. 2
( 12)


concomitance (if not the sameness) of noetic and sensible perception,
nous and aisth¯sis. Here Aristotle gestures toward aisth¯sis as informed by
e e
nous and deepens his examination of the structure of the intertwinement
of the two.6
The treatise begins by elaborating the thesis that scienti¬c knowl-
edge rests on premises that are better known than the conclusions to
which scienti¬c demonstration leads: better known by their nature, with-
out quali¬cation, or simply, and not relative to us.7 Premises, princi-
ples, or causes are prior in the order of what is, and hence eminently
knowable, although they may be posterior in the order of human com-
ing to know. The priority here at stake, however, may not simply be
said to be ontological without quali¬cation, just as the meaning of the
knowledge pertaining to it requires further clari¬cation. Priority in the
order of being designates a priority indeterminately exceeding ontol-
ogy as the distinctively human philosophical discourse. It designates the
priority inhering in nature itself, in that which imposes itself on the
human prior to any attempt at discursive systematization “ the priority of
what is and, in virtue of this, compels assent. Knowledge here indicates

6 Segments of the following discussion on Posterior Analytics and of the elaboration of nous in
the Main Section below appear in my “Ethics as First Philosophy: Aristotelian Re¬‚ections
on Intelligence, Sensibility, and Transcendence,” in Silvia Benso and Brian Schroeder
eds., Levinas and the Ancients (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2007).
7 The reverse is the case with induction (epag¯g¯), which moves from what is clearer and
more known to us (72b29f.). See also 71b35“72a6.
Posterior Analytics: On Nous and Aisth¯ sis
e 29

precisely the compelling, inevitable character of that which can only be
The premises of demonstration are more known, that is, compel assent
to begin with. Yet, as beginnings, arkhai, they exhibit a certain elusive-
ness, an excess vis-` -vis the procedures of demonstrated knowledge which
they initiate. They are knowable above all, and yet, not according to the
demonstrative/scienti¬c practices. This irreducible distinction and dis-
continuity, in Aristotle, between knowing demonstratively and knowing
otherwise, that is, the perception of principles, is of incalculable conse-
quence. At stake is the unbridgeable rift between logos and nous, even
though, at this juncture, Aristotle is not explicitly casting the discussion
in these terms.
In the context of discursive or apodictic knowledge, the principles or
premises appear as given. Within the procedures of knowledge, the ques-
tion concerning principles can at most be formulated, but not addressed.
Indeed, the principles remain radically extraneous to the demonstra-
tive practices: the latter base themselves on principles, but cannot exam-
ine, assess, or clarify them. The principles remain liminal, and therefore
ungraspable, vis-` -vis the discourses they make possible. And yet, if the
sciences must begin with and from principles that have always already
elicited conviction, knowledge of the principles, in the mode of intuitive
belief and reliance must be experienced primordially and decisively. In this
sense, ontological and noetic priority, or priority in the order of being
and priority in the order of human knowing as intuition, would coincide “
precisely in virtue of the irreducibility of human knowing to syllogistic
knowledge. Indeed, ontological and noetic priority would converge in a
primacy altogether excessive to the order of apodictic knowledge. Says

[Demonstrated knowledge, –p©stasqai ¦n ˆp»deixiv, must be acquired] from
[premises which are] ¬rst and indemonstrable. . . . [The premises] should be the
causes, more known [gnwrimÛtera], and prior [to the conclusion]. They must be
the causes [of the conclusion] since we know [–pist†meqa] a thing when we know
[e«d¤men] a cause of it; they must be prior [pr»tera] [by nature to the conclusion],
if they, as such, are its causes; and they must be previously known [progignwsk»-
mena], not only in the other manner, i.e., by being understood [xuni”nai], but also
by being known that they are [e«d”nai ‚ti ›stin]. (71b27“33)

It is telling that, in order to point to the intuitive apprehension of princi-
ples, Aristotle repeatedly switches from the language of epist¯m¯ to that of
“having seen,” eidenai. It is this indeterminately prior vision that grounds
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

the syllogistic procedures of scienti¬c knowledge in the proper sense.
It is this perception that constitutes the principle and beginning, the
arkh¯, of discursive articulation and analysis. And such a beginning is
¬rst simply and absolutely. It is origin, and as such its priority is less a
matter of chronology than a matter of the always already of immediacy,
of that which is immediate and has no middle, no beyond, no further
reference. Aristotle says: “a principle of demonstration is an immediate
[Šmesov] premise and a premise is said to be immediate if there is no
other premise prior” (72a7“8).
Not only, then, are the principles acquired through intuitive percep-
tion and ultimately a matter of belief, but they moreover enjoy a higher
status than demonstrated knowledge. The latter, after all, is derived from
the premises intuitively acquired and is therefore marked by a certain
secondariness with respect to them. What comes to the fore is, thus, the
irreducibility of knowledge, even of epist¯m¯ itself, to the order of demon-
stration. On this point Aristotle could not be more explicit:

We on the other hand say that (1) not all knowledge [–pistžmhn] is demon-
strable but that (2) knowledge of immediate premises is indemonstrable. And
it is evident that this is necessary; for if it is necessary to know [–p©stasqai] the
prior [premises] from which a demonstration proceeds, and if these [premises]
eventually stop [°statai] when they are immediate, they are of necessity indemon-
strable. Such then is our position, and we also say that there is not only knowledge
[–pistžmhn], but also a principle of knowledge [ˆrcŸn –pistžmhv] by which we
know [gnwr©zomen] the limits [‚rouv] [of that knowledge]. (72b19“25)

It is noteworthy that Aristotle, on the one hand, preserves a certain dis-
tinction between the modes of epist¯m¯ and of gn¯sis, reserving the latter
ee o
for knowledge in the comprehensive sense, which includes but exceeds
demonstration. On the other hand, however, he also proposes a loose
usage of the language of epist¯m¯ in order to signal a kind of over¬‚owing
of scienti¬c knowledge with respect to itself: science seems to be charac-
terized by a centrifugal movement according to which it ¬nds its bound-
aries and stability only in its other, in the non-scienti¬c, non-demonstrable
beginnings. It founds itself on principles it cannot found, and this means
that it is neither self-suf¬cient nor self-enclosed. In this sense, the prin-
ciple appears in a way as an end: as that which brings to an end the
concatenation of causes, as that which stands secure and past which no
further movement can be thought. It is only thus that the ¬eld and scope
of science can be delimited.
Posterior Analytics: On Nous and Aisth¯ sis
e 31

2.1. Epag¯g¯, or, What Introduces Itself into Me
First principles, then, whether axioms or principles pertaining to the
particular sciences, are known not by demonstration but through noetic
intuition. As we shall see, this will receive further elaboration in the course
of the ethical discussion. But what is crucial in this context is Aristotle™s
insistence on the connection between noetic apprehension and induc-
tion, epag¯g¯ “ on the belonging of the phenomenon of intuitive percep-
tion in the broader experience of the physical, sensible surroundings.8
From the point of view of the human condition, no¯sis gives itself in and
through the perceptual acknowledgment and ensuing investigation of
the environment, whether we should call this phusis or kosmos. The ¬nal
section of the Posterior Analytics (Beta 19) is devoted to this issue, but this
articulation is variously foreshadowed at earlier stages, most notably at
Alpha 18, which deserves to be quoted extensively:

It is also evident that, if a [power of] sensation is lacking, some corresponding sci-
ence must be lacking, for a science cannot be acquired if indeed we learn either by
induction or by demonstration. Now a demonstration proceeds from universals
[–k t¤n kaq»lou], whereas an induction proceeds from particulars [–k t¤n kat‡
m”rov]. But universals cannot be contemplated [qewr¦sai] except through induc-
tion (and even the so-called things from abstraction [t‡ –x ˆfair”sewv], although
not separable, are made known by induction, since some of them belong to each
genus insofar as each is such-and-such), and it is impossible to learn by induction
without having the [power of] sensation. For of individuals [t¤n g‡r kaq¬ ™kaston]
[there can be only] sensation, and no knowledge of them can be acquired; and
neither can we [demonstrate conclusions] from universals without induction, nor
can we [acquire universals] through induction without sensation. (81a38“b9)

While sensing may pertain to the perception of individuals, of which there
can be no knowledge strictly speaking, it is also the case that possessing
the manifold power of sensation is a necessary condition for the devel-
opment of scienti¬c knowledge. For sensation is the ground of inductive
investigation, and it is through such an investigation that the universals
are obtained. Indeed, Aristotle emphasizes, even universals that appear to
be abstracted from the sensory datum, those which appear to be removed
from the sensible and are thematized separately, as though autonomous,

