Thursday, January 26, 2017

We Have Always Been Gnostic (Draft 2)

We Have Always Been Gnostic:
An Essay on the Notion of Overcoming
 
by

E.C. Quodlibet



I
 
Every philosophical theory is an attempt to come to grips with a spiritual impasse, a fact of experience and of being that underlies it like a disease to a symptom. The history of Western philosophy can be conceived as a series of more and more radical conceptual responses to what is a fundamentally non-conceptual realm. With each theoretical revolution, with each hasty overturning and each claim of a philosophical “overcoming”, thought entrenches itself further into the quagmire of the disearnest and the merely abstract, until finally it makes itself inextricable and has established an irrefutable and even singular hegemony, whether institutional or on the level of self-discipline.

The primary spiritual impasse of Western civilization (and probably of Eastern, too, but for now the thesis must be restricted pending further researches), can be summed up in one word: Gnosticism. To be clear, Gnosticism is not directly the impasse itself; it is merely a doctrine that boldly stared this impasse in the face. This impasse qua spiritual fact of experience is nothing other than dualism.

The common man will stare and blink, while the self-sure followers of so-called enlightened opinion will raise a great cry of displeasure—oh! To hear such dreadful news! But worst of all, and most unforgivable by far, is that the professional philosophers will smugly sneer, as if to say: “Gnosticism? A system of unjustifiable dualities… and religious ones at that? Have we not already overcome such a failure of thought? Is this not rather a dogmatic distortion of reality?” While I gladly and perhaps morbidly acquiesce to life in the madhouse, it is common courtesy (all will surely agree) that the offending message at least be conveyed at some length, if not taken entirely seriously.

These facts justify a rather startling thesis: We have always been Gnostic



II

What allows for the assertion of this fundamental fact of dualism? Dualism itself, first of all, allows for a number of manifestations, not all of which are equivalent translations of one another: mind and body, spirit and matter, infinite and finite, self and other, &c. These oppositions are, in fact, embedded deeply in the structure of language as such, not this or that language, but in all structuring activity whatsoever.

Dualism is the transposition of this logico-grammatical structure of binary opposition onto the metaphysical plane. This is not an activity that we necessarily set out to engage in, nor is the metaphysical aspect necessitated by that logico-grammatical structure (take for instance certain “primitive” peoples, who, notwithstanding many structural similarities, have a widely divergent lived metaphysics). There is a moment of contingency in the relation between language and the underpinnings of reality we take to be constituted on the basis of that language. At the same time, this is different from the way we represent that constituted reality via language, this last representation also being subject to great contingency, so great in fact that most systems and concepts of philosophy can be produced in the interval.

Above all, then, we act and experience these binary oppositions, often in spite of philosophical or scientific beliefs; the two registers are fundamentally different in both orientation and source. It is the philosophical gambit that this third register can wrap back around and overwrite the second, or in some cases even the first one (not that these registers are the only ones, nor are they strictly hierarchical; but the model suffices for now).

The problem, as Wilhelm Reich knew too well, is the issue of meaning. Can we interpret away that which is fundamentally not of the order of interpretation, that which lies beyond discourse? Of course, I do not claim that philosophy necessarily sees itself as doing this, but there is a certain type of philosophy obsessed with a kind of “overcoming” that justifies the current critique. The problem of those other, anti-dualistic (as distinct from non-dualist) philosophical projects is their lack of self-awareness of dualism as a problem or fact in the first place; we leave them therefore to one side.



III

There is something dastardly, something sinister and disconcerting, in the fact of duality; this is why it is an “impasse”. Do not the two deserve to be one? Have they not earned it by their stoic resistance to every pitiable scientific and theoretical advancement that the combined might of humanity has ever wrought? Indeed, something is amiss; there ought not be two. Ought there then be one? The impasse begs to be overcome.

Theoretically, a one is already a two, and therein we have three; by means of this can we prove any metaphysical doctrine at all as we like, discovering structures up even to our very own favorite numbers (that is to say, arbitrarily high). Lacan was partial to the number 3, as was Hegel (or was it 4 in the end?), whereas Descartes preferred 2; those who have preferred 1 are too numerous to name. Crowley has a unique solution to the issue.

But more important than these theoretical considerations is the question of how these numbers come to be posited. It is typically in response to a primary datum, that is, that of binary opposition, that these theoretical positions are taken. It is in order to do away with the problems and contradictions brought about by dualist metaphysics that, for example, Hegel requires the third dialectical moment of unity in difference. Hindu scholastic philosophy (that is, taken as an exercise of textual commentary and not as a spiritual practice; this can of course only be done in earnest by those unfamiliar with the tradition), to take another example, dissolves the transient and contradictory nature of self and not-self into the unity of Brahman. A system of philosophy that did not at any point posit a duality as at least provisionally fundamental would not yet even be a philosophy, but would remain a dogmatic theology.

But do these theories fix our problem of dualism? In point of fact: No, they merely add a further, conceptual layer atop the bedrock of dualist perception. By thought alone, that which is beyond thought cannot be overcome. Philosophy reveals its hidden idealism and blind faith in itself when these facts are understood; and yet, in the name of a true idealism of spirit, we must provide a corrective. We must begin from the 2, but where are we to go from there, and with what method are we to travel? Let us return now to our dear Gnostics, who miss us already, I am sure.


 
IV

The Gnostics believed, among other things, that material existence was tantamount to the imprisonment of the soul (or spirit, depending on translation and tradition). Only by gnosis, an activity of the deep Self that freed the soul from the material bonds of time and space – with the grace of God of course – could one hope to escape. Determination is here taken to be evil, and thus we have a rather sophisticated understanding of the intersections of embodiment and freedom. The Gnostics took their dualism more seriously than the Neoplatonists, who for their part attempted a reconciliation; Plotinus is another example of the merely conceptual overcoming of dualism, whereas Iamblichus in his spiritual project was perhaps at bottom not so different from the Gnostics on this front, that is, of real overcoming.

Becoming-spirit can be effected not otherwise than via the spirit itself, via gnosis. The material body is a restriction; the more one is determined by matter, and especially by the body, the more unfree one is. In contrast, the less bound to matter one is, the more free, the more is one identified with what one truly is, that being the spirit or soul, which is in itself nothing other than pure freedom, unfathomable in its transcendence.

In their metaphysics, the Gnostics took the logic of dualism to its true and inevitable conclusions; the same extremity is present, so claim the philosophers of the contemporary period, in each and every dualism… to this we can only agree, and perhaps smirk if we are feeling particularly cheeky. Good and evil – are they not also facts of our experience, quite in spite of our disagreements over their objective status and their sphere of designation?

Is not the word of sin restriction (as the minister of Hoor-paar-kraat has communicated to us)? By way of cosmic anticipation, the Gnostics knew this, and thus declared matter to be equivalent to sin. In this they are not far off, for matter is the regime of separation, in fact just is a metaphysical separateness, a self-splintering of being, that is, mind in its broadest sense as beyond thought.

