The Greeks usually hear two things in this
word: on the one hand, ἀϱχή means that
from which something takes its egress and
inception; on the other it means that which,
as such egress and inception, at the same
time reaches beyond whatever emerges from
it, thereby dominating it. Ἀϱχή means both
inception and domination inseparably.
“On the Being and Conception of Phusis”1
The word ἀϱχή seems to have entered philosophical language only with Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle is the one who explicitly joins the more ancient sense of inception with that of domination. From the time of Homer, the common meaning of the verb ἂϱχειν had been “to lead,” “to come first,” “to open,” for instance, a battle or a discourse.2 In the epic tradition, ἀϱχή designates what is at the beginning, either in an order of succession in time, like childhood, or in an order of constitutive elements, as flour is the basis of dough or as the organs are the elementary parts of the body. The other meaning, that of command, of power, of domination, although absent from Homer,3 is found in Herodotus and Pindar. Aristotle also uses the word in this sense.4 But the Aristotelian innovation consists in uniting the two senses, inception and domination, in the same abstract concept.5 Until the end of antiquity6 ἀϱχή remains a technical term for designating the constitutive, abstract, and irreducible elements in being, becoming, and knowing. The metaphysical concept of ἀϱχή expresses that abstract structural element in entities which, in their analysis, is unhintergehbar, insurpassable. It is a concept thoroughly linked to the metaphysics of sensible substance and its ‘theory’.7
The concept ἀϱχή is probably not an ‘archaic’
concept, but one subsequently read back into
the beginnings of Greek philosophy by
Aristotle and later by the ‘doxographers’.
“On the Being and Conception of Phusis”8
Anaximander is said to have taught that “the origin [ἀϱχή] and element of things is the boundless” (or the indeterminate, or the infinite).9 Identifying the origin with the ἄπειϱον, he would have reformulated the debate about what is primordial in nature. With this innovation, the Aristotelians opposed Anaximander, it seems, to the other Milesian and Pythagorian ‘philosophers of nature’10: these others are said to have held that the primordial element composing all things is water, fire, air, or earth, whereas Anaximander would have claimed that it is the boundless. The philological issue is: did the Aristotelians present Anaximander as the first thinker of the ἀϱχή or rather as the first thinker of the ἄπειϱον? Did Theophrastus wish to say that Anaximander “was the first to call ‘ἀϱχή’ the substrate of the opposites,”11 or rather that he was “the first to name the substratum of the opposites as the material cause”?12 If the second reading is correct, it is not certain that Anaximander used the word ἀϱχή at all. It then would belong properly to the Aristotelian vocabulary. If ἀϱχή is therefore the metaphysical concept of a beginning that simultaneously ‘commands’, what then do the Aristotelians have Anaximander say? First of all, they make him a philosopher. Indeed, according to Aristotle the task of the philosopher is to investigate the ἀρχαὶ ϰαὶ αἰτίαι,13 commonly translated as “the principles and causes.” Then they attribute to him claims about the genesis and corruption of things, that is, about becoming. They read him as a philosopher of nature. His concept of archē would be physicalist. Things come to be, they say, out of one constitutive element that Anaximander calls the boundless. This element is an archē because it is the permanent, irreducible substrate of things: they emerge from it, and they remain ruled by it. For a mind schooled by Aristotle, archē means both that out of which becoming develops and that which rules it.14 All of this teaches us a great deal about the classical idea of archē but may render Anaximander nearly inaccessible.15
What now is the guiding meaning of archē in the three domains—being, becoming, knowing—in which, according to Aristotle, it is operative? In being, it is substance that begins and commands everything ‘adventitious’ to it. Aristotle explicitly establishes the equivalence between ousia and archē.16 In becoming, the archai are the causes.17 Finally, in knowledge they are the premises on which cognition depends. If first philosophy is to be possible it has to proceed from a prescience of the universal conditions from which syllogisms draw science. All knowledge supposes a more originary knowledge. All demonstration starts with a hypothesis. What then is the ultimate presupposition? The origin of first philosophy would be the science of the universal, a science that is sought for but impossible to establish.18
