,115,
Fabricius, Johann Albert
(1668-1736, German Luther-
an scholar), 122
Fichte, Johann Gottlieb
(1762-1814, German idealist
philosopher), 43,123
fire, 41, 55-56,102-104,108
Fischer, Kuno (1824-1907, Ger-
man philosopher), 125
Foucault, Michel (1926-1984,
contemporary French philoso-
pher), 17
Frank, Erich (1883-1949, German
philosopher), 48
Frankel, Hermann (1888-?, Ger-
man philosopher), 120
freedom, 26-27
Gaiser, Konrad (contemporary
German philosopher), 11
Galelei, Galileo (1564-1642, Ital-
ian astronomer), 24
geometry, 66
German idealism, 57,110
German poetry, 14
Gomperz, Theodor (1832-1912,
German philosopher), 77
Gottingen, university of, 10
Greek culture, 9,20, 98
Greek gods, 35, 90,122
Greek Philosophers, The (Burnet),
Greek poetry, 14, 93
harmony, 23,44-45, 53, 88
Hartmann, Nicolai (1882-1950,
German philosopher), 27-28
heavenly bodies, 73-74,76,
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich
(1770-1831, German philoso-
pher), 7,10-12,18-22,26,
35,43,46, 67-69,103,120,
Hegelian, Hegelianism, 10-11,19,
21-22,25, 35,46,57, 66-67,
Heidegger, Martin (1889-1976,
German philosopher), 7,13,
80, 86-88,109, 111, 117,
Heidelberg, university of, 7-9
Hellenism (spread of Greek culture
and thought after Alexander
the Great in fourth century
B.C.E.), 24, 73
Heracleides Ponticus (390-322
B.C.E., Greek philosopher and
astronomer), 39
Heraclitus (540-475 B.C.E., Greek
philosoher born in Ephesus),
21,25, 34-35, 61, 64,93,95,
hermeneutics (theory of interpreta-
tion), 19,21,29,46,102
Herodotus (fifth century B.C.E.,
Greek historian), 36
Hesiod (fl. eighth century B.C.E.,
Greek poet), 13, 36, 63, 65,
93-94, 96,107,124
historicism, 7,10,15-16,21-22,
24, 93, 95,110,114-115
historiography, 12,22,35-36,77,
history of philosophy, 10-11,
19-21,25, 58,125
Homer (fl. 850 B.C.E., Greek epic
poet), 7,10,13,15,36-38,
55, 61, 63, 93-95,113,116,
human sciences, 16,23-24, 29-31
Husserl, Edmund (1859-1938,
German philosopher), 70
hyle, (Greek: matter; originally:
wood, forest), 8, 65, 79, 81,
Idea (Platonic concept), 11,17,20,
58,67-68,77, 85,87-89,99,
104-105, 111
Idea of the Good in Platonic and
Aristotelian Philsophy, The
(Gadamer), 48
idealism, 35, 57, 68,110,120
Iliad (Homer), 98,124
immortality of the soul, 41-45,47,
incipience, 17, 38
indeterminacy, 18
Introduction to the Human Sci-
ences (Dilthey), 16,24
Ionia (ancient Greek region in Asia
Minor along coast of Aegean
Sea), 64, 83, 85, 87, 93,
Jaeger, Werner (1888-1961, Ger-
man philosopher), 36, 86-87,
Joel, Karl (1864-1934, German
philosopher), 96
Kant, Immanuel (1724-1804, Ger-
man philosopher), 11,22,27,
41,43, 52,123,125
Karsten, Simon (1802-1864, Ger-
man philologist), 97
Kierkegaard, S0ren (1813-1855,
Danish philosopher), 67
Kramer, Hans-Joachim (1929—,
German philosopher), 11
Kruger, Gerhard (1902-1972, Ger-
man philosopher), 123
Laks, Andre (contemporary French
philosopher), 79
language, 7-8,10,13-15, 21,25,
29, 34, 42,46, 53, 58, 62, 89,
Lectures on the History of Philoso-
phy (Hegel), 10
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm
(1646-1766, German philoso-
pher), 27,44
logos (Greek: word, account),
11-12,17, 35-36,46, 53, 55,