And yet we have not entered the misty lands of Advaita, fond of which though you readers might be. The purity of the soul is such as to have no object, to have no separation, but it is not to be thereby empty or featureless, as if it were nothing at all from its own perspective; and from ours? Here is the riddle of duality and non-duality, which can be solved – though not here – by a non-philosophical concept, namely the unilateral duality of the professional philosopher Laruelle. More simply, and certainly more comprehensible, we can take a page from Henri Bergson, to suggest the updated gnostic position as that of pure virtuality, an immediate wholeness of self which cannot be sundered, and a oneness of will; is this not a far cry from the annihilation of the aspirant (in ego? In soul?), which may nonetheless be one way of describing to the profane the process by which true gnosis is achieved. But beware, for as always and ever, the description is not the thing, and in the mistaking thereof there cometh hurt.



V

Are we then modern-day Gnostics, despite our best (theoretical) efforts? Can we really not overcome the antinomy of being in propositional calculus? Well, why would it ever possibly be reasonable to suppose such a mode of attack? Have we really strayed so far?

We, like the Gnostics we spurn, are believers in dualism. And, also like the Gnostics, we want to escape the determining and reductionist nature of that opposition. And we are also not convinced by mere conceptual games; no, our malaise in unassailable by means of games, save only the Cosmic Game on which many more essays could be written and yet of which nothing substantial thereby could ever be said; which, in other words, must be played.

The Gnostics thought not to reduce, as is often alleged of them. Rather, they confronted the tension, nay even the outright contradiction, directly, in the process of which confrontation is all power given. And what followed from this blasphemous empiricism? In fact, we are in a good position to find this out, being the good (post)moderns we are, and thus constantly confronting precisely the same issue even after all this time. The only difference, and it may not apply in all cases (though we do look to the academy with scorn on this point), is hypocritical and disearnest discourse that is always at odds with the consciousness of them who speak it. Would that they speaketh not...

The means of “overcoming” our centuries-old dualism is first of all a complete avoidance of the entire theoretical problematic of overcoming, i.e., that of our anti-dualism! It cannot be fought by these weapons: propositional projectiles pierce it not, and our analytical swords shatter as if upon stone. I therefore cannot help but be convinced that the project of contemporary philosophy is an ill-conceived attempt to work out in theory what has been left behind in practice, and thereby to convince oneself that one has overcome that past. Each repetition of this problematic takes on a negligibly differing emphasis, and indeed these often “overcome” one another. But the solution has been with us for millenia: Instead of this extraordinary psychological self-harm, this ever-more-tortured and self-flagellating exercise in nihilism, why not sit awhile, in silence and without disturbance? In truth, it seems so vastly preferable that I cannot imagine why its cause is so infrequently taken up. And the goal is quite the same.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

We Have Always Been Gnostic: An Essay on the Notion of Overcoming (Draft 1)

We Have Always Been Gnostic:
An Essay on the Notion of Overcoming 

by
E.C. Quodlibet


I

We have always been gnostic, whether we want to believe it or not. Philosophy as such, upon which our civilization is undoubtedly based, whether by subconscious mytho-historical accretion or by the all-too-conscious over-emphatic mass psychological upheavals of the short twentieth century, has its ground, fundamental origin, and sole possible justification, in the gnostic tradition, or better, on the gnostic promise and its corresponding outlook.

The common man will stare and blink, while the self-sure followers of so-called enlightened opinion will raise a great cry of displeasure—oh! To hear such dreadful news! But worst of all, and most unforgivable by far, given the circumstances and privileged intellectual position of the group in question, the professional philosophers will smugly sneer, as if to say: “Gnosticism? A system of unjustifiable dualities… and religious ones at that? Have we not already overcome such a failure of thought?” While gladly and perhaps morbidly acquiescing to life in the madhouse, it is common courtesy (all will surely agree) that the offending message at least be conveyed at some length, if not taken entirely seriously, since that is in this day and age far too much to ask of the scholarly busy-bodies of the academy.

But you, friends, are (thankfully) not the academy; let us, then, in any case, proceed. 


II

The worst enemy of thought is existence; the worst enemy of thinking is being. It is a case where the genus and the species are hopelessly confused: Is it thinking that is a species of being, or being a species of thinking? Or is there an infinite gulf between them, never the two to meet? No philosophical answer is really any good, since all of them turn upon conceptual definition or transformation and in no wise furnish anything that could be considered concrete.

But less us step back: Why this dichotomy? Who established it and why ought we to pay it any mind? But we do pay it mind, quite without any sophistical artifice. Our language itself is riddled with the dualism (one particularly potent form of which is mind-body), and the most common form of logical or grammatical relation (if not the most common than at least nonetheless ubiquitous) is the binary opposition, itself the basis of the dualistic mode of thought.

Dualism is the transposition of this logico-grammatical structure onto a metaphysical plane. Mind and Matter – is this opposition not our constant companion? Indeed, a great many notable philosophers have made it their lifework to criticize, and in some cases even to brutally annihilate, this our fact of experience; it is already clear that a merely philosophical (and by this I mean a merely discursive, as will become clear) solution can only come to naught against the rocks of that very same experience.

And yet, there is something dastardly, something sinister and disconcerting, in this state of affairs. Do not the two deserve to be one? Have they not earned it by their stoic resistance to every pitiable scientific and theoretical advancement that the combined might of humanity has ever wrought? Indeed, something is amiss; there ought not be two. Ought there then be one?

But a one is already a two; and thereby we have a three; by means of this can we prove any metaphysical thing at all as we like, up even to our very own favorite number (and many people are partial to their birthdays, for instance, quite a high number with year and all). Nay, best to stop it while we can and settle on a first layer so to speak. Shall we, like the Christians, offer up a 1 = 3? While this is certainly a valid formula, it is reliant on a dogma that forces its extension beyond the necessary means for statement. Let us say, with Crowley, 0 = 2. Here we have nothing less than the non-duality of duality and non-duality. Indeed a terrifying proposition, let us leave this to soak in the basin of the brain and return to our gnostics, who miss us already, I am sure. 


III

The gnostics believed, among other things of course, that matter was imprisonment of the soul (or spirit, depending on a complex history of translation and connotation) and that only by gnosis, a spiritual/intellectual/soulful activity (though certainly not a discursive one, for which it is nowadays liable to be mistaken, even by such admirable writers on mysticism as Vladimir Lossky) that allowed for the liberation of the true self. A dualism, then, like that of the neoplatonists, except that here the dualism has a stronger sense: it is not merely mind versus matter as two planes, but mind versus matter as good versus evil. The gnostics took the logic of dualism to its true and inevitable conclusions (this same extremity is present, so claim the philosophers of the contemporary period, in each and every such dualism… in this we can only agree, and perhaps smirk if we are feeling particularly cheeky).

