. 9
( 12)


sense, and non-indifference, life (and most notably human life) demands
to be situated in an environment exceeding the human. It implies a con-
text neither merely human-made nor merely based on the arbitrariness
of human self-assertion. Of their own accord, the meaning and direc-
tion found in life necessitate and reveal a plot in which the human is
implicated, while being neither the author nor the source of it. The task,
Metaphysics Gamma

then, involves acknowledging the broader fabric of sense into which the
human is woven, which provides the limits and direction orienting human
The so-called principle of non-contradiction speaks at once of the way
beings (including us) are and of the way we perceive what is. Beings can-
not be and not be such-and-such at the same and in the same respect. Nor
can we believe that they are and are not such-and-such at the same time
and in the same respect. To the extent that we adhere to what is, what
is dictates our perception, and hence our thinking and speaking. Thus,
this is a principle gathering all that is, precisely in its differentiation and
determinacy “ a principle of interconnectedness. Interestingly enough,
then, the reference to a principle (indicated as the sky, the all) immov-
able, ungenerated, and indestructible points to the interweaving of all
that is, to the fabric of becoming. The formulation of such a principle
constitutes the acknowledgement of belonging in the broader organi-
zation and articulation of being. It is within such a global articulation
that meaning is granted. In this sense, here we have suggested that, in
speaking of the principle of non-contradiction, Aristotle is speaking of
the principle of and as the good “ the indemonstrable condition and
guidance of being, thinking, and speaking.
The inadmissibility of contradiction (at the same time, in the same
respect) both in elocution and in being; the noetic ground halting in¬nite
regress and making it ¬nite; and the teleology of the good, that is, the
orientation to a ¬nal cause that is at once ¬rst, may all be seen as aspects of
the same principle. Such a manifold principle both grants and explicates
the way being takes place, that is, occurs as beings. By the same token, the
structures of sense, signi¬cation, and thinking are illuminated.

2.6. Anti-Cartesianism
We already underscored the punctual, if anachronistic, anti-Cartesian
strand in Book Gamma. This is evident in the whole discussion, but
most notable in the passage considered below (1010b1“1011b7). In this
long segment we notice, among other things, considerations that could
be brought to bear on the question of time left somewhat suspended
in Physics Delta (“whether time would be or not if no soul would be”
[223a23]) and, in general, on the question of sensible beings as sub-
sisting aside from sensing, that is, aside from the perception of them
carried out in and by the soul. Also articulated here is a rejection of
the view according to which, based on the undeniable ¬‚uctuation and
The Principle “By Nature” 241

inconstancy of appearance (phantasia), the possibility of an insight into
the truth and of more or less accurate statements should be altogether
relinquished. Once more, at stake is the trustworthiness, however quali-
¬ed, of phenomena. The passage deserves to be considered at length:

Concerning the truth regarding the fact that not every phenomenon is true,
¬rst, it is a fact that no sensation of its proper sensible is false; but appearance
[fantas©a] is not the same as sensation. Then we are fairly surprised if these
thinkers raise the question whether the size of the magnitudes and the kinds of
colors are such as they appear [fa©netai] to those at a distance or to those who are
near, whether things are such as they appear to the sick or the healthy, whether
those things are heavy which so appear to the weak or to the strong, and whether
those things are true which appear to those who are asleep or to those who are
awake. For it is evident that they themselves do not think so; at least no one in
Libya, believing at night that he or she is in Athens, starts walking to the Odeum.
Again, with regard to the future, as Plato too says, the opinion of a doctor and
that of an ignorant person are indeed not equally reliable, that is, as to whether
the sick will become healthy or not. Again, with regard to the powers of sensation
themselves, the power of the non-proper object is not so reliable as the power
of the proper object, or, that of the object nearby is not so reliable as that of its
own object; but in the case of colors it is sight that judges and not taste, and in
the case of ¬‚avors it is taste and not sight. And no power of sensation ever says
about its proper object that it is so and not so at the same time. But not even at
another time does it doubt about that affection [p†qov], but it may doubt about
the thing to which the affection belongs. For example, the same wine, either due
to its own change or due to a change of one™s body, might seem sweet at one time
but not at another; but at least sweetness, such as it is when it is, never changes,
and one always thinks truly [ˆlhqe…ei] of it as such, and that which will be sweet
will of necessity be of this kind. (1010b1“26)

While “no sensation of its proper sensible” may be mistaken, appearances
may be evaluated, interpreted differently, and such evaluations admit of
varying degrees of falsity. Yet not all sources of a given evaluation indif-
ferently carry the same authoritativeness. Opinions are in fact discerned
as more or less likely, according to the conditions in which they were
formed and the reliability or expertise of their source. At any rate, aside
from the undeniable ¬‚uctuation of the sensible, the features sensed by
each power of sensation are unvarying. The “proper sensibles,” such as
tastes (e.g., sweetness) for the sense of taste or the visible (e.g., colors) for
the sense of vision, may be erroneously attributed to this or that being,
but, as such, abide in their de¬nition and de¬niteness. “Yet,” Aristotle
laments in turning to his opponents, “all these doctrines [l»goi] do away
with this; and just as they deny the being of a substance of anything, so
they deny that anything is of necessity; for the necessary cannot be now
Metaphysics Gamma

this and now that, and so if something is of necessity, it will not be so and
not so” (1010b26“30).
Pursuing this line of thinking further, Aristotle insists on the non-
derivative character of sensible beings, on their being somehow auto-
nomous from, or even prior to, their being sensed and the organs sensing
them. The primordiality of the sensible is thus made prominent, in a
formulation whose laboriousness is in and of itself noteworthy:

In general, if indeed only the sensible is, nothing would be if those with a soul
were not, for then there would be no sensation. On the one hand, it is equally
true that the sensible beings [a«sqht†] and the sensations thereof [a«sqžmata]
would not be (for the latter are affections [p†qov] of that which senses), but for
another, it is impossible that the underlying subjects which cause sensation [poie±
tŸn a­sqhsin] should not be, even if there is no sensation of them. For a sensation
is surely not a sensation of itself, but there is also something else besides the
sensation which must be prior to the sensation; for that which moves is by nature
prior to that which is moved. And even if the two are spoken of in relation to
each other, this is no less true. (1010b30“1011a2)

Aristotle, then, turns once more to consider the continuing (incontinent,
we may say) demand for demonstration, for logos alone. The inappropri-
ate quest for omni-demonstrability is here considered in connection with
the attempt to establish ultimate authorities or judges. Regarding his
opponents, Aristotle notes:

There are some, among both those who are convinced of these doctrines [l»gouv]
and those who only utter them, who raise the problem by asking who is to be the
judge of the healthy person, and, in general, who is to judge correctly any thing.
But raising such problems is like raising the problem whether we are now sleeping
or awake. All such problems amount to the same thing, for they demand a logos
for everything; they ask for a principle but they demand a demonstration of it,
although from their actions it is obvious that they are not convinced. But as we
just said, their trouble [p†qov] is this: they seek a logos for that which has no logos;
for the origin [ˆrcž] of a demonstration is not a demonstration. Now the former
may be easily convinced of this fact (for it is not dif¬cult to grasp). But those who
seek cogency in the logos alone [–n t l»gw„ tŸn b©an m»non zhto“ntev] are seeking
the impossible; for they claim the right of stating the contraries, and so they state
them right away. (1011a3“17)

Those who deny the so-called principle of non-contradiction demand
demonstrations of everything and, failing to satisfy the criterion of abso-
lute certainty, fall into unmitigated skepticism. They quickly relinquish
all possibility of asserting anything truthfully and hold that everything is
relative, every view of it equally viable and legitimate. Aristotle sustains
the controversy against them without transcending phenomenality “ in
The Principle “By Nature” 243

fact, by resorting to an even closer, and hence more nuanced, approach
to the sensible. It is certainly not the case that all appearances (the sensi-
ble and the perception thereof ) are indifferently true (and, by the same
token, false). The claim that all appearances are “alike false and true”
must be quali¬ed: an appearance may be true or false to someone, at a
particular time, in a particular circumstance, from a particular vantage
point, and according to a particular sense organ.
This quali¬cation carries three crucial consequences. In the ¬rst place,
it allows one to discern between relatively more or less reliable percep-
tions, according to their circumstances. Second, however, the fact that
an appearance has been perceived unmistakably signals that something
has come to pass “ something and not nothing. Regardless of the degree
of accuracy or distortion in perceiving, beings are neither constituted
nor brought forth through the perception of them. Third, a perception,
regardless of its truthfulness, is determinate: it is such and such, not every-
thing and nothing. Above all, it is not true and false. For a given person,
or for a person™s given organ of perception, at a given time, in a given
circumstance, the appearance is exactly what it is, and not anything else,
let alone its contrary. In Aristotle™s words:

Now if not all things are relative, but there are some things which are according
to themselves, not every phenomenon would be true; for a phenomenon is a
phenomenon to someone, so one who says that all phenomena are true makes
all beings relative. For this reason we should guard ourselves against those who
seek cogency in arguments [tŸn b©an –n t l»gw„ zhto“sin] and who at the same
time claim to be defending their argument [l»gon], by requiring them to say,
not that a phenomenon just is, but that a phenomenon is for the one to whom it
appears [fa©netai], and when it appears, and in the respect in which it appears,
and in the manner in which it appears. And if they are giving a defense of their
argument [l»gon], but not in this manner, they will soon turn out to be making
contrary statements. For it is possible for the same thing to appear to be honey
to sight but not to the sense of taste, and for the same thing to appear unlike
to the sight of each of two eyes, if these are unlike. So against at least those
who say that that which appears is true, for the reasons stated formerly, and that
because of this everything is alike false and true (for things do not appear the
same to all, nor always the same to the same person, but often contrary at the
same time [kat‡ t¼n aÉt¼n cr»non]; for the sense of touch says that there are two
objects when the ¬ngers are crossed, but sight says that there is one), we reply
“yes, but not to the same power of sensation and according to the same aspect
of it and in the same manner and at the same time [–n t aÉt cr»nw„]”; so
that it is with these quali¬cations that the phenomenon is true. But perhaps it
is because of this that those who speak not because of the dif¬culty but for the
sake of logos are compelled to say, not that what appears is true, but that it is true
to whomever it so appears. And as we said before, they are also compelled to
Metaphysics Gamma

make everything relative and resting on opinion and sensation, so that nothing
has occurred and nothing will be unless someone has ¬rst formed an opinion
about it. But if something did occur or will be, it is clear that not everything will
be relative to opinion. (1011a17“b7)

Appearances are neither unquali¬edly true nor unquali¬edly false. They
are what they are, for the one to whom they appear, and at the time and
in the manner in which they do appear. In this highly quali¬ed sense,
they are true. However, not only is it possible, at times even immediately,
to assess the relative worth of various opinions, but, moreover, what takes
place in the domain of appearing enjoys a certain emancipation from the
opinions formed about it. What happens is not merely projected or con-
stituted through being perceived. Opinions are not of nothing; if they are
formed, something must have given itself in some guise. Something must
have happened; something and not, simultaneously, anything and its con-
trary “ something de¬nite and de¬nable, albeit in a quali¬ed way. These
considerations reveal the questionable character of the unconditional
claim that, because what appears gives rise to interpretive uncertainty, all
is relative to opinion, any opinion.
Aristotle emphasizes with great insistence that coming to know implies
living in a certain way, behaving in line with what one comprehends, and
in turn, comprehending in line with the basic features of comportment
and what these features reveal, if carefully attended to. The strands of
the inquiries regarding being, axioms, and ethical matters are indissol-
ubly intertwined. The so-called principle of non-contradiction and the
good come to be superimposed as different aspects of the granting of
meaning or ¬nality. If one were to speak in a way consistent with one™s
comportment or experience, one would be forced to admit that, much
as appearances may present interpretive dif¬culties and insidious possi-
bilities of error, still, living in the midst of appearances does not thereby
mean living in an altogether nonsensical world, being paralyzed by mean-
inglessness, by the inability of choosing, deciding, and discerning. On the
contrary, even before manifesting itself in and through human thinking
and utterance, meaning gives itself precisely in the order and coherence
with which beings take place, in the organization of what is. Our com-
portment shows that, despite all manners of disorder and randomness,
we rely on the rhythms of becoming, presuppose its regularities, recur-
rences, and continuing developments.
We have pointed out that, after an inceptive discussion of the ¬rst apo-
ria, Book Gamma, almost in its entirety (1005a19“1012b31), constitutes
Reiterations 245

a sustained confrontation with the second aporia. To conclude, then,
we may also notice the relation between aporia and teleology, the way
in which the elaboration of aporia clari¬es and de¬nes teleology. For,
indeed, in the course of Book Gamma it becomes increasingly evident
that the so-called principle of principles, the axiomatic statement of the
impossibility of contradiction, comes to coincide with the very orientation
to and teleology of the good.

3. reiterations
As Aristotle™s returns to this topic demonstrate, the issues considered
thus far are of utmost concern and utterly central in his inquiry. It may
be worth considering a few of these repetitions. In Metaphysics Kappa,
Aristotle exposes the ¬rst axiom again as a principle at once ontological
and logical, illuminating it in terms of ¯thos, and above all in terms of
always already operative communal structures. It is on the ground of the
community always already in place, on the ground of the communica-
tion, exchange, and intelligibility always already experienced within the
community, that such a principle is non-demonstratively demonstrated to
shine forth in its compelling truth and absolute priority. Aristotle opens
with a series of by now familiar statements:

There is a principle in things about which we cannot be mistaken but must always
be disposed [poie±n] in the contrary way, that is, to think truly [ˆlhqe…ein]; and
the principle is this, that the same thing cannot at one and the same time be
and not be, or admit of any other opposites in the same manner. And although
there is no demonstration of such principles in an unquali¬ed sense, there is a
demonstration against anyone who denies them. For it is not possible to make a
syllogism of the principle from a more convincing principle, yet if indeed one is
to demonstrate it without quali¬cation, one should have at least such a syllogism.
But to show the asserter of opposites why they speak falsely, one must obtain
from them such a statement which is the same as “it is not possible for the same
thing to be and not to be at one and the same time” but which does not seem
to be the same; for only thus can a demonstration be given against the one who
says that opposite assertions may be truly made of the same thing. (1061b34“

As in the previous treatise, Aristotle proceeds to link contradiction at the
same time and in the same respect with nonsensicality, indifference, or
the inhibition of signi¬cation:

Now those who are to share the logos with each other [ˆllžloiv l»gou koinwnžsein]
must also understand each other; for if this does not happen, how can they share
Metaphysics Gamma

the logos with each other? Accordingly, each name must be known and signify
[gnÛrimon kaª dhlo“n] something, but only one thing, not many; and if it signi¬es
[shma©nhƒ] many things, it must be made evident to which one of them it applies.
So, in saying “it is this” and also “it is not this,” that which one says it is one denies
that it is, so what a given name signi¬es [shma©nei] one denies that it does so
signify [shma©nein]; and this is impossible. So, if indeed “it is so-and-so” signi¬es
[shma©nei] something, it is impossible for its contradictory to be true [ˆlhqe…ein]
of the same thing. (1062a12“20)

Again and analogously, Aristotle links logos and being in such a way that
the possibility of logos is measured, even restricted, by what is. If it is to lay
a claim to truth, logos should not exceed such bounds: “Again, if the name
signi¬es [shma©nei] something and this is truly asserted [ˆlhqe…etai], it is
necessary for that which is asserted to be; and if it is necessary that it
be, it cannot at that time not be; hence, it is not possible for opposite
assertions to be true [ˆlhqe…ein] of that same thing” (1062a20“23). The
rootedness of logos (of judgment and assertion) in the way of beings (in
the way beings are) could hardly be more emphasized.
It is perhaps in accord with this emphasis that, in the ¬nal analysis,
Aristotle contemplates the possibility of considering Heraclitus as a gen-
uine interlocutor, whose speaking may unfold in the exposure to what
is. Unlike the contentious adversaries, who wish to defend their position
merely in logos, disregarding their own experience and the necessitat-
ing force of phenomena, Heraclitus may simply have been inaccurate in
speaking, may have spoken without fully realizing the implications of his

Now none of the above arguments is an unquali¬ed demonstration of the prin-
ciple in question, nevertheless they are demonstrations against those who posit
contrary opinions. Perhaps Heraclitus himself, if he were questioned in this man-
ner, would have been quickly compelled to agree [¾mologe±n] that contradictory
assertions can never be true [ˆlhqe…esqai] of the same things; but as it is, he
adopted this doctrine [d»xan] without an understanding of what he was saying.
On the whole, if his statement is true, neither will it itself be true, namely, the
statement “it is possible for the same thing to be and not to be at one and the
same time.” (1062a30“1062b2)

Besides the unsustainability of a logos that is at odds with being, Aristo-
tle is also very meticulous in pointing out the internal inconsistencies of
such a logos, the way in which it is at odds with itself, even self-destructive:
“Further, if nothing can be af¬rmed truly, this statement itself, namely,
˜nothing can be af¬rmed truly™ would also be false. But if there is a true
Reiterations 247

af¬rmation, this would refute what is said by those who oppose such
statements and eliminate discursive exchange [t¼ dial”gesqai] com-
pletely” (1062b7“11).
As the thrust of the discussion considered thus far makes abundantly
clear, the thought of demonstration receives a quite unusual develop-
ment. While demonstration as strictly logical procedure is out of the
question here, it is still explored it in its quali¬ed, extra-logical, indeed,
practical-performative, sense. Practical matters are shown in their co-
gency, in their power to compel assent and form basic conviction. Such a
quali¬ed demonstration points not to what is assessed and ¬nally proved
in logos, but rather to what is demonstrated by dialogue “ by the very fact
that dialogue (and, by extension, all manner of involvement in action)
is possible and meaningfully takes place. At any given time and in any
given circumstance, we say this, do this, and not that, not everything
and its opposite. What we say or do may not shine forth in uncontrover-
sial determinacy or immediate transparency. It may need clari¬cation,
elucidation, interpretation, that is, the work of judgment. However, it is
neither nothing nor indifferently any thing.
As the discussion in Book Kappa continues, Aristotle also underlines
that the principle of non-contradiction has to do with a radical delimita-
tion of anthropocentrism. His critical assessment of Protagoras™ position
is almost Heraclitean in tenor, hinting as it does at a kind of “private”
understanding, at the retreat into an idiosyncratic perspective making it
impossible to perceive that which is common:

The saying of Protagoras is almost like the doctrines we have mentioned; for he,
too, said that a human being is the measure of all things, and this is saying none
other than that what a thing seems to be to each human being is precisely what
the thing is. If this happens to be the case, then it follows that the same thing both
is and is not, so that it is both good and bad, and likewise with the other so-called
opposite assertions; and this is because a thing often appears to be beautiful to
some but the contrary to other people, and that which appears to each human
being is the measure. This dif¬culty may be solved if we examine the source of
this belief. (1062b12“1062b21)

To confront this dif¬culty, Aristotle proceeds to contrast sensation to
opinion and appearance or imagination, along the lines already consid-
ered in Book Gamma. In and of itself, as pertaining to its proper sen-
sible, sensation can never be false. However, the same cannot be said
of the opinions and appearances or imaginations (doxai and phantasiai)
Metaphysics Gamma

that arise from sensory perception. They may indeed be mistaken and,
subsequently, not every opinion or imagination carries the same author-
itativeness and not everyone may be equally and indifferently reliable in
the evaluation one provides:

Moreover, it is foolish to attend alike to the opinions and imaginations
[fantas©aiv] of disputing parties, for clearly those on one side must be mistaken.
This is evident from what happens with respect to sensations; for the same thing
never appears sweet to some people and the contrary of this to others, unless in
the one case the sense organ which judges the said ¬‚avor is injured or defective.
In such a case, we should believe those on one side to be the measure but not
those on the other. My statement applies alike to the good and the bad, the beau-
tiful and the ugly, and all other such. For the claim of our opponents does not
differ from that of those who make one thing appear two by pressing below the
eye with their ¬nger, and say that there are two things, because two things appear,
and again that there is one, for one thing appears as one to those who do not
press the ¬nger. (1062b33“1063a10)

In this way, Aristotle asserts once again the self-evidence of what is the
case and, at the same time, maintains that not all views and perceptions
are equally authoritative. Just as there may be disagreements regarding
a sensory perception, in which case the health and integrity of the sense
organ will be decisive, so there may be disagreements regarding the per-
ception of the good or the beautiful. In the latter case, decisive will be the
health and integrity of that “organ” that is the soul itself, in its con¬gura-
tion and enactment. As Aristotle notes in the Nicomachean Ethics, there are
many disagreements among human beings concerning what happiness
might be, for instance, and this seems to be due to “their ways of living”
(1095b17). However, the wise tend to agree on such matters, and their
perception, far from being mere opinion, can provide an access to what
is “by nature” (1099a12“15). Nonetheless, it should still be underlined
that the point is not so much selecting the most truthful perception as
the unique paradigm, but rather realizing the varying degrees of truth in
the various views, and even the fact that diverse views may illuminate dif-
ferent aspects of the matter and be simultaneously truthful. Truth reveals
itself chorally. Thus, considering numerous opinions about something,
“it is reasonable that none of them should be altogether mistaken but
should be right at least in one and even in most respects” (1098b28“9).
This is most notably the case with perceptions such as that of the good
and bad.
Despite the variations in perception and the inevitability of diver-
gences, inadequacies, or diverse abilities, we experience sharing, having
Reiterations 249

in common. At a most basic level, what is the case imposes itself on us,
compels us to assent, beyond discourse and demonstration:

A solution of the dif¬culties mentioned is not easy for those who possess them
from discussion [–k l»gou], unless they posit something for which they no longer
demand a reason [l»gon], for this is how all discussions [pŽv l»gov] and all
demonstrations take place; for if they posit nothing, they eliminate dialogue
[dial”gesqai] and any discourse whatever [‚lwv l»gon]. Hence, there is no argu-
ment [l»gov] against such people. But it is easy to answer those who are perplexed
by the dif¬culties as handed down and to put an end to the causes of their per-
plexity. This is evident from what has been said. (1063b7“15)

Here Aristotle™s formulation is remarkable in its incisiveness. Positing
a beginning without and beyond logos (a beginning “for which they no
longer demand logos”) constitutes the condition for the possibility of logos.
Indeed, “if they posit nothing, they eliminate . . . any logos whatever.” The
secondariness of logos could not be more peremptorily diagnosed.
Echoing Book Gamma, the discussion in Book Kappa proposes once
more the turn from the sensible beings surrounding us in our worldly cir-
cumstances to the celestial bodies in the sky, delimiting the environment
within which humankind is situated and constituting that which is most
common to all. Still sensible but eternal and immutable, the heavenly
bodies are contemplated as the ¬rst principle(s) in their radiant phe-
nomenality (as we saw, they are ta phaner¯tata, the most shining). Shared
by all in their enduring clarity, they constitute the visible evidence of the
impossibility of contradiction. They are, as Aristotle observes, the condi-
tion of truth, of what is and what is said:

In general it is absurd to form our judgment of the truth from the fact that the
things about us appear to change and never to stay the same. For, in seeking the
truth, we should start from things which are always the same and suffer no change.
Such are the heavenly bodies [t‡ kat‡ t¼n k»smon], for these do not appear to
be now of one kind and now of another but are always the same and share in no
change. (1063a10“16)

It is from these beings that are sensible yet abide in and as themselves
that Aristotle understands the motility and mutability of the sensible.
Again, contemplating that which dwells immutable means sensing the
impossibility of contradiction “ sensing it in its in(de)¬nite primacy, in
its non-logical and non-historical priority. Neither severed from nor anti-
thetical to the experience of phenomena, such a contemplation shelters
the experience of phenomena in its very possibility. The contemplation
Metaphysics Gamma

of the abiding grants the temporal unraveling of difference, that is, deter-
minacy in and as becoming:

Again, if there is motion there is also something which is in motion, and every
thing in motion is moved from something and into something. So, 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.

From what has been said, it is clear that the contrast between the celes-
tial bodies (and, therefore, the sky) and the sensible beings surrounding
us should not be hastily interpreted. In particular, we should tirelessly
underscore that, far from referring the sensible to some supersensible
domain, the bifurcation between the heavenly bodies and other bodies
articulates the domain of the sensible. To be sure, the shining bodies of
the ¬rmament constitute a peculiar phenomenon, for they offer unpar-
alleled constancy, consistency, and continuity, at once in themselves and
in our experience of them. Yet they constitutively and essentially belong
in the sensible. Thus, this contrast internal to the sensible illuminates the
self-differing character of the sensible and, more importantly, discloses
the intuition of self-sameness (of the intelligible) as a resource of the
sensible, enfolded within and intrinsic to it. In this respect, far from indi-
cating logical ¬xity, self-sameness indicates abidingness, no more and no
less than phenomenal endurance and integrity.
We could venture further and surmise that the point here is not even
emphasizing that the celestial bodies are a paradigm of truth in virtue of
their immutability, in contrast to the other mutable sensible beings. The
central concern, rather, may be to underline a certain endurance and
stability at the heart of the sensible as such, even in its most ¬‚eeting man-
ifestations. Despite the unrest of beings in their becoming, their sensible
characteristics, that is, the qualitative features articulating the sensible
as such, exhibit a certain permanence. The sweet is sweet regardless of
shifting circumstances, regardless of speci¬c beings changing from sweet
to some other taste, and also regardless of possible alterations in the per-
ceiver™s organ of perception, which may perceive something as sweet at
one point and as otherwise tasting at another point. Even in the case of
the sensible beings by which we are surrounded, the structures of sen-
sibility remain constant despite the ¬‚uctuation of becoming. Let it be
underlined that this outcome does not rest on an eidetic sublimation of
experience, but rather is dictated by experience and ¬nds in experience
Teleology, Inde¬nable and Indubitable 251

its compelling evidence. It is experience that compels us to trust what
is perceptually given, to recognize it in its determinate lineaments, to
accept its evidence, and to discern with relative safety an accurate assess-
ment from a vitiated or inadequate one.
Thus, at stake seems to be the abidingness of the structures of the sen-
sible “ an abidingness not af¬rmed despite and beyond the ¬‚uctuations
of becoming, but rather bespeaking such ¬‚uctuations, structuring the
becoming of beings in their determinacy and uniqueness. Harbored in
such an af¬rmation are beings in their taking place (however ¬‚eeting), in
their taking and leaving place. In virtue of such an abidingness granting
de¬niteness, what is would come to be, unique each time and in each
respect, each time and in each respect discernible.

