Tag Archives: Aristotle

The Problem of Logic

Foundationalism is always at work in conjunction with logic. By foundationalism I mean philosophical necessity. For example, in Heidegger’s view, Aristotle’s ontology is derived from phenomenological observation. According to Heidegger, Aristotle is astutely observing what shows itself as it is without trying to bring a previous theory (theoria) of what shows itself in the observation. Aristotle argues against Antiphon, heavily influenced by Plato and the Eleatic school founded by Parmenides, as forcing the thought of being into the one (hen) at the expense of the many (polumeres). Thus, the immutable and eternal are thought as being while change and multiplicity are relegated to the accidental and as such, non-being (see http://mixermuse.com/blog/2010/09/02/aristotle-and-modern-sciences/). Aristotle sees multiplicity and unity (hen) in the dynamic (dunamis), potentiality and actuality, of being (1). Rather than insist on a preconceived idea, Aristotle wants to observe beings and try to think being. For Heidegger, Aristotle escapes the charge of foundationalism because he is not insisting based on dogma (doxa) that being is this way or that but only what he sees in the showing of what Heidegger states is commonly and mundanely thought as being. Foundationalism is brought about when philosophy is thought as terms of tautology.

Tautology is what is necessarily true. The simplest tautology is A = A. This is the principle of identity. If the universal is thought as an identity then the particular is also thought as ‘not’ universal. Thus, if A = A and A is the category of the universal then everything that is not universal is thought as the particular. If the universal means not contingent on anything then the particular, as contingent, ‘is’, by definition, not universal. The ‘is’ in this case, called the copula, denotes equivalence. Equivalence gives identity. Thus, the universal holds itself in its identity as not particular. The critique of foundationalism cannot rest on the attempt to invalidate tautology as this would be a fool’s errand. Nevertheless, foundationalism can be legitimately criticized when it takes a step from logic to forcing its terms on what does not belong to it as Antiphon tries to do in his argument with Aristotle. The subtlety that gets introduced comes about by creating the categorical identity. If the universal is thought as being then the particular necessarily is not being. Thus, beings are not universal and therefore not being. The error occurs because the identity of the universal gets enmeshed with being. The necessity of the tautology of identity which cannot be denied is then taken up in the thought of being and beings. However the thought of being and beings is not necessarily the same as the thought of the universal and the particular. In this case, there is an added equivalence of identity added into the argument between the universal and being and therefore, the particular and beings. The additional identity is precisely where the fallacy gets introduced and philosophy gets conflated with mere assertion or opinion (doxa). This example serves as a model of how logic gets conflated with philosophy and results in foundationalism as history.

The charge of foundationalism does not refer to all history or all philosophy. It refers to a logical necessity that gets conflated with a historical, canonical narrative. There are many aspects of how this conflation occurs that inevitably refer to power structures in history. These power structures show themselves in economic, religious, political/nationalistic and scientific histories. It seems that it would be hard to deny foundationalism in history as evidenced by the violence of history. When extreme nationalism is tied to the purity of the Aryan race, purity and nationalism are conflated with the logic of identity and the result is the inevitable holocaust of the ‘impure’. This is what I refer to as the violence of light.

Light shows, it illuminates. Light is a unity of perception. It is the necessary condition for seeing. What shows itself (aletheia) is made possible by light, the clearing (lichtung). Light is neumena, concept, unity and potential. Seeing is phenomenal, particular, manifold and actual. Light arranges what it illuminates. It orders, makes sense of, holds together. Logic gets introduced as ‘not’ light. ‘Not’ light is thought as darkness. It is thought as the absence of light. As such darkness, thought in terms of the identity of light, is falsely thought as nonsensical, chaotic, without any order and therefore, without value. In this case, ‘not’ light is the depleted form of light. The darkness gets its identity as the ‘not’ of light. It gets defined by what it is ‘not’. The attempt to define by negation, what it is not, is really only light as what it isn’t, the absolute depletion of light, its negation. Darkness, as a necessary result of the identity of light, is the narcissistic love of light. It is the love of Medusa that cannot turn its gaze. This conflation, the violence of light, is the history of foundationalism. The ‘leap’ from tautology to the phenomenon of light associates adjectives that do not necessarily belong to the negation of the category.

When light is considered as an ideal then we can state that Light = Light therefore Darkness = Not Light AND Light = Not Darkness. We have established a reversible relationship. The reversal can occur in either direction without violating the ideal tautology. The problem comes about when phenomena are brought into the tautology.

