Author: Rod Hemsell
Last Updated: January 26, 2012
Plato started discussing the relationship between sensation and perception two thousand five hundred years ago, and we are still discussing it today; that is our topic tonight. We speak about visual impressions, and we unconsciously process visual information all the time, but we have no idea how it happens. Just as we probably don’t know how the computer chip works. We process information all the time with computers, but how that tiny silicon chip with circuits soldered to it stores infinite quantities of information is not something we understand. Somebody of course understands the theoretical explanation of how it works, but even that person isn’t going to know how, at the most physical, atomic level of its matter, how the silicon chip stores data.
When we start to think about ‘sensation and perception’ we have first to ask what we mean by these terms. And then we may recall what Hume and Aquinas have thought about it, or what Plato and Aristotle thought about it, and we start a process of reflection that brings us into our own thinking. Are we then remembering, or are we generating some new information? How much of what I am going to say now is stored in my mind and your mind and in thousands of other minds, somewhere, and stored in hundreds of books that, like sheet music, help us to awaken to this chord system of thinking? And then we enter into an active, present process of thinking in which memory is a part of the whole stream, but we have no idea where it is located. It is a huge mystery. It is as much a mystery as where that text of Plato was located when I downloaded it from the internet. It is stored in some computer somewhere, where it was an originally scanned and stored and uploaded document, in a chip that gets accessed by my computer millions of miles away. Our memory system is also one of those mysteries that we cannot hope to understand, and yet it forms the basis of almost everything we do.
Memory is always present with us in some way.
This question of perception comes up in Heidegger’s commentary on Plato’s text, the Allegory of the Cave in The Republic, which Heidegger has translated here, (and there are at least three commonly known English translations: by Jowett, Cornford, and Shorey.) In this dialogue Plato introduces a discussion of the question, What is truth? And what are ideas? And how are ideas related to sensations and perceptions? This is a very basic problem of philosophy and in many contexts it is thought that this is what philosophy is all about: the understanding of knowledge, and truth. What is the meaning of that concept, and why do we care about it. This is a really fundamental question of philosophy. What is truth, and how do we know anything at all about it?
In Heidegger’s commentary, he says, “Plato speaks of a topos noetos”; noetos is related to noein, which means knowing, which happens in a plane of mind called nous.” Nous has been a prevalent concept in Western philosophy since Plato, and it means the function of higher mind, of knowing the meaning of ideas. It is the plane of understanding. Where does the idea of ‘understanding’ reside? We believe we understand a lot about life and spirituality and philosophy and language. All of that knowledge resides somewhere other than the knowledge of where we switch on the light in the room, or how to light the fire to boil water, or which hand to use to adjust the mirror on the motor bike. That kind of knowledge resides in a memory that is very physical. But the knowledge of ideas resides in another domain. And normally human beings have thought that ideas like knowledge and justice and truth and the meaning of existence are more important and have a special rank. They reside in a plane called nous, and we get them by a process which is other than the practical process of living, a process of contemplation of things we cannot see.
Heidegger says that nous is the faculty of non-sensory experience or seeing, or of understanding things as what they are, their essence, the being of things. Ta noeta is the perceivable in knowing. So when we know something like an idea, that idea comes from the world. Somehow, in the world, we notice something like injustice or deception or falsehood. These things are closely related and go together. We know about things that happen in the world, and from that context of relationships we derive the concept of justice or injustice. That concept doesn’t reside in a particular place or time; it isn’t the result of a visual or audial perception; or smell or taste or touch. We can’t put our finger on injustice. But we know it to be a reality. And that reality is the noeta. And the noein is our perception of it.
Just like the blue color that resides in the cloth, when we perceive that blue color, we perceive that blue color in the cloth. It is not something in our eye or in our brain. There is a certain school of psychology that likes to say we are processing some light waves in our brain and perceiving a subjective phenomenon. There is undoubtedly some such process going on in our brain from the eye’s stimulation, but we can see quite clearly that we are looking at that blue blouse, and we are not seeing it somewhere in the brain or mind. This is a fundamental truth that is falsified in a lot of theoretical psychology, which is so eager to figure out how we know things, that it has created an elaborate theoretical structure to explain that we don’t really know anything outside of ourselves. We only know the products of our own information processing. We may think that what we see resides outside us in the world, but we can’t prove that; we can only speculate that it exists out there. What nonsense. There has been a prevalence of this kind of scientific subjectivism in philosophy for about two hundred years that is totally different from the subjectivism of the ancients.
