Heidegger: The Three Meanings of ἀλήθεια

Thomas Sheehan

Stanford University

διορίσωμεν (1048a26)

“Let us make some distinctions”

How should we translate the Greek noun ἀλήθεια and the adjective ἀληθής in Heidegger’s texts? Throughout much of his career Heidegger unfortunately rendered ἀλήθεια by the German word Wahrheit—that is, “truth”—and he did so despite his own warnings in Being and Time and elsewhere that to do so was to distort what ἀλήθεια originally meant.

To translate this word as “truth” … is to cover up the meaning of what, for the Greeks, constituted the “self-evident” pre-philosophical basis for understanding the use of the term ἀλήθεια.1

Neither the Latin word veritas nor our German word Wahrheit contain the least echo of what the Greeks saw in advance and experienced when they spoke about … ἀλήθεια.2

It was only at the end of his career that Heidegger acknowledged his mistake.

̓Αλήθεια thought as ἀλήθεια has nothing to do with “truth”; rather, it means disclosedness. What I said back in Being and Time about ἀλήθεια already goes in this direction. ̓Αλήθεια as dis-closedness had already occupied me, but in the meantime the word “truth” slipped in between.3

In any case one thing becomes clear: To raise the question of ἀλήθεια, of disclosedness as such, is not the same as raising the question of truth. For this reason, it was inadequate and consequently misleading to call ἀλήθεια, in the sense of the clearing, by the word “truth.”4

But what is the “self-evident pre-philosophical basis” (as Heidegger puts it) for understanding what ἀλήθεια means?

Heidegger finds within the root of the word ἀλήθεια an implicit negative sense (-λήθ-) that is related to the verbs λήθω/λήθομαι and λανθάνω, “to escape notice, to remain hidden.”5 When that negative element is canceled out by the addition of an alpha-privative (ἀ-), the word ἀ-λήθ-εια conveys to Heidegger a double negative sense: a thing’s condition of “no longer going unnoticed”—or to state it positively: a thing’s having become noticed. For Heidegger the verb ἀληθεύειν means “to bring something to light, to bring into our vision something that heretofore was not seen at all.”6 In short, for the Greeks ἀλήθεια was the condition of a thing insofar as it is now present-and-visible, and not just spatio-temporally present to one’s eyes but meaningfully present to one’s mind.

We can confirm this reading indirectly in the texts of Aristotle when he speaks of friendship in Nicomachean Ethics. One can feel goodwill (εὔνοια) for another person, he says, but that does not constitute friendship unless and until the goodwill is reciprocated, and not only reciprocated but also mutually recognized. The Greek verb Aristotle uses here for “to recognize” is μὴ λανθάνω (“not” + “to be hidden, unnoticed”), hence, to be “not-hidden”—or, in a word: noticed or known.7

The same Greek usage continues some seven centuries later in Plotinus.8 He defines sensation (τὸ αἰσθάνεσθαι) as “being aware of what affects you.” But the Greek expression for such awareness is τὸ τὸ πάθος μὴ λανθάνειν—“to have what affects you not be hidden from you” (again, a double negative). Moreover, later in that text Plotinus places μὴ λανθάνειν, “to not be hidden,” in apposition to the (late Greek) verb γινώσκω, “to know.”

Given such examples, the “‘self-evident’ pre-philosophical basis” of the ancient Greek understanding of ἀλήθεια is a thing’s condition of being open and available for knowledge, whether theoretical or practical.

In his better moments Heidegger translates ἀλήθεια not by Wahrheit (“truth”) but by neologisms like Erschlossenheit and Unverborgenheit. The first is usually brought into English as “disclosedness.” which in fact parallels the structure of the alpha-privative: ἀ-λήθεια, dis-closedness. Unverborgenheit is usually rendered as “unhiddenness” or “unconcealedness.” which likewise parallels ἀ-λήθεια.

However, the double negative in those terms fails to capture the positive and more vivid image of the English word “openness.” As Heidegger puts it (misusing the word Wahrheit to translate ἀλήθεια): “By the term Wahrheit we understand the openness/manifestness of things.”9

It is important to remember two things:

1. In Plato and Aristotle ἀλήθεια is the openness or intelligibility of things.

2. Such ἀ-λήθεια/dis-closedness is phenomenological, that is, it occurs only when there is a correlative human act of ἀ-ληθεύειν (the dis-closing of something).

When Heidegger speaks of the “dis-closedness of an entity” he is saying that the entity is opened up as meaningful only in and for a human act of apprehension (Vernehmen). Heidegger always preserves the phenomenological correlation between whatever is open/intelligible and the apprehending of what is open/intelligible. So, on the one hand, the kind of disclosedness of things is their meaningful (not just their sensible) disclosedness, and this occurs not off by itself in some pre- or extra-human scenario but only in and with the human apprehension of those things.10 On the other hand, when Heidegger speaks of the disclosedness of the clearing, he means the hidden presence of the openness that lets things be intelligible (“have being”).11 Heidegger simply wants to know why and how that is the case.

* * *

Heidegger interprets ἀλήθεια philosophically as an analogical term with three distinct and in fact layered meanings, which we may designate as




Let us take these three in the reverse order.