4. teleology, inde¬nable and indubitable
If, as has been proposed, the discourse on the ¬rst axiom encrypts and
anticipates the discourse on the good, then a few further remarks are in
order. The teleology of the highest good is a desirous teleology where
the end is the beloved. It is in the undergoing and pursuit of such a
love that beings ¬nd in each case their fullest realization. To participate
in such a teleology, thus, means to be ensouled, to be alive. As long as
cosmic teleology embraces all, the entire cosmos is illuminated as alive.
This is pervasively evident in Metaphysics Lambda, where the divine is
systematically addressed in terms of fully enacted aliveness, life in light
of eternity, unmitigated energeia. It is also evident in De Caelo, where we
are told that “the sky is empsukhos,” alive, animated, and “has a principle
of motion” (285a29“30). From the sky thus understood comes the life,
the aliveness of all beings that are alive, as Aristotle suggests:

The end [t”lov] which circumscribes [peri”con] the time of the life of every
being, and which cannot be exceeded according to nature, they named the ai¯n o
of each. According to the same logos also the end of the whole sky, the end
which circumscribes all time and in¬nity, is ai¯n, taking the name from aei einai,
immortal and divine. From it all other things derive their being and life, some
more precisely, others more obscurely. (279a23“30)

The Platonic and pre-Platonic hypothesis of all-encompassing and all-
pervasive aliveness may still be discerned in Aristotle, while already in
Theophrastus we ¬nd a rather pronounced distinction between the ani-
mate, understood as desiring, and the inanimate “ and this means a
distinction between ¬nality and mechanism or mechanical necessity.
Metaphysics Gamma

The assumption of teleology as all-embracing is for Aristotle a matter
of faith, in the sense of pistis, trust; it is a pre-demonstrative assumption.
We cannot provide an unquali¬ed account of ¬nality in its whatness, but
must assert that ¬nality is. As we read in the Metaphysics, “if we cannot
say what they are, it is just as necessary that some eternal substances are”
(1041a2“3). That they are necessarily follows from our experience of the
sense, meaning, and directionality of what is.
We have repeatedly pointed out that ¬rst principles or origins can-
not, for Aristotle, be demonstratively known. However, their elusiveness
deserves a further, if brief, annotation. What is ¬rst is eternal, fully at work,
and simple, that is, non-composite “ most clearly, not a form-matter com-
posite. This holds, a fortiori, for the good. Aristotle draws the contrast as
follows: “Thus, we are seeking the cause (and this is the eidos) through
which the matter is a thing; and this cause is the substance of the thing.
Concerning that which is simple, however, it is evident that there is no
inquiry and no teaching, but there is another manner of inquiring about
such a thing” (1041b7“11). That which is not composite, that is, ultimate
and not derived, is discursively unknowable and, hence, strictly a matter of
intuition, noein: “either one intuits it or one does not” (1051b31“2). The
intellectual or intuitive perception, however, does not yield an analytical
de¬nition of it: “As for the simple things and the whatness of them, not
even in thought [–n diano©a„] is there truth or falsity of them” (1027b27“8).
That which is eternal, thus, constitutes an intrinsically non-analyzable, if
not altogether inscrutable, beginning or teleological principle. This is all
the more so because, despite its being most shared, what is ¬rst is utterly
unique, and “no individual,” whether sensible or intelligible, “can be
de¬ned” (1040a8). Indeed, “it is impossible to de¬ne individuals among
eternal beings, especially if each of them is unique, such as the sun or
the moon” (1040a28“9).
From these considerations emerges a twofold emphasis on trust: trust
in what we perceive and, by the same token, in the oriented order implied
by and implicated in all that we perceive “ an order that remains folded
into all that we perceive, cryptic in its evidence. Ultimately, at issue is trust
in the continuity and constancy of the earth beneath us, our ground;
trust in what surrounds and envelops us, remaining always the same and
unmoved, unchanging though revolving for all eternity. This is a funda-
mental reliance on the continuity and constancy of what sustains us, even
though the many disorderly occurrences in the sublunar realm might
make one think that certain domains do not submit to the rule of teleo-
logical orientation “ that in certain domains things take place blindly and
Teleology, Inde¬nable and Indubitable 253

randomly. However, trusting that teleology is pervasively at work, albeit
not fully knowing its what and how, involves considering randomness as
only apparent, that is, ascribing the phenomenon of randomness to the
unintelligibility or inaccessibility of teleological operativity “ to its indef-
Aristotle insists on the question of trust, pistis, also in De Caelo, and we
shall limit ourselves to mentioning two paradigmatic passages from this
text, the ¬rst in Alpha 3 and the second at the very beginning of Beta. The
former underscores the hypothetical/mythical character of discourses on
beginnings and the necessary alignment of logos to phenomena: “if what
we laid down is to be trusted [e­ tiv to±v Ëpokeim”noiv piste…ei], the ¬rst
body of all is eternal, suffers neither growth nor diminution, but is age-
less, unalterable, and impassive. It seems also that the logos bears witness
[marture±n] to the phenomena, and they to it. All human beings have a
belief regarding the gods, and all attribute the highest place to the divine,
both barbarians and Greeks” (270b1“8).4 What “all human beings” have
sensed and said, that is, what they have seen in common, trusted, and var-
iously shared, ends up providing the con¬rmation of the hypothesis put
forth, regarding things ¬rst and divine. Such a con¬rmation is altogether
practical in tenor:

If, then, as is the case, there is something divine, what we have said about the ¬rst
substance of bodies is well said. For, it also follows from sensation, suf¬ciently
at least to speak for human pistis; for throughout all past time, according to the
records handed down from generation to generation, no change appears either
according to the whole of the outermost heaven or according to any one of its
proper parts. (270b10“16)

Needless to say, the intertwinement of the languages of trust, sensation,
and historical-dialectical transmission carries considerable implications.
In this context, Aristotle resorts to the language of aisth¯sis and pistis
precisely in order to maintain his presupposition, his positing, of the ¬rst
body as in perfect and uniform motion. This gesture is repeated in Book
Beta, which opens by referring the assumption of the ungenerated and
imperishable ¬rst body back to the con¬rmatory function of belief and
trust. Aristotle ¬rst proposes: “Trusting what was previously said, we may
surmise that the heaven as a whole was not generated and cannot be

4 In Generation of Animals, Aristotle goes beyond the suggestion of an alignment between
logos and sensation, stating that “trust must be given to sensation more than to logoi, and to
logoi too provided that what they show agrees with, homologein, phenomena” (760b31“3).
Metaphysics Gamma

destroyed, as some allege, but is one and eternal [e³v kaª ˆ¹diov], having
no beginning or end of its whole being [to“ pant¼v a«¤nov], having and
circumscribing in itself in¬nite time” (283b26“30). He, then, turns again
to the ancestors™ beliefs and doctrines:

Therefore, we may well be convinced that those archaic discourses are true,
especially those inherited from our forefathers, and according to which there
is something immortal and divine among the beings that have motion, but whose
motion is such that there is no limit to it, rather it is itself the limit of other
motions. For being a limit [p”rav] belongs to that which circumscribes [t¤n
periec»ntwn], and the circular motion [kuklofor©a] at issue, being complete,
circumscribes [peri”cei] those [motions] that are incomplete and have limit and
pause. Itself without beginning or end, continuing without pause for in¬nite time,
it causes the beginning of some [motions], and receives the pause of others. The
ancients [ˆrca±oi] assigned the sky and place above to the gods, holding it alone
as imperishable; and our present discourse bears witness [marture± l»gov] that it
is indestructible and ungenerated. (284a2“14)

What is transparent here is the search for a pre-ontological con¬rmation
of the thesis laid out in the treatise “ which is, then, properly speaking,
a hypothesis. First principles and ultimate movers, matters physical and
divine, are established prior to and aside from the order of the thetic and
the properly ontological. This reliance on circulating beliefs, not nec-
essarily enjoying the authoritativeness of what is ancient, also transpires
from an earlier passage: “In the ordinary philosophical works [–gkukl©oiv
filosofžmasi] regarding divinity it is often made evident by the dis-
courses that the ¬rst and highest divinity must be entirely immutable,
which bears testimony [marture±] to what we have been saying”
Let us mention, in passing, that this mode of inquiry is reminiscent
of a certain strand in the Platonic meditation. In Republic VI, during the
elaboration of the so-called divided line, Plato has Socrates point out that
trust, pistis, is the affection of the soul corresponding to sensible beings,
the beings that surround us. In other words, the proper attitude toward
the sensible is trust. All subsequent knowledge on the higher segments
of the line (most notably on the level of dianoia) rests upon it. Here,
again, at stake is trust as pertaining precisely to that which is sensibly
perceived, that which must be assumed as the prerequisite and spring-
board for further knowledge “ even that knowledge that will allegedly
have emancipated itself from the sensible ground.
Truth and the Action of Thinking 255

The thrust of Aristotle™s discourse suggests that, whether or not this
can be turned into a rational claim, we do rely on a certain order and con-
stancy. Quite simply, the fact is that we do rest on this assumption. We live
according to and thanks to this reliance. Aristotle, therefore, retains an
ultimately uni¬ed view regarding the whole, its structures and origin. He
contemplates no duality of principles, that is to say, no duality such as the
good and its opposite. Rather, he contemplates a teleological principle
consistently ordering all becoming, and even what appears to be random
occurrence. The only proviso or quali¬cation is that such a teleology may
not be and in fact is not completely intelligible to us. And this has to do
with the cryptic character of principles, which exceed human demon-
strative procedure: they are phenomenally clear in their self-evidence,
yet cannot be conclusively de¬ned, stably brought into logos. However,
it is only in a quali¬ed way that Aristotle may be said to be a “monist.”
For his “monism” does not have the status of a scienti¬c discourse in
the strict (syllogistic) sense, but rather is discursively developed out of
the posture of trust in intuitive evidence. Such evidence is considered
suf¬cient and as such brought to speak, suggesting that the assurance
provided by intuition lies even deeper than the scientist™s most profound
disquietudes and quest for certainty. (In a way, the scientist can only and
properly doubt “ for, as such, he or she seeks certainty as demonstrated
knowledge, while knowing that she cannot control her presuppositions,
i.e., employ the criterion of certainty outside the scienti¬c domain.)
Even deeper than the disquietudes of scienti¬c incompleteness lie a
reliance on and a sense of trust in what is not scienti¬cally proven but
nevertheless experienced beyond doubt. In this sense, Aristotle should
again be distinguished from Theophrastus, not only in the way a monist
is distinct from a dualist, but also in the way in which the privilege of
wisdom as essentially intuitive is distinct from the privilege of reason, and
therefore from the posture of a certain intellectualism.