Plato makes a strong argument for the existence of color in the world, and also for the existence of ideas in the world. Ideas are not the products of our brain. Ideas are that noeta which we perceive. There is injustice in the world. And there is a kind of intelligence that human beings manifest in their behavior, which is logical, and it is not just a concoction of our mind that human beings think logically. They do think logically, and we see it all the time. It is a fact and we perceive it. We don’t perceive this with our eyes or ears or nose or tongue or skin. The thinking of the human being is perceived in another way, which is the question of philosophy. Plato speaks of a topos noetos. Topos, like topography, we can easily understand. It is a place, it is a plane of reality. It has dimensionality. There is a plane of human intelligence which has its field, the field of logical thinking and intelligence, and the field of perceptions, which we all share. We all perceive the book on the table. Topos noetos, the place where the book is perceived. There is the perceivable in the perception.
Now what is the relationship between the perceivable and the perception? In the case of the book, there is obviously a visual information process that goes on in our awareness, and we can touch it. We also know it is a book; it is a concept we share. When we see it, we don’t think it is merely a glossy surface; we think it is a book. And it is. It is a true perception. But the question that runs through Western philosophy is, How does our eye happen to tell us that this is a book? Is that dimensionality and plane and color in our eye? Is that information in our eye? If it happens to be a computer with speakers and we are listening to a lecture stored in the computer, we hear and see a person speaking, we have audial and visual information about the person speaking, and intellectual information that we are hearing; is that information in our ears and our eyes? Here is the mystery for philosophy. What is the relationship between the audial and visual information and our understanding of the lecture?
The key word in that question is: relationship. What is the relationship between, or among, or through, our visual perception, our audial perception, and our understanding of the lecture? You are now experiencing what David Hume called a composite perception. You are seeing me speak and you are hearing my words, just as if there were a computer generating a memory of this lecture. I am a little more animated and real than the computer generated lecture, but there is not much difference. The computer is full of mechanisms we don’t understand and so is this organism. The organism is more complex but they are equally not understood. So what is the relationship between the visual and audial sensations you are receiving and your understanding of the meaning of my lecture?
No one has a problem understanding this comparison of my organism with the computer. It is easier to understand than the noeta and the noein, which you can also understand. And everyone understood that there is a relationship between the injustice we perceive, through various perceptions we have, and we understand that the injustice exists in the world, and it’s a reality. It becomes, in our perception, a concept of the reality. That noein of the noeta is the idea (of injustice). Here I am just paraphrasing Heidegger. By quoting Plato, who is the authority from ancient times, he raises, again, this question of the relationship, and he follows Plato’s argument closely. Plato demonstrates, through a dialectical process, that knowledge doesn’t reside in the eye or the ear or the other sense organs. We somehow employ our faculties of sensation to come to something called non-sensory perception. And we know that memory underlies that perception as well, because we couldn’t conceive of the relationship with what I am saying and what a computer could be saying without memory, because there is no computer in the room. Human beings can operate on the basis of the memory of things that are not present, which other animals apparently cannot do. So how is this possible? How do we perceive things that are not present to our sensory system?
Plato argues that there must be another, unifying faculty, a faculty that unifies the sensory perceptions, and also the relationship between the knower and the known. There must be a plane of reality that unifies the relationship between what I am saying and what you are understanding, or between what the computer provides through your sensory apparatus and your awareness of the intellectual content of the sound and vision. The question that Plato raises, which has fascinated human beings for two thousand five hundred years is, How is it that human consciousness unifies all of these ‘iotas of data’, bits of information, so that we have a non-sensory perception of an idea?
Comment: Do you really want an answer? Shall we name it? Brahman.
“According to Plato’s reflection,” writes Heidegger, “there must be something like a single-sighted nature.” – (something in nature that has the ability of a unification of perception, a singularity of perception. Because we do that, we do unify our perceptions and know a lot about things, that doesn’t depend on individual separate sensations.) “In which all of these – color, sound, taste, - converge; something like a singular en-visibility. This would then be the center from which, or by means of which, we have the perceptual object immediately before us. What one calls this singular en-visibility is at bottom irrelevant.” (You can call it Brahman, or Atman or Mind, or whatever.) “One can call it soul - psuche. But if so, if we have already used this word ‘soul’ psuche, and continue to use it, we must understand it precisely in the sense of mia tis idea – that through which comes the unified idea.” (Soul. Purusha. The witness who unifies all the noeta in the noein. This was Plato’s idea.) Heidegger says,
“What does Plato mean? This is what we wish to clarify, so far as possible, at this point. In the following, we shall come to a more concrete and denser characterization. The impossibility of this uncanny state of affairs implies that there must be something like an idea.” This is what Platonic philosophy is most known for. Plato speaks always about ideas. What are they? And what is their relationship with things? This is Platonic philosophy. Last week we read something in Heidegger which said that Ideas are not just what we know, but Ideas bring into unhiddenness Reality. When we know an idea, it is knowing something which is itself a force of reality. The idea of the Good, says Plato, is the origin of things. The idea of the Good brings forth in nature proportionality, necessity, power, process, speciation, the web of life. What Is. The idea of the good brings out of nothing all the something that makes up existence.