8 For paradigmatic (“traditional”) discussion of nous and inductive apprehension in Poste-
rior Analytics, see, e.g., C. H. Kahn, “The Role of Nous in the Cognition of First Principles
in Posterior Analytics ii 19,” in Enrico Berti, ed., Aristotle on Science: The Posterior Analytics
(Padua: Editrice Antenore, 1981), 385“414.
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

are indeed taken in thanks to the experience of the sensible surrounding.
As laid out in Metaphysics Mu and Nu, the mathematical objects, such as
numbers, are not separate from the sensible beings, though they can be
separated in thinking or discourse, logos. This, however, crucially extends
the claim with which the section opens. To be sure, if a speci¬c power of
sensation is lacking, the corresponding science also will be lacking: for
instance, in the absence of the power of hearing, the scienti¬c investiga-
tion of acoustic phenomena will be unthinkable. But saying that even uni-
versals arrived at through discursive abstraction are ultimately acquired
in virtue of induction means that science as such could not develop aside
from the basic involvement in sensibility.
Induction, epag¯g¯, then, is the operation whereby I take in (epag¯ )
oe o
the surrounding and, in so doing, make possible the lighting up of an
intuition that is no longer limited to the contingent particular or con¬g-
uration I am sensing, but rather embraces all possible analogous cases
and illuminates something katholou, “according to the whole” “ univer-
sally, so to speak. More precisely still, induction refers to that possibility
that introduces (epag¯ ) itself into me with the sensory experience. Indeed,
sensation brings (ag¯ ) into and upon (epi ) me the possibility of an insight
exceeding the scope of my immediate sensing or observing “ the possi-
bility of revealing and actualizing the capacity for such an insight, the
power of nous. Strictly speaking, sensation pertains to being affected by
individuals, and yet, it implies the possibility of grasping that which can-
not be reduced to individuals and, rather, gathers and con¬gures them.
The interpenetration of affection and formative involvement should be
noted in this regard.
As though implicated in, folded into sensibility, the possibility of con-
templating universals is led into me as I sense. Apprehending by induc-
tion means, therefore, realizing the possibility that is imported into one
by the very fact that one is alive and sensitive, that one is stirred up by what
comes in and responsive to it. But, of course, to speak of realizing the
possibility implicit in sensing (the potential of sensation) also raises the
question whether sensation may always already be ordered, structured,
and informed “ whether, that is, instead of attempting to isolate the
moment of sensation as the mere report of raw and chaotic data, we
should see in the articulate differentiation yielded by the senses the inter-
section of aisth¯sis and nous. While we are not in the position of elaborating
on this question further at this point, we can minimally say that induction
presents itself as a certain conjunction or intersection of sensation and
noetic perception, as the advent of noetic insight out of the undergoing
Posterior Analytics: On Nous and Aisth¯ sis
e 33

of the sensible. It is striking that Aristotle refers to the inductive grasp
of universals in terms of the¯rein, properly contemplative or theoretical
understanding: in my exposure to the sensible, I come to see, to discern
what is not itself sensible, not a thing among things, but belongs in the
sensible and imparts to it its shapes and rhythm.

2.2. Thinking by Sensing
Later in section 31 of Book Alpha, Aristotle underlines again that knowl-
edge (epist¯m¯ ) is not through sensation, for sensation is of the “this,”
which “of necessity is somewhere and now,” while “that which is universal
and belongs to all cannot be sensed” (87b30“31). Accordingly, sensa-
tion is found to be less honorable than the knowledge of the universals,
which (1) reveals the cause and (2) enables demonstrated knowledge.
Nevertheless, here once more the bond between sensation and intuition
of universals is restated. It is indeed formulated in terms of dependence
of the latter on the former:

It is evident, then, that it is impossible for one to know something demonstrable by
sensing it, unless by “sensing” one means having knowledge through demonstra-
tion. In some problems, however, reference may be made to lack of sensation; for
we might not have inquired if we could see [—wr¤men], not that we would under-
stand [e«d»tev] by seeing [t ¾rŽn], but that from seeing [–k to“ ¾rŽn] we would
have the universal. For example, if we would see [—wr¤men] that the burning glass
had holes in it and the light passing through them, by seeing [t ¾rŽn] each
instance separately it would also be clear why it burns and simultaneously [Œma]
the thought [no¦sai] that such is the case in every instance. (88a10“17)

Witnessing various instances of a certain phenomenon reveals its cause, as
though, by repeated experience, the intimate structure of what is experi-
enced would be laid bare. This immediately entails the intuition that what
has been revealed holds in all analogous cases, according to the whole. In
this sense, cause and universal are simultaneous, or even identical. Here
Aristotle™s effort seems especially acute, to convey in the linear unfolding
of discourse the simultaneity or coincidence (hama) of thinking and sens-
ing, the interpolation of the immediate into the temporal, unmediated
intuition at once breaking through repeated perceptual exposure.

2.3. Singularity Making a Stand
But it is in Beta 19 that we ¬nd the decisive statement concerning the aris-
ing of universals or ¬rst principles out of repeated sensible perception.
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

The way in which Aristotle here pursues the issue of “the principles, how
they become known and what is the knowing habit [gnwr©zousa ™xiv] of
them” (99b18“19), parallels the analysis in Metaphysics Alpha 1, situat-
ing the preconditions and development of intellectual perception in the
¬eld of life broadly understood. It does, however, introduce a few points
of decisive importance that are not illuminated in the “metaphysical”
Sensation, the innate (sumphuton) power (dunamis) that all animals
possess and is less honorable than knowledge in accuracy, is in and of itself
said to be “discriminating” (kritikžn) (99b36). In certain living beings,
however, the sensation presents an abiding character (mon¯ ): it is retained
in the soul. Here, unlike in the discourse of the Metaphysics, Aristotle
elaborates on the mnemonic power (mn¯m¯ ) in terms of the ability to
“draw out a logos from the retention of such [sensations]” (100a3f.). For
certain animals, the formation and formulation of logos seems to occur out
of (ek) the constancy of sensation harbored in the soul and constituting
memory. Thanks to the persistence of the impression, they can divine, out
of the phenomenon, the logos at the heart of the phenomenon. Again,
as is said in the Metaphysics, many memories of the same lead to one
experience. Here, however, experience seems to be equated with the
formation of the universal: the latter seems to give itself immediately
alongside the former, out of the memory of sense impressions “ out of
that abiding that also lets the logos transpire and be grasped. From this
level of experiential seizing of the universal would proceed the principles
of science and of art:

Again, from experience[s] or from every universal which has come to rest
[ remžsantov] in the soul and which, being one besides the many, would be
one and the same in all of them, [there arises] a principle [ˆrcŸ] of art and of
science, of art if it is a principle about generation [g”nesin], but of science if it is
a principle about being [t¼ Àn]. (100a6“9)

At this point Aristotle distinguishes the universals from the principles
properly understood, suggesting that it is from the distinctness and ¬xity
of the universal that a principle would issue. What is important to note,
however, is the characterization of the formation of universals as a halt, a
stabilization. Out of the inde¬nite ¬‚ow of sensations, the universal names
the endurance of an all-embracing insight, of an intuition that, because
according to the whole, does not simply pass away:

So neither are these [knowing] habits present in the soul [from the start] in any
determinate way, nor do they come into being from other more known habits, but
Posterior Analytics: On Nous and Aisth¯ sis
e 35

from sensation [ˆp¼ a«sqžsewv], like a reversal (trop¦v) in battle brought about
when one makes a stand [st†ntov], then another, then another, till a principle
[ˆrcŸn] is reached; and the soul is of such a nature as to be able to be affected
in this way. (100a10“14)

The disposition to know universals issues from sensation in a way similar
to the countermovement that arrests a retreat in the course of a battle.
As the ¬‚ux of men ¬‚eeing is countered by one of them halting, others
similarly take position in succession: in this way, an order is established
and ¬xated. As in the passage previously quoted concerning immediate
and indemonstrable premises (premises “of necessity indemonstrable,”
which “eventually stop, ¯statai, when they are immediate,” 72b19“22),
seizing universals appears to be not simply a matter of resting in the soul
but, more precisely, a matter of stopping and standing upright. Knowing,
most clearly in the mode of epistamai, is illuminated in terms of setting up,
over, and steadfastly (hist¯mi, ephistamai). It is such a crystallization, such a
steady posture bespeaking reliability, which allows for discernment. Aris-
totle elucidates further, this time making it clear that universals broadly
understood and ¬rst principles alike stem in the end from the exposure
to the sensible:
When one of those without differences [ˆdiaf»rwn] has made a stand [st†ntov],
[there is formed] in the soul the ¬rst universal (for though one senses an indi-
vidual [t¼ kaq¬ ™kaston], sensation is of the universal, e.g., of a man, not of the
man Callias), and then again another among these makes a stand [¯statai], till a
universal that has no parts [ˆmer¦] makes a stand [st¦ƒ]; for example, “such and
such an animal,” and this proceeds till “animal,” and in the latter case similarly.
Clearly, then, of necessity we come to know the ¬rst [principles] [t‡ pr¤ta] by
induction; for it is in this way that sensation, too, produces in us [–mpoie±] the
universal. (100a15“b5)

As Aristotle also speci¬es at 97b29“31, by “those without differences” (to±v
ˆdiaf»roiv) we should understand the particular individual.9 Mnemoni-
cally retained and erected, the sensory impression of the individual gives
rise to the intuition of a universal. This occurs as though immediately,
for, as Aristotle underlines, “sensation is of the universal,” it literally “pro-
duces the universal in us,” makes it actual in our soul. Indeed, let this
be said in passing, the intimation here is that there can be no sensation

“It is also easier to de¬ne the particular (t¼ kaq¬ ™kaston) than the universal, so one

should proceed from particulars (ˆp¼ t¤n kaq¬ ™kasta) to universals; for equivocations,
too, escape detection (lanq†nousi) in universals more than in those without differences
(–n to±v ˆdiaf»roiv).” The “therapeutic” tenor of this remark, aiming at preserving any
inquiry from straying too far from experience, i.e., from particulars, is noteworthy as well.
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

of an absolutely unique individual, which would not belong in a broader
class and through which a universal could not be discernible. The ¬xa-
tion of a multiplicity of universals makes it possible for human beings to
perceive more comprehensive ones, under which the universals brought
forth by sensation may be gathered “ just as, for example, the de¬nitions
of various animals may belong together under the genus “animal.”

