We do not give a thought to find out where
something like axioms, principles and first
propositions may occur at all, where they
dwell, where they stem from. Principles—
that seems to be a matter of reason.
Der Satz vom Grund1
Principium translates the Greek ἀϱχή into Latin. From Cicero2 to Leibniz,3 the Latin term is an integral part of the metaphysics of causes and in this respect faithfully renders the orientation provided by Aristotle’s Physics. But from Cicero to Leibniz, the meaning of this word does not remain invariable.4 More puzzling, the ‘principle of sufficient reason’ formulated by Leibniz5 itself contains a remarkable difficulty. In the phrase principium rationis sufficientis, it is not the word principium that translates ἀϱχή; it is the word ratio: “nothing is without reason,” nihil est sine ratione. The “principle of reason” then seems to amount to a simple tautology: “principle of the ἀϱχή,” “principle of the principle.” From the ἀϱχή as primordial element constitutive of sensible substances, we have passed to principium as evident proposition6 from which other propositions derive that are not evident themselves. Leibniz is telling us of a proposition about the archē: everything, he says, has a principle (understood as archē), such is my great principle (understood as first and evident proposition). If this ambiguity is confronted clearly, it will suggest a transition of quite different dimensions than the shift from the Greek to the Latin cultural world. The embarrassment of translating one metaphysical notion by another metaphysical notion may reveal an embarment, an enclosure within bars, in which the metaphysics of origin remains confined in general. The overdetermination of the Latin concept principium, if it is topologically deconstructed, will reveal something about the manner in which the origin manifested itself in the epoch of Latin philosophy. At the close of that epoch, the principium becomes a law of the mind. The ‘first from which’ things arise and are ruled is then a first truth conceived by reason and formulated as a premise. The overdetermination that progressively restricts the archē until it finally appears as a self-evident law indicates a history of presence, a history of the origin as presencing. Things come to presence otherwise when the principium is God7 than when it is a proposition.
The phenomenological deconstruction of this history aims at ‘reducing’ the rule of principles to modalities of presence. As far as Leibniz’s principle is concerned, we can then “hear the principle of ground in a twofold way: either as the supreme proposition about entities, or as an address from being”8—that is, either as logical principle or as epochal principle.
The ground demands that it be manifest
everywhere in such a way that in the domain
of that claim everything appears as a sequent,
that is to say, that everything must be
represented as a consequence.
Der Satz vom Grund9
The complementary notion to archē is telos; that to “principle” is something entirely different, namely, the sequent, the consequence, the derivative, the “issue.”10 As the concept of origin changes its linguistic milieu, it also changes its strategy. Origination still means inception and domination; no longer, however, of a becoming, but of a hierarchical order. To be sure, the model for such an order is found in Aristotle himself.11 But to say principium instead of archē is to extend the order of derivatives beyond the simple case of substance and accidents. In this way, the ‘principle’ comes to designate the supreme cause of all things.12 Therefore, there are innumerable instantiations of an order constituted by a principle and its derivatives: a law of reasoning is called principium,13 and so are the foundation of a science,14 a norm for conducting life,15 a law of the collective or individual unconscious,16 and still many other variations of the modern “principle of all principles,” namely, “absolute subjectivity.”17
These are just so many “punctuations”18 in the phenomenological deconstruction of the doctrines of the origin. Two key texts especially testify to the transition toward order: the first paragraphs of Duns Scotus’s Treatise on God as First Principle and a few short paragraphs in Leibniz’s Monadology. At the medieval apogee of Latin thought in Seotus, the order derived from a first is an order of entities receiving their cohesion from the divine substance; at the close of the Latin epoch in Leibniz, it is an order of propositions receiving their coherence from human subjectivity.19
What do we call a consequence, an ‘issue’? Surely an effect, a resultant, something that comes after. After what? Precisely after the principium— after that which, as the word indicates (id quod primum cepit), took hold or ‘caught on, first’; after that which ‘comprehends’ eminently and which, in this way, occupies the first place in an order of ranks or grades.20 The features of the medieval notion of principium relevant for the phenomenological deconstruction of the metaphysics of origin are not proper to the Scotist school. But in Scotus this notion, because he understands it as reciprocal to order and dependence, appears as the very model of the medieval understanding of origin in which time is negated, left out, forgotten.
