Category Archives: Physics

The Impossible Possibility of Paradox – Part Two

Chaos Theory is:

“When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”1

In the Part One discussion we discussed the function 1/X. We saw cases in the function of infinity as X goes to plus and minus infinity. We also saw the case where X = 0 and the result is indeterminate. All the points except zero demonstrate a continuous, nonlinear function. That is, all real numbers in the graph is a smooth curve with no breaks or discontinuities except at zero. At X= 0 the function is discontinuous. This function simply demonstrates how we can get a degree of closure even when we entertain the notions of infinity and indeterminacy. Both infinity and indeterminacy tell us that even in the most banal circumstances such as the function 1/X we have a degree of certainty while at the same time entertaining notions where we can’t get absolute closure. Even more, these odd notions tell us that even such banal certainties are ruptured through and through with exteriorities which cannot remain in themselves but indicate an other which mathematics has no answer. In this part of the discussion we will explore further the complications which can only indicate the limits of our logic and the value of the questions these limits pose.2 The last footnote of my recent post On Origin ask this question:

Does chaos theory in contemporary science relate to radical otherness? If so, how? What about the implications of quantum theory and Schrödinger’s cat in the box? Does the uncertainty principle and the apparent malleability of what ‘is’ determined by observation have anything to do with radical alterity and the retreat from the face of the Other? More succinctly, do we face an ‘Other’, a radical alterity, even in the ‘it’ of physics?

This post will try to address this question and contrast its implications with what I consider to be a formidable philosopher whose influence has become a focal point and an anchor, both in its affirmation and negations, for the retreat from the face of the Other – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

For classic physics most notably represented by Newton, absolute time and absolute space is assumed. Underlying much of classic science and philosophy, causality is absolutely assumed. Causality is often associated with the billiard ball metaphor. When the cue ball hits other balls on the table, geometry and force absolutely determine the path of all the other balls. While causality may provide useful information in our everyday world, these notions have been antiquated by a much more precise understanding that spans phenomena from billiards to cosmological physics. Relativity supersedes Newtonian physics. Relativity is orders of magnitude more accurate even in the specific frame of reference which Newtonian physics works including billiard balls. However, relativity has some limitations. Relativity works extremely well on large scales but not on extremely small scales. For extremely small scales quantum mechanics is highly accurate. In special conditions, Einstein’s equations punched holes in the continuity of time-space. In a similar way that our mundane function of 1/X contains examples of infinity and indeterminacy, Einstein’s findings predicted such phenomenon as black holes and wormholes.

Einstein was responsible for pioneering quantum mechanics when he discovered that light had both the characteristics of a particle and a wave. After all he had already demonstrated that energy and matter, like the particle and the wave, were two different states of the same thing – Emc2 (i.e., think of water as liquid or ice where heat, or the lack thereof, determines the state…for matter and energy the speed of light determines the state). However, when quantum mechanics theorized the phenomenon of entanglement, Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance”. Entanglement happens where one particle influences its twin, irrelevant of the distance between them, instantly (i.e., faster than the speed of light). Einstein’s theory of relativity could not allow anything faster than the speed of light. He thought that everything from the very large to the very small must propagate through fields setup by space-time distortions. The physicists of his day also started discussing the ‘uncertainty principle’ and ‘waves of probability’ which he vehemently disagreed. His lifelong search for a ‘unified field theory’ which would unite electromagnetism (and the strong and weak nuclear forces) and gravity suggests that continuity was paramount for him. In addition, he is famously quoted as disparaging the quantum mechanics of his day suggesting the “God does not place dice with the universe”. However, when the universe plays dice with itself, we call that ‘Chaos Theory’. Chaos as discontinuous and probabilistic, just as the budding of quantum mechanics in is day, was a philosophy Einstein might not have held in high regard. Interesting enough it was Albert Einstein that stated, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

Chaotic systems permeate our everyday world. Weather, turbulent water, health sciences, road traffic, sociology, physics, environmental science, computer science, engineering, economics, biology, ecology, the stock market, our brain states, philosophy and temperature are examples of chaotic systems. Almost everything in nature is a chaotic system. Chaos theory is famous for the ‘butterfly effect’ introduced by one of the founders of chaos theory, Edward Lorenz. The butterfly effect informs us that the exact path and time of a tornado may have been started by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings weeks earlier on the other side of the planet. When initial conditions can be specified to a high degree, Newtonian physics works great on a highly restricted system. As initial conditions become more critical, like the real world, chaotic systems become more prominent in relativity and quantum mechanics. Two black holes orbiting each other exhibit a highly chaotic system. There is even a branch of physics called Quantum Chaos3. Mathematically, chaotic systems are always fractals. Fractals occur when real number math (fractions) feedback into the initial conditions of a system. Fractals are the result of simple patterns being repeated infinitely by positive feedback with ever changing initial conditions. Chaotic systems are not random, but they can predict the relative probability of randomness. Chaotic systems are always non-linear and deterministic. Chaos theory is deterministic in that it surmises that if the exact initial conditions of a chaotic system is known, the exact effect of the system could be known. However, chaotic systems also state that the complexity of a chaotic system makes knowing the exact initial conditions a practical impossibility. In effect, determinism is an ideal of a chaotic system which can never be proven only assumed. As the mathematics of chaotic systems, fractals, tell us, the infinite variation of input conditions provided by positive feedback of the system make practical determinism impossible. Additionally, uncertainty increases over time in a chaotic system. In practice, chaos theory always has a degree of indeterminacy. Additionally, the assumption of cause and effect is inherent in determinism but also remains as an ideal of chaos theory not a practical reality of chaos theory. It is highly likely that quantum mechanics influences chaotic systems. Quantum mechanics is proven to be indeterministic. This is due to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle which shows that fundamental properties of a particle cannot simultaneously be known like the position and momentum of the particle. Since quantum mechanics certainly plays a role in chaotic systems, we can draw the conclusion that chaos theory is indeterminate in practice. Therefore, chaos theory highlights relative degrees of indeterminacy and infinity while producing useful results in the output of chaotic systems.

Chaos theory is a scientific principle describing the unpredictability of systems. Most fully explored and recognized during the mid-to-late 1980s, its premise is that systems sometimes reside in chaos, generating energy but without any predictability or direction. These complex systems may be weather patterns, ecosystems, water flows, anatomical functions, or organizations. While these system’s chaotic behavior may appear random at first, chaotic systems can be defined by a mathematical formula, and they are not without order or finite boundaries. This theory, in relation to organizational behavior, was somewhat discounted during the 1990s, giving way to the very similar complexity theory.4

The reasons chaotic systems can tend towards more chaos over time or fundamental transformation is due to the ‘strange attractor’. Researchers Briggs and Peat tell us:

Evidently familiar order and chaotic order are laminated like bands of intermittency. Wandering into certain bands, a system is extruded and bent back on itself as it iterates, dragged toward disintegration, transformation, and chaos. Inside other bands, systems cycle dynamically, maintaining their shapes for long periods of time. But eventually all orderly systems will feel the wild, seductive pull of the strange chaotic attractor.5

When a strange attractor encounters another chaotic system, it pulls the chaotic system toward a wildly different result. The strange attractor essentially changes a chaotic system. Thus, butterfly wing turbulence can cause a tornado on the other side of the earth weeks later. The strange attractor transforms the chaotic system into something other than what it could be from its own intrinsic properties. The chaotic system’s self-identity is fundamentally altered by the stranger, the Other.

For Newton, time and space were pre-conditioned by Descartes mind-body split. These notions originated in a particular Latin reading of Aristotle. ‘Body’ was substance in this reading. Over time substance took on the characteristic of mechanism. The universe was thought as a machine. Causality was an important underpinning of a lifeless machine. The universe operated obliviously to mind. Just as the ancient Greeks thought the earth was the center of the universe, mechanical causality taught us the we were immersed in a sea of dead ‘things’. The radical other of Newton was alien and followed its own mechanical rules absolutely. In philosophy we would say that a certain, already understood ontology of the universe (a historic-linguistic understanding of the being of the universe), guided even our possibilities for how we could think of everything not us, not mind. This ontological setting guided science and philosophy for centuries. Even the greatest thinker of German Idealism, Hegel (18th-19th century philosopher) was guided by the notion of mind and object where object was simply thought as an idea of mind. From this discussion, what have we seen about the direction of science since Newton?

Einstein has taught us that the universe is not oblivious to body. Time and space are permeable to an incredibly sensitive degree to the mass and speed of everything from galaxies, our bodies and anything with mass. Each one of us is enveloped in our own time and space given by existence [see On Origin]. If our body does our mind as Nietzsche thought, we find that the metaphor of chaos is closer to life than mechanism. We find on the smallest quantum level that indeterminacy, uncertainty and rupture determine ontology not absolutes (such as time and space). We are not immersed in a sea of ‘things’ but participate in intimate cooperation with a ‘what’ we still do not have the language and history to inform our outdated ontologies, our understanding of what we can only name as ‘Being’ harkening back to a once upon a time which no longer exists. We know that infinity was our historic clue that we covered over with certainties and determinacy. Yet, even as Descartes would tell us the thought of infinity overflows itself, it does not remain in itself, it ruptures even the ‘is’. As far back as Hesiod, we have the trace that the force of our misunderstanding had to covered over.

As I have discussed in On Origin, Hesiod’s chaos cannot even yet think itself to be neutrality, the ‘it’. The anonymous was not as easy to come by in Hesiod’s day. Only with the subsequent weight of a history yet to come after Hesiod, can the rupture take on the neutrality of anonymity. The post On Origin attempts to think through some of the ways the ancient Greeks might have tried to cover over Hesiod’s chaos. It also inquisitively tries to find a placeholder in chaos for what Levinas would tell us is the face of the Other. It seems to me a face of a ‘he’, a ‘she’ and even an ‘it’ does not draw on the history and language which misunderstands chaos as night, void, horror, anonymity, Idea…the ‘otherizing’ of the Other, etc. but can only evoke in proximity to the Other, to an infinite transcendence which faces us, the absolute primacy of Ethics. The universe of the ‘same’ as the other is not a flight from fear but a response to awe and wonder. Not until the absolute, un-determinate, chaos has a face can Ethics take the place the ancient Greeks intuited but relegated to the logos and physics (phusis) as neutered. In the radical rupture of the Other we do not ‘see’, we feel a past which we never knew, a time and space which was never ours. We can only wonder if there was an excess which we never accounted for, saw, or understood when she spoke to us, when he faced us – when it was a place or time that lingered long afterwards. And, instead of letting the retreat to the once ‘said’, the memory understood, the place and time resolved by mere extension and ticks we can choose to place Ethics in the fore as the only remnant of the infinity we never knew but glanced in proximity from an Other not us, not me, not mine…a ‘not’ which can remain indeterminate but cannot be ignored.


Here are the question I would pose to Hegelians:

How is it possible that an “Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences” would omit the sciences since Newton’s absolute time and space? How can we suggest that science implies absolute time and space, absolute causality and absolute self-determination? If anything, the sciences since Hegel tell us that the universe is permeable on the most intimate and personal scale. Our very existence as bodies with mass and movement shapes and forms a very personal time and space uniquely ours. The universe intimately dances with us to the point of creating own unique ‘time-space bubble’ [see On Origin]. Not only that, but there are others, strange attractors, which interrupt the chaotic systems of body-doing-mind. How is it possible that Hegel’s Logic would not formally account for the essential, un-mediate-able, idea of uncertainty, indeterminacy and essential rupture of self-determinacy by the Other which is not me, whose temporality is not my time, whose spatiality is not my space? Is it with the skepticism of nothingness?6 Is the evocation of the Other “nothingness”? Does the Idea reduce the Other to “nothingness”? Don’t the sciences counter the ‘Absolute skepticism’ and ‘nothingness’ of the infinite Other thought by Hegel’s Idea? Perhaps ‘nothingness’ is the final solution for anything other than Hegelianism. How does infinity and chaos relate to the hierarchy of the ‘higher standpoint’, the self-identity of the object and absolute knowing? For Hegel, isn’t Being thought in the same ontology as that of an object to Idea? For Hegel isn’t Being ‘pure knowing’ which is ‘pure indeterminateness and emptiness’ and merely thought of as the opposite of ‘pure nothing’ which is ‘complete emptiness, the absence of all determination and content’. Hegel tells us that Being and nothing are identical. The mere thought that Being and nothing are opposites gives rise to becoming but how can ‘thinking’ think the thought of opposites in ‘pure indeterminateness and emptiness’ in the absence of content? What is ‘pure knowing’ without content? Might we think that at the very beginning of the “Logic” thinking has the same invisible inflections bending inward as the thought of a ‘thing’. Isn’t the thought without determinations or content an unspecified filler which functions as the thought of a ‘thing’. As such, don’t we recreate the dilemma of Descartes? Ah, but the Hegelians will surely protest that the ‘Logic’ is actually a circle and there is no starting point or end, but rather a totality. If so, is the starting point irrelevant? Why would Hegel disingenuously start the “Logic” with the ‘thought’ of Being and nothing while telling us the first stage has no content and no determinations but, apparently has the thought that Being and nothing are opposites? Are we to overlook this apparent contradiction for what will come later in the “Logic”? Doesn’t Being ultimately answer to the Idea, the Begriff as the ‘object’ of Begriff? For Hegel, certainly we can’t suggest that the idea of chaos participates at the highest level of absolute knowing as the truth of every mode of consciousness? Can the Hegelian Idea un-fixate its Medusa-like gaze to give the proximity of Ethics an Other which is not an object of Being but an infinitely strange attractor which Idea cannot subsume within itself? What relevance shall we give to the idea which holds itself off, which gives itself its own essential limitation on the possibility that it may not be absolute but self-delusion which has an ultimate, world historical reason, for effacing and fleeing from what it can never ‘know’ but only encounter in the ‘he’, the ‘she’…and the ‘it’ which science informs us is not the ‘it’ we thought as ‘was’. The question is not ‘to be or not to be’ or even ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ but why is there ‘Other rather than nothing’?

Here are my unedited answers:

Thinking for Hegel is existential.7 Thinking is only allowed to think from the structure of his dialectic. Hegelianism is the autopsy of Idea in the region of the absolute. Hegelians seem to have almost have a gym-rat type vibrato about thinking the Thought. What are the building blocks of Hegelianism in the Thought of the Absolute? First, Hegel takes on the mantle of Totality driven by the Absolute – the science of his day. Certainly, the dialectic of Hegel assumes structure – hierarchical structure. Hegel’s claim to the circularity of his hierarchy does not undo the hierarchy but indemnifies it from temporality. In this way, he positions his structure as constitutional, as immortal, the ‘definition’ of human. Determinism is paramount for Hegel. Even the indeterminate must take a back seat to the Idea even at the first movement of the Logic (Being-Nothing previously mentioned). Any exterior to his definitive and determinative structure is relegated to ‘nothingness’ as Hesiod’s chaos was dispensed with the nothing of ‘night’ and ‘void’. Determinism is undergirded by the absolutism of cause and effect, the billiard ball approach, from the science of his day. Absolutism requires certainty. A machine must be capable of reverse engineering. Hegel has disclosed the structure of the human machine. The mechanical metaphor reigns supreme in Newtonian physics. One thing Hegel shares with current science is the assumption of progress. The move of Spirit will eventually unearth the mind of God which will be Hegel’s “Logic”. However, the difference in an absolutist structure and the relativity of uncertainty is the loss of discovery. Hegel has precluded any possibility for essential progress. Sure, work can be done ad infinitum to flesh out his superstructure but the System as ‘almost complete’ is meant with ‘almost’ meaning the perpetual fleshing out of his Idea. We should also notice that Hegel’s structure includes the existential (existentiell). As in Heidegger’s Ontic-Ontological structure, we have Hegel’s idea-Idea. All thinking and thoughts must forever suckle at the Idea. In this dynamic we have uncovered the power structure. Hegel’s master-slave paradigm is the dynamics of power relations. In thinking strictly and totally within the machismo-ridden structure of the Logic we have the master, Hegel, and the slave, his career driven philosophers. Hegel’s devotees are in servitude to the strict demand of obedience to the Logic lest they incur the penalty of falling into nothingness, the heresy of the strict confines of the Logic. Is it inconceivable that the slave could ever claim the right to freedom and cast off the yoke of Logic? Hegel even goes so far as to try to convince us that his Logic cannot be criticized. Since the Logic is absolute in its determinations anyone who criticizes it must be themselves deluded and thus irrelevant. All of this has the effect of isolating the Hegelian academics from any exterior which might try to update ‘The Science’ beyond Newton. The last assumption of Hegel’s super structure is denial of the other. Science is often criticized by philosophers as coming too late with too many assumptions. As such it is relegated to the ‘technician’ level of philosophical science. Hegel’s Logic is built upon the dogma that there is no exterior to the Logic. At least the philosophically deprecated sciences have the foundation of an other which is not understood. In servitude to Hegel the slave cannot admit any exterior. His economy is an absolutely restricted economy dictated by the master and his servitude to the abstraction of his existence. The master-slave dynamic can either break down or the slave can become yet another master with, according to Hegel, the added benefit of concrete existence from having been the slave. However, after a while, wouldn’t the slave forget his ‘authenticity’ and find himself equally abstracted from his existence as is to be expected from the master according to Hegel. The slave can never really escape the master-slave dilemma except in the freedom of abstraction. Thus, exteriority is forever denied. I guess it comes down to an Ethical decision. We can decide to take up the mantle of apostacy and decide that there is exteriority which cannot be subsumed into the totality of the same and thereby, discover an Ethics which is not altruistically derived from duty or Logic. When the radical rupture of the face of the Other is exterior to me, to the ‘said’ of language, Ethics is choice over necessity to the ontological or ‘Logic’al idea even as subjectivity is substitution from infinite responsibly.


1 Lorenz, Edward Norton (1972). “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” Address at the 139th Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheraton Park Hotel, Boston, Mass., December 29, 1972.

2 In the previous discussion there is a graph which maps out in two dimensions the function 1/X where X varies from minus infinity to plus infinity. We can see from the graph that at the ‘zeros’ of minus infinity and plus infinity the function goes to zero. Note that while the limit of X at both infinities is zero, the function never reaches either zero as infinity is an ‘ideal’ of real numbers not anything which we could call ‘real’. Also, note that as X approaches zero from either zero the graph of 1/X approaches negative infinity to the left of zero and positive infinity to the right of zero. Likewise, in this case, as X approaches zero the result of the function goes to infinity of either side of zero. In either case, the fraction part of these real numbers needs ever arrive at its destination of zero. The approach to plus and minus infinity at zero we call ‘poles’ [See Pole–zero plot for more details]. However, at zero the result of 1/X is called undefined. What this means is the vertical line of the function on the graph at zero does not exist. We have a boundary condition at zero where the function makes no sense [Division by zero]. There is no number that satisfies the result 0 1/0. For example, if you have 1/1 you could think of it as dividing 1 cookie into 1 part which would be the whole cookie. However, in the case of 1/0, the divisor makes no sense if you want to divide one cookie into zero parts. The result of 1/0 cannot result in a number because the question posed by the function makes no sense. The function 1/0 exemplifies what I will call indeterminate or a singularity [See Singularity (mathematics) for more details]. The math makes no sense at zero for the function 1/X. For all X in our function except the point at zero, this is what mathematics calls a continuous function. In relativity, gravity is a continuous field. So, what does this mean for the purpose of this discussion?

What I am trying to flush out of this example is that we have a mathematical ideal which gives us some closure (recall the part 1 discussion about closure) around the function 1/X. We have concrete definition about the ideal behavior of 1/X. We can know much about the function’s behavior around the poles of zero. However, at the boundary condition of zero our ideal mathematical language makes no sense. The ideal language we are using breaks down, almost imperceptivity at an infinitesimally small point where X=0. We could say that the negative of the side where X is less than zero is the right side of the graph because -1 times (1/X) where X is always negative will always be positive like the graph where X > 0. Thus, the negative corresponds to a positive term, i.e., the right side of the graph. In fact, the negative of X< 0 OR X> 0 is simply a restatement of X> 0 OR X< 0 respectively. The negative is an absolutely necessary condition to satisfy the essential requirement of the function. Without the negative the function could not be posited. In this sense, X< 0 and X> 0 are absolute, dialectical opposites. They are absolute as they mirror each other in their opposition, their negation. At the same time, they also categorically define the function on both sides of X = 0. In effect, we have set up an absolute opposition between thesis and its absolute other, the negative, antithesis, and lifted them up as both inclusive and exclusive of each other without reserve…in a hermitically sealed closed relationship. What we have done is asserted a positive term or function X> 0 OR X< 0 and its negative X< 0 OR X> 0 respectively, literally what it is and what it is not. This is a multiplicative inverse or reciprocal relationship. The result of this operation is to deny, by definition, any possible exterior. Since this mathematical example is a very isolated situation by design, I do not want to generalize it as example of all Hegelian dialectics and thereby try to indict Hegel. I have come to see that the triadic (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) is an over simplification of Hegel’s project. However, I do want to pose this very isolated question, is it possible to think the negations discussed above as a specific and formal case of one type of a determinate negation (bestimmte)?