5. the phenomenon of truth and the action
of thinking
What has been clari¬ed by reference to Book Gamma, and secondarily to
Book Kappa, is actually quite exemplary of the broader framework of the
treatises known as the Metaphysics. In fact, as pointed out earlier in this
work, the inceptive discourses of the Metaphysics already announce the
overall inquiring attitude examined thus far.
Metaphysics Gamma

From the start, Aristotle makes explicit the two-fold character of the
con¬rmation of a scienti¬c statement. First, we notice the compulsion,
the necessitating force, of truth and/or phenomena and/or things them-
selves. Here I am referring to three moments in Book Alpha, in which it is
said that it is the truth, the phainomenon, or auto to pragma, that forces and
directs the inquiry in a certain way. Considering the studies of his prede-
cessors, Aristotle notes that, as philosophers “progressed in this manner,
the facts themselves opened the path for them and contributed in forcing
them to inquire” (984a18“19). Again, later thinkers, “forced once more
by the truth itself as we said, sought the next principle” (984b9“11). Most
notably, Parmenides, exceeding all others in excellence and “being more
observant” (mŽllon bl”pwn), “seems to be saying something” (986b27“
8). Aristotle elucidates further: “being forced to conform to phenomena,
and believing that these are one according to logos but many according
to sensation, he in turn posits two causes and two principles, the hot and
the cold, as if speaking of ¬re and earth; and he classi¬es the hot as the
principle with respect to being but the other [the cold] as the principle
with respect to non-being” (986b31“987a2).
Thus, it can be said that the difference between “being defeated by an
inquiry” (984a30“1) and proceeding correctly lies in being “observant,”
that is, in looking more attentively, attending to vision more diligently “
remaining open to being reached, open to being affected by “other.”
We need, therefore, to wonder what happens when the logos of inquiry
obfuscates, hinders the self-manifestation of what is; when it proceeds
according to its own logic, alone; when it becomes an obstacle such that
the truth can no longer do its work of necessitation, can no longer per-
form its function of prompting and leading the inquiry.
Second, and just as crucially, the con¬rmation of a scienti¬c inquiry
or discourse comes from the consideration of previous experiences, that
is to say, from the confrontation with the past. The following passage
underlines the two-fold source of con¬rmation of scienti¬c outcome,
namely, phenomena themselves and other inquirers. Aristotle says:

All these thinkers, then, being unable to touch upon another cause, seem to
bear witness to the fact that we have described the number and kinds of causes
rightly. Moreover, it is clear that, if we are to seek the causes, we must either seek
all of them in the ways stated or seek them in some of the ways stated. Let us
next go over the possible dif¬culties with regard to the way in which each of these
thinkers has spoken and also state what the situation is concerning the principles.
Truth and the Action of Thinking 257

As we have seen, considerations of this tenor can also be found in
Metaphysics Alpha Elatton, in which we have the clearest acknowledg-
ment of the communal nature of the pursuit of truth and community is
understood both temporally and spatially, in both genealogical and syn-
chronous terms. The source of con¬rmation, then, is as much a matter
of history, discursive transmission, and shared practices as it is a matter of
phenomenal necessitation. For, indeed, culture, that is to say, inherited
discourses, shapes and complements our reception of and receptivity to
what is.
To conclude, let us underline once more, on the ground of the pre-
ceding analyses, the priority of ethics in the context of the pursuit of
truth, the pursuit that is ¬rst philosophy itself. It might seem that ethics,
especially in its prescriptive vocation, should start once the good “in the
whole of nature” (982b7) has been established in virtue of wisdom. And
yet, conversely, we have seen that wisdom itself is irreducible to knowing
in the strict rational sense “ that, rather, it rests on an intuitive apprehen-
sion ethically and phenomenologically determined. To the extent that
¬rst principles, and hence the ultimate teleological guidance, remain
shrouded from rational cognition, a purely rational ethical discourse,
resting on the prior determination of the good as such, is unthinkable.
The ethical inquiry is that inquiry working toward an end that, while as
such trusted, remains only liminally known. Thus, not only is the ethical
inquiry not dependent on an a priori determination of the good, but
the inquiry pursuing such a determination, that is, ¬rst philosophy, is
grounded, clari¬ed, and brought to completion by the examination of
ethical structures. Let us recall again Alpha Elatton 3, where Aristotle
speaks of the formations of custom, education, and even individual incli-
nation already at work long before the scienti¬c pursuit proper begins, in
fact, laying the ground for such a pursuit. As we pointed out, this issue
will be taken up even later in Books Gamma and Kappa. However, it is
important to notice that already at these early stages of the Metaphysics
we have the statement that, albeit as yet unthematized, ethics frames and
determines the discourse of wisdom. The relevant passage may simply be
quoted here:

The way we receive a lecture depends on our customs [›qh]; for we expect a lec-
turer to use the language we are accustomed to, and any other language appears
not agreeable but rather unknown and strange because we are not accustomed
to it; for the customary is well known [s…nhqev gnÛrimon]. The power of custom
is clearly seen in the laws, in which the mythical and childish beliefs prevail over
Metaphysics Gamma

the knowledge [gignÛskein] about them, because of custom. Some people do not
accept statements unless they are expressed mathematically; others, unless they
are expressed by way of examples; and there are some who demand that a poet be
quoted as a witness. Again, some demand accuracy in everything, while others are
annoyed by it, either because they are unable to follow connections or because
they regard it as petty. For accuracy is sometimes petty, and as in business transac-
tions, so in speech it seems mean to some people. Therefore one should already
be trained in how to accept statements, for it is absurd to be seeking science
and at the same time the way of acquiring science; and neither of them can be
acquired easily. The accuracy that exists in mathematical statements should not
be demanded in everything but only in whatever has no matter. Accordingly, the
manner of proceeding in such cases is not that of physics; for perhaps all nature
has matter. Hence, we should ¬rst inquire what nature is; for in this way, too, it
will become clear what the objects of physics are, and in addition, whether one
science or more than one should contemplate causes and principles. (994b32“

From the point of view of the primordiality of ethical considerations, the
various treatises that will have been gathered under the title of Metaphysics
exhibit an undeniable consistency.
Thus, we are left with a rather unusual conclusion. On the one hand,
this text, the Metaphysics, establishes from the beginning a dichotomous
differentiation between theory and practical thought, between contem-
plation and praxis. This points to a distinction between that which is for
its own sake and that which is for the sake of action. Suf¬ce it to recall the
already quoted passage at Metaphysics Alpha 982b21, in which we are told
that the science of wisdom is free, for it alone is for its own sake, and not
for the sake of something else. And yet, on the other hand, we cannot
but call into question this very distinction on the ground of the segments
of text we have examined. And calling into question the distinction does
not mean so much that theoretical and practical thought may be con-
¬‚ated into one, but that their hierarchical organization (the¯ria guiding
praxis and practical thought) as well as the autonomy of the¯ria may be
shown in a problematic light. Again, we are left wondering how to under-
stand the¯rein, this contemplative endeavor, in the context of the human
condition. Such a condition intimates that the objectifying distance, the
separation simultaneously constituting the object as such and the sub-
ject in its emancipation, may never be attainable simply and without any
further quali¬cation.
In the end, I would like to bring to our attention once more a pas-
sage from the Politics, directly disempowering such an apparently obvious
distinction: “But the practical human being is not necessarily one [whose
Truth and the Action of Thinking 259

actions are] related to others, as some suppose; and practical thoughts,
too, are not only those occurring for the sake of what follows from act-
ing, but much more those which are complete in themselves [aÉtotele±v]
and are contemplations [qewr©av] and [acts of] thinking [dianožseiv] for
their own sake; for a good deed [eÉprax©a] is an end in itself, and so it is
a certain action [prŽx©v tiv]” (1325b17“21).