The treatise begins with an invocation: “May the first principle of things grant me to believe, to understand and to reveal what may please his majesty.”21 It could not be clearer: the origin is his divine majesty. But why does Scotus call God ‘principle’? Certainly there are the Johannine tradition and Arabic resonances22 in this term; but the properly philosophic reasons for conceiving the origin as principle only appear in the way Scotus puts this concept itself to work. In the lines that follow, he defines the “principle” by its correlate, “essential order.”23 As it was for the Greeks, the origin is origin ‘of’ something. Becoming follows archē, but order follows principium. The eclipse of time occurs with the replacement of the Greek term for ‘origin’ by the Latin.
The order as understood by Scotus has its model in Aristotelian metaphysics, not as a metaphysic of becoming, but rather one of predicamental analogy.24 Wherever there prevails an order, the manifold is referred to a first. Analogy in predication excludes pure and simple diversity. The order begins when a principle commands. This is the way substance imposes its order on accidents and God, in the metaphysics of Scotus, his order on entities. For there to be an order in the manifold, its constituents must not only be referred to one focal point, but that focal point must also be heterogeneous to the components. Otherwise there would not be any ordering at all. Strictly speaking, when the manifold is related to a first in this way, only the derivate should be called an order. Hence the following subdivision: “The primary division of essential order appears to be . . . into the order of eminence and the order of dependence.”25 What is the criterion for such a disjunction? “The prior according to nature and essence can exist without the posterior.”26 The relations of accident to substance can be applied to the created and its cause—a widening of perspective that would undoubtedly have plunged Aristotle into deep perplexity—inasmuch as in both cases, the pole of ordination subsists by itself, and what is ordered toward it subsists only through that pole. If the language of order also applies to the “first principle of things” in itself this can only be in a sense unknowable for us, properly pre-eminent. To speak of order will be, for us, to speak of the order of dependence: the world is ordered toward God, but God is not a part of that order. He is not ordered toward the world. He is eminent, that is, heterogeneous to the order whose principle he is. The concept of ordo dependentiae in Scotus is therefore more rigorous than that of ordo essentialis, which represents the principle and its derivate, the world, as two members placed in relation within one and the same set.
To speak of an “essential” order is to say that the relations ruling it are neither accidental nor unreal. Every metaphysical order is a system of relations; and every metaphysical relation consists of a ‘subject’, a ‘terminus’, and a ‘foundation’. The change in firmness undergone by a piece of wax in my hand is ‘essentially’ ordered toward the warmth of my palm. The wax remains soft only as long as it is exposed to my body heat. An accidental relation is, for example, a son’s dependence on his father. If the father dies, the son can nevertheless continue to live. In the first case, the subject and the terminus are linked by a real foundation, warmth; in the second case, by a foundation of reason, descent, even though the son is ‘posterior’ to the father and owes his existence to him.27
An essential order, now, is a system of relations with their starting points in numerous subjects, referring them all to a single terminus and based on a real foundation. Scotus calls this foundation a res, a thing.28 It is not a third term, but the ad that inclines the subjects toward the terminus. The foundation, the viewpoint common to the subjects and to the terminus, is located in the form29 and “naturally”30 orients things to God. The Aristotelian metaphysics of relation was limited to the πϱὸς τί by which a property is referred to a substance.31 In the theistic speculation of Scotus, on the other hand, entities are related to something that precedes them as substances, either because it is their cause,32 or because it is more universal and more simple.33
It is true that in Aristotle the ten categories, taken together, form an order. Substance is a principle of order: as the cause of accidents, it fulfills one and the same role in regard to them, that is, to maintain them in being; substance is furthermore part of their order since it functions as the first of the categories, and it transcends their order since they do not in turn cause it to be; it also orients and gives coherence to all predicaments; finally it founds an order that is not only logical but real, based on observation. Nevertheless, Aristotle’s empiricism does not allow one to conceive a relation grounded in ousia itself. This is precisely the leap taken with the Scotist notion of essential order.