What can we make of the boundary condition of X = 0? We could take advantage of undefined, the absolute rupture at zero, by suggesting the 1/0 = 1 but then, according to division’s inverse property 0 X 1 would have to equal one – a contradiction. Basically, any possible number or relationship can be posited in the boundary condition. At the boundary of zero we could say that the boundary contracts or joins all other values of X OR we could say that the boundary condition alienates or separates all other values of X. Since this mathematical example is a very isolated situation by design, I do not want to generalize it as example of all Hegelian dialectics and thereby try to indict Hegel. However, I do want to pose this very isolated question, is it possible to think the negations discussed above as thesis and antithesis and the boundary condition as a synthesis, what Hegel called aufheben or sublation? Is it possible that the necessity of the dialectic drives the function 1/X?

“Malabou argues, ‘Dialectical sublation proceeds through a movement whereby, at one and the same time, it contracts and alienates the material on which it acts’. The Aufhebung is not simply the one that brings together the one and the multiple, but also the multiple that holds apart the one and the multiple; it is the identity of non-identity and identity and the non-identity of identity and non-identity. In Jameson’s words, ‘dialectics are dialectical’.” Aufhebung and Negativity: A Hegelianism without Transcendence, Ryan Krahn, University of Guelph

If so, the aufheben becomes a restricted economy which ‘contracts’ (combines) and alienates (excludes). By restricted economy I mean sets up all possible conditions under which anything can be said, thought, asserted or denied of the function 1/X. When the boundary is thought as aufheben there is no possible exit from the dialectic. Of course, we could say that the boundary is indeterminate. We could say that the boundary is a rupture, a radical alterity, with regard to the whole system of mathematics. Would these assertions be an escape altogether from the dialectic we have constructed? If we assume that mathematics is the only possible field where any possible objection can occur, then these objections are meaningless. If the notion of rationality as the only possible field is substituted for mathematics, then these questions can only be answered in the restricted economy we have set up. We have set up an absolute, closed system, which can never exceed itself. There can be no radical rupture. The effect of this is to close out all other possibilities in a restricted economy thus absolutely removing the possibility that the boundary is indeterminate. It is an absolute denial of all possibilities for a radical other. However, the denial is not in the asserted boundary condition but in the repetition of the thesis in the antithesis. The other was already made impossible by the repetition not from anything surreptitiously brought in at the boundary, the synthesis. This movement is what we now call totalization.

Let’s think about the approximation we thought about with the ‘tendency towards closure’ and the ‘opens towards an unbridgeable tear’.As opposed to the hermetically sealed which can recognize no other, the ‘tendency towards’ is the empirical. The System is deduction while the ‘tendency towards’ is inductive. It is also the difference between certainty and contingency. In approximation, we discover qualities around infinity which provide a degree of closure. The yawning gap of chaos is smoothed over by the mathematics of infinity, calculus. The radical alterity of the Other is tamed by common sense. We form ideas about the Other. Levinas calls these plastic casts we throw over the face of the Other. We have theories with relative degrees of accuracy for prediction. We think of the Other as the ‘same’ as us as a desirable idea. We think of diversity as a collection of Other’s which is also desirable. When we think conventionally as the other being negative, ‘otherizing the other’, we think of the other as alien and evil. However, the alien and the evil are our idea of the other. The idea of the other is yet not the other even as the idea of Hesiod’s chaos never arrives at its destination. In all these cases we have applied ready-made inductions to level out and retreat from radical rupture…the infinity which looks at us in the face of the Other and in the very notion of infinity.

From Part One of this discussion, let’s recall the paradox. We have the notion of a mathematical point which is infinitesimally small. Therefore, a ‘real’ point is an impossibility. However, relativity physics tell us that a black hole results in a singularity. In addition, according to relativity, if we follow cosmic history back to the big bang, all the matter in the universe coincides into a singularity. It is as if we backed up into the other side of a black hole. A singularity is a radical rupture in time-space. It is also indeterminate. A singularity is in effect a division by zero [Division by zero]. Is the “Beginning of Time” a myth? [The Myth Of The Beginning Of Time, “The Myth of the Beginning of Time”, A Matter of Time, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, January 2012, Volume 306, Issue 1s] By ‘myth’ in this discussion we do not mean ‘not ‘true’ we simply mean impossible. The myth is the singularity of the black hole or the big bang that relativity would tell us. For Hesiod, the beginning starts with a myth and a paradox.

Let’s think of Hesiod’s myth as the story we tell ourselves like the story Einstein tells us in relativity (although they are obviously not the same). Let’s think of Hesiod’s chaos as the radical rupture we think in singularity. The story we tell ourselves is quite convincing. However, no matter how carefully we trace our steps back to the origin we find we are left with an indeterminate difference. The difference is demarcated by the myth and the rupture. In fact, might we think that the myth is a retreat from an impossible singularity, an alterity that tears at the nexus of the contradiction of paradox which cannot be true but is true. The myth must be mute with regard to the paradox. The muteness we call indeterminacy. Of course, in our time, physics has competing theories about how Einstein’s singularity can be eliminated. However, none of those theories have the extremely accurate predictability of relativity on a very large scale. They also have their own resurrections of paradox which is not the subject of this discussion. At the same time, quantum theory is highly accurate on a very small scale. To date, we have not found a proven way to unite the very large and the very small. In this discussion I will not attempt to deal with the vast paradox’s which quantum theory intriguingly brings to the fore. Of course, we can always simply ignore the rupture with eternal positivism for a future resolve of the large and the small, a myth that will finally be the “theory of everything” or as Hegel thought, the ‘System’. If the history of myth is any precedent, the promised myth will also arrive with its own tears in the fabric of, shall we suggest, ‘what is’. As Levinas reminds us,

“in thematizing we are synchronizing the terms, forming a system among them, using the verb to be, placing in being [the myth] all signification that allegedly signified beyond being [for the current discussion chaos]? Or must we reinvoke alternation and diachrony as the time of philosophy? … Philosophy is not separable from skepticism, which follows it like a shadow it drives off by refuting it, again at once on its footsteps. Does not the last word belong to philosophy?” [Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1998) , 167, 168, 169. Also Cited by Richard A. Cohen in The Face of the Other, Ethics as First Philosophy: Two Types of Philosophy in the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas , Delivered as keynote address on August 1, 2013, at conference on “Culture and Philosophy as Ways of Life in Times of Global Change,” School of Philosophy, University of Athens, Athens, Greece, pg. 11]

The diachrony of the time of philosophy and history covers over its own ‘geological faults’. It tells us the System is almost complete. Chaos will be discarded, the paradox resolved, the Gordian knot untied. However, every new myth cannot seem to rid itself of the infinites which face us. Skepticism refuses without falling into the void it stares into. Skepticism is the last tragic stand of the hero which can no longer assert anything but its end. In this situation philosophy (and science) must forever drive off the shadow, the night, the void, nothingness to retreat from the abyss. The radical tears in Being and ‘is’ punctuated by death yet, still covers over the absolute intolerability of chaos. Hesiod’s chaos has no face. As such, it is the ‘horror’ of indeterminate-ability of the ‘there is’ which cannot be, the il y a.

“Being, as we noted, also is dark indeterminacy. Having suspended the binaries of de facto inside and outside as part of his own phenomenological bracketing, Levinas will approach this indeterminacy not as objectivity, but as something revealed through mood. Whether it is the dark indeterminacy that besets the insomniac self, or whether it is the rustling of nocturnal space, Being’s dark aspect horrifies us. “The things of the day world then do not in the night become the source of the ‘horror of darkness’ because our look cannot catch them in their ‘unforeseeable plots’; on the contrary, they get their fantastic character from this horror. Darkness…reduces them to undetermined, anonymous being, which they exude”. This anonymous being, also called the il y a [there is], does not ‘give’ the way Heidegger’s Being does. And it is not revealed through mere anxiety. Nevertheless, it is a beginning. Insomniac and in the throes of horror, the hypostasis falls asleep. Or again, it lights a light and reassembles its consciousness. It “sobers up.” Therein lays our first, constitutive escape from neutral Being. But the il y a gives the lie to the question: Why is there Being instead of simply nothing? Nothing, as pure absence, may be thinkable, but it is unimaginable. Indeterminate Being fills in all the gaps, all the temporal intervals, while consciousness arises from it in an act of self-originating concentration. This is the first sketch of Being as totality. The self-‘I’ dyad becomes a limited transcendence arising in the midst of the self’s encompassing horror. It hearkens to a call that comes not from neutral Being but from the Other. The stage is thus set for Totality and Infinity’s elaborate analyses of world, facticity, time as now-moment, transcendence in immanence, and transcendence toward future fecundity. These themes constitute the core of Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority.” Emmanuel Levinas

3 Quantum chaos


5 Turbulent Mirror: An illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory and the Science of Wholeness, Briggs and Peat, 1989, 76-77

6 “the skepticism which only ever sees pure nothingness in its result and abstracts from the fact that this nothingness is specifically the nothingness of that from which it results.”…”the skepticism that ends up with the bare abstraction of nothingness or emptiness cannot get any further from there, but must wait to see whether something new comes along and what it is, in order to throw it too into the same empty abyss.” Phenomenology of Spirit [Phänomenologie des Geistes], translated by A.V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, §79.

7 Thinking is Idea in time. Here is how that works out in Hegel. Space is the negation of Idea as Concept. Concept (Begriff) is not ‘seen’. It does not undergo contingencies. Concept itself has no time or space (external to itself) except in the ‘timeless’ dialectics in which space and time arises. However, the negation of Concept is space. The negation of space is the point. The point is time. Becoming as mentioned in the post is the ‘now’ moment (which oscillates between Being and nothing) where all points in space negate themselves into a single moment, the present. Hegel understands space as three dimensional as Newton also did. Since time negates space, it collapses space into a zero dimensional point. Human time is the negation of the anonymous point (which is nature’s time) and passes into ‘recollection’. Recollection refers to the past and the negation of the past is the future. The now is the in-between, the aufhebung. The time-self’s negation is Concept. This completes the circle where all dialectics are fulfilled in Concept. The dialectical oppositions and sublations are preserved in Concept. Concept is completion and determination. According to Hegelians, Concept is totally within itself, driven from its own dialectics without externality (not already accounted for in its dialectical movements). Thus, the critique of my post with regard to the indeterminate, chaos, uncertainty are reduced to dialectical movements and subsumed by the absolutism of the Newtonian science of Hegel’s own ‘Now’ moments. Understanding Hegel’s Theory on Time Note: It is interesting that Concept itself can be negated. I suppose Concept’s time-space-lessness opposes itself in the other of space opposing itself as time, etc.. In this particular case, Concept, itself has an other (dare we think as externality?) . A Hegelian would probably tell us that the ‘other’ of negation is not an external other but an other driven from within the Concept (in this case) as its depleted mode (in a sense). So, therefore, space is not other except in thought (as was the case with Being and nothing). Can Concept think itself? Wouldn’t that require time? Is this yet another case where thinking is merely assumed as was the case with Being as ‘pure knowing’ which is ‘pure indeterminateness and emptiness’ and ‘pure nothing’ which is ‘complete emptiness, the absence of all determination and content’ that already has the thought of their opposition.

The Impossible Possibility of Paradox – Part One

The fundamental experience which objective experience itself
presupposes is the experience of the Other. It is experience par
excellence. As the idea of the Infinite goes beyond Cartesian
thought, so is the Other out of proportion with the power and
freedom of the I.1

In this discussion I would like to use a rather mundane notion in physics and geometry to try to nuance out what I think is an important difference in common modes of our understanding and orientation to reality. I would like to bring out an equivocation which is a confusion that covers over an essential difference into an abstract habit of thinking. This habit is derived from a dominate, historically conditioned, leveling over of radical breaks in our notions of what ‘is’. The ancient Greeks did not have the modern ‘luxury’ of this imposed abstraction in reflecting on what ‘is’. More to the point, they had the notion of phusis2 which embodied the ancient, archaic notion of ‘growth’ also found in other ancient cultures. In this sense ‘growth’ ranged from what Heidegger phrased ‘what shows itself’ and in my estimation the radical rupture of alterity which imposes necessity from other than its showing. ‘Growth’ in this sense is encounter and exteriority. This approach will try to use some quite rudimentary assumptions in science to tease out these philosophical underpinnings.

In geometry there is the abstract notion of a point. The question which brings existential import to a point (i.e., what ‘is’ a point?), is non-sensical. A point does not exist. We may say that it is infinitesimally small. Perhaps we could say that it has no dimension, zero dimensional. A specific case of a point could be a singularity. From what physicists tell us about a black hole we must concede that it ‘is’ a point in its most extreme form. Physicists are very confident that black holes exist and that they result in a singularity, a radical tear in time-space, an infinitesimally small point. As such, the singularity is a mathematical impossibility. Philosophically, we would say that a black hole is a mathematical contradiction; it is necessarily false. However, let’s notice the shift we have just announced.

We started suggesting that a point is an abstract mathematical concept does not exist empirically; it has no dimension. Zero dimensionality is not conceivable. And yet, we seem to have empirical evidence that a point can exist in a black hole. We may defer this contradiction as a lack of knowledge to be resolved in an unknown, unforeseen, moment in the future. As such, we acknowledge that we must currently leave this matter as a paradox3. Such a point is an argument to ignorance and only defers the immediacy of an answer which now faces us in this discussion. The argument to ignorance does not provide resolution only gives permission to ignore a persistent question.

Let us note that we have attributed qualities to the ‘point’ as “infinitesimally small” and as highly certain that it empirically exists in a black hole. We cannot resolve these conflicting notions in the light of rationality. They must remain ‘infinitely’ recoiled in upon themselves without coming into the light as aufheben (i.e., without being “lifted up”, ” abolished”, “canceled”, “suspended”, or “sublated”). This infinite impossibility can only be preserved in its inability to be able to transcend or exceed itself. It remains as an obligation we cannot refuse in its stark, declarative unmediated, absolute self-contradicted specificity. However, we can ignore it altogether and the direct question it essentially poses to the ‘light’ of knowledge.

In this case ‘light’ is taken hold of by the Latin notion of ratio which was the interpretation of the ancient Greek word logos. Specifically for this treatise, in terms of Heraclitus’ refinement as ‘giving account’, as ‘justice’ and ‘recompense’. ‘Light’ in this sense is the field of sight where idea is nudged towards resolve, towards answer and accountability. Dialectic can only exist in this clearing, this region already ready for an answer. In this sense, idea remains in itself; it encloses itself as Truth. Sight lays hold of its object without referring to abstractions; it simply sees. Therefore, by ‘light’ I mean the Idea as remaining within itself. In analogous terms of physical science, such a notion as Idea remaining in itself might be referred to as an isolated system – no interaction with matter or energy outside of itself. In Hegelian terms we might even venture further that anything ‘outside’ of Idea is still Idea and therefore an absolute impossibility except as yet another idea. It forever must get re-appropriated into the isolation of its Truth.

Additionally, note here that falsity also remains in itself as a deprived mode of Truth often erroneously taken as an opposite. Falsity always resolves itself essentially in contradistinction to Truth. Truth can only assert itself in its privation, its lack as error and thus, remain in itself. For example, light is only known through darkness, good is only known through bad, etc.. Only by the essential ‘not’ can Truth make its eternal claim. Truth remains in logos as an essential condition for sight, for logic to assert its priority in its isolation. Specifically, this condition we refer to as being or ontology as the essential pillar of language, the copula which founds all possibilities of writing. Ontology in this case is what sifts and retains identity from Hesiod’s random chaos (χάος4), what must and can only show itself in the clearing of light.

The notion of singularity, as a mathematical point, cannot be seen or conceived and yet ‘is’. Therefore this notion cannot remain within itself. When taken as ‘sight’ a singularity can only be pushed away from itself such that sight cannot contain or make sense of its object. In distinction to Truth, that which remains in itself as the march of being, we have an absolute paradox which somehow still retains the yawning gap of Hesiod, χάος5. This essential difference should not be lost in the notion of negation. Negation resolves and levels off this difference by virtue of what it negates. It implies a positive term which then must necessarily be what is negated. The difference I am trying to bring out is that lack of a positive term to negate. This paradox, simultaneously ‘is’ and ‘is not’ perhaps gleamed in the ancient Greek notion of chaos. The paradox cannot be contained on the ‘not’ of negation without doing an injustice. We must open the isolation of this logocentric system which only must remain in itself. With this in mind, lets reflect on what we might think of as qualities of an idea which cannot remain within itself but necessarily points to an unseen, essentially undiscoverable, externality.

Of the idea of infinity, Renes Descartes writes:

Nor should I imagine that I do not perceive the infinite by a true idea, but only by the negation of the finite, just as I perceive repose and darkness by the negation of movement and of light; for, on the contrary, I see that there is manifestly more reality in infinite substance than in finite, and therefore that in some way I have in me the notion of the infinite earlier then the finite6

Descartes recognized that the idea of infinity is very different from other ideas. While at times he thought of infinity in terms of negation he also thought of infinity as “manifestly more” and in some way “earlier”. The idea of infinity cannot be shown in the light of the idea of an object like a chair for example. To tease this out further, the idea of infinity cannot rest in itself but can only point away from itself without pointing to a thing, a positive term. The idea overflows itself without resolve, without regard to what it ‘is’.

Calculus is the mathematics of infinity. It can describe infinities in terms of ‘limits’ as infinity approaches a limit. It can describe infinities as ‘converging’ and ‘diverging’. Let’s take the function, ‘1/x’, where x goes from minus infinity to plus infinity (see chart below). You can see on the chart that from -1 to minus infinity the solution reaches a limit of zero. From -1 to just below zero the solution goes to minus infinity. Likewise, from 1 to infinity the solution reaches a limit of zero. From 1 to just above zero the solution goes to infinity. At zero 1/X is undefined.

Therefore, while we have not gained any insight into the notion of infinity, we have described qualities around the, ever exceeding itself, notion of infinity in certain circumstances. Likewise, while we cannot resolve the previously discussed dilemma of the geometrical point as an impossible singularity, we can point out certain behavior around that impossibility. This behavior nevertheless does not undo the Gordian Knot except by leveling it over with negation or ignoring it altogether. This paradox then weaves itself in the field of light without ever being consumed by the light.

From henceforth, we shall we refer to specific reductions such as the function ‘1/x’, converging and diverging on a limit of ‘1’ as providing a degree of diachronic ‘closure’ to the odd idea of infinity; that is, standing alongside the rupture of the idea of infinity without overtaking it. In this type of behavior infinity taken up in history and easily lost in negation and ignore-ance. Likewise, the abstract and inconceivable idea of the point as infinitesimally small, embodied in the impossible contradiction of a black hole, supplements the idea with an existential empiricism that adds a degree of semblance as closure. These further qualifications bring relevance to an inherit excess to the idea of infinity without covering over the radical rupture of the idea. Likewise, we shall refer to qualities which refuse resolution (such as zero dimensional, infinitesimally small, etc.) as moving towards an un-addressable exteriority which opens towards an unbridgeable tear in the interiority of ideas or self-enclosed-ness.

This openness does not open towards a Heideggerian kind of clearing but rather imposes itself in its absolute impossibility which cannot be denied. Interesting enough Heidegger writes:

“Death is the possibility of the absolute impossibility of Dasein [human being, the ‘there’ of being]. Thus death reveals itself as that possibility which is one’s ownmost, which is non-relational, and which is not to be outstripped”.7

In my estimation for example, the absolute impossibility of a point which cannot exist and yet must as a singularity does not belong to Dasein or even Being but to what Levinas refers to as otherwise than Being. The rupture I have spoken of is radical tear which cannot be resolved either in Being or Hegel’s Idea. It cannot be taken hold of but must always remain out of reach, without mediation, without relating in any way to one’s ownmost (which brings into question how death can be related to “one’s ownmost AND non-relational).

The tendency to closure of paradox may provide conditional qualities around which we can, in a limited fashion, provide some resolution around a logical impossibility without abolishing the necessary impossibility it enshrouds. To some extent openness provides us a specificity in the bare name such as the word ‘infinity’ which can be pragmatically useful in service to such qualities previously discussed but ultimately fail in their inability to find any complete closure within themselves with their sheer imposing impossibility. The tear in the fabric of rationality is not overtaken by rationality. It is not snuffed out by the forceful wish of dialectic and aufheben. Nor is it tamed by the totality of Being. For the early Greeks it remained as,

Tell me all of this, you Muses who have your homes on Olympus, from the beginning [archê, ἀρχῆς], tell who first of them (the gods) came-to-be [genet’, γένετ᾽].
First of all Chaos came-to-be [genet’, γένετ᾽]8

…for Levinas and the gift of Judaism, the provocation of the Other.



1 From “Signature”, an essay in:
Essays on Judaism
Emmanuel Levinas
Translated by Sean Hand
English translation published 1990 by
The Johns Hopkins University Press
2715 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-4363
Johns Hopkins Paperbacks edition, 1997
9 8 7 6 5 4 3

2 Ancient Greek

From φῠ́ω (phúō, “grow”) +‎ -σῐς (-sis).

