On Origin

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 14 – George Orwell and Emmanuel Levinas Introspective: Socialism and the Other

Philosophy Series 13
On Origin

How can what has not yet begun be continued? Can there be a beginning prior to the origin? If being has an origin, as philosophy has always maintained (regardless of whether philosophy can or cannot discover that origin), then what is the sense of “is” when one says that “there is a beginning prior to the origin”? Such a beginning would already be a challenge to the firstness of first philosophy, would already be a challenge to the “is” that attempts to discover its origin, of itself, by itself, courageously, invoking all of history and nature if that is what it takes to be free of outside help.1

Professor Cohen makes an interesting observation which results in this odd quote. The context of this quote comes from his analysis of the credit Levinas gives to Rosenzweig and Husserl in the preface to Levinas’ masterwork “Totality and Infinity”.2

With regard to the “challenge to the “is””…

I wrote a philosophy series here on my blog where I tried to work through some of the Presocratic philosophers. In particular, Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer, plays an important role in subsequent ancient Greek forging of ideas and language that follow in Occidental history. Hesiod was believed to be influenced by Hittite and Babylonian culture. For a more complete discussion of Hesiod see Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod3. However, this quote from Professor Cohen enabled me to understand a link between Hesiod and Levinas I had not explicitly thought of before.

My observation inspired by Professor Cohen’s quote is that before Parmenides and the diachronic move from logos to Hegel and German Idealism, we see in Hesiod the placeholder in chaos (χάος4) for the face of the other. Chaos, the yawning gap, which Hesiod, through the Muses, speaks to us answers the question of origin…

“from the beginning [origin, archê, ἀρχή5], tell who first of them [the gods] came-to-be [genet’6].
First of all Chaos [χάος] came-to-be [genet’]”7

The noun ‘chaos’ indicates a ‘yawning gap’, a radical rupture.

The noun is derived from √χά, meaning ‘gape, gap, yawn’, as
in χαίνειν, χάσκειν, etc.8

The phrase translated ‘came-to-be’ or genet’ is a verb, 3rd person, singular, middle voice. The question asks about origin, the gods and the generation of being. The answer the Muses give certainly addresses the generation of being but also asserts a radical differentiation as ‘chaos’. It is important to note that this radical differentiation is not an ‘eternal’ condition as the notion of eternity was a much later development. Chaos is better thought as a “modification of a radical differentiation”. Even in current physics (from early Greek notion phusis, translated in Latin, natura, as nature) time is a condition of differentiation.

In current physics, time-space is not absolute but arises purely locally as condition of mass and relative to inertial frames of reference. There is no ‘master clock’ in the universe. Absolute time and absolute space are relics of the past. Even on the most minute scale, time is local. Every human has mass. Every human creates their own time by virtue of their speed and mass relative to the earth. Therefore, a human on a mountain further away from the earth lives in a ‘time bubble’ of sorts that objectively and measurably moves faster than a human living in valley closer to the earth. The earth in this case is an ‘inertial frame’. A human, in this case, is a relative frame to the inertial frame of the earth. The earth is a relative frame to the inertial frame of the sun. The solar system is a relative frame to the inertial frame of the galaxy. The galaxy is a relative frame to the inertial frame of the universe. Any mass in the universe can be an inertial frame. Are there other inertial frames to the universe with other universes (multi-versus)? All of these relative frames converge to make a unique time clock for every human.9 Not only this, but we have a number of biological clocks including our circadian clock which converge to create memories of time events and the anticipation of time passing.10 All this is to point out that the differentiation of relative frames of reference creates time (and space) – not universal time which does not exist but time which in each and every case is uniquely mine.11 My time arises from incomprehensible differentiation. Even more, the negative of time is timelessness, no time, or what we might also think as eternity. Physicists from Einstein on have no reason to believe time exists at all according to relativity. Time is no different than a sensation like pleasure which has no root in any absolute ‘thing’ but arises from mind boggling differentiations. Better yet, for Levinas the Other is always diachronous to me, a time not my time.