In an essential order the three constituents of relation are, then, introduced, as it were, into the very core of entities: the subjects are substances; the principle, as we just saw, is their cause, one and simple; and the reference itself is rooted, not in some secondary element of things, but in their being. If that element, the being that things have in common with their principle, were not identical everywhere—although differentiable—the order would lack unity. If that element were identical without being differentiated in the subjects and in the terminus, each subject would play the role of terminus, and there would be no unity either. That element is therefore the analogical foundation of the order, its common ground as it is encountered both in things and in the principle. Being analogical, it is by the same token the disjunctive criterion between the principle and the constituents: the latter possess it only partially, while the principle possesses it infinitely. It is true that Scotus conceives the essence, the ultimate foundation of order, as univocal. This univocity applies however only to the logical concept of essence. Heidegger observes that “unlike the domain of reality, that of logic is not analogical, but univocal.”34 Essence is logically one, but ontologically graded.35 As such it is the milieu where things refer to God as to their principle and where the principle terminates that reference. In other words, all things are diverse modalities or states36 of the essence that properly belongs to the principle alone. We need no more than the notion of principle together with its complement, the order of dependence, to see what understanding of the origin results from such creationist metaphysics. It is a concept of origin that clearly stresses the element of domination over the element of inception,37 or constant presence over time: the enduring principle ‘makes’ the order.
In Aristotle, where the origin is understood in the context of human making, the elements of inception and of domination in archē balance each other. Production is a becoming over which telos reigns, perceived from the start as archē. But medieval problematics like that of essential order immobilize creative becoming, fixating it as gubernatio mundi, divine world-government. With the stress on order, the Pantocrator gets the upper hand over the Creator. The metaphysic of principle and of its derivative, the essential order, instates as supreme ruler the archē discovered in movement. Such a metaphysic invests the origin as a princeps, prince and governor. For Aristotle, analysis of change had to turn into a discourse on origin because changing meant approaching full possession of the idea. In the Middle Ages the origin is still construed from the perspective of change, but as its opposite. The origin is the absolute opposed to all contingents. To be sure, from archē as the anticipation of telos to ‘principle’ as the anticipation of ‘terminus’, the form of thought remains the same. But notice the implications of the transition from Aristotle to medieval Aristotelianism as enunciated at the start of the Scotist treatise: speculation on the world-order and on its divine principle displaces the question of origin. Aristotle spoke of archē in three domains: being, becoming, and knowing. In truth, however, as I have said, he applied to both being and knowing a notion of origin belonging strictly only into the domain of becoming. The analysis of becoming, Heidegger writes, was “the most difficult task for thinking in the entire history of Western metaphysics,”38 precisely because it freed the ground for metaphysical developments until our own day, laying the foundations for the still predominant understanding of truth. But Duns Scotus—and in this respect he is representative of medieval philosophy as an epoch—grasped the kinetic analysis not only as having become metaphysical, that is, embracing all phenomena, but also as enriched by the dogma drawn from Exodus.39 The transition from the categorial order, in which the principle is sensible substance, to the essential order, in which the principle is divine substance (even though in itself unknowable40) is therefore not simply some innocent expansion of the πϱòς ἓν λεγόμενον. Seemingly continuing the schemes of thought derived from observation, it amounts to a new epochal position. This displacement further reifies the origin. It also elicits “the illusion that the transformation proceeding from the essential beginning of metaphysics preserves its genuine assets while at the same time progressively developing them.”41