60, 62, 72-73, 94,109-110,
Luther, Martin (1483-1546, Ger-
man religious reformer), 26,
Lysis (Plato), 47-48
manotes (Greek: thinning, rarefy-
ing), 76
Marburg, university of, 13,123
mathematics, 25, 39,41,48,54,
56-57, 60, 66, 73
matter, theory of, 25, 30, 65,
73-74, 80-82,116,123
me on (Greek: non-being, nothing),
Meister Eckhart (1260-1327, Ger-
man theologian, mystic), 58
Melissus (fifth century B.C.E. Greek
philosopher), 118,122
memory, 29, 37-38,50,98
Meno (Plato), 41
Metaphysics (Aristotle), 16, 35,47,
69, 72, 75, 78-79, 84-85,104
method, 30-31; methodology, 10,
Middle Ages, 24, 96
Milesian school, 35, 72, 78, 88,
Miletus (ancient Greek city in Asia
Minor, located in present-day
Turkey), 9, 35, 80, 90
Mill, John Stuart (1806-1873,
British Utilitarian philoso-
pher), 30
modern science, 15,28, 57, 69-70,
Mondolfo, Rodolfo (contemporary
Italian philosopher), 21
moral questions, 28
Mount Olympus, 65, 92
music, 23
mythos (Greek: tale, story), 17,
35-36, 88, 90,117
myths, 16, 38,47, 64, 73-74,
78-80, 88,108
National Socialism, 24
natural sciences, 22-23,27-31
nature, 8,12,16,26,29, 31, 34,
42-45, 50, 53, 71, 73-77, 79,
81-82, 84, 92, 97,99,101,
Neoplatonism, 54
neuter gender, use of, 14
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm
(1844-1900, German philoso-
pher), 7,14, 37-38,46, 86,
Nomoi (Plato's Laws), 66-67
notnos (Greek: law, convention),
non-being, 19,95-96,109,
non-existence, 30
nous (Greek: mind), 19, 51-52,
57, 66, 83-84, 91,103,105,
numbers, 38, 54, 56, 64,72-74
objectivity, 30-31
Old Testament, 73,115,124
Olympian gods, 124
One, the, 91,112,118,121,124
ontology (philosophy of being),
14,43, 51,54, 65,68-69, 85,
opinion, 12,14, 50, 61-62, 85,
95, 98,102,104,115,118,
Orphic rites, 38
Paideia (Jaeger), 36
Paris, univeristy of, 10
Parmenides (515-450 B.C.E.,
founder of Eleatic school of
Greek philosophy), 14,21,
25, 35, 38, 58,61,63, 67-68,
75-76, 79, 91-99,101,
Peripatetics (school of Greek phi-
losophy founded by Aristotle),
Phaedo (Plato), 34, 36-42,45, 50,
56-57, 59-61, 66, 68, 71-73,
85, 91,113
phenomenology (philosophical
study of appearances in
human experience,), 11,28,
57, 68, 80
Phenomenology of Spirit (Hegel),
Philebus (Plato), 56, 83
Philolaos (b. 470 B.C.E., Greek
philosopher), 39
Philosophical Investigations
(Wittgenstein), 61
Philosophy in the Tragic Age of
the Greeks (Nietzsche), 86
Physics (Aristotle), 13,34-35,47,
53, 55, 72-73, 75-76, 80-86,
physis (Greek: nature, being), 8,
34-35,44, 74.75, 81, 84-85,
Plato (428-348 B.C.E., Greek
philosopher), 7,10-12,
14-15,24, 32-34, 36-45,
47-49, 51, 53-59, 61, 63-68,
71-76, 79-81, 83-85, 92, 94,
Plato and the So-called Pythagoreans
(Frank), 39
Platonic dialogue, 49
Platonic, Platonism, 10-12,15,29,
32, 34,48-50, 52,56,58, 62,
67-68,73-74, 82, 94,99,
Popper, Karl (1902—, British
philosopherof science), 24-26
Presocratics, 7, 9-13,17-18,20,
22-23,25, 32-36, 38-40,44,
56, 62, 64-65, 72,79, 82,
principium (Latin: beginning),
Problemgeschichte (German: prob-
lem history), 20,25
Protagoras (490-410 B.C.E., Greek
Sophist), 61
Pseudo-Dionysius (unknown Neo-
platonist author of mystical
treatises, around 500 C.E.)