Just as time has been made into a universal clock, chaos as radical differentiation has historically been reshaped into language as disorder (the negative of order), nothingness (the negative of something), the void (the negative of everything), the night (the negative of light) and neuter (the negative of gender). All of these tactics have given chaos a ready-made answer that cover over the radical notion that would confront us and confronted the Greeks in the time of Hesiod.12 What is more, history and language is our purely human ‘organ’ to create sense and meaning. However, the sense and meaning we are intent on creating wants to cover over and extinguish the ruptures in our language and meaning just as our ‘common sense’ wants to situate us in a Newtonian, absolute time and space. For Levinas the face of the other, the other that faces us, is a radical alterity from which we retreat to our totalizing pre-understanding of the Other, from the rupture of the he or the she or…even the it. What does Levinas mean by this?

Philosophy underestimates the extent of the negation in this ‘not appearing’ which exceeds the logical scope of negation and affirmation. It is the trace of a relationship with illeity *the other as “he” or “it,” i.e., as the moral call to justice] that no unity of apperception grasps, ordering me to responsibility.13

The ‘it’ comes ready-made by history and language. ‘It’ is ‘common sense’. If we want to think philosophically we must understand that these read-made notions were not available to Hesiod. If we simply take over our contemporaneous idea of the ‘it’ when we read Hesiod we do what scholars of ancient Greek literature (called philologists) call anachronistic (belonging to a period other than that being portrayed). In order to understand Hesiod we must let χάος [chaos] speak to us in proximity to what we can gleam from the texts we have and what scholars tell us of their context. We must relieve ourselves of the assumption that chaos was an ‘it’, devoid of life or gender. While the myths of the ancient Greeks indicate a kind of animate vitalization of phusis as we see in the pantheon of gods, the notion of ‘neuter’ in ancient Greek was ‘neither one or the other’ as in ‘not masculine or feminine’.14 The neuter was the ‘not’ in ancient Greek of gender. The negative does not specify a positive term as modern usage does of the ‘it’ (i.e., substance, inanimate objects, not alive, thing, etc.). Furthermore, as we will see later in this text χάος in Ancient Greek can be used in different ways including the feminine gender. What is more, even the idea of χάος as nothing, the void, night or disorder was inferred later.

Kirk and Raven are quick to point out that chaos does not mean void or nothingness. They also thought that “that something more complicated was meant by χάος [chaos] γένετ᾽ [came-to-being] than, simply, ‘sky and earth separated'”.

“In view of the basic meaning of χάος [chaos] (as a gap, i.e. a bounded interval, not ‘ void ‘ or anything like that), and of one certain fifth-century usage as the region between sky and earth, and of another use of the word in the Theogony in which the meaning is probably the same, serious attention must be paid to an interpretation propounded most notably by Cornford”…
“Cornford’s interpretation may be helped by the verb used to describe the first stage of cosmogony: not ἧν but γένετ᾽, perhaps implying that χάος [chaos] was not the eternal precondition of a differentiated world, but a modification of that precondition. (It is out of the question that Hesiod or his source was thinking of the originative substance as coming into being out of nothing.) The idea that earth and sky were originally one mass may have been so common that Hesiod could take it for granted, and begin his account of world-formation at the first stage of differentiation. This would be, undoubtedly, a cryptic and laconic procedure; and it seems probable that something more complicated was meant by χάος [chaos] γένετ᾽ [came-to-being] than, simply, ‘sky and earth separated’ – though I am inclined to accept that this was originally implicit in the phrase. The nature of the gap between sky and earth, after their first separation, may well have been somehow specified in the popular traditions on which Hesiod was presumably drawing.”15

Here is Cornford’s remark:

First of all Chaos came into being.’ There should be no doubt about the meaning of Chaos. Etymologically, the word means a yawning gap; and in the Greek poets, including Hesiod himself (Theog. 700), it denotes the gap or void space between sky and earth.16

Even in scholarship to follow, chaos was wrongly thought to refer to the ‘not’ – void and night. The darkness is thought in these citations as opposite light and thus, taken back into the ontology is what ‘is’. Kirk and Raven note:

“In the original cosmogonical account Night comes at an early and important stage; the tendency to rearrange the Hesiodic figures is already indicated for the sixth century (probably) ; Homer provided one piece of cryptic encouragement for a further elevation of Night; and added elaborations of the Hesiodic picture of the underworld tended to reinterpret Tartaros and Night as local forms of an originative chaos. These factors provide motive enough for Aristotle’s judgement in [Note 1 below]; and there seems to be little indication at present that the idea of an absolute priority of Night occurred early enough, or in a sufficiently independent form, to have had any effect on scientific cosmogonical thought. The isolated Homeric reference, cannot be assessed with any certainty: it may be simply a reference to the power of sleep, or it may be derived from a lost myth in which a personified Night had some special relationship to Zeus.”17

Note 1: “the ancient poets similarly, inasmuch as they say that not the first figures have rule and kingship (Night and Ouranos or Chaos or Okeanos, for example), but Zeus. (Cf. …those writers about the gods who generate from Night.)” Aristotle Met. N4, 1091ib4

Early on, ancient Greeks and more recent “scientific cosmogonical thought” took ‘night’ as the void Hesiod’s Muses were referring to with chaos. This appears to be a later development in the notion of chaos. The false equivalences of chaos with the ‘night’ and the void made possible comparisons with the creation myths in the Hebrew version of Genesis (creation ex-nihilo)18, the Muslim Qur’an19 and the Mesopotamian version of Enuma Elish20.

I take metaphors of the ‘night’ and the void to be the ancient roots of the ‘not’ most clearly worked out by Hegel. The ‘not’ and its mythopoetic ‘night’ are an ingenious tactics to reduce paradox, being and chaos, to what Levinas calls the ‘said’ in “Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence”. Additionally, the joining of the verb ‘came-to-be’ in both the question and the answer in Hesiod’s mythopoetic cosmogony tell us in a very Muse-like fashion that when the ‘said’ of origin and being is questioned by its at-home-ness in itself, its founding, with ‘chaos’, it has a tendency to ask the question in a fashion that already ‘knows’ and ‘holds on to’ a prior understanding of the tautological necessity of ‘coming-to-be’. Therefore, with regard to chaos, only the Muses were equipped to hold a riddle in an answer which perceives the questioner’s inability to dislodge themselves from origin and being while simultaneously disturbing the essentialist claim to authenticity, the fixation of the ‘said’ in itself. These topics will be dealt with in more detail a little later in this post.

Whether or not chaos was a preexisting condition or a modification of a preexisting condition or whether or not it refers to sky and earth21, nothingness, darkness, etc. as Greek philology has argued, this passage certainly wants to assert a vast differentiation into the question of generation, a radical alterity which does not belong or originate from the verb’s middle voice in the generation to being (came-to-be). Chaos asserts a vast differentiation into the question of generation, a radical alterity which does not belong or originate from being (came-to-be). Drew Hyland tells us:

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.22

The noun ‘chaos’ (χάος) in the Muse’s answer to Hesiod is neutral. However, there has been discussion by scholars on whether chaos is neutral, male, female, gender-neutral or sexually indeterminate. It seems fitting that chaos as radically differential could not be assigned an ‘it’, a ‘he’, a ‘she’ or something other. This is important because it is common these days to think that neutral, gender neutral, or sexually indeterminate must be an ‘it’. However, an ‘it’ as we understand is already a determination of being which would not be an option to Hesiod. The mythology of Hesiod’s day indicates that what we think as “its” were not dead things but animated with powers and human-like characteristics. In order to understand the setting of Hesiod’s Theogony, it is important to try to pry ourselves away from our modern ‘science’ oriented notions of matter as undergirded by mechanical processes that we understand as a kind of collection of ‘dead’ ‘its’. These easy notions of nature, physics (Φνσις, phusis), were not available in Hesiod’s time. Therefore, the notion of ‘chaos’ had a gender indeterminacy. Kaitlyn Boulding sums it up like this:

On my reading, the most important aspect of Chaos is that it is distinctly nonmale. Although grammatically neuter, Chaos is either characterized as female, a gender-neutral deity,[23] or a “sexually indeterminate figure.”[24] An aspect of Chaos’ gender is its ability to generate offspring through parthenogenesis. Chaos introduces its characteristic indefinable obscurity into the world through its progeny Erebos and Night (Nux), who are begotten through self-differentiation.[25] This parthenogenetic production introduces children that reiterate the features of their parent. In contrast, through sexual union, Night and Erebos produce children who represent a greater degree of definition in the figuration of Brightness (Aither) and Day (Hêmeros),[26] a procreation that points to the way that Hesiod uses sexual generation as a driving force behind the progression of the succession myth, as I expand upon below. I argue that Chaos begins as a disordered force, which contrasts with the ordering male forces that follow and through the introduction of sexual generation it too is responsible for the introduction of an embryonic form of order.27