ἀλήθεια-3 refers to the correctness of a statement, the de facto agreement of a proposition with the state of affairs to which it refers—what has traditionally been called the correspondence of intellect and thing (adaequatio intellectus et rei).12 This kind of truth can occur only when we make a claim about a state of affairs in a declarative sentence.

I might claim (rightly or wrongly) that I am presenting something in speech just the way it appears “in reality,” just as it shows up in and of itself (i.e., “from” itself: ἀπο-ϕαίνεσθαι, declarare), rather than expressing my feelings, intentions, and wishes about the thing (in the subjective or optative moods, expressing my attitude toward what I’m saying). The Greek name for a declarative sentence, i.e., one that makes such a claim, is λόγος ἀποϕαντικός or simply ἀπόϕανσις. If our claim conforms to the state of affairs, it is possessed of apophantic truth (correctness). If our claim does not hold up, we’re stuck with apophantic falsehood (incorrectness).

For example, I maintained that the spatula was in the drawer, and sure enough it was. I declared that it was a deer I saw in the forest at twilight, but on closer observation it turned out to be a bush.13 In other words, the fact that a sentence is apophantic (= is in the declarative mode) does not guarantee that it is true, only that it could be true—or false.

However, the state of affairs against which an apophantic claim is measured must itself be already disclosed to us in one way or another if our statement about it is to be either correct or incorrect. This means that apophantic truth or falsehood necessarily presumes a prior disclosedness qua intelligible availability of the subject matter of the statement.

Therefore the possibility of correspondence truth depends on:


ἀλήθεια-2 is the prior, pre-propositional (pre-apophantic) intelligibility of a thing or a state of affairs. This prior intelligibility, which is always already operative in our everyday world, is what Heidegger initially called “ontic truth.”14

However, that phrase can be misleading insofar as “ontic truth” might seem to imply that our pre-propositional awareness of things always discloses those things as what they “really” and “correctly” are. But that would be ἀλήθεια-3. Yes, things are always disclosed meaningfully as something, even if the “something” turns out to be wrong (e.g., we see the bush as a deer). The ἀλήθεια-2 of a thing is its unavoidable meaningfulness rather than its disclosedness as it “truly” and “correctly” is.

And finally, at the root of ἀλήθεια-3 and -2, and making both of them possible, there is:


ἀλήθεια-1 (or ἀλήθεια-prime) is the thrown-open/dis-closed “space” that ex-sistence itself is and that makes possible both the intelligibility of things (ἀλήθεια-2) and the correctness of propositions (ἀλήθεια-3). This is what Heidegger initially called “ontological truth,”15 a phrase that can be just as misleading as “ontic truth” and for the same reason. ̓Αλήθεια-1 is what makes possible both ontic disclosedness and apophantic truth, without being either one. This most basic level of ἀλήθεια is what Heidegger means by “the clearing” in both his earlier and later work.16

In short, the common denominator of all three levels of ἀλήθεια is not “truth” but openness with regard to meaning. ̓Αλήθεια-1 is the “open space” in which we can take things as …, and thereby disclose their meaningful presence. ̓Αλήθεια-2 is the pre-propositional meaningful presence of a thing. ̓Αλήθεια-3 is the propositionally correct meaning of something—at least correct for now, until a more correct meaning comes along.—A few more remarks, therefore, on these three levels of openness as regards meaningfulness, but now in the proper order.

* * *

First, ἀλήθεια-1:
This names the very structure of ex-sistence insofar as it is “world-open,”17openness as such (ex-sistence),”18 and “openness in itself, as originally occurring: ex-sistence.”19 “Only with the openedness of ex-sistence do we reach the most original phenomenon of the alethic.”20 Without this ever-operative openedness of ex-sistence it would be impossible to relate something to something else (a tool to a task, or a subject to a predicate) and thus to understand the thing’s current being.

However, precisely as thrown-open, ex-sistence qua ἀλήθεια-1 remains a mystery, das Geheimnis des Da-seins —in fact the “forgotten” mystery, das vergessene Geheimnis des Daseins.21 This mystery is not praeter-human, but simply is the fact that how and why there is openedness at all is unknowable.

The mystery that Heidegger is referring to is the unique presence-by-absence of the thrown-open clearing. As Heidegger puts it, the clearing, as ἀλήθεια-1, is opened up to us as “an abyss22 or as a χώρα.23 That is, the clearing

• is always already present-and-operative wherever ex-sistence ex-sists, but

• metaphorically speaking, it is “hidden” (or “absent”) insofar as the reason why it occurs is unknowable.

The mystery of the clearing-qua-abyss is what Heidegger calls “facticity” in the proper sense of the term: the fact that we cannot question back behind this thrown-openness (which is ourselves) to find its “cause,” without presupposing this very thrown-openness as what first makes such questioning possible.

This primal, always operative openedness is usually overlooked precisely because, as the ultimate presupposition of everything human, it is necessarily unknowable (“hidden,” “absent”) in its why and wherefore. And yet it is “more real and more efficacious than all historical events and facts,” because it is their ground.24 Only within this openedness can there be “understanding, that is, the projecting [of something as something], bringing it into the open,”25 that is, the understanding of the thing’s current being qua meaningful presence.