Becoming-spirit can be effected not otherwise than via the spirit itself, via gnosis. The material body is a restriction; the more one is determined by matter, and especially by the body, the more unfree one is. In contrast, the less bound to matter one is, the more free, the more is one identified with what one truly is, that being the spirit or soul, which is in itself nothing other than pure freedom, unfathomable in its transcendence.

Why is matter restriction? Is not the word of sin restriction (as the minister of Hoor-paar-kraat has communicated to us)? By way of cosmic anticipation, the gnostics knew this, and thus declared matter to be equivalent to sin. In this they are not far off, for matter is the regime of separation, in fact just is a metaphysical separateness, a self-splintering of being, that is, mind (knowing which we have now answered the earlier question as to the genus-species confusion).

And yet we have not entered the misty lands of Advaita, fond of which though you readers might be. The purity of the soul is such as to have no object, to have no separation, but it is not to be thereby empty or featureless, as if it were nothing at all from its own perspective; and from ours? Here is the riddle of duality and non-duality, which can be solved – though not here – by a non-philosophical concept, namely the unilateral duality of the professional philosopher Laruelle. More simply, and certainly more comprehensible, we can take a page from Henri Bergson, to suggest the updated gnostic position as that of pure virtuality, an immediate wholeness of self which cannot be sundered, and a oneness of will; is this not a far cry from the annihilation of the aspirant (in ego? In soul?), which may nonetheless be a way of describing the process by which true gnosis is achieved. But beware, for as always and ever, the description is not the thing, and in the mistaking thereof there cometh hurt.


IV

Are we then modern-day gnostics, despite our best efforts? We, like the gnostics we spurn, are believers in dualism. And, also like the gnostics, we want to escape the determining and reductionist nature of that opposition. And we are also not convinced by mere conceptual games; no, our malaise in unassailable by means of games, save only the Cosmic Game on which many more essays could be written and yet of which nothing substantial thereby could ever be said; which, in other words, must be played.

And then there is the case of scientism: is a contrived and unconvincing monism any better? Such a thing must be a reductionism, despite the inevitable protestations of an impossibly-articulated physics, positively overflowing with positivity (in the form of an imperious positivism). The gnostics thought not to reduce, as is often alleged of them. Rather, they confronted the tension, nay even the outright contradiction, directly, in the process of which confrontation is all power given. And what followed from this blasphemous empiricism? In fact, we are in a good position to find this out, being the good (post)moderns we are, and thus constantly confronting precisely the same issue even after all this time. The only difference, and it may not apply in all cases (though we do look to the academy with scorn on this point), is hypocritical and disearnest discourse that is always at odds with the consciousness of them who speak it. Would that they speaketh not...

The means of “overcoming” our centuries-old dualism is… not to overcome it! The author is every day more convinced that academic philosophy attempts to work out spiritual dilemmas by morbidly and obstinately reliving civilizational traumas, with each repetition taking on a negligibly different emphasis; the solution to this ever-more-tortured and self-flagellating exercise has been with us for millennia. Instead of this extraordinary psychological self-harm, why don’t you sit awhile, in silence and without disturbance of any kind, of body, mind, or otherwise? Doesn’t that sound much nicer anyway? And the goal is quite the same.

From Ought to Is: The Productivity of Negation as Speculative Reversal


(I think this was my best seminar paper last quarter. Speculative reversal has always been an intriguing topic for me. Please excuse the compulsive use of Zizek, once again...)

From Ought to Is:
The Productivity of Negation as Speculative Reversal

I. Introduction
There are certain places in Hegel’s system where he appears to reach a dead end, a fundamental and insurmountable obstacle to his thought, something that valiantly resists further determination. In each case, however, Hegel finds a way to proceed, persevering to the end. While this can be taken as an indication of an imputed teleology, it is far more instructive to examine precisely how these moments are resolved in concrete cases. One such case is the so-called Master Argument of the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, centered in §141. In this argument, Hegel takes the two apparently dead-end concepts of conscience (dead end of morality) and the good (dead end of abstract right) and rescues not just any concept, but what is more or less the primary concept of the entire philosophy of right, Sittlichkeit (ethicality), from the ruins.
The way Hegel presents this proof in §141 is far from crystal clear, but we can immediately see the importance of several key concepts or themes by which the proof is supposed to work: indeterminacy seems to be the key that allows Hegel to specify conscience and the good, while the ought-structure of those concepts seems to allow for their identity and thus the transition. In this paper, I will argue that these features can be understood under the rubric of speculative reversal, a process that transforms something external to the object/concept into its definition and innermost determination. Speculative reversal actually appears twice in the Master Argument in rapid succession: first, in the transformation of the indeterminacy of conscience and the good into determinate indeterminacy; and second, in the positing of those two concepts (now determinate indeterminacies) as identical, via the imputation of the gap or lack of the ought-structure into the determinacy of Sittlichkeit itself. This second reversal can therefore be seen as Hegel’s movement from ‘ought’ to ‘is’ and therefore as one part of the solution to the problem of normativity present in the philosophy of right; the other side of which is the movement from ‘is’ to ‘ought,’ which already occurred back in the derivation of right itself. Sittlichkeit can thus be read as a kind of unity of ‘ought’ and ‘is,’ with the Master Argument as the glue holding it all together. In slightly different terminology, Hegel prefigures the definition of Sittlichkeit:
the unity and truth of these two abstract moments – the thought Idea of the good realized in the internally reflected will and in the external world; so that freedom, as the substance, exists no less as actuality and necessity than as subjective will; – the Idea in its universal existence [Existenz] in and for itself; [the sphere of] ethical life.1
The question of how such a unity can come to be, and what that unity might mean, is the aim and goal of this paper.
First, I will examine the concepts of indeterminacy and systematicity, that is, the set-up of the problem that Hegel solves via the Master Argument, which is itself a fleshing-out of the above-quoted passage. This section will focus on the apparent total breakdown of the dialectic and the inability for Hegel to progress; it is the moment of negativity and indeterminacy. Second, I will show how this utter negativity is not a dead end but an opening for the possibility of a first speculative reversal, namely the one that has “already been accomplished in itself,” the designation of indeterminacy as the very determinacy of both conscience and the good.2 Third, I will indicate the second speculative reversal necessary for the Master Argument, the transition from ‘ought’ to ‘is’ and the positing of Sittlichkeit as the unity of conscience and the good qua determinate indeterminacies; this is the reversal of their gap or distance from one another (signified by the ought-structure) from a failure or externality into something positive, that is, into their truth. Finally, I will provide some more general commentary on the function and import of speculative reversal.