The subject ‘chaos’ and the verb ‘came-to-be’ may indicate a retreat away from the subject which actually gives rise to being. Could the “modification of that precondition” was “something more complicated” than what “was meant by χάος [chaos] γένετ᾽”? What is meant by the Muses reply of chaos as ‘first’. From my Hesiod discussion previously cited let’s remember this:

“Hesiod asks a question of the Muses. The Muses are female goddesses. They are the birth, origin and keepers of art and knowledge. Hesiod asks which of the gods was the first that “came-to-be”. A conundrum is embedded in Hesiod’s question. Namely, how can the first come to be? The Muses were fond of play and gaiety. As such, they reply in kind to Hesiod that “truly” and “verily” the first, Chaos, came-to-be. In the very first reply to Hesiod, the ‘truth’ is at play in the Muses. The Muses here are speaking as one even though there are nine Muses. Even in this, there is already play of the ‘one and the many’, harmony and cacophony, the doubling of the signature. What is more, Hesiod’s question preconditions the answer given by the ‘one and the many’ Muses. Hesiod asks, “from the beginning [archê, ἀρχῆς], tell who first of them (the gods) came-to-be [genet’, γένετ᾽]”?”…
“The Muses, in notably un-myth like language, do not declare a god as the first. Instead, in one voice they playfully undue their unison by first directly answering Hesiod’s question that chaos was first. The unity of the Muse’s voice is undone in their answer of the first, the primal lack of unity and presence. Chaos in this case is given as differentiation without prerequisite.”…
“The Muses state plainly that the very first was chaos. Then, with deference to the question they add to “First of all Chaos” with “came-to-be”, genet’. Hesiod is asking for the first, how it came-to-be (genet’), and they tell him chaos but with the same supplement in Hesiod’s question, genet’. The wisdom of this statement is along the lines of “First of all Chaos”. How can chaos come-to-be if it was first? Isn’t this a contradiction? Contradiction would not bother a Muse. However, what would bother a Muse is mere contradiction; so boring. Instead, a deeper thread, a secret meaning was always more fun for a Muse.”…
“Instead of the one and many voices of the Muses giving one answer to Hesiod, they give him two in one…now that is more like a Muse. The Muses are not contradicting themselves or giving an infinite regression but giving Hesiod the answer he wants [the only answer he can understand] and more. The answer has exceeded the expectation of the question as it MUST since the question marks a limit to what an answer should be (i.e., does ‘what was the first’ ask for a chicken or an egg and how would the answer ever decide the question?). Instead of a declaratory, apophantic, answer, the Muses transcend the limits of the question with a double answer which the Muses testify to as “now surely, truly, verily” “indeed, of a truth”. Additionally, according to Miller, Hesiod had no way, given the tools of his mythopoeic language, to think the ‘first’ without a coming-to-be. Additionally, the lapse of the mythopoeic style in this one phrase was not a necessary lapse. Hesiod could have written this in a form more true to the overall style of the poem but he didn’t. This can either be ignored as an omission of Hesiod (or an addition of someone else) or intentional and a mark of an emphasis of some type.”28

Before ontology came to be thought as óntōs (ὄντως), before the beginning prior to origin, anarchic to origin, the ancient Greeks left an undoing of the text-to-be in an immeasurable gap. At the preface of Occidental history of logos, the Hegelian Idea and Heideggerian ontology an erasure stands as an undoing of the text to come prioritizing chaos, a gap which being can never bridge or overcome.