Next, ἀλήθεια-2. This meaningful openness of things in our pre-propositional involvement with them

signifies the un-coveredness [Entdecktheit] of some thing, and all such uncoveredness is grounded ontologically in the primordial case of the alethic, ἀλήθεια-1 as the openedness [Erschlossenheit] of ex-sistence.26

Here Heidegger makes a terminological distinction—which he soon stopped observing—between

• Erschlossenheit (dis-closedness): the primal openedness of ex-sistence itself [= ἀλήθεια- 1]; and, founded on that:

• Entdecktheit (un-coveredness/dis-coveredness): the resultant intelligible availability of things [= ἀλήθεια-2].

Insofar as ex-sistence, as dis-closed, makes possible and is in correlation with the un-coveredness of things, Heidegger calls the being of ex-sistence Entdeckendsein, “the uncovering of things,” usually translated awkwardly as ex-sistence’s “being-uncovering” (Macquarrie-Robinson) or “being-revealing” (Stambaugh). What Heidegger means is simply that ontologically (-sein) ex-sistence is always un-covering (entdeckend) things by taking them as meaning something or other.

Eventually, however, Heidegger discarded this distinction between “disclosed” (ex-sistence) and “un-covered/ dis-covered” (entities) and spoke instead of ex-sistence as erschließend erschlossenes , “disclosed [in itself] and disclosive [of entities].”27 As a priori opened up, ex-sistence in turn opens up (renders meaningful) everything it meets, including itself qua existentiel.

We cannot encounter anything, not even ourselves, except under the rubric of meaningfulness. Even if we merely puzzle over what an unknown something might be (“What is a meson after all?”), we have already brought the thing into the realm of the knowable (“Let X stand for whatever a meson is”). If it were not already disclosed as at least a knowable something, we could not search for, much less find out what it is (if it is at all), and we certainly could not make correct or incorrect propositional statements about it.28

Finally, ἀλήθεια-3: This third level of ἀλήθεια refers to that particular state of disclosedness that consists in the agreement of a proposition with the already (priorly and perhaps only preliminarily) disclosed state of affairs that it refers to.

In order to be what it is (namely, an assimilation to the object), truth as correctness-in-representing-things [= ἀλήθεια-3] presupposes the openedness/ availability of things [= ἀλήθεια-2] by which they become capable of being ob-jects in the first place. … Consequently this openedness [=ἀλήθεια-2] shows itself to be the [proximate but not ultimate] ground of the possibility of correctness [i.e., of ἀλήθεια-3].29

The translation of ἀλήθεια as “truth” should be strictly and exclusively confined to this third level: apophantic correctness. This is the locus of the traditional (Aristotelian, Thomistic, Kantian) doctrine of truth as the conformity of the judgment and the judged, the agreement of mental or verbal propositions and worldly states of affairs.30

This is what Aristotle called the ὁμοίωσις or “assimilation” of τὰ παθήματα τῆς ψυχῆς (the so-called “impressions” the soul has of things) to τὰ πράγματα (the things themselves).31 The word “truth” (Wahrheit) properly pertains only to such correct apophantic-declarative claims, and we should never follow Heidegger’s mistaken employment of that term for the other two meanings of ἀλήθεια, i.e., for what he wrongly called the pre-propositional “truth” of entities and, worse yet, the “truth” of being itself.

* * *

Heidegger argued that Aristotle was oblivious of ἀλήθεια-1 and knew only ἀλήθεια-2 and -3: the intelligibility of things and the correctness of statements. Heidegger would reserve to himself the discovery—or at least the re-thematization—of the hidden but ever-operative ἀλήθεια-1.

Parmenides did indeed have a sense of ἀλήθεια-1 as the aboriginal all-enabling openness (“well-rounded ἀλήθεια”: fragment 1.29), but he failed to inquire into what accounts for that openness: the thrown-openness or appropriation of ex-sistence.

Likewise Heraclitus: The farthest he got was the intrinsic hiddenness of that ϕύσις/ἀλήθεια-1. He declared: “ϕύσις prefers to remain hidden” (fragment 123). Heidegger renders that phrase as: “Intrinsic concealment is the innermost essence of the movement of appearing,”32 where “the movement of appearing” refers to the emergence of being, understood as the ϕαίνεσθαι of things. Heraclitus knew that the dimension that accounts for all forms of Sein (whatever that dimension might be) was intrinsically hidden, but he failed to understand why. It remained for Heidegger to see that Ereignis, the thrown-openness of ex-sistence, can never come into the open (a fact that Heidegger called Ent-eignis) precisely because it is the necessarily presupposed reason why there is an open at all.33

Thus Heidegger can claim, with regard to both the pre-Socratics and the classical fourth-century philosophers: “With appropriation one is no longer thinking with the Greeks at all.”34 Therefore, it is important to note the crucial difference Heidegger sees between ἀλήθεια-1 in the pre-Socratics and ἀλήθεια-2 in Aristotle. Parmenides and Heraclitus understood ἀλήθεια/ϕύσις (they are the same) as the hidden source of the being of things, whereas Aristotle first separates ἀλήθεια and ϕύσις and then takes each of them down a notch or two.

• In Parmenides ἀλήθεια is always ἀλήθεια-1, and it refers to the clearing wherein and whereby all forms of the being of things become manifest. In Aristotle, on the other hand, ἀλήθεια-1 is lost, and ἀλήθεια-2 names only the being of things.