2.4. The Truth of the Things Themselves
Once the intimate implication of noetic intuition in sensation has been
thus articulated, the remarks concluding the Posterior Analytics sound all
the more peremptory in their pointing to the experiential, and hence
thoroughly practical, presuppositions in virtue of which scienti¬c inquiry
may at all take place. Such is the life of scienti¬c practices:

Since of the thinking habits [t¤n perª tŸn di†noian ™xewn] by which we think
truly [ˆlhqe…omen] some are always true while others (e.g., opinion and calcula-
tion [d»xa kaª logism»v]) may also be false; since scienti¬c knowledge (–pistžmh)
and intuition [no“v] are always true and there is no genus [of knowledge] that is
more accurate [ˆkrib”steron] than scienti¬c knowledge except intuition; since
the principles of demonstration are [by nature] more known [than what is demon-
strated], and all scienti¬c knowledge is knowledge with logos [met‡ l»gou] whereas
there could be no scienti¬c knowledge of the principles; and since nothing can
be more true [ˆlhq”steron] than scienti¬c knowledge except intuition; it follows
from the examination of these [facts] that intuition would be [the habit or fac-
ulty] of principles [ˆrc¤n], and that a principle of a demonstration could not
be a demonstration and so [the principles] of scienti¬c knowledge could not be
scienti¬c knowledge. Accordingly, if we have no genus of a true [habit] other than
scienti¬c knowledge, intuition would be the principle [beginning, origin] of sci-
enti¬c knowledge. Moreover, a principle would be of a principle, and every [other
kind of knowledge] is similarly related to a pertinent fact [prŽgma]. (100b5“17)

Of the dispositions to know, only noetic intuition and science are always
true, disclose the true (al¯theuein), and pertain to that which is necessar-
ily and always. But, again, noetic intuition appears as more honorable:
intuition itself is said to be “more true” than science and to surpass
it in accuracy, while the principles intuition yields are found to be in
themselves more known. It could be said that the al¯theuein that intu-
ition names releases truth to a higher degree than epist¯m¯. But these
two modes of knowledge are not compared as though their difference
were merely a matter of degree in exactness. They are, instead, essentially
heterogeneous. The knowing of intuition does not take place with and
through logos: it is not discursive, does not share in the demonstrative and
Posterior Analytics: On Nous and Aisth¯ sis
e 37

inferential procedures constituting scienti¬c knowledge. Intuition of
principles is non-discursive, not mediated by the articulation in and of
logos. While scienti¬c knowledge is established and ¬rmed up by its apo-
dictic strategies, the contemplation of principles involves another kind
of certainty, namely, the unshakeable conviction immediately compelled
by the evidence of the phenomena themselves. Without proof or syllo-
gism, what is experienced induces assent. In Aristotle™s words, “[in the
case of induction,] the universal is proved through the being clear of the
particular [di‡ to“ d¦lon e²nai t¼ kaq¬ ™kaston]” (71a8“9). Accordingly,
it is far from accidental that in the Metaphysics the “science of wisdom,”
the strange science endowed with an awareness of itself and of its own
intuitive “ground,” is said to be necessitated and guided by the truth itself
(aut¯ h¯ al¯theia) (984b10), that is to say, by the things themselves (auto to
ee e
pragma) (984a18) or phenomena (986b31).
Noetic perception, then, concerns the non-mediated perception of
principles. It provides the origin of scienti¬c inquiry and, at the same
time, is radically discontinuous, indeed, disruptive vis-` -vis the linear
unfolding of such an inquiry. The apprehension of principles is not
knowledge meta logou, accomplished through logos, although it grounds
logos and discerns it in the phenomena perceived and ordered according
to the whole. Awareness of the noetic stratum by nature prior to scienti¬c
investigation may, alone, grant logos its proper positioning. It alone may
acknowledge logos as emerging out of phenomena (100a3“4) and anchor
logos, the discursive elaboration of scienti¬c demonstration, to experi-
ence. The possibility, always inherent in logos, of an emancipation from
experience and the corresponding need to prevent such an alienation,
such a drifting away that makes logos abstract, indeed formal, are central
concerns for Aristotle. As already announced, they constitute a leading
thread not only of the ethical discourse but of the meditation in the Meta-
physics as well. Again, we will have ample opportunity to return to this.

2.5. Lateness of Discursive Knowing
Let us merely note, to conclude this brief excursus through the Posterior
Analytics, that the remarks on science and intuition in the ¬nal section of
the treatise only magnify what was already stated at the very beginning.
The inquiry opens with a proposition both laconic and pregnant with
consequences: “All teaching and learning through discourse [dianohtikŸ]
come to be from previous [–k proÐparco…shv] knowledge [gnÛsewv]”
(71a1“2). All transmission and reception of knowledge that move across
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

(dia) intuition or thinking (no¯sis) in order to articulate themselves dis-
cursively presuppose a knowledge that must always already be there in
order for any exchange to take place at all. Since the ¬rst sentence, with
the reference to preceding knowledge we witness a bifurcation in the lan-
guage of knowing. We notice, concomitantly, the intimation that knowl-
edge of principles, of that from (ek) which discursive knowledge begins,
cannot be taught or learned “ not, anyway, conveyed according to the
way of human dialogue. The apprehension of principles emerges out of
the silent unfolding of life itself: it is inscribed in my own constitution, or,
rather, inscribes my constitution as never simply my own. I never subsist
aside from the apprehending, but am constituted in this exposure to and
undergoing of that which arrives, in this permanent openness.
The problem of prior and unmediated knowledge, adumbrated in
the beginning of the treatise, is retained as such, as a problem, in its
disquieting, unsettling potential. For such a knowledge is a prerequisite
for all human mediation, communication, and scienti¬c practices, yet
is not humanly established and remains, as a matter of fact, only dimly
illuminated. Discursive knowing is, in a sense, always already late: always
already requires and ¬nds a ground that exceeds it in worth and origi-
nary force. This does not, however, pose the problem of in¬nite regress.
As we shall see in addressing the ethical texts, such a problem is implicit
(though remarkably left unaddressed) in Aristotle™s statement that the
formation of habits always rests on a previous having, on previous habitu-
ations “ for, he maintains, in matters of human custom and construction,
actuality comes to be out of actuality. However, in the examination of the
origin of scienti¬c discourse, the prior knowledge always already required
does provide an absolute beginning. As we saw above, ¬rst principles as
such constitute a halt, the term beyond which no causal concatenation
may continue. And yet, we already observed and will, no doubt, notice
again that such an unquali¬ed priority remains by de¬nition impervious
to analysis. In virtue of itself, it poses dif¬culties that, for the scienti¬c
endeavor, are hardly less severe than the abyss of in¬nite regress.

3. architecture as ¬rst philosophy
From the preceding observations, we should become aware, in the ¬rst
place, of the originary problems that the practice of scienti¬c inves-
tigation and concomitant demonstrative operations entail and cannot
themselves properly grasp. Second, and even beyond the disquietudes of
science as such, we should notice the strangeness of the “science of
Architecture as First Philosophy 39

wisdom.” Aristotle elaborates on the tasks taken up in the Metaphysics
as follows:

Further, to understand [e«d”nai] things or to know [–p©stasqai] them for their
own sake belongs in the highest degree to the science of that which is known
or knowable [–pisthto“ –pistžmhƒ] in the highest degree; for he who pursues
[a¬ro…menov] knowing [–p©stasqai] for its own sake will pursue [a¬ržsetai] most
of all the science [–pistžmhn] taken in the highest degree, and such is the science
of that which is known or knowable [–pisthto“] in the highest degree; and those
which are known or knowable [–pistht‡] in the highest degree are ¬rst or the
causes, for it is because of these and from these that the other things are known
[gnwr©zetai], and not these because of the underlying subjects [Ëpokeim”nwn].

