Plato’s Failure

Heidegger concludes his account of the Theaetetus by outlining what he calls Plato’s failure in interpreting the phenomenon of the pseudes doxa in terms of speaking rather than seeing. This is because dianoia, inner reflection, is understood as a speaking to ourselves about what is before us, and as such founded on logos (speech).

The mis-taking of pseudes doxa is therefore a failure of the intended predicate, i.e. what is said about the object before us. This leads Plato to grasp the essence of pseudos, un-truth, as the un-correctness of the proposition. Accordingly truth must also have its seat in the logos, rather than unhiddenness it becomes understood as the correctness of the proposition. This leads to our present understanding of truth as the “correspondence, grounded in correctness, between the proposition and the thing.” (2)

This goes hand in hand with the conception of doxa as proposition, which means its original dual character as look and view recedes. Rather than being there in the uncertain duality of seeming, the truth and un-truth of what is seen now “simply stand alongside each other, indeed they have opposing directions, they even exclude one another.” (227)

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The Simile of the Aviary

The retaining of beings for making present in memory, as first encountered in the simile of the wax mass, is further elaborated through the simile of the aviary, as translated by Martin Heidegger in The Essence of Truth (215).

[Socrates] ‘Well, having and possessing seem different things. If a man buys a cloak and in this sense brings it under his power, but does not wear it, we should certainly say, not that he has it on, but that he possesses it’
[Theaetetus] ‘And rightly’
‘Now see whether it is possible in the same way for someone who possesses knowledge not to have it, in like manner, for instance, to a man who catches wild birds – pigeons or the like – and sets up an aviary at home in which to keep them. Might we assert that in a certain way he always has the birds, because he possesses them?’
‘Yes’
‘And yet in another way he does not have any of the birds, but has acquired power over them, since he has brought them under his control within his own enclosure. He can take them and hold them whenever he likes, by catching whichsoever bird he pleases, and letting it go again; and he can do this as often as he likes.’
‘That is true’
‘And again, just as a while ago we contrived some sort of waxen figment in the soul, so now let us make in each soul an aviary stocked with all sorts of birds, some in flocks apart from the rest, others in small groups, and some solitary, flying hither and thither among all the others’
‘Consider it done. What next?’
‘We must assume that when we were children this receptacle was empty, and we must understand that the birds represent the varieties of knowledge. And whatsoever kind of knowledge a person acquires and shuts up within the enclosure, we must say that he has learned or discovered the thing of which this is the knowledge, and that precisely this is knowing’
‘So be it’

The simile of the aviary

Heidegger’s Interpretation
When we are born this container in our soul is empty, gradually it becomes filled with birds, i.e. we become familiar with beings and store them in the aviary. We have the birds stored there as possessions, they are left to their own devices. Thus we retain them but they are absent, but we can make them present by the action of grasping, taking up an active relationship towards them. Thus in the sphere of making present, memory, the same thing can be absent and present, we can have it as possession (ktesis) without expressly bringing it to mind. We can also select it by grasping it, taking an active relationship of being towards it (hexis).

Whoever possesses such an aviary possesses the doves in this cage, in this container, but does so in different ways. First, by sitting in a house, in a room, and having the doves under a roof. In this way, he can possess them and add to his possession. But he can also grasp a dove inside the container. There is the fundamental possibility of taking something out of this domain and having it in a stronger sense, taking on a relationship of Being with it. (Being and Truth, 198)

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The Simile of the Wax Mass

Assume then, by way of simile, that our souls contain something like a wax mass, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller, sometimes purer, sometimes more impure, sometimes harder, sometimes softer, and sometimes of just the right quality. [Everything that we immediately perceive, and also everything that we take in and comprehend, is imprinted upon it] … This wax mass, we say, is a gift of the mother of the Muses. (210)

The simile of the wax mass

Heidegger’s Interpretation
The soul contains a wax mass, into which all experiences are imprinted, its capacity to receive these impressions varies with the individual: “sometimes larger, sometimes smaller…” We can draw upon the impressions retained in this wax mass, in order to hold before ourselves that which is no longer present, or we are no longer with. We have a “connection of being” to what is absent, in the same way that an artist can “visualise and freely form their work in its entire fullness, prior to and without the help of any outline.” i.e. without a body being present. This capacity is the gift of the mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, which belongs to the essence of the soul as a “primordial dowry.” (210)

Heidegger says this gift of Mnemosyne is not memory as recollection but as the faculty of mindfulness, the innate capacity of the soul to make-present that which is not physically there. In making-present that which is absent, we do not orient ourselves towards an inwardly stored image, but outwards towards the thing itself in its full appearance, which we betake ourselves to “without removing ourselves from our factual location.” (212) Since we do not have the thing itself before us from which to draw its eidos, its look, we orient ourselves to its eidolon, its look-alike [also simulacrum] retained in the wax mass inside the soul.