If by the genuine assets is meant the metaphysic of causality, then the transmutation of thought patterns declares itself magnificently in Duns Scotus. Measured by that metaphysic, the essential order appears as an order of causes. It is a network of secondary causes which are connected more or less closely to the first cause, the principle, and which receive from it their causal character. Here again Scotus makes use of a revealing term: primitas, primacy. He introduces this term when attempting to reduce the different types of causes to the first nature, from which they emanate as the ‘producible’ emanates from the ‘productive’. Whereas the principle is productive without being produced itself, the causes are posterius effectivae—both produced by the principle and productive of effects more remote from it. “In the threefold essential order, the threefold primacy of efficacy, finality, and eminence inheres in some one and the same actually existing nature.”42 From the producibility of things, the medieval mind passes to the idea of productivity; then, from the multiplicity of what is productive—from the many secondary causes—to the unicity of an entity that is productive by itself. From an Aristotelian starting point—all that moves is moved either through itself or through another—Scotus and his fellow scholastics conclude with a first that is not only a mover, but the cause omnimoda. The essential order joins two types of causes: the many ‘essentially ordered causes’ and the one ‘cause in itself’. The principle is therefore one that has primacy in the causal order. This is why, in his reasoning about origin, Scotus must speak of primitas. The principle has causal primacy insofar as it empowers everything capable of causation. With Scotus, the metaphysic of causes thus undergoes a transmutation, a displacement from substance to creation. Nonetheless, it remains confined within the phenomenal region of subsistent entities. Still more, in identifying the origin with what is most productively present, scholastic metaphysics settles within that region more resolutely than any other.43 From the origin as archē in bringing about constant presence, to the origin as principium in ordering the constantly present, absence disappears from thought. Aristotle may not have thought absence as lēthē,44 but he at least recognized the absence of eidos in becoming. For him the very essence of becoming is inducing an absent eidos to render itself present according to “the number of motion in respect of before and after.”45 The forgetting of absence and of time in the later metaphysic of order shows with great clarity what the medieval understanding of the origin neglects when compared to its Greek understanding and what it retains from it: it neglects inception for the sake of retaining pure domination. It loses sight of the origin as incipit, as the event of nascency, in order to fix its speculative gaze on the origin as pure regnat, as rule and dominion by a ‘prince’—in Scotus’s words, by “his majesty.”
This is so because, in spite of the rediscovery of Aristotle in the thirteenth century, the locus where the origin can show itself as both inception and domination—human fabrication—has lost its paradigmatic role in the constitution of knowledge. Another site now functions as the center of things knowable and renders fabrication and know-how secondary, derivative. The domain from which the medievals understand the origin is no longer man-made change, but gubernatio mundi, the government the supreme entity exercises over things.
In such a representation of a first, what is to be retained is how the idea of a primum or a princeps (the Pantocrator of the Christians, or the ‘puma’ of the Incas) is linked to the idea of principium (the metaphysic of relation for Duns Scotus, the decimal system for the Incas); how the speculative mind passes without any apparent break from the hierarchy of entities to the hierarchy of propositions; how, at the close of the Latin era, the origin can appear, no longer primarily as substantive, a supreme agent, but as rational, a supreme proposition; how, in short, the passage from Duns Scotus to Leibniz only illustrates the double phenomenal content of the origin understood as principle—rule of a sovereign entity and rule of an evident truth.