However, in Aristotle the analysis of being, as well as that of knowledge, derives from the observation of change in sensible substance. As we have seen, what strikes the mind in the Greek classical age is that there is becoming, and first of all a becoming of which man is the author and master. Both metaphysics and logic derive from the astonishment before what our hands can make out of some material. In Heidegger’s view, the guiding meaning in Aristotle’s concept of origin results neither from speculation about being nor from the logic of knowledge, but from the analysis of becoming that affects material things. This is why in the Physics, the Grundbuch, previous thinkers could appear only as physicalists. “Aristotle himself is properly the author of the process which consists in seeking the metaphysical way of thinking—which begins only with Plato and himself—earlier in the thought of the pre-Platonic thinkers.”19
The formulations of the Milesians and the Pythagoreans now appear as so many groping attempts to discover the notion that hylemorphism could finally identify in appropriate terms: the science of nature henceforth is able to term ‘material cause’ that origin of things that Anaximander had called ‘boundless’. That way it also becomes understandable that Simplicius could speak of the apeiron as hupokeimenon:20 the doctrine of the origin, as the Aristotelians believed they had found it in Anaximander, is the doctrine of a material substrate from which things arise in order to return to it as to their primordial element. This same substrate rules them for as long as the ‘boundary’ lodges them within the ‘boundless’. Such is the double Aristotelian sense of archē, inception and domination, as the tradition applies it “forward and backward” from Plato and Aristotle.21 It is decisive for our general concern to have established that the concept of archē—the philosophical technical term—is not more ancient than Attic philosophy.
How much of genuine attention to the phenomena and how much metaphysical construction is there in the Aristotelian notion of archē? If the origin immediately appears as ἀϱχὴ τῆς ϰινήσεως, origin of movement, then it essentially designates the trait common to the four causes. The alliance between the notions of inception and domination is possible only once the metaphysics of the causes is constituted. Once it is understood that phenomena as a whole are knowable from the viewpoint of causality, then it can be said that a true cause is only that which begins its action “and never ceases to begin it,”22 that is, a cause that also commands. In this way Heidegger links the fate of the concept of archē to the constitution of the metaphysics of causes.23 It is true that in developing a threefold causality in being, becoming, and knowing, parallel to the theory of the four causes, Aristotle recognizes a diversity of phenomenal regions. Nevertheless, it is always the archē, says Heidegger, that constitutes “the internal link between the triple and quadruple division of the aitia, as well as the reason why the foundation of these different divisions fails to appear.”24
What is the field of phenomena to which causality is appropriate, what is its home territory? What is the purview of causality? As I have said, with Heidegger the category of causality is germane for making things in motion intelligible, whether they are moved by man or by nature. In the terminoiogy of Being and Time, the field of phenomena to which the scheme of causality is applicable is that of subsistent entities, of objects. But there are other fields: tools, people, works of art, etc. The phenomenology born of hermeneutics tells us that all of these let themselves be ‘interpreted’, but not ‘explained’ by causes. Causal explanation is one mode of understanding among others, although this mode has maintained its hegemony over Western philosophy. Liberating the phenomenological nucleus from the Aristotelian conception of the origin will require that inception and domination be understood otherwise than as the essential traits of the causes and of causality. It will require that the archē be disengaged from causal representations.
To deconstruct phenomenologically the received concepts of origin means first of all to dismantle the discourse about archē as a quest for causes. At the same time, the deconstruction of Aristotelian physics will make Anaximander’s thought appear in a problematic that is not physicalist. If such deconstruction were to reveal that Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Parmenides did not think the origin as archē—as incipit and regimen of observable movement—a first hint of a non-metaphysical thought of origin would be gained. Situating the causal concept of origin will make it possible to recapture indirectly the primal elements fused in the classical concept of archē.