The science unfolding in the treatises that will have received the title
of Metaphysics, thus, presents itself as a science proceeding in unfamiliar
ways, beyond science as demonstrability. For it concerns ¬rst principles,
which ground demonstrative procedures but are themselves indemon-
strable. What, in the Metaphysics, is termed science (epist¯m¯ ) or ¬rst phi-
losophy (philosophia pr¯t¯) falls outside demonstration. It deserves, there-
fore, to be addressed as “science,” with quotation marks signaling its
eccentricity. Despite the insistent claims (paradigmatically in Alpha 2)
that ¬rst philosophy is “free” because “not productive,” it remains the case
that this very peculiar “science” is essentially implicated in sensibility “
and this means, at once, in human action (praxis). After all, as is said in
the Posterior Analytics, the inductive operation by which one gains noetic
insight into principles out of sensing lies at the heart of dialectical and
rhetorical stipulations as well.10 This, as we shall see, is examined further
in the Topics.
The twofold claim put forth in this study, subsequently, is (1) that the
science articulated in the Metaphysics remains essentially “architectonic,”
that is to say, involved in human action and even human construction,
and (2) that, conversely, the domain of ethics must be considered in
its originary character, that is to say, in its ontological priority as well as
systematic comprehensiveness. Besides what has been highlighted so far,
at this point let us also add that Aristotle™s language itself offers innu-
merable occasions to call into question the rigid distinction between, on
the one hand, the designation of practical discourse as “architectonic”

10 “Rhetorical discourses, too, produce persuasion (sumpe©qousin) in the same way; for they
do so either through examples (di‡ paradeigm†twn), in which case there is an induction,
or through enthymemes, [each of] which, as such, is a syllogism” (71a9“11).
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

(arkhitektonikos) and, on the other hand, that of ¬rst philosophy as “com-
manding” (arkhikos) or “most commanding” (arkhik¯tatos). The ¬‚uidity of
the Aristotelian terminology deserves, in this connection, close scrutiny.

3.1. Terminology
3.1.1. The Discipline “Architectonic” and “Authoritative”
in the Highest Degree
Granted, Aristotle does indeed characterize ethical or political analysis
as pertaining to the order of making and to the operation of the master
artist (arkhitekt¯n). In Nicomachean Ethics, however, ethics or politics is said
to be “architectonic” in the sense of encompassing: “in every case the end
of the architectonic [science] is more choice-worthy than all the ends of
the [sciences] subordinate to it [t¤n Ëp¬ aÉt†], for the latter ends are
pursued for the sake of the former end” (1094a14“16). Aristotle spells
out more fully the implications of this:

[The highest end] would seem to belong to the [science or faculty] that is most
authoritative [kuriwt†thv] and architectonic in the highest degree [m†lista
ˆrcitektonik¦v]. Now politics appears to be such; for it is this which regulates
[diat†ssei] what sciences [–pisthmwn] are needed in a state and which of the sci-
ences should be learned by each [kind of individuals] and to what extent. . . . And
since this faculty uses the rest of the sciences and also legislates what they should
do [pr†ttein] and what they should abstain from doing, its end would include
[peri”coi ‹n] the ends of the others.(1094a27“b6)

It is ethical considerations that shape the very domain within which the
sciences may, then, take place and operate. In their very subsistence, fea-
tures, and practices, the sciences are arranged according to the exigencies
of the polis and the negotiations informing communal life. Because of this,
ethics (politics) is said to be most architectonic and authoritative. This is
also emphatically stated in the Politics, where Aristotle again insists on the
inherently ethical dimension of the search for the highest good: “In every
science and every art the end aimed at is a good; and the supreme good
and the good in the highest degree [m”giston d• kaª m†lista] depends
on the most authoritative [kuriwt†thƒ] faculty [d…namiv], which is poli-
tics” (1282b14“16). That the primacy of ethics or politics is indicated
in terms of its “architectonic,” that is, constructive character, may seem
to set it apart from the unquali¬ed eminence of ¬rst philosophy. And
yet, it is remarkable that the architectonic power and function of ethics
or politics is said to underlie and comprehend all other activities, most
Architecture as First Philosophy 41

notably those pertaining to the sciences. It could be said that the ethical
re¬‚ection is “architectonic” precisely because “most authoritative,” that
its power to shape, con¬gure, and build is at once the manifestation of
its overarching rule.

3.1.2. “Authoritativeness” of First Principles or Being
The fact that the “architectonic” investigation into praxis should be eluci-
dated by reference to “authoritativeness” (kuriot¯s) claims our attention
also because Aristotle consistently utilizes the language of “authoritative-
ness” in order to designate the unparalleled dignity of ¬rst principles or
being. Let us mention only a couple of moments from the Metaphysics
providing evidence in this regard. The ¬rst one attributes the trait of
authoritativeness to being itself:

But since combining [sumplokž] and dividing [dia©resiv] are in thought [diano©a„]
and not in things [pr†gmasi], and being in this sense is distinct from being in the
authoritative [kur©wv] sense (for thought attaches [to] [sun†ptei] or detaches
[ˆfaire±] [from the subject matter] either a what-it-is or a quality or a quan-
tity or something else), we must leave aside being as attribute and being as the
true. . . . And so, leaving these aside, we should examine the causes and principles
of being itself qua being [to“ Àntov aÉto“ t† a­tia kaª t‡v ˆrc‡v ¨ƒ Àn]. (1027b29“

Again, in the context of yet another remarkable meditation on what
would distinguish the “science of wisdom,” Aristotle attributes superla-
tive authoritativeness to the highest principle. This takes place as late as
treatise Kappa and is worth quoting:

Since there is a science of being qua being [to“ Àntov ¨ƒ Àn] and separable
[cwrist»n], we must inquire whether we should posit this to be the same as
physics or other than it in the highest degree. Physics is concerned with things
having in themselves a principle of motion, while mathematics is a theoretical
science and one concerned with things that remain the same but are not sepa-
rable [cwrist†]. Thus, there is a science distinct from these which is concerned
with separable [cwrist¼n] and immovable being [Àn], if indeed there is such a
beingness [oÉs©a], that is, one which is separable [cwristŸ] and immovable, as
we shall try to show [deikn…nai]. And if indeed there is such a nature [f…siv] in
beings [–n to±v o”sin], the divine [t¼ qe±on], too, would be in them [–nta“q™] if
anywhere [pou], and this nature would be the primary and most authoritative
principle [prÛth kaª kuriwt†th ˆrcž]. (1064a28“b1)

What is so noteworthy here is that, despite the insistence on the require-
ment of separability and the apparent distance asserted with respect to
physics, being itself, “being qua being,” is elaborated on in terms of
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

nature: a nature, phusis, separable and unmoved, which, if it could indeed
be shown, would have to be seen in beings, as belonging in them. Aristotle is
here asking us to think together, however unbearable the tension in such
a thinking may be, unmoved separability and inherence in that which is “
and to think being itself in and as such a togetherness. And if nature
thus understood were to be, that is to say, to be in and as beings, what
would thereby be indicated would be being in its magni¬cence, being as
“most authoritative principle.” It is in this way that Aristotle evokes the
divine and intimates the closeness, intimacy, indeed, the inherence of the
divine with respect to beings. And this inherence would be irreducible to
the immanence de¬ned by contraposition to transcendence: for it would
name a belonging, a dwelling-in precisely of that which remains transcen-
dent, in the sense that it transcends the order of demonstrative knowing
and even marks the limits or borders of such a knowing. Of course, given
the semantic range of the language of kuriot¯s, the designation of ethics
as “architectonic” and “most authoritative” (kuri¯tat¯) is hardly restrictive.
In addition to this, and conversely, passages such as the one just quoted
emphatically disclose the study of ¬rst principles as altogether involved
in the physical, the phenomenal, and, hence, the practical.
Thus, the “architectonic” characterization of ethical discourses must
be understood in light of the noblest authoritativeness, which more fully
conveys the sense of ethics as all-encompassing. Indeed, it cannot be
overemphasized that the language of authoritativeness is drawn on in
order to characterize the discourses of ethics and ¬rst philosophy alike.
Authoritativeness appears, then, as the common thread linking ethics
and what will have been called “metaphysics” “ the “architectonic” and
the “most commanding” modes of inquiry. First philosophy, the “science”
of wisdom studying the most authoritative ¬rst principles, is itself most
authoritative, kuri¯tat¯. In Metaphysics 997a11ff., Aristotle posits that the
science examining the principles of demonstration eminently possesses
authoritativeness and priority, thus complementing the previous descrip-
tion of ¬rst philosophy as “most commanding” (ˆrcikwt†th) (982b4).11

11 Incidentally, in the context of the latter passage Aristotle remarkably exposes the inquiry
of ¬rst philosophy (the “most commanding” study of ¬rst principles and causes) as the
discipline “which knows [gnwr©zousa] that for the sake of which each action is done, and
this is the good in each case [tˆgaq¼n —k†stou], and, comprehensively, the highest good
[t¼ Šriston] in the whole of nature” (982b5“7). Just as authoritativeness constitutes the
common thread of ethics and ¬rst philosophy, so the “most commanding” investigation
concerns at once ¬rst principles and ethical directives “ indeed, in a vigorous synthetic
gesture ¬rst and ethical principle(s) are indicated as virtually indiscernible.
Architecture as First Philosophy 43

