. 8
( 12)


neither is it associated with sophia per se, and hence with epist¯m¯. Rather, in that context
it recurs in conjunction with nous.
The Virtues of the Intellect 209

same while what is prudent may be different. . . . 59 It is in view of this that people
say that some beasts too are prudent, namely, those which appear to have the
power of foresight [d…namin pronohtikžn] with regard to their own way of life.

The capability for a certain pronoia, for such a phrono-noetic vision may
not be an exquisitely, that is, uniquely human trait. But then, how could
it be said, as was indeed said, that deliberate choice (which occurs thanks
to prudence and is that over which prudence presides) is an exclusive
prerogative, not even of all humans, but of the fully developed human
adult (unlike volition, which was said to be common to animals and chil-
dren) (1111a20ff., 1111b9ff.)? Obliquely and in a fragmentary fashion,
in the margins of his main discourse, Aristotle seems to outline a ques-
tioning of human speci¬city with respect to other animals. This means
not that human uniqueness is denied but that it is questioned precisely
as one tries to delineate it, that the speci¬cally human mode of animality
remains in and as question, that its boundaries are transgressed precisely
as they are traced and present themselves in their dynamic shifting.60

5.3.5. Sophia
Wisdom, sophia, is introduced both as pertaining to the artistic-productive
practices and as understood in the strict sense, that is, without quali¬ca-
tion. In the latter sense, it is said to be the union of nous and epist¯m¯,
knowledge coupled with the unclouded perception of its own ground
(we variously saw above how the trust in ¬rst principles, which is yielded
by nous, is granted priority over deduced knowledge). Thus, sophia, as
a reminder of the ancillary role of science, points to knowledge in its
perfection, completeness, and regality:

So clearly wisdom would be the most accurate of the sciences. Thus the wise man
must not only know [e«d”nai] what follows from the principles, but also enact, be
the truth about the principles [ˆll‡ kaª perª t‡v ˆrc‡v ˆlhqe…ein]. Wisdom, then,

59 Though Aristotle does not elaborate further on this, the hypothetical tone would seem to
suggest that sophia may not be “always the same.” At any rate, in and of itself the sameness
of that which exceeds reason poses peculiar challenges to thinking.
60 Exploring this topic would involve a consideration of questions concerning the meaning
of “having logos”; the interpolation of logos into animality and, broadly speaking, nature;
the difference yet inseparability of reason and nature, hence the manifestations of reason
in/as nature. It should also be noticed that the relation of logos to animality and nature
is analogous to its relation with nous. On the question of “having logos,” especially in its
political implications, see Barbara Cassin, Aristote et le logos. Contes de la ph´nom´nologie
e e
ordinaire (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1997), in particular chap. 2, pp. 25“57.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

would be intuition and scienti¬c knowledge of the most honorable objects, as if
it were scienti¬c knowledge with its own head [kefalŸn]. (1141a16“20; emphasis

With sophia the convergence of noetic perception and trust (conviction,
belief) is accorded the appropriate prominence: in this convergence,
sophia recognizes its own guide. But, more distinctively still, sophia is a
kind of knowledge (of gn¯sis, in the comprehensive sense of the term)
extending beyond the realm of exquisitely human concerns. It has to do
with the situatedness of humans in what is not human, with the question
of the proper place of humans in the kosmos. Aristotle™s intimation was
quoted above, according to which humans may not be “the best of beings
in the universe” (1141a22). This suggestion is further elucidated:

And if one were to say that the human being is the best of the animals, this too
would make no difference; for there are also other things much more divine in
[their] nature than the human being, like the most visible objects [fanerÛtata]
of which the cosmos is composed. From what has been said, then, it is clear [d¦lon]
that wisdom is scienti¬c knowledge [–pistžmh] and intuition [no“v] of the objects
which are most honorable by [their] nature. It is in view of this that Anaxagoras
and Thales and others like them, who are seen to ignore what is conducive to
themselves, are called wise but not prudent; and they are said to have under-
standing of things which are extraordinary [peritt‡] and wondrous [qaumast‡]
and dif¬cult [calep‡] to know and daimonic [daim»nia] but which are not
instrumental for other things, for they do not seek human goods. (1141a35“b8)

On the basis of similar statements, it would not be inappropriate to say
that, through the analysis of sophia, Aristotle is outlining a kind of cri-
tique of anthropocentrism (let alone of androcentrism, to the extent
that anthr¯pos ends up being a certain kind of an¯r endowed with a certain
o e
logos). While prudence has to do with the perception, the contemplation
of matters concerning one™s own good, or at most the good for oneself
qua human and, hence, for one™s fellow human beings, sophia entails the
realization that human good is not the good without quali¬cation “ that
what is good in human terms is not necessarily good vis-` -vis the other-
than-human. Sophia would, then, have to do with the good (eudaimonia)
as such. It is, of course, of the outmost importance to emphasize that, far
from entailing what will have been called a “purely theoretical” posture
(demanding transcendence of or withdrawal from worldly engagements),
in stretching out beyond matters of human utility sophia remains bound
to phenomena and orients re¬‚ection toward the glowing brilliance of
what shines forth. The posture of sophia will have been “theoretical”
or contemplative in the broad, literal sense of looking at what appears.
The Virtues of the Intellect 211

Transcendence of the human, the thrust beyond the human, need not
amount to a pointing beyond the sensible. Rather, in pointing to the
other-than-human, sophia is the memory and reminder of the irreducibil-
ity of the universe to humans.
In this sense, the contemplation of the good beyond the uniquely
human good, that is, of the good as such, may not be a matter of “meta-
physical” insight, let alone of the contemplation of (and commitment to)
some “cosmological” principle “ as though, in the ¬nal analysis, it were
impossible to think together the good at stake in the ethical treatises and
that, say, in Metaphysics Lambda. Immersed in the contemplation of that
which pervades and yet indeterminately exceeds the human, the human
being may catch a glimpse of the good as the ful¬llment of potential, in
each irreducible case, that is, in each even non-human case. That is to say,
the human being may glimpse at the good as the realization of possibility
according to the uniqueness of each manner of being “ at the good as
thriving in accordance with the unique range of possibility pertaining to
each being, whether each may be gathered by similitude into a class or
species or considered in its utter singularity. Contemplation of the good
as such would, thus, bespeak a vision of all beings pursuing their own
realization, each according to its both speci¬c and individual trajectory.
As was noticed above when discussing nous (Metaphysics 993b9“11 and
1063a10“17), then, what is at stake in the noetic gaze, which is the gaze
guiding and sustaining sophia, is not a movement beyond phenomenality,
but a movement beyond us “ where “us” means both each individual as well
as the human community as such. What is pointed at, thus, is community
beyond human community, belonging beyond human relations and con-
structions. The gaze of sophia is a gaze at what appears “ not only near us
and among us, here (deuro), but all around (peri) us, beyond our daily
involvements, further away. With sophia, the gaze reaches out, pierces
through our exiguous settings, glimpses at our broader surroundings, at
the cosmos we inhabit, which holds (ekhei ) us, ¬nally at that which sur-
rounds in the sense that it holds everything together, periekhei (Metaphysics
1074b3). Ta phaner¯tata, the shining bodies in the sky, signal precisely that
which moves around us at the farthest reaches of the cosmos, the ¬re illu-
minating and thereby revealing, making manifest the form of our abode.
Our wonder at the cause and origin of what we perceive every day, the
wonder we harbor, which makes us strive to reach beyond what we per-
ceive and traverse it, as if what we perceive were never enough, never self-
contained, as if it would always point beyond itself, as if we ourselves could
not be exhausted within the horizontal domain of the everyday “ this
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

wonder has less to do with abandoning the phenomenal surroundings
than with broadening them, deepening our perceptual ¬eld. This won-
der prompts us to lift our gaze. It is in such a movement, in taking in
the sight of the sky, that we address our questions concerning the fact
that all is, and what it is, and why. This “daimonic” awareness lies at the
heart of sophia: it is the knowledge of things not ordinary and strange,
the beyond-human and yet exquisitely human knowledge that knows how
to “put us in context.” In this perspective, we can envision ourselves, in
our pursuits and unique concerns, alongside with that which is utterly
other to us, discontinuous and unfamiliar. Sophia would name such a
“daimonic” knowledge of our distinctiveness as well as our belonging in
and with “other.”
In connection with the contemplation of the good as exceeding even
the human good, we observe a certain overcoming of phron¯sis “ or, if you
will, a certain thrust of phron¯sis itself beyond itself, what could be called
a “self-overcoming” of phron¯sis in view of wisdom. As Aristotle states,
prudence “sees to it [¾rŽ„] that wisdom comes to be,” it “gives orders for
the sake of wisdom but does not give orders to wisdom” (1145a7“11).
In light of such profound accord of the two virtues and, in general, of
the analyses carried out so far, it is clear that emphasizing sophia can in
no way mean abandoning the dimension of the practical in favor of the
theoretical.61 For, on the one hand, prudence was shown as inherently
“theoretical” (to be sure, according to the broad semantic range of the
Greek term), while, on the other hand, wisdom is shown crucially to rest
on sensible-intuitive evidence.62 Human understanding remains situated
even when (in fact, all the more when) at stake is a vision that is not
human-centered. Such a vision amounts not to a denial of (or abstraction

