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Being and Truth

Being and Truth

by Martin Heidegger

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In these lectures, delivered in 1933-1934 while he was Rector of the University of Freiburg and an active supporter of the National Socialist regime, Martin Heidegger addresses the history of metaphysics and the notion of truth from Heraclitus to Hegel. First published in German in 2001, these two lecture courses offer a sustained encounter with Heidegger's


In these lectures, delivered in 1933-1934 while he was Rector of the University of Freiburg and an active supporter of the National Socialist regime, Martin Heidegger addresses the history of metaphysics and the notion of truth from Heraclitus to Hegel. First published in German in 2001, these two lecture courses offer a sustained encounter with Heidegger's thinking during a period when he attempted to give expression to his highest ambitions for a philosophy engaged with politics and the world. While the lectures are strongly nationalistic and celebrate the revolutionary spirit of the time, they also attack theories of racial supremacy in an attempt to stake out a distinctively Heideggerian understanding of what it means to be a people. This careful translation offers valuable insight into Heidegger's views on language, truth, animality, and life, as well as his political thought and activity.

Editorial Reviews

Andrew Mitchell

"Fried and Polt's translation of Martin Heidegger's Being and Truth is a well-crafted and careful rendering of an important and demanding volume of the Complete Works." —Andrew Mitchell, Emory University

From the Publisher
"The two lecture courses collected in the volume entitled Being and Truth were delivered during Heidegger's tenure as the first Nazi rector of the University of Freiburg and thus in his darkest hour as a philosopher... When reading Heidegger's political statements, which frame and punctuate his otherwise thought-provoking philosophical analyses... what is most striking, ultimately, is Heidegger's utter blindness with respect to the true nature of an odious and destructive worldview and his systematic yet delusional projection of a profound transformation of Europe's destiny and a new dawn into the darkest episode of German history." —Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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Indiana University Press
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Studies in Continental Thought
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Being and Truth

By Martin Heidegger, Gregory Fried, Richard Polt

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2010 English edition by Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35511-9


The Four Stages of the Happening of Truth

§10. Interpretive procedure and the structure of the allegory of the cave

Our answer to the question of the essence of truth had to pass through a decision. We cannot, as it were, think up the essence of truth in an indifferent rumination. Instead, what is at issue is the confrontation in history with the tradition of two fundamental conceptions of the essence of truth, both of which emerged among the Greeks: truth as unconcealment or truth as correctness. The originary conception as unconcealment gave way.

Here we cannot decide without further ado whether it was the inner superiority of the latter conception (correctness) that gave it the upper hand over the originary concept, or whether it was a mere inner failure that led to the predominance of the conception of truth as correctness. We must begin at the point where the two conceptions are still engaged in struggle.

Plato's philosophy is nothing but the struggle between these two conceptions of truth. The outcome of this struggle determined the spiritual history of the millennia to come. This struggle is found in Plato in every dialogue, but in its highest form it is found in the allegory of the cave.

The fact that we put the allegory of the cave into this context, that we see the struggle between the conceptions of truth in the story that the allegory tells, indicates a quite definite conception. The interpretation of the myth of the cave leads into the heart of Platonic philosophy.

The story of the cave in Plato's Republic is found in book VII, 514a–517b. We cite the text of the Platonic dialogue by the edition of Henricus Stephanus, 3 vols. (Paris, 1578), whose page numbers, and usually also the five subsections a–e, are printed in the margin of modern editions.

We divide the text into four sections—and this means that we divide the whole story into four stages.

I. Stage 514a–515c.

The situation of the human being in the subterranean cave.

II. Stage 515c–e.

The liberation of the human being within the cave.

III. Stage 515e–516c.

The authentic human liberation into the light.

IV. Stage 516c–517b.

The look back and the attempt to return to the Dasein of the cave.

We proceed in such a way that we will elucidate each stage on its own, while attending from the start to the fact that the individual stages on their own are not what is essential, but rather what lies between them: the transitions from one to the next. This means that what is decisive is the whole course of the happening; our own Dasein should participate in completing this course, and should thus undergo movement itself. When, for instance, the first stage has been elucidated, we may not set it aside as something over and done with; we must take it along with us into the transition and the subsequent transitions.

At first I will always supply the translation of the text of the whole section, and then the interpretation will follow. It would be more convenient to refer you to the text or to one of the usual translations. But this is ruled out by the very fact that every translation is an interpretation.

The [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is presented in such a way that Socrates tells the story of the cave to Glaucon, with whom he is conversing.