3.1.3. “Authoritativeness” of Choice or Desire
The terminology pertaining to kuriot¯s is also employed to relate the
authoritatively decisive function of choice (hairesis, proairesis). Take, for
example, the discussion on “potency according to logos” (dun†meiv aÉt¤n
met‡ l»gou) in Metaphysics at 1047b31ff. Here it is pointed out that such a
potentiality, unlike that without logos, can produce contrary effects: while a
body is subject to only one law of gravity, in virtue of the knowledge of her
art a doctor can either heal or kill. Aristotle then proceeds to af¬rm that,
because it is impossible that the two contraries should be brought about
at the same time (hama), “there must be something else which decides
[something that is eminently decisive, authoritative] [k…rion], and by this
I mean desire [Àrexin] or choice [proa©resin]. For whichever of two things
an animal desires decisively [authoritatively] [kur©wv], this it will bring
about [poižsei] when it has the potency to do so and approaches that
which can be acted upon” (1048a10“13). This consideration, of course,
brings to our attention the peculiar fact of powers indifferently produc-
ing opposite outcomes: abilities acquired through practice or discursive
teaching, as is exemplarily the case with the arts (tekhnai ), may be exer-
cised in opposite directions. They may allow for saving as well as anni-
hilating, building as well as destroying. What is decisive, what ultimately
has authority in the employment, deployment, and guidance of such
resources is choice “ and the movement, motion, and motivation con-
comitant with it. Without the desirous movement of choice, “technical”
ability and in general all abilities accompanied by logos remain indifferent,
or even unmoved, inert “ in fact, they do not reach actual articulation.
In this perspective, yet again, the primordiality of the question of ¯thos
becomes perspicuous.
Choice, then, is a certain principle of movement. Indeed, one of
the de¬nitions of “principle” or “beginning” (ˆrcž) in Metaphysics Delta

that in accordance with whose choice [proa©resin] that which is in motion moves
or that which is changing changes; for example, the magistracies in the cities and
the dynasties [dunaste±ai] and kingships and tyrannies are called “principles,”
and so are the arts [t”cnai], and of these the architectonic ones [the master arts]
[ˆrcitektonikaª] in the highest degree. (1013a10“14)

But what should be underscored, again, is the way in which kuriot¯s and
related terms, besides designating the authoritativeness of being itself
and the highest principle(s), signify the authoritativeness that orients “
the decisive factor or motive force determining a course of action or
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

actualization, that is to say, the course of coming to be. Or, perhaps, the
authoritativeness of being might precisely be speci¬ed in terms of its
power to steer and direct, and, in this way, the reference to the orienting
power might simply constitute an incisive explication of what is implied
in the authority of being. At any rate, as kuri¯tat¯ ¬rst philosophy comes to
be situated back into the very heart of ethical concerns. After all, it should
not have gone unobserved that, in a passage quoted already, the pursuit
of ¬rst philosophy is disclosed precisely as a matter of choice and striving,
of hairesis, which once more points to the non-scienti¬c ground of the
sciences, and above all of that peculiar “science” said to be “of wisdom”:
“he who pursues [a¬ro…menov] knowing [–p©stasqai] for its own sake will
pursue in the highest degree [m†lista a¬ržsetai] the science taken in
the highest degree [m†lista –pistžmhn], and such is the science of that
which is known or knowable in the highest degree [m†lista –pisthto“],”
that is, that which is ¬rst or the causes (982a32“b2).

3.2. First Philosophy and the Life Chosen
Beyond strictly terminological considerations, Aristotle is even more
explicit, in presenting ¬rst philosophy in its exquisitely “architectonic”
or ethico-political implications, when he attempts to set it apart from
the apparently indiscernible practices of sophistry and dialectic. In Meta-
physics Gamma, after noting that the examination of being qua being
constitutes the proper task of the philosopher, he continues:
Now sophistry and dialectic busy themselves with the same genus of things
as philosophy, but philosophy differs from dialectic in the turn of its capac-
ity [dun†mewv], and from sophistry in the life chosen [to“ b©ou t¦ƒ proair”sei].
Dialectic is tentative concerning that which philosophy knows, sophistry makes
the appearance of knowing without knowing. (1004b22“26)

Leaving aside the distinction between philosophy and dialectic “ a dis-
tinction in and of itself elusive and gesturing toward the greater power
or ability of philosophy to contemplate at once both sides in a dialectical
engagement, while as such the exercise of dialectic would lack such a
power of bringing together12 “ it should be underlined that the decisive

12 In Metaphysics Beta, while considering how the recognition, formulation, and elaboration
of various manners of aporia are essential to the exercise of the “science of wisdom,” even
to its delimitation and teleological clari¬cation, Aristotle adds a further feature distinctive
of ¬rst philosophy, namely, the ability to take into consideration, or even assume, diverse
and con¬‚icting positions. As he puts it, “with regard to judging [pr¼v t¼ kr±nai], one
is necessarily better off having heard all the arguments [l»gwn ˆkhko»ta p†ntwn],
like one who has heard both parties in a lawsuit or both sides in a dispute” (995b2“4).
Architecture as First Philosophy 45

feature distinguishing philosophy from sophistry is the decision concern-
ing one™s life. The way in which life is pursued, the choice orienting one
toward life or, in fact, in life, is precisely that which, prior to all searching
involvement, has always already determined a posture either as philosoph-
ical or as sophistical. Most importantly, the motive force sustaining the
philosophical endeavor seems to be marked by a genuine concern with
being, a concern that is least of all appeased by the spectacle of apparent
wisdom and concomitant repute. This reveals choice, most notably the
choice of the philosophical endeavor, as least of all a matter of rational
(self-)determination, let alone of willfulness. Choice emerges, rather, as a
matter of compulsion, of being drawn to that which is perceived as desir-
able. It is such an irreducibly pre-scienti¬c commitment, such a choice
preceding and animating all seeking, such an indeterminately prior hav-
ing said yes to the provocation of wonder (982b11ff.), which ultimately
de¬nes the “science of wisdom” and sets it above “ or beneath “ all other
manners of human undertaking.
It is because of its being “science in the highest degree” that the “sci-
ence” of wisdom involves premises as well as a manner of proceeding
that exceed scienti¬c methodology and, most decisively, attempts to be
mindful of this “ for that which, by nature and by its own nature, is
¬rst and knowable in the highest degree is not the subject matter of
science in the main and ordinary sense. The highest “science” is pre-
cisely that manner of re¬‚ection that begins to cultivate the awareness
of the excessive character of its own beginnings and developments “
that manner of re¬‚ection in which the consciousness of its dependence
on that which exceeds it remains active, wakeful. It is far from acciden-
tal, then, that Aristotle should often turn to the language of belief and
opinion in connection with the premises of the sciences or even the
“supreme” (arkhik¯tat¯) science itself. In Metaphysics Alpha, while observ-
ing how this science is “for its own sake” and therefore “free,” yet also
becomes possible only once “almost all the necessities [of life]” are sup-
plied, “both for comfort and activity [diagwgŸn]” (982b22“23), he delin-
eates such a pursuit in its altogether human but simultaneously divine

For the most divine science is the most honorable, and a science would be most
divine in only two ways: if god in the highest degree would have it, or if it were
a science of the divine [things]. This science alone happens to be divine in both
ways; for the god seems to all [doke± t¤n a«t©wn pŽsin] to be one of the causes and
a certain principle, and god alone or in the highest degree would possess such a
science. (983a5“10)
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

It is by reference to that which is commonly (indeed, unanimously) held,
what “seems to all,” that the priority and divinity of this science is con-
¬rmed. Within the human community that which imposes itself on every-
one and compels assent in virtue of its evidence, literally of its visibility,
becomes founding. Of course, let us notice in passing, it is remarkable
that, even according to the shared view, the god would not be the cause
and principle without any further quali¬cation, and may not be the sole
repository of knowledge.

3.3. Ethics as Ful¬llment of First Philosophy
“Metaphysics,” then, which in the order of inquiry comes before ethics,
¬nds in ethics its ground, explication, and self-awareness “ ¬nds in ethics
that which is prior in the order of being, that is to say, by nature. In the
Metaphysics, presumably referring to ¬rst philosophy, Aristotle af¬rms that
“the most commanding [ˆrcikwt†th] science, and in command of any
subordinate science [Ëphreto…shv], is the one that knows [gnwr©zousa]
that for the sake of which each thing is done [–sti prakt”on ™kaston], and
this is the good in each case, and, in general, the highest good [Šriston] in
the whole of nature [–n t¦ƒ f…sei p†shƒ]” (982b4“7). This statement is usu-
ally read as announcing that the ethical discussion, regarding “the good
in each case,” would start once the good “in the whole of nature” would
be established through the investigation of the “science of wisdom” “
and that the good at stake in ethics would be the exclusively human
good, which, with its limits and partiality, should be situated within the
compass of the good without quali¬cation. In other words, the passage
would yet again underscore the secondary and dependent role of ethics
vis-` -vis “metaphysics.” Yet, broadly speaking, it could be replied that, in
its very character and possibility, wisdom rests on essentially ethical condi-
tions. More speci¬cally, at certain crucial junctures in the ethico-political
works Aristotle refuses to relegate ethics (politics) to the ancillary func-
tion of a science focusing on the strictly human good and reclaims this
discourse in its all-embracing dignity. In the above quoted passage in the
Politics, Aristotle notes: “In every science and every art the end aimed at
is a good; and the supreme good and the good in the highest degree [is
aimed at] in the most authoritative faculty [m”giston d• kaª m†lista –n t¦ƒ
kuriwt†thƒ pas¤n], which is politics” (1282b15“16). In the Nicomachean
Ethics, just before the designation of ethics as “architectonic,” he makes
it clear that it is the task of this investigation to study the good as such, in
the highest sense:
Architecture as First Philosophy 47