II. Indeterminacy & Negativity
Indeterminacy presents perhaps the primary obstacle for the progression of the Hegelian system, as well as the primary material on which it works; in broad strokes, it is not unreasonable to hold that the system progresses from the indeterminate to the more determinate via successive determinations (what is a Hegelian proof but just this sort of concretizing of determinations, the making-explicit of what was previously merely implicit?). In a different vocabulary, this is also the move from the abstract to the concrete, where “concrete” designates the unity of various determinations that are lacking in the (relatively) abstract.3 This section will examine indeterminacy through its connection to conscience and the good, before turning to the systematic crisis those indeterminacies create.
Hegel writes that the good “merely ought to be” and that conscience “merely ought to be good.4 In the same remark, Hegel informs us that is apparently in the nature of the finite to contain its opposite within itself, though as finite it also remains one-sided and incomplete with regard to this opposite (we might say the opposite is merely implicit, when it ought to be explicit); this is what Hegel here calls being “posited in their negativity.” As one-sided, the good merely posits that it ought to be actual; the very nature of the concept is this fundamental lack with regard to its being. And similarly, conscience (what Hegel also refers to as “subjectivity” since it is on the side of morality) ought to be good; its innermost essence is to lack the good.
And yet in their finite and one-sided determination, neither of them (conscience and the good) are positive; it is necessary to understand first this negative moment before imagining them as positive entities whose “oughts” are their positive contents. If this step is not grasped, then the reversals which follow it are muddled or possibly even missed completely. This is precisely what Hegel seems to mean when he declares that their identity has already been accomplished “in itself.”5 It is often the case, as I think it is here, that the reader of Hegel thinks the philosopher has leaped ahead and left them utterly behind, when in actuality he is thinking far too slowly for them. The dwelling in negativity is precisely such a moment. We cannot seem to get a grip on how to determine the categories any further, and it at first appears as a failure of thought, strictly speaking a systematic defect.
After having gone down both avenues, abstract right culminating in the good, and morality culminating in conscience, there would seem to be nowhere else to go. The final categories of both avenues are empty, indeterminate, and utterly lacking in measure.6 Just to sufficiently reiterate this point: the indeterminacy of conscience and the good consists in their complete lack of ruling out anything at all as an instance of right. Neither ends up providing any kind of guidance whatsoever, and in fact the criteria indicated by both of them end up as wholly subjective and arbitrary as the bare arbitrary will itself. While certainly in some sense these concepts are more determinate, being as they are the result of over a hundred paragraphs of systematic proofs, still they have not overcome this fundamental problem.7
What are the implications of this properly systematic crisis? The dialectic has been reduced to well-nigh utter indeterminacy, when its entire goal has been precisely the opposite. It has come so far, and yet is more indeterminate than ever before.8 Has the whole thing merely resulted in failure, a reversion to its beginning? Or is there some specificity that might save us? It is important to see the extent and danger of this question, the threatening power of negativity, the apparent, utter emptiness of all the determinations of thought up to this point, in order to appreciate the genius of Hegel’s solution. So: tremble!9

III. The First Reversal: Determinate Indeterminacy
In the 1817 Encyclopedia, Hegel is even more direct on the negativity of this point of the dialectic, describing it as a collapse into nothingness that must itself be negated; one way of putting Hegel’s solution is the “nullification of nullity.”10 This section will explicate this movement through the lens of speculative reversal, that exemplary Hegelian move that transforms an apparently epistemological lack into a positive ontological characteristic. Slavoj Žižek has written extensively on speculative reversals in Hegel (often also derived from Hegel’s doctrine of the “infinite judgment”), and so I will turn to him for an analysis of that process.
Žižek explains the reversal as follows, first in terms of infinite judgment (though we shall see how this can be generalized):
Hegel’s version of the “infinite judgment” is thus different from Kant’s—there is a negation of negation (of the Rabinovitch type) at work in its most famous example, “the Spirit is a bone”: (1) the Spirit is a bone; (2) this is nonsense, there is an absolute contradiction between these two terms; (3) well, the Spirit is this contradiction.11
We can see here how contradiction and negation are transformed into something positive, not a lack in our understanding of the thing, but precisely the innermost nature of the thing itself. Žižek goes on to describe the importance of this kind of reversal for the dialectical process itself, something worth quoting at length:
This reversal-into-itself—the shift in the status of what-is-at-stake from sign to Thing, from predicate to subject—is crucial for the dialectical process: what first appears as a mere sign (property, reflection, distortion) of the Thing turns out to be the Thing itself. If the Idea cannot adequately represent itself, if its representation is distorted or deficient, then this simultaneously signals a limitation or deficiency of the Idea itself. Furthermore, not only does the universal Idea always appear in a distorted or displaced way; this Idea is nothing but the distortion or displacement, the self-inadequacy, of the particular with regard to itself.12
Now, with regard to the Master Argument of the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, we can discern the same structure at work. From a purely negative lack, or even an epistemological error (we can’t seem to figure out what comes next, or what to posit), conscience and the good come to be understood in positive terms; their determinacy is their very indeterminacy.
We see now that the indeterminacy of conscience and the good is of a very different order than the bare indeterminacy of, say, pure being. As determinately indeterminate, conscience and the good are systematically locatable; in other words, although indeterminate (they cannot provide any actual criteria for the judging of right), conscience and the good fail in a determinate way; this determinate way is nothing but their ought-structure. Hence, we can say that not all negativities are the same, and different negativities may be productive in very different ways.
When Hegel writes that the second reversal (the derivation of Sittlichkeit) has already occurred “in itself,” I believe he is referring to this, that by the same ought-structure, conscience and the good have both been reduced to determinate indeterminacy. All that remains is to posit the identity of these concepts, which is precisely the function of Sittlichkeit itself.