• In Heraclitus ϕύσις names the intrinsically hidden source of all forms of the being of things. In Aristotle, however, ϕύσις names only the being of things (not their hidden source) and in fact the being of only a particular realm of things, those we call “natural” entities as contrasted with artifacts.

Aristotle’s ϕύσις is thus only a faint echo of Heraclitus’. It still bespeaks “emergence” (Aufgang), but now it is no longer the emergence of being but only of things, and specifically of those things (the things of nature) that “do” their own emergence without extrinsic help: “the self-unfolding emergence , in and through which alone the thing is what it is.”35

Another important note: When speaking of the Greeks in general, Heidegger does say that “ϕαίνεσθαι means: to be brought into appearance and to appear therein.”36 However, the “that” which “is brought into appearance” is the appearing thing, τὸ ϕαινόμενον in its ϕαίνεσθαι; and the ϕαίνεσθαι (or being) of the thing is that by which the thing appears. If, like Heidegger, one were to go “behind” such things-in-their-appearance and ask what brings the very being or ϕαίνεσθαι (of the thing) into appearance, one would have to go beyond Aristotle to the pre-Socratics, and ultimately to Heidegger.

This point is of capital importance. The ϕύσις and ἀλήθεια that Aristotle (not the pre-Socratics) knew of was only that of things: ἀλήθεια-2; and the movement of becoming-disclosed that he articulated with those two Greek words was always a thing’s emergence, unfolding, and appearance as what and how it is. Heidegger articulates this exclusively ontic nature of ἀλήθεια-2 as follows:

We translate ἀλήθεια[-2] as the disclosedness of things, and in so doing we already indicate that disclosedness—i.e., “truth” as the Greeks understood it—is a determination of things themselves. … The disclosedness of things and the being of things are the same.37

* * *

Heidegger the phenomenologist insists that a thing’s emergence into meaningful appearance cannot happen apart from human beings. The ἀλήθεια-2 of things, their appearance as knowable and usable, occurs only in an actual encounter with a human being.38 In fact the disclosedness of a thing does not belong to the thing but to ex-sistence.39 As Heidegger puts it: “Disclosedness is a determination of things—insofar as they are encountered.”40

Something can be settled about things with reference to their being, only insofar as things are present, that is, as we say, [note the definition of “being present”:] insofar as things can be encountered at all.41

The encounter mentioned here is an encounter with human beings as intelligent and not merely as sentient. For Aristotle there is a sentient disclosedness of things, and Heidegger notes that in Being and Time: “ ̓Αἴσθησις, the straightforward sense-apprehension of something … is alethic.”42 However, human beings live in the ἀλήθεια of λόγος: “[For human beings] ἀληθεύειν shows up first of all in λέγειν.”43 Hence “presence as encounterability” is a thing’s intelligible, meaningful presence insofar as we take the thing (correctly or incorrectly) as something or other. Like Aristotle before him, Heidegger investigates being

insofar as the encountered things (= “the world” in naïve ontology) are encountered and are present to everyday ex-sistence insofar as it speaks about the world in such a way that discoursing and addressing become at the same time a further guideline orienting the question of being.44

Thus as regards ἀλήθεια-2 in Aristotle:

̓Αληθές means literally “uncovered.” It is primarily things, the πράγματα, that are uncovered: τὸ πράγμα ἀληθές. This uncoveredness does not apply to things insofar as they just are [“in the universe”] but insofar as they are encountered, insofar as they are objects of our dealings.45

Where and how is this disclosedness [= ἀλήθεια-2]? We see it as an occurrence—an occurrence that happens “with man.”46

At the origin of the disclosedness of things, [that is,] at the point where being “lets things come through [to us],” our perceiving is just as much involved as is the thing that is perceived in our perceiving. … Together they constitute disclosedness.47

There are two significant issues related to this position, one regarding λόγος, and the other regarding the extra-mental existence of things.

1. In the first case: As Heidegger reads Aristotle, λόγος as discursive apprehension plays an essential role in the appearance of the being of things. Aristotle asks: “How do things look insofar are they are addressed and spoken of, insofar as they are λεγόμενα?”48 This sentence is referring to a thing insofar as it is taken-as-something in discursive apprehension. When that occurs, the thing is present to us in terms of its current whatness and howness, its being qua meaningful presence.

Philosophy aims at things insofar as they are and only insofar as they are. But this means philosophy is not concerned with what we call the ontic, with things themselves in such a way that philosophy would become utterly engrossed in them. Instead, philosophy is concerned with things in a way that addresses the ὄν as ὄν—the ὂν λεγόμενον ᾗ ὄν [the thing as discursively addressed with regard to the fact that it is].49

Hence, λόγος, discourse about the world and things, plays the role of the guiding thread insofar as things are present in the λεγόμενον [i.e., in what is said and thus revealed about them]. Even (as is the case with Aristotle) when research into being goes beyond dialectic, that is, beyond confinement to things as addressed, toward a pure grasping of the ἀρχαί, toward θεωρεῖν—even there it can be shown that λόγος is still fundamental for the final conception of being. Even Aristotle, although he overcomes dialectic, still remains oriented toward λόγος in his entire question of being.50