61 The relation between phron¯sis and sophia may be illuminated by that between the medical
art and health. In Eudemian Ethics, we are told that “medical art is a principle in a way, and
health in another way, and the former is for the sake of the latter” (1249b12“13). Their
relation points to a certain twofoldness of the principle. The principle ruling action is
not reason alone, isolated, as it were, but reason embodied, the reason of (in, as) nature,
we might say. Again, the principle is a matter of lived experience. In sum, the point
is not whether practical reason (prudence) or “theoretical” reason, wisdom, is prior in
Aristotle™s discourse, but that theoretical knowledge, wisdom, is inherently practical, and
the practical is pervasively theoretical, lit up by intuitive insight and moving for the sake
of it.
62 On the integration of contemplative and practical modes (hence, on the questioning of
the theoretical/practical distinction in terms of unaffected contemplation vs. affected
involvement in action), see Am´ lie Oksenberg Rorty™s “The Place of Contemplation in
Aristotle™s Nicomachean Ethics,” in Essays on Aristotle™s Ethics (Berkeley: University of Cali-
fornia Press, 1980).
The Virtues of the Intellect 213

from) human positionality but to a broadening of human seeing, to an
insight becoming more comprehensive.63
With regard to sophia as well, the question must be raised concern-
ing its placement in the rational context of the psukh¯. This most noble
manifestation of logos (the distinctively human power) points beyond the
human. With sophia, logos points beyond itself “ at least beyond itself qua
distinctive of humans. That sophia should prove to be exorbitant with
respect to logos is, in the ¬nal analysis, only ¬tting, if indeed sophia is “led
by” nous, which is not logos-related.
Among other things, this understanding of sophia contributes to a fur-
ther elucidation of the meaning of eudaimonia. For, indeed, eudaimonia
signi¬es an attunement to the daimonic “ the movement of humans (qua
humans) beyond themselves, in a harmonic merging with that which sur-
rounds them, with that in which they belong.64 At their best, that is, in
their fullest realization and manifestation, humans would interrogate
themselves about their own position, their own task and destiny, under-
standing themselves in the midst of and pervaded by that which inde-
terminately exceeds the human “ that which they can neither own nor
properly bring back to themselves. This, indeed, would be happiness. In
Aristotle™s words, wisdom (or the synergy of phron¯sis and sophia, 1144a1“
4) “brings forth happiness; for being a part [m”rov] of the whole of virtue,
wisdom brings forth [poie±] happiness by its possession and activation or

63 If, according to what I have proposed heretofore, we consider both (1) the indissoluble
bond of phron¯sis and the structures of character and (2) sophia as never entailing a sepa-
ration from phenomenal-ethical conditions, then the long-standing debate on whether,
in Aristotle, we should attribute the primacy to sophia alone or to all the virtues together
can be seen as less substantial than it appears. Indeed, it seems to be motivated by an
all-too-unproblematic reliance on the schematization of the virtues and, in general, on
an overly schematic psychology. On the position of “intellectualism” vs. that of “inclu-
sivism,” see Stephen White, Sovereign Virtue: Aristotle on the Relation between Happiness and
Prosperity (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992). Exemplary of the former position is Richard
Kraut, Aristotle on the Human Good (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989). Representative of the
latter position are J. L. Ackrill, “Aristotle on Eudaimonia,” and T. Irwin, “The Metaphys-
ical and Psychological Basis of Aristotle™s Ethics,” both in Rorty, ed., Essays on Aristotle™s
Ethics; Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986); and
White himself. See also A. MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: Notre Dame UP, 1988),
and John M. Cooper, Reason and Human Good in Aristotle (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1986)
and Reason and Emotion: Essays on Ancient Moral Psychology and Ethical Theory (Princeton:
Princeton UP, 1999).
64 Encompassed within such daimonic excess to the human (an excess still most human, yet
as such least visible), logos and epist¯m¯ are disclosed as many-modal, themselves irreducible
to a single ground. It may indeed be only with modernity that logos is isolated in its
logicality, de-naturalized, made both neutral and neuter.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

enactment [–nerge±n]” (1144a5“6). It is in this way, then, that the highest
good or happiness, the good as such, is not only envisioned but brought
forth and lived in virtue of sophia (in its essential intertwinement with
phron¯sis and, hence, the structures of character).
Aristotle gives particular prominence to the fact that, thanks to sophia,
the bond between knowledge and intuition is (re)af¬rmed. During the
discussion of this virtue as well as in later developments, his preoccupation
could hardly be more explicit regarding the problem of logico-scienti¬c
procedures dissociated from the intuitive directives. This is evident in a
passage already quoted in the course of the discussion on nous. Here,
in drawing a connection between the pursuit of sophia and the work of
the physicist, Aristotle again emphasizes the involvement of sophia in the
order of sensibility and experience, in one word, of phusis:

And if one were to inquire why it is possible for a boy to become a mathematician
but not wise or a physicist, the answer is this: the objects of mathematics exist
by abstraction, while the principles of philosophy and of physics are acquired
from experience; and young men have no convictions [oÉ piste…ousin] of their
principles but only speak [l”gousin], while the nature of the objects of physics and
of wisdom is not unclear [oÉk Šdhlon] to physicists and wise men. (1142a17“21)

It is, then, possible, within the bounds of mere abstraction, to speak and
even derive syllogistic conclusions literally without knowing what one is
talking about. It is always possible for logos to alienate itself from the matter
at stake (from time and experience) and proceed alone (only speaking),
while to the “wise or physicist” the matter is “not unclear” “ indeed, it
may even be perspicuous precisely in its inexplicable inscrutability.
Such considerations will receive further con¬rmation in Book Eta,
which primarily focuses on the issue of continence and incontinence.
In the course of that analysis, Aristotle signi¬cantly re¬‚ects on a certain
mode of logos dissociated from comportment, that is, a certain ¯thos of e
discourse without ¯thos (without time, practice, and the corresponding
psychological resonance), oblivious of itself as ¯thos.65 Aristotle acknowl-
edges the danger of such an abstract and ultimately empty logos, of its log-
ical claims and self-assertiveness “ the danger of a logos severed from the
context of wisdom (a context irreducible to reason and its discourses). In
portraying the incontinent human being, the following remark brings to
the fore the problematic character of that potentiality of logos, according
to which logos always inherently can turn into formal logic:

65 Aristotle polemically confronts the sophists as much as Plato does.
The Virtues of the Intellect 215

[I]n having but not using [›cein m•n mŸ cr¦sqai] that knowledge we observe such
a difference in his habit that in one sense he has but in another sense he does not
have that knowledge, as in the case of a man who is asleep or mad or drunk. Now
such is the disposition of those who are under the in¬‚uence of the passions; for
¬ts of anger and sexual desires and other such passions clearly disturb even the
body, and in some they also cause madness. So it is clear that incontinent human
beings must be disposed like these. The fact that such people make scienti¬c
statements [t¼ d• l•gein toÆv l»gouv toÆv ˆp¼ t¦v –pistžmhv] when so disposed is
no sign that they know what they are saying; for even those under the in¬‚uence
of the passions [i.e., drunkards, madmen] utter [l”gousin] demonstrations and
verses of Empedocles, and also beginners [in science] string together statements
[leading to a conclusion] [toÆv l¼gouv], but they do not quite understand what
they are saying, for these expressions must sink in [sumfu¦nai], and this requires
time. So incontinent people must be regarded as speaking [l”gein] in the way
actors [Ëpokrinom”nouv] do on the stage. (1147a11“24)

What is here delineated is the arrogance, indeed, the madness of rational
self-assertion oblivious of its conditions “ what could be designated as a
hypertrophy of logos. Aristotle could not be more peremptory in calling
for extraordinary vigilance around this “logical possibility” “ this possi-
bility for logos of becoming disembodied and disengaged from worldly
commitments (or, more precisely, of construing itself in that way). Let
this be noted, in the margins of the present discourse: it is this same logos
that, in the delusion of its autonomy, can turn to our desirous life and,
without any effort to understand and attune itself to it, impose itself on
this life. This is precisely what happens in the case of the continent per-
son, and in such a scenario we see the antithesis of the prerequisites of
human excellence (and of the perversion thereof, viciousness): we see
not the accord of desires and intellectual light, their mutual infusion
and intertwinement, but, rather, their dichotomy and con¬‚ict, the mis-
ery (indeed, the poverty) of dissociation and disintegration, a rift tearing
life apart and one apart from one™s own life. In the contrast of virtue to
both continence and incontinence, then, what is at stake is the distinction
between being wise and merely knowing, between being grounded and
lacking the contact with the intuitive ground that, alone, sustains and