IV. The Second Reversal: From Ought to Is
The move from morality to Sittlichkeit is accomplished by positing of the identity of conscience and the good, and Sittlichkeit just is that unity: “Ethical life [Sittlichkeit] is the Idea of freedom as the living [i.e. concrete] good which has its knowledge and volition in self-consciousness, and its actuality through self-conscious action.”13 From being empty and abstract indeterminacies, the two moments of Sittlichkeit, precisely as moments, have attained concretion. But how exactly are they equated? In particular, how can they be legitimately equated within the confines of a systematic proof?
It is not merely that those two latter concepts (conscience and the good) fail or are mere negativities, but rather that they fail in precisely the same way. If it were merely failure or bare indeterminacy that allowed concepts to be posited as identical (that is, reduced to moments of a third), then any old indeterminacy would be co-moments with any other. In fact, it is their status as determinate indeterminacies that allow conscience and the good to become moments of Sittlichkeit. As higher-order indeterminacies, they are both defined by their finite ought-structure, that is, their lack of measure.
The second reversal therefore consists in the transformation of the gap that separates conscience and the good into the positive determination of Sittlichkeit. Where the gap was previously merely negative, a failure of each side, in Sittlichkeit it attains a positive character, being imputed into the concept itself instead of remaining external to it as some kind of (epistemological) obstacle.
What must be kept in mind, however, is the nature of this posited “identity.” For Hegel, this identity is not a mere equality between the two concepts; it is, as it always must be in Hegel, a (relatively) concrete unity of its moments. In other words, conscience and the good do not collapse and disappear. It is in the reaching out of each toward the other (the mutual ‘ought’) that has been internalized in Sittlichkeit. Alone, each is exactly the same (determinate indeterminacy, abstract universality, and so on), but together they can constitute a new determinacy defined by the very internality of that ‘ought.’ Sittlichkeit does not therefore begin from a simple negativity, but from a highly complex determinacy constituted by the reversal itself, without which only (determinate) indeterminacy is left.
A fruitful way to understand the Master Argument can now be fully stated: It functions by passing from ought to is. As noted, the is-to-ought movement was accomplished back with the explication of the free will; this side of the proof serves to produce a concrete unity of what ought to be and what is, the name for which is Sittlichkeit.14 The resolution is made explicit when Hegel writes that Sittlichkeit has achieved concretion, the distinctions of which “give the ethical a fixed content.”15 This fixed conctent is precisely the overcoming of the emptiness and one-sidedness of the mere ‘ought’ and the mere ‘is.’ Speculative reversal seems to be the tool that solves the problem of internal and external (for the concept), epistemology and ontology, and in this case, ought and is.16
We can now see also how this is the explicit side of the same previous reversal. In both conscience and the good, their finitude implied the opposite was within them, only implicitly so; the first reversal made this implicit requirement explicit, while the second reversal ends with it being explicit simpliciter. This is a doubling (or really just a different vocabulary) that mirrors the movement from indeterminacy, through determinate indeterminacy, once again into straight-up determinacy; here, for clarity, it is from the implicit, to the explicit implicit, and once again to the explicit. While this may seem overly complicated, as noted, it is most likely due to the slowness of Hegel’s thought, stopping and explicating each tiny step in detail, even those that are normally not noticed at all, rather than rushing on ahead and leaving things unexplained.

V. Conclusion
Now that speculative reversal has been isolated as the primary component of the Master Argument, what are its broader implications with regard to the system as a whole? Is the use of such a reversal justified? Isn’t there something fishy going on here?
First of all, it seems that speculative reversal is omnipotent; thought cannot be stopped, even by utter emptiness and indetermination, since that indeterminacy can be posited as the truth of the object rather than a defect. Defects, in general, can be imputed into the object, transforming epistemological difficulties into ontological successes. Reversal, it seems to me, is the systematic formalization of the idea that negation is inherently productive. Rather than explicitly proposing this as an axiom (since Hegel’s generative ontology doesn’t admit of axioms), it is left to emerge when it is necessary, to be used; its power and justification seem perhaps to be shown by its very use and what it allows thought to accomplish. Perhaps it really does come down to this view about negation, that it is legitimate to take negation itself as something positive and thereby as an opening for thought, a possibility for philosophy to continue.
Is this an instance of Leibniz’s law (of the identity of indiscernibles)? Not necessarily, since that law is a generally-stated principle, a law, whereas for Hegel it is not always clear that two indiscernibles will be posited as identical (as moments of a further concept). Rather, in this case the identity of the two concepts was posited because of the determinate indeterminacy of the two concepts, not their mere first-order indeterminacy. It does not seem to be generally the case that Hegel applies the reversal to any indeterminacy whatsoever (which would make all indeterminacies into determinate indeterminacies). But what precisely regulates the appearance of this move, in that case?
On one hand, it seems quite reasonable to think that the ought-is transition (in either direction) can only be resolved in such a manner. On the other hand, there is still the lurking suggestion of teleology here, and I’m not sure that feeling can be overcome by a reader of this argument. When all possibilities of thought have been exhausted, this seems to be the only thing one can do. Therefore, whether one considers it to be a valid move or not depends very much on what one thinks the Hegelian system is doing or is supposed to do. If one holds firm to the epistemology-ontology distinction, then the reversal will most likely appear insane; but if one takes Hegel to be overcoming such distinctions (and I think there is good reason to think this), then speculative reversal is an indispensable theoretical operation.
These are just a few of the issues at stake in the use of speculative reversal in the Master Argument; a more thorough exploration would need to take into account infinite judgment (as an exemplary case of reversal and perhaps its justification) as well as a broader view of precisely what Hegel’s philosophical system is, and how to understand it (whether as a spectator or ‘from the inside,’ so to speak).



Works Cited
Hegel, GWF. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Trans. H. B. Nisbet. Ed. Allen W. Wood. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Print.
---. “Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline,” in Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline and Critical Writings. Trans. Steven A. Taubneck. Ed. Ernst Behler. New York, NY: Continuum, 1990. Print.
---. Science of Logic. Trans. A. V. Miller. Ed. H. D. Lewis. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1969. Print.
Nancy, Jean-Luc. Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative. Trans. Jason Smith and Steven Miller. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. Print.
Žižek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. London; New York: Verso, 2012. Print.

Notes
1 Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, §33.
2 Hegel, Elements, §141. This claim is counter-intuitive, but the two reversals are really parts or continuations of one another; the one merely implicit, the other their explicit positing. Hence, the first reversal makes them identical, while the second posits them as identical, explicitly. This will be further explained in section IV.
3 The two moments of this seem to be developing the concept (as individuality; see Elements §7R, that is, the remark to paragraph 7) and developing the Idea out of the concept (see Elements §2). Unfortunately, I do not have time to treat both of these aspects in depth.
4 Hegel, Elements, §141R.
5 Hegel, Elements, §141.
6 The primary goal of determination in the Elements of the Philosophy of Right seems to be measure. There are many iterations of this search for measure, from the initial lack of “yardstick” in §17 to the continued struggles with Willkur (arbitrariness), all of them failing until Sittlichkeit itself.
7 This point in itself already shows that the dialectic is not a simple progression, but one wracked by a kind of systematically built-in unevenness with regard to its development and its solutions to various earlier-posed problems. More determination does not in itself immediately solve problems at hand; the process may take quite a while, with no end in sight.
8 It may be fruitful to compare the indeterminacy at play in conscience and the good with that of the very beginning of the system in “being, pure being, without any further determination” (Hegel, Science of Logic 82). It is clear that conscience and the good are not merely indeterminate in the same way as is pure being.
9 “Trembling” is a wonderful idea with regard to the negativity of the dialectic; see Jean-Luc Nancy, Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative, 40-45. In particular, see page 44, where trembling is “the finite seized by the infinite.” Here in the Elements, Hegel calls conscience and the good “finite” (§141), which is later contrasted with the “infinite form” of Sittlichkeit (§144). More could certainly be said on the finite-infinite relation to negativity.
10 Hegel, Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline and Critical Writings, #429. An alternate translation might be “the nothingness of nothing.”
11 Žižek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, 534.
12 Žižek, 535.
13 Hegel, Elements, §142. Unfortunately, it is not entirely possible to cite more from the actual transition paragraph in order to get clear about how the said transition functions. How the proof is supposed to work is left to a minimum.
14 This is precisely the problem of the lack of measure. This lack is overcome only when both sides are complete, when ‘ought’ and ‘is’ are integrated; without this, there can only be a one-sided lack of measure with regard to right.
15 Hegel, Elements, §144.
16 In fact, it seems basically omnipotent. This is an issue that will be implicitly raised, but certainly not solved, in the conclusion.