It is important that in one of the most important accounts at the dawn of ancient Greek philosophy, how being, came-to-be (genet’), was answered by the jesting Muses in a rare directness, as radical disjuncture, as chaos. Before logos (where we get our word logic) we find the question of origin, of beginning, answered as radical interruption, as anarchy (an-archê, ἀν-αρχία; no origin). Anarchy disrupts origin as the impossibility of origin. Origin must generate being in retreat from the absolute void of chaos, the gap. Coming-to-be is not completed in logos but left open by chaos. Ancient Greek philosophy must ever after be read from the riddle of origin. Origin must be said from logos which, in its fullest moment, undoes and erases itself as chaos, an unbridgeable gap.

It is my conjecture that the yawning gap, prior to origin, is an unaccounted-for excess which I think finds echoes all the way through ancient Greek philosophy. In that erasure before the text is given there is a proxy, a substitute, yet to be spoken for what Levinas thinks as the Other; a past which is not my past or even a past which can find no arche’. Thus much later, ancient Greek chaos can anarchically be maintained as a face, a face in the Other of Levinas. The self’s retreat form the face of the Other is also foreshadowed by the inseparable suggestion from Judaism as wanderer, sojourner, as without a home or dwelling. I would suggest that there are strains all the way through ancient Greek thought which still wrestle with anarchy prior to the beginning, the undoing of the text prior to its unfolding, spoken in Hesiod’s Muses as chaos. The following thoughts are just thinking out loud and would require a lot more work – more like a career.

Perhaps in Heraclitus, there are fundamental critiques of essentialism posed from rivers which cannot be stepped in twice. In contrast to Parmenides, Heraclitus radically questioned any such notion as the same while also not working out his notion of the unity of opposites, at least that we know. He had an early notion of the logos where the idea of paradox seems to apply more than the idea of rationality (ratio) which really had not been worked out yet. Some of his fragments indicate humans ‘hearing’ the logos but failing to notice and forgetting as when they are asleep. His notion of ever new waters seem to have a poet allusion to what cannot be taken up by thought. Yet, later he was made into one of the founders of ontology along with Parmenides as the philosopher of becoming. His idea that we are and are not was criticized by Plato as reality can never be (‘is’) in such a flux. His influence in later Greek thought such as Stoicism cannot be minimized. It seems to me that chaos cannot be far flung in Heraclitus.

In Anaximander,

“Whence things have their origin,
Thence also their destruction happens,
As is the order of things;
For they execute the sentence upon one another
– The condemnation for the crime –
In conformity with the ordinance of Time.”

don’t we have a destruction of origin? We have a crime, could it be a murder, for the “order of things”. We have a condemnation “whence things have their origin” in conformity to [Being and] Time. We also have Diogenes telling us,

Anaximander son of Praxiades, of Miletus: he said that the principle and element is the Indefinite, not distinguishing air or water or anything else…29

The Greek word ‘indefinite’ here is apeiron.30 It means “unlimited,” “boundless”, “infinite”, or “indefinite”. Just as we use the ‘a’ in ‘ahistorical’ to mean not historic or without history, the ‘a’ in apeiron means without form, limit or boundary since peirar (πεῖραρ) means, “end”, “limit” or “boundary”. The Ionic Greek form is peras (πέρας) meaning “end”, “limit” or “boundary”. For Anaximander, apeiron seems to function somewhat as Hesiod’s cosmological notion of ‘chaos’. It generates and destroys the opposites; it differentiates. It has no form as we might think of chaos and somehow makes difference possible. This difference, this yawning gap, is a source (origin) and annihilation of form. Being (came-to-be) is not some eternal, static state but begins and ends with the infinite.

Charles Kahn tells us that for Hesiod and Homer apeiron refers to earth and sea which has limits. Hesiod speaks of “sources and limits” where Earth, Tartarus, Sea, and Heaven converge.

Аπειρος [apeiron] (together with its Homeric equivalents ἀπείρων, ἀπείριτος, απειρέσιος, απερέίσιος) is obviously a compound with a-privative, but the precise form of the simplex is not quite so clear. Is it correct to assume (with LSJ and others) that απειρος is derived from the noun πείραρ, περας, “limit” ? In that case the literal meaning of the adjective would be “devoid of limits, boundless.” But although “boundless” is often a convenient translation for απειρος, it does not really answer to the usage of the term. In the epic, ἀπείρων is the characteristic epithet of earth and sea, particularly the former.’ Neither earth nor sea is devoid of limits, and in fact the poet speaks repeatedly of the πείρατα of both. So Hesiod describes the place where the “sources and limits” (πηγαί καί πείρατα) of Earth, Tartarus, Sea, and Heaven converge {Theog. 736-38 = 807-9), although for him too both Earth and Sea are ἀπείριτος {Theog. 109, 878, etc.).31