For example, we know that different lights show different orderings. Visible colors are reflected light in the electromagnetic range of 400THz (Terahertz) to 790THz (for the human eye). Opacity is the degree of visible light that is reflected. Transparency is when no light is reflected Infrared’s electromagnetic range is 1THz to 430THz. What shows itself with visible light is very different that what shows itself with infrared. In the foundationalism of the Occident, visible light shows us ‘objects’ (of which we are one). The ‘not’ of visible light is ‘thought’ as invisible but actually it is not. Infrared shows various degrees of heat. It is not nothing but something, it is just different. It has adjectives associated with it that cannot be contained by nothing, invisible or the ‘not’ of objects. The ‘not’ of infrared light isn’t equivalent to visible light. The relationship is not reversible. When the other of visible light is thought in terms of its ‘not’ it is not really “the other” but the same merely absolutely depleted. The absolute depletion of the identity of the same is still only the same. This is what Levinas refers to as totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism is an ideal that functions as a theoria. It functions as a grid that is cast in advance of our ‘seeing’. It orders and arranges in advance how beings show themselves. It does not arise spontaneously every time we perceive but preconditions perception. It sets up in advance what is possible to ‘see’. This is what is meant by humans are historical. We have the capacity to ‘see’ what has already been gathered or ordered by language, history. When we take this gathering as identity, as the logic of necessity, we become foundationalists. In this case, tautology gets mistakenly substituted as what ‘is’. Being gets taken as theoria, a way of seeing.

If ‘not’ is given in terms of tautological identity it is no wonder that the original term only rediscovers itself in its nemesis. The rediscovery is not a transformation but a trans-fixation. As Medusa, the gaze is fascination that turns to stone. When theoria only sees itself, it becomes a cataract to sight. Its total opacity petrifies itself in its own terms. This is the ‘not’ of foundationalism. It’s essential characteristic is reversibility. When the ‘not’ is only given in tautological terms it leaves out the in-between, the adjectives that do not quite fit, the kairos.

Kairos and chronos are two notions of time in Greek thinking. The chronos is chronological time, the succession of now moments that chronologically proceed from a past to a future. The chronos is given by discrete ‘now’ moments. The current moment negates the past moment and the next moment. The ‘now’ moment relegates the past and the future to non-being (me on). Chronos depends on its absolute opposition to the past and the future. It depends on them, in tautological terms, as what it is not. The ‘now’ moment is no longer ‘now’ when it is past or when it is to come. Its identity depends on its ‘not’ to be what it is. The kairos is the in-between that has no duration but rather a quality. It is the quality that requires the supreme moment of decision from privation, steresis.

“Heidegger says that the basic category of steresis dominates Aristotle’s ontology. Steresis means lack, privation. It can also mean loss or deprivation of something, as in the example of blindness, which is a loss of sight in one who by nature sees. Steresis can also mean confiscation, the violent appropriation of something for oneself that belongs to another (Met. 1022 b33). Finally, Aristotle often calls that which is held as other in an opposition of contraries a privation. Heidegger will point out in his later essay on Physics B1 that Aristotle understands this deprivation as itself a kind of eidos. Thus, steresis is the lack that belongs intrinsically to being. According to Heidegger, with the notion of steresis Aristotle reaches the pinnacle of his thinking about being. Heidegger even remarks that Hegel’s notion of negation needs to be returned to its dependency on Aristotle’s more primordial conception of the not.”(2)

The moment of decision is the supreme moment, the moment of moments, the being of beings. It is based on obligation to what it is not, to what it lacks. In this case, what is needed is the double ‘not’, the ‘not’s not’.

There are two ways of thinking about not’s not. The first is based on chronos. It is reversible. Specifically, the ‘now’ moment negates the past and the future AND the past and future negates the ‘now’ moment. This gives way to sublation. What gets lifted up out of this dialectic is the concept, the concept of time. The concept unifies the apparent opposition; it erases the appearance of the absolute other, the negation of each term for the other. The other as real is eradicated by the concept. The concept holds the other together and as such, shows them as unity. Unity, the one (hen), is without otherness. The second thinking about not’s not is based on kairos. It is not reversible. It allows for differences that are not totally subsumed by the categories of ‘now’ and not ‘now’. It recognizes the middle way (middle voice in Greek thought) AND adjectives that are not logically temporal. However, the recognition is not based on concept but decision. Decision is forced by lack. The fullness of the moment lacks its sublation, the ground for its resolution. It cannot return to light and not light. This is not due to the inevitability of the concept but to actualizing the possibility of decision. The moment of decision holds open the possibility of Ethics for Levinas.