It is only about to occur to man that he
stands and moves in the wake of the principle
Der Satz vom Grund46
The new reversal in history, by which the essential order dominated by a princeps is replaced by the logical order dominated by a principium, is best reflected in Leibniz’s Monadology. Henceforth, to speak of a principle no longer means to follow the course of a kinetic trajectory nor to follow the lead of a religious transmittal. Rather, it means to confine oneself to the realm in which human knowledge is the principal, the principial, problem. This is not to say that, for Aristotle or the medievals, knowledge did not arise as a philosophical issue. However, the displacement of paradigmatic fields becomes obvious if we inquire about the manner in which, prior to modernity, knowledge was an issue for itself. In Aristotle knowledge becomes problematic insofar as know-how, τέχνη, ‘accuses’ (ϰατηγοϱεɩ̃ν) the visible traits of a present entity; after Leibniz, on the other hand, it becomes problematic through an examination of judgments and their forms.47 If for Aristotle the exemplary region from which the guiding intuitions of philosophy emanate was physics, and for the Medievals religion, for Leibniz and those after him it is logic. Principles are henceforth something posited by the mind. A principle is the starting point, the origin, of an argument. As a ‘premise’ (prae-mittere, to send on ahead) it is ‘put before’ other truths which impose themselves as consequences. Modern subjectivity posits principles and so sets the foundation for everything knowable. The phenomenology of the reversals of history is capable of describing the epochal horizon within which the subject can thus turn back upon itself.48
Leibniz, too, certainly means to establish that the world, such as it exists, has its origin in God. But how does the mind assure for itself the principial function of that first? God is the sufficient reason of this world, its explanatory ratio.49 Materially, the Monadology, like medieval ontotheology, remains quite theocentric. Formally, however, it is centered on an order other than that of essences. Leibniz clearly states that without his principium magnum, without the principle of sufficient reason, we would never be able to demonstrate the existence of God. To answer the question, What is the origin? it is no longer enough simply to point to the ens originarium. An overarching principle is needed that leads the mind to that primary entity. The difficulty might be settled by claiming that the principle of sufficient reason is first in the order of discovery, but that God remains first in the order of foundation, or of the possible; in other words, that God supremely realizes this principle, that as the living God he is this principle which is only the abstract formulation of his concrete being. But the turn toward modernity is more incisive. The domain that gains priority with the rationalists is that of propositions and their legitimacy. In a sense the principle of sufficient reason rules over God himself. The origin, as understood by Leibniz, is a statement, a law articulated in words, an assertion. Leibniz also calls this an “axiom.”50
If the paradigmatic region of phenomena is, for Leibniz, that of the principles which order truths—truths of innate ideas or truths of the senses and of consciousness—then a displacement occurred at the close of the Latin age and at the beginning of the modern age. The origin has been transferred from the field of essential causes to the field of causes that regulate representation. The principle articulated by Leibniz determines the manner in which things are rendered present to the mind; it is a law, the one imperative law that must be obeyed by all extended things so as to appear before the thinking thing. A proposition is indubitable if it renders reason for what it states, that is, if it “renders” it correctly present to the representing subject. The principle of reason is therefore a law applicable to proofs (ratiocinationes).51 A logical deduction is well made if it can provide (reddere) the grounds of what it states. And the ultimate logical ground beyond which the mind cannot go is, on one hand, this very principie of sufficient reason, and on the other, the principle of non-contradiction. In Leibniz, these two principles guarantee all knowledge. The overdetermination of the concept of origin is apparent here. The notion of archē was, in Aristotle, generally physicalist and specifically kinetic. It designated either the material cause or the system of all causes insofar as they founded movement and rendered it intelligible. Archē is a technician’s concept, whereas principium is primarily a logician’s concept. In order to account for any fact of experience Aristotle investigates the laws of its ‘genesis’. Leibniz investigates the laws of its representation by the mind. The concept of principle could receive this new sense—after two millenia of incubation, says Heidegger52—only if beforehand entities in their totality had been objectified vis-à-vis man as spectator. When the world turns into a spectacle, laws for becoming turn into laws for representation. And the supreme principle requires that all representable things find their ground in human subjectivity. The reference to subject is expressed by the verb reddere: “render,” give back, reasons—namely, to the knowing subject.53
The course of what has been held to be first, from Aristotle to the moderns, seems to have been marked by few major punctuations: sensible substance, divine substance, human subject. But each of these epochal punctuations (a tautologous phrase, anyway) establishes a focal point whose primitas exhibits complex traits: it precedes all arguments, otherwise it could not found them; it is self-posited, otherwise it would be derived from a more original position; and it abides beneath entities, which otherwise could not be derivates. The impossibility of an infinite regress for principial thought always brings the metaphysical quest back to one form or another of ύποϰείμενον. It is precisely the “substrate” that unites the three characteristics of the referent just mentioned: being already in position (das schon Vorliegende), self-positing (von sich her), and providing a sup-position (unter- und zugrunde liegen). These traits of the ύποϰείμενον, literally translated as subiectum, suggest how, throughout the epochs, the origin has been conceived as pre-sup-position.54 In spite of the proliferation of ways in which philosophers have come to view the “first out of which,” deconstructionist analysis shows that any quest for principles is a quest for an ultimate ontic referent. Aristotle directed that inquiry toward “natural” things because “moved by themselves” (although he conceived nature from the standpoint of artifacts, things “moved by another”). Duns Scotus and his age redirect it toward God. With Descartes and Leibniz, the quest for a ground is aimed at the last of the three great regions of entities—world, God, man—and thereby exhausts the resources of metaphysics. To the phenomenology of the reversals of history, man is the last genetic field, the last possible Ursprungsfeld55 where the origin can be apprehended as presupposition.