psyche (Greek: soul, mind), 41, 58
puknotes (Greek: condensing),
purification, 38,41
purity rituals, 41
Pythagoras, 38, 90, 93
Pythagoreans, 39,44, 54,56,65,
76, 83-84
quantum mechanics, 28
quantum theory, 27
reincarnation, 38,45
Reinhardt, Karl (contemporary
German philosopher), 14,118
repetition, theme of, 97,100,114,
Republic (Plato), 48
rhapsode (reciter of epic poetry),
36, 63, 90-91, 96,116
rheontes (Greek: flux), 62, 65
rhetoric, 26,43, 74
Robin, Leon (1866-1947, French
philosopher), 12
Romanticism (philosophical and
cultural movement of the late
eighteenth century), 10,12,
Sartre, Jean-Paul (1905-1980,
French existentialist philoso-
pher), 31
Scheler, Max (1874-1928, German
phenomenologist), 27-28
Schleiermacher, Friedrich
(1768-1834, German theolo-
gian), 10-12,16,20,22
Schopenhauer, Arthur (1788-1860,
German philosopher), 86-87,
Science of Logic (Hegel), 11
Seele (German: soul), 37
self-consciousness, 19,57, 68-69,
senses, 12, 41, 60, 71; sensory
experience, 42, 44, 53
Simmias (character in Plato's
Phaedo), 39,42,44-45, 58
Simplicius (sixth-century Neopla-
tonist and commentator on
Aristotle), 7, 34, 52, 76,
Skeptics (school of Greek philoso-
phy), 33
Snell, Bruno (1896—, German
philologist), 14
Socrates (469-399 B.C.E., Greek
philosopher), 36-37,39-45,
63-64, 73, 78, 83, 91,113
Sophist (Plato), 43,60,62-63,
65-68,71-72,75,77,79, 81,
85, 94,112
Sophists (wandering Greek teach-
ers of fifth century B.C.E.), 40,
spirit, 11,16,20, 50, 66, 68
stasiotai (Greek: those who take a
stand), 62, 65
Stephanus (Henri Estienne, 1531-
1598, French scholar and
printer of Greek classics), 122
Stoicism (Greek and Roman phi-
losophy founded by Zeno of
Citium), 26, 33,104,108
structure, philosophical concept in
Kant and Dilthey, 20-22
subject and object, 31,120
Summa Theologia (Aquinas), 96
ta enantia (Greek: in opposition to
each other), 101
tecbne (Greek: art, skill), 34,
74-75,79, 82
teleology (theory of ends or goal-
oriented activity), 16,22, 53
Thales (648-546 B.C.E., early
Greek thinker from Miletus),
7,10,13,15-16, 35, 65, 76,
78-80, 85-87, 89-90
thanatos (Greek: death), 57
Theatetus (Plato), 51, 60-62,
65-66, 68, 71-72, 94,109,
Theogony (Hesiod), 36,65, 96,
Theology of the Early Creek
Thinkers, The (Jaeger), 36, 86
Ttmaeus (Plato), 67, 73-74,
to auto (Greek: the same, identi-
cal), 111
to ison (Greek: equality), 44
Topics (Aristotle), 25-26,29
transmigration of the soul, 38,56
Tubingen school, 11
unity, 18,31,51,64, 66, 85,90,
98,101,105-106, 111, 113,
universe, 29, 52-53, 63, 69,
73-74, 85-93, 97-101,
Untersteiner, Mario (1899-1981,
Italian philosopher), 61
values, 27-28, 31, 53, 70, 74, 86,
91, 94-96, 99
Viennese school, 77
virtue, 27-28,48, 65, 90, 97
virtuality, 18
Weber, Max (1864-1920, German
sociologist), 17
Weltgeschichte (German: world
history), 46
Whitehead, Alfred North
(1861-1947, British philoso-
pher), 61
Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1889-1951,
Austrian philosopher), 61
world-soul, 68,73
Xenophanes (570-470 B.C.E.,
Greek philosopher), 36, 63,
72,77, 90-91,96
Teller, Eduard (1814-1908, neo-
Kantian German philosopher),
12,19, 21-22, 35
Zeno of Elea (490-430 B.C.E., dis-
ciple of Parmenides), 112,

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