The Void and Its Dis-Contents: Aristotle's Nature at the Limit

(Here's another seminar paper, this time about Aristotle and... well, Badiou and Zizek, who always crop up in all my academic work no matter how hard I try to escape!)

 

The Void and Its Dis-Contents:
Aristotle’s Nature at the Limit

I. Introduction
In Physics IV, chapters 6-9,1 Aristotle deals with the question of the void. It would not be too great a stretch to claim that Aristotle is here at his most dense and difficult, but also at his most sophisticated. After spending those several chapters providing myriad arguments against the existence of the void, he makes a statement that is frankly shocking: “From what has been said it is clear that there is no distinct void, neither simply, nor in what is rarefied, nor potentially, unless one wants to call the cause of being moved in general ‘void’” (Phys. IV.9, 217b23; emphasis mine). This odd conclusion is not unprecedented, for earlier in the same book Aristotle writes: “For this reason, some say that the void is the material of body (these also say that place is this same thing), but they do not speak well, for the material is not separable from the thing, but they inquire after the void as separable” (Phys. IV.7, 214a16). And yet Aristotle himself does not treat this question directly or in a thorough-going way, instead being content with the above-cited “unless,” with an off-handed post-conclusion remark.
What are we to make of this strange state of affairs? In order to see the significance of this “unless,” and thereby to understand and resolve the issue, we must have a clear understanding of the function and possible implications of the void within Aristotle’s broader project of physics, that is, his own unique brand of natural philosophy. Then, we must understand Aristotle’s reasoning for rejecting the void within this context. After that, we will be in a position to evaluate the meaning and significance of the “unless.” This will necessarily bring us adjacent to contemporary materialisms of the void, as well as necessitate a look at Plato’s unwritten doctrines.

II. Nature & the Void
Aristotle’s account of physics is not merely that of a pre-modern scientist, as if he were a less-developed form of a modern physicist. He belongs, rather, to a different paradigm that is neither reducible to modern physics nor intelligible by the same criteria as the modern scientific method. While Aristotle is also investigating “nature,” he is using that term in a rather different way. This section will explore the paradigmatic context of Aristotle’s thinking of the void by reference to the concepts of nature and place, and by way of contrast to the common contemporary meanings of some of his key terms. While necessary, this section will be brief, since discussion of the void itself will take up the bulk of this paper.
Near the beginning of his exposition, Aristotle rejects the Parmenidean way of approaching the question of what is; the method of proceeding advocated by Parmenides and his followers is “not according to nature” (Phys. I.2, 185a1). Why is this? They begin not in the phenomenon of what they aim to explain, but in abstract logical principles, in the end completely contradicting appearances. Nature, in the first instance, is motion, since it appears as motion, or as moving things (Phys. I.2, 185a15). There is for Aristotle a fundamental connection between nature and motion that can never be severed, based on a proto-phenomenological attitude toward philosophical investigation; in fact, the Physics is entirely concerned with motion and its causes, as well as the aporias and corollaries that accompany such theories and phenomena).
An important category relating to that of motion is place, especially natural place; it is the conception of place that lays the groundwork for the problem of the void. Place, according to Aristotle, is not at all like our modern conception of homogeneous three-dimensional space; rather, it is akin to a surface or container; it is “the first motionless boundary of what surrounds” (Phys. IV.4, 212a21). Expanding on this a little, we can say that already in the definition of place, Aristotle has defined it with regard to the being of which it is the boundary: “Further, the place coincides with the thing, for the boundaries coincide with the bounded” (Phys. IV.4, 212a29). This in itself will complicate the interpretation of the void, which seems to already be foreclosed by this very definition, and yet Aristotle still spends several chapters arguing against it; this will be examined in more detail in section IV.
What then is a natural place? Aristotle seems to think that different things have different natural places, places towards which they tend. A heavy body tends downward, and this is why earth is “down”; a lighter body tends upwards, and that is why above the earth is water, above water is air, and above air is fire; Aristotle calls this “[…] some change of place of each of the simple bodies by nature, as with fire up and with earth down and toward the center [...]” (Phys. IV.8, 214b15). Aristotle seems to be attempting to account for the kind of general ordering that we now account for with the law of gravity (and of density, and so on). The notion of natural place will play an important part in Aristotle’s arguments against the void.
So what exactly is the void, and why would its existence or non-existence be an issue for Aristotle? According to the relevant endoxa, the void would be “a place in which nothing is” (Phys. IV.7, 213b30). That is, the void is generally understood to be an empty place, “that in which there is nothing heavy or light” (Phys. IV.7, 214a5). According to some, the void is necessary for movement to take place, “since it would be impossible for what is full to accept anything” (Phys. IV.6, 213b5). Now, Aristotle will go on to argue that, far from enabling motion, the existence of the void would make motion impossible, since it would make motion unintelligible, but clearly motion appears to us as intelligible: “And to those who say there must be a void if there is to be motion, it turns out rather to be the other way around when one examines it, that it is not possible for even one single thing to be moved if there is a void” (Phys. IV.8, 214b30). Before turning to these arguments, we would do well to consider Aristotle’s methodology as it relates to this question.
The void cannot be proven to exist using modern scientific methods. It is quite possible to produce a vacuum with modern equipment, but this would then not be physics as Aristotle understands it. Physics is connected intimately with presentation, that is, with motion. Two good pieces of evidence for this are available in the text: first, Aristotle’s already-cited rejection of dealing with the void as the Parmenideans have, that is, merely defining the void as non-being and thereby excluding it entirely by logic (in other words, by treating it as disconnected from nature and motion); and second, Aristotle’s rejection of conceiving of the void as a point, writing “it would be absurd if a point were said to be a void, for it must be a place in which there is extension for a tangible body” (Phys. IV.7, 214a8). If the void were a point, it could not be presented to us in the appearance of movement; Aristotle’s immediate rejection of this possibility indicates his commitments to thinking even the void in these terms. Furthermore, the void must be connected not merely to motion and presentation (that is, to appearance), but to natural motion. To construct an experiment is to expressly violate nature, to produce unnatural motion; experiments in general appear to be inapplicable to the Aristotelian paradigm. To this effect, he writes, “[…] for what is forced is contrary to nature, and what is contrary to nature is secondary to what is by nature” (Phys. IV.8, 215a5). Following the reading of Aristotle as a proto-phenomenologist, if we want to prove the existence of the void, we must use the appearance of nature, that is, the motion of natural beings and of the cosmos in general, without our artificial and violent interventions.

