The First Answer Refuted

It is at this point that the question of whether aisthesis, perception, is the essence of knowledge, as claimed by Theaetetus in his first answer to Socrates, is “decided in the negative.”

Aisthesis “refers to what is given in the senses,” hearing, seeing etc, which, as we have seen, does not give us access to beings, and by extension unhiddenness. Knowledge on the other hand is understood as the possession of truth i.e. the unhiddenness of beings, aletheia, which is achieved through the soul. This leads Socrates to conclude that it is possible to possess being and unhiddenness in this latter way, but not in the former way, therefore “perception and knowledge could never be the same.” (174)

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The Learning of Being

Towards the end of his enquiry into the nature of perception, Heidegger says a further understanding needs to be brought into focus, one which relates to us as the beings that perceive.

As we have seen perception is characterised as a duality, split between what strikes our senses, which is immediately and naturally given; and our understanding of what was previously called the excess, which is only achieved with effort over time. Similarly we are ourselves split, between our bodily relationship to that which we receive naturally, i.e. from nature, which conditions us; and our struggle to understand being over the course of the history of our being.

Heidegger characterises our being as Dasein, as “being-in-the-world,” this means we are not detached observers, but, from the moment of our birth, subject to the power of nature, experienced as “day and night, land and sea, generation, growth and decline, winter and summer, sky and earth.” We experience nature as something beyond our control, indeed as something which tunes us in our essence, i.e. in our striving for being. We experience this attunedness as “joy and cheerfulness, anxiety and misery.” Yet these moods do not control us, instead it is our Dasein as striving that “seizes hold” of our bodily being in its powerlessness in the face of nature, and directs it in its striving relationship with being, the ground of our essence. (170)

From this Heidegger says that our understanding of being as striving is not achieved through nature, but by the effort and patience of paideia (learning), a commitment of our authentic selves to striving itself, which is seldom achieved. “This is the reason we find it so difficult to grasp what this word (striving) refers to.” (171)

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The Excess Reversed

What has already been said about the soul’s capacity to perceive being – through the senses, and as the excess – is returned to, in the form of a “contraposition,” opposites opposed, spoken by Heidegger in terms of “on the one hand…on the other hand.” (164)

On the one hand in the immediate self-losing perception of what is hard, coloured, audible etc. through our bodily organs, the being of the hard and the coloured; hardness, colouredness are already understood, in a non-regarding and non-conceptual way. On the other hand what has come into view can be looked at, and illuminated in its structure, in terms of its being, what-being, being-opposed etc.

Rather than opposites these operations of the soul belong together. Being, what-being and also colouredness, hardness are always already perceived and in play when we perceive things as coloured, audible. Both the soul’s non-conceptual grasping of being through the senses and its conceptual perceiving of the excess are held in its striving comportment towards these things, making them “have-able” as coloured and hard.

As a result of this the characterisation of being as the excess is rejected as inadequate, in favour of being as the pregiven, what must already be understood in order that something sensory can be perceived and then further illuminated, extended in its structure, i.e. as being-different, being-one etc. This explains Plato’s understanding of the soul as: “what holds up a region of sight within which everything sensorily perceivable is extended.” (166)

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The Excess Expanded

In order to get a clearer view of what is striven for in this striving Socrates asks Theaetetus:

“[There is contained in authentic striving] being-similar and being-dissimilar, being the same and being-different?”
“Yes”
“And what about being-beautiful and being-ugly, being-good and being-bad?”
“It [the soul] also appears to view the being of these, especially in their relation to one another, reckoning within and for itself, upon the past and present in relation to the future.” (157)

Here the characteristics of being, that which the soul strives for, are expanded to include “being-beautiful and being-ugly, being-good and being bad.” These new being-characteristics bring things closer to us as what they are for us, they account for how things make us feel, whether they elevate or depress us. We are attuned in advance to the delight and non-delight of beings, which is “part of the region of perceivability that surrounds us.” (159)

It is in this region of perceivability that the relationship between the soul and what it strives for, being, is maintained in a form of seeing that is similarly striving. This is the scopic a “goal-directed seeing” that looks towards the object of seeing, the skopos with a preformed intention. What is looked at is not viewed in order to see it, but in order to authorise the stance, the comportment we take towards what is before us.