Noun: φῠ́σῐς • (phúsis) f (genitive φῠ́σεως); third declension

See also φύσις in Liddell & Scott (1940) A Greek–English Lexicon, Oxford: Clarendon Press

3 paradox – a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true

4 Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod

5 Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod

6 Renes Descartes, “Meditations on First Philosophy”, Third Meditation

7 Martin Heidegger, “Being and Time”, 53: 307

8 Hesiod, Theogony

An Interlude to Anaximander

Philosophy Series Contents (to be updated with each new installment)

Philosophy Series 1 – Prelude to the Philosophy Series

Philosophy Series 2 – Introduction

Philosophy Series 3 – Appendix A, Part 1

Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod

Philosophy Series 5 – A Detour of Time

Philosophy Series 6 – The Origin

Philosophy Series 7 – Eros

Philosophy Series 8 – Thales

Philosophy Series 9 – An Interlude to Anaximander

Philosophy Series 10 – On the Way to Anaximander: Language and Proximity

Philosophy Series 11 – Aristotle and Modernity: The Eternal and Science

Philosophy Series 12 – Levinas and the Problem of Metaphysics

Philosophy Series 13 – On Origin

An Interlude to Anaximander

Someone must have already stated this elsewhere so for lack of citation let me reiterate, there are many academics but few scholars. Scholars attain a breadth of mastery that few academics ever realize. Analogously, most folks are philosophers in one way or another but few find concrete paths from philosophy to existentia, actual existence. This why philosophers in modernity from existentialists to post-existentialism has focused philosophy on the concrete fact of death. Of course, death, itself, also holds the possibility for abstraction. This is why Heidegger, for example, is swift to frame death in terms of “my death”. Death is not just an end but in non-negotiable ways “my end”. When limit is thought in terms of ‘mineness’, something passionate and irreplaceable comes to the fore. Religions are also able to harness this ‘something’ in concrete displays of passion and ‘faith’. For Kierkegaard, faith is the absolute passion of existence. While academic philosophers, spurred on by the quest for recognition and therefore, economic reward, are goaded by the continuing requirement for sustenance, they are also pricked by the constraints of their specific traditions. Their freedom must end in the horizon of other’s genius. Thus, the academic is born. However, existence persists and places on each the necessity of an existential answer. However, this ‘answer’ takes form, as religion, science, morality or polis/political, denial, it must be responded to, existence therefore evokes. Evocation has long fascinated the phantasma of human imagination as magic, sorcery, desire, wish-fulfillment and even love.

In undertaking this philosophy series, I am continually facing the prospects of pure academia or existentialism. For me, philosophy dies in pure academia. Philosophy finds value and virtue in its fundamental evocation. Whenever philosophy becomes instantiated in ‘isness’ or perhaps as Levinas might sway us to, il ya, it can become obsession or insomniac. It loses a certain kind of weightiness, a certain kind of necessary ‘evocativeness’ is deferred. In the loss of limit, the bounds of ‘mineness’ can be displaced, and thus, the possibility for radical alterity. The ‘end’, this peras, was also noted by Anaximander and many before including Hesiod. Peras, simply translated as end or limit is only the beginning of its etymological intonations. The early Greeks as many archaic traditions recognized change, transition, mutation of form. The Ionians were fascinated with the notion that transitions were not magical apparitions, popping in and out of existence but had some substratum, some basis of mutability. Science and religion have been intrigued ever since. Anaximander, perceptively enough also echoing other archaic traditions thought of these limitations as intensified by re-occurrence of some sense of the same, the dissolution and reemergence of like forms. Iteration, when amplified infinitely by a notion of the same, persistence and unity through time, becomes a-peras (apeiron), the negation of limitation. It becomes intense, imposing, non-negotiable…existential as my being-towards-an-end which cannot grab hold of what this means. This inability to be able is cast without limit, without understanding in the midst of understanding. This type of overflowing itself could be thought as a beckoning of exteriority. This intensity thought in Greek terms is kairos. Kairos as the beckoning moment of answer, necessitates and requires, completion, finality, condensation, movement and action. As such, it is qualitative. It overflows itself as qualitative. In this moment, existence is borne and born.

The urgency and necessity of this evocation did not escape the keen observations of the Greeks. Nor has it yet escaped the gaze of science’s Orphic vision. Necessity is certainly embodied in biological evolution. Survival, as utmost, is dependent on successful adaptations. Could it be that habit as specific to an individual organism, the repetition of successfully completed iterations where ‘success’ is thought in terms of survival, of tarrying to the next iteration, can find some genetic bridge over successive generations of ritualistic practice into what we think as ‘instinct’. Can ‘instinct’ be ingested into DNA? Just as Nobel Prize winner Barbara Mcclintock found the cellular reflection of environment into itself as equally primordial to the cells’ internal structure, could it be that ‘adaptation’ is the innate struggle (polemus) of the internal and the external to come to stasis, to a temporal completion of ‘moment’ when neither impose its form on the other but mutually respond and co-habitat with the other. In genetic encoding then this moment becomes ‘physical’, ‘biological’ and ‘chemical’. It also becomes ‘physics’ as atomic or better sub-atomic.

In modern physics we have the notions of isolated, closed and open systems. Isolated systems can neither pass energy or matter. Closed systems can pass energy but not matter. Closed systems in classic mechanics would be considered an isolated system in thermodynamics. Isolated systems do not exist in actuality. Open systems can pass both energy and matter. In isolated physical systems we say that momentum is conserved. In an isolated system we can account for change, transition, mutation and thus energy is conserved. However, in an open systems we have a loss of accountability we call entropy that shows itself as error. The isolated system is thought yet again as the Hegelian dialectic of internal and external, the particular and the universal. The isolated system demonstrates a kind of respite, a cessation of strife, of the temporal tearing, incessant bubbling of sub-atomic particles, a transformation (aufhebung), where, what Hesiod termed, a ‘yawning gap’, chaos, subsides and the moment of archy, of origin, of birth, opens up genesis, genetics, genet’. This moment is a kind of equilateral-ism, congruency, a pause thought as stasis. Aristotle’s discussions of actuality (actualitas Latin, energeia Greek) or work as what persists and potential (potentia Latin, dunamis Greek) or possibility as what could be, find their stasis in motion or kinetic (kinesis) as the actuality of potentiality, as the persistence of possibility. Temporality and motion, known in Classic Greece, is conserved and preserved by persisting through time by limitation, by form. A temporal wholeness or completion as ousia, being, is evoked from apeiron, perhaps Hesiod’s ‘before the gods’ of chaos. Of necessity, this temporal pause to the incessant change of form, is first made possible by a terminus, a telos, a limit or boundary. The existential weight of evocation, the ‘must’ of action, cannot be ignored or denied without only re-affirming it. Any turning away is yet again a turning towards as the existential moment of existence must obey a call from without as a singularity, as a persisting form cast upon the void, the yawning gap.

The isolated system in physics is always a kind of existence creating moment. It is imposed by boundary and limit, arrangement and designation. However, closed systems, as the perfect triangle, are idealizations. Any isolated system in reality leak and absorb information in the larger context of an open system. Isolated systems in the real world are intrinsically and essentially effected by externality, they have entropy. Information cannot be completely recovered in an isolated system. Information must be truncated in the idealization of an isolated system. The loss is irretrievable in an isolated system context. Typically, the universe is thought in the motif of a closed system. A closed system universe could interact with other energies, perhaps from bubbling multi-verses or multi-dimensional factors but not with any ability to transfer mass. This then gives rise to a metaphysical question, is the notion of the absolute open, closed or isolated? Or, could it be that, the notion of the absolute is an iteration, a singularity, a tautology of a primordial limit in an isolated system context? Some might say this question, devoid of existential import, may as well ask how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

In modern physics, a singularity such as the infamous ‘black hole’ is a margin from the isolated system con-text. It is a parenthesis, a deferment until logos, understanding, can finally recover its enigma. Is information conserved or lost in a black hole? Has physics reached an absolute limit in a black hole? The black hole is a unity. It is not a solely a swarming buzz of sub-atomic particles popping in and out of existence. It is not a formless chaos. It is in stasis, driven by necessity to be, and yet it’s being is an absolute limit in a multitude of ways…more importantly, to understanding, the very possibility of understanding. Physics has in recent times brought to the fore more and more staggering limitations of itself with the ‘God Particle’, super-symmetry, multi-verses, higher order dimensions, dark matter and dark energy and brought with these, reflective questions of knowledge itself. Not that there is an alternative to knowledge but it has brought to the fore the necessity of knowledge and at the same time it’s absolute limit. Absolute limitation in physics mathematically become singularities. Singularities are nonsensical, Alice in Wonderland. While ‘bad science’ is thought to end in a proliferation of singularities, they cannot be ignored as they pose fundamental questions which defy ‘reality’, the light of, even the possibility of, knowledge and as such convey an unsettling existential angst.

Mass and energy are inextricably linked just as Aristotle’s thinking of actuality and potentiality are linked. Now with the proof of the Higgs Boson we have a particle ‘field’ whose origin appears in the first moments of the Big Bang which determines and necessitates mass. It transforms massless energy to relative degrees of stickiness, of clumping, of resistance, weightiness; mass. This boson imposes an ir-refusable limit to matter. Thus, the name ‘God Particle’.

The point of this divergence into modern phusis is to show that the import of ‘my death’ never achieves an ‘outside’. It can only converge in upon itself into a singularity. It cannot retain information without irretrievable loss. Even more so, we see this phenomena everywhere we look in phusis. This is the setting in essence of ancient Greek inquiry. The Greeks did not have the apathy of centuries of abstractions into being. They felt the import originally with other archaic cultures and the interruption of the raw gap, the chaos, not yet historically named but recognized in imposing enigma. They understood the transformations of forms as mutations of hot and cold, damp and dry, atom and void. They thought with resoluteness and determination the absolute connotations of limitation, of death, of knowledge. These differences could not easily rest in stasis as being and nothingness, self and other, as pure, self-determining Idea. These differences brought them to the abyss that looks back into our souls, beyond Dread to a gap, an otherness not captured by thought but intensified as the moment of dissolution and birth, of limit in which even light cannot penetrate or escape.1

Philosophy Series 10 – On the Way to Anaximander: Language and Proximity


1 The next installment in this series will probably take some more time for research and thought as the topic of Anaximander brings with it enormous scholarly attention and far reaching possibilities for departure. There may be more preliminary discussions before I really start with the textual, philological and canonical discussion.

The Work of Days (revisited)

This started as a footnote to the previous post but ‘grew’…

I would also suggest that this ‘stuff’ we call ‘matter’ may have an exteriority which, as the history of science demonstrates, resists our most concerted efforts to finally understand it, to know it in totality. Could it be that we can learn something about ‘knowing’ from this observation? ‘Knowing’ tends toward totalizing. In the Greek sense of telos, knowing aims and is directed in advance by the desire to understand. Under-standing is desire for arche, for origin. It seeks foundation, founded-ness, to arrive and yet, in view of the history of science or metaphysics, never arrives.

Never arriving is an exteriority to the desire for knowing. Never arriving is an essential teleological characteristic of knowing. Thus, the desire and the impossibility of the desire generate anxiety. Anxiety results in totality and historical metaphysics. Historical metaphysics’ telos aims at first philosophy. However, its history shows us much unapologetic failure. Totality is permeated by historical metaphysics just as historical metaphysics is permeated by totality. Thus knowing wants to ‘take account’ of exteriority, of error, and exteriority is violently appropriated by knowing. In both cases totality desires to take precedence, to understand, to rest. However, for desire to be desire it can never terminate; it can never complete itself in its object. Thus, desire is endless by necessity. The ancient Greeks called this struggle peras and apeiron, simplistically translated form and chaos (void).

Peiron in ‘a-peiron’ is the Ionic Greek for boundary or limit. The older form of this, peras, meant ‘beyond’ or ‘further’. Thus, a-peiron in Ionic Greek from Anaximander is the alpha privative, the privation of boundary and limit or without boundary or limit. Even in the much earlier archaic period of the Greeks, in Hesiod, we have Uranus (father sky) and Gaia (mother earth). Sky suspends, stands off, provides perspective. Sky is the son and husband of earth. Therefore, earth is generative. As the first of the gods, Earth is yet to be differentiated, it is undifferentiated.1 Earth is the origin of sky. Thus, Earth is arche. In Hesiod, Earth, what we now call ‘matter’, was the first of the gods. Yet, Hesiod’s Muses tells us that first of all was khaos, chaos. Chaos means the ‘yawning gap’, a void. Thus, chaos differentiates and separates (the heaven and the earth). Earth is permeated through and through with chaos, undifferentiated but fertile and generative.

The Ionic Greeks further refined this notion to what post modernism might call the “play of difference” (differance [sic] in Derrida). The play of differentiation and a-differentiation, without difference, is not a confusion of differences or a tautological identity of sameness but an exterior to difference. According to Heidegger Phusis, through Latin, got translated as natura (or the modern word nature) and lost the original meaning of the word which is to grow, to emerge, to unfold. Phusis is generative. Heidegger calls this emerging-abiding sway. He maintains that phusis was the original Greek idea of being. Thus, differentiation, the earliest beginnings of science, of phusis (later physis, later physics) gives context to the already understood (pre-cognitive) notion of ‘is’. Yet, even earlier, we have chaos which is the necessary condition, “first of all”, and by absolute exteriority conditions and generates growth, differentiation and physics by chaos, a yawning gap. What was lost from the archaic period of Hesiod was the gap, the anarchy, which cannot be captured, totalized, brought into the light of knowledge or, as Plato may have written, “the good beyond being”.

In meta-physics we do not have the beyond as later Latin thinkers would have us believe. Aristotle does not use that title since it came much latter. His work currently titled and typically understood by the Latin word Metaphysics is really τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά” and may have been added by an editor. Aristotle claims the work was about “first philosophy”.2 Heidegger thought it was Aristotle’s exploration into Being, ontology. It was not beyond or contrary to phusis but an inquiry into the ‘first’ of phusis. Perhaps we could think it as the great question of Hesiod, “what came first”. As such, the depth and richness of this question begins science; it begins physics, not transcends it. Earth generates sky but undifferentiating does not generate differentiation, it separates it. This separation or gap excludes a middle, an ever mediated in-between. This suggests that what always and ever grows seeks it telos, its completion, in bridging the gap, completing the difference, the error, in a unified totality. However, it can only ever, like Sisyphus push the rock uphill to have it roll down again. The Desire cannot be complete as it would no longer be Desire but the loss of Desire as sameness, totality and Error.

When the place of absolute exteriority is lost in totality and interruption of the other is taken as the same, as the already understood of ‘is’ (materialism, dualism, pluralism, stuff, thing, substance, atom, etc.), the otherness of the other, radical exteriority, can only be effaced. The effacement of the other in its most radical form is genocide. Ethics leaves the gap, the first as other and has always been at work in metaphysics, in the notion of God and gods. The problem is that so has the work of totality. Metaphysics errs by assuming the other as substance just as science can err. However, the virtue found in science is the deference to error, the possibility of falsifiability. To be sure, science can also be defiant and dogmatic as well but its health comes from its recognition of error. Metaphysics as religion has a tendency to forget its propensity for error. Its error then seems to be the error of dogmatism and denial, of another substance called God. The play of alterity in the history of science and metaphysics is what validates or what fails to validate particular differentiations.

The endless play of difference as Desire can never end in totality, the Truth. It can only bridge the yawning gap in violence, in totality and thus fail to achieve ethics. Desire as Eros can never find completion but it can find work. The work of physics-first philosophy as differentiation and the telos of differentiation as completion, fulfillment and wholeness desire finality. Ethics resists finality as totality. Only death as the possibility of the impossible can finalize Desire. Death as the radical alterity of the other overtakes us from without, from an exterior which can never be conquered. We can never have power over death. We can only be absolutely passive beyond all passivity in the face of death. Death is the answer to phusis not totality. Our telos is not in power or truth but in absolute exteriority. As such exteriority is the ethic of Desire. Since finality can never achieve totality, ‘archy’ (arche; origin) can never achieve an-archy. Arche can never find light, meaning, logic or value in anarchy. Anarchy can never ‘make sense’ to arche but it can always interrupt arche and provide the gap which keeps arche from totality, science from absolute knowledge, religion from false god-hood (idolatry). Anarchy is the openness of phusis which comes from without. It makes science and religion possible.

Ethics as Desire is the embodied of work. The work of days achieves value and meaning in ethics. Ethics in this sense stands back from purity or the proper, the achievement of totality. It recognizes limit and boundary. It grows from error and does not die in dogmatism. Totality is the premature termination of Desire, the facade, the semblance. In the play of Desire, what the Greeks termed Eros, we encounter the gap, the absolutely excluded in-between, which is neither mortal or divine. The work of Ethics gives value, meaning and place to the stranger, the wanderer, the homeless, the errant with dignity which can only be reserved for the gods.


1 See Reading Hesiod’s Theogony (with Notes and Questions)

“But I want to ask again, do we need to make this assumption of such a “pre-existing undifferentiated field”? I do think it is called for by Hesiod’s words.” Page 13, Heidegger and the Greeks: Interpretive Essays, Drew A. Hyland, ‎John Panteleimon Manoussakis – 2006, See this

2 τὰ μετὰ [in the midst of, among, after] τὰ φυσικά [physics] If the editor, Andronicus of Rhodes [50 BC], placed this title on Aristotle’s work, it may simply have meant that he physically placed the material after Aristotle’s books, the Physics. See this and this.

In Metaphysics A.1, “Aristotle says that “all men suppose what is called wisdom (sophia) to deal with the first causes (aitia) and the principles (archai) of things”” (981b28), and it is these causes and principles that he proposes to study in this work. Aristotle’s Metaphysics, First published Sun Oct 8, 2000; substantive revision Mon Jun 11, 2012



Philosophy, Evolution, Chris Hayes and Punk Rock

Last night on the MSNBC program “All In with Chris Hayes” he had an interesting discussion with Gregg Graffin, punk rocker of Bad Religion and PhD in Zoology.1 He thinks of himself as a naturalist. He has written books concerning evolution, God and atheism. Last night he was discussing what he termed “dualism” and “materialism”. The initial story on MSNBC was about some comments the Pope had made reconciling evolution and the big bang to Christianity. Gregg thought that folks that did this were dualists. He made the claim that scientists were materialists. While I am sympathetic with his views on evolution and science, I found the discussion in terms of dualism and materialism to be very anachronistic. These terms have been discussed in philosophy for hundreds of years. These terms have been retrofitted as far back as Plato and Aristotle. While they may oversimplify and fail to capture the Greek differences in Plato and Aristotle, they probably started coming into their own in Neo-Platonism in Rome, Constantinople and Christian Scholasticism. These modern philosophical notions really came into play with Rene Descartes in terms of Cartesian Dualism. They were in vogue in the days of Charles Darwin and most recently for Karl Marx and historical materialism. However, with regard to contemporary philosophy, the use of these terms reflect a kind of naiveté of where philosophy has subsequently traversed. Of course, in the history of philosophy they are still discussed just as medieval literature, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton’s “aethereal medium” for the transmission of light, along with the struggle of the Royal Society with alchemy are still discussed in academia.

Framing contemporary arguments with these historical motifs is tantamount to trying to talk to a physicist in terms of atoms. Of course, the atom has a historical paradigm and certainly is useful for teaching students new to physics but physics has traversed quite a ways from the Greek notion of Democritus’ atom. Likewise casting the net of dualism and materialism over science and theism forces the discussion into anachronistic dispersions. The fact is, just as science has paradigm shifts as Thomas Kuhn discussed in the sixties in “The Structures of Scientific Revolutions” so does philosophy. As Kuhn points out, the semantic certainties of science are not some kind of self-evident, a priori, ‘truth’ content but have roots in history, politics, economics as well as accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, and ‘fruitfulness’. Contemporary philosophy has long since left the binary oppositions of dualism and materialism. These concepts may have historical significances and utilitarian virtues but they also fail to convey richness, value and truth just as Nietzsche’s aphoristically declared “God is Dead” and ether was finally dismissed in Einstein.

The error in dualism or materialism is in the metaphysic of ‘substance’. In the notion of substance a whole history of what philosophy calls ‘ontology’, being-logos or the study of being, is already understood and assumed. The assumption cannot help but think2 of what ‘is’ is, is-ness, in terms of ‘thing’ or what Heidegger termed ‘thing-ness’. So ontologically synonymous terms such as ‘reality’, matter, mind, spirit and even ‘is’ equivocally and already (pre-cognitively) understand what ‘is’ in easy terms of stuff, thing and substance. All that is required after that is to categorize this stuff in terms of one (materialism or idealism), two (dualism) or more (pluralism). In the modern occident, materialism and dualism are most prominent. In 20th century phenomenology, what this capacity for en-framing shows is not what it pretends, the actual stuff of ‘is’, but a certain capacity of who we are as ‘historical’. We cannot help but think in these historical motifs because our language, our thinking, is already formed by a certain history of ontology. In the 20th century, philosophy has reawakened the thought of being, what was thought in the Pre-Socratics as phusis, from where we get our modern word physics. Just as sub-particle physics now thinks the atom in terms of quanta, current philosophy has tried to stratify content and ‘meaning’ in historical terms. What this does is open up a kind of externality to the already understood notion we have of being, existence, substance, matter, etc. and asks if the notion we have of the early Greeks is really the sealed, hermetic space, classical philology imagines or if there is an excess that has been overlooked in what those early Greeks were asking.