Sri Aurobindo has a similar idea with the Supermind. It is the creative force of existence, energy, the Shakti, that contains the knowledge which brings into being what is. If we could get beyond mind, which is a reflection and analysis and representation in concepts and theories, into Supermind, we would come into direct contact with the creative energy of things themselves, and experience a continuum of infinite creativity, manifesting itself in time and space through forms that exist temporally. And the perception of temporal things would be full of the infinite energy of creativity behind them. And that would be a transformed consciousness. This is Sri Aurobindo’s idea of the Supermind.
So Heidegger asks, what is an idea? “We need to recall the general meaning of the word ‘idea’, which means what is sighted. ‘Idea’ means something which is seen in a composite seeing. …Sight is ambiguous – that which sees, sight, is that which sees, – and what it sees is sight. It has two meanings. Sight is the power of seeing and the power of self-showing.” The blue shirt shows itself to our seeing, just like injustice shows itself to our thinking. “Seeing is the seeing of a view, having a view of the sight that is seen. What binds the two together? This ‘seeing’ and ‘sight’ must be understood in a transposed meaning, rather than as sensory seeing with one’s eyes. It is this sight that in perceiving first makes out something like a look, something present in such and such a way. What is retained in this transposed meaning is seeing as the perception of something in its self presentation.”
So the self-presentation of the book is what we see. It is something in itself, and we see it. So, what is the relationship between this self presentation of the being of the idea of a book and our perception, our seeing, of the idea of the book in the object there? It is a relational field.
Comment: Doesn’t this make it sound like the book is actively doing something to show itself?
Yes, it does and it is. There are light waves coming from the book towards you. And there is the energy of all that went into the making of the book that is contained in the object, also coming towards you. If you had read the book then what you see would be much more complex than what you see on the surface. There is its whole technological history and there are centuries of reflection contained in it. Without all of that the book would not be here.
Plato suggests that the soul, as Heidegger interprets Plato, is the whole relationship; it is the presencing of that which is seen, and it is the seeing of that which is presencing. Soul is not confined to the body; soul is in everything as what it is, and the knowing of what it is in us is possible because soul is the unifying seer of the unified seen.
Comment: It is Upanishadic.
These ideas of Heidegger are found in the book that is featured in this study, titled The Essence of Truth, in which we find Heidegger’s translation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. It was written in 1931, subsequent to Being and Time, and it is a very thorough treatment of Plato’s theory of knowledge. If we compare this commentary on Plato’s writings with some of the writings of Sri Aurobindo, we find remarkable connections. I would like for us to look briefly at one example, which is closely related to the arguments presented above, but which constitutes a leap away from epistemology, in the direction of metaphysics and spirituality.
Heidegger translates and comments on a passage from Plato’s Republic, in the context of his explanation of the noeton and gnoston, the known and the direct grasp of the thing known, as follows:
“‘In the region of that which is genuinely and truly knowable, what is ultimately seen is the idea of the good. But it can be seen only with great difficulty, under great exertion.’ The ascent into the light thus comes to an end. The telos (end), that which is ultimately seen is not grasped just as a finishing and going-no-further of something, but as the all encompassing, forming, determining limit. It is only here that liberation is brought to complete fruition as a becoming free for, a self-binding to, being. In the meantime we have come to see more clearly the inter-relation between liberation and unhiddenness, (aletheia, truth).
“We thus come to the question of this ultimately perceivable idea, idea tou agathou, the idea of the good. What does the clarification of its essence tell us about the essence of aletheia, truth? …The step from the idea, to the ultimately seeable idea, presupposes an adequate understanding of the essence of idea as such. We must already understand what ‘idea’ means, if we are to grasp the ultimate idea in its finality. Only in this way can we understand what is meant by teleutaia idea, the highest idea. And quite rightly because it is the ultimate step in an ascent.
“…The idea is something highest, namely the most beingful being and the most unhidden being. The ideas are the most unhidden beings because they make being comprehensible, ‘in whose light’, as we still say today, a particular being is a being and is what it is. The ideas are also the most unhidden, i.e. the primordially unhidden, (in which unhiddenness arises), in so far as they are what first lets beings show themselves. …the highest idea holds sway most primordially and authentically by allowing both the unhiddenness of beings to arise, and the being of beings to be understood.