Concluding Section
Ethik¯n Nikomakhei¯n Theta to Kappa
o o

Books Theta and Iota of the Nicomachean Ethics are devoted to the issue
of friendship, philia. With regard to length, the discussion on friendship
exceeds by far any other thematic elaboration in the treatise. Following
this analysis, Book Kappa, which contains a meditation on the good in
light of political association, brings the Ethics to a close.
Let us, from the outset, highlight the belonging of the phenomenon
of friendship in the problematic of the good. Friendship occurs for the
sake of and thanks to the good. In other words, the good is what elicits
it, what calls for friendship. Friendship, love in the broadest sense, is for
and of the good. Adhering to the Aristotelian articulation, what follows
aims at illuminating this interpretive hypothesis.
At the very beginning of Book Theta, Aristotle points out that “friend-
ship is a virtue, or something with virtue, and besides, it is most necessary
to life, for no one would choose to live without friends, though they would
have all the other goods” (1155a4“6). We should underline both the
connection of friendship with excellence and the necessity of friendship.
Aristotle further underscores this necessity in the lines shortly following
the passage just quoted:

Friends help the young in guarding them from error, and they help the old who,
because of their weakness, need care [qerape©an] and additional support for their
actions, and they help those in their prime of life to do beautiful actions, as in
the saying: “And the two are coming together,” for with friends human beings are
more able [dunat¤teroi] to think [no¦sai] and to act [prŽxai]. (1155a13“16)

As the various forms of friendship make perspicuous, the closeness of
friends supports one in every aspect of life, in all manner of practical
Friendship and Justice 261

endeavor, including the practice of thinking. In other words, in virtue
of friendship human beings are more able to be fully who they are, to
become according to their potentiality. They have the opportunity of
being more fully, of ful¬lling their own task, which is a certain action
illuminated by reason or, more broadly, by the exercise of thinking. Thus,
friendship is intimately connected with the possibility of realizing the
potential of human beings, precisely as human beings. In this sense, it is
elating and empowering. Friendship provides the condition and context
for the explication of human dunamis.

1. friendship and justice: inceptive remarks
The link between friendship and virtue is mentioned in passing. Accord-
ingly, friendship is associated with justice, previously disclosed as excel-
lence in the comprehensive sense. In a key passage, Aristotle states:

In travels [–n ta±v pl†naiv], too, one may observe how close [o«ke±on] and dear
[f©lon] every human being is to another human being. Friendship seems to
hold a polis together [sun”cein], too, and lawgivers seem to pay more attention
to friendship than to justice; for concord [¾m»noia] seems to be somewhat akin
[‚moion] to friendship, and this they aim at most of all and try their utmost to
drive out faction, which is enmity. And when human beings are friends, they have
no need of justice at all, but when they are just, they still need friendship; and that
which is most just is thought to be done in a friendly way [filik»n]. (1155a21“9)

In the course of a journey, human beings tend to regard one another with
sympathy. Not unlike sailors at sea, conscious of the perils of their worldly
transit, they share the same vulnerability to the measureless and non-
human. Friendship, then, would stem from such an elemental sentiment
of solidarity and promote accord within the community. In this way, it
encourages likemindedness, a community “of one mind,” as it were.
Thus, in the very passage explicitly maintaining that friendship sur-
passes justice to the point of making justice obsolete, indeed unnecessary
(friends “have no need of justice at all”), Aristotle is also developing an
understanding of friendship in terms of communal or political cohesion
and, hence, of justice. Yet the tension between friendship as irreducible to
justice and friendship as equivalent with justice may be only apparent: it
may be due to a tension harbored within the language itself of justice no
less than to the exuberant semantic proliferation pertaining to friend-
ship. The manifoldness of the phenomenon of friendship, and espe-
cially the dif¬cult intersection of friendship as loving intimacy between
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

excellent individuals (teleia philia) and friendship as a genuinely political
bond, will occupy us in the following pages.
Insofar as both of them grant the harmonious cohesiveness of the
polis, friendship and justice may be seen as coextensive. Aristotle asserts,
“In each kind of government friendship appears to the extent that what
is just does” (1161a10“11). Such a relation between friendship and jus-
tice may imply either that (1) friendship is understood lato sensu, as a
vaguely de¬ned bond of solidarity, or that (2) being just will never have
meant merely following the laws. Such a view of justice is in line with the
previous analysis in Book Epsilon: as “complete virtue,” aret¯ teleia, jus-
tice indicates excellence with respect to another, that is, in relation, and
cannot as such coincide with the mere observance of extrinsic prescrip-
tions. Thus, in its irreducibility to legality, justice is illuminated by the
loving solicitude characteristic of friends. It may be said that friendship
completes justice, brings justice to its fullest manifestation: that which is
most just, just even beyond just laws, carries the mark of friendship. In
a certain sense, justice as teleia aret¯ already bespeaks friendship: as we
shall see, “complete excellence” with respect to another (i.e., excellence
relationally manifested, the complete exercise of excellence by essentially
relational beings), not unlike friendship, indicates the harmonious artic-
ulation (order) of difference, whether in self-relation or in relation to
On the other hand, and perfectly in line with the preceding remarks,
Aristotle states that friendship far exceeds justice understood in its nar-
row, legal sense. As the system of legality that grants stability and protects
the polis from faction or divisiveness, justice is the necessary condition for
the institution, subsistence, and continuation of the polis. But friendship
(at least friendship for the sake of excellence, as distinct from conve-
nience, expediency, pleasure, or material advantage) surpasses this logic
of survival: it is what adorns life in such a way as to turn living into living
well. Time and again it becomes apparent that, in this sense, friendship
would make juridical measures and the whole legislative effort somewhat
unnecessary, or would crucially change their function. In this way, the
Aristotelian re¬‚ection reveals a twofold convergence: a convergence, on
the one hand, of friendship as teleia philia and justice as teleia aret¯, and,
on the other hand, of justice as legality and friendship as the basic accord
and concord allowing for coexistence.
If friendship in the complete sense would reign, then justice as that to
which human beings asymptotically aspire would be ful¬lled. Concomi-
tantly, justice as the system of juridical institutions would be superseded,
Friendship and Justice 263

revealed as super¬‚uous. This intimates that politics as juridical institu-
tion (let alone in its pre-juridical, pre-normative, auroral stratum), is
not coeval with friendship, but rather precedes it. The suggestion is that
political constitution in its juridical expression is necessary and called for
precisely to the extent that friendship is not the common condition, that
is, to the extent that the members of the community are not as a whole
gathered together in virtue of a prevailing bond of friendship. As we shall
see better, friendship in its achieved sense is a “rare” phenomenon. Its
sporadic incidence, nevertheless, may function as a reminder and even a
promise, however unreadable and fragmentary, of the justice that is not
yet, that is to come: the justice for which human beings keep striving.
That politics (and, hence, legality) may be understood not as con-
temporary or equiprimordial with friendship, but rather as preceding
friendship, entails that politics somehow is the condition of friendship. In
a way, politics constitutes the environment, the context, whereby friend-
ship becomes possible “ friendship, that is, no longer determined by the
need or reasons of survival, but perfected, teleia philia.
In turn, however, friendship constitutes the end or destination of pol-
itics, in the sense that it indicates the highest manifestation and achieve-
ment of politics. Indeed, friendship may even appear to presage the
self-overcoming of politics understood as the work of merely extrinsic
institution. In this latter sense, friendship would signal the perfection
of politics “ the politics to come, no longer resting on the institution
of external order and institutional self-enforcement. It would illumi-
nate politics as the harmonization of the many, organically gathered
beyond legal prescriptions: no longer having to protect their own from
the other™s projected infringement, but choosing and recognizing each
other, wishing each other™s good, in an expansive projection of further
Such a completion would be announced (if not reached) when the
togetherness at ¬rst perceived as merely factual, as the de facto “jour-
neying in the company of many” (Republic 614c), would occasion the
realization of a deeper, more signi¬cant sharing. It would be announced
if the mere necessity of being together were to allow for a margin of
insight revealing the other(s) as partaking in common conditions, and
hence for a vantage point engendering compassion, the recognition of
shared undergoing, of a common pathos. At stake, then, would be the
acknowledgment, the conscious taking note of what is always already the
case, the (perhaps sudden) becoming remarkable of the primal condition
of togetherness, which at ¬rst remains altogether unremarkable, indeed,
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

shrouded. In this conscious awakening to interdependence would lie the
possibility of the trans¬guration of politics into friendship.
It appears, let this be noted only in passing, that nothing would pre-
vent such a trans¬guration from entailing destabilization, perhaps even
a certain destructiveness, since friendship in the “perfect” sense gestures
toward the obsolescence of political structures securing stability. Love or
friendship (Aristotle often utilizes the language of philia and that of er¯s o
interchangeably) may even constitute a threat to civil coexistence as it is
known. It may constitute a principle before, beyond, or outside the law.
Once more, we should underline that the friendship at stake in these
brief digressive remarks is friendship proper, in the primary sense, and
not what Aristotle calls “quali¬ed” friendship, that is, friendship “in virtue
of an attribute.” The latter includes relationships for the sake of pleasure,
appetite, and material advantage or usefulness. To the extent that friend-
ship is seen as ancillary to a political program, as a mere instrument
of political cohesiveness, it includes relationships that are highly conven-
tional, ritualized, for the sake of “goods” in a limited sense. Analogously to
Plato, Aristotle considers such instrumental interpretation of friendship
truncated and impoverished.1 Conversely, as we shall see, in “complete”
friendship he acknowledges an excess both intractable (not lending itself
to either conceptual or political control) and carrying extraordinarily far-
reaching implications.