5.4. Marginalia on Continence and Psychoanalysis
As a matter of fact, the difference between continence and incontinence
merely lies in the management of the con¬‚ict lacerating a soul. In the
case of incontinence, the con¬‚ict is manifest in the open contraposition
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

between desires and rational awareness: reason is “overpowered,” as it
were, unable to speak or speaking but not heard. In the case of con-
tinence, the appearance of an acceptable or even conventionally virtu-
ous comportment is obtained at the price of a violation of the desiring
“part” (what Freud will have described as living beyond one™s psycho-
logical “means,” ful¬lling societal demands thanks to the repression of
instinctual contents). This “part” undergoes the repressive self-assertion
of rational determination, which curbs anything in its way and, obse-
quious to form, devotes no attention to the truth of the psychological
condition. In both the case of continence and that of incontinence, com-
munication between the two “parts” and, hence, the possibility of reunion
are compromised. Of course, to mend such a situation it would be nec-
essary not only to shake logos from its delirium of omnipotence, but also
to undertake a thorough analysis of the desiring psukh¯. Indeed, to bring
intelligence and intellectual resources to bear on their own worldly con-
dition (on the psukh¯, embodied and desirous) would precisely be ther-
apeutic with regard to both logos and the path¯ of the soul. Indeed, if
continence as well as incontinence signal a disharmony between reason
and desire, such that either reason stays “dormant” or desire is forcefully
mastered, these questions need to be asked: Why and how is this the
case? What are the desires that can cause this, that can be destructive
and lead to an overpowering of reason? For not all desires may oper-
ate in such a way. Where does the analogy between destructive desire
and sleep or drunkenness break down? For, indeed, con¬guring incon-
tinence simply in terms of an intermittence of reason, such that reason
would momentarily become latent, unavailable, inactive, is not enough.
An in-depth investigation of the forces capable of causing such an obscu-
ration is called for. But this means an attempt at a genuine understand-
ing of instincts, drives, and unconscious motifs.66 Only on the ground of
such a comprehension might it be possible to reshape the desirous land-
scape of the soul, to re-habituate the desires “ to cultivate and not ¬ght
In the Aristotelian ethical treatises, such an incipient psychoanalysis is
not thematized but implicitly acknowledged in its urgency. The emphasis
on the difference between virtue and continence makes it abundantly
clear that a resolution of con¬‚ict between diverging “parts” of the soul
is desirable as well as necessary and that the pursuit of the good or

66 In this regard, see Magna moralia 1208a21“30.
The Virtues of the Intellect 217

happiness will not have rested on any manner of repression of (i.e., igno-
rance regarding) the passions.67 More on the analysis of the path¯ moving
us, on this life in and with us, can be found in the Poetics and Rhetoric,
where various manners of elocution, versi¬cation, and dramatization are
examined also in their affective power. Of course, the necessity of com-
ing to terms with the psycho-physiology of such uncontrollable forces is
already announced in Plato. In Republic IX, he has Socrates “recognize”
that “surely some terrible, savage, and lawless form of desires is in every-
one, even in some of us who seem to be ever so measured” (572b).68

5.5. Concluding Remarks and Open Questions
Book Eta of the Nicomachean Ethics is markedly haunted by Aristotle™s
concern with the dissociation of logos from praxis, that is, with a logos
whose relation to the noetic (i.e., as seen above, experiential) beginning
is suspended or latent. At stake is the perplexing interruption of the inter-
play between logos and deportment or character (¯thos), an interruption
paradigmatically manifesting itself in the psychological con¬guration of
incontinence. In this mode, logos can neither acknowledge comportment
as its ground nor, subsequently, compellingly guide comportment. Logos,
that is, presents itself as if it had no ethical provenance and were of no
ethical consequence “ a logos wandering and dangerous. Passages such as

67 In The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics, Martha Nussbaum con-
trasts the Aristotelian posture vis-` -vis the passions to positions prevalent in later Hel-
lenism. While the latter aim at a transformation of beliefs and passions through rational
argument, the former views emotions not as blind, brutal forces, but as “intelligent and
discriminating parts of the personality . . . responsive to cognitive modi¬cation.” Further-
more, Aristotle “calls for cultivation of many emotions as valuable and necessary parts of
virtuous agency” (78). See also, despite a one-sided emphasis on the emotions™ respon-
siveness to reason, N. Sherman, “Is the Ghost of Aristotle Haunting Freud™s House?”
Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 16 (2000).
68 In The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), E. R.
Dodds, on the one hand, underscores the apparently reductive Aristotelian assimilation
of passion to sleep, drunkenness, or madness. On the other hand, in addition to Aris-
totle™s study of dreams, he reports the interest, shared by Theophrastus and other ¬rst-
generation students of Aristotle, in the therapeutic value of music. Viewing human life
as diverging from the contemplative, solitary simplicity enjoyed by the god, Aristotle rec-
ognizes that the question concerning “us” can crucially be broached by examining the
non-rational dimensions of our being and comportment. Dodds also points out that, after
the impulse provided by Aristotle and his school, these ¬elds of research will undergo
extended neglect. See also Jeanne Croissant, Aristote et les myst`res (Li´ ge: Fac. de Philoso-
phie et Lettres, 1933).
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

the following elaborate on the simultaneous privilege and responsibility
involved in “having” a language (reason):

animals have no power of deliberating or judging [logism»n], but their nature
lies outside of these, like that of madmen. Brutality [bestiality] is less bad than
vice, but more fearful; for there is no corruption of the best part of a beast, as it
is in a human being, since beasts do not have such a part. (1149b35“1150a1)

Accordingly, just as the “mighty body” moving without vision “stumbles
mightily,” the damage that may be provoked by those having considerable
yet corrupted assets is considerable: “[T]he badness of that which has no
principle is always less harmful than the badness of that which has a
principle, and the principle here is the intellect [no“v ˆrcž]” (1150a5“
6). Indeed, “a bad human being might do a great many times as much
evil as a beast” (1150a9).69
While a consideration of Aristotle™s immensely ambivalent treatment
of animality, however urgent, remains collateral in the present investiga-
tion (indeed, an adequate treatment of it would deserve extensive argu-
mentation), the remarks just quoted occasion a few concluding observa-
tions. In those re¬‚ections, Aristotle appears to suggest a sharp distinction
between humans and other animals. Such an essentially hierarchical dis-
tinction in kind (indeed, the kind of distinction whose original formu-
lation has typically been taken as unproblematic and unproblematically
attributed to Aristotle) would de¬ne the animal in terms of privation, that
is, the lack of logos. And yet, toward the end of the same Book, when con-
sidering the possibility of understanding the highest good in conjunction
with pleasure, Aristotle once again turns to the question of animality “
this time gesturing in a quite different direction. “Again,” he says, “the
fact that all animals, both beasts and humans, pursue pleasure is a sign
that pleasure is in some sense the highest good” (1153b25“6). For, he
continues, “all pursue pleasure. And perhaps what they pursue is not the
pleasure they think or say they do, but the one which is the same for all,
for all [animals] have by nature something divine in them” (1153b32“4).
Analogously to the intimations examined above about phron¯sis as a “hav-
ing” perhaps not exclusively human, this rapprochement of divinity and
animality enormously complicates the relation of humans to the other
living beings as well as the connection between the divine and life. Of

69 Maimonides will emphatically recall the possibility of bestiality or brutality in human
beings. For, indeed, the desiderative principle may be both generative and destructive.
The Virtues of the Intellect 219

course, these issues can here only be adumbrated in the faintest, most
anticipatory fashion.70
What is relevant in the present context is that such a vision, situating
the human in the context of the beyond-human (whether the animal or
divine or both) and explicating the human by reference to what exceeds
it, seems to be allowed by sophia. The highest good is perceived by a
power indeterminately surpassing logos, and that is logos guided by nous.
It is sophia that checks the remarkable and also dangerous, potentially
destructive privilege of logos, orienting it to the good (however the good
may be understood, if not known), that is, keeping it rooted in alive-
ness, in being-alive. For, in and of itself, logos would be indifferent to the
question concerning the good. And we have thus come full circle to the
considerations laid out at the beginning “ on ethics as ¬rst philosophy;
on science as that which structurally cannot account for nous, for it rests
on it; on metaphysics itself, qua investigation into the divine (nous), as
irreducible to science; on nous in its non-rational and non-discursive char-
acter, that is, as only liminally speakable, marking the limits of logos while
remaining beneath the limen of logos, subliminal with respect to the thresh-
old of knowledge, provoking discourse from out of its literally sublime
imperviousness; on nous as relating to embodied experience of what is
primary and what is ultimate “ as ultimately belonging in life, with the
living, in action.

70 In this perspective, it would be desirable to read those passages, especially in the second
part of Book Theta, where the theme of friendship is developed by reference to communal
gathering, as that which structures the political organism in its functional diversity, ¬nally
as a ¬gure of the bond of cosmic unity bringing humans together with “the whole of life”
in view, within nature or the divine (see, e.g., 1160a8“29, 1162a4“8).