“…The highest idea, although itself barely visible, is what makes possible both being and unhiddenness, i.e. it is what empowers being and unhiddenness (truth) as what they are. The highest idea, therefore, is this empowering (the Good), the empowering for being which as such gives itself simultaneously with the empowerment of unhiddenness as occurrence.(p. 68-72)”
I have mentioned before that Sri Aurobindo and Heidegger share a background in Greek classical philosophy. In one of his early essays, Ideals and Progress, 1922, Sri Aurobindo wrote, “Ideals are truths that have not yet effected themselves for man, the realities of a higher plane of existence which have yet to fulfill themselves on this lower plane of life and matter, our present field of operation.To the pragmatical intellect which takes its stand on the ever-changing present, ideals are not truths, not realities, they are at most potentialities of future truth and only become real when they are visible in the external fact as work of force accomplished. But to the mind which is able to draw back from the flux of force in the material universe, to the consciousness which is not imprisoned in its own workings or carried along in their flood but is able to envelop, hold and comprehend them,…the ideal present to its inner vision is a greater reality than the changing fact obvious to its outer senses. The Idea is not a reflection of the external fact which it so much exceeds; rather the fact is only a reflection of the Idea which has created it.”
This conception of idea, and especially the idea of the Good, as presented by Heidegger, and also by Sri Aurobindo, doesn’t mean a ‘mental conception’. In the Allegory of the Cave, Aletheia, as Unhiddenness, means that what we see at first, in the cave of ordinary consciousness, is shadow. What it really is, is hidden. Then, what we see when we stand up and turn around, is what has been reflected as shadow. Those are things, beings. Then, as we move up towards the light we begin to understand the theories of things, as what they are and how they are. And then, as we look towards the being of things, as they stand in the light of the sun, which is blinding at first, we see the Idea, which is the most primordially unhidden true nature of the things themselves, which before only appeared to us as temporal relative perceptions. (In Being and Time, Heidegger presented an elaborate study of the relationship between the appearances of things and the phenomenon of the thing itself, the fundamental theory of phenomenology.)
What we see in this conception is three minds focusing on the meaning of the idea. What is behind this focusing of understanding, is a drive to ascend in knowledge towards truth. And this drive is the truth itself, in us, becoming revealed through our studies and contemplation, discovery and humiliation, and our eventual passing towards something other than a first perception and conception of things; towards an understanding that all those things we perceive, and understand theoretically, are the temporal forms of principles, or ideas, which are themselves eternal. When we perceive the eternal principles in beings, as what they really are, we are approaching the gnoston, the gnosis of the relative in relation to the absolute. And at the highest level of this understanding stands the Good, which is the idea that empowers both the being of beings and the knowing of the truth. In this vision of reality and interpretation of Plato’s philosophy, Heidegger has established the ground of a fundamental ontology, which exceeds the limitations of the prevalent epistemology in philosophy, to establish the possibility of being conscious of things themselves as they truly are. For Sri Aurobindo, this approach to Truth has been tracked out through planes of consciousness above rational mind, through higher mind, Intuitive Mind, Overmind, to Supermind, which is the original consciousness-force of being and truth.
(transcribed and adapted from the University of Human Unity lectures recorded on 3/10 and 10/10, 2011)
(We may conclude by saying that these excerpts show that this work of Heidegger, which is based on the allegory of the cave in Plato’s Republic, is a restatement of Platonic philosophy. As such it provides a key to Heidegger’s philosophy as a whole, as well as to its connection with the ‘gnostic’ philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. In the first diagram below, which is an attempt to represent Heidegger’s view of the world, we may see that the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ circles of beings and knowledge, which are conventionally separated, are united by the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ circles of ideas and soul; and the central oval unites all four circles. In the second diagram, which is the formal symbol of Sri Aurobindo, we see the square of divine manifestation at the center of the ascending and descending triangles of consciousness, with the four powers of the Divine Shakti inside the square. We may surmise that what fundamentally differentiates Heidegger and Sri Aurobindo is the idea that this unification of being in the Truth-Consciousness is an evolutionary task, according to Sri Aurobindo, while for Heidegger it is the task of philosophy and, as such, is within the reach of human beings as they are, though requiring great effort. And yet, for him this marks the limit of metaphysics; empowerment of the Good is the end of philosophy. Perhaps the only difference is the stride beyond, taken by Sri Aurobindo. )
Supplements to this study of Heidegger’s philosophy
1. Selections from The Essence of Truth by Martin Heidegger (1931, Eng. Trans. 2002)
The idea of the Good (idea tou agathou, ho agathos)
…as Plato expresses it, the ability to see and the ability to be seen must both be harnessed together under one yoke… a yoke which gives the dunamis to the perceiving as also to the perceivable. And what must pertain to the perceived, in order that it should be perceivable? The aletheia!
Plato says that a being is only accessible as such when it stands in aletheia (unhiddenness). In a way that is self-evident for a Greek, he quite unambiguously understands aletheia not as a property and determination of seeing, of knowledge, nor as a characteristic of knowledge in the sense of a human faculty, but as a determination of what is known, of the things themselves, of the beings.