1.1. Digression: Friendship and the Problem of Cosmopolitanism
We shall return to the intertwinement of friendship and justice and hence,
to the political dimensions of this relational mode. The questions to be
addressed in this perspective are numerous and complex. However, we
should focus ¬rst on friendship as an intimate bond between individuals
“ which, in this context, does not mean friendship as a purely “private”
affair. We have already more than once underlined the distance between
the philosophical ambiance here examined and the genuinely modern,
paradigmatically Kantian, stance. If, with and after Kant, friendship as
well as happiness come to be understood as categories pertaining to indi-
vidual experience, marked by contingency and subsequently relegated

1 Let us recall Plato™s treatment of er¯s in the early stages of the Symposium. Whereas, espe-
cially through the ¬gures of Phaedrus and Pausanias, er¯s is presented as subservient to
political functioning, somewhat conducive to optimal political dynamics, the comprehen-
sive framework of the Platonic dialogue clearly exposes the partiality and incompleteness
of this view of love.
Friendship and Justice 265

to the private (indeed, it could be said that the very separation and con-
traposition of private and public rest on such a construal of friendship
and happiness as, in each case, insular, diverse, essentially unrelated, and
politically irrelevant pursuits), at this stage of the Greek re¬‚ection, and
most notably with Aristotle, we consistently ¬nd the indication of a cer-
tain undecidability between private and public matters. The pursuit of
friendship and of self-realization is, to be sure, recognized and magni¬ed
in its ever-unique unfolding and unrepeatability, and yet this never leads
to a clear-cut severance of this phenomenon from the sphere of politi-
cal implications and determinations. Conversely, the interaction called
friendship as well as the pursuit of happiness as living well are, to be sure,
understood also in terms of political teleology, and yet this never means
that individual becoming is or should be subjected to, let alone resolved
into, the logic of political holism.2
It could be said that the Aristotelian re¬‚ection provides resources for
the systematic overcoming of the opposition of public and private or uni-
versality and singularity; that, indeed, far from such a dichotomy, from
the hierarchy it entails, and even from the mere reversal thereof, such
a re¬‚ection allows for the conception of universality precisely in terms
of singularity; that, in other words, it makes possible to glimpse at the
universality of the singular “ at singularity, that is, in¬nite irreducibility
and irreplaceability, as that which is shared in common, and in this sense
“universal.” We could envision, in sum, a commonality of utter unique-
ness, of that which, though elusive, is not nothing: a commonality, then,
of almost nothing in common (for that which cannot be determinately
known, known in its determinacy, is nothing only from the point of view
of the determining work of reason). The vision of such a commonality
presents a fecund contribution to the meditations on universalism and
cosmopolitanism, which have recently obtained renewed impulse (con-
sider thinkers as diverse as Habermas, Derrida, Kristeva, Nancy). Indeed,
it may allow us to pursue the Kantian vision beyond the unmitigated privi-
lege of reason: to think the global community of humankind as otherwise
than resting solely on rational (inter)subjectivity.
A host of questions arises in the wake of such considerations. Indeed,
especially in light of the circumstances in which we ¬nd ourselves at

2 On these issues, see Gianfrancesco Zanetti, Amicizia, felicit` , diritto. Due argomenti sul per-
fezionismo giuridico (Rome: Carocci, 1998) and Ragion pratica e diritto: un percorso aris-
totelico/Practical Reason and Law: An Aristotelian Itinerary (Milan: Giuffr` , 2001), parts I
and II.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

the outset of another millennium, how could it be possible to think the
community of human beings as community emancipated from, and yet
not oblivious of, tribal/cultural identi¬cations? How can community be
thought, if not by reference to the privilege of reason alone (which,
as could be witnessed in the last century, has not nearly exhibited the
authoritativeness that any rationalistic political thinker would attribute
to it)? How could we envision a community in which national and territo-
rial belonging would be recognized as crucial determinations of individ-
ual stories, lives, and identities, and yet not as exhausting the in¬nitely
excessive phenomenon of individuals becoming themselves, of individ-
uals individuating themselves in their radically singular becoming? In
other words: how is one to acknowledge cultural/material bonds without
turning them into bondage, and how, conversely, is one to conceive of
freedom without turning it into the predictability and in-difference of
dematerialized rational subjects? How could the de-territorialization of
the human be thought otherwise than in terms of disembodiment?
Again, how would we think cosmopolitanism without excluding that
which is distinctive (that which can be viewed neither as universal nor
even as “particular,” i.e., as a declension of the universal), that is, body
and embodiment, differences in gender, race, culture, religion, history,
and experience? How could we think the exclusive trait otherwise than
in terms of exclusion and exclusivity, let alone of insularity? How are we
to think, on the one hand, distinctiveness as other than individualism,
provincialism, nationalism, and, on the other hand, universality as other
than the obliteration of differences? How could we heal the wound of this
dichotomy? How could we think community also, if not exclusively, start-
ing from pathos “ not from that which we are, know, and own, but from
that which we are not, do not know, do not own?3 How could we think
community not only from identity, but also from that which, inside as
well as outside ourselves, remains strange to us and a stranger “ extrane-
ous, estranged, perturbing, ¬nally, unheimlich? Such would be (if it were
ever to be) the community of those who, as has been said, have nothing
in common “ not in the sense that they do not share anything in com-
mon, but in the sense that what they share (which may not be nothing)
is neither their own property nor conceptually possessed.
If it were ever to be, this would be the community of singularities
sharing in common, in each case, their singularity. It would entail not a
denial, demotion, or de-valuation of reason, but the understanding that

3 Such would be the community of desire, according to Symp. 200e.
Perfection of Friendship 267

reason (logos) is not all-comprehending but rather itself comprehended,
that reason (logos) never gives itself as such, but always as de¬‚ected and
in¬‚ected through and as life “ through the life in which it necessarily
belongs, through the time-space into which it is necessarily folded (indef-
inite multiplicity of languages, of reasons, of ways and paths). Such would
be the community of singularities in¬‚ecting the community of reason,
exposing the latter in its incompleteness and aspectival character.
Let us, then, turn to the Aristotelian discourse on the love between
friends. It may prove not to be extraneous to the above concerns.
Indeed, in what follows the operative hypothesis is that Aristotle™s
ethico-political thinking, and especially his discussion of friendship (out-
standing in its amplitude vis-` -vis other thematizations in the treatises),
may be enormously suggestive in the attempt to address such questions.
As we shall see, the examination of friendship between excellent individ-
uals allows Aristotle paradigmatically to outline the ¬gure of the human
being exceeding itself, caught in a movement of self-overcoming: the
human being as, precisely qua human, a structure of excess, openness,
and hospitality. In this sense, the human being properly (paradoxically)
¬nds and recomposes itself only in the thrust outside itself and detour
through the other. Even more radically, far from simply bringing the
other back to oneself, far from returning to oneself as if the alienating
detour were but an obvious diversion, in the mirror of the other the
human being sees the trace of an ulterior openness that cannot yield any
self-contained identity “ the trace of a shared openness to an other that
is neither another human being nor (any other) being. In the other that
the friend is, one catches a glimpse of the shared openness to (love of)
the good. In the loving thrust beyond oneself and the detour through the
other, one is disclosed in terms of in¬nite receptivity. But let us proceed
to consider Aristotle™s text.

2. perfection of friendship
According to Aristotle, friendship in its primary sense (i.e., perfect,
complete) is based on similarity (homoi¯sis, 1156b8) and reciprocity
(1155b34). Albeit neither determinable nor strictly calculable, these
are observed between friends, between the individuals involved in the
relationship of friendship. On the ground of the assumption of similarity

4 As Thomas Aquinas observes in his commentary on Nicomachean Ethics, friendship exceeds
virtue, for it requires reciprocity and, hence, entails a doubling of excellent action.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

and reciprocity, it is said that friendship is a kind of love of oneself. (In
Plato™s Republic, on a most basic level, friendship is revealed in terms of
inner harmonization, “becoming one™s own friend,” 443c“e.)
It is relevant to underline that what is common, that is, what is involved
in such a similarity and reciprocation, is not some accidental feature, but
excellence itself. In other words, what is common is psychological confor-
mation, that is, one™s disposition with respect to the good, the very struc-
ture in virtue of which one may be good and toward the good. As Aristotle
observes, “[p]erfect friendship is between human beings who are good
and similar [¾mo©wn] with respect to virtue; for, insofar as they are good,
it is in a similar manner that they wish [bo…lontai] each other the good
[things], and such human beings are good in themselves” (1156b7“10).
At stake in friendship primarily understood is the sharing of excellence.
It is such a movement toward the good, entailing excellence in psycho-
logical formation, which is eminently lovable in the friend.
Thus, the similarity between the friends is not based on something
owned in the narrow sense of the term “ a property or possession that
can be the object of comparison and comparative evaluation. The friends
resemble one another in their being similarly turned toward the good,
in their pursuing and striving for the good. What they share is nothing
possessed but, rather, that which is sought after or loved. As Aristotle
puts it in the Eudemian Ethics, “for us [human beings] the good [t¼ e”] is
according to the other [kaq¬ ™teron]” (1245b18) and “each one wishes to
live together [with one™s friends] in the end that one may be capable of”
(1245b8), especially “in the superior good [belt©oni ˆgaq ]” (1245b2),
enjoying “more divine pleasures” (1245a39“b1).
The similarity between friends may be a matter of possession only in
the strict sense of the having (ekhein) of habits, more precisely the hav-
ing of excellent ones. Excellent habituation, that is, the stabilization of
excellent psychological structures, may indeed be considered a property.
Yet it is that peculiar property that turns the one who has it toward that
which exceeds one, that which is not possessed “ that peculiar prop-
erty that turns the one to whom it properly belongs beyond oneself,
that is, beyond the structures themselves of propriety as well as property
and ownership, toward a certain self-dispossession. In this sense, excel-
lent habituation signals that the human being in its culminating man-
ifestation cannot be understood in terms of autonomy, self-enclosure,
and self-identity, let alone individualism. In its highest accomplishment,
the human being bespeaks constitutive permeability and heteronomous
Perfection of Friendship 269