Once ‘is’ has been incased in terms such as ‘matter’ a whole history comes along with that which even the history of science has abundantly demonstrated cannot be what it appears as. Simplistically, the ‘scientific method’ makes claims to a certain kind of anarchy (without origin) of the direction of thought. It claims to be guided by whatever ‘truth’ may come along to upset current convention. Sure enough, the history of science is replete with such examples or what Kuhn terms ‘paradigm shifts’. However, as he also shows, that movement is not simply a movement of ‘truth’ guided by mere materiality but also brings with it histories of content not merely reducible to ‘matter’ but essentially dependent on politics, economy, culture, etc. Likewise, a certain kind of anarchy also betrays the common notions of philosophy and I would dare say theology as well (but that is another topic). What betrays us is a certain kind of myopia or what Socrates characterized as shadows cast on a cave wall. Rather than deny or affirm the individual tenants of our sight, in contemporary philosophy, we should turn the question towards what is it about us that conditions us for such wanderlust? What shows itself in the unimpeachable certainties of our determinations? How is it we can encapsulate entire histories with widely varied, forgotten and even undiscovered possibilities in such as simple word as “is”? What can this capacity tell us about language, about truth, about matter? On the apex of dark energy and dark matter where physics itself has put its truths in essential question how can we not be thrown back on the anarchy of thought, a radical exteriority which must always remain a ‘yet’? What is more, in physics as in philosophy the whole question of temporality has once again been brought to the fore.

Heidegger calls the notion of sequential, linear ‘now’ moments the vulgar notion of time. For Heidegger it is an abstraction. It may have pragmatic and utilitarian advantages but as we know in Einstein such a notion was essentially made relative to the speed of light and thus the notion of time was entangled in the permeability and contingency of matter and energy. Time, in physics, is no longer understood in Newtonian absolute categories but as having stretch and even termination. Likewise, Heidegger recognizes a stretch in the way we experience temporality where, for example, anxiety or boredom may slow down time and exhilaration or joy may make time fly by. Of course, our history has once again given us convenient categories for explaining this in terms of ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ but as we have seen, the historical capacities we have may cover over as much as we think they reveal. For example, now we think time in physics as relative and with a stretch which we put in categories of matter. When we think time in terms of the human experience of time we put that in categories of subjectivity. However, for both the dynamic is very similar and we supplement that dynamic with convenient historical categories of matter and subjectivity.

This detour into current philosophy was to make apparent underlying metaphysics of such easily tossed about notions as dualism and materialism where ‘is’ has already been explained and understood in terms of substance, matter, ‘thing-ness’. It was also to show a kind of philosophical contemporaneousness where the alternative to endlessly debating the merits of dualism and materialism gets enveloped in a certain way in which we ‘are’ or what Heidegger called ‘da-sein’ (the ‘there’ of being). Finally, the allusions to radical exteriority discussed in Emmanuel Levinas and highlighted here in the radical contingency of science, of ‘truth’, even of ontology would bring us full circle to an anarchic origin of a possible notion of God and the absolutely suspended and founding place of metaphysics. The negation of knowledge or ‘truth’ stops short of the alterity of excess, of otherness, as it agnostically decries the possibility of alterity whereas in Levinas the anarchical beginning, the origin of all our meanings is in the face of an unbridgeable, untraceable disruption of the other. This he terms anarchic3, without origin, which also finds a voice in the earliest Greek writings of Hesiod:

Tell me all of this, you Muses who have your homes on Olympus, from the beginning, tell who first of them (the gods) came-to-be.

First of all Chaos came-to-be; but then afterwards…4


1 Talking God and evolution with a punk legend

2 An assumption which we ‘cannot help but think’ could otherwise be known as ‘truth’.

3 See The Work of Days (revisited)

4 Hesiod, Theogony. See my yet to be completed philosophy series starting here, Prelude to the Philosophy Series.

Here’s a thought…

What if the universe thinks?

This may sound quite mad but,

what if thoughts and intelligence are not simply invented by us and trapped in our heads as a by-product of the culmination of evolution’s Homo sapiens but thoughts required the universe to be.

What if we did not invent thoughts but thoughts invented us by necessity?

Analogously, as frequencies (logical, ordered thoughts) and radiation noise (chaotic, random thoughts), thoughts as light is ‘transmitted’ from source to sink.

Perhaps, we do not have a clue as to what the ‘medium’ of thoughts could be just as we recently discovered dark matter and dark energy make up most of the universe and we do not have a clue as to what they are.

Perhaps, ‘gray matter’ is a receptor, a sink for a universe of transmitted, sourced, thoughts.

Is the universe the ‘mind of God’?

If so, we are trying to transmit and look for transmitted signals from aliens with radio waves?1 Wouldn’t this be quite comical? Higher intelligence, lower intelligence permeates the universe and here we are trying to send and receive smoke signals.

If thoughts are ‘real’ why do we have to think we invented them? Could they have been around from the beginning, the arche, or even before the beginning? Could they have required the universe to be?

Well, if you believe the ancient Greeks the arche, the origin, is chaos, the gap of indeterminate and determinate. The logos, pitifully transmitted as ‘word’, is a gathering, an ordering, of thoughts, determinate, determining, conceiving, ‘circumspecting’, which is bounded by disorder, chaos, the indeterminate, the apeiron. Logos is the form, the forming, which thinks. Humans are the animal that speaks, that has the forms of thought which culminates in speaking, communicating, transmitting ideas.

Or, if you believe Christianity, “In the beginning was the word.”2, the logos. The logos is the mind of God. The universe is the actual ‘gray matter’ of God. Jesus was the perfect ‘receptor’ of the thoughts of God. We are receptors too and can ‘heed’ the word of God.

Need I say for Hegel there is the Concept, the Begriff, the Idea.

We can receive thoughts and transmit them with speech but also in other ways. Ladies seem to have a keen receptor for picking up certain erogenous ideas from men. We can sense when someone is dangerous or, in this case, mad.

Even more, when cave men threw spears they received the idea of the ‘laws of motion’. True, their reception was bit crude and more refined reception was given by Newton but the ideas were there. Even animals can receive these precepts of their environment and respond accordingly. The physics, phusis, of the macro-universe is ordered and cohere while the bad boys of the quantum-universe dis-order, disrupt, fill all origins with noise.

From the beginning of ‘consciousness’ we perceived the lived stretch of time Heidegger discusses.3 When we are happy ‘time flies’. When we are bored time slows to an unbearable pace. Physically, Einstein more eloquently thought a time-space continuum, a ‘law’ of nature where space and time are two sides of the same coin so to speak. But we felt it, lived it, long before it found ‘scientific’ words.

As thought receptors, we can distort and truncate thoughts. We are capable of Error as Kierkegaard thought. We might call this ignorance or crude or bizarre or dangerous. We may historically fence off a canonical, approved domain, of logos we call sanity and expel insanity to the nether regions as Foucault may have suggested, symbiotically related. Are these de-ranged thoughts dangerous in themselves or simply the defect or ‘frequency limiting’, filtering, of the receptor? I suppose this could give credence to those that ‘hear voices’ or believe they had transmitters implanted in their heads; perhaps, these defective receivers cannot ‘own’ the thoughts they receive.

Could it be that we are not locked up in an existential aloneness but all our lives receiving and transmitting a small portion of an infinite universe of thoughts. We cling to some ideas as ‘us’ or ‘I’. We attach to some thoughts as mine-ness. We own them but perhaps they own us. Perhaps they require the universe to be to actuate them, to flesh them out, to give voice to them in ever more profound ways. What would the universe be without them? How would a universe even get perceived, understood, known, observed without an observer, a receptor and transmitter, source and sink of universal ‘math’, its order, its language, its Forms.

What of the idea of infinity? We truncate it, filter it, of necessity but it always exceeds our truncations as Descartes perceived. Infinity is the perception of the spectrum, the frequencies, of thoughts from crude to profound, highly ordered to chaotic. The background noise of the universe is noise in the receiver, the inability to ever make thought concrete even though it concretizes us, nature, phusis (physics). It is the meta-phusis, metaphysics, which allows being to be. Its absolute indeterminacy determines what ‘is’.

And here we are going around trying to talk or listen to aliens with radio waves. We live in sea of thought and we transmit radio waves to aliens like smoke signals or shadows cast on a cave wall, all the while thinking the shadows are the reality of the sun. This is quite comical in the preceding light. Perhaps what we are really looking for is others as unintelligent as ourselves. The universe is intelligent and the only ignorance lies in something we forget or neglect. Could it be that the universe looks upon us as ‘proof’ that there is unintelligent life in the universe?




2 1 John 1:1

3 A Brief Introduction to Being and Time

Philosophy Series 8

Philosophy Series Contents (to be updated with each new installment)

Philosophy Series 1 – Prelude to the Philosophy Series

Philosophy Series 2 – Introduction

Philosophy Series 3 – Appendix A, Part 1

Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod

Philosophy Series 5 – A Detour of Time

Philosophy Series 6 – The Origin

Philosophy Series 7 – Eros

Philosophy Series 8 – Thales

Philosophy Series 9 – An Interlude to Anaximander

Philosophy Series 10 – On the Way to Anaximander: Language and Proximity

Philosophy Series 11 – Aristotle and Modernity: The Eternal and Science

Philosophy Series 12 – Levinas and the Problem of Metaphysics

Philosophy Series 13 – On Origin

Philosophy Series 8


First, a few general comments about the pre-Socratic philosophers, we have no direct writings of many of these philosophers including Thales. We tend to have second and third hand accounts attributed to them. These accounts can span hundreds of years. Generally, earlier accounts are thought as more reliable. Many of these accounts are not given as accurate records of these philosophers but tend to have other motivations at work. For example, Aristotle mentions other philosophers many times as a lead in to discuss his own ideas. Scholars have thought that even Aristotle may not have understood or known anything directly about some of these philosophers but may have learned about them through other philosophers or students of these philosophers.1 Schools like the Sophists, the Stoics, the Latin Neo-Platonists and early Catholic theologians which gave accounts of earlier philosophers were famous for making obvious insertions which reflected their own doxographical positions.2 Many times beliefs and professed discoveries about these philosophers are attributed to other earlier cultures such as the Egyptians and the Babylonians which were known to have already have had similar ideas.3 In any case, much of the philological discussions of these texts are concerned with, so to speak, winnowing out the wheat from the chaff and determining what is more reliable and less reliable as accurate accounts of these philosophers.

Thales lived around 585 BC. He has been thought as the first philosopher, from the Milesian School. Thales was not only known for what we call philosophy today but also astronomy, mathematics and geometry4. As a port city, it is reasonable that Thales was concerned with nautical navigation and meteorological workings. As such his interests could have been shaped by predicting seasons, solstices, times, distances, locations and storms. He also appeared to have been concerned with earthquakes which could feasibly have been associated with extreme tidal waves or freak waves and tsunamis. Certainly there is evidence that Homer was aware of such oceanic phenomena in his epic poetry. Scholars have made the case that Thales could have learned and been influenced from Egyptian and Babylonian sources5 which traded in the port city of Miletus. Some early sources even allude to his having traveled from Egypt.

Thales. . . having practised philosophy in Egypt came to Miletus when he was older. [Aetius i, 3, i]Thales, having first come to Egypt, transferred this study [geometry] to Greece…. [Proclus in Euclidem p. 65 Friedl. (from Eudemus) (DK 1 1 A 1 1)]

Contrary to the implication of these quotes, it is thought that while Thales may have been to Egypt he did not spend a considerable amount of time there or originated from Egypt.6

Diogenes Laertius (3rd century CE) states that Lobon of Argos said that Thales wrote 200 hexameters.7 Lobon of Argos was a stichometrist, a type of chemist, and a known forger who was not held in high regard. This casts doubt on Diogenes Laertius’ comment that Thales wrote “200 hexameters”. Diogenes Laertius appears to have been influenced by the Peripatetic school of Aristotle. Diogenes Laertius tends to not be highly regarded by scholars with regard to Thales. One case and point is Diogenes Laertius’ depiction of Thales here:

Some think he was the first to study the heavenly bodies and to foretell eclipses of the sun and solstices, as Eudemus says in his history of astronomy; for which reason both Xenophanes and Herodotus express admiration; and both Heraclitus and Democritus bear witness for him.8

Kirk and Raven point out,

Diogenes added that Thales discovered the passage of the sun from solstice to solstice, and the relation of the diameter of sun and moon to their orbits.9Diogenes’ second piece of information is quite anachronistic, for Thales cannot have thought that the heavenly bodies had orbits, since they did not pass under the earth (which was not made free-swinging until Anaximander) ; at the most they had semi-orbits, and the ratio of diameter to celestial path would be twice that given.10

With regard to the actual writings of Thales, the passages which follow is a summary of Kirk and Raven’s view:11

Thales is traditionally the first to have revealed the investigation of nature to the Greeks; he had many predecessors, as also Theophrastus thinks, but so far surpassed them as to blot out all who came before him. He is said to have left nothing in the form of writings except the so- called Nautical star-guide. [Simplicius Phys. p. 23, 29 Diels]

The last sentence concerning the ‘Nautical star-guide’ is thought to be an unsubstantiated opinion of Simplicius.

And according to some he left no book behind; for the Nautical star-guide ascribed to him is said to be by Phokos the Samian. [Diogenes Laertius I, 23]

Diogenes Laertius also reports that Phokos the Samian wrote the “Nautical star-guide”.

Aristotle did not see any books by Thales at least on cosmological matters and was very tenuous ascribing opinions to Thales.

It is possible that the ‘Nautical star-guide’ was a genuine sixth-century work similar to the hexameter Ἀστρολογία [Astrologia or Phaenomena] of Cleostratus of Tenedos (DK ch. 6) or the so-called Hesiodic Ἀστρολογία (DK ch. 4) : so Diels and others have assumed.12

Kirk and Raven conclude that,

The evidence does not allow a certain conclusion, but the probability is that Thales did not write a book; though the ancient holders of this view might have been misled by the absence of a genuine work from the Alexandrian library, and also by the apophthegmatic nature of the wisdom assigned to the Seven Sages in general.

Thales was said to have made observations about the solstices and eclipses. He was mentioned as accurately predicting an eclipse but these predictions may not have been as accurate as purported and may have come from Babylonian records kept by priests.13

Thales was certainly concerned with water and how it changed and shaped the environment. It is reasonable to think that he could have been familiar with evaporation and condensation and its meteorological effects. Anaximander, Thales student only about 14 years younger than Thales, was certainly familiar with these conditions as demonstrated by these passages concerning Anaximander:

Winds occur when the finest vapours of the air are separated off and when they are set in motion by congregation; rain occurs from the exhalation that issues upwards from the things beneath the sun, and lightning whenever wind breaks out and cleaves the clouds. [Hippolytus Ref. I, 6, 7](On thunder, lightning, thunderbolts, whirlwinds and typhoons.) Anaximander says that all these things occur as a result of wind: for whenever it is shut up in a thick cloud and then bursts out forcibly, through its fineness and lightness, then the bursting makes the noise, while the rift against the blackness of the cloud makes the flash. [Aetius III, 3, I-2]Anaximander referred everything to wind: thunder, he said, is the noise of smitten cloud… [Seneca Qu. Nat. II, 18]

Kirk and Raven conclude this with some caveats:

These passages suggest that Anaximander shared in, and perhaps to a large degree originated, a more or less standard Ionian way of accounting for meteorological (in our sense) events. The chief elements of this scheme are wind, the evaporation from the sea, and the condensed masses of vapour which form the clouds. All testimonies on the subject are, of course, based on Theophrastus, whom we may suspect of not always resisting the temptation to supply ‘appropriate’ explanations, where none existed, of certain natural phenomena which he thought interested all Presocratics.14

Aristotle writes of Thales of Miletus as one of the first ones to ask about causes and principles of the natural world. He states:

Thales, the founder of this school of philosophy, says the permanent entity is water (which is why he also propounded that the earth floats on water). Presumably he derived this assumption from seeing that the nutriment of everything is moist, and that heat itself is generated from moisture and depends upon it for its existence (and that from which a thing is generated is always its first principle). He derived his assumption, then, from this; and also from the fact that the seeds of everything have a moist nature, whereas water is the first principle [archê] of the nature of moist things.( Aristot. Met. 1.983b)Certain thinkers say that soul is intermingled in the whole universe, and it is perhaps for that reason that Thales came to the opinion that all things are full of gods.(Aristot, de Anima; On the Soul, Book 1)15

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy makes this observation:

Yet there is something in what Aristotle says. In his discussion, Aristotle links Thales’ claim that the world rests on water with the view that water was the archē, or fundamental principle, and he adds that “that from which they come to be is a principle of all things”. He suggests that Thales chose water because of its fundamental role in coming-to-be, nutrition, and growth, and claims that water is the origin of the nature of moist things.16

Thales thought the earth floated on water and that earthquakes occur when the Earth is rocked by waves, rather than assuming that earthquakes were the result of supernatural processes. This idea is much closer to the modern notion of tectonic plates floating on magma than earlier notions of angry Gods and earthquakes. Thales observed that there must have been some ‘fluid’ aspect which caused earthquakes on solid land.

Aristotle writes of Thales as a hylozoist (those who think matter is alive).17

Most of the first philosophers thought that principles in the form of matter were the only principles of all things: for the original source of all existing things, that from which a thing first comes-into-being and into which it is finally destroyed, the substance persisting but changing in its qualities, this they declare is the element and first principle of existing things, and for this reason they consider that there is no absolute coming-to-be or passing away, on the ground that such a nature is always preserved . . .for there must be some natural substance, either one or more than one, from which the other things come-into-being, while it is preserved. Over the number, however, and the form of this kind of principle they do not all agree; but Thales, the founder of this type of philosophy, says that it is water (and therefore declared that the earth is on water), perhaps taking this supposition from seeing the nurture of all things to be moist, and the warm itself coming-to-be from this and living by this (that from which they come-to-be being the principle of all things) taking the supposition both from this and from the seeds of all things having a moist nature, water being the natural principle of moist things.18Certain thinkers say that soul is intermingled in the whole universe, and it is perhaps for that reason that Thales came to the opinion that all things are full of gods.19

Writing centuries later, Diogenes Laertius also states that Thales taught “Water constituted (πεστήσατο, ‘stood under’) the principle of all things.” Earlier in that text Diogenes Laertius makes this statement, “His doctrine was that water is the universal primary substance, and that the world is animate and full of divinities [gods].”20 The phrase “universal primary substance” refers to the Greek word ἀρχήν which is an indeclinable adverb referring to the origin or the source, i.e., water is the origin or source. However, this notion of origin may reflect more of the Peripatetic school of Aristotle than a notion Thales would have been familiar with.

Aristotle, probably thinking of Thales, points out that if the earth rests on water like a log, what is underneath the water?

Others say that the earth rests on water. For this is the most ancient account we have received, which they say was given by Thales the Milesian, that it stays in place through floating like a log or some other such thing (for none of these rests by nature on air, but on water] as though the same argument did not apply to the water supporting the earth as to the earth itself.21

Interestingly, Diogenes Laertius made this observation about Thales:

Megiston topos: hapanta gar chorei (Μέγιστον τόπος· άπαντα γαρ χωρεί)Space is the greatest thing, as it contains all things22

If Diogenes Laertius is accurate of Thales then we must think what the notion of chorei, translated here as ‘space’, could have meant for Thales. Chorei is also translated as ‘flux’ when Heraclitus’ states ‘All is flux’ (panta chorei). Chorei can also mean make room for another, give way, withdraw.23 Thales would not have had some ready to hand notion of ‘space’ as we do. Cosmology in the time of Thales did not think of space as a vacuum as modernity thinks it.

If Diogenes Laertius statement is accurate of Thales, how would that explain Aristotle’s rather simplistic notion of Thales? If “Space is the greatest thing, as it contains all things” does it contain water? If water is the source (archē) how can space contain it? Additionally, Kirk and Raven cast doubt on the ‘simple’ notion that Thales believed ‘all things are water’,

Two things, then, have emerged from the present discussion: (i) ‘all things are water’ is not necessarily a reliable summary of Thales’ cosmological views; and (ii) even if we do accept Aristotle’s account (with some allowance, in any event, for his inevitably altered viewpoint), we have little idea of how things were felt to be essentially related to water.24

Kirk and Raven previously pointed out in this section that Aristotle may not have understood Thales’ notion of cosmology of water and archē. Aristotle seemed to object to the earth resting on water because of the logical postulate, ‘what does the water rest on’? Also, “Thales would almost certainly still accept the popular conception of the earth (or, in this case, its immediate support) stretching downward indefinitely”25

At the time of Thales the prevailing Greek notions of how the cosmos is laid out would have been influenced by Homer and Hesiod. In Homer the earth was a flat circular disc. It was surrounded on all sides, girdled, by a great fresh water river called Okeanos. The sun, moon and stars rose and set in Okeanos (oceanos…ocean). Anaximander is thought to have said, “The heavenly bodies are wheel-like, compressed masses of air filled with fire, which exhale flames from an orifice at one point”.26 According to Homer they bathed in Okeanus.27 The clouds got their moisture by dipping into Okeanos. The earth’s disc was partly covered by the salt water sea which also got its waters from Okeanos. In some accounts Homer suggests that the land of Cimmerians is south-west of Okeanos. Next to that is Erebus, dark night or the shades; Hades. Homer also suggests in other places that Hades is beneath the earth. Hesiod tells us that far below, as far below the earth as the height of heaven is above, Tartaros is below Hades. For Hesiod, Tartaros is a place where the flat disc of the earth meets the descending dome of the sky and the ascending walls of the pit of Tartaros. Sky and Tartarean pit combine to form a surrounding cosmic shell. Tartaros drops as far beneath Haides as the sky rises above the earth.28 Hesiod tells us the Zeus imprisoned the Titans in Tartaros.29 Additionally the ancient world including the orient commonly thought that the four basic elements of the cosmos was earth, water, air, and fire; sometimes there was a fifth element aether.

In view of this prevailing cosmogony, it would not be hard to understand how water would be fundamentally important to Thales. This is not to suggest that the first physicist would have accepted carte blanche the prevailing mythologies but at a minimum they would have lent credence to Thales theories. It is not uncommon even today for physicists to rely on popular paradigms to shape their inquires.