III. Aristotle Against the Void
We now turn to Aristotle’s arguments against the void as defined in the previous section. As it turns out, this definition of the void (as empty place) leaves two possibilities: first, the separable or separate void, which exists on its own, so to speak, outside of any bodies; or second, the inseparable void, conceived as that whose presence inside bodies makes them light. Aristotle goes on to argue against both of these conceptions. The general gist of his arguments has been explicated and classified by Alain Badiou, who writes:
The demonstration, which is very effective, employs, one after the other, the concepts of difference, unlimitedness (or infinity), and incommensurability. There is great profundity in positing the void in this manner; as in-difference, as in-finite, and as un-measured. This triple determination specifies the errancy of the void, its subtractive ontological function and its inconsistency with regard to any presented multiple.2
This analysis will deal with each of the three types of argument Aristotle brings to bear against the void (in-difference, in-finite, and un-measured), before briefly touching on the significance of the “errancy” of the void that is pointed to in the last sentence of the Badiou passage above.
Aristotle’s first argument against the void is based on the lack of difference within the void, which implies its subversion of motion in various ways. Paradigmatic of this line of argumentation is the following passage: “For just as people say that the earth is at rest because of being evenly balanced, so also is it necessary to be at rest in the void: for there is nowhere that a thing will be moved more or less than anywhere else, since insofar as it is a void it has no differences” (Phys. IV.8, 214b33). Particularly with regard to natural motion, this will be entirely incoherent, since a being tends towards its natural place presumably because its natural place is different from its current place: “But change of place by nature is differentiated, so there is a difference by nature. Then either there is no change of place by nature anywhere for anything, or if there is, there is no void” (Phys. IV.8, 215a15). But it seems obvious that there is such a phenomenon of natural motion, so therefore there must be no void.
This argument leads directly to the second one regarding the in-finite, which in many ways is an extension of the point about in-difference. Aristotle argues that, since there is no difference in the void, a being moved into it “will either stand still or it must be carried into infinity, unless something stronger gets in the way” (Phys. IV.8, 215a23). In addition to this endless motion, there is also an infinity of possible directions to this motion, since no one direction can be favored over any other (due to in-difference): “[…] so the thing will have been carried in every direction” (Phys. IV.8, 215a25). The main point is that in-difference leads to the in-finite proliferation of possibilities; there is no longer a single reason why any object in a void should do one thing as opposed to any other, so therefore an infinity of things seems possible. This is obviously not what we experience in the phenomenon of motion, so Aristotle takes it as another argument against the existence of the void.
Finally, there is the argument about un-measure, which is quite an imaginative point. The idea seems to be that motion through a dense medium is slower than that through a rare medium, and that the void, as an infinitely rare medium, destroys the ratio whereby we can describe this difference in speed. Aristotle goes through several possibilities (everything will move at the same speed, or everything will move infinitely fast), indicating the primary reason for this as a lack of ratio: “And to state the main point, the cause of this result is clear, that of every motion to any other motion there is a ratio (for they are in time, and of every time there is a ratio to any other time, if both are finite), but of a void to the full there is none” (Phys. IV.8, 216a9). Once again, the existence of the void would seem to make motion unintelligible, and since motion seems clearly to be intelligible, regulated, and even relatively predictable (we know what to expect when we throw a rock; it won’t move at infinite speed in all directions at once), this is yet another argument for the void’s non-existence.
While these three arguments would seem to clearly do away with the void once and for all, there is one last possibility Aristotle considers: the inseparable void. As opposed to an empty place existing independently outside of beings, the inseparable void is conceived as an internal cause of density and rarefaction, which is supposed to explain the possibility that things have “to contract or be compressed” (Phys. IV.9, 216b24). A rare thing, under this understanding, would have many voids inside of it, but if it was compressed (made denser), it would have less voids. The presence of internal voids, then, would be the reason for light things to move upward: “[…] the void would be a cause of motion not as that in which it happens, but just as wineskins, by being carried upward themselves, carry what is connected to them, so would the void carry things up” (Phys. IV.9, 217a3). According to Aristotle, this conception suffers from just the same problems as the separate void did (Phys. IV.9, 217a9). However, it also suffers from a kind of reduplication problem: how can the void itself have a change of place? The void (and the being in which it exists) would move upward, towards the void, but “a void then comes to have a void, into which it is carried” (Phys. IV.9, 217a5). Voids inside of voids seem to Aristotle an unnecessary complication, since according to him once can positively describe change and motion, even of the heavy and the light, without resort to the void; however, these arguments do not concern us here and would take us too far afield from our question of the void as name of matter.
Now, what all these arguments against the void do is establish its errancy, according to Badiou. Without getting into Badiou’s specific and highly unique system, we can nonetheless interpret this errancy with regard to Aristotle’s physics. The void cannot, anywhere, appear in motion, and it cannot be implied by a phenomenological analysis of motion. It is a strictly unintelligible concept, leading to contradiction and paradox, whenever it is interpreted or conceived within the bounds of possible experience (as that experience is always given to us as an experience of motion). No, if there is to be a void, according to Aristotle, it must not by an empty place. Might there, then, be an understanding of the void that does not succumb to these problems? Aristotle seems to indicate just as much in the passages that were quoted in the introduction to this paper. The possibility is, in a word: the void as name of matter. It is to this problem that we now turn.

