Monday, June 26, 2006

On the Essence of Truth--Untruth as Concealing

6. Untruth as Concealing
Concealment does not allow aletheia to have full disclosure of beings; “concealment preserves what is most proper to aletheia as its own.” This concealment does not occur simply because the “knowledge of beings is always fragmentary” as unconcealment “is older than every openedness of this or that being” and “letting-be itself, which in disclosing already holds concealed and comports itself toward concealing.” In order for a being to unconceal beings there must be concealment, it must preexist any particular unconcealing of beings that let’s them be as they are. That which is ‘conserved’/‘preserved’ is exactly that which is concealed--“beings as such.” Since every comportment is a comportment of beings (see 121-122), “beings as such” are “what [are] most proper to aletheia as its own.” Hence, untruth/unconcealment is also that which is “most proper to aletheia as its own.” This is “the one mystery” that “holds sway throughout man’s Da-sein.”

Concealing at first appears in what is concealed. Da-sein, through ecstatic comportment, “conserves the first and broadest undisclosedness, untruth proper” in every unconcealing of beings. This is the mystery--the “nonessence of truth.” Here nonessence is not seen as something inferior, as in the distinction between being and becoming, necessity and contingency, actuality and possibilitas. Rather the nonessence is taken to be a “pre-essential essence,” the essence that is both prior to and part of every essence (every being as something).6 But we should at first understand the nonessence of truth as a “deformation of that already inferior essence” since this nonessence, unlike the traditional understanding of nonessence, will always [131] be essential for (it belongs with) the essence--the uncovered (unlike the traditional understanding of essence and nonessence) “never becomes unessential in the sense of irrelevant.” This is an unconventional way of speaking about nonessence/untruth and “goes very much against the grain of ordinary opinion and looks like a dragging up of forcibly contrived paradoxa.” But this understanding of the nonessence directly follows from our path--we first examined the claims of the traditional understanding of truth (i.e. correspondence) and found that it required the appearing of beings; this appearing of beings furthermore required ecstatic (ek-static) comportment towards beings. From here, so that beings may be the “standard” for our true statements, freedom for beings was needed--the freedom to let beings appear as they are. Lastly, freedom required that we allow for untruth, for the nonessence of truth as concealing “beings as a whole,” which occurs with every unconcealing; the nonessence of truth must be understood positively in terms of being covered over, hidden. Thus, understanding the essence of the nonessence of truth is needed in order to understand truth; understanding the covering is needed to understand the uncovering. Because of this, it is more prudent to reject “ordinary opinion” than to reject where the phenomenon of truth has led us--that “the primordial nonessence of truth, as untruth, points to the still unexperienced domain of the truth of Being (not merely of beings).”

This may require a little more explication: every unconcealing of beings as something necessarily conceals other aspects of those beings, those aspects that are unimportant for the given comportment. When kicking a soccer ball, its scuff marks or even its design is irrelevant to the activity, thus they get covered over. This covering over is an important part of our experience of the soccer ball in that comportment: it drastically reduces the aspects of the soccer ball that we must take notice of, that we must focus on in our activity. Thus, in the activity of kicking the soccer ball, the fact that some aspects of the ball do not become salient is important in that it allows for those salient aspects to come to light and be relevant in the situation. If we needed to take explicit notice of every aspect of every being that we come upon in the world we would be incapable of action; we would be too engrossed in trying to ‘register’ everything in our environment and the objects we are interacting with. It is because we can in a sense ignore those aspects that are irrelevant to our current purposes that beings can appear as this or that. It is because of this that every unconcealing requires concealment, that every truth requires untruth.

Freedom, in letting beings be as they are, is the “resolutely open bearing that does not close up in itself.” This is a strange way of putting it: to be resolute usually means to be closed off, not to be open. John Sallis, the translator, provides the following note that is informative:

”Resolutely open bearing” seeks to translate das entschlossene Verhältnis. Entschlossen is usually rendered as “resolute,” but such a translation fails to retain the word’s structural relation to verschlossen, “closed” or “shut up.” Significantly, this connection is what makes it possible for Heidegger to transform the sense of the word: he takes the prefix as a privation rather than as indicating establishment of the condition designated by the word to which it is affixed. Thus, as the text here makes quite clear, entschlossen signifies just the opposite of that kind of “resolve” in which one makes up one’s mind in such fashion as to close off all other possibilities: it is rather a kind of keeping un-closed.
Heidegger’s use of “resolute” here is emphasizing the pervasiveness and active character of this openness: it must be sustained as an event of uncovering/covering. All possible comportments are made possible by and grounded in this resolute openness; it is because I am resolutely open to beings (because I am free for beings), because I have a ‘here’ whereby I can direct myself towards a ‘there,’ that comportment is possible. But as we saw above, this bearing towards what is concealed (in order to unconceal it) is also concealed in every unconcealment, “letting a forgottenness of the mystery take precedence and disappearing in it.” In this forgottenness man still “takes his bearings [verhält sich]” through comportment, but in forgetting the essential relationship between unconcealing and concealing he allows himself to comfortably dwell in a particular way with beings. He takes up those particular modes of comportment--those particular ways in which he unconceals beings--and remains in that mode of unconcealment. To use one historical example, philosophers and scientists have long interpreted beings in terms of properties, thus when they disclose beings (at least consciously; if Heidegger is right then they disclose beings in other ways all the time) they see an object in terms of its properties and categorize it accordingly. When it is suggested that there are other ways to disclose beings, other ways that a being is, they are often incredulous--how can beings be other than as a substance with properties? The dominance of metaphysics, then, is sustained in this forgetfulness of beings as a whole, of the nature of comportment and unconcealing/concealing. Heidegger put it aptly:
Man clings to what is readily available and controllable even where ultimate matters are concerned. And if he sets out to extend, change, newly assimilate, or secure the openedness of the beings pertaining to the most various domains of his activity and interest, then he still takes his directives from the sphere of readily available intentions and needs.
Already confident that we know what we are talking about (see 115-117), we rely on those modes of comportment that we are familiar with and thus constrain how beings can appear by limiting our modes of bringing them to light. By doing so we forget our own disclosing of beings through open comportment and, hence, forget the nonessence of truth that is the mystery of being itself. Despite this forgetting, we commonly express this phenomena, for example those times when we say, “He thinks like an engineer,” or, “Can you stop being a philosopher for just a moment!” We all naturally deal with things in those modes of comportment with which we are familiar; the key is understanding the nature of comportment to beings as a whole, including the relation between unconcealment and concealment.