Metaphysics Gamma

Metaphysics Gamma1 opens by addressing the ¬rst of the aporiai laid out in
Book Beta, namely, the question: does it belong to one or many sciences
to investigate the causes, or principles (995b4“6, discussed at 996a18“
b26)? As Aristotle notes, the issue was already anticipated in Book Alpha:
All believe that what is called wisdom is concerned with the ¬rst causes and prin-
ciples. So, as stated before, someone experienced seems [doke±] to be wiser than
one who has any of the sensations, an artist [tecn©thv] wiser than one who is expe-
rienced, a master artist [ˆrcit”ktwn] wiser than a manual worker [ceirot”knou],
and the theoretical [sciences seem to be wisdom] to a higher degree than the pro-
ductive [sciences] [a¬ d• qewrhtikaª t¤n poihtik¤n mŽllon]. Clearly then, wisdom
is the science of certain causes and principles. (981b28“982a3)

Aristotle proceeds to illuminate this point further when he speaks of “the
science taken in the highest degree”:
such is the science of that which is knowable [–pisthto“] in the highest degree;
and that which is knowable in the highest degree is that which is ¬rst and the

1 In elaborating the discussion of this treatise, the following studies have been especially
relevant: Emanuele Severino, trans., introduction, and commentary, Aristotele: il principio
di non contraddizione. Libro quarto della Meta¬sica (Brescia: La Scuola, 1959); T. H. Irwin,
Aristotle™s First Principles (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988); and the remarkable introductory
essays by Barbara Cassin and Michel Narcy in their critical edition of the text of Metaphysics
Gamma (La d´cision du sens: le livre Gamma de la M´ taphysique d™Aristote [Paris: Vrin, 1989]).
I have also fruitfully consulted, among others, the following essays by Enrico Berti: “Il
principio di non contraddizione come criterio supremo di signi¬canza nella meta¬sica
aristotelica,” in Studi Aristotelici (L™Aquila: Methodos 7 [1975], 61“88); “Il valore ˜teologico™
del principio di non contraddizione nella meta¬sica aristotelica,” in ibid., 89“108; and “La
critica allo scetticismo nel IV libro della Meta¬sica di Aristotele,” in Nuovi Studi Aristotelici,
vol. 2 (Brescia: Morcelliana, 2005), 195“207.

Metaphysics Gamma 221

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. Finally, the most
commanding [ˆrcikwt†th] science, and superior [mŽllon ˆrcikž] to any sub-
ordinate science, is the one 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.

The convergence of the language of cause and that of the good is of
utmost importance. The pursuit of the highest, ¬rst, and ultimate prin-
ciples and that of the good coincide, and are “science in the highest
degree,” that is, not any kind of demonstrative procedure. Note, indeed,
how such a science is said to know in the mode of gn¯rizein. Aristotle con-
tinues to illuminate the character of this science shortly thereafter. Oscil-
lating between the language of phron¯sis and that of epist¯m¯ (982b19“24),
e ee
he observes that “clearly, then, we do not seek this [science] for any other
need; but just as a human being is said to be free if he or she is for his or
her own sake and not for the sake of somebody else, so this alone of all
the sciences is free, for only this science is for its own sake” (982b24“8).
A further elaboration of this follows almost immediately:

the most divine [science] is the most honorable, and it would be most divine
in only two ways: if god above all would have it, or if it were a science of divine
matters. This science alone happens to be divine in both ways; for god is thought
[doke±] by all to be one of the causes and a certain principle, and god alone or in
the highest degree would possess such a science. Accordingly, while all the other
sciences are more necessary than this, none is better. (983a5“11)

We should highlight the terminological proliferation characteristic of
Aristotle™s attempts to articulate such a science. As recalled, the science
of wisdom is said to pertain to (¬rst) causes and principles (or origins),
to that which is “knowable in the highest degree,” to the divine (and that
means to the god, the good, and the ultimate end). However, we should
anticipate that the science of wisdom is also addressed as the science of
being(s), the science of substance(s), the science of demonstration, the
science of nature (and that may mean [1] of nature itself, [2] of nature
as that which is, [3] of the nature of that which is). In the ¬nal analysis,
this designates that which we call philosophy in its highest, primordial,
and governing sense: ¬rst philosophy, itself “most divine.”
The varied terminology encountered in this context is noteworthy, in
that it seems to indicate not so much the heterogeneity of the treatises
gathered under the heading of Metaphysics (as has been paradigmatically
argued by Werner Jaeger), let alone Aristotle™s inconsistency or lack of
Metaphysics Gamma

rigor. Rather, at stake seems to be the essential complexity inherent in
the subject matter; for the subject matter seems to admit of (indeed,
seems to require) being said in many ways. Thus, we are confronted with
a subject matter that yields itself essentially in light of many-ness. We
are confronted with the essential many-way-ness, if not the equivocity, of
being or of what is ¬rst. At stake is, from the start, the relation between
what is ¬rst and logos.

1. aporiai of the science of “being qua being”
As pointed out, then, Book Gamma begins by addressing the ¬rst aporia.
The elaboration it provides, too, is in line with the discussion in Book
Alpha recalled above. It pertains to one science to investigate ¬rst prin-
ciples and causes:

There is a certain science which contemplates [qewre±] being qua being [t¼ Àn ¨ƒ
Àn] and what belongs to it in virtue of itself [kaq ¬ aËt»]. This science is not
the same as any of the so-called “partial sciences”; for none of those sciences
examines [–piskope±] being qua being [to“ Àntov ¤ƒ Àn] according to the whole
[kaq»lou], but, cutting off some part of it, each of them contemplates [qewro“si]
the attributes of that part, as in the case of the mathematical sciences. Now since
we are seeking the principles and the highest causes, clearly these must belong
to a certain nature [f…seÛv tinov] in virtue of itself [kaq ¬ aËtžn]. If, then, also
those who were seeking the elements of beings [stoice±a t¤n Àntwn] were seek-
ing these principles, these elements too must be elements of being [to“ Àntov],
not according to an attribute, but qua being. Accordingly, it is of being qua being
that we, too, must ¬nd the ¬rst causes. (1003a21“32)

The task at hand is lucidly formulated: investigating being qua being
means individuating (its) ¬rst principles or causes “ the ¬rst principles
or causes of being qua being, or (which is the same) ¬rst principles or
causes as such. The science of being, then, is to investigate into the ¬rst
and highest elements of being, and is to do so by investigating beings.
This is of the utmost relevance. The difference between the “partial
sciences” (such as mathematics and, we may add, physics narrowly under-
stood) and the science of being is not a shift in focus from beings to
being, as though the investigation regarding being were other than and
separate from that regarding beings. Rather, the shift at stake in the sci-
ence of being is from the examination of a part, aspect, or attribute of
being to the examination of being as such, as a whole, that is, of what
belongs to being not according to an attribute but in virtue of being itself
considered in its wholeness. What belongs in such a way is understood as
Aporiai of the Science of “Being qua Being” 223

principle or cause. It is this transition from the partial or accidental to
the whole, and hence to principles, that marks the science of being. As
for the way in which this science is carried out, it still regards beings. It
is through the consideration of what belongs to beings (to a being, to “a
certain nature”) in virtue of themselves that being may come to be con-
templated. It is through the consideration of the principles, of the highest
“elements of beings,” that being is approached and glimpsed. For, qua
principles, “the elements of beings . . . must be elements of being . . . qua
being” (1003a28“31). The shift from mathematics to the science of wis-
dom is not thematic (from one “subject matter” to another) but concerns
how the same is contemplated.
We should note, in this discourse, the gathering of the language of
being and beings as well as, even more crucially, of being and nature.
The latter juxtaposition is ampli¬ed in the lines immediately following
this initial statement. Here Aristotle de¬nes more decisively the connec-
tion between being and nature or, minimally, between being and nature
understood in a certain way: “Being is said in many ways, but all of these
are related to a certain nature, one and single [pr¼v šn kaª m©an tin‡ f…sin],
and not equivocally” (1003a33“4). The science of being may be decisively
connected with physics, at least with physics comprehensively construed,
that is, not as a “partial science.”
Shortly thereafter, Aristotle proceeds to address the second aporia laid
out in Book Beta, addressing the question: would such a science as that
just de¬ned pertain only to the ¬rst principles of substances, or also to
the ¬rst principles of demonstration (995b5“10, discussed at 996b26“
997a15)? A conspicuous part of Book Gamma addresses this question. I
con¬ne myself to quoting the following segment:

We must state whether it belongs to one or to a different science to inquire into
what in mathematics are called “axioms” and into substances. It is evident that the
inquiry into these belongs to one science and to the science of the philosopher;
for the axioms belong to all beings and are not proper to some one genus apart from
the others. And everyone uses them, since they are of being qua being, and each
genus is [a being]. However, they use them only to the extent that they need
them, that is, as far as the genus extends, with regard to which they carry out
demonstrations. So, since it is clear that the axioms belong to all beings qua beings (for
this is common to them), the contemplation [qewr©a] of these axioms belongs also
to one who is to know [gnwr©zontov] being qua being. Because of this, no one who
examines only a part of being, such as the geometer or the arithmetician, tries to
say anything about them, whether they are true or not, except for some physicists
who have done so for an appropriate reason [e«k»twv]. (1005a19“32; emphasis
Metaphysics Gamma