Now if of things we do there is an end which we wish [boul»meqa] for its own
sake whereas the other things we wish for the sake of this end, and if we do not
choose [a¬ro…meqa] everything for the sake of something else (for in this manner
the process will go on to in¬nity and our desire [Àrexin] will be empty and vain),
then clearly this end would be the good and the highest good [Šriston]. Will not
the knowledge [gn¤siv] of it, then, have a great in¬‚uence on our way of life, and
would we not [therefore] be more likely to attain that which is needed [d”ontov],
like archers who have a mark to aim at? If so, we should try to grasp, in outline at
least [peirat”on t…pw„], what that end is and to which of the faculties or sciences
it belongs. It would seem to belong to the one that is most authoritative and most
architectonic. Now politics appears to be such. (1094a19“28)

Here it becomes perspicuous that glimpsing at the good itself, the good
without quali¬cation (to ariston), far from being a purely contemplative
act and exceeding ethical considerations, remains an essentially ethical
matter: the ability not only to grasp the good for and of human beings, but
also to situate it in the context of that which may exceed human concerns,
seems to be all the more ethically relevant, indeed, to carry genuinely eth-
ical implications and guide human ¯thos most pertinently. For only in the
attempt to catch a glimpse of the good constituting the ultimate end, the
good embracing all partial ends and delimiting the sphere of ¬nality,
may human comportment ¬nd its measure and direction, however ten-
tative. And, conversely, it is only through the human involvements and
operations always already under way that an inquiry into “the good itself”
¬nds its structure. Thus, on the basis of these observations, we come to
wonder whether there may indeed be a purely contemplative act, or even
whether the theoretical gesture, contemplation as such, might perhaps
demand to be thought least of all in terms of separation from worldly,
human affairs. We will, no doubt, have to return to this.

3.4. The Perfection of Imprecision
For the moment, let us, in passing and to conclude, call attention to the
two following points. In the ¬rst place, by reference to the passage just
quoted (1094a19ff.), we should be mindful of the role of desirous striv-
ing (hairesis, boul¯sis, orexis) in the movement toward and determination
of the good. Desire is so decisive, indeed, that here Aristotle anchors
to its logic the argumentation concerning in¬nite regress: the process
of referring a ¬nal and moving cause to a prior and more comprehen-
sive one cannot go on to in¬nity, for, we are told, desire would become
“empty and vain.” In other words, what desire desires, however scarcely
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

de¬nite and remote, cannot and must not be altogether elusive, unreach-
able, let alone impossible. In the lack of a limit and delimitation of its
pursuit, desire would be paralyzed by a sense of futility. It is, therefore,
the very fact of desire, the experience of desire as we know it, which in
and of itself exposes the impossibility and even the inconceivability of
in¬nite regress: in light of human evidence in¬nite regress makes no
In the second place, we note that Aristotle says that, through the ethico-
political investigation, we should aim at seizing the highest end at least
“in outline,” tupoi. After the statement just quoted, he further corrobo-
rates this sense of tentativeness and approximation by warning that it is
not appropriate nor, for that matter, “the mark of someone educated”
(1094b23) to expect absolute clarity and “precision” (1094b24) from
the ethical inquiry. It is all-important here to avoid reading these cau-
tious remarks as the exclusive quali¬cation of the ethical discourse and
contrasting the latter to the allegedly exhaustive and unproblematically
adequate discourse of the “science of wisdom.” It is not the case that we
should perceive the ethical investigation as in and of itself imprecise and
the articulation of ¬rst philosophy as paradigmatically precise. If the for-
mer is not geometrically or demonstratively argued, this is because of the
over¬‚owing complexity of its theme, for “beautiful and just things, with
which politics is concerned,” present “many ¬‚uctuations and differences”
(1094b14“16). Thus, far from being imprecise in the sense of partial and
imperfect, ethics is presented “roughly and in outline” (1094b20), in
fact, in the register of dialectic and persuasion, precisely because it under-
takes to comprehend a domain of unparalleled vastness. Its non-mathematical
tenor is therefore the ultimate mark of propriety and appropriateness
to the subject matter, to the nature and comprehensiveness of the task
undertaken. Mathematical precision seems to be an inappropriate, even

13 Compare the argumentation concerning in¬nite regress in Metaphysics Alpha Elatton.
Even if the pressing concern in this context seems to be preserving the possibility of
knowledge, Aristotle™s statement that in¬nite regress would “eliminate knowing [–p©s-
tasqai], for it is not possible for us to understand [e«d”nai] unless we come to the indi-
visibles [Štoma]” (994b20“21), comes as an afterthought. What precedes and frames it
is a re¬‚ection altogether ethically in¬‚ected, that is, oriented to and by considerations
regarding action and motivation: “Those who introduce an in¬nite series are unaware
[lanq†nousin] of the fact that they are eliminating the nature of the good, although no
one would try to do anything if he did not intend to come to a limit [p”rav]. Nor would
there be intellect [no“v] in beings; for, at any rate, he who has an intellect always acts
[pr†ttei] for the sake of something and this is a limit, for the end is a limit [t¼ g‡r t”lov
p”rav –st©n]” (994b12“16).
Architecture as First Philosophy 49

unsophisticated criterion vis-` -vis the in¬nitely subtle, wandering, and
self-differing unraveling of life.

3.5. “Physical” Character of First Philosophy and “Metaphysical”
Character of Ethics
Nor may the discourse of the “science of wisdom” lay claim to ade-
quacy and mathematical exactness. We already variously discussed the
non-scienti¬c character of the principles of the sciences in general and
considered in particular the non-scienti¬c character of the “science of wis-
dom.” Let us simply underscore, at this point, that the motif and motive
of desire lies at the heart of the research taken up in the Metaphysics “
a research rather infelicitously understood as “metaphysical,” since its
questions are exposed and developed in terms that do not appear to
point “beyond” the physical, the embodied, or the phenomenal, in brief,
beyond the broad problematic of life. Here we simply recall that in Book
Alpha of this work, in the course of his survey of the predecessors, Aristotle
reserves a rather unusual treatment for Hesiod and Parmenides. While,
without noticeable hesitations, he assesses and shows the one-sidedness
of the meditations of most forefathers, in the case of these two ¬gures he
seems to vacillate and postpones a ¬nal word. Hesiod and Parmenides™
hypothesis of love, er¯s, as a principle “of beings” (984b21) or “in beings”
(984b24), that is, as “cause of what is beautiful” and that in virtue of
which “motion belongs to beings” (984b21“22), is never quite refuted.
It is in fact explicitly left suspended, but eventually ¬nds an echo, or even
a magni¬cation, in Lambda, where Aristotle unfolds his understanding
of er¯s as mover. This will be the culminating discourse on intellect, nous,
as that which moves through desire (orexis), indeed, as that which moves
qua beloved, er¯menos. This trajectory is anticipated in the suspension of
judgment accorded to the ancient poet and thinker in the opening Book:

One might suspect that Hesiod was the ¬rst to seek such a cause, or someone
else who posited love [›rwta] or desire [–piqum©an] as a principle in things, as
Parmenides does also; for the latter, in describing the generation of the all [to“
pant¼v], says:
love ¬rst of all the gods she planned.
And Hesiod says,
¬rst of all chaos came to be,
and then broad breasted earth . . .
and love amid all the immortals supreme.
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

And these suggest that there must be in beings some cause that will move them
and bring them together. As to how we are to assign priority to these thinkers
concerning these beliefs, let this await later judgment [kr©nein]. (984b23“32)

In lack of a thematic assessment of these sayings, the resurfacing of the
language of desire and er¯s in the discourse on the unmoved mover
appears as an implicit con¬rmation, or at least as a gesture toward the
archaic hypothesis, vigorously assimilated and rearticulated in Aristotle™s
discourse. Understood as “that which is desired [½rekt¼n]” (1072a26)
and as the “beloved [–rÛmenon]” (1072b3), the ¬nal cause and unmoved
mover is remarkably illuminated in terms of beauty, that is, of phenom-
enality, for “the desired [–piqumht¼n] is that which appears beautiful
[fain»menon kal»n]” (1072a28), that which shines forth with ennobling
glow. And it is because of such an appearing that we desire, that we
are moved and compelled to pursue it: “we desire [½reg»meqa] because it
seems [doke±], rather than it seems because we desire” (1072a29). Accord-
ingly, that which moves (nous, the god, the good, indeed the best) is intu-
ited by reference to life, that is, to energy in its utmost plenitude: as a
matter of being so fully activated and actualized, at work in such an unmit-
igated way that no decay may be conceived of it. In Aristotle™s words, “life
belongs [to the god], for the actuality [–n”rgeia] of the intellect is life
[zwž] and [the intellect] is actuality” (1072b27).14
Life, then, however “wondrous” and “eternal” (1072b25“30), de¬nes
the domain within which the inquiry of ¬rst philosophy unfolds. Hardly
“metaphysical,” such an inquiry would not so much entail a redirection
of the inquiring gaze “beyond” the “physical,” but rather realize the irre-
ducibility of life to human life, of the cosmos to human architecture, of
phusis to human construction. It would thereby situate the human within
that which cannot be brought back to the human, while preserving in view
the phenomenal character of the whole: that which exceeds the order
of the human may not automatically be conceived as a matter of tran-
scendence, let alone of transcendence of the sensible or phenomenal.
As we shall see in the course of our analysis of the Nicomachean Ethics, the
inquiry of ¬rst philosophy is such that it distinctively redirects the gaze
from human interactions to that which encompasses all: but it remains a