What happens, then, when Leibniz formulates his “great principle”? The presupposition, after having been ousiological and theological, becomes logical. It provides the sufficient condition on which judgments may be true. To think, for Leibniz, is to form propositions about necessary or factual truths. These propositions require grounding. The first in the order of foundation will be a rule for the conduct of the mind. There are two candidates for this supreme function, (a) the rule that, of two contradictory propositions, one must be true, the other false, and (b) the rule that one must render reasons for any proposition that relates one fact or truth to another.56 The first of these two rules is subordinate to the second—this is Leibniz’s principial discovery. A proposition is not yet legitimated when it is shown that it does not imply a contradiction. A statement’s sufficient reason is provided only when it is established “why it is so and not otherwise.”57
Leibniz departs from Aristotle not only in that for him, as a modern, the presupposition is of a logical order and that he therefore has to articulate the principle in an “aphorism” or a “maxim”;58 he distances himself further from the ancients by his very comprehension of logic, which changes its nature.59 In Heidegger’s words, it becomes the “exposition of the formal construct of thinking and the establishment of its rules.”60 It becomes transcendental logic, something other than a pure analysis of cognitive processes. It is invested with tasks that formerly fell to first philosophy. Consequently, the logical principle of sufficient reason must be understood in another “key”:61 no longer as a rule for correctly ordering propositions, but as the rule of “enframing” things through representation. It is a principium in the strongest, ontological sense. As such, this principle, which explicitly governs the principle of non-contradiction, is itself governed implicitly by another—that of subjectivity as the giver of objective being. “The I, as ‘I think’, is the ground upon which is based, hereafter, all certitude and all truth.”62 In Leibniz, the principles of non-contradiction and of sufficient reason are capped with a third principle, which is truly ultimate, the Ichsatz or principle of transcendental ego.63
Whether it is the eidos, God, or the subject that is first in the order of presuppositions, the origin always appears as “preceding” and “empowering” (ermöglichend!). But even within metaphysics it is not always reified,64 not always identified with one res that is privileged among all others. As long as Aristotelians still speak Greek, inception and domination cannot become the act of one particular being. In the Physics, the archē is the eidos of becoming, not of a thing. Nor is the origin any more reified—although about to be just that—in the Metaphysics, where substance is the archē of accidents, or in the Ethics, where happiness is the archē of action, or in the Politics, where the perfect state is the archē of free men, or in the Logic, where the concept is the archē of the categories. On the other hand, in the medieval universe where analogy reigns, the first analogate is principium in that it makes and governs all other entities. The continuity with Aristotle is quite legible. Not only are the domains of being and knowing secondary in comparison with that of becoming, but, further, becoming is conceived according to human making. The metaphysics of created things remains faithful to the “technical” understanding of being. However, the discontinuity with Aristotle is legible, too. When the origin is posited among entities, be it in the greatest, inception and domination come to signify something other than the trait common to all pros hen schemata. They come to signify the spontaneous creation and the design of ruling. For the archein to be sacred—a ‘hierarchy’—the first has to be adorned with an arsenal of real attributes. In keeping with the regulatory role devolved upon language, in Heidegger, the reification of the origin seems to coincide with the transition from Greek to Latin. It hardens with the moderns. When Aristotelian physical energeia becomes medieval divine actualitas, and later, with Leibniz, subjective vis,65 what “precedes and empowers” turns into something given, an entity. The passage “from Greek thinking to Roman representation”66 results in an anthropologized origin. Under the principate of man, ‘to begin’ (inception) signifies the legislative spontaneity of reason, and ‘to command’ (domination), the will’s design of enframing. The ultimate hardening of this concretization occurs, in Heidegger’s view, with contemporary technology. Objects have definitely seized power and their domination has engulfed the very possibility of thinking inception. The illusion of durability has made the temporality contained in the original sense of archēin unthinkable.