Again, Aristotle underscores that it is through the examination of what
belongs to “all beings qua beings,” that is, through the examination of
what is common to beings as a whole, that one may come to know “being
qua being.” The statement also hints at the proximity between such an
inquiry and that of “certain physicists.” Irreducible to a “specialized” sci-
ence, physics may be par excellence the study of beings as a whole, that
interrogation of beings that is concerned with their principles.
Quite robustly, the statement asserts the unity and inseparability of
formality and substantiality, of the structure of logico-mathematical pro-
cedures and the investigation into that which is “ of logic and ontology.
The axioms “belong,” inhere in beings as such, as a whole. More pre-
cisely, they are what all beings share in common. In this distinctive sense,
the inquiry regarding axioms is at one with that regarding being itself,
indiscernible with respect to it. Again, far from exhibiting the partiality
characteristic of the mathematical disciplines, physics (the investigation
concerning phusis) appears to address the question of being and that of
the axioms precisely in their belonging together, and to do so for alto-
gether not accidental reasons. This suggests a certain convergence of
physics and philosophy or, indeed, ¬rst philosophy. Aristotle continues:

Clearly, then, it is the task of the philosopher, that is, of the one who investigates all
substances insofar as they by nature come under his or her science, to examine also
the principles of the syllogism. Now, it is ¬tting for one who is to have knowledge
in the highest degree [m†lista gnwr©zonta] concerning each genus to be able to
state the most certain principles of things in that genus, so that one who is to have
such knowledge of being qua being, too, must be able to state the most certain
principles of all things. This is the philosopher, and the most certain principle of
all is that about which it is impossible to think falsely; for such a principle must be
most known [gnwrimwt†thn] (for all may be mistaken about things which they
do not know [gnwr©zousin]) and also be non-hypothetical. For a principle which
one must have if one is to understand anything is not a hypothesis; and that which
one must know [gnwr©zein] if one is to know [gnwr©zonti] anything must be in
one™s possession for every occasion. (1005b5“17)

The sequence of considerations examined thus far announces the discus-
sion of the ultimately ¬rst, most certain, and most known principle: the
principle informing all axiomatic structure as well as the articulation and
unfolding of being qua being, that is, qua “all beings.” Let us try to fol-
low Aristotle as he begins to uncover such a supremely eminent principle.
What will come to light, and this is crucial to the thesis sustained through-
out this study, is precisely a certain ethical stratum sustaining the entire
discussion and assertion of the absolutely ¬rst axiom. Let it be restated
The Principle “By Nature” 225

that the ¬rst and ultimate principle, which is by de¬nition “most known,”
cannot as such be demonstrated. Knowledge of principle(s), which is
knowledge in the highest degree, is not scienti¬c knowledge, epist¯m¯, in
the strict (syllogistic, demonstrative) sense. Again, the pervasiveness of
the language of gn¯rizein should not go unnoticed. First philosophy is
science (of wisdom, of being) in a highly quali¬ed sense. Yet that which,
from a strictly scienti¬c point of view, would be quali¬ed knowledge is
the most authoritative, most commanding knowledge “ the knowledge
that, while not scienti¬c, grounds science.

2. the principle “by nature”
Aristotle proceeds to lay out the absolutely ¬rst principle in the following

Clearly, then, such a principle is the most certain of all; and what this principle is
we proceed to state. It is: The same thing cannot at the same time both belong and
not belong to the same object and in the same respect (and all other speci¬cations
that might be made, let them be added to meet logical objections). Indeed, this
is the most certain of all principles; for it has the speci¬cation stated above. For
it is impossible for anyone to believe something to be and not to be, as some
think Heraclitus says; for one does not necessarily believe what he says. If, then,
contraries cannot at the same time belong to the same subject (and let the usual
speci¬cations be added also to this premise), and if the contrary of an opinion
is the negation of that opinion, it is evident that the same person cannot at the
same time believe the same object to be and not to be; for in being mistaken
concerning this that person would be having contrary opinions at the same time.
It is because of this that all those who carry out demonstrations make reference
to this as an ultimate opinion. This is by nature a principle also of all the other
axioms. (1005b17“33)

That which will have been called “principle of non-contradiction” ¬nds
here its ¬rst thematic formulation (though it is anticipated already in
Plato™s Republic). On the ground of what has been laid out so far, a few
observations are in order. We should, ¬rst of all, investigate further the
relation between being and axiom “ more pointedly, between being and
the principle of non-contradiction. The latter applies to beings, to things
in their multiplicity and singularity and, at once, also yields a structural
insight into being as such, as a whole. Indeed, we may venture to say
that this principle is being, in the sense that it is indiscernible from
being. Once again, investigating being qua being, according to the whole,
means investigating its principle(s). The principle of non-contradiction
Metaphysics Gamma

is indiscernible from being qua being, that is, qua “all beings”: it is
indiscernible from being in its becoming, that is, in and as spatio-
temporality. In other words, this principle may be understood as the
mode and condition of being™s eventuation “ that is to say, the very mode
of being™s self-articulation into and as beings in their becoming. Indeed,
we need to underline these ineliminable indices of perspective and tem-
porality, which we could call aspectival and temporal indices: any thing,
indeed, all things, cannot be and not be characterized in a certain way at
the same time and in the same respect.

2.1. Principle as Being
Thus, in one and the same gesture, the principle of being is exhibited as
a principle of beings, of substances in their particularity. It is exhibited
as belonging to being and to beings, or, rather, as a principle of being qua
beings, as a principle of being qua becoming. It makes manifest the common
(shared) structure of the becoming of beings, revealing its most basic
truth. Aristotle is suggesting that being (or a being) in its occurring can-
not admit of self-denial: not at the same time and in the same respect.
To be sure, self-denial (along with the concomitant contradictory beliefs)
does mark the spatio-temporal unfolding of being “ the ¬‚owing of any
thing into alterity, any thing ultimately being resolved into another, even
its other, its dissipation. Contradiction, then, bespeaks temporality and
signals ¬nitude, the ephemeral character, instability, and reversibility of
all that is “ for the becoming of any thing does indeed entail constant
oscillation between contraries and even development as self-negation.
However, at any given moment and in any particular respect, contradic-
tion is impossible, in fact, inconceivable.
The principle of non-contradiction does not amount to a denial of irre-
ducible complexity, to a constitutively metaphysical attempt at capturing
the ¬‚ow of becoming, its in¬nite richness, within the logic of contraries,
of binary oppositions, of the contrast of being and non-being. Rather, the
irreducible complexity inherent in becoming, in its time and manifold-
ness, is what the principle at once makes possible, does justice to, and
explicates. In stating the impossibility of contradiction at the same time
and in the same place (hama), the principle grants differentiation and
determinacy and, thus, safeguards radical difference, the utter singular-
ity and uniqueness of each moment of becoming, in each facet, however
relentlessly passing away. For, far from being a matter of indeterminacy
or confusion, complexity and difference take place in and as the ongoing
The Principle “By Nature” 227

mutability of the determinate. As Aristotle will notice later on, in Book
Kappa, “the thing in motion must be in that from which it will be moved
and not be in itself, must then be moving into another thing, and must
¬nally become in it; but then two contradictories cannot be true of it in
each of these at the same time” (1063a19“21).

2.2. Principle as Thinking
At the same time, the principle of non-contradiction is constitutive of
thinking, in the sense that it lays bare the most basic structures of think-
ing. For such a principle concerns not only beings in their being, but also
our experience, indeed our beliefs and opinions thereof. Such a princi-
ple concerns not only the being of beings but also, most importantly, the
being of this being that we are “ the being of this being that perceives
beings as such and perceives itself as a being. In other words, the princi-
ple informs what we undergo, think, and say as well as the structure, the
how, of our undergoing, thinking, and speaking. The principle of being,
or principle as being, at once structures the manner and communication
(transmission, propagation) of our perceiving, whether sensible, intu-
itive, or otherwise. Thus, such a principle signals the unity of thinking
and content: of thinking, understood as the constellation of perception
in the broad sense, but also as intending, pointing toward, wanting to say
(meaning); and of content, as that which is perceived, meant, and said.
Just as things cannot be and not be such and such in the same respect and
at the same time, so one cannot mean and not mean a certain content in
the same respect and at the same time.
What becomes prominent in this context is a certain psycho-pheno-
menological stratum of signi¬cation, in fact, the psycho-phenomeno-
logical ground and origin of signi¬cation. Propositions cannot be empty,
merely formal. The speaker must mean what she says, must discern what
she says as meaningful. One speaks only from belief, that is to say, from
conviction regarding some thing or other, thereby intending or mean-
ing some thing or other. Differently put: perceiving, opining, and their
articulation through and as logos are understood in their unity as well as
in their coherent following things as they unfold. In their unity, think-
ing and speaking adhere to the dynamic con¬guration of things, to their
self-disclosure, which admits of no contradictory view at the same time
and in the same respect. When such an adherence to things, to beings in
their becoming, is suspended, one faces meaninglessness, or even folly,
that is, uprootedness vis-` -vis the necessity of what is.
Metaphysics Gamma

Being, thinking, and meaningfully speaking appear, thus, to share the
same condition(s). They are indissolubly intertwined in the discussion in
Book Gamma.
To recapitulate, there is one science about both principles of being
and principles of demonstration. For, indeed, axioms belong to being
qua being in its articulation, in its spatio-temporal unfolding, and hence
to all beings qua beings. First philosophy is not only the science inter-
rogating beingness, ousia, but also the science interrogating itself as it
interrogates beingness, that is, the science thinking itself in its possibility
and principle(s). Thus, it harbors a self-re¬‚ective character.