According to Aristotle’s Physics, material things in becoming are of two species: those that bear the origin of their movement in themselves and those that are moved by another. The former are ‘natural’ in the strict sense, the latter are man-made. But where does such a distinction come from? What is the disjunctive factor between ‘moved by themselves—moved by man’? The tertium comparationis is movement, change, as such. As such? Is it some ideal representation that has made the quest for origin into a quest for causes? Or is it rather one very precise experience, namely, that of the movement and change initiated by us, which switched classical thought onto the track of causal explanations? In that case, it is only because man first grasps himself as archi-tect, as initiator of fabrication, that nature can in turn appear to him as moved by the mechanisms of cause and effect. Growth, too, “begins” and “makes.”25 Because the artisan experiences the origin of production as indigenous to himself, he finds another such origin in nature, concordant with although allogeneous to his own. The experience that guides the comprehension of origin as it is operative in the ‘philosophy of nature’ is paradoxically the experience of fabricating tools and works of art, the experience of handiwork. In this way the Aristotelian tradition divides the totality of things into those moved by human hands and those moved by themselves.26
The most viable way of conducting the deconstruction of Aristotle’s physics so as to return back beyond his concept of archē is to examine the scope of his ‘kinetic’ understanding of nature. It does not appear to be coextensive with his concept of phusis. A residual factor remains once natural things are opposed to man-made things, and once these two species are combined under the common genus ‘moved things’. The specific differences, ‘physical’ and ‘technical’ movement, do not exhaust the phenomena that Aristotle calls natural. What is that residual factor that makes phusis in the strict sense—as complementary to technē—remain a derivative notion in Aristotle? He owes this residual factor, Heidegger says, to his speaking Greek: in spite of the predominance of manipulable and manufactured objects in his understanding of being, he occasionally still takes phusis in the sense of its verbal root as coming forth, presencing. In those cases the fabricative viewpoint of ‘making present’ recedes behind emergence into presence—behind the presencing of plants as well as of handiwork. In such texts the distinction between two types of archē disappears because the kinetic pre-understanding of nature disappears. The word archē does not occur in the passages where phusis recalls the verb phuein, ‘presencing’ or ‘coming to presence’.27
The origin as inception and domination is derived from that more primal ‘verbal’ understanding, which is preserved even in Latin (oriri—origin; nasci—nature). As a speaker of Greek, Aristotle cannot but keep alive, as if in spite of himself, a trace of the Presocratic understanding of the origin as the event of phuein, with its connotation of showing-hiding.28 But this intermittent allegiance to his predecessors fades in the texts and more so in the tradition, to the advantage of the link between physics and the search for causes. The cognitive interest expressed in the question Why? ties the philosophic career of the concept of archē to the science of things constantly present. ‘“Αϱχή is not a guiding concept for being. Rather this term is derived from the originary Greek determination of being.”29
‘O τέϰτων is the pro-ducer, the one who
brings forth and who brings into position—
‘forth’ toward unconcealment and ‘into’ the
open. This pro-duction that brings forth is
what man accomplishes, e.g., in building,
carving, shaping. In the word ‘architect’ lies
ὁ τέϰτων. From the architect as the ἀϱχή of
a τεϰεῖν something emanates like in a proj-
ect, and it remains guided by him: for
instance, the pro-duction of a temple.
Another way of conducting the deconstruction of the kinetic notion of archē is to locate its antonym, telos. In which region of phenomena do we speak of ends to be realized?
As the text cited in the epigraph indicates, archē and technē (or the corresponding verb, tekein) belong together. The telos, the end in which a process reaches completion, primarily determines neither our relations with others, nor those with a work of art—except, precisely, in its production. Here again the ‘technical’ character of the problematic of archē is obvious since the telos is what the architect perceives before setting to work and what guides him throughout the construction. A craftsman possesses technē, know-how, if he does not lose sight of the initially perceived idea and if he is an expert in conforming the material at hand to it. The notion of technē is therefore a “cognitive concept.”31 It indicates that one knows how to render present in the product an end seen in advance. Ends of fabrication are realized with manipulable stock. Anything, to be sure, may turn into such manipulable stock, and it may well be that, because of the exclusive emphasis on fabrication since the beginnings of Western metaphysics, everything has in fact become just that. However, the notion of telos, like that of archē, has its legitimate purview only over things given for handling. ‘Technical’ knowledge is that which fixes an eidos, which lays hands on it. With the pair, archē and telos, ‘pro-ducing’ definitively ceases to mean ‘bringing forth into the open’ and henceforth coincides with ‘fabrieating’, with the work of leading an eidos to complete visibility.