* * *

A. The first stage (514a–515c)

§11. The situation of the human being in the subterranean cave

Socrates: Make an image for yourself of human beings in an underground, cave-like dwelling. Upwards, toward the daylight, it has an entrance that extends along the length of the whole cave. In this dwelling, human beings have been chained since childhood by the legs and neck. Hence, they remain in the same position and look only at what is in front of them {as we would say: what is present at hand before them}. {They can neither leave their place nor turn their heads.} They are unable to move their heads around because of the chains. But light {brightness} comes to them from behind, from a fire that burns far above. But between the fire and the prisoners {behind their backs} there runs a road along which, imagine, a little wall has been built, like the partitions that entertainers set up in front of an audience and over which they show their tricks.

Glaucon: I see {I represent that to myself}.

Socrates: Now see, along this little wall, human beings carrying all sorts of implements that poke up over it: statues and other sculptures made of stone and wood, as well as all sorts of equipment designed by human beings. Some of the people carrying these things are talking, as is natural, and the others keep silent.

Glaucon: You are introducing an odd image there, and odd prisoners.

Socrates: They are human beings like us. For is it your opinion that such creatures would see anything of themselves or others than the shadows that the firelight behind them casts upon the cave wall facing them?

Glaucon: How else, if they are compelled lifelong to hold their heads immobile?

Socrates: But what about the equipment being carried by? Don't they see the very same thing, namely, its shadows?

Glaucon: What else?

Socrates: If they were in a position to discuss with one another what they have seen, don't you believe that they would consider what they see to be actual beings?

Glaucon: Necessarily!

Socrates: But what if the dungeon had a echo from the facing wall? Do you believe that whenever one of those passing behind them spoke, they would take anything but the passing shadows to be what was speaking?

Glaucon: No, by Zeus!

Socrates: Therefore such people {these prisoners in the cave} would consider nothing else to be the unconcealed than the shadows of fabricated things.

Glaucon: Absolutely!

The first section depicts the condition of human beings in the underground cave, which has its way out above, toward the daylight that nevertheless does not shine in. In the cave there are human beings chained by the legs and neck; they are forced to look straight ahead at the wall of the cave that faces them. Behind them burns a fire that casts a light. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a passageway behind a little wall; objects—implements and equipment—are carried back and forth along this passageway. Sometimes the carriers keep silent, sometimes they talk.

If there were an echo in the cave, then the prisoners would attribute the sounds of the words to the human beings they saw on the wall. This is the question: how does the presentation of this first stage end? With an explicit indication that what is at stake here is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the sense of the unconcealed. Socrates says that these prisoners would take nothing other than shadows of things to be the unconcealed. So the question is how these human beings relate and behave toward the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the unconcealed.

As strange as the condition of these human beings is, and as odd as the setting is, these human beings are nevertheless related to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], to the unconcealed itself: human beings from childhood on, by their nature, are set forth into the unconcealed, no matter how strange their condition may be. Human beings are set forth in advance into the unconcealed, that is, into a connection to the things [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [facing what is in front of them]. To be human means to stand in the unconcealed and relate to it.

But precisely because of this, the question will arise: what is unconcealed to human beings in this condition? It is simply what they immediately encounter, what faces them. These are the shadows that the people behind them cast against the wall in the glow of the fire.

* * *

§12. What is unconcealed in the cave

This presentation is ambiguous and calls for more precision. The prisoners see the shadows, to be sure, but they do not see them as shadows. What they see, we call mere shadows. They themselves are not in a position to call what shows up on the wall in front of them shadows. For this, they would have to know about the fire and about the light that it casts. Yet the prisoners cannot know anything about all this. Although we can ask what is unconcealed, this is a question that the prisoners have no occasion to ask. They have to take the shadows as beings themselves. They have not noticed that the light is behind them and comes from behind their backs. Here we must distinguish between fire and light, lux and lumen, the source of light and brightness (like door and doorjamb). We use the expression "light" in a double sense (source of light and brightness).

The people there have no relation to the fire and the light, so they are unable to tell bright from dark. What they see is not a semblance of something else, but beings themselves, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = that which is. Automatically, so to speak, the prisoners take what is played out in front of them as that which is.

If they could discuss among themselves, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], what is given to them and encountered by them, that is, if they could talk about a thing among themselves ... (It would be misguided to want to think here about dialectic and dialogue. Plato's dialectic has its roots here, insofar as beings are not communicated, but instead, what one encounters is first addressed as a being.—Connection between the Being of things and the discourse of language.) So if they could express themselves, they would address it without further ado as what is. Man is such that he relates to the unconcealed as something that is. We designate this relation of man to something that is as the comportment on the basis of which, and within which, man comports himself toward beings and stands in relation to them, as Being toward something that is. Beings as revealed.

We want to clarify the concept of relationship. An animal that comports itself thus and so. The animal cannot comport itself toward something that is, otherwise it would have to be able to speak. (Dog in relation to the bone!) We will encounter the fundamental relationship between animal and man again as we proceed.