2.3. The Ethics of First Principle(s)
2.3.1. Indemonstrability
Aristotle goes on to say that the principle of non-contradiction just laid out
cannot as such be demonstrated. At stake, once more, is the defenseless
undeniability of ¬rst principles. They compel assent in deed, aside from
and prior to the logic of defense (or logic as defense). And yet that
which, in the order of logos (of science qua syllogism), appears as the
defenselessness and fragility of the indemonstrable, is the prerogative of
that which is in and of itself “most known,” prior in the order of being.
That which is “most known” enjoys such a primacy in the order of being
that, indeed, it is prior to the order of ontology strictly understood, that is,
understood as the discourse of the knowledge of being. Ontology does
not exhaust the question of being.
That which is “most known” cannot be known demonstratively, for
it is indeterminately prior to demonstration. However, those who argue
against such a principle can be refuted. They can be refuted not on their
own terms, that is to say, not merely in logos, but rather on the ground of
their behavior in context. The argumentation by which Aristotle proceeds
to delineate the possibility, indeed, the inevitability of such a refutation,
is not apodictic. Instead, in its gesturing to that which is irreducible to
demonstration, in its appealing to evidences prior to demonstration, such
an argumentation remains open: a logos open to that which exceeds logos,
or, which is the same, a logos showing in its openness the irreducibility of
logos itself to demonstration. Indemonstrability entails neither paralysis,
whether discursive or practical, nor the indifference of relativism: there
where logos cannot proceed demonstrably, it can be guided by experience
and speak out of such an otherwise than scienti¬c determination.
As we shall see, Aristotle™s argumentation at this juncture is twofold.
In the ¬rst place, he will state that the education that each has received
The Principle “By Nature” 229

is prior to scienti¬c inquiry and argument. That is to say, education
shapes the outlines, delineation, and limits of scienti¬c inquiry and,
more broadly, of discourse. On a most basic level, education has always
already determined the recognition of what can and what cannot be
demonstrated. Second, it will turn out that, to the extent that the oppo-
nents of the principle of non-contradiction argue against it, they are
not indifferently also arguing in its support. That is, they do not indif-
ferently hold a position and its contrary, for, if they would do so, their
speaking would lack meaning and they would be saying nothing at all.
Thus, in defending their position and not also, at the same time, its
contrary, they in fact destroy their position and show it as untenable.
For they con¬rm the principle they set out to reject, that is, con¬rm
the impossibility of contradiction at the same time and in the same
respect. Ultimately, despite what people say when they reject the prin-
ciple of non-contradiction, they themselves cannot believe what they say.
While they may hold this position, they do not act according to their own
logos. Their actions reveal the abstractness and alienation of their words
from praxis. They either do not realize what they are saying or speak
Here we ¬nally come to illuminate the ethical or practical substratum
of the entire discussion. For these people who argue against the principle
of non-contradiction, propositions are empty “ for their propositions
are dissociated from their perceptions, experiences, and actions. Their
propositions contradict the way they live as well as the way of things.
But let us follow Aristotle™s twofold elaboration, starting with the issue of

There are some who, as we said, say that it is possible for the same thing to be and
not to be and also to believe that this is so. Even many physicists use this language.
We, on the other hand, have just posited that it is impossible to be and not to
be at the same time, and through this we have shown that it is the most certain
of all principles. Some thinkers demand a demonstration even of this principle,
but they do so because they lack education; for it is a lack of education not to
know [gignÛskein] of what things one should seek a demonstration and of what
one should not. For, as a whole, a demonstration of everything is impossible (for
the process would go on to in¬nity, so that even in this manner there would be
no demonstration). If, then, there are some things of which one should not seek
a demonstration, these thinkers could not say which of the principles has more
claim to be of this kind. (1005b35“1006a11)

Seeking demonstration of everything betrays a lack of education, indeed,
of speculative rigor. For demonstrating everything is impossible. It is
here that the problem of in¬nite regress intersects with the discussion of
Metaphysics Gamma

non-contradiction. The principle of non-contradiction brings regress in
the demonstrative chain to a halt. In turn, the argument of in¬nite regress
explains the indemonstrability of the principle. Aristotle continues by
highlighting the nonsensicality of the opponents™ position:

That the position of these thinkers is impossible can also be demonstrated by
refutation, if only our opponent says [l”ghƒ] something; and if he or she says
nothing, it is ridiculous to seek an argument [l»gon] against one who has no
argument insofar as he or she has no argument [l»gon], for such a person as
such is indeed like a plant. Demonstration by refutation, I may say, differs from
demonstration in this, that one who demonstrates might seem to be begging the
basic question, but if the other party is the cause of something posited, we would
have a refutation but not a demonstration. The principle for all such [arguments]
is not to demand that our opponent say that something is or is not (for one might
believe this to be a begging of the question), but that what he or she says should
at least mean [shma©nein] something to him- or herself as well as to another; for
this is necessary, if indeed he or she is to say anything. For if what he or she says
means nothing, such a person could not argue either by him- or herself or with
another. But if one grants this, there will be a demonstration; for there will already
be something de¬nite [Þrism”non]. But the one who is the cause [of something
granted] is not one who demonstrates but one who submits [Ëpom”nwn]; for while
he or she denies argument he or she submits to argument [ˆnair¤n g‡r l»gon
Ëpom”nei l»gon]. Besides, one who has granted this has granted that something
is true without a demonstration, so that not everything can be so and not so.

Such a refutation of the opponents does not require that they say anything
speci¬c “ that they af¬rm (or, correspondingly, deny) this or that. They
would not be willing to grant anything of that kind, precisely because they
wish to assert that one may indifferently assert and deny something at the
same time and in the same respect. However, the refutation does not rest
on what they say, but simply on the fact that they say anything, that is, that
they mean something, that what they say has meaning, whether they are
speaking to themselves or to another. There can be no meaning, no mean-
ingful speaking, in holding a position and its contrary at the same time
and in the same regard. In fact, listening itself, listening with understand-
ing, would become impossible under such circumstances. The conditions
would be lacking for communication “ for conveying meaning, whether
across oneself or across the space shared with others. In other words, deny-
ing the principle of non-contradiction means denying the very operation
of logos, in any of its enactments. If the principle of non-contradiction
grants the conditions for logos, rejecting the principle amounts to
rejecting logos “ being “like a plant.” Accordingly, regarding the opponent
The Principle “By Nature” 231

who says something, anything whatsoever, Aristotle observes: “while one
denies logos one submits to logos” (1006a26).
Once again, we are brought to contemplate how the principle of
non-contradiction constitutes the very condition of meaning. Meaning
bespeaks orientation, non-indifference, things being “this way and not
that,” the taking place and taking shape of determinacy, which may be
undone but not at the same time and in the same respect “ which may be
undone according to time and aspect. The bare phenomenon of “taking
a stand” (one stand and not also, simultaneously, its contrary) will always
already have practically revealed the principle of non-contradiction at

2.3.2. Meaning
Aristotle emphasizes dialectic “ the dialectical and pre-demonstrative
dimension of interaction and, in fact, of logos itself. Here logos itself is
elaborated in terms that exceed logos qua strict syllogistical or demon-
strative procedure, in terms of the ability to engage in speaking, which
involves listening, taking in what is said. Meaning emerges prior to the
processes that provide proof. It emerges out of experience and its circu-
lation, its being shared. Prior to logos as proof, logos presents itself in and
as dialogos.
Logos is meaningful: it “has” meaning, it carries a con¬guration of
meaning, and this means a directionality. That logos is neither meaning-
less nor indifferently admitting every content and its contrary is demon-
strated by the very fact that even the alleged opponents of the principle (of
non-contradiction) have an argument. They do so precisely qua opponents.
They hear the logos of the principle in its meaningful de¬niteness and
respond with their own logos. In articulating an argument, in discussing
and exposing their discourse, in listening and replying to the one they
oppose, they performatively demonstrate that they take meaning (deter-
minacy, de¬niteness) as the condition of the engagement. But the possi-
bility of meaning is precisely what the principle of non-contradiction sets
out to explicate, ground, and preserve. Hence, the opponents are refuted
by their ¯thos itself, by their practical and factual involvement in dynamics
of meaning, that is, in its dialogical articulation. In taking a stand against
the principle and arguing for the indifferent possibility of meaningless-
ness, they speak in a way that is dissociated from their comportment.
What their posture shows is contradicted or negated by their words.
It is dif¬cult, in this connection, not to recall the discussion of incon-
tinence in the Nicomachean Ethics, focusing on the detachment of logos
Metaphysics Gamma

from experience, on the way in which logos may become alienated from
the meaningful, orienting structures of the practical, of the realm of
action. At stake in the emptiness of the propositions of those who argue
against the principle is a kind of ethical failure. It is as though, in speak-
ing in such a way, one would fail to contact oneself, to reach and catch
up with oneself. One would speak in such a way only contentiously, with
no experience ful¬lling one™s own statements, without those statements
being ¬lled, made complete, by the content that is one™s own living. In
the ¬nal analysis, the problem of incontinence, akrasia, indicates not
simply a lack of power, but rather a speci¬c inability: the inability to
contain “ to contain oneself, that is, to contain and hold together one™s
logos (reason, judgment) and one™s emotions and drives, to gather and
integrate them, mixing them, as it were, in the same krat¯r. Incontinence
would precisely bespeak that inability to hold together and harmonize,
that disintegration that makes one™s logos separate from what is the case,
and therefore barren, one-sided. For logos, unmixed with respect to life,
becomes unconditional, at once overpowering (or even omnipotent) in
its claim and impotent in its reach. In this sense, we notice the concomi-
tance of the features of impotence and absoluteness “ of being akrat¯s e
(impotent, uncontrolled, or immoderate; from krate¯, “to enjoy strength
and power”) and akratos (pure, unmixed, or absolute; from kerannumi,
“to mix,” and hence “to temper”).2
Ultimately, the principle of non-contradiction is intrinsically related to
the ethics of discourse. To be concerned with the truth, that is to say, hav-
ing been educated, having had a certain upbringing, having cultivated
a “healthy” attitude toward the truth (1008b31) “ this is what it means
to speak from experience or from belief. This is what it means to speak
in a way that is not estranged, that adheres to life and responds to the
necessity of what is. Such a speaking from experience or belief, that is,
a speaking integrated with life, is a manner of legein through which the