IV. ‘Void’ as Name of Matter
We now seek to explicate the possibilities opened up by Aristotle’s pointing to “void” as a possible name of matter. There are three primary passages that open up this possibility: first, the remark about void as material of body (Phys. IV.7, 214a15); second, the strange and difficult passage about the wooden cube (the entire paragraph beginning around Phys. IV.8, 216a,28); and finally, the previously-indicated “[…] unless one wants to call the cause of being moved in general ‘void’” (Phys. IV.9, 217b23). Unfortunately, the first mention does not give us anything to work with beyond a mere possibility that is immediately rejected. So we turn to the passage about the wooden cube, and then to the final passage of chapter 9, finally connecting these to the question of the void in contemporary materialism.
The paragraph about the wooden cube is extraordinarily dense, and rightly so, for it is a feat of stupendous and dazzling abstraction. The argument seems to go something like this. When a cube is moved into an area containing air, it displaces a quantity of air equal to the bulk of the cube (if it does not instead compress it). If a cube is moved into a void, on the other hand, it cannot displace the void, since the void is not a thing that could be moved around. Insofar as our cube is a being that has extension, Aristotle concludes that the void is precisely equivalent to the cube: “So even if it were separated from all the other things, and were neither heavy nor light, it would occupy the equal void and be in the same place as that part of the place or of the void equal to itself. In what way, then, will the body of the cube differ from the equal void or place?” (Phys. IV.8, 216b8). Pure extension, body-ness as such, distinct from all its different qualifiers (hot, cold, heavy, light, &c.) is equivalent to void.
Aristotle takes this argument to disprove void in that it seems to him to make the notion of void incoherent, since it makes it possible for two things to occupy the same place (namely, the cube and the void). However, this argument can also be taken not as a reductio ad absurdum, but as a positive argument in favor of the identification of matter and void. But this is strange; is there a precedent for such a conception?
According to the Tübingen School of Plato interpretation, Plato’s unwritten doctrines contain two principles that supposedly ground the Theory of Forms: the One and the Indefinite Dyad.3 The One gives things unity, presses them into forms, and so on, while the Dyad is the principle of multiplicity and of indefiniteness and unlimitedness. What Aristotle may have in mind with his tentative suggestion of void as matter is something like this. The void-as-matter is the matter as such, as distinct and separate from form and unity. This matter is wholly indefinite, containing contraries within itself and not resting in either one or the other pole of difference.4 It may be called “void” for this fundamental unintelligibility, this primordial lack with regard to definiteness and unity.
We are now in a position to better interpret Aristotle’s final paragraph on the void, where he presents us with his shocking suggestion, “[…] unless one wants to call the cause of being moved in general ‘void’” (Phys. IV.9, 217b23). This “cause of being moved in general” is nothing other than matter. Things must be made of matter to move, since motion in its most general sense is a change, a being-otherwise, and matter just is this open potency of being otherwise (Metaphysics Θ.8, 1050b8-28).5 Void can therefore be conceived as a kind of fundamental indeterminacy, the name of matter as such.
What are the implications of such a position? In particular, since Aristotle seems to reject this possibility as unintuitive or at least as not primary, exploring its implications affords us an important view of the road not taken, so to speak. First, as Badiou notes, Aristotle’s need to think void as a modification of “place” makes him unable to conceive the nothingness or emptiness of the void as a necessary point (more generally, non-place):
The in-extension of a point does not make any place for a void. It is precisely here that Aristotle’s acute thought encounters its own point of impossibility: that it is necessary to think, under the name of the void, the outside-place on the basis of which any place—any situation—maintains itself with respect to its being.6
We can understand this critique generally without embarking on an explication of Badiou’s philosophy. What Badiou is getting at is the importance of the void for a thinking of materialism, as the point necessarily excluded that allows for the possibility of inclusion (the thing outside of presentation, itself unpresentable, that makes presentation possible in the first place). This is materialist because it insists on the foundation of appearance lying outside of appearance, a fundamental limit to intelligibility and phenomenal access, without necessarily invoking the idealist implications of the Kantian transcendental (it is the void as outside, not a particular thing-in-itself).7 As Slavoj Žižek puts it:
The ultimate divide between idealism and materialism does not concern the materiality of existence (‘only material things really exist’), but the ‘existence’ of nothingness/the void: the fundamental axiom of materialism is that the void/nothingness is (the only ultimate) real, i.e., there is an indistinction of being and the void.8
This is precisely what Aristotle touches on in his passage about the wooden cube, and what he points to in the final paragraph of his discussion of the void. While it would be unreasonable to propose any of this as strictly internal to Aristotle in the way it is meant here, this possibility nonetheless coincides with the limit to Aristotle’s thought, and the limit is certainly there in Aristotle. The limit of the “natural” thought of Aristotle (his necessary connection of void and place) is here reached.9 Furthermore, it is due to Aristotle’s rigorous honesty as a thinker that such a possibility is even pointed to, especially in such an open gesture. Though he does not take it as the primary meaning of the term “void,” he nonetheless addresses it as a real possibility not reduced to utter meaninglessness—such a rejection by definition is precisely what he accuses the Eleatics of doing. So, paradoxically, for Aristotle his thinking by nature is both what enables him to reject the Eleatic mode of thought as well as what constrains him to think the void merely as empty place. This is the limit to which I have referred.

V. Conclusion
While the discussion of contemporary materialism could itself comprise many papers of this length, the main point should at least by now be clear: the problematic passages in Aristotle’s discussion of the void can be read as an important opening onto materialism and as his admission, at least in some sense, of the limits of his approach. To reject readings wherein physics itself somehow disproves Aristotle, and instead to read him as perfectly consistent so far as he goes—up to the very limit of his thought, the void as name of matter—is to make him our contemporary. This limit may be a place of profound productivity; the connection to contemporary materialism is one that can make the ek-static or temporally-extended reading of Aristotle as proto-phenomenologist just a bit more compelling, as well as complicating the one-sidedness of that phenomenology with regard to what lies beyond.



Works Cited
Aristotle. Aristotle’s Physics: A Guided Study. Trans. Joe Sachs. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1995. Print.
---. Metaphysics. in The Complete Works of Aristotle: Volume 2. Trans. W. D. Ross. Ed. Jonathan Barnes. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995. Print.
Badiou, Alain. Being and Event. Trans. Oliver Feltham. London; New York: Continuum, 2005. Print.
Krämer, Hans Joachim. Plato and the Foundations of Metaphysics: A Work on the Theory of the Principles and Unwritten Doctrines of Plato with a Collection of the Fundamental Documents. Ed. and Trans. John R. Catan. New York: State University of New York Press, 1990. Print.
Žižek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. London; New York: Verso, 2012. Print.

Notes
1 Hereafter, Aristotle’s Physics will be cited in-line as “Phys.” followed by the book number and chapter, then by an approximation of the beginning line number e.g. “Phys. IV.6, 250a15.”
2 Badiou, Alain. Being and Event, 73.
3 Krämer, Hans Joachim. Plato and the Foundations of Metaphysics, 77-78.
4 It seems highly possible that this has a deeper relation to prime matter; unfortunately, exploring this might take us too far afield, so I leave that explication for another time.
5 This is also the reason why the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality; it is not moved, since as pure actuality it cannot be made of matter, since matter is this opening onto being-otherwise, i.e. potency. Prime matter, on the other hand, is the opposite of the Prime Mover, since it is pure potency. Furthermore, here I am invoking an interpretation of Aristotle wherein en-mattered beings, by their very materiality, are exposed to difference and even non-being, the basis of which can be found, in addition to the above-cited chapter of the Metaphysics, in Aristotle’s discussion of time (Phys. IV.10-14).
6 Badiou, Alain. Being and Event, 77.
7 For more on this difference, the work of Slavoj Žižek is indispensible, in particular Less Than Nothing. See, for example, his reading of Kant and his relation to Hegel in the introduction of that book. Unfortunately, there is no space here to embark on an explication of this difference, even as important as it is.
8 Žižek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, 60.
9 This is also Badiou’s argument in his meditation on Aristotle (see Being and Event Meditation 8).