So close are ὄν and human λόγος in this proto-phenomenological ontology that Aristotle can say that it is the human being who performs the act of bringing the encountering thing into its state of uncoveredness. Heidegger comments on Aristotle:

Uncoveredness [the Unverdecktsein of things] is a specific accomplishment of ex-sistence, an accomplishment that has its being in the soul: ἀληθεύει ἡ ψυχή.51

That is: human beings disclose things in their being, and this disclosing (Erschließen as ἀληθεύειν) is “a determination of the being of human ex-sistence itself.”52 Thus, when it comes to discovering the being of things, “λόγος is and remains the guiding thread.”53

2. Along with the crucial role of λόγος, the second significant issue regarding ἀλήθεια is Heidegger’s insistence that things do in fact “exist out there” on their own apart from their knownness or knowability by human beings. Heidegger cuts the Gordian knot: “Questions like ‘Does the world exist independent of my thinking?’ are meaningless.”54 It is true that “things are uncovered [i.e., “have being” in Heidegger’s sense of the word] only when ex-sistence is; and they are disclosed only as long as ex-sistence is.”55 Nonetheless, that does not mean that a thing “can only be what it is in itself when and as long as ex-sistence ex-sists,”56 because “things are quite independent of the experience, knowledge, and grasping by which they are disclosed, uncovered, and determined.”57 Thus:

The uncoveredness or disclosedness [i.e., the ἀλήθεια-2 of a thing] reveals the thing precisely as it already was beforehand, regardless of its being uncovered or not uncovered. As uncovered, the thing becomes intelligible as what it is just as it is-and-will-be regardless of every possible uncoveredness of itself. Nature does not need disclosedness, revealedness [= ἀλήθεια-2], to be as it is.58

Further in that vein, when Heidegger discusses the relation between the human senses and their objects (αἴσθησις and its αἰσθητόν), he notes that “the actual existence [Wirklichkeit] of the perceptible as such does not depend on the performance of an act of perception.”59

Nonetheless we can see the complexity of the matter. Heidegger remarks on “the wonder” that, although the act of perception is related to something that stands there independently in and for itself, the fact that the thing is related to perception “does not deprive the entity of its independence but precisely enables the entity to secure its independence in being disclosed.”60

The independence of things from us human beings is not altered by the fact that this very independence as such is possible only if human beings ex-sist.61 Without the ex-sistence [Existenz] of human beings, the being-in-themselves of things becomes not only unexplainable but also utterly unintelligible. Nonetheless, this does not mean that the things themselves are dependent upon human beings.62

Physical nature can occur as innerworldly [i.e., as meaningful] only when world, i.e., ex-sistence, ex-sists. However, nature can certainly “be” in its own way without occurring as innerworldly, i.e., it can “be” without human ex-sistence— and thus a world—ex-sisting. In fact only because nature is objectively present of and by itself can it also encounter ex-sistence within a world.63

That is, the being/meaningfulness of things—not their mere existence-out-there-in-the-universe— occurs always and only in correlation with human λόγος. In Heidegger’s phenomenological sense of the term, Sein is given only in human understanding.64 In fact being is dependent on man’s understanding of being.65

̓Αλήθεια[-2] is a peculiar ontological characteristic of things insofar as things stand in relation to a “looking” that is aimed at them, to a disclosing that notices them, to a knowing. On the other hand, the ἀληθές [the disclosed thing] is certainly also in ὄν [in being] and [to that extent] is a characteristic of being itself, specifically insofar as being = the presence [of a thing] and this presence is taken up in λόγος and “is” in it.66

Or again, with regard to “being” in Plato, Heidegger says:

An ἰδέα is what-is-sighted. What-is-sighted is sighted only in and for an act of seeing. An “unsighted sighted” is like a round square or a piece of iron made out of wood. We finally have to get serious about the fact that Plato gave the name “ideas” to being [das Sein]. “Being sighted” is not an add-on to the ideas, a predicate subsequently connected to them, or something that occasionally happens to them. Instead it is what characterizes them first of all and as such. They are called “ideas” precisely and primarily because they are understood to be that: to be what-is-sighted. Strictly speaking, the “sighted” is only where there is a seeing and a looking.67

In other words, the only Sein to which we have access is the intelligibility of things, their ἀλήθεια-2 or disclosedness to us. While this does not deny that things “exist out there,” that is not what is at stake in Heidegger’s phenomenology, particularly after one has performed a phenomenological reduction, as Heidegger always does (see chapter 4). For Heidegger the phenomenologist, things are indeed “manifest in themselves.” but not the way they are in naïve realism or in Husserl’s transcendental idealism.