Whether we see them as good, bad or indifferent, this scopic seeing of the many understandings of being we have in the excess is always seen for something. Returning to the meadow that Heidegger placed us in earlier, in order to perceive the blue of the sky and song of the lark; these are experienced in their togetherness. The soul in its scopic seeing goes back and forth between these connections, from what is there to what it is for; in this case “delight.” “We delight in the natural blue-existing sky and in the singing-existing bird.” (136) In this sense the soul’s striving has a further character, that of the analogical, “ana” to go back and forth, and “logos,” to gather, to collect something in its connections.

In the background of this activity is temporality, the soul’s striving relationship to being is “intrinsically a relationship to time.” (162)

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Striving for the Excess

As we have seen being belongs to everything perceivable, it is what all perceptions have in common; the question now is, where is it perceived? Is being in the perceivedness of the object or does it belong in some way to the soul? Theaetetus’ answer to this question also gives the characteristic of how the excess is engaged with: “In my view, ousia [being] belongs to what the soul, through and by itself strives for.” (146) The soul has a direct relationship to the excess, which is one of striving.

This “striving” is the fundamental characteristic of the soul’s relationship to being, and implies an active reaching for something. This contrasts with perception, which Heidegger defines as something we lose ourselves in, in perceiving we accept and have beings. (148) Striving, by definition, does not have the object it strives for, as an activity it is essentially incomplete, never-ending; if we achieve the object of our striving then it comes to an end.

Our immediate perception of beings, things, is non-regarding and non-conceptual. We do not occupy ourselves with beings as such, i.e. their being-blue or being-audible, nor do we grasp their being conceptually, i.e. their being-different, one etc. From this it is clear that in a perception we have beings before us, but not being, the excess. Our connection to being is one of striving by the soul, which carries us along, in a relationship which is also called eros.

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The Excess

The first step towards answering “what organ is in play when we perceive something in respect of both colour and sound?” is to show what is perceived in the situation in which we hear and see at the same time. To enable this Heidegger asks us to place ourselves in the imaginary situation of lying in a meadow, from which we can “see the blue of the sky, while simultaneously we hear the singing of the lark.” Asking how we perceive both together, the answer; we first of all perceive both as existing, i.e. as being, then that they are different from each other, “colour is one being, sound the other,” both the same as themselves, which also makes them countable. All that is thus perceived: “being, being one, different, both, the same, two, one, identity and non-identity,” is in addition to the colour and the sound, and are there as what Heidegger calls “an irremovable excess.” (135) This seeing of the excess is “perceived so self-evidently and immediately that at first we do not pay the least attention to it.” (136)

The identification of the excess, that which is there in addition to what is seen, heard etc. leads to the understanding that it is something that all our sensory perceptions, colour, sound, taste, touch have in common. Socrates then repeats his question: “with what sense-organs do you perceive this common element?” (138) This is asked because it has been shown that everything perceivable is perceived through a bodily organ. The excess, that which we perceive over and above what we see, hear etc, is common to all things, yet there is not a recognisable passageway to it, but there must be.

Theaetetus answers this question saying there is no special organ for perceiving the excess, the soul itself views the excess, while the sense organs give the soul access to colour, sound etc. Therefore the intrinsic duality of things, their physical properties and their being, are combined and seen in a unity by the soul, but which also has the capacity to separate them.

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Soul and Body

As we have seen our sense organs do not take up a relationship to the perceivable – yet every perception; hearing, sight, has a bodily character. Perceptions are dispersed through the relevant various sensory passageways; hearing is only accessible via the ears, colour through the eyes, each isolated in itself. Yet we see a colour and hear a sound at the same time. (130) This means both acts of seeing and hearing occur at the same point of time, but also that we perceive sound and colour together, “one is given along with the other.”

The question then becomes about the statement: “we perceive sound and colour together.” If I say “I hear the sound” or “see the colour” it is clear which sense organ is active. In saying “sound and colour are perceived together” the question then has to be asked, through which sense organ do we perceive the “and” and the “together” of this proposition? The “and” implies plurality, while “together” implies unity, neither of which can be seen, heard or tasted.

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