The Role of the Body

Socrates begins his enquiry into the essence of perception by asking about the role of the senses, and by extension the body. It would appear that perception is the relation between what is immediately perceivable e.g. “smells, colours, sounds etc.” and that which is able to take up a perceiving relationship with them. For smells that is the nose, for colour the eyes, etc. Does this mean that it is the body, through the senses, which has a perceptual relationship with what appears? Or is perception only achieved in passing through them, i.e. are the senses just a passageway to perception?

The second characterisation is agreed upon, with Socrates providing the proof: If perceiving was dispersed to different points on the body, so that the eyes are that which see, the ears that which hear etc, what we see and hear, colour and sound, would also be distributed to the corresponding points on the body. This would mean in order to see we would have to direct ourselves to our eyes, in order to hear we would have to direct ourselves to our ears. The end result would be that we could not hear and see something simultaneously.

This is an impossible state of affairs, therefore its opposite is acknowledged, every perception, rather than being dispersed to various points on the body, converges in a unity. This is not a bodily unity, for the body upholds the dispersion of perceiving through its organs of perception. Instead this unity is the “single sighted nature” that we possess, in which all sensory perceptions converge “in something like an idea” [i.e. knowledge]. The idea is what is sighted, it is both seeing and what is seen in its presence, i.e. it is the thing’s essence that is immediately present before us. (126)

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The First Answer

The first answer that Theaetetus offers in response to Socrates’ question: “what is knowledge?” is that knowledge is “perception” (aisthesis). Heidegger then asks how this answer is arrived at, what is it in perception that appears to link it to knowledge, understood as the “possession of truth,” and thus to being.

For the Greeks the becoming perceived of something in perception is the same as phantasia. This is what a thing appears as, what it shows itself as, its appearance. Accordingly that which we perceive in a perception is there in a state of being perceived, which we take for what it presents itself as. Heidegger gives an example: “the moon itself that appears in the sky, that presents itself and is present; this is something that shows itself.” The moon shows itself as being present, which we take for what it shows itself as, the moon. Therefore aisthesis has a double meaning relating to the perceived in its perceivedness, and the perception in which perceivedness occurs.

Therefore Theaetetus’ thesis is that knowledge, as truth, is this perceivedness of what is seen. That which we perceive in a perception is there before us as something that shows itself as present, as “a kind of unhiddenness.” Perception, aisthesis, is equated with truth as unhiddenness, aletheia, because it “appears the most immediate mode of the unhiddenness of something…the most tangible truth.”

Yet it is still open to question that what becomes manifest in this relationship, between what shows itself and perception, is being. For this to be the case our “perceptual comportments,” seeing, hearing etc, through which we have a perception, must “have a relationship to beings as such.” To test whether or not this is the case Heidegger’s analysis focuses on the essence of perception itself, asking whether or not a perceptual comportment “can bring itself into a relationship to beings as beings, such that the unhiddenness of beings is given in the perceivedness occurring in such a comportment.” (121)

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Socrates’ Question

Plato’s Theaetetus is a dialogue, in which the leading question: “what is knowledge?” is posed by Socrates to Theaetetus. “Knowledge,” a translation of epistememe, has two meanings; it is a practical know-how, which “extends across all possible human activities,” from how to make a pair of shoes to how to conduct a war. It is also understood as “seeing” or idein. What unites both is their relationship to beings in their unhiddenness, their truth. Seeing is the seeing of beings in their presence, as what they show themselves for. Similarly know-how is disposal over beings in their presence, in their unhiddenness. This leads Heidegger to define knowledge as: “knowing-one’s-way-around in something as the possession of truth.” (120)

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