What occurs in [Husserl’s] phenomenology of the acts of consciousness as the self-showing of phenomena was thought more originally by Aristotle and in all Greek thinking and ex-sisting as ̓Αλήθεια[-2], the dis-closedness of what-ispresent, a thing’s having brought out of hiddenness, its being made manifest. What phenomenological research rediscovered as the basic stance of thinking turns out to be the fundamental characteristic of Greek thinking, if not indeed of philosophy as such.68

For Heidegger, Sein—the ἀλήθεια-2 of entities—shows up always and only in and to a correlative human act of disclosing (ἀληθεύειν).69

This brief look at the three different levels of ἀλήθεια has turned up important clues that Heidegger found in the Greeks for his own question about the possibility and necessity of Sein as the meaningful presence of things to human beings. However, to achieve a satisfactory answer to that question Heidegger would have to do at least four things:

1. explain the intrinsic hiddenness (the presence-as-absence) of ἀλήθεια-1;

2. show how such hiddenness makes possible ἀλήθεια-2, the intelligible presence of things;

3. show that this ἀλήθεια-2 is not an ontic “given” but must be actively “brought forth” by human ex-sistence; and thus

4. explain what the so-called “wresting from hiddenness” is all about (represented by the hyphen between the ἀ- and the -λήθ of ἀλήθεια-2).

In Heidegger’s telling, these four issues were not thematically addressed by Greek philosophy and in fact could be raised only by going beyond metaphysical thinking—or, as he put it, “stepping back” from metaphysics into a region that is prior to and the basis for it.


1 SZ 219.33–37 = 262.26–29: verdecken den Sinn; vor-philosophisches Verständnis; selbst-verständlich.

2 GA 45: 98.8–12 = 87.20–24: “Weder…veritas noch…Wahrheit.”

3 GA 15: 262.5–10 = 161.31–34: “nichts zu tun” and “schob sich dazwischen.”

4 GA 14: 86.16–20 = 70.2–5: “nicht sachgemäß und demzufolge irreführend.”

5 GA 54: 61.30–31 = 42.8–9: λανθάνει: “unbemerkt.” See Wilhelm Luther, “Wahrheit” und “Lüge” im ältesten Griechentum, 11–13: unbemerkt; hence verborgen, verdeckt, verhüllt; Unverborgenheit. Also Robert Beekes, with Lucien van Beek, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, I, 65f., s.v. ἀληθής.

6 GA 45: 94.9–10 = 83.38–39: “Hervor-bringen heißt hier Ans-Licht-bringen, etwas bisher überhaupt noch nicht Gesichtetes zu Gesicht bringen.”

7 Nicomachean Ethics VIII 2, 1155b34: μὴ λανθάνουσαν: when the goodwill is “not hidden” (in Bekker’s Latin, “non occultam neque incognitam.” III: 574a11) and 1156a4: μὴ λανθάνοντας: the mutual goodwill and benevolence must “not be hidden,” i.e., must be recognized (“cognitum,” Bekker, III: 574a19). See also Physics III 1, 200b13–14: If we are to understand ϕύσις, the meaning of κίνησις must “not be hidden.” μὴ λανθάνειν (Bekker: “non lateat nos.” III: 110b29), which Aristotle couples with ἀγνοεῖσθαι, “to not know, to be ignorant of.” Cf. Aquinas: Commentaria in octo libros Physicorum, liber III, lectio 1, no. 279: “ignorato motu, ignoratur natura.”

8 Plotinus, Enneads I 4: 2.3–6.

9 GA 38: 79.21–22 = 68.12–13: “Unter Wahrheit verstehen wir die Offenbarkeit von Seiendem.”

10 GA 9: 442.30–31 = 334.28–29: “[Wir] müssen daran erinnern, daß die ἀλήθεια, griechisch gedacht, allerdings für den Menschen waltet.” GA 87: 103.2: “Das Sichzeigen [ist] schon bezogen auf ein Vernehmen.”

11 This intelligibility is not yet the truth of correspondence. Things show up as meaning something or other, whether that meaning is correct or not.

12 Aquinas, Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, quaestio 1, articulum 1, corpus. See SZ 214.26–36 = 257.24–35.

13 GA 21: 187.17–20 = 158.14–17.

14 GA 3: 13.15–16 = 8.40: “Offenbarkeit des Seienden (ontische Wahrheit).” GA 5: 37.17–18 = 28.10–11: “Αλήθεια[-2] heißt die Unverborgenheit des Seienden.” Re ἀληθής as the “disclosedness” (not the “truth”) of something, see above, chapter 2, note 136, on Augustine’s use of verum in De Genesi ad litteram.

15 GA 3: 13.16–17 = 8.40–9.1 “die Enthülltheit der Seinsverfassung des Seienden (ontologische Wahrheit).” On ἀλήθεια-1 and -2: GA 9: 134.1–2 = 105.22–23: “liegt in der Unverborgenheit vom Seiendem je schon eine solche seines Seins.”

16 SZ 133.5 = 171.22. GA 14: 85.32–33 = 69.21–22: “Die ̓Αλήθεια, die Unverborgenheit im Sinne der Lichtung.” Ibid., 82.9 = 66.26: “die Lichtung des Seins.”

17 GA 21: 164.12–13 = 137.29: “die Weltoffenheit des Daseins.”

18 GA 45:154.27–28 = 134.19: “die Offenheit als solcher (Da-sein).” See GA 65: 13.10–11 = 13.7–8: “die Gründung des Wesens der Wahrheit als Dasein” and GA 45: 193.25–27 = 167.20–22: “in ihm [Da-sein] als dem vom Seyn Ereigneten der Grund der Wahrheit sich gründet.”

19 GA 45: 223.11–12 = 187.9–10: “die Offenheit in sich: ursprünglich wesend: das Da-sein.”

20 SZ 220.38–221.1 = 263.26–27: “…wird erst mit der Erschlossenheit des Daseins das ursprünglichste Phänomen der Wahrheit erreicht.”