2 The problem of logos alienated from experience is addressed only partially by the aware-
ness of logos as that which should be ¬lled with content, as the containing. This is certainly
what marks the transition from incontinence to continence. Continence (enkrateia), how-
ever, is not yet excellence (aret¯ ). As content, experience should not only be contained
(forcefully, effectively controlled), but also should affect the container and the manner of
containment. Experience (more broadly, the motility of life) and logos should be aligned,
harmonized, mutually attuned. In the terms of the present discussion, logos should be
not only the mixing bowl within which life is poured, but itself mixed with life. The way
things are is not only contemplated by logos, but in fact restricts the possibilities of logos,
draws its con¬nes.
The Principle “By Nature” 233

principle of non-contradiction shines: a speaking that makes such a prin-
ciple perspicuous in its enactment and performance. But such a logos
at one with nous, with its non-logical inception, with what is, signals
the accomplishment of human self-actualization. Such a logos signals the
attainment of happiness or the good. We may therefore conclude that, in
its operation, the principle of non-contradiction (the unity of the onto-
logical and the logical, which shines through the logos at one with nous)
signals or is itself a manifestation of the good, of the good at work, in
action. For the principle of non-contradiction, far from merely express-
ing how logos unravels, far from merely being regulative of human think-
ing and utterance, expresses the unraveling of all that is (acts, moves), the
non-indifference of the direction according to which anything becomes,
the orientation “ the sense “ of what is.
This concomitance of the ¬rst axiom (the principle of being) and the
good should not strike us as altogether surprising. After all, we already
took notice of the convergence of ¬rst philosophy (the science of being,
of ¬rst principles) and the inquiry regarding the “highest good in the
whole of nature,” “that for the sake of which each thing must be done”
(982b5“7). In its pursuit of the good (¬rst principle and ¬nal cause,
the divine itself), ¬rst philosophy is the science of god “ the science
investigating god and belonging to god, investigating the divine and itself
divine (983a5“11).

2.4. Principle as the Good
Thus, the principle of non-contradiction, this principle at once of being
and logos, ontological and logical, sustaining and articulating the phe-
nomenal ¬‚ow of what is, would itself coincide with the good “ or, at
least, constitute one of its guises. Such a principle would reveal itself
in and through the belonging of logos in being. It would be divined in
and through a certain speaking “ not so much speaking focused on a
certain theme, but rather speaking in a certain way, in a way that is neces-
sitated by what is and lets what is come forth and shine. This manner
of speaking rooted in the ground (indeed, in the soil) of experience, at
one with living, reveals itself in its paradigmatic excellence and, hence, as
an operation of the good: a guarding of language within the compass of
lived experience and, more broadly, the harmonization of rational and
other-than-rational dimensions of the human psukh¯. In this sense, we
¬nd no discontinuity among the various strands of the discussion in the
Metaphysics Gamma

Metaphysics. On the contrary, we come to glimpse the profound unity
of the logical, ontological, and properly theological dimensions of this
inquiry, all disclosed through the ethical analysis.
In Book Gamma, at length and vigorously, Aristotle insists on the refu-
tation of his antagonists based on the examination of their comportment.
The following remarks sound quite familiar at this stage: “But if one says
that all speak alike falsely and truly, then such a person can neither utter
nor say anything; for one says that this is so and not so at the same time.
If one has no belief of anything, but is equally thinking and not thinking,
how would one differ from a plant?” (1008b7“12). Denying the principle
of non-contradiction means destroying the very possibility and operation
of logos, thus annihilating what distinguishes the human being from other
living beings. Aristotle continues by reinforcing the connection between
judgment regarding ethical questions (the good course of action or, at
least, the better and worse) and judgment tout court (whether this here is
or is not, e.g., a human being). Referring to those who deny the principle,
he states:

It is most evident that no one of those who speak this logos, or anyone else, is
disposed [di†keitai] in this way. For why does one walk to Megara and not stay
where one is with the thought that one is walking to Megara? And why does one
not walk straight into a well or over a precipice, if such happens to be in the way,
but appear to guard oneself against it, with the thought that it is not equally good
and not good to fall in? Clearly, then, one believes one course of action to be
better and the opposite not better. And if this is so, then one must also believe
one thing to be a human being and another not a human being, one thing to be
sweet and another not to be sweet. For when one thinks that it is better to drink
water and see a human being and then makes inquiries about them, one does not
equally seek and believe everything; yet one should, if the same thing were alike
a human being and not a human being. But, as we said, there is no one who does
not appear to guard him- or herself against some things and not against others.
Thus, as it seems, all people have beliefs in an unquali¬ed way, if not about all
things, at least about what is better and what is worse. And if it is not knowledge
but opinion that they have, they should be all the more concerned about the
truth, just as those who are sick are more concerned to be healthy than those
who are healthy; for compared with someone with knowledge, someone with
opinion, too, is not healthily disposed toward the truth [oÉc Ëgiein¤v di†keitai
pr¼v tŸn ˆlžqeian]. (1008b12“31)

Against those who hold that anything and its contrary may be the case and
that any position and its contrary may be defended with equal legitimacy,
Aristotle then states that not even the lack of certainty would grant such
a conclusion. The knowledge we gather may well be quali¬ed, but it does
The Principle “By Nature” 235

not follow from this that all theses are alike plausible and truthful. The
claim is quite extreme: even if there were no absolute standard of truth
by which to evaluate the relative worth of various statements, even if our
knowledge were ultimately quali¬ed, still, the fact remains that things
can be thoughtfully encountered in such a way as to become manifest
with a degree of clarity, of determinacy. Such a determinacy, however
quali¬ed, is not nothing, so much so that we exhibit an immediate ability
to discern degrees of accuracy, that is, of the adherence of logos to what
is. Thus, the “unmixed” (unquali¬ed and absolute) logos of those who
proclaim the impossibility of determining what is somehow turns out to be

Again, however much things may be so and not so, at least the more and the less
are still present in the nature of beings [–n t¦ƒ f…sei t¤n Àntwn]; for we should
not say that both two and three are alike even, nor that both one who regards
four to be ¬ve and one who regards one thousand to be ¬ve are alike mistaken.
And if they are not alike mistaken, it is clear that the former is less mistaken and
so considers more truly [mŽllon ˆlhqe…ei]. Accordingly, if that which has more
of something is nearer to it, there should be a truth to which the more true is
nearer. And even if there is not, still there is at least something which is more
certain and more true, and this would free us from the unconditional doctrine
[to“ l»gou . . . to“ ˆkr†tou] which prevents a thing from being made de¬nite by
thought [ti t¦ƒ diano©a„ ¾r©sai]. (1008b31“1009a5)

Besides the emphatically ethical tenor of this overall discussion, we should
notice what we could almost call an anti-Cartesian strand in Aristotle™s line
of argumentation. As though in order to counter hyperbolical doubt,
Aristotle aims at showing that thinking and its logical structures are not
separable from experience and, more broadly, from the involvement in
action. Rather, ethical involvement always already makes a difference,
always already determines the perspective according to which we are,
think, know, and speak. Formulating the thought of walking to Megara
presupposes the experience of having walked to some place or other and
the ability to discern Megara as a place one can possibly walk to. Fur-
thermore, such a formulation manifests a thrust toward its own practical
ful¬llment, toward action. Also, we are not indifferent to possible obsta-
cles or dangers on our way “ so much so that we avoid them, change
our course if needed, thus practically demonstrating our recognition of
better or worse options, our ability both to distinguish and to evaluate
determinate alternatives. These facts, evident (if unthematized) in the
way we live, act, and are, carry the utmost consequence with respect to
what and how we think. In fact, they draw beforehand the horizon and
Metaphysics Gamma

con¬nes within which our thinking develops. They crucially reveal its
unspoken structures. Ignoring them makes sterile contention possible “
as is the case, for instance, of those who believe they can meaningfully
reject the principle of non-contradiction.
With the last remarks, about being more or less intimate with the truth,
more or less close to it, Aristotle seems to be decisively pointing beyond
the facile polarity of relativism and objective truth, of absolute indetermi-
nacy and absolute determination. He is pointing toward a determination
that is neither absolute nor doubtful, for absoluteness, the quest for cer-
tainty, and hence the irrepressible specter of skepticism, are scienti¬c
projections and issue from the logic of demonstration.
It might be fruitful to connect this other-than-scienti¬c determination
with the re¬‚ection on in¬nite regress in Alpha Elatton. Here, once again,
the good is associated with the ultimate principle and, hence, with the
possibility of determinacy “ not the determinacy yielded by a demon-
strative process of determination, but rather the determinacy prior to all
demonstration, the determinacy making all demonstration possible. The
good would be connected with that determinacy without process of deter-
mination, that determinacy somehow giving itself without mediation. It
is, therefore, both remarkable and far from accidental that the good and
intellect, nous, should be implicated in the same considerations. Aristotle