“This therefore which grants unhiddenness to the knowable beings and which lends to the knower the power of knowing, this I say, is the idea of the good (the good as the highest idea).”…
The good, the agathon, is therefore the enablement of being as such and of unhiddenness as such. Or better, what Plato calls the good is that which empowers being and unhiddenness to their own essence, i.e. what is prior to everything else, that upon which everything else depends. The agathon can only be understood in this sense: Empowerment of being. …
Empowerment is the limit of metaphysics. Plato calls that which empowers agathon (the Good itself, the Sun of Truth).
The Soul and Perception (psuche, aesthesis, gnosis)
We perceive the existing objects of perception: color and sound. Color is one being, sound is another; or to put it the other way around, the one exists as something different in relation to the other. As beings, both color and sound are different to each other and the same as themselves. …
We perceive all this (being, being one, different, both, the same, two, one, identity and non-identity) in addition to the color and sound. So we have an irremovable excess (as we provisionally call it) of perceivables within the region of perception, and it is incumbent on us to soberly re-inact the proof that Plato provides for this. We do not know what this excess is.
“Now in what way do you perceive all this (the indicated excess) attaching to them (color and sound)? For it is impossible, either through hearing or sight, to discover, or take in, what they have in common.”
It is now said that this excess is to koinon, i.e. what color and sound have in common. …Color, sound, taste, etc. are all existing, each identical with itself and different from one another. Do we hear this being-different, do we see it with our eyes? Do we hear or see their existing? Of course we do not.
“There is no special organ for this (for this excess) as there are for the others (color, sound, smell), but the soul itself views, through itself, what all things have in common.”
This singularity, being, which they have in common does not contain anything of color and sound, neither anything of smell. Being-different is likewise a koinon. To be sure, difference separates one from the other (color from sound)! It is therefore definitely not something they have in common! So it appears. Color and sound are different only insofar as they can be distinguished. They can be distinguished from each other only insofar as they are held up together and compared. They come together in comparison, albeit only to emerge as different: this means that each is different, that difference pertains to both, that they agree in being different: a singularity, and indeed such that both are extended therein, and must be so extended, in order that they can be different. So we see that this koina, this totality belonging to the excess, shows us what is perceived in this one region of perceivability, into which color, sound, etc. show themselves in their diversity. Therefore the koina have precisely the character referred to earlier, namely that it is the soul which relates to them: a singularity, an extending of one to the other.
(We should perhaps note that Heidegger gave a lecture in 1957, called The Principle of Identity, in the preface to which he says, “the constitution of metaphysics is defined by difference”.)
The connection between the excess of perception and the soul itself is thus understood in a properly positive sense; we understand why it must be the soul, and this alone, which perceives ta koina. Plato says, the soul perceives everything of this kind through itself. But what can through mean here, where no bodily organ, indeed no kind of organ whatever, can be meant? Perhaps a ‘soul-organ’ and ‘forces’? Not at all! But does the soul itself possess a passage-way? It does not have this, but rather is this itself, thus holding up the region of a unitary perceivability. …Intrinsically and as such it extends over to the other which can be given to it. As that which intrinsically perceives, the soul is itself a being-extended-to, a passage-way, an extending over to.
Eros – as the Soul’s striving for Being
We have conceived knowledge as the possession of truth; possession is one mode of having. What possession is cannot be decided at one stroke. …’Possessing’ is one way of having, and one way of possessing (the most familiar to us) is having disposal over things. It is this kind of possessing that we wish to bring to mind (only for the purpose of emphasis, not for an exhaustive analysis of the phenomenon), paying special attention to the fact that what is had here stands ready for our arbitrary employment. Such possessing can (but need not) be seen as the highest mode of having, for it is marked precisely by immediacy of disposition and arbitrariness of employment, thus by a kind of freedom of having. …Precisely on the basis of this extensive freedom of action, such possessing can (but need not) become, in its genuine comportmental character, a self-losing amidst all kinds of needs. …The autonomy of the self gives way to the contingency and arbitrariness of needs and desires to be immediately satisfied. Although this kind of having has the appearance of fulfilled possession, it is not an authentic having in the strict sense of authenticity. What we understand by authenticity is that mode of human existence wherein man (authentically) appropriates himself, i.e. wherein he comes to himself and can be himself. The having which we have just described is inauthentic servitude under the arbitrary rule of needs. …This self-consuming striving then leads to the destruction of the authentic self.
(We may note here that the psychologist and author, Erich Fromm, who was a student of Heidegger, wrote extensively in the 60s and 70s in America about this distinction between having and being.)
Every striving is indeed a striving toward (the object striven for), but this toward is not necessarily an away-from-oneself. On the contrary, one can think of a striving wherein the object is held fast as such, but also thereby held fast to oneself, so that one finds oneself in this holding fast to the object, indeed such that one finds oneself not just as a point and thing and subject, but in the sense of the soul’s essence, which is essentially a relationship – thus finding oneself precisely as this striving relationship to the object. This kind of striving does not strive to possess the object, ,but strives for it to remain as striven for, as held in the striving, in order that the striver finds himself from that for which he strives. Such striving would be authentic in so far as the striving self does not strive away from itself but rather back towards itself, i.e. in order that, in this striving, it may gain its own self.
