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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 13, 1998

Ontology

John M. Berry
Pages 7-13

The Reliability of Heidegger’s Reading of Plato’s Gigantomachia

At issue is the reliability of Heidegger’s contention that Greek thinking, especially Plato’s, was constricted by an unthought "pre-ontology." "The meaning of being" supposedly guiding and controlling Greek ontology is "Being = presence." This made "the question of the meaning of ousia itself" inaccessible to the Greeks. Heidegger’s Plato’s Sophist is his most extensive treatment of a single dialogue. To test his own reliability, he proposes "to demonstrate, by the success of an actual interpretation of [the Gigantomachia], that this sense of Being [as presence] in fact guided [Plato’s] ontological questioning . . .". I will show Heidegger’s strategy in connecting what he takes to be Plato’s naive pre-ontology — Being = Presence — to the ontology of the Gigantomachia — Being = Power. I will show that Heidegger blatantly misreads the text to make the connection: he completely misses the distinction between bodies and bodiless things. The text makes sense, I will show, if and only if its explicit ontology — Being = Power — is its implicit pre-ontology. Plato wrote his text not to discuss, but to exemplify, Heidegger’s ontology-preontology distinction. He wrote the Gigantomachia for Heidegger, but Heidegger missed it.

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