14 In De caelo Aristotle develops the plenitude of energy, the full actuality of the divine in
terms of unending life, and therefore motion: “The actuality [–n”rgeia] of the god is
immortality, which is eternal life [zwŸ ˆ¹diov]. Hence, of necessity, to the divine belongs
eternal motion [k©nhsin ˆ¹dion]” (286a9“11). In the Cratylus, by reference to the heavenly
bodies (sun, moon, earth, stars), Plato derives the etymology of the word theos, god, from
thein, moving or rushing (397d).
Architecture as First Philosophy 51

gaze gazing at altogether visible beings “ indeed, at those most shining
bodies (phaner¯tata) in the sky (1141b2).15
Conversely, it could be said that it is ethics that presents properly meta-
physical traits, although saying this already entails a semantic recon¬gu-
ration of the term “metaphysics.” It could be suggested that the ethical
re¬‚ection is “beyond phusis” in the sense that it concerns what is not by
nature, not simply and automatically determined by nature, although nei-
ther separate from it nor against it. Or, which is the same, it could be said
that ethics is “beyond phusis” in the sense that it concerns what may still
be according to nature but, to us, illegibly so. Accordingly, ethics would
address the possible harbored in phusis, hidden within it, that is, that
which would reveal and unravel nature in its mutability, in its indetermi-
nate margins, availability to interaction, and openness to transformation.
Ethics would concern what, by our lights, is not necessitated by nature
but remains within the compass of nature as its complement or, better,
supplement. Ethics would thus indicate that which, in and of nature,
remains out-law with respect to nature, in the sense that it is either not
ruled by or not intelligibly ruled by nature. It would pertain to human
re¬‚ection on ethical matters to order that which nature hands over to
human beings with a certain indifference and only partial directives. It is
in the context of such an abandonment on part of nature that what has
been called “human freedom” becomes necessary.
In this peculiar sense, then, ethics would be metaphysics. And it would
be ¬rst philosophy, because it would concern that which is ¬rst in the
orders of being and of intuitive knowing “ that which, precisely as unex-
amined or even unconscious, will always already have grounded all other
inquiries, most notably that of the “science of wisdom.” Indeed, in the
order of discursive knowing, of human inquiry, ethical awareness and
ethical inquiry may well have appeared as the last, crowning step. Before
ethics, will have taken place the various investigations outwardly directed,
the sciences, even the meditation on the formal (“logical”) structures of
inquiry as such. And yet, all manners of study taking place before ethics
will have been late with respect to the always already of the ethical framing.
This fact, which is incipiently addressed in certain discourses of the “sci-
ence of wisdom,” is made perspicuous through the ethical analysis. Ethics,

15 In the Metaphysics, too, Aristotle employs the language of appearance in order to charac-
terize the intelligible objects. In considering the dif¬culty pertaining to the attainment
of truth, he observes: “Perhaps the cause of this dif¬culty . . . is in us and not in the facts.
For as the eyes of bats are to the light of day, so is the intellect of our soul to those which
in their nature are most evident [fanerÛtata] of all” (993b9“11).
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

thus, comes to appear also as the sustained engagement with the ineffa-
ble, with that which, silently, operates from the beginning and informs
all speaking and other pursuits “ as the commitment to articulate the
silence within, to interrogate the beliefs and practices from which alone
any discourse, whether scienti¬c or theological, receives its authority.
The study that follows, closely examining the text of the Nicomachean
Ethics and supplementing it with references to relevant moments in the
other ethical and political treatises, will therefore put into focus what
could be called an “implied ethics.” Far from ethics understood deriva-
tively or reductively, let alone as “applied,” the present analysis undertakes
to let the ethical re¬‚ection emerge in its “¬rstness,” in its primordiality,
as that re¬‚ection that uncovers what is ¬rst in itself, harbored within what
is always already ¬rst for us, that is, within our actions, endeavors, and

Main Section
Ethik¯n Nikomakhei¯n Alpha to Eta
o o

The Aristotelian treatise transmitted under the title Ethik¯n Nikomakhei¯n
o o
presents itself as a comprehensive re¬‚ection on the problem of human
behavior. The word ¯thos signi¬es precisely disposition, character in the
sense of psychological con¬guration, and hence comportment, the way
in which one bears oneself. However, the semantic range of the term
exceeds this determination and signals that it must be situated in the
broader context of custom, of shared usage, and even understood in
the archaic but abiding sense of the accustomed place where the living
(animals, plants, or otherwise) ¬nd their haunt or abode.
When describing Paris in shining armor rushing through the Trojan
citadel in order to reach Hector, the poet of the Iliad resorts to the image
of a well-fed horse breaking free from captivity, glorious in its splendor
as it gallops “to the haunts and pastures of mares [met† t¬ ¢qea kaª nom¼n
¯ppwn]” (VI.511). Ethos is here the place in which a particular animal
belongs, where others of the same kind gather and thrive. Belonging
somewhere, then, means to ¬nd there the possibility of ¬‚ourishing, of
¬nding the most appropriate conditions to unfold and become whatever
a being happens to be. The free horse at once moves in the direction of
the haunts of horses, not unlike the way in which earth moves downward,
in the direction of earth, and ¬re upward, in the direction of ¬re. A similar
use of the term ¯thos is to be found in a passage from Hesiod magni¬cently
rendering the grimness of winter. Here Hesiod, after a stark evocation
of the roar of Boreas through the immense forest, contrasts the sense
of protection enjoyed by the young girl at home with her mother to
the misery of the beasts pierced by the northern wind blowing, and in

Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

particular to the “boneless one,” the octopus, “in its ¬reless house and
wretched haunts [›n t¬ ˆp…rw„ o­kw„ kaª ¢qesi leugal”oisin]” (Works 525).
But ¯thos may also indicate the place or environment where properly
belong forms of life understood in a broader sense. In the Phaedrus,
Plato develops his vision of the “grammatical garden” and articulates
the analogy between sowing seeds in the earth and disseminating words
(logoi ) in the soul. In this context, the word ¯thos designates the place
where plants abide, that is, the soil out of which they grow, to which
corresponds the “psychological place” where the logoi abide and multi-
ply. Indeed, Socrates says, dialectic entails sowing (speirein) and planting
(phuteuein) “in a ¬tting soul words with knowledge . . . which are not fruit-
less, but harbor seed from which there grow [fu»menoi] in other places [–n
Šlloiv ¢qesi] other [words] suf¬cient to grant this [ongoing generation]
forever immortal, and which make the one who has them happy to the
highest degree humanly possible” (276e“277a). Simultaneously soil and
character, a matter of phusis and of psukh¯, habitat and habituation, ¯thos
e e
names the manifold of fecundity sustaining plant and logos alike.
In a remarkable passage reporting the records of the Egyptians,
through the sign ¯thos Herodotus conveys the regularity of the sun™s
daily trajectory, the sameness, stability, and hence familiarity of the sun™s
motion in its repeated returns. In this sense, the language of ¯thos desig-
nates the “customary place” (or, in fact, places) of the sun™s course, the
dwelling of the moving sun: “Four times in this period, they said, the
sun rose away from its usual places [–x  q”wn]; twice it came up where
it now goes down, and twice went down where it now comes up. And
nothing in Egypt changed as a consequence, either in the produce from
the earth and the river, or in matters concerning sickness and death”
(Historia II.142).
Finally, ¯thos names the exquisitely human abode “ most basically, but
not only, in the sense of the land in which a people settles, the geo-political
space in which a community is as such constituted and lives. Hesiod, for
instance, after recalling that many of the divine race of heroes found
death in war, whether at Thebes or Troy, tells that Zeus gave to those
remaining “a living and an abode [¢qe¬ ] apart from human beings . . . at
the limits of earth. And they dwell without sorrow in the islands of the
blessed along the shore of deep-swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom
the wheat-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit sprouting thrice a year”
(Works 167ff.). In turn, Herodotus recounts that the Cimmerians had to
move into Asia because “driven away from their abodes [–x –q”wn] by the
nomad Scythians” (Historia I.15).
Human Initiative and Its Orientation to the Good 55

On the ground of its manifold signi¬cation, then, and limiting our-
selves to human preoccupations, we could say that ¯thos designates the
manner of action and psychological conformation wherein an individ-
ual as well as a community ¬nd their home. Aristotle™s treatise focuses
on that which pertains to ¯thos, on ta ¯thika, those aspects of demeanor
e e
revealing character and the presence (or absence) of a sense of appropri-
ateness, adequacy, precision, or even tactfulness with respect to any given
circumstance. It could be said already, in an anticipatory fashion, that the
central concern of the ethical investigation will be the response to the
requirements inherent in any situation. That is to say, the ethical inquiry
acknowledges and formulates the task of harmonizing (1) the needs and
inclinations leading one to act and (2) the structure of the place and time
of the action. The attunement of action and circumstance for the sake of
thriving, that is, the building or con¬guring of action and circumstance
in their unity is, thus, the ultimate, if elusive, task toward which ethics
projects itself. But “circumstance” means the ever-unraveling surround-
ings, the unfolding of time in its locally singular stances. Ethos comes
to name the form of the moment, the shape of each moment, of this
moment in which one dwells, lives. The dwelling is the moment.