Plato says nothing else but that being belongs to that which stands in authentic striving. …Plato also calls this striving Eros.
So we should not understand the Platonic and Greek Eros in terms of what is nowadays called the ‘erotic’, but nor should we think that the Greek eros would be suitable for bigoted old aunties.
The delightful in the broadest sense is what arouses hedonai (delight); it raises our spirits and somehow puts us in good cheer, in contrast to the disagreeable, which depresses us. The attunedness, which constantly and from the ground up penetrates our Dasein (being), could not be what it is had it not attuned our existence in advance to the delightfulness of the beings we encounter, and to the delightfulness as such. Only in so far as our Dasein is attuned to this, and thus also attuned to the possibility of changes and shadings of attunement, thus only in so far as delight and non-delight stand in the authentic striving of the soul, can we encounter the delightful as such. It is not as if we first find beings as present, and then find that they delight us. The situation is the reverse: what we encounter is already attuned in respect of delight and non-delight, or hovers between these as indeterminate (which, however, is not nothing), and only on the basis of this situation can we then disregard the character of delight/non-delight in order to look at what we encounter as something merely present.
Something can strike us as delightful only in so far as our Dasein is already attuned to the delightfulness/non-delightfulness of what is present. (Or we might add, to the justice/injustice, honesty/dishonesty, courage/cowardice, relevance/irrelevance, etc. of what is present. Such qualities, which modern psychology and philosophy would attribute to the mental faculties of judgment and discrimination, have an existence in themselves which is given to us through another faculty in us which precedes mental operations, called the soul, according to Heidegger’s interpretation of Plato.)
Delightfulness and non-delightfulness, taken in the broad sense, thus belong to the region of perceivability that surrounds us, i.e. the sphere of our striving, just like sameness, difference, etc. What the Greeks call agathon and kakon, good and bad, belong in this same region, provided that these words are understood in the broadest possible sense.
Plato himself gives an interpretation of the cave allegory. Stated without allegory, the ascent from the cave to the light of the sun is he eis ton noeton topon tes psuches anodos, ‘the way upwards, measured out by the soul in its knowing, for reaching the place where one encounters what is accessible to nous’. Plato speaks of a topos noetos. Nous is the faculty of non-sensory seeing and perceiving, of understanding things as what they are, their essence (what-being), the being of things. Ta noeta, the perceivable in noein, the perceived in non-sensory seeing, the look, the given-as… are, as we know, the ideai. To noeton is here equivalent to to gnoston. And now Plato says,
“In the region of that which is genuinely and truly knowable, what is ultimately seen is the idea of the good, but it can be seen only with great difficulty, under great exertion.”
He who is genuinely hungry for knowledge (who genuinely wants to know) is concerned with beings themselves, and not at all with what are commonly held as such (the shadows); he is concerned with the ho estin, with the what-being of beings, their essence, the ‘ideas’, the beingful beings. The ideas are therefore the most beingful beings – eidos.
How are we to understand this double character of the ideas, that they are the most unhidden and the most beingful? What do we conclude about the essence of the ideas and its connection with the essence of truth as such? The most unhidden: this superlative means that the ideas are the primary unhidden. They stand at the forefront of everything unhidden, they play the leading role, they prepare in advance for the others. In what way? The ideas are the most beingful beings, and what is most beingful in beings, what actually constitutes beings, is their being. But being, as we have seen, is what first of all lets beings through. The ideas prepare the way. Light allows what was previously concealed to become visible. The ideas remove hiddenness. The unhiddenness of beings arises from being, from the ideas, from alethinon (the unhidden truth itself). What is most disclosive opens up, and what is most illuminative lights up. The ideas allow unhiddenness to arise along with beings; they are the primordially unhidden, unhiddenness in the primordial originary sense. This is what superlative means.
When unhiddenness occurs, hiddenness and concealing are overcome and removed. The removal of concealment, that which acts against concealing, we shall henceforth call de-concealing. The characteristic perceiving of the idea, this projecting, is deconcealing. At first this appears to be just another word. This perceiving as pre-modelling binding of oneself to being, which is the proper meaning of liberation, deconceals not in an incidental sense, but this looking-into-the-light has the essential character of deconcealing and is nothing else but this. To be deconcealing is the inner-most accomplishment of liberation. It is care itself: becoming-free as binding oneself to the ideas, as letting being give the lead. Therefore becoming-free, this perceiving of the ideas, this understanding-in-advance of being and the essence of things, as the character of deconcealing, i.e. deconcealing belongs to the inner drive of this seeing. Deconcealing is the innermost nature of looking-into-the-light.