21 Respectively GA 9: 197.26 = 151.9 and 195.23 = 149.28.

22 GA 45: 193.27 = 167.22. GA 9: 174.13 = 134.17: “der Ab-grund des Daseins.” See GA 26: 234.5–9 = 182.11–15 on ex-sistence’s transcendence as opening up the abyss.

23 GA 83: 157.5 and .12 on χώρα as “Von wo her etwas [i.e., a thing in its being] anwest” (italicized in the original).

24 GA 45: 44.22–24 = 41.31–34: “ein Geschehen, das wirklicher und wirksamer ist als alle historischen Begebenheiten und Tatsachen.”

25 GA 16: 424.21–22 = 5.15–16: “Verstehen, d.h. Entwerfen (ins Offene bringen).”

26 SZ 256.7–9 = 300.8–10.

27 GA 27: 135.13. (Already at SZ 207.12–13 = 251.3–4 and 365.21 = 416.32 Heidegger used “erschlossen” of innerworldly entities.) See GA 45: 227.10–13 = 188.35–38: “Man is both “der Wächter der Offenheit des Seyns selbst” and “der Bewahrer der Unverborgenheit des Seienden.”

28 See Plato, Meno, 80d5–8 (Meno’s paradox) and 86b6–c2 (Socrates’ tentative response).

29 GA 45: 92.3–9 = 82.8–14. See GA 27: 78.5–6”: “[Das Seiende] ist an ihm selbst unverborgen [=ἀλήθεια-2]. Weil es das ist, können wir Aussagen darüber machen.” Re “proximate but not ultimate”: The ultimate ground of ἀλήθεια-3 is ἀλήθεια-1, the openedness of ex-sistence.

30 Metaphysics IV 7, 1011b26–28; Aquinas, De veritate I, 1, respondeo (“Prima”): “et in hoc formaliter ratio veri perficitur”: the nature or structure of truth has its formal perfection in such correspondence; Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 58 = B 82. For a list of terms for “correspondence”: GA 45: 16.16–27 = 16.4–14.

31 Aristotle, De interpretatione 1, 16a6–8. See also Metaphysics IV 7, 1011b26–28.

32 GA 15: 343.24–25 = 46.18–19: “das Sichverbergen ist das innerste Wesen der Bewegung des Erscheinens [eines Seienden].” See his various paraphrases of this at GA 15: 343.23–31 = 46.17–24. Heidegger expresses the intrinsicness of the unknowability of the clearing with the statement (which is potentially misleading because of the faux reflexive) “diese Verborgenheit sich in sich selbst verbirgt”: GA 6:2: 319.1–2 = 214.8, my emphasis.

33 As that which accounts for everything human, Ereignis (the appropriation of ex-sistence to its thrown-openness) is, in itself, “Enteignis.” which is Heidegger’s way of saying that appropriation is intrinsically hidden (“withdrawn”) and does not appear at all: GA 14: 27.35–28.5 = 22.31–23.3. Translating “Enteignis” as “expropriation” says virtually nothing at all.

34 GA 15: 366.31–32 = 61.4.

35 GA 73.1: 85.19–20: “das Sichentfaltende [sic] Aufgehen, worin und wodurch erst das Seiende ist, was es ist.”

36 GA 12: 125.10–11 = 38.4–5.

37 GA 45: 121.27–30 and 122.4–5 = 106.16–19 and .27–28. The last sentence is a slight paraphrase to maintain rhetorical balance. In a strictly literal reading: “Disclosedness and things in their being are the same.”

38 GA 83: 22.1–4: “Nur sofern es Welt gibt, d.h. sofern Dasein existiert, kann das Seiende … sich als Seiendes in seinem Sein bekunden!”

39 GA 27: 133.25–26: “Die Unverborgenheit des Vorhandenen gehört nicht zum Vorhandenen, sondern zum Dasein.”

40 GA 19: 17.1–2 = 11.35–36: “Die Unverborgenheit ist eine Bestimmung des Seienden, sofern es begegnet” (my emphasis) and at ibid., 23.6–7 = 16.21. See SZ 28.36–37 = 51.15–17: “nach der Zugangsart zu ihm.” GA 83: 21.3–23 discusses disclosedness qua Bekundlichkeit (manifestness) as a thing’s Welteingänglichkeit (its condition of having entered the world of meaningfulness).

41 GA 19: 205.7–10 = 141.27–30, where the ET omits Heidegger’s two italicizations within the German text.

42 SZ 33.30–32 = 57.11–12: “‘Wahr’ ist … die αἴσθησις, das schlichte, sinnliche Vernehmen von etwas.”

43 GA 19: 17.26 = 12.12: “Das ἀληθεύειν zeigt sich also zunächst im λέγειν.”

44 GA 19: 205.16–20 = 142.2–5. In the margin of his text Heidegger annotates the phrase “speaking about the world” with “the ‘is’ in simple saying and asserting.”