The ‘space’ of Diogenes Laertius’ claim, would not have been abstract extension but air for Thales and air was a form of water,

This was no doubt connected with what Aristotle regards as the principal tenet of Thales, namely, that everything is made out of water, or, as he puts it in his own terminology, that water is the material cause of all things. We have no trustworthy information about the grounds on which this doctrine was based; for, in the absence of any writings by Thales himself, Aristotle can only guess, and his guesses are apparently suggested by the arguments used in support of a similar theory at a later date. We are perhaps justified in interpreting it rather in the light of the doctrines afterwards held by the Milesian school, and especially by Anaximenes; and, if we try to do this, our attention is at once called to the fact that in these days, and for some time after, “air” (ἀήρ) was identified with water in a vaporous state. In fact it was regarded as only a purer and more transparent form of mist, while a still purer form was “aether” (αἰθήρ), which is properly the bright blue of the Mediterranean sky, and is fire rather than air. It was also believed that this fire and that of the heavenly bodies was fed by vapour rising from the sea, a view which, on these presuppositions, is the natural one to take of evaporation. On the other hand, we see that water becomes solid when it freezes, and Anaximenes at least held that earth and stones were water frozen harder still. It may well have seemed to Thales, then, that water was the original thing from which fire on the one hand and earth on the other arose.30

Additionally, the notion of water as the source or primordial was not unique to Thales. Kirk and Raven point out,

The near-eastern origin of part of Thales’ cosmology is indicated by his conception that the earth floats or rests on water. In Egypt the earth was commonly conceived as a flat, rimmed dish resting upon water, which also filled the sky ; the sun sailed each day across the sky in a boat, and also sailed under the earth each night (not round it, as in the Greek legend). In the Babylonian creation-epic Apsu and Tiamat represent the primeval waters, and Apsu remains as the waters under the earth after Marduk has split the body of Tiamat to form sky (with its waters) and earth. In the story of Eridu (seventh century B.C. in its youngest extant version), in the beginning ‘all land was sea’; then Marduk built a raft on the surface of the water, and on the raft a reed-hut which became the earth. An analogous view is implied in the Psalms (where also Leviathan is an analogue of Tiamat), where Jahweh ‘stretched out the earth above the waters’ (136, 6), ‘founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods’ (24, 2). Similarly Tehom is ‘the deep that lieth under’ (Gen. xlix. 25), ‘the deep that coucheth beneath’ (Deut. xxxiii. I3). Against this profusion of parallel material, from the cast and south-cast, for the waters under the earth, there is no comparable Greek material apart from Thalcs. The naive Greek conception of a river Okeanos surrounding the earth is not strictly comparable (for it is clear that there is no Okeanos under the earth), although it was probably a much earlier development, in a different direction, of the widely diffused near-eastern generic concept of the earth rising in the midst of the primeval waters a concept almost certainly not native to the Greek-speaking peoples, whose home before the migrations into the Greek peninsula lay far from the sea. Similarly, although the isolated references in Iliad book 14 (9 and 10) to Okeanos as origin of all things were also probably based upon the same near-eastern concept, from a slightly different aspect, they contain no implication of the special idea that the earth floats on water, and so are unlikely to have been the origin of Thalcs’ assertion of this idea. For any more general contention that the earth came from, or is maintained by, water, Thales would no doubt be encouraged and gratified to have the apparently native Homeric precedents. Thus Thales’ view that the earth floats on water seems to have been most probably based upon direct contact with near-eastern mythological cosmology. We have already seen that he had associations both with Babylonia and with Egypt. The idea that the earth actually floats upon water was more clearly and more widely held in the latter of these countries; and the conjecture might be hazarded that Thales was indebted to Egypt for this element of his world-picture.31

Kirk and Raven also point out that ‘all things are full of gods’ may not really be accurate either of Thales belief, “(ii) Even apparently inanimate things can be ‘alive ‘; the world is full of gods”.32

This presupposition is still sometimes called ‘hylozoism’; but this name implies too strongly that it is something uniform, determinable, and conscious. In fact the term applies to at least three possible and distinct attitudes of mind: (a) the assumption (conscious or not) that all things absolutely are in some way alive ; (b) the belief that the world is interpenetrated by life, that many of its parts which appear inanimate are in fact animate ; (c) the tendency to treat the world is a whole, whatever its detailed constitution, as a single living organism, (a) is an extreme, but in view of the universalizing tendency of Greek thought not an impossible, form of the general presupposition; in a way it might be said to be exemplified by Xenophanes. Thales’ belief, it has been suggested, approaches closer to (b). (c) is implicit in the old genealogical view of the world’s history described in chapter I, which still persisted to a large extent under the new rationalized form of philosophical cosmogony. Aristotle is seen at his most perspicuous in 118, where, perhaps with Thales especially in mind, he shows himself aware of the possibility of this kind of attitude.33

Diogenes Laertius fortifies his argument that the ‘world is full of gods’ suggesting that, “Aristotle and Hippias affirm that, arguing from the magnet and from amber, he [Thales] attributed a soul (psuchê) or life even to inanimate objects (ta apsucha; alpha privative of psuchê)”.34 Aristotle also makes a comment concerning this which is probably the source of Diogenes Laertius’ comment:

Thales, too, to judge from what is recorded about him, seems to have held soul to be a motive force, since he said that the magnet has a soul in it because it moves the iron.35

Jonathon Barnes makes the argument that the soul (psuchê) for early ancient physicists would have been thought in terms of ‘motive force’. Barnes actually translates this word ‘motor’. Certainly, for Aristotle and much of Greek philosophy motion, change, form, idea (as appearance, what shows itself) was a major concern. Inquiry into what lies beneath appearance, that which does not incessantly change was a major concern for these physicists. Barnes states,

What is the sense, and what the cogency, of Thales’ argument? The word psuchê is commonly translated by ‘soul’; and in most contexts this translation is reasonable enough. Here, however, the standard translation masks the charm of the argument, and a heterodox rendering has some justification.To have a psuchê is to be empsuchos. Empsuchos means ‘animate’ or ‘living’: ta empsucha and ta apsucha jointly exhaust the natural world, being the animate and the inanimate portions of creation. The psuchê, then, as Aristotle says, is simply ‘that by which we are alive’ (An 414a12): it is the source or principle of life in animate beings, that part or feature of them (whatever it may be) in virtue of which they are alive. 2 In short , an empsuchon is an animate thing; and its psuchê is its animator. Instead of ‘soul’, then, I propose the term ‘animator’ as a translation of psuchê; and I prefer the comic overtones of ‘animator’ to the theological undertones of ‘soul’.What are the criteria for life? According to Aristotle, ‘things are said to be alive on several accounts, and if just one of these belongs to a thing we say that it is alive— viz. understanding, perception, change and rest in place, and again the change brought on by nourishment, and decay and growth’ (An 413a22– 5). More generally, ‘the animate seems to differ from the inanimate by two things in particular, motion and perception’ ( An 403b25– 7). Aristotle is not putting forward a philosophical thesis here: he is recording, and accepting, a commonplace. Anything that has powers of cognition, of which perception is the most common and the most evident example, is alive; and anything which has the power to alter itself or its environment, of which autonomous locomotion is the most evident example, is likewise alive. If the great marks of animation are the power to perceive and the capacity to locomote or to cause locomotion, then a psuchê or animator will be essentially a source of perception, or a perceptor, and a source of motion, or a motor. Thales’ argument now has a superficial plausibility. His first premiss is a platitude: motors— that is to say, self-starting motors— are, on Aristotle’s own account, and in ordinary thought, animators or psuchai; and anything capable of autonomous locomotion is thereby shown to be animate. His second premiss is a matter of ordinary observation: magnets and pieces of amber are seen to possess the power to cause locomotion in other things and to move themselves. And the conclusion follows: magnets and pieces of amber are animate beings; they may not have the faculty of perception, but for all that they are alive.36

Barnes goes on to suggest that Aristotle would not have thought magnets had souls but he makes the point that the line between animate and inanimate may not be as clear as one normally assumes. Additionally, the soul in ancient Greece was related to aether and the stars so the notion of ‘dead’, inanimate things would not be so clearly defined for the ancient mind as the modern mind.

Yet the conception that the substance of the soul was related to aither, or to the substance of the stars, seems from fifth-century B.C. poetical contexts to have existed for some time already as part of the complex body of popular beliefs, alongside the distinct Homeric concept of a breath-soul.37

One observation I would make at this point is to be careful when you hear things like ‘the ancient philosophers believed that the ultimate realty was water or fire’ and that ‘they were animists or hylozoists’. This is way too simplistic. Try reading Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysics’ written only a few hundred years after Thales to see a level of linguistic and logical sophistication that could not have developed in the short time between Aristotle and Thales. Also, the Phoenician alphabet was thought to have arrived in Greece around the 8th century BCE. It was very similar to ancient Hebrew. The Greeks added vowels to a language made up of what was chiefly consonants. While more primitive types of writing were around long before the Phoenician alphabet came to Greece, the Greeks before this mainly communicated wisdom in the oral tradition of the rhapsodists. This lent itself to the mythological epics of Homer and Hesiod. These epics were sang for many hundreds of years before writing. They would have had the time to be more refined, subtle poetry and drama than some kind of literal religious sense. The early physicists are proof that the fundamentalism of the mythologies had long since waned if indeed they ever were thought along the same lines as fundamentalist religion is thought today. Perhaps Phoenician writing made any such thing as uniquely Greek philosophy to exist. Phoenician writing was only around a few hundred years earlier than Thales. By the same logic concerning the level of sophistication between Thales and Aristotle, we might also speculate that the mythology of Homer and Hesiod were not mere ‘primitive’ stories but actually had a level of genius and artistry that may have escaped many later commentators. Anaximander, considered a student of Thales, was not much younger than Thales. Once again, we have no direct writing of Anaximander but there is more certainty that he wrote. One of the most important fragments comes from three different sources. Simplicius, one of the sources, writes this:

Of those who declared that the first principle is one, moving and indefinite, Anaximander… said that the indefinite was the first principle and element of things that are, and he was the first to call the first principle indefinite [apeiron]. He says that the first principle is neither water nor any other of the things called elements, but some other nature which is indefinite, out of which come to be all the heavens and the worlds in them. The things that are perish into the things out of which they come to be, according to necessity, for they pay the penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice in accordance with the ordering of time. [Simpl. Phys. 24.13]

The most certain part of this fragment with regard to coming from Anaximander is “according to necessity; for they pay one another recompense and penalty for their injustice”. Both mentor and student were concerned with movement and change with regard to phusis (physics), kinetic (kinesis) and endurance (aei), the problem of one and many which Aristotle is especially concerned with. Anaximander is certainly concerned with the ‘indefinite’ (apeiron – probably the alpha primitive of peras or form therefore, without form) and origin (archē) in a very sophisticated fashion. This would lead one to think that his contemporaneous mentor was not so simple minded about water as well. There is an incredible level of sophistication and artistry in Anaximander, discussed in the next section, which seems to me to defy the ‘progressivists’ view that the ancient Greeks were somehow less astute than moderns and that we have progressed beyond their ancient insights.38

In view of all these discussions of Thales, I would add some of my own observations. First, the much earlier39 creation myths40 of the Babylonians (18th to 12th century BCE) and the Hebrews (15th century BCE) start with Apsû (fresh water)/Tia-mat (salt water) and God (Elohim, Elohiym), respectively.

Enuma Elish (The Babylonian Epic of Creation)1 When the heavens above did not exist,2 And earth beneath had not come into being—3 There was Apsû, the first in order, their begetter,4 And demiurge Tia-mat, who gave birth to them all;5 They had mingled their waters together6 Before meadow-land had coalesced and reed-bed was to he found —7 When not one of the gods had been formed8 Or had come into being, when no destinies had been decreed,9 The gods were created within them:41Bereshit (Genesis)1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.2 Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.3 And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.6 And God said: ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so.42

Both myths start with Gods or God. Both myths tell of primal water. In Genesis Elohim is at a minimum coexistent with the waters (“and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters”) and probably prior to ‘the waters’. In the Babylonian account it seems ambiguous whether the gods Apsû and Tia-mat were coexistent with the waters or were the waters. They are mentioned as “first in order”, “begetter” and “deimurge”, “who gave birth to them (the gods) all”. They are also mentioned in some way as being “when not one of the gods had been formed”. Some have argued that the Genesis cosmology was a Hebrew answer to polytheistic, pagan religions including the Babylonian creation myth. The Hebrew myth begins with the assumption of an uncreated God. The Torah, Tehillim (Psalms) and Yeshayahu (Isaiah) go to great lengths to make sure the reader knows that God is ‘one God’. Some have argued that the waters of Enuma Elish and the “the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep” were the metaphorically equivalent to the chaos of Hesiod. A mechanical translation of Hebrew in Bereshit (Genesis) chapter 1, verses 1 and 2 would look like this, in the summit “Elohiym [Powers]” fattened the sky and the land, and the land had existed in confusion and was unfilled and darkness was upon the face of the deep sea and the wind of “Elohiym [Powers]” was much fluttering upon the face of the water.43 In both creation myths, even if the metaphorical argument of initial chaos is accepted, God(s) are at a minimum present with primal waters thought as a type of chaos. There is no clear statement that ‘first, chaos…came-to-be’ as in the Hesiodic myth. These beginnings are not trivial but have implications which ripple through subsequent histories and reflect economic (as measuring, judging and appropriating) existential orientations, the bounds of ontological and transcendent possibilities which make any such thing as Truth possible. These beginnings circumscribe determinations on the face of infinity.

The notion of ‘confusion’, ‘unfilled’ and ‘darkness’ is not the literal notion of chaos in Hesiod. Also, in Enuma Elish the negation, the ‘not’ of heaven and earth isn’t the literal notion of chaos in Hesiod. While the metaphorical argument can be maintained, it is certainly true that, for Hesiod, chaos was not coexistent with God or Gods or earth or waters but unambiguously, first. This emphasis tells us something very important about the ancient Greek orientation. The riddle that begins ancient Greek cosmology, First of all Chaos came-to-be“, which erases itself in the contradiction ‘first’ and ‘came-to-be’ (yένετ’, genet’) only emphasizes ‘chaos’, the yawning gap. Determinations such as God(s), earth, heaven, water, etc. are not indicated as coexistent. Existence and the literal extant is only mentioned in the conundrum of ‘first…chaos’ and ‘came-to-be’. Darkness and negation imply opposites, light and affirmation. As was previously shown in the section on Hesiod, confusion is not what is meant by chaos in the Theogony. Confusion already implies a violation of contradiction, a scheme wherein opposites are simultaneously maintained and disavowed. Confusion implies extant determinations whose states get muddled, forgotten, lost but still operate in these states ‘as’ confused. Perhaps one could suggest that there is a yawning gap between clarity of determinations and confusion of determinations but, as previously discussed in the section on Hesiod and future discussions, regardless of ‘the sense’ of Hesiodic chaos without determinations, the yawning gap (differentiation without determination) is maintained as ‘first’ AND ‘came-to-be’…’but then afterwards’ (disjunction), determinations…Even if a counter argument can be made to this notion of chaos as, for example, Hegel would make, it is still interesting to think what the phenomenological consequences could be if this cosomogonic myth marks the genesis of a history. Could this unresolved genesis, differentiated without determinations, produce a strife, unrest and desire (orexis) which would make the physics, philosophy, artistry and an ancient Greece possible?

Some have suggested that Thales’ notion of water may have been a ‘fundamental role in coming-to-be, nutrition, and growth’. Others point to the emphasis of water in ancient creation myths or the nautical port city of Miletus as reasons for Thales emphasis on water over earth, air and fire. Perhaps the desire for resolution, the concern for an absolute which nonetheless begins in chaos, fuels the fires for the One, the arche, which underlies and holds open the space for truth and eventually, drives philosophy towards being (ontos) and ultimately towards subjectivity and metaphysics. Others simply dismiss Thales as archaic, primitive and irrelevant from a progressivists’ point of view. My interest in Thales is concerned with the question, what kind of world, cosmos, culture, language, historical setting and way of thinking about ‘what is’ would make a figure such as Thales, at the beginning of the inquiry of phusis, circumspectively understand water as some form of arche? What would it mean for that setting to think first about animate and inaminate, alive and dead (or not alive), soul and phusis? Before clear modern lines have been drawn which inform us simply and all too obviously about things, animate and inanimate, we find Thales engaged in a world and a language which may have been prepared and opened by mythos but had to draw initial lines for what could and could not be, what was and what was not. This kind of desire and engagement has a space, chorei, which gives in the gap, the receptacle, the fertile void, the withdrawal of all which made possibilities and actualities for the place of Thales (and the few remaining traces of his site/sight). Standing at the apogee of phusis, Thales’ creativity marks a passage which would have profound and rippling effects to the present day. We would only do harm to ourselves to disregard the conditions that began and worked to produce a cosmos where inanimate and animate had not been settled, psuchê (soul) was not determinate and phusis had not been reduced to mere things awaiting discovery.

The inability of Greek mythos to resolve itself sets up a perpetual strife in the early Greek psuchê. The lack of cosmogonic resolve in its earliest moment reflects a unsettled disruption that fuels the inquiry of phusis, drama, sculpture and poetry by lack, privation (steresis), which cannot find a finality in negation but only in contingent desire (orexis)44and haunts us in metaphysics to this day. In our era of nihilism, as Nietzsche observes, the impetus to long, to desire, has devolved into cynicism, skepticism, sophistry and negativity. It is a retraction from the motion which begins the passion and activity of Truth and its necessary nemesis. Fanaticism as we see in our epoch is only the frenetic gasp of nihilism which does not meet existence with welcoming desire but dissolves it in putrid disdain. This is not what gave us metaphysics but reduces otherness to the drab same, the doldrums of absolute equivocation, and thus ‘end’ is not telos, culmination, completion, fulfillment but whimper and oblivion. Another beginning which thinks deeply about the confluence and clash of our occident and orient, Greek and Jew, the tribes and phusis, and the other which deepens desire in unresolved passion heightened to the infinite will once again take us past the byways of Hesiodic chaos. In this then philosophy, science, art, and religion find their telos.

Philosophy Series 9 – An Interlude to Anaximander





4 See Kahn’s discussion in Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology, Charles H. Kahn, Published 1960, Columbia University Press, New York, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-11677, Link, page 76 to 77 and note 2 starting on 76. Kahn’s entire discussion in chapter 1, The Milesian Theory of the Natural World, is very interesting. Jonathon Barnes has an interesting discussion on Thales in chapter I, The Springs of Reason, Barnes, Jonathan (2013-01-11). The Presocratic Philosophers. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition. Also, here are various links about Thales which seem to be copied from the same source, Link, Link, Link, Link

5 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS, First Edition, page 76-77, 80


7 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, I, 34 (henceforth…DL, Lives)

8 DL, Lives, I, 23


10 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS, Second Edition, page 83

11 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS, Second Edition, Section “Writings”, page 86-88

12 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS: , Second Edition, Section “Writings”, page 87-88

13 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS, First Edition, page 80-81

14 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS, Second Edition, page 138

15 See Link

16 Presocratic Philosophy, First published Sat Mar 10, 2007; substantive revision Mon Nov 5, 2012, See “Section 2 The Milesians”, See Link

17 It is unclear whether the interpretation of hylozoism, that all matter is alive, might have been mistaken for his thinking the properties of nature arise directly from material processes, more consistent with modern ideas of how properties arise as emergent characteristics of complex systems involved in the processes of evolution and developmental change. See Link in the section “Theories”.


19 Aristotle, De Anima, 411a7, See Link; Also, see this Link

20 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, I, 23

21 Aristotle, de caelo, B13, 294a28

22 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, I, 35

23 See Link

24 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS, Second Edition, page 94-95

25 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS, Second Edition, page 90

26 Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology, Charles H. Kahn, Published 1960, Columbia University Press, New York, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-11677, Link, page 86

27 Homer, Iliad. 5,6; 18, 489

28 See Link

29 See Link, Also, Link, Link, Link and Link

30 John Burnet, Greek Philosophy. Part I, Thales to Plato (London: MacMillan, 1920), 21, See Link

31 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS, Second Edition, page 92-93

32 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS, Second Edition, page 94-95

33 THE PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS, Second Edition, page 98

34 See Link

35 On the Soul, By Aristotle, Book 1, Part 2, See Link

36 Barnes, Jonathan (2013-01-11). The Presocratic Philosophers (Arguments of the Philosophers) (pp. 6-7). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.


38 This article, quoted in part below, makes some interesting observations about Thales:

Thales, according to Aristotle, asked what was the nature (archê) of the object so that it would behave in its characteristic way. Physis (φύσις) comes from phyein (φύειν), “to grow”, related to our word “be”.[15](G)natura is the way a thing is “born”,[16] again with the stamp of what it is in itself. Physis is not only related to the Indo-European root *bʰuH but also close to prior and contemporaneous notions of Brahman in the Upanishads.

Aristotle[17] characterizes most of the philosophers “at first” (πρτον) as thinking that the “principles in the form of matter were the only principles of all things”, where “principle” is arche, “matter” is hyle (“wood” or “matter”, “material”) and “form” is eidos.

