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The first instalment of this series of short texts into the meaning and movement of ‘philosophizing’ took as its point of departure Plato’s ‘allegory of the cave.’ We ended the last part with the initial formulation that the specific nature of Socrates’ own dialectical thinking is peripatetic in the sense that it inverts, reverses and turns the thought of reality and concepts. Consequently, the idea of the movement of ‘turning’ constitutes the first basic description of Socratic peripeteia. It does however only give the sense of peripatetic thinking in the most general and abstract way.
It was noted that the peripatetic status of Socratic thinking is not simply reducible to the endless inversion of thought; that is to say, to a kind of continuous sophistical skepticism in which the limits of thoughts are constantly exposed and overturned: Socrates’ peripatetic thought is more specifically orientated toward grasping what is (being) and not simply the changing of what is (becoming). As is well known, the heart of the Socratic-Platonic philosophical enterprise is the orientation toward grasping the immutable Truth of what is (on ‘immutability’, see for example Phaedrus, 245c and Sophist, 249c-d). Even in his old age, Plato steadfastly affirms: ‘Truth (aletheia) heads the list of all things good, for gods and men alike (Laws, 730c).’
Accordingly, to state that peripatetic thinking is a kind of turning toward Truth is not without justification. And philosophy, as we shall see, is the true turning toward truth itself. (If one can employ a Heideggerian expression here, one could say that philosophy is a specific comportment toward the truth of what is; a comportment that is distinguished for example from that of the sophistry of a Gorgias, a Protagoras or a Hippias.) In light of this, I would like to present a preliminary thesis of the basic dynamic of philosophical peripeteia (in the context of its classical articulation). The thesis is as follows: the knowledge of the Truth is achieved through the true turning of philosophy; in order to know Truth one must turn toward it truthfully. There is then not simply an idea of ‘philosophy,’ but more precisely an idea of a true philosophy, a way of philosophizing that turns in such a way that it knows the Truth of what is. This idea of ‘true philosophy’ takes us back into book seven of the Republic.
When Socrates asks Glaucon (to whom the allegory is recounted) if he wants to know in what manner the self is to be led from the darkness of unclear thought to the light of philosophical knowledge (evoking, of course, the allegory itself) he states the following:
‘This [the manner of leading] isn’t, it seems, a matter of tossing a coin, but of a conversion (peristrophe) and turning (periagege) a soul from a day that is a kind of night to the true (alethinen) day – the ascent to what is (tou ontos ousan), which we say is true philosophy (philosophian alethe).’ (Republic, 521c: emphasis mine and translation slightly modified) [It should be noted that all references to Plato are – unless otherwise stated – from Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper, trans. various, Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997.]
There are three things that need formally connecting here: (1) the peripeteia of the soul; (2) the ascent to the ‘true day’ as the ascent to what is; and (3) the ascent as ‘true philosophy.’ True philosophy is presented as the ascent to what is. If we recall Socrates’ words, ‘what is’ is not reducible to what becomes or what is becoming but more precisely to the Truth of what is. Thus, true philosophy is nothing but the name given to this ascent to the Truth of what is. It is however also the ascent to the Truth by way of the peripatetic turning of the soul from the ‘day that is a kind of night to the true day.’ True philosophy then is true in that it turns to the Truth of day and in that this peripatetic turning is true philosophy itself, it turns toward Truth truthfully. This ascent, this leading from the night-like day to the true day, that describes the identity of true philosophy directly reflects the central dramaturgical movement of the myth: the ‘drama’, as the reader is no doubt aware, is composed of the liberation of the fettered prisoner of the cave from his umbrageous surroundings, to the light of the day and the brilliance of Truth.
The key point I want to underscore here is the obvious one: there is a distinction between, on the one hand, the knowledge that remains fettered in the night-like day and on the other hand, the ascent to Truth in the true day. It is not entirely clear however in what way these two modes are distinguished here. Is the distinction, for example, based on differences which are themselves founded on the idea that there is a wide variety of ready-made modes of knowing that offer themselves up to the ‘true philosopher’ in such a manner that all he has to do is choose the correct one? Or is the distinction based on a static opposition (between the imprisonment of the cave and the freedom of the day)? The answer to these questions lies in the distinction between what Socrates calls ‘the day that is a kind of night’ and the ‘true day.’ We will pick this up in the next instalment.