For decision, the ‘not’ that ‘nots’ itself can release its hold on light and its deprivation in the actuality of Ethics or it can narcissistically cast its gaze to the light and its deprivation, the concept. It can disallow its own terminus and therefore hold itself in check. In this case, its telos is not determinate (viz. the concept) but opened by actualizing the supreme moment of choice, the encounter with the other. By understanding how logic gets conflated with ‘isness’, the immediacy of ‘now’, we resist the narcissism of light, the resolution of concept. We impose limits on the bounds of ‘seeing’ and are opened to what does not show itself in ‘theoria’, in light. Our gaze is not to confirm (re-confirm), sublate, our logical categories but to leave open what we cannot see, not as a ‘not’ but as not’s not, the other that is not reversible. To the degree that a philosophy universalizes identity in history is the degree that it becomes foundationalism. The resolution of concept (eidos) is not necessarily given by tautology when bound with what is seen in ‘now’ and not ‘now’. The sublation is a conflation. It sacrifices steresis to gain the ground of reversibility and the supreme resolve of concept, the eternity of self-determination. It violently appropriates the moment of decisionin privation (steresis), to deny otherness.

“Not’s not” is not neuter, an ‘it’. An ‘it’ is already a way of seeing. The ‘it’ here is understood in terms of what is not a ‘he’ or a ‘she’. The categories are built into the theoria of the Occident, the history of essence, substance. Other histories such as animism did not make that ‘leap’. An ‘it’ reflects a generic reduction to what is seen in the exclusive categories of ‘now’ and not ‘now’. The ‘it’ is a historical abbreviation for the concept. The semblance of the other is now lifted up into the ‘it’ of concept. As such, ‘it’ is no longer determined by the other but self-determined. Self-determination is pure ‘isness’. Pure ‘isness’ has become ‘itness’. Decision is lost to neutrality and as such, passivity. The lack of decision has become the passive resolution of ‘itness’. This is foundationalism in the form of totalitarianism. The totality, the universal, the unity, the ‘it’ is being. In its completion the he or she is a moment, a stage, and ethics, an addition to what has already been completed. Ethics is founded on concept and unity not he or she and steresis. Thus Hegel’s system is complete, almost.


(1) Heraclitus says at the beginning of Greek philosophy:
potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei.
B12. On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow. (Cleanthes from Arius Didymus from Eusebius) (see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heraclitus/ and http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Heraclitus)

This is from the famous fragment thought as ‘never stepping into the same river twice’. However, the original fragment has an intentional ambiguity regarding what is the same and what is changing, those stepping into rivers or the rivers. If the rivers (plural in the fragment) are changing they remain what they are by changing. One the other hand, if those stepping into rivers are changing then it is as if the flowing, changing environment constitutes those stepping into rivers as the same. The unity, the same, is given by change or flux.

Plato interprets this as:
Panta chōrei kai ouden menei
“Everything changes and nothing remains still”
Plato changes the word flow to choros, change.
The assertions of flow are coupled in many fragments with the enigmatic river File:[33]
“We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.”

B88. As the same thing in us are living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old. For these things having changed around are those, and those in turn having changed around are these.

(2) Heidegger and Aristotle The Twofoldness of Being, Walter A. Brogan, State University of New York Press, Albany© 2005 State University of New York, page 19

Aristotle and Modernity: The Eternal and Science

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


Aristotle argues that being (ousia; feminine present participle) is simultaneously matter and form (eidos, idea) governed by change (metabole).(1) The form shown in a being’s figure or shape (morphe) is given by limit or boundary (peras) and is the genesis of its being. Form is always with matter to make it what it is as a being. A being that is form and matter is physics (phusis). Phusis is Aristotle’s word for emergence or growth that sustains itself in its presence as a morphe (shape) from peras (form) or being (ousia). Antiphon’s argument with Aristotle in Physics, Book 1, is a materialistic argument about the essence (wesen) of being (ousia). In an attempt to find the immutable and eternal, not subject to change and therefore, real, Antiphon argues that formless matter (hule) is real. For example, wood, stone, metal, etc. is real and eternal and thus, the essence of being. Since the form of wood can change from say a chair to a scrap pile, the form is mutable and therefore, not real but accidental (sumbebekos). The issue here is the one (hen) and the many (polumeres). Following after Plato and his Forms Antiphon along with Parmenides wants to understand the origin (arche) of being as one. For Parmenides, the one could be seen with the mind (nous) as ideas (eidos). Ideas do not change. They do not grow. The world of matter simply reflects, as a shadow, these ‘behind the scene’ Forms. In so doing, being is established as immutable (non-changing) and eternal (aidion). For Antiphon matter was real and for Parmenides the idea was real and everything else was accidental and illusion. Aristotle was quite the heretic in this setting to insist that form and matter, emerging and enduring in their presence was being. In effect, Aristotle was saying being was one and many, being and beings, and change and endurance in presence were the origin of the real. As a thought experiment, let’s jump ahead to the modern notions of particle physics, evolution and genetic science.