2. Notes regarding the problem of reading Heidegger with respect to Nazism, political history, and spirituality:
As Noam Chomsky puts it (Nov. 5, 2011):
“The allies did not fight "the good war," as it is commonly called, because of the awful crimes of fascism. Before their attacks on western powers, fascists were treated rather sympathetically, particularly "that admirable Italian gentleman," as FDR called Mussolini. Even Hitler was regarded by the US State Department as a "moderate" holding off the extremists of right and left. The British were even more sympathetic, particularly the business world. Roosevelt's close confidant Sumner Welles reported to the president that the Munich settlement that dismembered Czechoslovakia "presented the opportunity for the establishment by the nations of the world of a new world order based upon justice and upon law," in which the Nazi moderates would play a leading role.
As late as April 1941, the influential statesman George Kennan, at the dovish extreme of the postwar planning spectrum, wrote from his consular post in Berlin that German leaders have no wish to "see other people suffer under German rule," are "most anxious that their new subjects should be happy in their care," and are making "important compromises" to assure this benign outcome.”
On the question of Heidegger’s Nazism, in the context of a grilling by Der Spiegel (1966), which constitutes his published defense, published only after his death in 1976, he made a comment similar to Chomsky’s regarding the attitude towards Hitler of world leaders at the time of his involvement:
“Heidegger: Here I have a point to make. In the interest of reorganizing the technical structure of the university, i.e., of renewing the faculties from the inside out in terms of the very substance of their task, I proposed to nominate for the winter semester of 1933-34, younger and, above all, professionally outstanding colleagues to become deans of the individual faculties, and this, indeed, without considering their relationship to the Nazi Party. Thus, Professor Erik Wolf was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Schadewalt of the Philosophy Faculty, Professor Soergel of the Science Faculty, and Professor von Möllendorf, who had been dismissed as Rector the previous spring, of the Medical Faculty. But already by Christmas of 1933 it became clear to me that I would be unable to carry through the pending renewal of the University against either the resistance of the academic community or [the opposition of] the Party. For example, the Faculty reproached me for introducing students into responsible administration of the University -- exactly as is done today. One day I was called to Karlsruhe where the Minister, through one of his Councillors, demanded, in the presence of the Student District Leader, that I replace the deans of the legal and medical faculties with other colleagues who were acceptable to the Party. I refused this request and offered my resignation from the rectorate if the Minister insisted on his demand. That's just what happened. This was in February, 1934. I resigned after ten months in office while [other] rectors of that time remained in office for two or more years. While the national and international press commented on my assumption of the rectorate in the most diversified fashion, not a word was said about my resignation.
SPIEGEL: Did you have at that time the opportunity to present your thoughts about university reform to the appropriate government minister?
Heidegger: What time are you referring to?
SPIEGEL: We are referring to the trip that Rust made to Freiburg in 1933.
Heidegger: There were two different occasions involved. On the occasion of the Schlageter celebration in Schönau (Westphalia), I took the initiative of making a short formal call upon the Minister. On a second occasion in November, 1933, I spoke with him in Berlin. I presented to him my conception of science and of the possible restructuring of the faculties. He took careful account of everything that I said, so I nurtured the hope that what I presented to him would have some effect, but nothing happened. I do not see why exception is taken to this exchange with the Party's then Minister of Education, while at the same time all foreign governments were hastening to recognize Hitler and to extend to him the ordinary international signs of respect.
SPIEGEL: Did your relations with the Nazi Party change after you resigned as Rector?
Heidegger: After my resignation, I limited myself to my teaching responsibilities. In the summer semester  of 1934, I lectured on "Logic." In the following semester 1934-35, I gave my first course on Hölderlin. In 1936, the Nietzsche courses began.18 All who could hear at all heard this as a confrontation with National Socialism.
SPIEGEL: How did the transfer of office take place? You took no part in the celebration?
Heidegger: That's right. I refused to take part in the ceremonial transfer of the rectorate.
SPIEGEL: Was your successor a committed member of the Party?
Heidegger: He was a member of the Law Faculty. The party newspaper, Der Alemanne, announced his designation as Rector with banner headlines: "The First National Socialist Rector of the University."
SPIEGEL: What position did the Party take toward you?
Heidegger: I was constantly watched.
SPIEGEL: Did you notice this?
Heidegger: Yes -- for example, the case of Dr. Hanke.
SPIEGEL: How did you know about it?
Heidegger: He came to me himself. He had just taken his doctorate in the winter semester of 1936-37, and in the summer semester of 1937 he was a member of my advanced seminar. He was sent here from S.S. Security Service to keep watch on me. …
SPIEGEL: Did it get even worse later on?
