Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Richard L. Velkley on Strauss's response to Heidegger.
Upon careful consideration, one sees that Strauss’s view is that ancient philosophy as aporetic, as admitting that the whole is not intelligible, is in the stronger position for justifying its way of life as the most choiceworthy. But its strength does not depend on showing the refutability of revelation in a crucial sense, i.e., by offering a metaphysical account of the whole that establishes the impossibility of a mysterious, omnipotent first cause. He writes: “as far as I know, the present-day arguments in favor of revelation against philosophy are based on an inadequate understanding of classical philosophy,” for “classical philosophy is said to be based on the unwarranted belief that the whole is intelligible.” Countering this view, Strauss writes of Socrates as the philosopher “who knew that he knew nothing, who therewith admitted that the whole is not intelligible” although “he wondered whether by saying that the whole is not intelligible we do not admit to having some understanding of the whole.” In other words, Strauss thought that Socratic philosophy provides a sufficient grounding for the philosophic life that does not depend on knowing whether Plato and Aristotle had achieved refutations of the alternative of revealed truth. To be more precise, Socratic knowledge of ignorance provides a response to the claim of revelation to define the best life even if reason cannot prove the impossibility of a mysterious God. “The very insight into the limitations of philosophy is a victory of philosophy: because it is an insight.” This is a crucial point in Strauss (often misconstrued by interpreters), and it bears directly on Strauss’s response to Heidegger, who in Strauss’s estimation is quite “sensible” in avowing the mysteriousness of Being and of the origin of the human as bound up with Being. For Strauss the confrontation with that ultimate mystery leaves intact the possibility that reason has transhistorical knowledge of its limitations, or an insight that is not an Ereignis, a “gift of Being” or of some higher power, but derived from knowledge of the human dyadic openness and closedness of the “cave,” which determines the human relation to the whole. Whereas Heidegger still agrees with the modern philosophers that the appearance of biblical revelation in the world changed the character of philosophy, presumably permanently, Strauss regards the insight into human duality as providing philosophy with a crucial means of transcending this historical contingency.
Pp. 160
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