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Our topic is the essence of truth. The question regarding the essence of truth is not concerned with whether truth is a truth of practical experience or of economic calculation, the truth of a technical consideration or of political sagacity, or, in particular, a truth of scientific research or of artistic composition, or even the truth of thoughtful reflection or of cultic belief. The question of essence disregards all this and attends to the one thing that in general distinguishes every “truth” as truth.
Yet with this question concerning essence do we not soar too high into the void of generality which deprives all thinking of breath? Does not the extravagance of such questioning bring to light the groundlessness of all philosophy? A radical thinking that turns to what is actual must surely from the first insist bluntly on establishing the actual truth which today gives us a measure and a stand against the confusion of opinions and reckonings. In the face of this actual need what use is the question concerning the essence of truth, this “abstract” question that disregards everything actual? Is not the question of essence the most inessential and superfluous that could be asked?
No one can evade the evident certainty of these considerations. None can lightly neglect their compelling seriousness. But what is it that speaks in these considerations? “Sound” common sense. It harps on the demand for palpable utility and inveighs against knowledge of the essence of beings, which essential knowledge has long been called “philosophy.” Common sense has its own necessity; it asserts its rights with the weapon peculiarly suitable to it, namely, appeal to the “obviousness of its claims and considerations. However, philosophy can never refute common sense, for the latter is deaf to the language of philosophy. Nor may it even wish to do so, since common sense is blind to what philosophy sets before its essential vision.
Moreover, we ourselves remain within the sensibleness of common sense to the extent that we suppose ourselves to be secure in those multiform “truths” of practical experience and action, of research, composition, and belief. We ourselves intensify that resistance which the “obvious” has to every demand made by what is questionable. Therefore even if some questioning concerning truth is necessary, what we then demand is an answer to the question as to where we stand today. We want to know what our situation is today. We call for the goal which should be posited for man in and for his history. We want the actual “truth.” Well then — truth!
But in calling for the actual “truth” we must already know what truth as such means. Or do we know this only by “feeling” and in a general way”? But is not such vague “knowing” and our indifference regarding it more desolate than sheer ignorance of the essence of truth?
☛ “On The Essence of Truth” by Martin Heidegger, translated by John Sallis, published in Pathmarks, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 136-137 (PDF / Google books preview: unfortunatly, p. 136 is not part of the preview).
This essay was first published in 1930 under the German title Vom Wesen der Wahrheit. In the official collection of Heidegger’s complete works, the Gesamtausgabe (an ongoing project), “The Essence of Truth” is listed as number GA9. It must not be confused neither with the Marburg’s lecture “Logic: The Question of Truth” (“Logik: Die frage nach der Wahrheit”, 1925, GA21) nor with The Essence of Truth (Vom Wesen der Wahrheit. Zu Platons Höhlengleichnis und Theätet, 1931, GA31).
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