45 GA 19: 24.29–33 = 17.25–33: “begegnet, …Gegenstand eines Umgangs.” My emphasis.

46 GA 34: 73.32–33 = 54.30–31: “ein Geschehnis, das ‘mit dem Menschen’ geschieht.”

47 GA 34: 71.17–21 = 52.36–38: “Sie [das Er-blicken und das Erblickte] machen Unverborgenheit mit aus.” The phrase “lets things come through [to us]” is my paraphrastic interpretation of Heidegger’s shorthand “Durchlaß desselben [= des Seienden].”

48 GA 19: 205.21–22 = 142.5–7: “Angesprochenes, … λεγόμενον.”

49 GA 19: 207.19–23 = 143.18–24, emphasis added. Heidegger continues at .25–28 (all italicized): “This idea of ‘ontology,’ of λέγειν, of the addressing of things with regard to their being, was exposed for the first time with complete acumen by Aristotle.” See ibid., 224.5–10 = 154.36–155.2: “Here we arrive at a concluding characteristic of the fundamental science of the Greeks, πρώτη ϕιλοσοϕία—this science is ultimately oriented toward λόγος, precisely because its theme is things insofar as they are ὂν λεγόμενον, hence things as addressed [discursively], things insofar as they are themes for λόγος.”

50 GA 19: 206.8–16 = 142.22–29; see ibid., 224.14–225.5 = 155.6–23. Heidegger’s mention of the “pure grasping of the ἀρχαί” refers to the θιγεῖν or θιγγάνειν, the “touching” of Metaphysics IX 10, 1051b24–25. See chapter 2, note 136.

51 “The soul discloses [things]”: GA 19: 24.33–25.1 = 17.28–30. The reference is to Nicomachean Ethics VI 3, 1139b15.

52 GA 19: 23.6–8 = 16.21–23: “eine Seinsbestimming des menschlichen Daseins selbst” with ibid., 17.11–14 = 12.1–3: “Das Erschließen … ist … eine Seinsweies des Seienden, das wir als menschliches Dasein bezeichnen.”

53 GA 19: 206.20 = 142.31–32: “der λόγος Leitfaden ist und bleibt.”

54 GA 58: 105.15–16 = 84.5–6: “sinnlos.” See GA 26: 194.30–31 = 153.28–29; 216.28–30 = 169.12–14. Zollikon Seminare 222.1–5 = 176.24–27.

55 SZ 226.28 = 269.21–22. See ibid., 57.34–37 = 84.19–20: An entity “can ‘meet up with’ ex-sistence only insofar as [the entity] can, of its own accord, show up within a world.”

56 SZ 212.1–3 = 255.8–9: “nicht … wenn und solange Dasein existiert.”

57 SZ 183.28–29 = 228.10–12: “unabhängig von Erfahrung.”

58 GA 24: 314.31–315.3 = 220.40–221.2. My emphasis. See also SZ 227.6–8 = 269.36–38: “das vordem schon war.”

59 GA 33: 201.11–13 = 172.27–28. All italicized in the original.

60 GA 33: 202.13–16 = 173.25–27. See GA 34: 70.22–25 = 52.14–16.

61 This writer’s note: See SZ 212.5–7 = 255.11–12: “When human being does not exist, there ‘is’ neither ‘independence’ nor the ‘in itself.’”

62 GA 33: 202.23–29 = 173.34–174.3: “diese Unabhängigkeit … nur möglich … wenn der Mensch existiert”; “völlig sinnlos ohne die Existenz des Menschen.”

63 GA 25: 19.26–32 = 14.20–24. At SZ 14.23–24 = 34.39–40 Heidegger insists that tying ἀλήθεια-2 to a human act of ἀληθεύειν “has nothing in common with a vicious subjectivizing of the totality of beings.”

64 SZ 183.29–31 = 228.12–14: “Sein … nur im Verstehen des Seienden.” Ibid., 212.4–5 = 255.10–11: “Allerdings nur solange Dasein ist, das heißt die ontische Möglichkeit von Seinsverständnis, ‘gibt es’ Sein.” GA 26: 194.32–33 = 153.30: “Sein gibt es nur, sofern Dasein existiert.”

65 SZ 212.13–14 = 255.19–20: “Abhängigkeit des Seins… von Seinsverständnis.” GA 66: 138.32 = 118.24: “Das Seyn nur vom Da-sein.” Ibid., 139.18 = 119.6: “Das Seyn is vom Menschen abhängig.” See GA 26: 186.22–23 = 147.35–36: “[Sein:] was nie fremd, sondern immer bekannt, ‘unser’ ist.”

66 GA 19: 17.4–11 = 11.33–42; also GA 24: 240.17–31 = 169.2–18, where Heidegger denominates beings outside the world as vorhanden. Also Zollikoner Seminare 350.27 = 281.16: “Weltlosigkeit bloß vorhandener Dinge.”

67 GA 34: 70.22–32 = 52.14–22.

68 GA 14: 99.1–9 = 79.18–25: “dis-closedness” = Unverborgenheit; “having been brought out of hiddenness” = Entbergung [because things do not “come out of hiddenness” on their own]; “being made manifest” = sich-Zeigen.

69 See the correlation of “Anwesenheit und Gegenwärtigung” at GA 14: 87.21–22 = 71.1. Also GA 21: 414.26–28 = 342.39–41.

Thomas Sheehan - Heidegger: The Three Meanings of ἀλήθεια
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