Archê is translated as “principle”, but the two words do not have precisely the same meaning. A principle of something is merely prior (related to pro-) to it either chronologically or logically. An archê (from ἄρχειν, “to rule” [Note…this is actually a latter Latin notion of archê]) dominates an object in some way. If the archê is taken to be an origin, then specific causality is implied; that is, B is supposed to be characteristically B just because it comes from A, which dominates it.

The archê that Aristotle had in mind in his well-known passage on the first Greek scientists are not necessarily chronologically prior to their objects, but are constituents of it. For example, in pluralism objects are composed of earth, air, fire and water, but those elements do not disappear with the production of the object. They remain as archê within it, as do the atoms of the atomists.

What Aristotle is really saying is that the first philosophers were trying to define the substance(s) of which all material objects are composed. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what modern scientists are attempting to accomplish in nuclear physics, which is a second reason why Thales is described as the first western scientist.

Aristotle laid out his own thinking about matter and form which may shed some light on the ideas of Thales, in Metaphysics 983 b6 8-11, 17-21 (The passage contains words that were later adopted by science with quite different meanings.)

That from which is everything that exists and from which it first becomes and into which it is rendered at last, its substance remaining under it, but transforming in qualities, that they say is the element and principle of things that are. …For it is necessary that there be some nature (φύσις), either one or more than one, from which become the other things of the object being saved… Thales the founder of this type of philosophy says that it is water.

In this quote we see Aristotle’s depiction of the problem of change and the definition of substance . He ask if an object changes, is it the same or different? In either case how can there be a change from one to the other? The answer is that the substance “is saved”, but acquires or loses different qualities (πάθη, the things you “experience”).

39 See Link

40 See Link

41 See Link

42 See Link

43 See Link, page 17

44 “It is manifest, therefore, that what is called desire is the sort of faculty in the soul which initiates movement” (Aristotle, De Anima iii 10, 433a31-b1); See Link

Philosophy Series 7

Philosophy Series Contents (to be updated with each new installment)

Philosophy Series 1 – Prelude to the Philosophy Series

Philosophy Series 2 – Introduction

Philosophy Series 3 – Appendix A, Part 1

Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod

Philosophy Series 5 – A Detour of Time

Philosophy Series 6 – The Origin

Philosophy Series 7 – Eros

Philosophy Series 8 – Thales

Philosophy Series 9 – An Interlude to Anaximander

Philosophy Series 10 – On the Way to Anaximander: Language and Proximity

Philosophy Series 11 – Aristotle and Modernity: The Eternal and Science

Philosophy Series 12 – Levinas and the Problem of Metaphysics

Philosophy Series 13 – On Origin


Philosophy Series 7


If Eros is anything, he is not rational. Eros does not come in the Form of idea. Eros is between presence and absence, life and death, light and darkness. A later Greek myth portrayed Eros as the son of Aphrodite (the Goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and pro-creation) and Hermes. Hermes (where we get hermeneutics), the god of speech and dialog which, like Eros, was able to go between worlds as a messenger. The question of Eros’ progeny is contradictory in Greek myth:

1) In Hesiod’s account Eros is not born…but then afterwards Broad-breasted earth, a secure dwelling place forever for all [the immortals who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus], and misty Tartara in the depths under the wide-wayed grounds and Eros who, handsomest among the deathless gods a looser of limbs, in all the gods and in all human beings overpowers in their breasts their intelligence and careful planning

2) In Aristophanes account, given by Aristotle, Eros is born…Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Darkness, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Love (Eros) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest2

3) In Aristotle Eros is the first of all the Gods……Those thinkers, then, who held this view assumed a principle in things which is the cause of beauty, and the sort of cause by which motion is communicated to things. It might be inferred that the first person to consider this question was Hesiod, or indeed anyone else who assumed Love or Desire as a first principle in things; e.g. Parmenides. For he says, where he is describing the creation of the universe, “Love she created first of all the gods . . .” [Parmenides Fr. 13 Diels] And Hesiod says, ” First of all things was Chaos made, and then/Broad-bosomed Earth . . .And Love, the foremost of immortal beings,” thus implying that there must be in the world some cause to move things and combine them.3

4) In the Orphic Hymn 5 Eros is first born…O Mighty first-begotten [Protogonos, first born Eros], hear my pray’r, two-fold, egg-born, and wand’ring thro’ the air,4

5) In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates recounting parts of Phaedrus’ speech, Eros is born (“notably in his birth”) but has no parents (“parents of love there are none”)…First then, as I said, he told me that the speech of Phaedrus began with points of this sort—that Love was a great god, among men and gods a marvel; and this appeared in many ways, but notably in his birth. “Of the most venerable are the honors of this god, and the proof of it is this: parents of Love there are none, nor are any recorded in either prose or verse. Hesiod says that Chaos came first into being—”and thereafter rose Broad-breasted Earth, sure seat of all for aye, And Love.” Acusilaus also agrees with Hesiod, saying that after Chaos were born these two, Earth and Love. Parmenides says of Birth that she “invented Love before all other gods.” “Thus Love is by various authorities allowed to be of most venerable standing; and as most venerable, he is the cause of all our highest blessings…

Eros is portrayed as unborn, the first and oldest of the Gods, the youngest of the Gods, having parents, not having parents. This kind of thing is perhaps not unusual in Greek mythology but it does underscore both the importance of Eros and a certain erratic, a-rational acceptance of love even in a time of critical examination of phusis and philosophy.

Later in Plato’s Symposium, Socrates asks Diotima, a female philosopher, “What is love”? She replies:

What then is Love?” I asked; “Is he mortal?” “No.” “What then?” “As in the former instance, he is neither mortal nor immortal, but in a mean between the two.” “What is he, Diotima?” “He is a great spirit (daimon), and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal.” “And what,” I said, “is his power?” “He interprets,” she replied, “between gods and men, conveying and taking across to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all, prophecy and incantation, find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through Love. all the intercourse, and converse of god with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual; all other wisdom, such as that of arts and handicrafts, is mean and vulgar.

He is by nature neither mortal nor immortal, but alive and flourishing at one moment when he is in plenty, and dead at another moment, and again alive by reason of his father’s nature. But that which is always flowing in is always flowing out, and so he is never in want and never in wealth; and, further, he is in a mean between ignorance and knowledge. The truth of the matter is this: No god is a philosopher. or seeker after wisdom, for he is wise already; nor does any man who is wise seek after wisdom. Neither do the ignorant seek after Wisdom. For herein is the evil of ignorance, that he who is neither good nor wise is nevertheless satisfied with himself: he has no desire for that of which he feels no want.” “But-who then, Diotima,” I said, “are the lovers of wisdom, if they are neither the wise nor the foolish?” “A child may answer that question,” she replied; “they are those who are in a mean between the two; Love is one of them. For wisdom is a most beautiful thing, and Love is of the beautiful; and therefore Love is also a philosopher: or lover of wisdom, and being a lover of wisdom is in a mean between the wise and the ignorant.5

Diotima says that love is between mortals and immortals (202d). Diotima is not suggesting that love (Eros) is a substance or thing in the middle of two other substances or between the ideas of mortal and immortal as modernity might think it. Diotima thinks of Eros as thematically unresolved, as neither “one or the other” (Hegel), indeterminate AND yet, somehow, differentiated as a ‘mean between’ mortal and immortal. The ‘mean between’ is μεταξύ or in the midst.6 The ‘mean between’ is not a substratum derived from mortal and immortal or mathematical middle but in the midst of mortal and immortal. Diotima is not giving us a principle or an idea or form but an existential of sensation and affect, a simple experience even “a child may answer” of openness to sensation and affect which has not yet congealed into idea and form but interrupts us in the midst of, lived life, mortal and immortal. The congealing of a subject or ego between two intentional objects (as mortal and immortal), has not yet happened in Diotima’s fragile thought.

For Hesiod, Eros has an odd similarity to chaos in that both are differentiated and indeterminate, as not one or the other, and both are without paternity. Yet for Eros, “but then afterwards” indicates a doubling, a between and in the midst of determinate and indeterminate. Eros is unborn but the God of progeny. Eros is differentiation which faces us before factual determinations, the gap or void that is not genetically conjoined to chaos; “but then afterwards’ earth, Tartara and Eros are determinate.

In contrast to the Theogony, Diotima speaks of Eros’ “father’s nature” as neither mortal or immortal, alive and flourishing at one moment and dead at another. The riddle which Diotima speaks is how love is bounded and unbounded, alive as with origin (genitive) and dead as non-being without origin (an-archic) in moments with no apparent causal relation. The ‘between’ is not a polar relation but a ‘in the midst’. The beauty of love is erratic, erotic, always (ἀεί, aei; throughout time) flowing in existence and thus, always flowing out of existence. Note the difference in Hesiod and Diotima: Diotima wants to think love as in the midst as a middle way while Hesiod thinks love in myth and poetry as Eros who is both genitive (γενετ᾽, genet’) and yet unborn, an-archic (without prior geneology).

Eros, himself, is desire which cannot be satisfied, a yearning which is no mere semantic disjunction but a doubling of the disjunction we already found in chaos and origin. Here chaos is not merely a gap, as if a neutral phenomena of the modern notion of physics, but indefinite in its refusal of mere semantics or neutrality. This doubling reminds us that the chaos of Hesiod’s cosmogony should not easily be type cast as non-human, a neutral ‘thing’. Eros as a archê-trace of chaos is not simple need or want. Eros is not a sensation such as hunger which can be satisfied by eating. As desire, Eros is like what Levinas calls “metaphysical desire”,

The other metaphysically desired is not “other” like the bread I eat, the land in which I dwell, the landscape I contemplate, like, sometimes, myself for myself, this “I,” that “other.” I can “feed” on these realities and to a very great extent satisfy myself, as though I had simply been lacking them. Their alterity is thereby reabsorbed into my own identity as a thinker or a possessor. The metaphysical desire tends toward something else entirely, toward the absolutely other. The customary analysis of desire can not explain away its singular pretension. As commonly interpreted need would be at the basis of desire; desire would characterize a being indigent and incomplete or fallen from its past grandeur. It would coincide with the consciousness of what has been lost; it would be essentially a nostalgia, a longing for return. But thus it would not even suspect what the veritably other is. The metaphysical desire does not long to return, for it is desire for a land not of our birth, for a land foreign to every nature, which has not been our fatherland and to which we shall never betake ourselves. The metaphysical desire does not rest upon any prior kinship. It is a desire that can not be satisfied. For we speak lightly of desires satisfied, or of sexual needs, or even of moral and religious needs. Love itself is thus taken to be the satisfaction of a sublime hunger. If this language is possible it is because most of our desires and love too are not pure. The desires one can satisfy resemble metaphysical desire only in the deceptions of satisfaction or in the exasperation of non-satisfaction and desire which constitutes voluptuosity itself. The metaphysical desire has another intention; it desires beyond everything that can simply complete it. It is like goodness—the Desired does not fulfill it, but deepens it.7

Satisfaction of need does not tame Eros. Desire does not lend itself to light (and its darkness), to a goal or horizon. It is not an Idea that calls us in desire. Certainly the erotic is a kind of doubling of desire and need. The caress from the lover both satisfies and interrupts satisfaction. The loving touch from the other increases satisfaction while withdrawing from fulfillment. When sexual intimacy is over we are only left with ourselves not the other desired. The other is not captured by satisfaction but becomes more elusive in the impossibility of final resolution. Eros pops in and out of existence without regard to reason and spatio-temporal limits. The face of the beloved overflows my satisfaction as infinity overflows my idea of it. I cannot over power the beloved and subsume him or her8. I am powerless to dominate and control her or him. The erotic caress of love deepens hunger for the beloved which cannot be satisfied once and for all because this hunger knows not what it longs for. There is no ‘idea’ of Eros. There is touch, interruption, his or her face in proximity but not close, not enclosed, or brought near. When Eros is most near, Eros most recedes. Eros cannot be tamed by idea, rationality or sanity. Eros touches but cannot be touched. In the simple sensation of existence, as opposed to the thought of existence, Eros caresses with interruption, with infinity, which deepens desire for we know not what. The outside and the inside are metaphors which fail the radical encounter with infinity in the simple encounter with the face of the other.

In Eros we can begin to understand that classic Greek thinking is not merely the transition from mythos to logos. The Greeks understood and puzzled deeply over emotion, simple sensations, love, concern, affection, sexual intimacy. When they thought of privation, withdrawal, infinite deeps of Darkness and deep Abyss with dark Chaos they assumed Love or Desire as a first principle in things. The distance with which much of modern scholarship has approached classic antiquity reflects more on the ‘transformation of the interpretation’ than the infinite proximity of the texts which remain and in doing so has denied the excess of proximity to origin, my origin and the chaotic gap, the disruption of origin (which in nowise should be leveled off into mere neutrality, il y a).

Philosophy Series 8 – Thales 


1 Love is a concept that has thoroughly confused philosophers for ages. For philosophers, Hegel is much easier to comprehend than love. The Greeks reflection on love confused us from the beginning by compounding love into loves. The four words for love in ancient Geek were: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē.

Agápe (ἀγάπη) is unconditional love. It has been used to refer to the love of a parent for a child or for a spouse. It was used in Christianity for the ‘love’ of God.

Éros (ἔρως) is passionate love. It is sensual desire or longing. It does not have to be erotic love. According to Plato it can initially be a feeling but it can also see beauty in a person. It can also go beyond that to the appreciation of beauty itself. Éros helps the soul recall the knowledge of beauty. It also helps us understand spiritual truth. Sensually-based love aspires to the non-corporeal, spiritual plane of existence; that is, finding its truth, just like finding any truth, leads to transcendence. Lovers and philosophers seek truth through éros. For Plato éros is the ideal form of youthful beauty. For the Greeks, éros leads to the uncreated, the lack of origin and genealogy.

Philía (φιλία) is friendship. It can also be affection. Aristotle thought philía was dispassionate virtuous love. It demonstrates loyalty.

Storgē (στοργή) means affection. It is the natural affection in family.

2 Aristoph. Birds 695, See Link

3 Aristot. Met. 1.984b, See Link

4 Orphic Hymns 5, V. TO PROTOGONUS, or the FIRST-BORN, See Link

5 Plat. Sym. 204b; See full text Symposium, Plato; Also, this;

6 See Link

7 Totality and Infinity, Emmanuel Levinas, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1961, page 33-34

8 Levinas has been criticized by some feminists for his use of the feminine. He has also been defended by other feminists for his use of the term. I understand and abhor the history of violence which thinks binaries of masculine and feminine, domination and submission. This subtle encoding as restricted economy has resulted in violence and silencing of the feminine. My personal view is that these binaries have been totalized as history just as the ‘loving God’ has been the God of vengeance and war. Once history has redefined love as acts of hate or the feminine as opposite active, virility, light and idea, the feminine is relegated to passive, receptacle, silence, utility and both binaries totalize without excess. This is not what Levinas intends. When Levinas writes of reconstituting metaphysics he simultaneously acknowledges the history of totalizing in metaphysics. Levinas wants to awaken the radical alterity of the other not reduce it to the same. In the face of the other we are “the passivity more passive still than any passivity”. We do not face the other in symmetry but in asymmetry, a non-reciprocal interruption not a symmetrical, reciprocal relationship of mediation, of idea. For Levinas the feminine marks this non-reciprocity, this utter passivity in the face of the infinite other which can only interrupt our ‘ontologies’ of the face, our violent efforts to replace the other with simulacrum, facsimile, metaphor and idea. Any attempt to silence this direction in the thought of Levinas regarding the feminine would have to take leave or find an ‘excess’ to Levinas’ thought that would lead to yet another binary, an unintended opposite, in the ‘margin of the text’ which would reaffirm violence and set the stage for any deconstruction of alterity, excess, and infinity. In Levinas’ this act of neutralization would be the incessant buzz of the il y a, the ‘there is’ which is the evitable graveyard of ontology where idea levels off and mediates the other into ghosts, the virility of death as authenticity or absolute idea, and ‘singularity’, ‘alterity’, ‘other’ become merely signs in [infinte] relation to signifiers in a general economy. The face of the other as Levinas intends is merely re-appropriated into the same, the violence of the same, the symmetry of totality. While the notion of the feminine in Levinas has been criticized along these lines, it seems to me that this merely underscores the importance of Decision regarding Ethics. Each has to decide if ‘there is’ dominates or if my freedom finds limits in the radical alterity of the face of the other.

Philosophy Series 6

Philosophy Series Contents (to be updated with each new installment)

Philosophy Series 1 – Prelude to the Philosophy Series

Philosophy Series 2 – Introduction

Philosophy Series 3 – Appendix A, Part 1

Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod

Philosophy Series 5 – A Detour of Time

Philosophy Series 6 – The Origin

Philosophy Series 7 – Eros

Philosophy Series 8 – Thales

Philosophy Series 9 – An Interlude to Anaximander

Philosophy Series 10 – On the Way to Anaximander: Language and Proximity

Philosophy Series 11 – Aristotle and Modernity: The Eternal and Science

Philosophy Series 12 – Levinas and the Problem of Metaphysics

Philosophy Series 13 – On Origin


Philosophy Series 6

The Origin

To reiterate, here is what Hesiod tells us about the origin:

First of all Chaos came-to-be [genet’, γένετ᾽]; but then afterwards Broad-breasted earth, a secure dwelling place forever for all [the immortals who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus], and misty Tartara in the depths under the wide-wayed grounds and Eros who, handsomest among the deathless gods a looser of limbs, in all the gods and in all human beings overpowers in their breasts their intelligence and careful planning. And from Chaos came-to-be both Erebos [ρεβος, the god of deep darkness, shadow] and dark night, and from night, in turn, came-to-be both Aither [the god of upper air, the mist of bright, glowing light, home of the gods] and day, whom she conceived and bore after joining in love with Erebos. But earth first begat, as an equal to herself, starry sky, so that he might cover her on all sides, in order to be a secure dwelling place forever for all the blessed gods, and she begat the tall mountains, pleasing haunts of the goddess-nymphs who make their homes in the forested hills, and also she bore the barren main with its raging swell, the sea, all without any sweet act of love; but then next, having lain with sky, she bore deep-swirling ocean,1

This first is not born except in the covering over (the musing of the Muses) and doubling of the question which already assumes origin2 but differentiated as chaos, wide open, gap or perhaps fertile void (Śūnyatā in Buddhism) in indeterminateness. It is important to note that chaos is not the ontological difference of beings and Being. In the disjunction of “but then afterwards” the first, chaos, is further differentiated from differentiation without determinations to a radical other, differentiation with determinations. It would appear that in Hesiod, Greek beginnings do not begin in unities, God, matter (hulê, ὕλη), Being (from ὤν (ōn)), form, idea, creation but with chaos thought as gap, yawn (as wide open), void not spatial as difference but not yet differentiated into determinations as “Broad-breasted earth” (home, place, shelter, nurturer, foundation of all), “Tartara” (murky, undifferentiated, indeterminate), and Eros (in-between, middle voice, the middle of opposites or binary, desire, need, want). However, but then afterwards, the first as spoken in the covering over and doubling of the question (logos)…as the origin, the archê, is earth, Tartara and Eros. This doubling of chaos is perhaps Plato’s chora from the Timaeus3, the opening in which afterwards is earth, Tartara and Eros.

Hyland goes on to suggest:

Difficult as it may be to understand, however counter to our intuitions that if Chaos is a gap or separation it must somehow separate something, I suggest we should take Hesiod’s Greek in the passage under consideration to be indicating this truly remarkable thought: that Chaos, gap, separation, comes before, is prior to, any pairings that it might subsequently separate. Difference precedes and is the condition for sameness or identity. The “between” somehow precedes the binaries that it distinguishes. At work in Hesiod’s words, I suggest, is a thought that goes deeper than the argument over which are the first two entities that in fact get separated and distinguished by Chaos-earth and sky, or earth and Tartaros. At work, in addition, is the crucial if very difficult ontological principle that difference somehow precedes sameness or identity.4

I would go further to suggest that the “difference” may be pre-ontological. A few years later in Greek thought differentiation without determinations came to be thought by Anaximander as apeiron (ἄπειρον) 5, translated as indefinite or infinite. Anaximander was also the first in ancient Greek thinking to think of the unity of opposites or the ‘sameness’ or ‘identity’ in opposites. It might be said that Anaximander was the first to think identity in difference. Apeiron has been thought as the alpha-privative of peirar (πεῖραρ) or in the Ionic Greek form peras6 which is translated end, limit or boundary. In this case, the alpha-privative, ‘a‘, makes apeiron without end, limit or boundary. There is also some discussion that apeiron may be related to the alpha-privative of perao7 (“to experience,” “to apperceive”) which would make it without experience or perceptive understanding. In our most reliable fragment of Anaximander found in three separate sources necessity [could we say necessity of determinations] was a kind of injustice which required penalty or retribution. The most simple determination of apeiron as an alpha-privative is that apeiron is opposite of peras or perao. Some scholars have suggested that in Anaximander, apeiron generates and destroys opposites perhaps in a similar generative and destructive way which may have predicted what later Latin thinkers extolled theistically as “from him and through him and to him are all things”8. In this sense, end, limit and boundary was from apeiron, through apeiron, and to apeiron. Aristotle makes some comments that indicate a sort of generation/destruction idea of apeiron but Kirk and Raven9 have issues with some of these sources and with the idea that Aristotle was specifically referring to Anaximander as he did not name Anaximander in these fragments. In more recent scholarship10 the notion of generation and destruction in the most reliable fragment is thought to have been added in later by the Neo-Platonist, Simplicius. If this is true, the notion of origin may not be a part of Anaximander’s intention in this fragment. The question which emerges from this is, is apeiron the opposite of peras or peraoor is apeiron the source or origin of limit, boundary or experience or is apeiron more like the gap of Hesiod’s chaos? This will be discussed in more detail a little later but for now let’s take note of what Aristotle had to say about apeiron.