Friends, then, share their disposition toward the good: they are sim-
ilarly turned toward the good, similarly caught in the love of the good.
It is such a thrust, such a love irreducible to their love for each other,
which friends share. Similarity as well as reciprocity must be understood
in light of such an excess, of such an openness beyond each of the friends
involved, beyond even their relatedness, their tending to be at one, to
become one. Aristotle recognizes the exuberance and over¬‚owing char-
acter of friendship: friendship is huperbol¯, hyperbolic, inherently marked
by excess (1158a12, 1166b1). One loves another in virtue of the other™s
orientation toward the good, an orientation that one experiences as well.
So, in loving the other, each is ¬rst of all recognizing him- or herself as
other. This is so not only because each recognizes him- or herself through
the other, that is, because one comes to oneself essentially thanks to the
departure toward the other, in an ecstatic movement outside oneself that
can never allow for a simple return without dispersal. More remarkably
still, one recognizes oneself as other because one contemplates in the
other an in¬nite openness to radical alterity, to an alterity altogether
irreducible to another human being as well as to (any other) being. That
one recognizes oneself as other means that one catches a glimpse of one-
self as an open structure of receptivity and hospitality, inhabited by, and
striving toward, that which is irreducible to oneself. Friendship would
entail sharing in common that which is not owned, but desired “ sharing
(experiencing, sustaining, ¬nally being) in common the open structure
of incompleteness, the longing thereby implied, and the unique orienta-
tion toward not just any expedient or surrogate manner of ¬lling the void.
Thus, in loving the other, each is at the same time projected beyond
him- or herself, beyond the other, and beyond their relationship as well.
Indeed, friendship can neither be reduced to nor be contained within
the exchange merely between the friends. For, in loving the other, one
is caught in the shared common movement toward the good, that is to
say, in the movement of living well, of life in its plenitude (in a plenitude
that coincides with a yearning for ful¬llment). This is, of course, what
is named by happiness. The love of the friend is at once a thrust beyond
the friend. Indeed, such a thrust beyond is essentially involved in the
inception as well as the abiding of friendship.

2.1. Similarity and Reciprocity beyond Measure
Again, we must emphasize that similarity and reciprocity thus understood
can hardly be considered a calculable matter. So it is certainly the case,
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

as Aristotle points out, that friendship is among equals, is a matter of
equality (philot¯s isot¯s, 1158a1).5 However, isot¯s here seems to name the
e e e
togetherness of two people who are equal in that each of them enacts him-
or herself as a strange oneness entailing openness. In the privileged and
paradigmatically conducive space that friendship offers, each of them can
more fully unfold, more excellently take up the task of becoming oneself “
the task of living. They are equal in sharing the same aspiration, the same
propulsion, the same longing orienting them toward a certain kind of life.
Aristotle observes: “Equality in what is just does not appear to be similar to
equality in friendship; for the equal in what is just is primarily according to
merit but secondarily according to quantity, while in friendship the equal
according to quantity is primary but that according to merit is secondary”
(1158b29“33). In other words, at stake in “perfect” friendship is not so
much proportional equality, based on the evaluation of worth, but rather
numerical equality. In such a friendship, the friends are one before the
other one, together in sharing a common desire, and each one of them is
one precisely in virtue of such an orientation, of such a movement that is
simultaneously transgressive (movement beyond oneself) and relational
(movement toward another).
And yet, pursuing the same desire will not possibly have meant becom-
ing the same. On the contrary, taking up the task of living well will have
entailed confronting the ever unique question regarding oneself, one™s
utterly singular circumstances and conditions, and hence developing the
traits and actualizing the genuinely distinctive potentiality each one bears.
Pursuing the same desire, thus, will have meant becoming oneself.6 In

5 Aristotle is here reporting a saying (“legetai gar . . .”). Already, Timaeus referred the
assonant equivalence philot¯s-isot¯s, friendship-equality, to Pythagoras (Diogenes Laertius,
e e
Vitae Philosophorum VIII.10). To Pythagoras is also attributed the formulation koina ta
t¯n phil¯n, the pronouncement dear to Plato stating that friends share everything in
o o
common. Both sayings on friendship enjoyed lasting authoritativeness as expressions of
ancient wisdom. See, e.g., Plato™s Lysis 207c and De legibus 757a, Aristotle™s Nicomachean
Ethics Iota 1168b8, and Cicero™s De of¬ciis I.51.
6 The friendship among philosophers (those who, in turn, are friends of wisdom) makes
this especially perspicuous: pursuing wisdom together, as friends, will not have meant
coming to the same results, but rather cultivating together a certain ¯thos, sharing a life of
(self-)examination. Consider the passage in Nicomachean Ethics Alpha in which Aristotle
prepares to undertake a critique of the Platonists™ (if not Plato™s) view of the good: “such
an inquiry is made with great reluctance,” warns Aristotle, “because the men, andras,
who introduced the eid¯ are friends. Yet, it would perhaps be thought better, and also a
duty, to forsake, anairein, even what is close in order to save the truth, especially as we
are philosophers; for while both are dear, it is pious to honor truth” (1096a12“16). If,
prima facie, it appears as though friendship and the pursuit of the truth are dissociated
Perfection of Friendship 271

the thrust of friendship lies the possibility of the individuation of each,
the phenomenon of each pursuing his or her most unique development.
Individuation, the becoming of each according to one™s potential, is not
individualism: unbridgeable singularity takes shape in and as relatedness,
relationality, interconnectedness.
Thus “ and this is of paramount importance, although seldom
observed “ the similarity and equality at stake in this discourse cannot be
resolved into matters of custom, communal conventions, status and repu-
tation. The relationship here explored may no more be viewed merely as
the bond of convenience and conformity uniting those enjoying the same
political visibility than the community of those striving after the good
(the community of the best) may be mistaken for aristocracy as the class
endowed with material advantage, power, automatically inherited rights.
Indeed, one could even say that relatedness in the mode of friendship
discloses the possibility for the dawning of the individual as such, beyond

and the latter is chosen over against the former, it should nonetheless be recalled that
the alleged privilege of truth is af¬rmed by turning to and quoting the friend. Aristotle
is here echoing Plato, who, again, attributes this posture to Socrates: we should pursue
the truth despite the rifts and differences this may bring about between us and those we
love, our friends (Phaed. 91c, Resp. X 595b“c). In his commentary on the Nicomachean
Ethics, with his usual equanimity, Thomas underlines the closeness between the friends
(Aristotle, Plato) precisely there where the pursuit of the truth seems to be contrasted to
friendship and shown as incompatible with it: “Along the same lines is also the judgment
of Plato who, in rejecting the opinion of his teacher Socrates, says that it is necessary
to care more for truth than for anything else. Somewhere else he af¬rms that Socrates
is certainly a friend, but truth is even more so (amicus quidem Socrates, sed magis amica
veritas). In yet another place he says that one should certainly care little for Socrates but
a lot for truth” (I.6.5). Thus, no sooner is the friendship with “men” set aside, for the
sake of companionship with the truth, than it is taken up again. Indeed, the friendship
among “men” is reasserted in a privileged sense, as the friendship among the friends of
wisdom: for “we,” Aristotle emphatically af¬rms, “are philosophers.” The philosophers
are revealed, thus, as those exemplary friends who share the same compulsion toward
wisdom, even as the manner in which each comports himself in his pursuit may be quite
unique, even at odds with others. The friendship among philosophers casts light on the
many ways in which the same may be shared. In this sense, friendship appears to be not
a matter of agreement (of saying the same) in any straightforward sense, but a matter of
undergoing the same experience (pathos), of being exposed to the same claim, of sharing
a certain thrust, a certain searching relation to the truth: to the truth not owned, known,
and mastered but, once again, searched “ even more precisely, loved. Thus understood,
friendship can be no alternative to the love of truth, but appears to rest on the sharing
of such a love. The philosophical impulse discloses friendship as the sharing of a desire


. 9
( 12)