1. human initiative and its orientation to the good
The treatise opens with the statement: “Every art and every inquiry, every
action and every intention is thought to aim at a certain good; hence
human beings have expressed themselves well in declaring the good to
be that at which all things aim” (1094a1“3). Any and all activities oriented
to bringing forth (tekhn¯ ), as well as all manners of pursuing an investi-
gation (methodos), action in the broadest sense (praxis), and the blend of
inclination and discerning choice that sustains action (proairesis) appear
to human beings to tend to the good, however this should be under-
stood. Indeed, human beings recognize the good as that which orients
everything. The Platonic reminiscence could not be more explicit in this
inception: transcending not only practical endeavors, but the pursuit of
knowledge as well, whether “technical” or properly scienti¬c, the good
is intuitively assumed as that which, alone, may determine the course of
development of every human enterprise (one thinks here of the “divided
line” in Republic VI). The good names that for the sake of which every-
thing is ultimately choice-worthy and, qua ultimate end of action, decides
with regard to that which, from within the horizons of a single science,
productive project, or practice, would remain undecidable.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

What is here brought to our attention is the peculiar and dis-
quieting resourcefulness allotted to human beings. Their multifarious
entrepreneurship includes investigative initiatives as well as interventions
that can drastically reshape the human environment. The human ability
radically to alter the world between earth and sky, to harness or intervene
in phusis, ultimately to bring forth from non-being into being bespeaks
a resourcefulness arresting in its terribleness, because potentially both
fecund and destructive, yet in itself utterly indifferent to its orientation
toward realization or af¬‚iction (Antigone 365“75). From within the single
disciplines or practices one cannot retrieve directions regarding how to
guide human ventures. Only a concern with that which exceeds the single
discipline and constitutes the common aim can provide such a direction.
Through the four terms in the opening statement, tekhn¯, methodos,
praxis, and proairesis, is suggested the unity of re¬‚ective, productive, eval-
uative, and overall practical modes of comportment. The whole range of
human enactment, of human modes of self-manifestation, seems to “aim
at a certain good.” Nothing is left out, let alone any allegedly separate,
“purely theoretical” activity, which would not participate in the orienta-
tion toward the highest good, the good tout court. Or, in other words,
nothing is left out that would not relate to, strive for, desire the good.
Remarkably enough, this opening, which sets the tone for the rest of the
discussion, presents doxical or dialectical quali¬cations. It is based on
consensus, on views that are common and agreed upon “ if not uncriti-
cally accepted. The gathering of all proximate ¬nality under the supreme
end that the good names is what human beings somewhat immediately
acknowledge. The discussion starts with an acknowledgment of such a
shared acknowledgment. It starts by making the sharing explicit and the-
matic, by bringing it to consciousness. Ethical re¬‚ection will largely have
to do with the analysis of such a starting point in its innumerable facets:
it will have to do with the attempt to take apart the beginning, to analyze
it and own it at a deeper level.

1.1. Theme and Performance of the Ethical Discourse:
“Implied Ethics”
It should also be pointed out that the discussion unfolds simultaneously
on two levels, one that could be called thematic and another that presents
itself as genuinely self-re¬‚ective. Indeed, alongside the thematization of
human practice, we detect a constant meta-theoretical or meta-thematic
concern. The investigation opens and develops displaying a sustained
Human Initiative and Its Orientation to the Good 57

awareness regarding its own status precisely as an investigation, a preoc-
cupation with questions of methodos. The investigation watches itself as it
proceeds, remains mindful of its how, of its manner of proceeding, no less
than of its what, its subject matter. The inquiry is not simply about praxis,
but reveals itself in its practical dimension, in its performative character,
that is, in its comportment. For instance, the ethical discussion will raise
the question concerning the degree of precision that it is ¬tting and “edu-
cated” to expect of itself, or consider its own impotence vis-` -vis listeners
who are inexperienced and did not enjoy an appropriate upbringing. Or
it will repeatedly underscore its own awareness of its dialectical ground.
Discourse (logos) and the thought it articulates are not extraneous to
the domain of ¯thos: on the contrary, they consciously expose themselves
from the start in their self-interrogation, in their concern with how to pro-
ceed and become. Above all, they expose themselves as resting on and
stemming from human practices, from what human beings have shared,
thought in common, and thus formulated. The treatise, then, takes shape
in its newness and tentativeness: this is a ¬rst, original attempt at a sys-
tematic re¬‚ection on ¯thos, a re¬‚ection explicating the implicit, exposing
it and making it thematic. While doing so, however, the discourse keeps
an eye on itself, as it were, re¬‚ects on itself, practices on itself the same
degree of attention brought to the phenomena of human comportment.
It is at once a path traced for the ¬rst time, hodos, and a path looked upon
with awareness, as though already traced and followed again “ a methodos.
Already announcing itself, thus, is what could be called an “implied
ethics”: ethics implied in the unraveling of the discourse on ethics and,
indeed, of any discourse as such. Aristotle™s ethics lets such an “implica-
tion” become visible, explicit. In this way, ethics presents itself as a dis-
course recognizing itself not as autonomous but, in fact, always already
belonging in the fabric of our actions and endeavors; a discourse uncov-
ering what is ¬rst, however mostly unseen, within itself.
In the order of human knowledge, ethics will have come after even
metaphysics. Only at the culminating moment of the investigations tak-
ing the human being outside and away from itself, will the human being
wonder about the conditions of human undertaking, about the human
being itself. Ethics is the only science that appears as genuinely self-
conscious, aware, self-re¬‚ective concerning its own proceeding, the sci-
ence for which proceeding itself, and the course traced, become an issue.
The way of proceeding of discourse becomes an issue, and an especially
problematic one, because ethics recognizes its own ¬rst principles as non-
demonstrative and its ground as constitutively dialectical, that is, resulting
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

from communal stipulations. This is the “science” that most forcefully cir-
cles back to its beginning as non-scienti¬c, and hence cannot close the
circle. In this sense, it could be said that ethics provides a sort of “cri-
tique of reason,” in the sense of an analysis and delimitation thereof.
With ethics, philosophy, ¬rst philosophy, is brought to open up to what
exceeds it, to its own excessive conditions: in the impossibility of including
and enclosing its own conditions in a gesture of perfect self-possession,
¬rst philosophy ruptures itself, presents itself in a kind of dehiscence, of
readiness for its own self-transcendence. Paradoxically, this is precisely
what signals a certain completion of the philosophical inquiry: comple-
tion not in the sense of coming to rest in the end, let alone in the full
accomplishment of the philosophical task, but rather in the sense of the
philosophical awareness of belonging and being situated in that which is
not under philosophical mastery, completion in the sense of an opening
up to the phenomenon and experience of life. In such an awareness,
the end, far from being attained, remains a task and requires the utmost
adhesion and alertness.

1.2. Ethics as Politics
Ethics is said to be an “architectonic” “science” or “power” (1094a27),
for it embraces all manners of human initiative in their “theoretical”
as well as productive, practical as well as psychological dimensions. The
oscillation between the language of science and that of power or faculty,
epist¯m¯ and dunamis, is not unusual in Aristotle and signals a certain ter-
minological ¬‚uidity maintained even as the establishment of a specialized
vocabulary and rigorous precision in usage are sought after. The identi-
¬cation of ethics with politics and its characterization as “architectonic”
rests, as already anticipated, on its recognition of the good as that into
which all proximate and partial ends converge. The following passage
was already variously cited above, yet deserves to be considered again
and more extensively, as it may occasion further considerations:

Now if of things we do there is an end which we wish for its own sake whereas the
other things we wish for the sake of this end, and if we do not choose everything
for the sake of something else (for in this manner the process will go on to
in¬nity and our desire will be empty and vain), then clearly this end would be
the good and the highest good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great
in¬‚uence on our way of life, and would we not [as a consequence] be more likely
to attain the desired end, like archers who have a mark to aim at? If so, then
we should try to grasp, in outline at least, what that end is and to which of the
Human Initiative and Its Orientation to the Good 59

sciences or faculties it belongs. It would seem to belong to the one which is most
authoritative and most architectonic. Now politics appears to be such; for it is
this which regulates what sciences are needed in a state and what kind of sciences
should be learned by each [kind of individuals] and to what extent. The most
honored faculties, too, e.g., strategy and economics and rhetoric, are observed to
come under this [faculty]. And since this faculty uses the rest of the [practical]1
sciences and also legislates what human beings should do and what they should
abstain from doing, its end would include the ends of the other faculties; hence
this is the end which would be the good for humankind. For even if this end be


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