Can we think that sources and limits and the boundless have some undeciphered poetic simile to came-to-be [genet’] and chaos [χάος]? Charles Kahn tells us,

In the context of a cosmogony, of course, this idea of “starting point, foundation” has also a direct temporal sense: the ἀρχή [origin, archê (ᾰ̓ρχή) ] the first and eldest of things, from which all others arise in the course of time. …
Many modern interpreters, following a remark of Aristotle, have supposed that these principles must themselves have been present in their source before generation, and that the απειρον [apeiron] was therefore a kind of mixture, similar to the primeval mingling of things in the cosmogony of Anaxagoras. But such a view of Anaximander’s Boundless is basically anachronistic, in that it presupposes the criticism of Parmenides. After him, the generation of something essentially new was considered an impossibility, but in the sixth century γένεοις [origin, source] was taken for granted as an obvious fact of nature. Furthermore, Theophrastus assures us that the απειρον [apeiron] was no mixture, but “one Φνσις [phusis, physics] ” {Phys. Opin. fr. 4, cited under 7). From the Aristotelian viewpoint, the opposites were of course potentially present in their source. But for a Milesian they were no more pre-existent in the απειρον than children pre-exist in the body of their parents before conception.32

Kahn goes on to tell us that perhaps consistency was not a value of the old poets.

Let’s also not forget the “good beyond being” of Plato. Robert Bernasconi tells us,

“Whereas for Heidegger the forgotten experience is that of Being, for Levinas – and he invests Plato’s formula with an anti-Heideggerian ring – it is that of “being” but of “the good beyond being,” which he also calls “metaphysical exteriority,” “transcendence,” and “infinity.” The good surpasses “being,” “objectifying thought,” “objective experience,” “totality,” and history.”33

What other possibilities can we think in Aristotle’s non-being as privation? Could we think a “passivity prior to receptivity” thought as non-being?

We also have these accounts from Aristotle:

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.34
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.35

The primacy of ethics in Greek thinking from the Cynics, the Stoics, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle cannot be underestimated. The Cynics were highly influenced by Socratic ignorance. Wisdom is ethics while logic is a tool which can be employed in the service of ethics but not as an end in itself. Virtue was pervasively favored above knowledge. It seems to me the Heideggerian ‘wrong turn’ in logos he thought as presence was missed by Heidegger as the ‘wrong turn’ started much earlier in remnants of chaos which could never come to presence even as the Muses declared anarchically. The impossibility of chaos and ethics could never be brought into the presence. It could not be brought into ontology and early hints would later be discounted as an impossibility which fueled the history of being as retreat. In the history of ontology, chaos and ethics could never be thought with the priority of Ethics for Levinas. Only with the radical alterity of the Other could chaos be de-neutered and the face give way to Ethics.

I am not looking for an essence in these questions only a trace, a hint of a gap which logos cannot envelop. What is metaphysics? Is it Being suspended over nothing? Is it Desire which is not satisfied but deepened? Could it be that totalizing the Other necessarily implies effacing the Other as nothing and non-being? Could nothing and non-being be a confusion which must forever repress the yawning gap which has yet to be given face as the Other? Dare we ask, could this gap which awaited the other be thought in terms of messianic eschatology?

It was said of Levinas that he wanted to translate Hebrew into Greek but I would suggest the possibility that ancient Greek anarchy awaited Hebrew for a face, the Other. What would it mean to dare think the thought – translate Greek into Hebrew?36

Philosophy Series 14 – George Orwell and Emmanuel Levinas Introspective: Socialism and the Other