Moreover, the ¬nal cause is an end, and as such it is not for the sake of something
else but others are for its sake. Thus, if there is to be such one which is last, the
process will not be in¬nite; but if there is no such, there will be no ¬nal cause.
But those who introduce an in¬nite series are unaware [lanq†nousin] of the fact
that they are eliminating the nature of the good [ˆgaqo“ f…sin] (although no
one would try to do anything if he or she did not intend to come to a limit). Nor
would there be intellect in the world [no“v –n to±v o”sin]; for, at any rate, one who
has an intellect always acts 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]. (994b9“16)

Final cause is limit: beginning and end, that which delimits the series of
demonstrations. Without ¬nal cause or ¬rst principle, the demonstrative
chain would go on in¬nitely, ever referring back to further proofs. That
there is indeed ¬nal cause or ¬rst principle is evident from the bare
fact that human beings undertake all manners of enterprise, that is, are
always projected toward a limit or end. Such a limit, that for the sake of
which anything is undertaken, is itself ¬rst principle and ¬nal cause. The
discussion of it is essentially intertwined with that of the good and of nous,
since denying it would amount to “eliminating” both.
The Principle “By Nature” 237

Aristotle adds that knowing, too, would thereby be eliminated. Thus,
it becomes evident that the delimitation provided by the ¬rst and last has
everything to do with the intuition or intellection of matter, that is, with
the capacity to put an end to the demand for demonstration by coming
to rest in the necessity of what is, as it gives itself in experience:

But the what-it-was-to-be [t¼ t© §n e²nai], too, cannot always be referred back to
another de¬nition [l»gw„] longer than the preceding one. First, if this were pos-
sible, each de¬nition in the resulting series would be a de¬nition to a higher
degree than the one which precedes it; but if there is no [¬nal de¬nition] which
is ¬rst, neither will any of the others be such as stated. Second, those who speak in
this manner eliminate knowing; for it is not possible for us to understand [e«d”nai]
unless we come to know the indivisibles. Nor is it possible to know [gignÛskein]
anything; for how can we think [noe±n] of an in¬nite number of parts in this
sense? For the situation here is not similar to that with the line which, being
divisible without a stop [oÉc ¯statai], cannot be thought [no¦sai] unless we stop
[stžsanta] (for here, one who is to traverse the in¬nite line will not count the
sections). But the matter [Ìlhn] in a moving object must also be thought [noe±n].
Moreover, no object can be in¬nite; and if it is, at least the being of the in¬nite
[ˆpe©rw„ e²nai] is not in¬nite. Again, if the kinds of causes were in¬nitely many,
knowing [gignÛskein] would still be impossible; for we think we have understand-
ing [e«d”nai] when we know [gnwr©swmen] the causes, but the in¬nite by addition
cannot be gone through in a ¬nite time. (994b16“31)

Thus, either, by admitting in¬nite regress, we renounce the possibility of
knowing or we preserve such a possibility, but recognize that it is not a
matter of scienti¬c or apodictic knowledge. Rather, the knowing at stake
would have to be understood in intellectual or intuitive terms. In order
to admit ¬rst principle and ¬nal cause, that is, in order to preserve the
possibility of determination, meaningful inquiry, and, subsequently, sci-
enti¬c knowledge, we must learn to recognize that which is irreducible
to our syllogistical constructions. We must learn to recognize and rely on
that underived knowing implicit in what is, in us, in our experiences and
practices. What is at stake here is learning to acknowledge and trust that
which can only be trusted, for it can be neither controlled nor proved “
learning to trust it as ground and rest on it. Of course, in this movement
“ground” comes to signify something quite other than the unassailable
ground of Cartesian conception, which coincides with absolute certainty.
The ground that can only be trusted is no conceptual ground. It is the
ground we live on, and that must suf¬ce. It is the emergence and recep-
tion of what is, in its unity, integrity, and determinacy, prior to and beyond
the perception of its in¬nite divisibility. That, Aristotle insists, must not be
doubted. Doubting it, that is, requiring proofs of it, would be like asking
Metaphysics Gamma

for a demonstration of the indemonstrable, and this is the mark of the
The hypothesis of an in¬nite series, Aristotle surmises, would entail
the simultaneous elimination of the good, of the intellect, and of know-
ing. However, the regress is brought to an end and the ¬rst/¬nal cause
discerned when we acknowledge an evidence, a knowledge other than
discursive and demonstrative. The discussion of in¬nite regress in Alpha
Elatton and the discussion of other-than-scienti¬c determination and
knowledge in Gamma intersect in a revealing manner. In both cases, at
stake is the possibility, indeed, the af¬rmation of an orientation to and
by the good. It is such a directionality, or teleology, that allows for mean-
ing, for knowing, and for determinacy. Without such an orientation, we
would be exposed to the threat of nonsense and aimless, chaotic, undi-
rected motion “ which means motion endless and indifferent. However,
this turns out to be a merely alleged threat: Aristotle insists that our lives,
our experiences, in deed show that the possibility of nonsensicality is
an abstract concern and that, in one way or another, we are always sus-
tained, directed “ however multilayered the experience of direction and
polysemic the language of directedness may be.

2.5. Teleology and Life
It is in recognizing as suf¬cient the evidence provided by experience that
Aristotle proceeds to assume a ¬rst and last principle that would bring the
demonstrative series to a halt. The ultimate principle, thus, transpires
from the acknowledgment of the dignity of what life shows.3 The acknowl-
edgment of life should be enough to compel the opponents to accept the
principle and “to believe that of beings there is a certain other substance
to which neither motion nor destruction nor generation belong at all”
(1009a36“8). Rather paradoxically, then, from the practice of trust vis-` -
vis becoming stems the indication of a principle somewhat irreducible,
if not to becoming as a whole, to anything that becomes. It would seem
that life itself necessitates the contemplation of a transcendent, excessive
principle. Such a transcendent principle may be understood in terms of
life, each time singular and concrete, pointing beyond itself, in order to
embrace itself in its wholeness. At stake would be life™s own movement of
self-transcendence and self-comprehension.

3 In this connection, see Giovanni Reale™s meditations on “the loss of the sense [meaning]
of end” in Saggezza antica: terapia per il mali dell™uomo d™oggi (Milan: Cortina, 1995), 171“97.
The Principle “By Nature” 239

In this perspective, teleology of the good (ultimate orientation to
the good) would signify developmental directionality, that which guides
being in its becoming, becoming in its being. In other words, teleology
would come to indicate the course, determinacy, and non-indifference
of life.
Those who deny such a logical/ontological principle do so either
because they disdain experiential evidence or because they make their
limited experience absolute and fail to situate it within that which sur-
rounds, the whole. Aristotle dismissively diagnoses their predicament:

those who have such beliefs deserve criticism also in view of the fact that from their
observation of sensible things, small in number, they have expressed themselves
similarly about the entire heaven. For it is only in the place of sensible beings
around us that destructions and generations constantly occur, but this place is, in
a manner of speaking, not even a part of the whole; so that it would be more just
to reject the sensible beings in virtue of the rest than to condemn the latter in
virtue of the former. Moreover, it is clear that our reply to them, too, will be the
same as that made earlier to the others; for we shall have to show and convince
them that there is a certain unmoved nature [ˆk©nht»v tiv f…siv]. (1010a25“35)

What is fascinating in the overall thrust of this discussion is the tension
between the precedence accorded to the eternal beings (the heaven in
its wholeness and, in the ¬nal analysis, the immutable principles) and
the emphasis on human situatedness. Two lines of argumentation inter-
sect in Aristotle™s analysis here. On the one hand, Aristotle wishes to
show that all manners of inquiry, including investigations into ultimate
principles such as the one here at stake, are situated within a human envi-
ronment and depend on practical con¬gurations, ways of constructing
the human, and hence ethical considerations. On the other hand, and
precisely on the ground of his heightened attention to human experi-
ence, Aristotle underlines the priority of the eternal beings over against
the beings most proximate to us and af¬rms the necessity of an ulti-
mate principle as the beginning and end, the origin and direction, of
all becoming. The ambitiousness of this discourse lies in the attempt at
amalgamating these apparently heterogeneous, if not altogether diver-
gent, lines of inquiry. The intimation is that, precisely in its orientation,


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