Genetic science manipulates genes in very short time scales while evolution takes much longer with natural selection. However, both change beings from one kind of being into another and create beings that have never existed naturally. Likewise particle physics has accomplished the alchemic task of changing one elementary particle into another and even more, creating new particles that have never existed naturally. Let’s remember that for Aristotle and the Greeks being encompassed all beings not simply human being. This implies that evolutionary change would not contradict Aristotle’s notion of beings since he allows for change and mutability as essential (wesen) to being (phusis). However, these sciences certainly bring into question the insistence of Antiphon and Parmenides. It implies that pure materialism (as hule without eidos) and pure spiritualism (as eidos without hule) is never found in nature as immutable and eternal. Both form as idea and matter can be essentially changed and manipulated by evolution and human technology. New beings that have never existed can emerge into nature. Perhaps Parmenides could take partial exception as the change in the present shape of a being could be accidental while maintaining that the ideas behind them do not change. However, would totally new beings imply an addition to the ideas? Likewise, Antiphon may have more thorny issues with new elements not found in nature but he could insist that the elementary elements were eternal just not present in nature. However, atomic manipulation of elements that changes one element to another would directly imply that fundamental elements can change and are therefore, not immutable. In both cases the mutation and change might still be denied as essential to being. However, the manipulation of elementary particles and biology vis-à-vis technology, at least in the case of particle physics and genetic science, imply fundamental human intervention in nature and therefore essential (not accidental) mutability.

In regard to Antiphon and by extension Parmenides, Aristotle wrote that “According to this understanding of the essence of being, all things—whether natural or made—are never truly being, and yet they are not nothing. Hence they are non-being, not fully sufficing for beingness” (WBP 337). He thought that both of these ideas forced the argument into either being already thought as immutable OR non-being (me on) already thought as mutable, In so doing, a universal category is set up (i.e., being) and all else is not being (i.e., beings). It turns out to be a tautological argument. If A is A then it certainly follows that everything else is not A. If being cannot change then everything that changes is not being. This kind of argument cannot legitimately think of the differences between being and beings. It can only assert an opinion (doxa) and therefore is not an argument at all.

If being is thought after matter such as wood or stone and asserted to have permanence then being has been modeled after permanent, separate and indivisible units (i.e., wood, stone, etc.). Likewise if eternal ideas stand behind the accidental, shadowy world of matter then being has been thought in terms of permanent, separate and indivisible units. In both cases the unity (hen) of being is preserved by denying change based on separation. When being is thought after the model of separation then it is thought after beings. Beings are separate by definition. Aristotle thought that ultimately Antiphon and Parmenides made the mistake of taking individual beings for the one (hen) – being. They thought the enduring, eternal and immutable essence in beings, whether matter or idea was separate from beings and therefore, merely another type of being. They were unable to think unity and multiplicity together as the being of beings. Aristotle certainly thought through the problems in Antiphon and Parmenides that have been articulated by modern science but he still faces the question of natural beings and produced beings.