Thus our stance, through the soul, towards those beings retained for making-present, is that of mnemoneuein, the retaining of what is retainable, which Heidegger describes as a “faculty of the soul.” Yet what is retained is not unchanging, our relationship to it can change, we can forget, or the thing itself may change, so that our knowledge of it becomes distorted.

The making-present of the wax mass is essentially a passive having of what is retained. The simile of the aviary demonstrates a more active making-present of that which is retained.

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What Lies Between

The failure of each of the three perspectives to explain the false view leads to their abandonment. In their stead the phenomenon of the pseudes doxa itself leads the way in what is now the main investigation, which seeks to clarify the nature of the “combined comportment” which the phenomenon of the false view demands.

The pseudes doxa is still approached in terms of knowledge, but rather than being thought as something we either know or do not know, what is looked for is what is in the middle of both, which Heidegger calls the “intermediate phenomena” of “coming-to-know.” This coming-to-know is explained through the process of learning; “in the learning process there is always something that one knows and as yet does not know.” (206) Thus, what lies in between knowing and not knowing, coming-to-know, combines the two. This allows a new perspective, the metasu, “what lies in between,” to be opened up, from which the phenomenon of the distorted view is now approached.

Through this new combined perspective, of coming-to-know, the complex duality of doxa is now better understood as requiring a comportment from ourselves “of knowing and at the same time not-knowing.” This in turn leads to the possibility of securing the essence of doxa, pseudes doxa and pseudos.

Rather than a philosophical impossibility, the false view is now understood as having an “intermediate character,” one which reflects the “condition and comportment of man wherein he is somehow related to beings, albeit distortedly.” (208) The phenomenon of the false view is thus intrinsic to our relationship to being, which was shown to belong to the soul. The soul is now revisited, in light of doxa’s combined duality, in a “new double characterisation,” given in the form of two similes.

These similes place us before two sensory images, the first a wax mass and the second an aviary, through which the soul’s capacity to make present what is not before us and its role in allowing us to see what is false are discussed. I shall describe each in turn.

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The Three Perspectives Retracted

The third perspective from which doxa is examined gets closest to solving the phenomenon of false belief by acknowledging doxa’s duality. But the pseudes doxa is then explained in an erroneous manner by ascribing to it a process of substitution, “if one thing is posited instead of the other, at bottom this means that just one thing is posited.” (201) In the end all three perspectives do not suffice as they all lead to the assertion of the impossibility of the distorted view – yet it exists. This means new perspectives are needed, derived from the phenomenon of the distorted view itself.

The claims of all three perspectives are retracted by Socrates. On the face of it a simple move, yet Heidegger claims it means “the entire foundation of previous philosophy becomes unstable.” (204) This is because the principle of the first perspective, “either we have knowledge of something, or we have no knowledge of it,” which underpins the other two perspectives, is founded on the “fundamental truth of western philosophy,” “that what is, is, that the non-existent is not.”

For Heidegger this gives us “an intimation of the power the phenomenon of pseudos (untruth) possesses to disturb and amaze.” He also notes that the overturning of these guiding principles means that rather than conforming the analysis to these principles the analysis must now be conformed to the phenomenon of the pseudes doxa, i.e. what is seen when we have a false view.

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Doxa as Substitution

In the final perspective from which pseudes doxa, the false view, is examined, the confusion of the first perspective is replaced by the proposal that what happens in the false view is a substitution. So the example of someone taking an approaching person to be Socrates, when he is actually Theaetetus, means that Theaetetus is replaced by Socrates. So being is affirmed for each, the interchangeables both exist. The double aspect of doxa, look and view, is maintained. Pseudos becomes what is missed, Socrates instead of Theaetetus. (198)

This appears to have the capacity to settle all previous counter arguments. But two objections are given. The first is that rather than the duality of substitution we see the singular being, one is taken for the other. The second objection to substitution is that if the one becomes the other, the one is the other. This leads to the absurdity of statements such as: “an ox is a horse or that two are one.” (200) Again proving the impossibility of the pseudes doxa.

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