Everything has an origin [archê] or is an origin. The Boundless [apeiron] has no origin. For then it would have a limit. Moreover, it is both unborn and immortal, being a kind of origin. For that which has become has also, necessarily, an end, and there is a termination to every process of destruction. (Aristotle, Physics 203b6-10).

This passage indicates that Aristotle echoing the Muses and Anaximander could have understood the riddle, the conundrum, of apeiron. It appears he reasoned that apeiron “has no origin” and yet was a “kind of origin”. Could this difficulty be explained in terms of our discussion of chaos in Hesiod? Could it be that he might have thought this doubling of chaos as differentiation without specific determinations? Hegel certainly could not accept this contradiction.11 Additionally, if apeiron is itself an opposite (i.e., to end, limit or boundary) then it could not be the source (origin) or sink (destruction) of opposites. In latter Latin thinking apeiron came to have a more oppositional meaning to end, limit and boundary. We also have an early account of Anaximander by Diogenes Laertius which suggests that apeiron did not distinguish “air or water or anything else“.

Anaximander son of Praxiades, of Miletus: he said that the principle and element is the Indefinite, not distinguishing air or water or anything else… [Diogenes Laertius n, 1-2 (DKi2Ai])

We also have this account from Aristotle:

We cannot say that the apeiron has no effect, and the only effectiveness which we can ascribe to it is that of a principle. Everything is either a source or derived from a source. But there cannot be a source of the apeiron, for that would be a limit of it. Further, as it is a beginning, it is both uncreatable and indestructible. For there must be a point at which what has come to be reaches completion, and also a termination of all passing away. That is why, as we say, there is no principle of this, but it is this which is held to be the principle of other things, and to encompass all and to steer all, as those assert who do not recognize, alongside the infinite, other causes, such as Mind or Friendship. Further they identify it with the Divine, for it is ‘deathless and imperishable’ as Anaximander says, with the majority of the physicists. (Physics 3.4; 203b)12

These accounts tend to disqualify apeiron as origin (archê) or opposite. For Anaximander, in the most certain part of this surviving fragment, it could be that the necessity of determinations as an injustice requiring penalty13 would indicate an allusion to the chaos of Hesiod. It is interesting to note that in two of the three sources (see the forth coming section on Anaximander for more details) for this fragment tell us that Anaximander was the first to use the term origin or archê. In one account of this fragment it does write of apeiron as the cause of coming-to-be and destruction. However, both of these sections of the fragment are in doubt by Heidegger14 and Kirk and Raven15 as coming from Anaximander. In any case, an interesting question is, did Anaximander think of chaos as a kind of justice? Could it be that differentiation without determination [a-peiron] would exact a penalty for determinations, for “but then afterwards”?

It could be that for Anaximander chaos and apeiron may have had some early similarity in the sense of indeterminate and yet, differential. Both terms could be thought in a Greek sense as a covering over and doubling of origin. Certainly for Hesiod, chaos is thought more from the disjunctive, as “but then afterwards”. Additionally, there appears to be a disjunction in Anaximander’s thinking of apeiron at least in Aristotle’s thinking with how apeiron could give rise to archê. This original confusion could be a result of the Muses playful answer to Hesiod with does not or perhaps cannot answer the question of the first and chaos in a positive relational fashion except with a radical disjunction.

This notion of apeiron would appear to add another hint of an-archy, no origin, and bring it closer to Hesiod’s notion of chaos. The disjunction of chaos and differentiation from determination as origin in earth, Tartara and Eros may have well been at work in Anaximander’s notion of apeiron. This would mark a difference in the later thinking of apeiron as generative, as origin, or as an opposite. It could also explain how archê came to mean rule or authority in Latin much later. It may also mediate some of the mythological indignation that traditional scholarship has wanted to assign to the first Milesian philosophers. While the classic Greek era philosophers may have thrown off the poetic trappings of the mythological heroic era, they may have still been influenced by its theological concerns. I would note that this would not be unheard of for modern philosophers and their sometimes ambiguous relationship with Christianity.

It could well be that Hesiod and perhaps Anaximander are telling us of a radical disjunction, a gap other than distinctions of light and night, being and beings and neutrality and desire. It is important that earth, Tartara, Eros are not begotten, generative or originated by Chaos; there is no conjunction. The odd way in which Hesiod presents them grammatically in the text is first chaos as differential, a gap or void but not yet determined; only then afterwards earth, Tartara, Eros with no explicit or implied causality. Hesiod does not write, as he could have, that chaos was generative of earth, Tartara, Eros. The only relation given is temporal as ‘then afterwards’ but not causal. Chaos does not give birth to earth, Tartara, Eros but first chaos and then afterwards earth, Tartara, Eros. If “the first” is meant as irony and jest of the Muses given the question posed in the Theogony then the temporal meaning of ‘then afterwards’ could also indicate the doubling of this first irony. This could indicate further the radical break of chaos and determination. If the question can only be answered by covering over what cannot be said, perhaps cannot be thought, except by poetic musings the temporal allusion may be more an indication of disruption or quality as kairos rather than a causal, sequential answer to cosmogony.

Xenophanes would remind us of earth and Tartara that “The upper limit of earth borders on air. The lower limit reaches down to the unlimited. [i.e. the apeiron]”.16 Let’s also remember that earth, Tartara and Eros are dwelling (sheltering, abode, home, lime, boundary), darkness (night, indeterminate, unseen) and desire (the in-between, what Plato tells us of Eros discussed in the next section). Classic scholarship would tell us that, “Strictly speaking, mythical time is timeless, but its sequential flow can articulate qualitative relationships and ontological distinctions”.17 Therefore, the temporal relationship given by “but then afterwards” may not indicate some kind of pre-existing temporality but rather it marks difference and establishes a primacy. It may be that chaos gets mythologized, taken up, origin-alized or storied in metaphor as earth, Tartara, Eros. Let’s remember that earth gives place or dwelling, Tartara as underneath earth is murky and dark but also undergirds earth and Eros is in-between, incessantly the middle. Eros is desire because Eros is not one or the other but hovers in the midst as some indeterminacy between binaries and opposites. Eros then as desire, would be the necessary condition for polemos (Πόλεμος; “war”) or conflict and strife.

In 414 BC, Aristophanes tells us that

At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night (Nyx), Darkness (Erebus), and the Abyss (Tartarus). Earth, the Air and Heaven had no existence. Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Darkness, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Love (Eros) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in the deep Abyss with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see the light.18

In Aristophanes account, a ” blackwinged Night (Nyx) laid a germless egg” in the “bosom of the infinite [apeiron] deeps of Darkness (Erebus)” and “after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Love” Eros. Our genesis, “hatched forth”, is from Eros who mated “in the deep Abyss with dark Chaos”. According to Aristophanes, our origin is strife (polemos) as chaos, “deep Abyss with dark Chaos” and desire, Eros; not in idea (eidos) or Concept (bergriff).

Philosophy Series 7 – Eros 


1 Hesiod, “Theogony”, Translated by Drew A. Hyland; “First of All Came Chaos”, Heidegger and the Greeks: Interpretive Essays (Studies in Continental Thought) (p. 9). Kindle Edition; For text see Link, Hes. Th. 115 to 135;

2 Doubling is a concept developed by Jacques Derrida. Without getting too technical, think of meaning, transcendental significance which gives place and origin to humans (thus what Derrida calls “transcendental arche”), as ideas, beliefs and values which keep us from falling into a neutralizing emptiness, as Levinas would suggest il y a, the ‘there is’. The necessity for meaning is a command that we must respond to perhaps without ever really thinking about it as a command. In Derrida’s language the requirement for meaning is a restricted economy. An economy measures, judges and appropriates to achieve its goals. This command comes from an other; the other being absolute meaninglessness, the neutralization of all transcendental significance, absolute nihilism. This retreat from the neutral ‘there is’, relegated to our unconscious, shows a more general economy. The general economy is based on repeatable symbols, graphemes or phonemes which are written or spoken fragments of language, signs which can only and always point to other signs and can be reassembled and repeated (iterated) in a myriad of ways. The way a computer processes computer language might illustrate a system of signs which only refer to other signs without any such meaning and significance that humans must find in language and thought, from a restricted economy of these signs. The more general economy is relegated to a trace from the perspective of our restricted economy, the irrevocable commandment for transcendental significance. However, the trace of difference (Derrida names as ‘differance’) always keeps us from hermetically (and hermeneutically) isolating ourselves within our own transcendental ‘metaphysics’. The trace of differance plays at the margins of our restricted economies. Derrida makes this comment in Of Grammatology (see link) about the transcendental metaphysics of origin (archê):

What I call the erasure of concepts ought to mark the places of that future meditation. For example, the value of the transcendental arche [archie] must make its necessity felt before letting itself be erased. The concept of arche-trace must comply with both that necessity and that erasure. It is in fact contradictory and not acceptable within the logic of identity. The trace is not only the disappearance of origin — within the discourse that we sustain and according to the path that we follow it means that the origin did not even disappear, that it was never constituted except reciprocally by a non-origin, the trace, which thus becomes the origin of the origin. From then on, to wrench the concept of the trace from the classical scheme, which would derive it from a presence or from an originary non-trace and which would make of it an empirical mark, one must indeed speak of an originary trace or arche-trace. Yet we know that that concept destroys its name and that, if all begins with the trace, there is above all no originary trace.

This means that in the search for transcendental origin, we can understand that origin, from our restricted economy, is driven not from some absolute origin but from a general economy of signs, signifiers and signified. If transcendental origin was absolute there would not be any difference which would make us aware of any such thing as origin. Only in the face of absence, of our undoing, does transcendental origin come up as an object of concern. Only because underlying origin is the trace of ‘no origin’, an-archy, are we compelled to need or require that ‘the first’, as Hesiod might tell us, is origin and not the incomprehensible gap of chaos (thus the ‘nonsensical’ musings of “First of all Chaos came-to-be”). In this sense differentiation without specific determinations could be thought as Derrida’s general economy. Any restricted economy will work to displace its other, the general economy that would interrupt, rupture, transcendental significance. Therefore in our attempt to master origin we become a slave to the commandment in the trace of ‘no origin’ (to use a Hegelian metaphor). To even think of ‘no origin’ our restricted economy requires us to think of ‘no origin’ as ‘underlying’, giving rise to origin, and therefore, make ‘no origin’ into another functioning origin. This is why he writes of the “arche-trace” which is an absolute impossibility (“there is above all no originary trace“) but also an absolute requirement from our restricted economies. Hence we get this peculiar writing, origin. To continue a little further with Of Grammatology:

The Living Present (lebendige Gegenwart) is the universal and absolute form of transcendental experience to which Husserl refers us. In the descriptions of the movements of temporalisation, all that does not torment the simplicity and the domination of that form seems to indicate to us how much transcendental phenomenology belongs to metaphysics. But that must come to terms with the forces of rupture. In the originary temporalisation and the movement of relationship with the outside, as Husserl actually describes them, nonpresentation or depresentation is as “originary” as presentation. That is why a thought of the trace can no more break with a transcendental phenomenology than be reduced to it. Here as elsewhere, to pose the problem in terms of choice, to oblige or to believe oneself obliged to answer it by a yes or no, to conceive of appurtenance as an allegiance or non-appurtenance as plain speaking, is to confuse very different levels, paths, and styles. In the deconstruction of the arche, one does not make a choice.


Therefore I admit the necessity of going through the concept of the arche-trace. How does that necessity direct us from the interior of the linguistic system? How does the path that leads from Saussure to Hjelmslev forbid us to avoid the originary trace?


In that its passage through form is a passage through the imprint. And the meaning of difference in general would be more accessible to us if the unity of that double passage appeared more clearly. [Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida (1967), See Link]

The double passage is the inability to say “yes or no” to origin. There is no choice involved in a commandment. However, to face the impossibility of escape from our restricted economies of transcendental signified, to understand difference which plays outside our specific determinations of meaning is to gleam trace, the impossibility of the “arche-trace”, and its doubling in the restricted and general economy.

Another motif Derrida used was writing. Ordinary writing is what Derrida called the “vulgar concept of writing”. Derrida wants to get at a more fundamental dynamic of writing he calls “arche-writing”. In Of Grammatology Derrida lays out a case for how verbal speech, the ‘original natural’ language, required the presence of the speaker to come to its aid, to validate the veracity of the speech, to ‘sign’ and authenticate itself. Writing, on the other hand, displaced the intent of the speaker. Writing reproduces and allows iteration but without a conscious speaker present with the content. Writing serves as a kind of autonomous unconscious from conscious validation, conscious truth, and conscious meaning of the speaker. In this way the speaker serves as a restricted economy and writing as a general economy. Think of the general economy of writing more as signs, graphemes, which only and always refer to other signs, signifiers and signified. Writing plays at the margins of the text (consciousness). Writing is the ‘other’ of speech. It is speech without a speaker. Therefore, it is a double of speech. Since speech is the presence of the speaker, writing is the absence of the speaker, the absence of presence. In this way writing exceeds presence.

I would wish rather to suggest that the alleged derivativeness of writing, however real and massive, was possible only on one condition: that the original,” “natural,” etc. language had never existed, never been intact and untouched by writing, that it had itself always been a writing. An arche-writing whose necessity and new concept I wish to indicate and outline here; and which I continue to call writing only because it essentially communicates with the vulgar concept of writing. The latter could not have imposed itself historically except by the dissimulation of the arche-writing, by the desire for a speech displacing its other and its double and working to reduce its difference. If I persist in calling that difference writing, it is because, within the work of historical repression, writing was, by its situation, destined to signify the most formidable difference. It threatened the desire for the living speech from the closest proximity, it breached living speech from within and from the very beginning. And as we shall begin to see, difference cannot be thought without the trace. [Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida (1967), See Link]

Speech, historically, has asserted its primacy over writing. It has wanted to show writing as an extension of the speaker, a faithful reproduction, a double that preserves the original intent. One need only look at the Bible to see how Christian history has tried to preserve the truth of the Bible only to unearth a vast plurality of widely varying interpretations. The conscious intent to preserve the presence of God in the Bible has historically been undermined at every step. Particular denominations have denounced ‘other’ interpretations. They have attempted to undermine the truth value of other interpretations. What is at work in this historical dynamic is the written word. The written word can no longer come to the aid of its speech. It cannot clarify and correct directly to the listener. Some Christians have even gone so far as to proclaim protection of the ‘word’ with the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost functions as the clarifier and corrector in the absence of the speaker. A consciousness, the consciousness of God, is present in the written word. Those who ‘hear’ the speaker, the Holy Ghost, will interpret the Bible correctly, according to orthodoxy, and those who cannot ‘hear’ the ‘voice’ of the Holy Spirit will fall into error and heresy. What shows itself here is that the written word is no longer guarded by the immediate presence of a flesh and blood speaker. Therefore, those vested in ‘true’ Christianity must continually supplement the unchecked dispersion of the written word to ensure that the ‘true’ meaning is conveyed by the spirit that haunts the book. It is precisely because the written word always exceeds the conscious intent of the spoken word that supplementation is constantly required. This excess functions as absence, as withdrawal, or perhaps as what the ancient Greeks thought as privation.

Perhaps some simpler ways to think about this is the historical notion of the monster. The monster is relegated to outside consciousness. The monster is horrible and inescapable. And yet, in Frankenstein, we have a human double. Frankenstein is on the edge of humankind. Frankenstein is a grotesque double of human life. It undoes humankind by playing at the edges of what is human. Frankenstein mimics (doubles) human kind but is other. This other is terror incarnate which faces us and threatens to extinguish us. The underside of presence is absence. What Frankenstein is cannot be spoken; it can only be feared.

The Gnostics of early Christianity were declared apostate and heretics by orthodoxy. They were outcasts historically in Christianity. Later, in the dark ages, apostates and heretics met with severe punishment and death. Witchcraft was considered the monster of early Christianity. It was relegated and functioned outside the restricted economy. It was the anti-Christian, the arche-trace, which refused the transcendence and metaphysics of ‘true’ meaning. And yet, orthodoxy’s alleged negation of Christianity, heretics, both validated orthodoxy from within its restricted economy and gave a face to the damned other, the other that failed to recognize the face of Christ. Therefore, the “arche-trace” functions as the double, the other and the excess of a restricted economy. This excess cannot be faced only re-appropriated as further confirmation of the restricted economy. Therefore, even though the archê (origin) of the trace is impossible as its absence can never be squelched into presence, it must be made to appear as present, as an origin, a monster, an apostate, a heretic to appease the necessity of determinations, of restricted economies, in the face of the other, the excess, the gap, the chaos, indeterminate difference which would undo it and, of necessity, require retribution for injustice.

3 John Sallis, Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999)

4 Drew A. Hyland; “First of All Came Chaos”, Heidegger and the Greeks: Interpretive Essays (p. 13). Kindle Edition, page 13

5 apeiron; see Link; also an interesting discussion here]

6 peras; See Link

7 ἀ-πείρων; See Link

8 Romans 11:36


10 Heidegger, The Anaximander Fragment, page 595, See link

11 See Link, Section 86

“When thinking is to begin, we have nothing but thought in its merest indeterminateness: for we cannot determine unless there is both one and another: and in the beginning there is yet no other.”[Hegel, The Logic]

Hegel thought it incomprehensible for differentiation without determination; for him “in the beginning there is yet no other”. Yet, the Muses tell us, “First of all Chaos came-to-be”. If chaos is taken as the gap, differentiation but without determinations we do indeed have otherness. The confusion, also echoed by the doubling of the question of the Theogony, is thinking the first, “the beginning”, the archê with the gap. The “transcendental arche” in Derrida’s words must necessarily think origin with determination. This “restricted economy” cannot think otherness, differentiation without “one and another”. Thinking differentiation without determination as the “arche-trace” which “…one must indeed speak of an originary trace or arche-trace. Yet we know that that concept destroys its name and that, if all begins with the trace, there is above all no originary trace” (see link).

Derrida quoting Bataille in Writing and Difference (see link), “From Restricted to General Economy A Hegelianism Without Reserve” states that Hegel should have “considered laughter first”. Hegel, as master of the Absolute, should have taken his own master/slave paradigm seriously. The master, the sovereign, cannot be such without giving up his to freedom to the slave, the dialect, the work. Thus the absolute Idea, the begriff, which starts from ‘the first’ and proceeds to the last, the Concept, never takes leave of its origin. As such otherness can only arise within the bounds of its triads, its negations and prohibitions. Nothing exceeds its movement. All is taken up and mastered by the dialectic. Its end, telos, can only be itself, it’s self-determining self. The progression can never exceed the movement of universal dialectic, of negation and Aufhebung. In the end, it must deny differentiation which fails its determinations and prohibitions, which fails to think Hesiod’s chaos as gap, as difference without determination, as “arche-trace” which plays and laughs at its Gordian knot that binds its ‘freedoms’ to its own self-determined chains. The other which cannot begin without “one and another”, without determinations, without its determinations cannot exceed its archê, its beginning, to find the trace of an other. Thus Hegel’s dialectic succeeds in binding itself to itself, prohibiting and prohibition preserve its enslavement. The master of the Absolute has become the slave to its transcendental signified…and, as Hegel himself predicted, but failed to see, the Notion of his own slavery.

The Hegelian Aufhebung is produced entirely from within discourse, from within the system or the work of signification. A determination is negated and conserved in another determination which reveals the truth of the former. From infinite indetermination one passes to infinite determination, and this transition, produced by the anxiety of the infinite, continuously links meaning up to itself. The Aufhebung is included within the circle of absolute knowledge, never exceeds its closure, never suspends the totality of discourse, work, meaning, law, etc. Since it never dispels the veiling form of absolute knowledge, even by maintaining this form, the Hegelian Aufhebung in all its parts belongs to what Bataille calls “the world of work,” that is, the world of the prohibition not perceived as such, in its totality. “And the human collectivity, in part devoted to work, is just as much defined by prohibitions, without which it would not have become the world of work that it essentially is” (L’erotisme). The Hegelian Aufhebung thus belongs to restricted economy, and is the form of the passage from one prohibition to another, the circulation of prohibitions, history as the truth of the prohibition.[Writing and Difference (see link), “From Restricted to General Economy A Hegelianism Without Reserve”]

12 See Link

13 Heidegger, The Anaximander Fragment, page 595, See link

14 Heidegger, The Anaximander Fragment, page 595, See link


16 DK 21 B 28

17 (Bussanich, 213); Drew A. Hyland;John Panteleimon Manoussakis. Heidegger and the Greeks: Interpretive Essays (p. 14). Kindle Edition.

18 Aristophanes, Birds, lines 690-699. (Translation by Eugene O’Neill, Jr., Perseus Digital Library; translation modified.)

