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)

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, colours, sounds, tastes, 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.

Dianoiein – inner perception
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. This seeing of the excess by the soul is called dianoiein and is defined as the capacity “to look at a thing, thereby perceiving something about it,” a kind of inner perception. This seeing of the excess in dianoiein is “perceived so self-evidently and immediately that at first we do not pay the least attention to it.” (136)

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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, 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, truth]. 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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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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