1 Philosophy Today

Volume 32, Issue 2, Summer 1988

Richard A. Cohen

Pages 165-178

DOI: 10.5840/philtoday198832222


Richard A. Cohen

2 Professor Cohen notes that already in the preface of “Totality and Infinity”, the credits to Rosenzweig and Husserl are a “corrective” to what inevitably must be “ill understood” in the said which is emphasized in Levinas’ masterwork. In Husserl we see the concrete observation of phenomenology in the intentional adequation of conscious to its objects towards the intentionality of transcendental apperception which breaks up and is founded by the noema of a noesis “by a forgotten experience from which it lives”. Yet, Professor Cohen maintains with Levinas that “By defining consciousness as intentional from top to bottom, from the most transcendent to the most immanent significations, as intentional even in its own self-constitution, phenomenology sees no exit from the circuit of noema and noesis”. Professor Cohen goes on to maintain that Rosenzweig’s “The Star” sets up mercy and justice against the conceptual totalizing of the noetic-noematic totality of phenomenology. In the interruption of conceptualizing by mercy and justice Levinas finds the face of the Other. Professor Cohen sees at the beginning of “Totality and Infinity”, in the preface, an end that announces in advance Levinas’ later work “Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence”; a circularity of the text which deepens with every iteration of the reading of the text. Hence, the observation of a “beginning prior to the origin”.

3 Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod

4 chaos (χάος)

5 archê (ᾰ̓ρχή)

6 genet’ (γένετ᾽)

7 Hesiod, Theogony, 115

8 G.S. Kirk, J.E. Raven, M. Schofield, “The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History”, 1983:31, page 37

9 “Time and the Twin Paradox – Does time tick by at the same rate for everyone?”, A Matter of Time, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, January 2012, Volume 306, Issue 1s

10 “Times of Our Lives” and “Remembering When”, A Matter of Time, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, January 2012, Volume 306, Issue 1s

11 A Matter of Time, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, January 2012, Volume 306, Issue 1s; This whole issue has fantastic articles on Time from many different disciplines. It substantiate the ideas on Time I have discussed here.

12 The Impossible Possibility of Paradox – Part One

13 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

14 neuter – not either, neither of the two

neuter (adj.) – late 14c., of grammatical gender, “neither masculine nor feminine,” from Latin neuter “of the neuter gender,” literally “neither one nor the other,” from ne- “not, no” (from PIE root *ne- “not”) + uter “either (of two)” (see whether). Probably a loan-translation of Greek oudeteros “neither, neuter.” In 16c., it had the sense of “taking neither side, neutral.”

15 Ibid., 1983:32, page 38, 39


17 Ibid., 1983:18, page 20

18 Jewish Encyclopedia, CREATION, By: Kaufmann Kohler, Emil G. Hirsch; The conception of creation ex-nihilo in Genesis has been brought into question as this article points out: “The bringing into existence of the world by the act of God. Most Jewish philosophers find in  (Gen. i. 1) creation ex nihilo (). The etymological meaning of the verb , however, is “to cut out and put into shape,” and thus presupposes the use of material. This fact was recognized by Ibn Ezra and Naḥmanides, for instance (commentaries on Gen. i. 1; see also Maimonides, “Moreh Nebukim,” ii. 30), and constitutes one of the arguments in the discussion of the problem.”

19 Creatio Ex Nihilo and the Literal Qur’an, Abdulla Galadari; “For the purposes of this article, I define Muslim creationism as a belief in God creating things out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo); this belief is held by those who have a literal understanding of the Qur’an. The concept of creation ex nihilo was debated by early Muslim theologians and philosophers with a wide array of views (Fackenheim, 1947;Alusi, 1968). Many Orthodox Muslims today have been influenced by one of the most in influential Islamic philosophical schools, the Ash’ari school, which has long debated the concept of creatio ex nihilo. However, even their rival, the Mu’tazili theological school of thought, equally accepts the concept of creatio ex nihilo, and some of its philosophical stances still exist within some Shi’i schools. These theological (kalam) schools of thought were influenced by Greek philosophy, and the concept of creatio ex nihilo may have come from Greek philosophy, and not from what the Qur’an had initially intended.”

20 “When in the height heaven was not named, And the Earth beneath did not yet bear a name, And the primeval Apsu, who begat them, And chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both Their waters were mingled together, And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen; When of the gods none had been called into being, And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained; Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven, Lahmu and Lahamu were called into being…”

21 Ibid., 1983:32, page 39

“The conception that earth and sky were originally one mass may have been so common (sec pp. 32-4) that Hesiod could take it for granted, and begin his account of world-formation at the first stage of differentiation. This would be, undoubtedly, a cryptic and laconic procedure; and it seems probable that something more complicated was meant by χάος γένετ᾽ than, simply, ‘sky and earth separated ‘

though I am inclined to accept that this was originally implicit in the phrase.”