This history—which, after all, relates in its way “how the ‘true world’ finally became a fable”67—teaches us at great length about the humanization of the origin. This process has been at work ever since Aristotle turned toward human technē in order to know the multiple phenomena of genesis and corruption in nature; but it triumphs when Leibniz declares perception to be the unifier of the manifold. “The passing state which enfolds and represents a multitude in unity or in the simple substance, is merely what is called perception.”68 Here is how the subject rules: by perceiving, by effecting unity through its reflective acts, by reducing the manifold to simple substances. Leibniz expresses the rule of the ego-principle unambiguously. The manifold receives its being from reason. “As we think of ourselves, we think of being.”69 The break with traditional logic could hardly be more apparent. Perception is reduced to representation as the act of bringing the manifold before the unifying, legislative reason—as the act which bestows being. We are far from the principle of reason as the ultimate proposition. By its reflective acts, by ‘consciousness’, the subject constitutes itself as the origin of objective being. “The ‘ground’ and ‘principium’ is now the subiectum in the sense of the representation representing itself.”70 Representation is the conferral of being, supplanting creation ex nihilo. The being of entities, or the substantiality of substance, resides in the efficacy of representation.71 No object ‘is’ unless it ‘renders’ reason to the subject: that principle means not only that objects are referred to the self, nor that such reference opens the domain where they can at all appear. More radically, the reference to the subject makes the principle of reason, “as fundamental proposition of knowledge, the principle of what ever is”72 In a logical guise, that principle enunciates the fundamental fact of “the metaphysics of the modern age,”73 namely, that entities are constituted as objective by perception qua position.74 The consequence for the understanding of the origin is obvious: as egoical, as anthropomorphic,75 the logical principium proves to be an epochal principle.
Where, then, does the change in tonality, the principle of reason heard in “the other key,” lead? Phenomenal being is being that is rendered present to the mind, presented for the sake of the representing ego, set opposite it.76 The change in tonality thus leads to “the other thinking,” that of the reversals of history and of the epochs dominated by an ontic principle—here, the representing ego—which “gives, each time, the measure.”77
At first sight, the origin appears in the Monadology as a logical rule. That was our point of departure. Then the origin seemed to shift toward the subjectivity of the knowing ego. Finally, it appeared that it must rather be sought in what Leibniz calls perception and what Heidegger understands as the very content of the rationem reddere: to render reason is to render an extended thing present a second time, namely to the ego. In order to learn what the epochal principle of modernity is, it seems that we would have to hold together the original essence of propositional logic, that of transcendental subjectivity, and of representation as bestowal of being. But it is clear that these are only three aspects of the same original establishment through which, at the beginning of modernity, the principium is brought back to man. The locus where the origin, understood in this way, obtains is the region of logical entities; the locality of that locus, the being of those entities, is subjectivity; and the foundation through which logical entities, henceforth held as paradigmatic, are anchored in their being, the method of founding them, is representation. The phenomenological deconstruction reveals the historical site where a philosopher can teach that the soul draws from its own ground all its thoughts and actions. Leibniz’s quest for evident laws from which statements spring and are ruled is to be seen as identical, on one hand, with the quest for the subjective ground as inception and domination of objects and, on the other, with representation as a method. To understand this unthematized link within rationalism between objective evidence, subjective foundation, and representation would mean to understand the origin in its specifically modern guise. An indubitable proposition functions as a principle only to the extent that it anchors representations in the thinking subject. The proposition and the subject can both be ‘first’ because, for modern man, archein is to represent. A principle is always what is ‘seized’ before something else. The subject seizes itself before seizing objects, for which it then serves as unshakable ground (‘subject’ understood as translating hupokeimenon), and it seizes a certain propositional truth (the principle of reason) before seizing the derivatives for which that truth provides the premise.78 That capere, seizing, as such is nothing other than representation.