These people really do not even have an experience of themselves and of the others. They see, at most, their own shadows, without recognizing them as such; they are completely given over to what is given. They have no relationship to themselves.

The unconcealed is not given to them as unconcealed. They are not familiar with the difference between the concealed and the unconcealed. They are completely gone, they are all eyes and all ears for what they are encountering.

This is quite a remarkable situation these people are in. Glaucon calls it [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a situation I don't know how to place anywhere, I have no place for it within what I am familiar with.

This situation is the everyday situation of man; it is not an exception but the situation of man in everydayness, insofar as he is given over to idle talk, to the customary, what lies closest at hand, the everyday, business as usual. Man in everydayness loses himself, forgets himself in the press of things.

Now, what is listed in this first characterization? The situation: shadows; people in chains; fire and light, a light that burns behind them; people who have no relationship to this; people who do not understand the unconcealed.

All these moments seem at first to be accidental elements in the depiction of this remarkable situation; but they are all connected. It is precisely this inner connection that constitutes what we will exhibit as the essence of truth.

If we restrict ourselves completely to the first stage, we must participate in all of this, completely caught up in what is playing itself out on the wall in front of us. Even there, and already there, what we know as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], unconcealment, reigns. So we are not talking about truth as correctness, but as unconcealment.

B. The second stage (515c–515e5)

§13. A "liberation" of the human being within the cave

In our previous lecture, we attempted to interpret more precisely the first stage of the people in the cave by bringing out the individual moments more precisely. We closed with a reference to the last sentence, which makes it clear that what is at stake is the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the unconcealed.

The unconcealed here is definitely and positively stated: it is not some arbitrary unconcealed but rather the unconcealed, such that human beings in every circumstance are related to the unconcealed and in the broadest sense stand in truth (and in untruth). To be human and to exist as human means, in the end: to stand in truth.

So then what is, in this circumstance, the unconcealed, the true? What is the unconcealed to them, then? The shadows! But they do not experience them as shadows. A precondition for that would be telling the difference between light and dark. That is impossible for them. The light and the source of light are at their backs. But they cannot turn themselves around. Accordingly, this arrangement of the illumination in the cave as a whole is essential to the status of the human beings, and so is their being chained.

The people address the unconcealed as beings. The unconcealed is what is. The people are not just in the unconcealed, they are in it through [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]—first, in the sense of talking things through with one another. Second, this means the manner of talking and asserting in which beings are grasped in their Being: dialectic.

This is only a crude outline. We saw in the explication of the condition of the people in the cave that they are not in a position to experience themselves and others as beings; instead, they can experience only the shadows that they themselves cast. Therefore, they have in no way reached the distinction of light and dark and are entirely caught up in what the senses have to offer. Their condition is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], entirely exceptional, impossible to place. But precisely this condition is the everyday condition of human beings.

As we said before, we should not simply line the stages up one after another; instead, we must always carry forward with us what has been said about the previous stage. The first stage described the situation. The second stage must begin with a story, because it is about a story (a happening). What happens?

Socrates: Now envision what it would mean for someone to be released {[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]} from the chains and have his lack of discernment healed, and consider what must necessarily and essentially occur as a consequence {[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]}, if the following should happen: one of them is unchained and compelled suddenly to stand up, to turn his neck around, to go and to gaze upon the light. But he could do all this only in pain, and, owing to the blaze of the fire, he would be unable to look at those things whose shadows he saw previously. Assuming that all of this were to happen to the prisoner, what do you believe he would say if someone were to claim that previously he had seen empty nothings, but now he was nearer to beings and turned toward what is more a being so that he saw more correctly? And if someone were to show him each of the things being carried past {which he would now see directly} and compelled him to say what each one was, don't you believe that he wouldn't know how to begin, and would hold that what he had seen before was more unconcealed than what was now being shown to him?

Glaucon: Absolutely!

Socrates: And surely if someone required him to look, not just at the things but now at the light itself, then wouldn't his eyes hurt, and wouldn't he turn away and flee back to what he had the capacity to see; and wouldn't he be of the opinion that these {namely, the shadows} were in fact clearer, more visible, than what one had just now wanted to show him?

Glaucon: That's how it is!


Excerpted from Being and Truth by Martin Heidegger, Gregory Fried, Richard Polt. Copyright © 2010 English edition by Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Gregory Fried is Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Suffolk University. He is author of Heidegger's Polemos: From Being to Politics and editor (with Richard Polt) of A Companion to Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics.

Richard Polt is Professor in the Philosophy Department at Xavier University. He is author of The Emergency of Being: On Heidegger's Contributions to Philosophy and Heidegger: An Introduction.

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