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

23 Mondi, Robert. 1989. “ΧΑΟΣ and the Hesiodic Cosmogony.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 92: 1-44.

24 Park, Arum. 2014. “Parthenogenesis in Hesiod’s Theogony.” Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural. 3.2: 261-83.

Philippson, Paula. 1936. Genealogie als mythische Form. Oslo.

Gigon, O. 1945. Der Ursprung der greichischen Philosophie. Basel.

Kaitlyn Boulding: “Park (2014: 268, 280, note 24) notes that it is unclear how gender should be assigned to Chaos as well as the other three abstractions. However, “their relations and interactions with one another identify them as male, female, or neuter beings. The isolation of Chaos confirms its grammatical neutrality: it does not copulate or even interact with any other entity, male or female.” Attributing a neuter reading of Chaos based on parthenogenesis seems strange in an article wherein Park argues that parthenogenesis is a specifically feminine ability. See also P. Philippson 1936: 7–42. = 1966: 651–87 and Gigon 1945: 29–30.”

25 Kaitlyn Boulding : “Hes. Th. 123-125. Park (2014: 267) sees this parthenogenetic reproduction as the development of the same from the same, as opposed to the sexual reproduction between Night and darkness which produces Bright Air and Day (Hes. Th. 124-25). Clay (2003: 27) also notes that this is a more “progressive” generation, which “marks the beginning of time” measurably by the alteration of Night and Day.”

26 Kaitlyn Boulding : “Hes. Th. 211-232. The conceptual children born from Night are black Fate, Death, Sleep, Dreams, Blame, Misery, the Hesperides, the Fates, the Dooms, the Spinners, Resentment, Deceit, Intimacy, Old Age, and Strife. Park (2014: 267) argues that Night’s children, though not generally constructive,”demonstrate the early function of parthenogenesis in establishing the timeless truths of existence, albeit the negative side of it.” Fritz Graf notes that these children are “the destructive powers that lurk in the depths of all being” (1993: 84). Zeus subordinates and sublimates the Fates (Morai) in the conclusion of the Theogony. See below on Hes. Th. 903-904. ”

27 Gastêr, Nêdys, and Thauma: Feminine Sources of Deception and Generation in Hesiod’s Theogony by Kaitlyn Boulding

28 Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod

29 Diogenes Laertius n, 1-2 (DKi2Ai]

30 apeiron (ἄπειρον)

31 ANAXIMANDER AND THE ORIGINS OF GREEK COSMOLOGY, By CHARLES H. KAHN, (Hackett Publishing Company 1994), pg. 231, Also see pg.81

32 Ibid., 1994, pg. 236

33 “Levinas and Derrida,” in Richard A. Cohen, ed., Face-to-Face with Levinas (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 185.

34 Aristotle, Physics 203b6-10

35 Aristotle, Physics 3.4; 203b

36 The thesis put forward here raises some more interesting questions which I will attempt to explore further in subsequent posts:

Given the idea that Hesiod’s cosmogony mistook the face of Levinas’ Other for chaos, does this make sense in terms of the later development, not available to Hesiod, of the notions of metaphysics in Aristotle, the Latin world, Descartes, transcendence in Kant and Husserl, Hegel’s absolutism of Idea (Begriff), etc.? In other words, when Hesiod faced the other of his day would chaos be an understandable retreat from the face of the Other just as the subsequent diachronous ventures of history and language produced (e.g., the totalizing of ontology)? Can we assume that the face of the Other for Hesiod was the radical alterity of Levinas? Does mistaking the face of the Other for chaos and the highly prevalent emphasis in ancient Greek and Latin culture on ethics reinforce the idea that Levinasian Ethics may have been at work in mistaking chaos for the Other?

If we take evolution as fact, when did the Other face us in absolute otherness? Were all hominids evoked by the face of the Other or only homosapien? Were other genus’ implicated by the radical alterity of the Other? If so, how?

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?