We now know where entities such as principles in the sense of Leibnizian logic can be encountered at all79—in representation. But the history of philosophy has seen other principial concepts of origin, other ways of immobilizing inception and domination. Representation is one historical site among many where thought has sought to vanquish time. Neither for the Greeks, nor for the medievals, did truth lie in subjectivity as the scene where objects render themselves constantly present. Prior to the modern age, truth was a matter of adequate judgments, founded on a ‘technical’ understanding of nature in Aristotle and on its ‘creationist’ understanding in the medievals. As the epochal foundation of the metaphysics of representation, the concept of principle is modern.80 The two ‘keys’ according to which the principle of sufficient reason is to be heard are then: as the first truth for representation and as the ultimate foundation for an epoch.81 It marks that epoch for which the temporal dimension, not only of technē, but also of Creation, has ceased to be measure-giving.
As an epochal first, the principle of sufficient reason governs one of the successive fields of intelligibility that have arisen since the dawn of our history. We know that these fields cannot be integrated in some linear development.82 Still, there are characteristic traits of this history that have remained the same: since the Presocratics, each of the guiding words of philosophy has had a posterity, a ‘history of efficacy’, by which it has been transformed nearly beyond recognition. Thus, the λόγος of Heraclitus83 remains alive, although disguised, in modern ‘cogitation’;84 φύσις,85 in the modern ‘extended thing’; άλήϑεια,86 in modern ‘perception’;87 man as μετϱον, measure or standard, in modern ‘subjectivity.’88 Therefore, beneath the epochal differences something shows forth that remains the same. “Only, in the trait most proper to it, we see this ‘same’ with difficulty and rarely in its fullness.”89
To speak of an epochal principle is to speak of a double retainment or withholding: not only does the principle of any provisional economy hold itself back in the order that it establishes with a ‘halting’ (epochē), but holding back is essential to presencing. The first mode of self-refusal is historical. Thus, in the modern age, representation does not appear as such, although it is what marks out the avenue—the ‘method’—through which all that is present can enter our economy. The second mode is anhistorical; the entry into presence as such can only be read indirectly in the order of things present. “Epochē does not mean here a span of time in occurrence, but rather the fundamental trait of sending—its holding-back, for each while, so that what it gives may be received.”90 Neither preseneing, which sends an economy, nor this economy which is sent, are easily thematized. What is too close eludes examination, although it demands to be observed. An epochal principle makes itself felt like an address, a requisition. It requisitions a community of men for a finite mode of thought and of action.
The origin of the political has always been such a principle. The origin of our own twentieth century so understood makes it “an epoch of history stamped by the atom.”91 The concrete order of what we call the atomic age is the manifest response to the hidden call of the principle through which this age is born and ruled, just as the hierarchy of essences and the subordination of truths to first propositions were the manifest responses to the principles ruling the Middle Ages and the modern age respectively.92 So set to reason—first divine, then human—the origin has for two millennia repudiated time.
To redress that age-old repudiation, Heidegger seeks to gain an understanding of the ontological difference as a temporal difference.