Philosophy Series 5

Philosophy Series Contents (to be updated with each new installment)

Philosophy Series 1 – Prelude to the Philosophy Series

Philosophy Series 2 – Introduction

Philosophy Series 3 – Appendix A, Part 1

Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod

Philosophy Series 5 – A Detour of Time

Philosophy Series 6 – The Origin

Philosophy Series 7 – Eros

Philosophy Series 8 – Thales

Philosophy Series 9 – An Interlude to Anaximander

Philosophy Series 10 – On the Way to Anaximander: Language and Proximity

Philosophy Series 11 – Aristotle and Modernity: The Eternal and Science

Philosophy Series 12 – Levinas and the Problem of Metaphysics

Philosophy Series 13 – On Origin


Philosophy Series 5

A Detour of Time

The continuation of Hesiod’s cosmogenesis cited here declares,

But afterwards she lay with Heaven and bore deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.1

In later Roman mythology Cronus erroneously became chronus (χρόνος2, time). In Hesiod, Cronus was a child of Earth and Sky. He was a Titan god. Hesiod described Cronus as “Crooked-counseled and terrible”. Cronus castrated his father, Sky and overthrew him. Cronus impregnated his sister Rhea and then ate all the children except one that Rhea hid, Zeus. The Romans associated Cronus with Saturn. Saturn was extremely popular with the Romans. In fact, the popularity lasts to the present day. The seventh day of the Judaeo-Christian week is in Latin, Dies Saturni (“Day of Saturn”) or Saturday. Virgil, a Roman poet, associated Cronus with a heroic king of Italy3. This association made Cronus a hero and not the detestable figure in Greek mythology. However, Ovid, another Roman poet, was primarily responsible for making Cronus (the Greek Titan) into chronus (time) in his book Metamorphoses. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Saturn reigns in the Golden Age which was marred by continual rebellion against the heavens. Ovid associates these upheavals with the beginning of change and becoming. This association was the beginning of the confusion between Cronus (Saturn) and chronus (time).

This ‘confusion’ or ‘forgetting’ is important as it assigns a false note to the historical opus of what ‘temporal’ means. Even more, it may be here that that chronus is canonized as a sequence or succession of ‘now’ moments which proceed from the past to the future. This is ‘clock’ time. Chronus came to mean quantity of time. However, the Greeks had another important concept of time, the fullness of time, kairos (καιρός). Kairos was quality as opposed to quantity. Kairos was the in-between-moments, the right time. It was time that gathers together, pulls in and ruptures the vulgar notion of time as chronus as Heidegger thought chronus. Kairos was not governed by ‘now’ moments. It could not ‘fit’ into a synchronous4 (sýnchronos, equivalent to syn- syn5– + chrón ( os ) time + –os6 adj. suffix) temporal scheme. “Chronos is that in which there is kairos and kairos is that in which there is little chronos [chronos esti en ho kairos kai kairos esti en to ou pollos chronos].”7 This is important because for the Homeric era, temporality was not thought in terms of a neutral, generic grid of sequential ‘now’ moments. Quantity did not hold sway over quality. Moments were not equal in ‘essence’ but had quality, the supreme moment. Kairos gathered in time but did not possess it. It was a ‘between’ time that was not this moment or the last moment or the next moment. Hesiod’s chaos had the quality of kairos. It was not eternal.

The ancient Greeks did not even have a concept of ‘eternity’. Eternity, as we think it, was a later Latin, Christian, extension of chronus. If chronus, which came to be thought as a neutral, grid (the common idea of physical time), never ends the Christian notion of eternity would result. Walter Brogan explains the notion of eternity here:

Aidion is often translated as the eternal or eternity-aeternitas. But the notion of the eternal as opposed to the temporal is a later development of Christian thinking. The literal meaning of the Latin aeternitas is not “atemporal,” but “to return always,” and in this way to be everlasting. The Greek word aidion comes from aei and dios. Dios is a word used by Homer to mean the noblest. Thus, it is the word for Zeus, as well as a word for men and women of excellence and of noble nations. It is also used to depict the powers of nature. It means that which is divine-like. Aei means throughout time. Aidion means that which holds itself through time in the presence of the divine and thus is. The aei is the enduring of a being that maintains itself in its “isness.” Thus, Heidegger says: “And aei means not only `without stopping’ and `continuously,’ but primarily that which is presently there (das Jeweilige)-he who is ruling at the time (ho aei basi- leuon), not some sort of `eternal’ ruling”.8

Kairos could not be contained or possessed by a generic ‘now’ moment. It could not be held in presence. Kairos exceeded this notion in a similar fashion to the way Descartes thought the notion of infinity exceeded its concept. It may be that Hesiod thought the first, chaos, as kairos. In Hesiod’s other work, Works and Days, he writes what would later become a famous dictum: μέτρα φυλάσσεσθαι· καιρὸς [kairos] δ’ ἐπὶ πᾶσιν ἄριστος; Observe due measure: and best in all things is the right time (kairos) and right amount9. It would not make sense to Hesiod to think of what came before or after kairos. Our contemporary logic would inform us that there must be a before or after to Hesiod’s supreme cosmogonic time but that logic (logos) would not necessarily follow for Hesiod or the Muses. The Muses were full of play and gaiety. They basked in kairos as a child in play. The important thing to remember here is that the very first (protista) is not temporalized into a ‘now’ moment or even a-temporality (not temporal). The very first is the fullness of the supreme, in-between-moment, a quality not contained in neutrality either. I will note it here that kairos will become an interesting problem between Aristotle and the Sophists in later discussions.

Perhaps historically, kairos could speculatively be thought along the lines of Kant’s categorical understanding as a-priori. It is also spoken of in Christianity with regard to the fulfillment or redemption of time that occurred in Christ. The latter philosophical notions of the transcendental may also appropriate its temporality from kairos. For Heidegger10 and the ancient Greek skeptics the historical epoch (epoché, ἐποχή, epokhē, to hold back, suspension, cessation)11 or age (aon) is not a collection of ‘now’ moments but the quality of an era. Better yet, kairos could be thought along the lines of Heidegger’s notion of pre-cognition or pre-understanding which always, already ‘is’. Heidegger would refer to kairos as “the moment of vision” (augenblick, literally “glance of the eye”). Augenblick is the moment of decision. As such, it is conflict and strife (polemus). For Heidegger, augenblick is an event, Ereignis. Thomas Sheehan writes of Ereignis as:

In ordinary German Ereignis means “event,” but in Heidegger’s retrieval of the unsaid in Aristotle, it becomes a name for the structure of the ontological movement that enables all being-significant. Playing on the adjective eigen (“one’s own”), Heidegger comes up with the neologism Er-eignung: ontological movement as the process of being drawn into what is “one’s own”…12

Ereignis is the event that pulls (sways) or appropriates meaning or significance as the ‘there’ of Being. This ‘pulling forth’ is also a withdrawal, an expropriation, of logos or as Sheehan states it, ” a differentially structured semantic field is engendered and sustained, is appropriation-by-absence”.13 For Heidegger, Ereignis is not temporality or Being but an in-between which gives (es gibt) time and Being. Ereignis as event is not “simply an occurrence, but that which makes any occurrence possible”.14 The event is the ‘there is’ (il y a) and ‘it gives’ (es gibt) of time and Being. It is the da (there) of Being. This German idiom, es gibt, denotes a passive and an active voice albeit grammatically neutral.15 It literally means ‘it gives’ as active but the idiom connotes ‘there is’ as pasive. In ancient Greek and Latin there wasn’t a separate word for ‘it’.16 However, what is meant by ‘it’ in those languages was not as we understand ‘it’ but ranged in meaning from the irrelevant to the demonic (δαίμων, daimôn).17 For classical Greece the daimôn was not evil as later Latin thinkers envisioned it. In Socrates the daimôn was an oracle, wisdom from unknown otherness. Therefore, the notion of it was not a dead, neutral ‘thing’ but an indeterminate other. Moreover, with regard to es gibt, ancient Greek grammar has a middle voice. The middle voice does not exist in English, German or modern Greek. The middle voice indicates a simultaneous action on both subject and predicate. The middle voice is not forced into an acting or being acted upon but draws together the meanings of codetermined, mutual determination and active reciprocity. Ereignis is not an event that happens to a subject nor is Ereignis an ‘it’ as a thing. Ereignis is not neutral, already understood as mere ‘thingness’.

The abstract notion of ‘thingness’ which arises from the already understood, ontological, orientation to beings as separate and ultimately divisible ‘stuff’ we know as ‘thing’ comes from the equally abstract notion of temporality as a linear succession of ‘now’ moments. When temporality is pre-understood as equally chopped up packets of ‘now’ moments, the ‘stuff’ of time must also be abstractly considered as well as equal packets of matter (ὕλη, hyle) we think as ‘things’. For modernity, the self-evident, simple and superficial presentation of all stuff as things is a simple ‘given’ from an un-thought history; it is a practical component of everyday life which seems ludicrous to question. However, that is precisely what Heidegger and the ancient Greeks addressed in their thinking of being (ontos).18 From this abstract notion of ontos it is difficult to understand the ancient Greek notion of kairos. Heidegger shows how our everyday experience of being in the mode of instrumentality (i.e., our being with the hammer is such that the hammer disappears in use) counters the notion of being as present-at-hand (when the hammer breaks and becomes conspicuous as present-at-hand) which is also the mode of ‘thingness’ where we already understand beings as separate objects to be observed in their abstract presence and not in our participation with being. He also showed how lived time has a stretch which may slow as in the experience of boredom or anxiety and speed in moments of joy or exhilaration which counters the abstracted notion of time that thinks in terms of ‘clock time’ as linear ‘now’ moments.19 Likewise, when kairos as the fullness of the moment is thought in terms of a qualitative gathering of temporality, as holding sway for meaning and significance for beings, epochs and ages, it is difficult from a ‘common sense’, ‘intuitive’ point of view (vista) to concretely get past our historical abstractions of chronus. Perhaps some modern ways to begin to think this is with the birth of a child, the death of a mother, the end of communism or the ‘secularization’ of a religious world. Even what Heidegger calls being-towards-death is a moment that holds sway throughout our lives. These practical experiences of temporality as kairos was, in concrete ways, more practical for ancient Greek thinking of temporality than our modern notion of ‘clock time’. The question of what is really real, kairos or chronus was a question for ontos, being, ontology which concerned Aristotle in what the Latin mind thought as ‘metaphysics’.20 However, the ancient Greeks thought of these questions in terms of phusis; the question of physics as it appears, as idea, and as ‘being as such’ or ‘first cause’. It was difficult for the Latin mind, the Christian weltanschauung, to think of Hesiod’s chaos not as ‘eternal’, chronus existing from all time and through all time, but as kairos, the gathering together and holding sway, the fullness, completeness (telos) of moments which was not ‘a moment’ but the in-between of the moments of chronus. Temporality thought as kairos does depend on the abstract and quantized schema of linear ‘now’ moments proceeding from an infinite past to an infinite future but from concrete and practical qualities which determine (hold sway over) beings and being, civilizations and history, forms (peras) and indefinite (apeiron), origin (archê) and chaos.

Philosophy Series 6 – The Origin


1 See Link

2 See Link

3 Georgics 1.336; 2.406, 539; 3.93; and Aeneid6.794; 7.49; 8.319; 12.830

4 See Link

5 See Link

6 See Link

7 Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, Trans. Patricia Daley (Stanford: Stanford U.P., 2005), page 68-9.

8 Walter A. Brogan. Heidegger And Aristotle: The Twofoldness Of Being (Kindle Locations 1035-1041). Kindle Edition.

9 Hesiod, Works and Days 694 ;Translation of the Works and Days are based on Evelyn-White 1929

10 Martin Heidegger, Time and Being, trans. by Joan Stambaugh (Harper and Row, 1972), page 9.

11 See Link

12 GESCHICHTLICHKEIT /EREIGNIS /KEHRE, Thomas Sheehan, Existentia (Meletai Sophias) [Budapest], XI, 3-4 (2001), 241-251. See Link (pdf page 10)

13 GESCHICHTLICHKEIT /EREIGNIS /KEHRE, Thomas Sheehan, Existentia (Meletai Sophias) [Budapest], XI, 3-4 (2001), 241-251. See

14 Martin Heidegger, Time and Being, trans. by Joan Stambaugh (Harper and Row, 1972), page 19.

15 Neutrality is a concern that will be addressed in future discussions of Emmanuel Levinas. However, Heidegger should not quickly be read as denoting es gibt as neutral, a mere it, a thing. Much of his critique of the forgetting of Being since the Greeks is based on thinking of Being in the same type as a ‘thing’. We think we understand the being of a thing as an ‘object’ present-at-hand, something we look at in its pure presence. This understanding of Being as an object or a thing has dominated since the Greeks but Heidegger wants to show that there are other ways of experiencing being such as instrumentality, ready-at-hand, in which we experience the being of a thing such as a hammer in its disappearance in use. We are not looking at the hammer as an object present-at-hand lest we hit our finger. We are using the hammer to accomplish a goal but the hammer itself is not experienced as an object present to our vision. The notion of a hammer in use that is still present-at-hand in some abstract sense is not the concrete way we are experiencing the hammer while using it. Even more, Heidegger wants to make the claim that whenever we ‘see’ being, being retreats, withdraws such that the ‘truth’ of what we see or understand of being is conditioned more by its absence than its presence. Therefore, what we ‘see’ is always embroiled in semblance, appearance, a representation, that cannot capture Being per se. Being cannot be brought to presence even as idea – εἶδος (eidos – that which is seen, form, shape) and ἰδέα (idea – form) . There is always a ex- to being, an excess which cannot be accounted for or brought to light and presence. Therefore, neutrality in es gebt is not so much a neutral article as a referent to Being. It is a further question to ask if Being is third person, neutral or first or second person singular, I or you or plural, we or them. It would be natural to think Being as a kind of high order machine or mechanism but that would fail to understand Heidegger. On the other hand, there is a sense of a determination that Being is either a kind of thing or a kind of person, I (Nietzsche) or other (Levinas). This pathos of thought thinks after the universal. It is the thought that Being is either a type of person (he, she, I, thou, other person, etc.) or a not-person (a substance, thing, matter, mechanism, etc.).

This universal dilemma of one or the other, mutually exclusive, may be a false dilemma. As the ancient Greeks would remind us there is always a both-and or mixture that would constitute a third kind in every binary opposition. There is also a hypothetical, none-of-the-above in every binary opposition which may be thought as ‘abstract’ and not ‘concrete’, possible but not actual or even impossible but nevertheless, hangs on as a persistent ghost of sight. This then poses the question what to do of the ghost, the apparition, the phantasm? Is it mere ‘logic’ to dismiss such tangential nonsense? Has such ‘logic’ ever presented itself historically as the ‘violence of the text’? Has there ever been cases in human history where some people were ‘logically’ considered not-people, erasable, marginalized, deemed irrelevant, silenced, etc.? Are there cases where the canonical text created its own anti-thesis? It certainly seems that this is possible albeit not necessarily so. The tension created in the binary opposition of the person and the not-person is a tension that re-presents itself in idealism (Hegel), realism, positivism, pragmatism, structuralism, modernism and post-modernism (Derrida, Foucault). In both cases of the neutral OR the person, an exclusiveness must be endemic to the argument of the opposing case. It must be shown that one cannot be at the same time with the other. In the history of violence, ‘he’ and ‘she’ sit atop the authenticity of being and not-being is relegated to mere stuff, empty, devoid of qualifications which would evoke the ethical concerns for a ‘he’ or a ‘she’. The way non-human ‘animals’ can qualify for the pronoun ‘he’ or ‘she’ and yet hover closer historically to things than non-things is a clear case of how dialectic logic forces opposites but retain a ghost of an in-between, the uncanny, the phantasm. The in-between, the ghosts of our ‘logic’ face us in our day to day which defy our categorical ontologisms.

This kind of problem occupied much of Greek thinking. Is being one OR many? How can that which is also be that which is not? Can being and not-being be predicated of the same? Can being change or does it persist and endure? What is it that endures or changes such that we can still think it as being? How is movement possible if being is changeless? Aristotle’s answer, as we shall see, was more along the lines of both-and as the two-fold of being (see Walter A. Brogan. Heidegger And Aristotle: The Twofoldness Of Being). Post modernism similar to Marx points to phantasm in the world created by text and artifice which appear as being and what is not, permanence and temporal, human and not, logic and nonsense. Is there a commonality to all these approaches that squelches the Other as other? Levinas would pose the question, how is ethics understood? Are there ways in which the other can be leveled off and totalized into a system? Should we be attentive to this possibility? Is there a history of violence which draws upon components of sameness in every idea-ology, the logos of appearance? Do ideas encapsulate themselves in their own essences? Is the idea system closed or open? Can ideas only open up to other ideas, seeing to other sights, light to other illuminations OR can they point beyond themselves to another type or kind? One answer might be that ideas can only ‘see’ other ideas. If ideas can see ‘other’, wouldn’t that other be an idea? Otherwise, how can seeing see what it can’t see? This inquiry goes back to the same types of questions the ancient Greeks asked. How can being both be and not-be? How can Being be one or many? This is the problem Aristotle addressed in what we now call his work Metaphysics. It is also the direction of Levinas’ inquiry. It is in this tension that we will eventually discover what Jacques Derrida quoting James Joyce tells us, “Jewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet”

Are we Greeks? Are we Jews? But who, we? Are we (not a chrono- logical, but a pre-logical question) first Jews or first Greeks? And does the strange dialogue between the Jew and the Greek, peace itself, have the form of the absolute, speculative logic of Hegel, the living logic which reconciles formal tautology and empirical heterology after having thought prophetic discourse in the preface to the Phenomenology of the Mind? Or, on the contrary, does this peace have the form of infinite separation and of the unthinkable, unsayable transcendence of the other? To what horizon of peace does the language which asks this question belong? From whence does it draw the energy of its question? Can it account for the historical coupling of Judaism and Hellenism? And what is the legitimacy, what is the meaning of the copula in this proposition from perhaps the most Hegelian of modern novelists: “Jewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet”?[Writing and Difference, Violence and Metaphysics, ISBN 0-203-99178-8 Master e-book ISBN, page 192]

16 Martin Heidegger, Time and Being, trans. by Joan Stambaugh (Harper and Row, 1972), page 18.

17 Martin Heidegger, Time and Being, trans. by Joan Stambaugh (Harper and Row, 1972), page 18.

18 See this for a relatively easy introduction to Heidegger’s thoughts in Being and Time.

19 Modern physicists have long since disposed of such simple minded notions of time, Einstein comes to mind, but there are many other intriguing notions of temporality in modern physics which also address the ‘stretch’ of time even with regard to another modern notion – ‘subjectivity’, and its fuzzy relationship with ‘objective’ temporality.

20 See link

The word ‘metaphysics’ is notoriously hard to define. Twentieth-century coinages like ‘meta-language’ and ‘metaphilosophy’ encourage the impression that metaphysics is a study that somehow “goes beyond” physics, a study devoted to matters that transcend the mundane concerns of Newton and Einstein and Heisenberg. This impression is mistaken. The word ‘metaphysics’ is derived from a collective title of the fourteen books by Aristotle that we currently think of as making up “Aristotle’s Metaphysics.” Aristotle himself did not know the word. (He had four names for the branch of philosophy that is the subject-matter of Metaphysics: ‘first philosophy’, ‘first science’, ‘wisdom’, and ‘theology’.) At least one hundred years after Aristotle’s death, an editor of his works (in all probability, Andronicus of Rhodes) entitled those fourteen books “Ta meta ta phusika”—”the after the physicals” or “the ones after the physical ones”—, the “physical ones” being the books contained in what we now call Aristotle’s Physics. The title was probably meant to warn students of Aristotle’s philosophy that they should attempt Metaphysics only after they had mastered “the physical ones,” the books about nature or the natural world—that is to say, about change, for change is the defining feature of the natural world.

This is the probable meaning of the title because Metaphysics is about things that do not change. In one place, Aristotle identifies the subject-matter of first philosophy as “being as such,” and, in another, as “first causes.” It is a nice—and vexed—question what the connection between these two definitions is. Perhaps this is the answer: The unchanging first causes have nothing but being in common with the mutable things they cause—like us and the objects of our experience, they are, and there the resemblance ceases

 The Greek plural noun-phrase ‘ta meta ta phusika‘ became in Medieval Latin the singular noun ‘metaphysica‘—much as the Greek plural ‘ta biblia‘ (‘the books’) became the Latin singular ‘biblia‘ (‘the bible’). The word was used both as a title for Aristotle’s book (now thought of as a single entity) and as the name of the “science” that was its subject-matter. The word for ‘metaphysics’ in every modern European language (‘la métaphysique‘, ‘die Metaphysik‘, ‘la metafisica‘…) is an adaptation of the Latin word to the orthographic and phonetic requirements of that language. This is true even of the non-Indo-European languages (like Finnish and Hungarian) that are spoken in Europe. Works written in some non-European languages, however, use words constructed from native materials both to translate the European word ‘metaphysics’ and to refer to writings in their own philosophical traditions whose subject-matter is similar to the subject-matter of Western metaphysics. For example, the Chinese phrase that is the customary translation of ‘metaphysics’ is an allusion to a statement in the I Ching: “that which is above matter is the Tao”; the phrase can be literally translated as ‘[that which is above matter]-ology’, the final word of the phrase being a “discipline marker” that performs much the same function as the English suffix ‘-ology’. The word that is the usual Arabic translation of ‘metaphysics’ means ‘the science of divine things’. Unlike the Chinese phrase and the Arabic word, however, the European words derived from ‘metaphysica‘ carry no internal indications of their meaning. (The word has, as we have seen, an etymology, but as is so often the case, etymology is no guide to meaning.) It is uncontroversial that these words all mean exactly what ‘metaphysics’ means in English—or, less parochially, that all the European words derived from ‘metaphysica‘ mean exactly the same thing..