“The εἶδος must stand in view beforehand, and this appearance selected in advance—εἶδος πϱοαιϱετόν—is the end, τέλος, that of which τέχνη has know-how.”32 When the product is ‘finished’, it will be visible, set before the gaze that first was set on the idea. In this way, the end of becoming is its incipience: marble will not become a temple unless at the outset the architect grasped the appearance, the shape, to be conferred on it. When the artifact presents itself ‘in its end’ (ἐν-τελέχεια), when it stands fully ‘in work’ (ἐν-έϱγεια), the εἶδος will have reached constant presence.
Aristotle understands becoming as the process by which the eidos is rendered entirely and durably visible. A thing is in becoming to the extent that its eidos is en route toward constant presence. The why or wherefore (οὗ ἕνεϰα) of any becoming is the completed piece of work: “the end is the work.”33 The end of the architect’s craft is the finished building. In the metaphysic of origination it is quite natural that, as Aristotle holds, the finished piece of work is better than the activity through which it was produced. The good is the product, not the production. To commit a thing to becoming is to commit its ‘idea’ to exposure: it is led to exhibit permanently what it is in itself, its ‘form’. This visible availability of the eidos or the morphē is the good toward which manufacturing tends under its numerous guises. When it has reached visible permanence, the thing has taken full possession of its eidos. “This is why the word ἐνέϱγεια is derived from ‘work’ (ἔϱγον) and refers to full possession of the end (ἐντελέχεια).”34 When the product has its ‘final aspect’, it is a work, it stands firmly and constantly in its end.
In this way Aristotle’s identification of archē with telos loses some of its oddity. “Everything that comes to be moves toward an ἀϱχή, that is, a τέλος; in fact, that for the sake of which a thing is, is its ἀϱχή, and becoming is for the sake of its τέλος.”35 Considered in itself, movement does not yet possess its end. It is a-teles, “it appears as a kind of standing-in-the-work, but as not yet come to its end.”36 Like the Platonic eros, becoming is the child of poverty and invention: it is deprived of its end, and it invents the energeia to reach it. But if the end is not already given at the starting point as hou heneka (the ‘wherefore’), there will be no becoming at all.
The language in which Aristotle treats the ‘end’ in the Metaphysics lends itself to confusion since energeia sometimes designates the entelechy,37 sometimes the progress toward the entelechy. This ambiguity is lifted in the Nichomachean Ethics by the distinction between poiēsis and praxis.38 In poiēsis (making), setting to work precedes the work as constructing precedes the edifice. But in praxis (acting), setting to work is itself the end. Therefore there are two sorts of telē: “some are activities (energeiai), others are works (erga) distinct from the activities that produce them.”39 The latter lie outside the maker, and thus the energeia is incomplete. Only the former are in the agent itself, and the energeia there is ‘autarkic’, self-sufficient. But even though Aristotle considers acting superior to making,40 the vocabulary of end as well as the word energeia, coined by him, show that here again the paradigmatic scheme for understanding archē and telos is production. The notion of archē, then, proves to be generally kinetic and more specifically technical. The primacy of production appears clearly in the texts where the distinction between the end extrinsic to fabrication and the end intrinsic tc action is not yet drawn:41 the view set on the eidos is ‘dominated’ by the telos for as long as the latter is not achieved, as long as it lies ahead to be pursued. But once Aristotle, as he does in the Nichomachean Ethics, draws the distinction between practical and poietic ends, then the element of domination is no longer decisive for praxis, and the end of an action becomes immanent to that action.42 Telos ‘reigns’, ‘commands’, and therefore exercises the function of archē only in the case of sensible substance. Aristotle’s discovery of teleocracy is native to the field of fabrication. And that is where it should stay. That magistrates, kings, and tyrants are named under the same rubric as the architectonic arts can confuse only a modern mind. For Aristotle, political domination is but one instance of the domination that appears “especially”43 in the know-how of