Heidegger: In the last year of the war, 500 of the most important scientists and artists were released from any kind of war service. I was not among them. On the contrary, in the summer of 1944, I was ordered up the Rhine to build fortifications.
SPIEGEL: On the other side of the border, Karl Barth did the same thing for the Swiss.
Heidegger: What is interesting is how this took place. The Rector had invited the entire teaching faculty [to a reception]. He gave a short talk to this effect: he was speaking by special arrangement with both the circle and the district leaders of the Party. [Accordingly,] he would now divide the entire teaching faculty into three groups: first, those who were completely expendable; second, those who were half-expendable; and third, those who were not expendable at all. In the first group of completely expendable was Heidegger, and along with him Gerhard Ritter.22 In the winter semester of 1944-45, after the termination of the manual labor on the Rhine, I began a course that bore the title, "Poetizing and Thinking." In a certain sense it was a continuation of my Nietzsche courses, i.e., of my confrontation with National Socialism. After the second hour, I was conscripted into the Civil Defense Forces, the oldest member of the teaching body to be called up in this way.”
It is clear from this interview that Heidegger’s “confrontation with National Socialism” is perhaps more the issue than the oversimplified judgment, “Heidegger was a Nazi”. Heidegger was a philosopher, and a Nietzschean philosopher, in the sense that he most frequently refers to Nietzsche as the philosopher of “the eternal return of the Same”. Heidegger’s philosophy of Being, and of Identity and Difference (“Being is difference”) is a philosophy of oneness in the Vedantic sense; it is also a philosophy of “the tragedy of time”, in both the Aurobindean and Nietzschean sense. Those who interpret existence in this way are “Gnostics”, in both the Platonic and early Christian neo-platonic sense: the world of shadows is an illusion, behind which lies the divine truth, which is knowable, and knowing which liberates the soul from illusion for divine knowledge and work. From this point of view, as we learn especially from Sri Aurobindo, everything that happens, happens for a purpose, and there are no contradictions - from the point of view of the “supramental” i.e. “Gnostic” consciousness. This is a hard teaching, no doubt, but it corresponds to those early traditions of thinking, like the teachings of Krishna in the Gita, and the pre-socratics, to which Heidegger and Sri Aurobindo chose to return.
I have twenty books of Heidegger on my shelf, which I have read and re-read, and I have fifteen of Sri Aurobindo. In one of the latter’s works he writes:
“For more than a half-century Germany turned a deep eye of subjective introspection on herself and things and ideas in search of the truth of her own being and of the world, and for
another half-century a patient eye of scientific research on the objective means for organising what she had or thought she had gained. And something was done, something indeed powerful
and enormous, but also in certain directions, not in all, misshapen and disconcerting. Unfortunately, those directions were precisely the very central lines on which to go wrong is to miss the goal.
It may be said, indeed, that the last result of the something done—the war, the collapse, the fierce reaction towards the rigid, armoured, aggressive, formidable Nazi State,—is not only
discouraging enough, but a clear warning to abandon that path and go back to older and safer ways. But the misuse of great powers is no argument against their right use. To go back is
impossible; the attempt is always, indeed, an illusion; we have all to do the same thing which Germany has attempted, but to take care not to do it likewise.” (The Human Cycle, Rev. ed. 1949, p.41)
SA’s vision of the coming of a subjective age, full of promise and pit-falls, was framed during the two world wars, and it was based on the practice of Yoga, entailing a severe rejection of normal mental preferences, beliefs, values, etc, with no illusions about the goodness of human beings. The more I read of both of these “contemplative” philosophers, the more I see how similar their methods are and also their conceptions of truth. They are both devout Platonists. Also, their education and nationalistic cultural values were very similar. Finally, their critiques of the modern, and their constant call for “another way of knowing” seem to me to come from a similar type of mystical and spiritual vision, although there are distinct differences, particularly between SA’s insistence on a spiritual evolution of consciousness that transcends the human, and H’s insistence on a philosophical grasp that may be within reach of the human. Both said that the change may be 300 years away. Sri Aurobindo predicted that India would lead the world towards the new subjectivity, and yet Fascism, Cultural Elitism and Racism are alive and well today in India, as they are everywhere, though under the new guise of globalism and technology. At the same time, the “step back” into a more intuitive, inner and higher direct awareness of universal values, for which they both called, is growing. Nearing 70 myself, I must say that it is becoming both easier and more difficult to reconcile these disparities, even from a purely spiritual point of view, but the quality of the extremes is intensifying the meaning of life.
To those who say that Heidegger should be dismissed because he was a member of the Nazi party, I would ask, should we dismiss the economist Kenneth Galbraith and the historian Arthur Schlessinger because they served Kennedy as he was invading Cuba and Vietnam? Or should we dismiss the nationalist leader Mohandas Gandhi because he refused to support India’s entry into the war against Hitler?
Dec. 29, 2011