If evolution is thought in terms of Aristotle’s notion we must ask ourselves about the gradual change from simple chemical reactions to Homo erectus (human being). As each new species evolves it emerges and endures in its presence as its own being (i.e., bacteria, fish, monkey, human, etc.). As the being changes gradually over millions of years so also does the particular being. By thinking that beings are, we are thinking about the being (singular) of beings (plural). Aristotle is thinking after the being of beings, how beings are one and many simultaneously. Aristotle achieves this in presence. As present, beings show themselves as emergent and enduring. Thus they maintain themselves in phusis. For Aristotle, this means they have their origin (arche) in themselves. This is what he refers to as natural beings. If a being is made by a human such as a work of art, he thinks of that as techne. In the case of the being of art the cause (aition, that out of which a being comes to be and endures) is: hule (raw material, the whatness), telos (goal, the fulfillment and completion, the towards which), eidos (the knowledge of the artist about materials, brush strokes, etc,, the how) and techne (a gathering or bringing together of the other causes, the from which). Aristotle thinks beings can arise from natural means (in which case they have their origin in themselves) or techne (their origin is not in themselves). The being of the work of art does not have its eidos in itself like natural beings but in the mind of the artist. Therefore, how they show themselves (aletheia) is not from themselves but from the techne of the artist. Since natural beings come to be of themselves, they cannot be accidental, they have their essence in themselves. However, beings that are produced from techne have their origin and are governed outside of themselves. This makes produced beings possible for use and manipulation.

It seems that evolution as ‘natural’ produces human beings and other types of natural beings. Why couldn’t we say that the techne in nature produces beings with eidos, hule and telos? Evolution (techne) uses natural selection to manipulate biological matter (hule) and genetic adaptation (eidos) for survival (telos). Now that humans have figured out how to manipulate genetics faster than evolution and for various uses, we could easily say that genetic engineering is techne. So the question is how can we maintain a being that has its origin in itself and one that does not? It seems that humans can have ‘use’ value just like beings that are produced.

The problem posed here is how can we think beyond the use and manipulation value of human beings? In light of the gray areas discussed already between natural beings and produced beings how can we definitively suggest an essential, original difference in the two? Both, no matter their origin, can be thought in terms of their ‘use’ value. Heidegger thought that misunderstanding the difference in being and beings gave rise to technology and the dreaded industrial wasteland described by Junger. He thought by re-thinking the difference that got lost after Aristotle in Latin and subsequent Christianity we could find a second beginning. However, if there is a valid confusion of terms posed by the modern sciences we are back to Nietzsche’s nihilism and end of truth as envisioned and historically worked out from the Greeks. Thomas Aquinas, G.W.F. Hegel, Adam Smith, Karl Marx and others have tried to found a thinking that would ensure a human future but each have resulted in historical failures. Philosophers have tried to re-think these avenues and discover where the Occident departed from thinking the being of beings and to establish the legitimate bearing of human being. Nietzsche’s answer was the collapse into nihilism and the mysterious arrival of the overman, the second coming of the human.

My current direction is working through Levinas and the radical rupture of ontology that can only be recuperated (and thus lost) into the same with the totalitarian assertion of the ‘not’. It may be that the anarchism of the face of the other and thinking after alterity in metaphysics holds the promise of ethics and a leap into the future. Levinas’ thinking would not imply separateness after the kind of Antiphon and Parmenides in the history of ontology and thus, fall into materialism that Derrida maintained. Levinas thinks of the face of the other as a rupture in ontology, the destruction of ontology and the history of the tyranny of light and it’s not. This thinking would bring down the history of ontology, the thinking of Being, from the Greeks. However, Levinas would also try to trace out another anarchical thought at work in metaphysics. His work does not think metaphysics toward phusis as Heidegger and Aristotle would but towards the other; the other that is not a being of Being nor a ‘not’ of Being but announces and brings about ‘me’ in absolute withdrawal. For Levinas this is the beginning and founding of Ethics, an anarchical founding. The history of light and it’s ‘not’, the dark, is the history of violence. This is why philosophy can only reawaken the history of violence and, as Sisyphus, eternally push the boulder of truth (aletheia) up the mountain of its clearing (lichtung). What is missed is not the difference of being and beings but ‘difference’ that is not neuter, ‘difference’ that is never sublated but always reawakened by the face of the other; ‘difference’ that is never cast off or lifted up in the light of self-determining logic and only swept away by violence and totality (completeness). Presence as immediacy is not mediated by the ‘not’ but given by the alterity of the other, not the neuter of the ‘is’ of difference. When the history of ontology, the peras (self limiting measure) of ‘me’ rising amidst the aperion in light, is thought as false then the difference, the aperion, that is not an ‘it’ but a he or a she, can destroy the fight for immutability and eternity. What is left? …my absolute finitude and indebtedness to the other that faces me and calls me to exist.

Philosophy Series 12 – Levinas and the Problem of Metaphysics


(1) Heidegger and Aristotle The Twofoldness of Being, Walter A. Brogan, State University of New York Press, Albany© 2005 State University of New York – This essay is largely inspired and informed by Walter Brogan’s magnificent insights into Heidegger and Aristotle.