the architect. The teleocratic frame of reference applies to action to the extent that action is still seen as a becoming: magistrates ‘move’ the city because they are themselves ‘moved’ by the idea that is its end. This is why architecture is the paradigmatic art: the anticipation of end through which Aristotle comprehends the origin is observed most clearly in construction. The finished building is the achieved end, and achievement as process is ruled by the ‘foreseen’ end, by the finished aspect of the product as precognized. How, then, does archē dominate? In anticipating telos. Fabrication is the case ϰατ̓ ἐξοχήν in which anticipation of the end rules over becoming. The gist of Western philosophy is thus a metaphysics of handiwork (literally, of manufacture, of manu facere, making by hand) that traces the displacements of the idea. ‘Archically’ be-held in the vision of the artificer, the idea is then imprinted on available material, and lastly it offers itself to everyone’s inspection in the finished artifact. The telos “does not put an end to the thing; rather out of [the telos], the thing begins to be what, after production, it will be.”44
Before Aristotle conceived of the origin as what begins and commands production—whether human or natural—the Greeks do not seem to have understood the origin as located in the phenomenal region of the maneuverable. The fragment from Anaximander cited above speaks of genesis, ‘generation’, and of phthora, ‘decline’. If in these words Anaximander meant to say something about phusis, one may doubt that he wished to compare the generation and corruption of living things to the process of fabrication. And if, in writing about generation and decline in ‘nature’, he had in mind the origin of that process, he can hardly have thought of it on the model of causality. Having escaped the obligatory training in the Grundbuch of Western philosophy, his mode of thinking in all probability was far from ‘archeo-logical’ and may rather have been ‘an-archical’. Compared to Aristotle’s understanding of origin, that of the Presocratics did not amount to conceptually fixing an eidos that initiates and rules sensible substances. For the pre-Attic mode of thinking, it seems, the origin appeared as simple presencing, as coming to presence, and in that sense as an-archic. If ‘presencing’, ‘coming about’, ‘emerging’ (genesis) are the words that best describe the origin in its pre-metaphysical sense, it can only elude all representations connected with the archē of things in motion. It is dislodged from the site of maneuverable objects. Regarding its two classical features, inception and domination, the first can be seen as an echo of presencing; but with Heidegger’s return to pre-classical thinking, the notion of domination loses its central place in philosophy.
The Aristotelian concept of archē proves to be as ambiguous as that of phusis.45 The example of the artisan is paradigmatic for both. And yet Aristotle is far from identifying archē with homo faber. Archē designates what man must never lose sight of when he fabricates, and only in that sense does it prelude what will become metaphysical humanism.46 What dominates becoming in fabrication and even in public administration is not man, but the idea. In all phenomenal domains—art, science, becoming, being—some universal starts off and commands a concrete process. The archē is not an entity, human or divine; in this, as I have said, Aristotle remains faithful to his predecessors. Nor is the notion of archē onto-theological yet;47 it does not designate a supreme being that creates and governs change, but only the common trait of the different types of causes.
Is metaphysics then the generalization of modes of thought appropriate to only one region of phenomena—artifacts? Is it ultimately by such an unwarranted extrapolation that Aristotle answers the question, ‘What is being?’ Does his answer, the science of the composition of sensible substances and of the changes that affect them, arise from such a sweeping metabasis? It would seem so, inasmuch as ‘to be moving’, ‘changing’, ‘becoming’, mean for him first of all ‘to be fabricated’. In this way, we glimpse how the reversal of history sets in which will place first a divine, then a human constructor in the position of origin. What anticipates onto-theological and onto-anthropological doctrines, in which the origin figures as the predicate of one entity, is the novel concept—if not the word—archē in Aristotle.