By remaining in our common modes of comportment, we are not letting “the concealing of what is concealed hold sway.” Instead of retaining the concealed as the pre-essential essence of truth, we reduce it to mere puzzlement and [132] ignorance of some of the beings that we come in contact with; it is a mere deficiency in our knowledge/understanding of things, a temporary stopping point on our way to better understanding them through our already established modes of unconcealing. In doing so we do not allow the nonessence of truth to have its peculiar sort of presence.7

Wherever the concealment of beings as a whole is conceded only as a limit that occasionally announces itself, concealing as a fundamental occurrence has sunk into forgottenness.
This forgetting of the mystery of being/the concealed does not annihilate the mystery, but gives it a “peculiar presence [Gegenwart].” By forgetting the relationship between our unconcealing of beings and the excess that remains concealed in that unconcealing, man is left to his own devices, appropriating the world in terms of “the latest needs and aims” in terms of “purposing and planning.” In the modern age this is seen in technology: everything is reduced to a resource or reserve that can be used for thus-and-such a purpose, whether it be time, materials, or people that are ‘contracted’ for their work. When this occurs, it is the needs and aims that determine the “standards” for beings (compare 125-126)--beings are disclosed in terms of these needs and their ‘worth’ are determined according to how they can fulfill them; utility becomes the standard, not beings. This implies an inherent pragmatism: beings of all kinds are useful because they can be used for some purpose, they ‘work.’ Because of this, man “persists in [needs and aims] and continually supplies himself with new standards, yet without considering either the ground for taking up standards [freedom through open comportment] or the essence of what gives the standard [the nonessence of truth].” By being left to himself man mistakes the “genuineness of his standards,” projecting his standard onto beings themselves rather than on its ground (see 118-119).

By thus unconcealing beings according to our own desires, man can then quickly assume that they are the standard for beings: that beings are for his use and consumption and must continually be referred to himself. Here he is again forgetting that being--the unconcealed--is our standard. This phenomena demonstrates that man, while ek-sistent, is also in-sistent--“Dasein...holds fast to what is offered by beings, as if they were open of and in themselves.” While the mystery of the unconcealed (i.e. being) still holds sway, it is forgotten and seen as “unessential” to truth proper. The primary fault, then, is not in disclosing beings in a particular way--as technological resources for our use and manipulation--but in forgetting the nonessence of truth, namely being. Here yet again we find Heidegger returning to his primary question: the question of being. This is simply one more way that the question of being has been forgotten, including the consequences of that forgettfullness.

Notes:

  1. In his later thought Heidegger often speaks about ‘essencing’ in terms of a verb, not as a noun or property of entities. Man, in disclosing beings, essences them, partially constitutes their being in relation to how they are disclosed as something, how it is gathered into a context. This “partially” is seen in the essential relatedness of unconcealing and concealing--being/physis enters or upsurges into the open comportment that is man; as it relates to the ‘correctness’ (Richtigkeit) of the uncovering of beings, being/the concealed pre-essential essence itself limits what I can truthfully disclose. This imposes some specific restrictions on the claim that ‘everything is interpretation,’ while not denying the claim itself. For Heidegger, this understanding asserts it more essentially and authentically.
  2. This expresses a common theme in Heidegger’s thought, first given in Being and Time, that the ‘nothing’ has a particular presence; primordially it is not simply the empty absence of things, but a positive phenomena, whether it relates to anxiety or truth’s nonessence. To put it one more way, it is a felt absence, such as when we lose a loved one who nevertheless remains an important part of our everyday activities.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Clark Goble said...

What are you quoting from Kevin?

2:31 PM  
Blogger Kevin Winters said...

I'm quoting from "On the Essence of Truth" in Basic Writings.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Kevin,

The only part of this that I understood was the bit about the soccer ball. Right: we ignore certain things in order to focus on what we take to be salient in the situation, and this is very useful for a lot of purposes.

Beyond that ... well, as you said,

This may require a little more explication

The reference to John Sallis's gloss reminded me of my Vanderbilt days.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Kevin Winters said...

This question is best addressed in my post on essencing. Simply replace that example with the baseball bat or the Rook and the point will be clearer (I hope).

10:48 PM  
Blogger shane said...

You could do yourself a favour and give up Heidegger's neurosis on not being counted as a theologian and flick to Pierre Hadot on The Veil of isis.
It with this book that Aletheia will be better appreciated, especially as a meditator.

7:40 AM  

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