What Simple Description Can Never Grasp: Heidegger and the Plato of Myth

Doctoral Dissertation


It is commonly taken to be the case that Heidegger is a bad reader of Plato. Calling his reading of Plato impatient, violent and coercive, critics argue that Heidegger’s caricature of Plato is driven by his life-long desire to deconstruct the tradition of western philosophy from Plato onward. I argue that this assessment of Heidegger’s unsympathetic Plato is itself a caricature. In an effort to mitigate this critique of Heidegger’s reading of Plato, I argue that Heidegger engages with two different PlatosÌ¢�âÂ"�one with whom he shares deep sympathies even as he is harshly critical of the other. I call the Plato who frequently evokes Heidegger’s ire the ‘logocentric’ Plato; this is the Plato who, in spite of his promising efforts, could never overcome logos or move beyond dialectic, and therefore sets the stage for the tradition’s overreliance on logos as syllogistic logic and propositional truth. But in his better moments as a reader of Plato, Heidegger shines a light on a very different Plato. I will call this Plato the ‘muthocentric’ Plato because this is the Plato who makes his points with myths, images, allegories and stories. This Plato erodes the preeminence of logos to make space for alternative discourse and becomes Heidegger’s ally in his effort to re-describe hermeneutic phenomenology as a descriptive method that allows beings to show themselves not merely by means of the theoretical discourse of logos, but also by means of non-theoretical, alternative discourse including myth and poetry.

In advancing this claim, I focus on Heidegger’s lectures on Plato which appear from the 1920’s to the early 1940’s, including his lectures on Plato’s Sophist, the cave allegory of the Republic, and the Theaetetus. In each of these lecture courses, I show that the traditional reading of Heidegger’s Plato has obscured his sympathy to the Plato of myth and allegory. These close readings lay the groundwork to view Heidegger’s later move towards non-theoretical discourse as a continuation of his early attention to muthos discourse in Plato, rather than as an abrupt transition.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-12012009-211903

Author Megan Halteman Zwart
Advisor Gretchen Reydams-Schils
Contributor Karl Ameriks, Committee Member
Contributor Gretchen Reydams-Schils, Committee Member
Contributor Stephen H. Watson, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Gary Gutting, Committee Member
Contributor Stephen Gersh, Committee Co-Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Philosophy
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2009-10-14

Submission Date 2009-12-01
  • United States of America

  • Heidegger

  • Heidegger and poetry

  • Heidegger’s Reading of Plato

  • Later Heidegger

  • Myth

  • Phenomenology

  • Plato

  • Logos

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility and Access Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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